The reign of the man who oversaw the most significant climate change policies in Australia’s history has come to an abrupt end.
Greg Combet, who arguably had the toughest job in a compromised government, left his post last night upon the return of Kevin Rudd to the Labor leadership. In his just over three years as climate change minister, Australia has introduced:
-- A price on carbon;
-- The $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation;
-- The $3 billion Australian Renewables Energy Agency; and
-- An enhanced Renewable Energy Target (this was announced when he was assisting Penny Wong in the portfolio and finalised after he became climate change minister).
Combet’s role has been a vital one having been left with the difficult situation of pushing the benefits of a policy linked to a prime minister’s broken tax promise. Amid fierce opposition, he has been a key cog in turning the public perception of the carbon pricing scheme around to such an extent that as many now want it to stay as to go.
With his departure comes great risk for Labor, and they will need to find someone capable of repelling consistent Tony Abbott-led attacks on the government’s climate policy.
Labor will need someone with an understanding of the science, a passion for action and sound communication skills.
There are as many as seven candidates: Anthony Albanese, Kim Carr, Mark Dreyfus, Penny Wong, Ed Husic, Richard Marles and Kate Lundy. We separate them into three categories below.
Too much on their plate?
Anthony Albanese is no stranger to the climate change portfolio having served as Labor’s environment spokesperson for two years near the end of the Howard reign. This pre-dated the introduction of a climate change portfolio.
He famously referred to the anti-carbon tax rally outside Parliament House as “the convoy of no consequence” and has long held a determination for action on climate change.
What will hold him back from the post is his already long list of responsibilities. Now deputy PM, he is also leader of the House and infrastructure minister. Adding the crucial climate portfolio may be asking a bit much. Nevertheless, he will at least be answering questions on the portfolio until the announcement of the new minister.
Like Albanese, Penny Wong has great experience with the portfolio, serving as Australia’s first climate change minister when Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007.
Again there is a knowledge and passion for the issue that will hold her in good stead, but now being leader of the Senate and finance minister may see it a bridge too far. It should also be noted that while Wong was climate change minister, the Coalition right was able to gain enough traction on the issue to change their position and unseat Malcolm Turnbull.
In 2010, as science minister, Kim Carr hit out at anti-scientific opinion on climate change.
Carr, a loyal member of the Rudd team, has been reported as the frontrunner for the industry portfolio he once held, and given it’s currently tied to the climate portfolio through Combet, there is speculation he could take over both.
New kids on the block
Marles and Husic
Both Richard Marles and Ed Husic are long time Rudd backers and widely considered to be among the biggest beneficiaries of Rudd’s return to the top job. They both have history in discussing the need for action on climate change and surely wouldn’t turn down the massive promotion if it was offered to them.
The problem for them, however, is that this is a very public portfolio and one where the blowtorch will be applied to them from the start. With comparatively low public profiles, would it be too great a risk for Labor?
Sports minister Kate Lundy has not hidden from her support of Julia Gillard and this has many wondering if her position might be under pressure.
Lundy has long been enthusiastic about the need for action on climate change and even filled in for Greg Combet at the 2013 Solar Conference in Melbourne, but a move to climate might be a stretch given her backing for Gillard.
Mark Dreyfus, Australia’s current Attorney General, served as Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change through until his appointment as Attorney-General earlier this year.
He too was a Gillard supporter to the end, but it appears likely he will retain his position as Attorney General. With this in mind, he could fit into the first category of ‘too much on their plate’, though his knowledge of the issues makes him a strong candidate for the climate post.