The Australian Senate on Thursday rejected an emissions trading scheme that aims to cut carbon pollution by up to 25 percent over the next decade, paving the way for a possible early election.
The conservative opposition joined forces with the Greens and independent senators to vote down the planned scheme 42 votes to 30.
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong condemned the decision, accusing the opposition of fear-mongering about the impact of the proposed scheme, which the government wants finalised before UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December.
“It’s not smart to pretend this won’t leave us isolated from the rest of the world, and it’s not smart to undermine our transition to a low-carbon economy,” she told the Senate.
“This bill may be going down today but this is not the end.”
The government’s scheme proposes cutting emissions by between five and 25 percent by 2020, with the higher figure dependent on the rest of the world adopting “ambitious” emissions reductions targets in Copenhagen.
The Greens oppose the plan because they say the five percent target that would be adopted if the Copenhagen talks fail is too low.
The vote could have major political implications because if the Labor Party reintroduces its plan after three months and the Senate again rejects it, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd could call an early election.
No election is due until late next year but analysts say Rudd may be tempted to opt for an early poll as his government is riding high in opinion surveys.
Wong said the government would continue to push for its plan to be adopted before the UN talks.
“We will bring this bill back before the end of the year because if we don’t … the message to Copenhagen would be that, once again, Australia is going backwards on climate change,” she said.
Rudd, who won office in 2007 on a strongly green platform, has described climate change as “the greatest moral challenge of our generation” for Australia, which is the grip of the worst drought in a century.
His government does not have a majority in the Senate, or upper house, where independents hold the balance of power.