Government | Regulation

Why the world has reason to watch the WA Senate election

There’s been a lot of international focus on Western Australia in recent weeks. The search for the lost Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is being led from Perth. But it also turns out that Western Australia is garnering international attention as a result of this Saturday’s Senate re-election.

Economist Ross Garnaut's sobering presentation at a CEDA lunch in Perth, entitled The case for conserving the carbon laws, brought home the fact that in a globalised world, Western Australia is no longer as isolated as it once was.

Garnaut recounted a recent meeting with British economist Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a influential 2006 paper on the economics of climate change. Stern thought the outcome of the Western Australian Senate re-election could have a global influence.

Garnaut noted that the Senate election, which the Abbott government has been fighting as a referendum on repealing the carbon tax (among other issues), has raised the interest of Europeans. They are curious about Australia's response to the challenges of climate change and the government's attempt to repeal a number of initiatives while attempting to jettison the so-called "carbon tax".

Along with Canada, Australia has become an outlier in the developed world when it comes to policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Garnaut claimed that Australia is complicating the politics of climate change in other countries. While Europe, the United States, Japan and China are starting to ramp up their efforts to battle climate change, Australia is now seen internationally as a drag - to the point that there has been diplomatic feedback outlining the concerns of other nations about the Abbott government's climate policies.

Garnaut argued that, in the longer term, the government should be grateful to the current Senate for blocking the repeal package. He noted that the outcome of Saturday's poll could make it more difficult for the government to pass its repeal bills through the Senate after July 1 if the mix of senators saw the left-leaning parties gain a third seat in Western Australia.

Garnaut argued strongly against the government's direct action plan, claiming it was likely to be far more costly in the long run. He noted that if the government was to repeal the carbon tax, it would face a A$7 billion hole in the next budget.

Scientists have long argued that the southwest of Western Australia will be one of the hardest-hit areas on the planet as a result of climate change. Garnaut pointed out that Perth is already experiencing reduced average rainfalls and becoming increasingly reliant on two desalination plants. He argued that Western Australians should be aware of the increasing climate changes the state was likely to experience in the future.

Garnaut concluded his speech by saying, "True Australian conservatives would be barracking for votes against repeal in WA's Senate election on Saturday".

By Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

Natalie Mast does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. She represents the University of Western Australia on The Conversation's Editorial Board.

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