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27.7.09

Just as Malcolm Turnbull has turned the Liberal Party towards accepting an ETS before the global climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, there has been a turnaround in public support for delaying finalisation of a carbon emissions trading scheme.

And while most people are still prepared to pay higher costs for petrol, electricity and gas to cut greenhouse gas emissions, support drops away rapidly as the expectations rise of higher costs.

According to the latest Newspoll survey, 45 per cent of voters want the Rudd government to delay finalising its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until after the Copenhagen conference compared with 41 per cent who said Australia should not wait to see what other nations were doing.

Eight per cent of respondents to the survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, oppose an ETS outright, taking the total who oppose the scheme or want it delayed to 53 per cent.

In September last year, 61 per cent wanted Australia to act as soon as possible, no matter what other countries were doing, and only 33 per cent wanted to delay or opposed the scheme outright.

The Opposition Leader's about-face over passing the ETS before Copenhagen and commitments from the big carbon emitters -- the US, China and India -- came as he slipped to his lowest standing against the Prime Minister, a worse position than former leader Brendan Nelson when he was replaced.

The shift in public opinion towards delaying the legislation on a carbon emissions trading scheme increases pressure on the government to settle its own CPRS before the August 13 Senate vote on the new trading system, which puts a price on carbon to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Cabinet, which meets in Adelaide today, and the emissions trading sub-committee, which meets after cabinet, are expected to consider compensation proposals for the outstanding areas of industry, including coal and steel, which will face cost hikes under an emissions trading scheme.

The government is considering doubling compensation to the coal industry to $1.5 billion, although this falls far short of the coal industry's claims because it is not covered as an "intensive industry" and the compensation only applies to just under 8 per cent of coalmines -- the mines that let off the most carbon gases when the coal is dug up.

The Australian Coal Association is beginning a national advertising campaign today arguing that it is already cutting greenhouse gas emissions and is a large employer.

Some of the most affected mines are on the Illawarra coast of NSW, where former ACTU president and local Labor MP Jennie George has been campaigning for compensation.

"I represent an area whose economy is very much dependent on an effective and viable steelmaking capacity and I have been from the beginning very mindful of any potential impacts of an ETS on the steel industry. I have brought those concerns to the minister and to the government and they have listened," Ms George told The Australian on the weekend.

The government has already offered the coal industry $750m and that has now been doubled.

The coal, steel and power-generating industries have been the last areas to be addressed by the government as it formulated its ETS over the past 18 months.

Electricity generators are pleading for between $5 billion and $20bn in extra assistance from the Rudd government to avoid an "industry crisis" under the emissions trading scheme, with some suggesting the compensation could be tied to new investments in renewable power.

The government is yet to be convinced of the generators' claims, but after lobbying last month it commissioned investment bank Morgan Stanley to examine the impact of the ETS on privately owned brown coal generators in the La Trobe Valley and power stations in Queensland and South Australia.

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