ACT Labor leader Andrew Barr has taken a rare swipe at coalition partners the ACT Greens, labelling a plan to phase out the use of gas in the national capital as a ‘crazy greens proposal’, leading the Greens to question whether Labor was committed to ambitious climate action.
Barr was responding to a plan unveiled by ACT Greens, Shane Rattenbury, for the use of gas to be phased out in the ACT by 2040, with Barr saying that ACT Labor was not about to start ‘gas shaming’ people.
During a media conference on Tuesday, ACT chief minister Andrew Barr said consumers needed more time to transition away from the use of gas appliances, and should be given until 2045, the deadline the ACT government has set for achieving zero net emissions, rather than being pushed to meet the 2040 deadline promoted by the ACT Greens.
“What the Greens have overlooked is the ability to decarbonise the gas network through either the use of biogas, or ultimately making the transition to hydrogen gas,” Barr said.
“We can not heat this city, in our bitterly cold winters, with electricity alone. We do not have the sufficient infrastructure, and there is no question that Canberrans who currently have gas would be forced off gas ahead of when they are ready to do so. So we’re not going to be part of any crazy Greens proposal to that extent.”
“Our approach is going to be in partnership with households when they are ready to make that shift. We are not bringing out a big stick and saying you are a bad person if you use gas,” Barr added. “We are not going to be gas shaming people. We are not going to say ‘that you’re a bad household or a bad person if you use gas’, but you will need to for many years into the future.”
Barr said that providing the additional time, for a transition over the course of 25 years, would allow households to prepare for the phase-out of gas use, while also ensuring that the necessary infrastructure could be built to meet increased electricity demand.
It is a rare show of animosity from the ACT chief minister, who has relied upon the support of the Greens to form government, and as elevated ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury with a position in cabinet as the minister for climate change and sustainability.
Rattenbury said that the comments from the chief minister were disappointing, suggesting that Barr had misunderstood the ACT Greens’ policy.
“Of course it’s disappointing to learn that the Labor Party is shying away from major and urgent climate action,” Rattenbury said. “The Chief Minister has not read the policy, has misunderstood it, or is deliberately misrepresenting it.”
“Our package is about supporting households and businesses to choose clean, zero emissions energy. It’s about finding solutions that mean, as a community, we can achieve our goals, while making sure nobody gets left behind.”
“This is the ALP digging in deep for a gas-led future that will serve no-one. This is the time for ACT Labor to tell the public whether they support Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese’s gas-led recovery, or instead a zero emissions recovery that gives us all a future? Will ACT Labor side with gas industry profiteers, or a safe future for Canberrans?”
The comments come as ACT Labor announces its plans for the development of a new Molonglo town centre in Canberra’s west. Labor’s plan includes a commitment to progress two new zero emissions schools, a primary school, and a high school, in the Molonglo town centre.
The announcement follows the ACT Greens’ election pledge to ensure the entirety of the Molonglo development is emissions free which would require the construction of an all-electric town centre, ruling out the use of gas appliances. The ACT Greens are want to see all of the ACT shift away from fossil fuel gas use by 2040.
“A shift away from gas over time will help cut our emissions in step with what the climate scientists tell us we need to do to avoid a climate catastrophe. For Canberrans, this means transitioning over your gas appliances when they come to the end of their natural lifespan. Electric appliances are the cheaper and cleaner alternative over the long term,” Rattenbury said.
The ACT Labor and ACT Greens parties have formed an effective coalition government in the ACT Legislative Assembly continuously since 2008, with the Greens holding the balance of power and commanding influence over the policies implemented by the ACT Labor led government.
The relationship has been generally amicable between the two parties, but with an election just weeks away, the parties are battling to differentiate themselves from one another in an effort to capture support from ACT voters.
Both parties have supported commitments to achieve zero net emissions, and have worked on switching the ACT’s electricity supplies to 100 per cent renewable sources, a goal it achieved in October last year.
However, with an election scheduled for 17 October, the friendship between the two parties is effectively on hold as Labor aims to win an outright majority and the Greens seek to build their representation in the assembly. The ACT Greens have already ruled out any potential of forming a government with the Canberra Liberals opposition.
The Canberra Liberals have been in opposition in the ACT since 2001, and while adopting a more socially conservative policy platform, have said they would maintain the ACT’s status of sourcing 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, and have also backed plans to transition to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2040.