Policies and pledges: The "climate change election"

Climate and energy policy have played a key role in the debate leading up to this Saturday’s Federal Election, with media even labelling it the “climate change election[i]”.

In the lead up to the election we’ve seen an emphasis on driving down electricity costs, ongoing focus on the future of electric vehicles (EV), while school students have walked out of their classrooms to call for more action on climate change. A recent Lowy Institute Poll shows that 64 per cent of Australian adults now see climate change as “a critical threat” – ranking it higher than cyberattacks from other countries (62 per cent), international terrorism (61 per cent) and North Korea’s nuclear program (60 per cent)[ii] and the ABC’s Vote Compass found that more than more than 80 per cent of Australians want the Government to take more action on climate change, up 20 percentage points since 2013[iii].

So where do the parties stand on climate and energy policy? Below we take look at the key pledges of the major parties, as well as key independents…

Coalition

In February, the Scott Morrison-led government introduced its key emissions reduction policy, the $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package, to be spent over 15 years. It includes a $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund to fund carbon abatement projects mainly in the agricultural and land sector.

The party plans to spend almost $1.4 billion on the Snowy Hydro 2.0 expansion to add 2,000 megawatts of energy generation, provide 175 hours of storage, and back up intermittent renewables at times of high electricity demand. The Coalition is also consulting on a national hydrogen strategy.

The Coalition plans to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030 (below 2005 levels). However the package does not include an increase in renewables beyond the current 23.5 per cent 2020 target and the Government has not indicated what further targets it may commit to following 2030 - it has instead stated that the nation “is on track to overachieve its second Kyoto Protocol target (2013-2020) by 240 million tonnes[iv]”.

The Liberal-Nationals plan to use "carry-over" Kyoto credits (a trading currency via certificates that represent a number of tonnes) to meet Australia’s Paris commitment. Of the developed nations that have carry-over credits, nearly all have stated that they will not use carry-over credits to meet the Paris Agreement. Under a Coalition Government, Australia is expected to fall short of what is required to reach Australia’s Paris target commitment.

While Labor’s EV policy received ongoing media attention in the lead up to the election, the Coalition also has a goal for 25-50 per cent of new sales to be EVs by 2030. It does not, though, plan to have a vehicle emissions standard.

It aims to invest $50.4 million to help regional communities invest in new micro-grids: the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund will support up to 50 off-grid and fringe-of-grid communities.

The Coalition has indicated that it intends to continue to wave its ‘Big Stick’ legislation, and states that it is supporting reliable power by requiring energy companies to sign contracts guaranteeing enough energy to meet demand under the reliability guarantee, which came out of the broader National Energy Guarantee (NEG). It aims to underwrite new power generation projects and has announced a shortlist of 12 new energy generation projects designed to increase competition in the electricity market; its goal is a 25 per cent reduction in the average wholesale electricity price into the National Electricity Market (NEM) by the end of 2021. The Coalition will continue with implementation of the Default Market Offer and re-regulated retail electricity price, which Labor has indicated it supports and would also continue with its introduction.

As part of the shortlist of projects, the party is considering an upgrade of the coal-fired Vales Point power station in New South Wales, while the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has also committed to fund a feasibility study into a high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power plant in Collinsvale, North Queensland. The Government has also announced support for Snowy 2.0 and a new interconnector for Tasmania to support development of the Battery of the Nation plan for more pumped hydro storage.

To help combat the increasing costs of living, the Coalition has pledged a one-off $75-$125 payment for around 4 million welfare recipients through its Energy Assistance Payment (Labor also plans to back the Coalition's Energy Assistance Payment for vulnerable and low-income households).

Labor

Labor’s policy is focused on reducing emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 (based on 2005 levels) by ensuring more electricity is sourced from renewable energy.

The party has declared that it will seek to resurrect a bipartisan NEG “that can deliver on our commitment of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030”[v]. And if that fails, use federal powers to directly contract for renewable energy supplies to restore investment confidence. Labor has argued that the NEG is still widely supported and could be quickly put back on the rails[vi].

The ALP would not fund new coal-fired power plants. It plans to lower the pollution cap for 250 of Australia's biggest emitting companies, but facilities in the electricity sector will not be covered by the Safeguard Mechanism. Instead, they will be covered under Labor’s National Energy Plan.

Bill Shorten has pledged a $1.14 billion investment in a National Hydrogen Plan and an additional $15 billion for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund renewable energy projects.

Labor aims for 50 per cent of new car sales to be EVs by 2030. It has pledged tax deductions to businesses that purchase EVs, and aims to introduce vehicle emissions standards (to phase in standards of 105g of CO2 per kilometre for light vehicles).

Labor’s $200 million battery rebate program could also see households earning less than $180,000 receive a rebate of up to $2,000 to install battery systems. Labor plan to subsidise 100,000 batteries in homes and businesses.

While a step forward, it is anticipated that Australia would still fall short of its Paris agreement target under a Labor Government. Unlike the Coalition, Labor does not plan to use Kyoto carry-over credits to meet the target, but would allow companies to offset their carbon liabilities by purchasing international permits.

Greens

The Greens’ focus is to replace coal by transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy. It aims to establish Renew Australia - a not-for-profit, public energy retailer for renewables - to provide cheaper power, while driving billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy.

The party aims to shut down all coal-fired power plants and end coal exports by 2030, while creating 180,000 new jobs in renewables and providing support for coal workers and communities during the transition.

Going a step further than Labor’s EV policy, the Greens want to ban new internal combustion vehicles by 2030. Their goal is to increase the uptake of EVs while decreasing their price - it aims to achieve this through a car manufacturing mandate so fossil fuel cars are transitioned off the road and the cost of EVs reduced. They plan to establish vehicle emissions standards as well as a tax on luxury cars, to recompense for removal of taxes and fees applied to EVs.

The party opposes the use of international credits to meet the Paris Agreement, with some believing that the Greens’ policy is the only plan to keep Australia on-track and global warming at or below 1.5 degrees[vii].

Independents

Against the decline in support for major parties, the Federal Election is expected to see a rise in independents. There has been a slow but steady increase in support for independent candidates in federal and state elections since 1980[viii]. Some of the key independents for the Federal Election include:

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation believes that Australia should withdraw from the Paris Agreement and enter into a “sensible debate” on the establishment of nuclear power. It supports the use of renewable energy sources “when it makes sense to do so”, but does not support taxpayer subsidies for renewables. The party plans to implement low cost, dispatchable power and build a new low-emission coal-fired power station.

The Clive Palmer-led United Australia party has also stated that it supports the use of nuclear power for the country’s future energy needs. It is also “strongly committed” to the support and future development of the Queensland coal industry[ix].

In New South Wales, Zali Steggall, who has gained popularity as an independent candidate for the seat of Warringah, wants to reinstate an independent national climate change body and take advantage of Australia’s renewable energy resources while accelerating the shift to clean transportation. Locally, she plans to support Warringah’s clean energy sector through ensuring the region’s planning and infrastructure are adapting to a changing climate.

Halen Haines, a regional independent candidate who has gained increasing support in the key seat of Indi, in Northeast Victoria, supports a national Renewable Energy Target of no less than 50 per cent by 2030. Haines plans to increase household solar and battery installations as well as government investment in renewable generation technologies. She believes that community micro-grid technologies should to be supported at a federal level and plans to create a Community Energy Fund to aid the establishment of a network of community energy hubs across Australia[x].

While to the north, the Bob Katter’s Australia Party wants to increase electricity retail competition in regional Queensland and create new legislation to establish an automatic Australian Market Supply Condition on any new gas production in the state. To offset the high cost of diesel used in regional areas, the Australia Party aims to introduce an Isolated Solar Power Scheme for grants and subsidised loans for primary producers to install solar pumps, as well as rooftop solar for homes and workshops.

 


[i] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/may/08/australians-overwhelmingly-agree-climate-emergency-is-the-nations-number-one-threat?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[ii] https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/media-release-2019-lowy-institute-poll-australian-attitudes-climate-change

[iii] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-15/federal-election-vote-compass-climate-change/11110912

[iv] https://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/climate-solutions-package

[v] Labor’s Climate Action Plan

[vi] “Butler takes aim at investment logjam”, Australian Financial Review, 13 May 2019

[vii] https://theconversation.com/australias-major-parties-climate-policies-side-by-side-116896

[viii] https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1011/11rp04

[ix] https://www.unitedaustraliaparty.org.au/united-australia-party-committed-to-queensland-coal-industry/

[x] https://www.helenhaines.org/climate_and_renewables