Al Gore talks climate change in Melbourne
The day after accompanying Clive Palmer to his carbon tax press conference, Al Gore addresses an Climate Reality Project audience in Melbourne. Nine News.PT2M36S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3av6x 620 349 June 26, 2014
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As late as Wednesday morning, the conspirators behind one of most unlikely press conference in political history were still not completely convinced it would go ahead. It wasn't until Al Gore stepped off the plane that Don Henry, Ben Oquist, Andrew Crook and John Clements breathed a sigh of relief.
Clive Palmer's headline-grabbing double act with Gore may have appeared impromptu but the former US vice-president's road to Canberra began months earlier.
Henry - until this year the long-serving chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation - had already organised an Australian visit as part of Gore's climate change education venture. Gore sought Henry's advice about meeting other people in his time down under. Henry suggested Palmer, given his party's role in the Senate.
Palmer agreed to consider it. In the following weeks Henry negotiated with the Palmer United Party leader on Gore's behalf. And through the discussions Palmer began indicating a shift in his position on climate change.
At the same time Clements - a long-time staffer to former independent MP Tony Windsor - was lobbying Palmer about the importance of the climate change measures agreed by the former Parliament. As an insider explained, for Clements ''there were legacy issues involved in protecting elements of the package … he was interested in protecting the [Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the renewable energy target]''.
Oquist, a former chief of staff to Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne who is now with the Australia Institute, was also working on Palmer.
They got to know each during negotiations over preferences for last year's election. Oquist lobbied him to consider the merits of the Climate Change Authority, the money-making Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the possibility of a zero-dollar emissions trading scheme. He pushed the benefits of the renewable energy target, supported by few Coalition MPs.
One insider familiar with the negotiations said: ''There were two parallel things going on. Ben was talking to Clive, and that just merged with Don bringing Gore out. We only knew it would happen when Gore got off the plane at Canberra airport. At every point it could have fallen over, though the closer we got, the greater the likelihood it would come off.''
There was also an ally in Palmer's staffer Crook, who immediately saw the potential boost of a joint Palmer-Gore appearance in Canberra for his boss. Palmer agreed quickly to back the financing corporation, a position some PUP senators had already warmed too. But for Gore to get on stage, Palmer had to swing behind the renewable energy target.
''Clive had to move on the RET and that only happened over the weekend,'' another insider said.
''It was Clive and his team. He talked to his party room, they met on the weekend, and it was their final decision.''
But while PUP moved on the target, any weakening of the party's position of repeal of the carbon tax was a non-starter.
After the announcement there was confusion whether the PUP support for repeal would be contingent on the establishment of a zero-dollar emissions trading scheme, which it is now proposing. Initially Palmer's staff briefed this was the party's starting point. But Palmer quashed that position hours later on Lateline.
Before the announcement Henry, Gore and Oquist and others knew they did not have a deal for repeal to be contingent on a trading scheme. Gore had last-minute doubts about standing next to Palmer as he backed the abolition of Australia's price on carbon, but was eventually convinced the advances still merited his presence.
Henry told ABC Radio on Thursday that Gore had not been ''played'' by Palmer. He said Gore did not give his blessing to axe the carbon tax but saw the merit in saving clean energy infrastructure and a commitment to a future ETS.
The government claimed victory, with the repeal of the carbon tax certain to go ahead. Palmer's other demands will be negotiated.
Late on Wednesday night in a dining room in Parliament House, Gore and Palmer again took centre stage at an intimate dinner for about 20 people.
Clements, Oquist, Henry, Crook were on hand, as was PUP senator Glenn Lazarus, Lock the Gate campaigner Drew Hutton, and federal independent MP Cathy McGowan. So were Palmer's children. The discussion turned to climate change often.
Elsewhere in the building, government strategists were redoing their political calculus.
The carbon tax would go, but Palmer, for now, was here to stay.