Climate controversy heats up Australian election
Sydney (AFP) Oct 28, 2007
Australian Prime Minister John Howard was defiant Sunday in the face of reports his environment minister urged him to reverse government policy and sign the Kyoto Protocol ahead of upcoming polls.
The prime minister is battling for his political life in the November 24 election against a Labor Party leader who has vowed to immediately sign onto the UN-backed Kyoto process if he wins.
Howard's conservative coalition has long refused to ratify the international treaty, saying it would disadvantage Australia's economy.
But media reports detailing a cabinet meeting held six weeks ago say that Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged his colleagues to join Kyoto to bring the government some much needed kudos on green issues.
Howard refused to comment on the reports, which say cabinet rejected the proposal, believing it would not look credible to voters, but defended Turnbull.
"He's an excellent minister and he enjoys my full confidence," he told commercial television.
Howard, 68, is lagging well behind Labor's Kevin Rudd in opinion polls ahead of the election, expected to be fought on hip-pocket issues such as the economy and interest rates.
But global warming is a looming issue in Australia, which is in the grip of a long-running drought and where water restrictions are in place in many cities.
Turnbull refused to comment on whether Australia should ratify the Kyoto agreement, saying his personal beliefs were less important than those of the government he serves.
"I am the minister and it's my job to explain and expound the government's policy," he told Sky News.
"It's not for me to express personal opinions."
Turnbull also denied leaking the report to newspapers to shore up support for his green credentials among his Sydney electorate.
Rudd used the leak to repeat his campaign message that the government's leadership was stale and that Howard was "weighed down with old thinking on climate change."
The prime minister, for his part, pushed on with highlighting his government's strong record on the economy, saying he had set a target of 3.0 percent unemployment by 2010 if re-elected.
"We have the lowest unemployment in 33 years, but I'd like to drive it down further," he said.
"I would like at the end of the next term of government, if we are re-elected, to have unemployment at three per cent. You would then be as close as you could ever get to a full employment society."
But on interest rates, a crucial factor for those with mortgages, and an issue Howard campaigned on strongly in the 2004 election, he faced renewed pressure.
Last week's strong inflation figures suggest the central bank will raise its official cash rate at its monthly meeting in November, an unprecedented move from the independent Reserve Bank of Australia during an election campaign.
Rudd said that ahead of the October 2004 election, Howard promised to keep interest rates at 30-year lows.
"If you're keeping an interest rate at 30-year lows and then suddenly it goes up five times since then, I don't think you're keeping it at 30-year lows," Rudd said
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