NO WONDER the Opposition is struggling in its efforts to pick a fight with the Government over its emissions trading scheme. The green paper model differs only marginally from the one John Howard endorsed last year.
The main variation is in timing. The Howard scheme, based on a report from a task group headed by then Prime Minister's department secretary Peter Shergold, was to start in 2011 or 2012. The Rudd plan is due to kick off in 2010.
For the rest, the similarities are great, including compensation in each scheme for the trade exposed sector and for other badly affected industries, notably electricity generators (although the green paper is rather tougher on both, as well as focusing on the household sector, brushed over in Shergold).
Notably, Howard had petrol in. As he boasted, "this emissions trading scheme will be world class in its coverage and governance" and would avoid "political fixes".
He did not propose any "fix", as the Rudd scheme does, to neutralise petrol's inclusion. Of course oil prices have shot up in the past year. The Coalition has shifted ground: it urged, and Labor adopted, an offset to ensure petrol prices don't rise as a result of the scheme.
In light of its history, it is a bit rich for the Opposition to be jumping up and down about the Government's plan to review this offset after three years' operation — which means five years from now.
There is continuity even in the bureaucratic work behind the two schemes. The Coalition's task group was serviced by a secretariat headed by Martin Parkinson, then a senior Treasury officer. Parkinson drafted the group's document. Now he is secretary of Penny Wong's Climate Change Department, established by this Government, and the most important bureaucrat in putting together the green paper.
In preparing the Shergold report, the challenge for the task group was to come up with something acceptable to Howard, at heart a climate change doubter, whatever his latter-day conversion under political pressure. Howard personally wrote the terms of reference, which inevitably made the report conservative.
The task group was successful: Howard adopted the report, more or less holus-bolus, although his government didn't last long enough to implement its measures.
The green paper is a statement of Rudd Government policy. In this case, the challenge has been to err on the side of caution and a slow start for reasons of political necessity, despite Labor's rhetoric about the imminent threat from climate change.
Approaching the task from different perspectives, the two exercises converged on a common centre.
I blame the Liberal opposition partisanship in the issue, in all but name. They are not really presenting as a party that is serious, rather as a ratbag collection of interest groups and factions. I would like to see an opposition that holds the Government to their election promises, asking why Garnaut is being swept aside for Shergold, for instance.
The rest of Grattan's piece sketches out the political landscape that new legislation will have to chart a course through.