Prime Minister Tony Abbott is making it clear he does not feel pressured on his climate policy, ahead of a meeting with US president Barack Obama.
A senior US Democrat has lashed out at Mr Abbott’s stance on climate change as making Australia a “behind-the-scenes lagger” on global efforts to tackle the problem.
The vexed issue is expected to be discussed when Mr Abbott and Mr Obama sit down for talks in Washington on Thursday (US time) – the centrepiece of a series of high-level meetings involving the Prime Minister.
Mr Abbott, who has now arrived in Washington, says the Government’s Direct Action Plan is substantial in global terms.
“I will be indicating to the president that Australia is a very reliable friend,” he said.
“I also want to put in perspective the scale of the effort we are making in Australia.”
He claims the United States would have to spend about $40 billion over four years on climate measures to match the scale of his Government’s $2.4 billion plan.
“Now that would be a very substantial program should something like that be put in place in the United States,” he said.
Mr Abbott says he will point that out if the issue comes up while he is in Washington.
Last week the Obama administration unveiled new regulations requiring the power sector to cut emissions by 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 – one of the strongest actions ever taken by the US to combat global warming.
Mr Abbott has likened the measure to his own Government’s “direct action” policies.
But long-serving Californian Democrat Henry Waxman, regarded as one of the most powerful Democrats in the US, says the Australian policy “doesn’t sound anything like what President Obama is proposing”.
Speaking to the ABC’s 7.30 program, he labelled the Australian Government’s plan to repeal the carbon pricing scheme a “mistake”.
“What President Obama is proposing … is much closer to the existing Australian law and that’s why I hope that Australian law is not reversed,” he said.
He says the Australian “direct action” policy, where companies bid in reverse auctions to win taxpayer funding for programs to cut their emissions, is a voluntary system “that never worked anywhere”.
Abbott impressed by IBM-designed industry school
Before he left New York for Washington, Mr Abbott toured a special type of school he thinks might work in Australia.
The combined college and high school pilot program, designed in part by computer giant IBM, was on show at a school in Brooklyn.
“Many of them will be working at IBM doing a summer internship and hopefully it will go full-time after they graduate from high school and college. We like to call it ‘hollage’,” teacher Tanya Spence said.
IBM executive Stanley Litow says the program will create “job-ready graduates” for his company.
He hopes it will also help combat the area’s high rates of youth unemployment.
“I think the problem right now is only 25 per cent of the students who graduate high school and begin community college complete, which is a disgracefully low number,” he said.
Mr Abbott was impressed, and says more education outcomes should have an economic pay-off.
As the Government reforms the higher education sector, moves young people off welfare and comes to grips with the collapse of the car industry, Mr Abbott says some similar industry-style schools could be considered in Australia.
“We do need to strengthen our effort in science, in technology, in engineering and in maths,” he said.
“Obviously a school like this does have all sorts of potential for application for a country like our own.”