Four Corners - Heat on the Hill

On the eve of the government's release of its controversial climate change legislation, reporter Liz Jackson investigates the relentless lobbying campaign conducted by environmentalists and industry over the past 12 months. Both sides are unhappy and the government is feeling the heat.

When Kevin Rudd won government in 2007, he made it clear he was committed to reducing Australia's output of greenhouse gases. He appointed the respected economist, Ross Garnaut, to guide the government on a mechanism to cut emissions and advise on the targets Australia needed to put in place to lessen the impact of dangerous climate change.

Having taken advice from various quarters the message to the government and the Prime Minister was stark. If Australia were to play its part in preventing dangerous climate change and protect natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef, the Murray-Darling basin and Kakadu, emissions must be cut by 25 per cent by 2020. Instead the government adopted a scheme that included a range of targets from five per cent to 15 per cent.

Environmental groups protested at what they saw as a major back down while industry representatives such as Mitch Hooke from the Minerals Council, warned of massive job losses and investment going off shore. He tells Four Corners that adopting the government's plan "will encourage investment offshore to countries where they don't have the disciplines that we're trying to invoke here in Australia … so the big risk is that we suffer massive costs to jobs and economic activity here in Australia."

So who has won the day? Four Corners talks to environmentalists and industry and charts their influence on the government as it prepared its blueprint for an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

So what does the man in charge of advising the government have to say about the process and the decisions made so far? Professor Ross Garnaut reveals to Four Corners his concerns about the influence wielded by key interest groups: "Let me say right away that vested interests seeking to influence the process is not illegitimate in our democracy but can lead to poor policy outcomes."

Will Australia have an emissions trading scheme, as the government has promised, by 2010?

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