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Protesters overshadow Australian PM`s climate speech

International Desk |
Update: 2010-07-23 01:25:46
Protesters overshadow Australian PM`s climate speech

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was heckled by rowdy protesters on Friday as she delayed action on climate change to consult a "citizens assembly", in a major announcement before elections.

Security staff tackled one demonstrator to the ground and led him away in handcuffs, while chanting could be heard through much of Gillard`s address at a Brisbane university campus.

The prime minister made a slight pause and smiled briefly during the disturbance, which overshadowed her long-awaited policy address and was the first hiccup of her tightly managed election campaign.

"Through a dedicated discussion, a representative group of Australians drawn from all ages, parts of the country and walks of life will help move us forward," she said.

"And if I`m wrong and that group of Australians is not ready for the consequence of change, that will be a clear warning bell that our community has not been persuaded as deeply as required about the need for transformational change."

Gillard said the citizens assembly, helped by a new climate commission to provide scientific advice, would examine the case for a carbon-trading scheme for 12 months before making recommendations.

She said, if elected, her government would back the cap-and-trade system which was twice blocked by parliament before being shelved by ex-leader Kevin Rudd, so badly damaging his public standing he was deposed in a party coup.

Businesses would be given incentives to act immediately on pollution and Australia would make use of renewable energy, Gillard added, warning that she would only act "in step" with major economies.

Australia`s first woman prime minister, who was also confronted by about a dozen demonstrators as she arrived for the speech, later shrugged off the protests.

"We`re at a university, and universities tend to be home to passionate young Australians who make their voices heard in a variety of ways," she said. "And we heard some voices today."

Environmental group Greenpeace said Gillard`s announcement pandered to the powerful mining industry, seen as influential in many marginal seats for the August 21 polls, while academics also gave a cool reception.

"The Labor party`s climate approach is extremely disappointing," said Professor Warwick McKibbin, director of the Research School of Economics at the Australian National University.

"The science and expert input has made a strong case for action for more than a decade. A majority of Australians already want to take action on climate change."

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said Gillard was determined to introduce a carbon tax, which is strongly opposed by big business.

"I think it`s a camouflage for Julia Gillard to bring in a carbon tax," he said of her policy.

Climate change, along with immigration and the economy, is considered a key issue for next month`s elections, where Gillard is seeking a public mandate after her shock ousting of Rudd.

Australia, the world`s biggest per capita polluter, signed the Kyoto Protocol under Rudd and pledged to cut pollution by five percent of 2000 levels by 2020.

But the environmental push was undermined by the carbon scheme`s failure and last year`s unproductive UN climate summit in Copenhagen, where Rudd was a leading protagonist.

Gillard`s announcement came as United States lawmakers scrapped plans to introduce climate change legislation, potentially setting back global efforts to control the Earth`s warming.

BDST: 0919 HRS, July 23, 2010


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