The leader of the Coalition, Tony Abbott, delivered his first major policy speech1 as Opposition Leader to an audience at The Sydney Institute last night. In his speech, Mr Abbott outlined the Coalition’s main environmental policies, identifying the environment as a key vote-changing issue in this year’s Federal election.

Mr Abbott’s speech had been expected to address the Coalition’s policies on climate change and its proposed alternative to the government’s emissions trading scheme, otherwise known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). Instead, Mr Abbott identified the Murray-Darling Basin as Australia’s biggest environmental problem. He attacked the Rudd Government’s environmental record to date and sought to position himself as a ‘pragmatic environmentalist’.

The Coalition’s main environmental initiatives

Among the environmental initiatives proposed, Mr Abbott proposed:

  • A referendum to be held by mid-2012 giving control of the Murray-Darling to the Commonwealth, if the states were unwilling to accede before then.
  • The establishment of a permanent, large-scale environmental workforce or ‘Green Army’ of about 15,000 members—at a potential cost of $750 million—that would help tackle major restoration and protection projects.

Coalition position on climate change

Mr Abbott said that over the next few weeks, he would outline ‘the Coalition’s thinking on how to foster environmental improvements that will reduce carbon dioxide’. He said that Australia should be a ‘good international citizen’ and play its part in any effective international campaign to reduce the risk of man-made climate change. While there was no mention of any explicit policies, Mr Abbott is expected to adopt an approach on climate change that will use direct action in terms of government regulation and payments to reduce emissions directly, rather than relying on market mechanism to create the incentive.