The official party platforms have not yet been unveiled for the September 14 poll – and may not be until after the “official” campaign period begins on August 12. Still, it’s pretty clear where the three main parties stand, so we’ve outlined the principal issues.
We’ll be updating and expanding this document over time – including extending it to Senators and other independents who could have an influence over the election result. We’d welcome your input in the comments section below, or to editor (at) reneweconomy.com.au.
CLIMATE, IS IT REAL?
Coalition: Abbott is still haunted by his remark describing the science underpinning climate change as “crap”, and in his written campaign speech on Monday said nothing to suggest he has changed his mind. Quite the opposite, actually. Party policy still focuses on “cleaning up the environment” via direct action to reduce carbon emissions and “a 15,000-strong Green Army charged with the clean-up and conservation – “so that we can all enjoy a cleaner environment and a more sustainable future without the impost of the carbon tax.”
Abbott is also surrounded by climate denialists in own party, and on his Business Advisory Council, which is to be chaired by Maurice Newman, who also happens to be a vocal anti-wind energy campaigner. Joe Hockey has vowed to dismantle the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.
Labor: Yes. Federal climate change minister Greg Combet has repeatedly said that “the debate over whether climate change is real was decided long ago,” while the PM told the National Press Club on Wednesday that “climate change is not a future proposition. We are living through climate change.”
Greens: Yes, and they are the only party to propose policies that truly reflect the science.
Coalition: Abbott’s repeated vows to repeal the carbon price are now backed by an official Coalition policy plan, which says that, if elected, Abbott’s first order of business will be “to instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to draft legislation that repeals the Carbon Tax and to have the legislation ready within one month.” But he may have trouble achieving this goal, particularly if the Coalition does not have majority in Senate. Threats of a double dissolution have also been raised, but that will depend on numbers and vote appetite for a climate referendum, particularly as it would be held after the release of the latest IPCC report.
Throughout Abbott’s “Real Solution” policy platform the government’s carbon price is variously described as “the world’s biggest carbon tax,” an unnecessary tax, and a burden that is to blame for adding to cost-of-living pressures, especially rising electricity and gas prices, and for causing “real economic damage to our economy.” The Coalition’s Direct Action plan proposes cutting carbon through sequestration and CCS and the establishment of a $3 billion Emissions Reduction Fund “to allocate money in response to emission reduction tenders to projects designed to reduce carbon emissions.”
Labor: Policy is for $23/t fixed price to last till July 1, 2015, when it will move to trading scheme pegged to European scheme, which struggling at the moment with prices around $5. Companies allowed to buy even cheaper credits in Kyoto scheme for 12 per cent of their liability.
Greens: As Greens Leader Christine Milne told RenewEconomy in an interview in April of last year, throughout the party’s negotiations with the ALP on the carbon pricing scheme, “I said we needed a carbon price plus, plus, plus – including the RET and the CEFC – and I continue to say that.” And while there are elements of the scheme the Greens are not happy with, such as the size of the carbon compensation packages being handed back to the big polluters, the party collaborated with the Gillard government to get the carbon price through parliament, and then collaborated again on the decision to scrap the carbon floor price and link the scheme with the EU market.
RENEWABLE ENERGY TARGET
Labor: Ostensibly it is the fixed target of 41,000GWh by 2020. However, Minister Combet is yet to rubber stamp the Climate Change Authority’s recommendation that it remain in place. It says it will do so “in the first half of the year.” Energy Minister Ferguson is probably arguing it should not.
Coalition: It’s support for the 20 per cent target is ambiguous, because it has not yet made clear whether that represents the fixed target, or the “floating” 20 per cent target of actual demand proposed by many utilities and generators. Promises to scrap the CCA.
Greens: They want the RET extended and the target lifted to 50 per cent by 2030, and 100 per cent “as soon as possible” – and no later than 2050.
EMISSIONS REDUCTION TARGET
Labor: Unilateral 5% cut from 2000 levels by 2020, with a possible 15-25% reduction depending on the action of other countries. It has indicated it will be guided by – but not necessarily beholden to – a review by the Climate Change Authority, which will deliver a report on appropriate targets and trajectories.
Coalition: Unilateral 5% cut. Nothing more. It has vowed to scrap the Climate Change Authority.
Greens: Want target raised to a 25-40% cut by 2020, with 100% reductions as “soon as practical.”
CLEAN ENERGY FINANCE CORP
Labor: With the support of the Greens, the Gillard government ushered the legislation for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation through the Senate in June last year, giving the green light for the establishment of a $10 billion green investment bank for clean energy development. Under the bill, the government will invest $2 billion a year over five years, with which the CEFC will support renewable and low-emission projects through loans, guarantees and equity investments. The government says the corporation will become self-supporting.
Coalition: Wants to scrap it – a threat that has been repeated by the likes of shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, and Coalition energy spokesman Ian MacFarlane – who said last year that it was designed to use taxpayers money for projects that the private sector would not fund. And back in 2011, shadow finance minister Andrew Robb described the CEFC as a “a honeypot to every white-shoe salesman imaginable.”
As with the party’s recently outlined “Plan to Abolish the Carbon Tax, the Coalition’s plan now that an election has been called is “to take advantage the spirit of the Caretaker conventions” and formally request the CEFC desists from making any further determinations on renewable energy grants, funds or financing. If elected, an Abbott government would order the CEFC to suspend its operations while the department of finance prepared legislation to shut it down permanently – a task the Coalition expects will be completed within the first sitting fortnight of Parliament.
Greens: Strong supporters of the CEFC as “a key plank of the carbon price agreement” and a world-leading investment into renewable energy and clean technology. The Greens have argued that the CEFC should be additional to the RET.
Labor: Introduced the solar multiplier which helped light a fire under the uptake of solar PV, but has now accelerated its redundancy as costs fall. Future solar strategy yet to be articulated. Ferguson does not favour a national feed in tariff. Solar Flagships program was a farce and funding has now been handballed to Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
Coalition: Has a “one million roofs policy which a little out-dated, because one million roofs already have solar in Australia. Suggests that it may adjust that to mean “one million more roofs” – targeting low income families. Has $100 million to spend on this per year.
Greens: Wants a national feed in tariff and incentives to continue, and remove impediments to roll out of commercial solar. Favours targeted investment in large scale solar. WA Greens just announced a $68 million program to install solar on all roofs of public housing in the state.
CARBON FARMING INITIATIVE
Labor: The ALP’s initiative to pay farmers and landowners to store carbon in their trees and soil, or for reducing their own emissions, was passed into legislation in August 2011 after lengthy negotiations with the Greens over which projects should and shouldn’t be included. Currently, it covers (subject to assessment and approval) methodologies for reforestation, legacy waste emissions from landfill sites, manure management in intensive livestock production and savanna fire management.
Methodologies for fertiliser use and avoided deforestation could also potentially be developed under the scheme. Under the voluntary scheme, farmers can also sell carbon credits direct to businesses which want to offset their emissions or become carbon neutral. Government climate adviser Ross Garnaut has said that once carbon farming is part of an emissions trading scheme it could be worth $2.25 billion a year – the equivalent of another wool industry.
Coalition: One of the few current climate policies they support. However, their own ambitions for CFI (which largely involves burying a whole lot of carbon in agricultural soil), and the abatement they claim can be obtained have been queried by scientists, and farmers say the Coalition are underestimating the cost at which CFI initiatives are economically attractive.
Greens: The Greens supported the Carbon Farming Initiative through the Lower House – after previously saying they would block the bill over concerns some of the projects included in the scheme could have unintended negative consequences for the farming industry, the environment and water usage – and then the Senate soon after. Senator Milne has since praised the initiative as a boost to farmers, as well as an opportunity to increase employment in remote Aboriginal communities.
However, as part of their stated policies, the Greens have also called for the “adoption of the precautionary principle in relation to carbon capture and storage (geosequestration) by opposing public funding, and ensuring that companies are financially responsible for the risks of CO2 leakage.”