Six years ago, following the election of the Abbott Government, the renewable energy industry, and prospects for climate change were cast into a pretty dark period. Strong climate policies were unwound, and investment in new clean energy projects came to a standstill.
At times there seemed to be little hope that climate change could register as a major vote-winning issue in Australian politics.
However, the political environment has turned dramatically in recent years, as the impacts and threats of climate change grow more apparent. According to ABC’s Vote Compass, the economy was by far the most important issue to voters six years ago – climate change ranked fourth place, behind asylum seekers, and health and hospitals.
In 2019, Vote Compass finds that environment is now top, followed by the economy and then health and super/pensions.
RenewEconomy has taken a look at where each of the three largest parties, the Liberal-National Coalition, the Australian Labor Party, and the Greens stand on climate change, what key groups have had to say about their platforms and their prospects for this year’s election.
We also take a look at some of the independents to watch.
Where does the Liberal-National Coalition stand on climate change? Where do you start?
Rather than presenting a credible plan for tackling climate change, the Coalition has spent the 2019 election campaign focused on trying to scare voters about other party’s policies.
Brandishing discredited modelling from Brian Fisher, the Coalition has tried to characterise Labor policies as expensive, and the Labor Party itself as coming to take your utes away.
This falls into the classic mistake of ‘fighting the last war’. The Coalition took Government in 2013 on the basis of a relentless campaign against the carbon price. The Coalition thinks that by running the same playbook as 2013, it can retain power in 2019.
What the Coalition is promising:
- 26% to 28% emission reduction target by 2030.
- $2 billion to be provided to the Climate Solutions Fund, a rebranded Emissions Reduction Fund that will directly purchase emissions reductions
- Committed to the construction of Snowy 2.0.
- Committed to the establishment of a second interconnector between Tasmania and the Australian mainland.
- Will use carry-over units from the Kyoto protocol to meet its 2030 Paris agreement target.
- The Coalition has previously withdrawn funding for the international Green Climate Fund.
- Supports the Adani Carmichael coal mine.
“This is coal. Do not be afraid. Do not be scared. It will not hurt you.” Question Time, 9 February 2017.
“Our position is based on you can have your economy and you can have your cleaner environment; you don’t have to sell one out for the other” – 3 April 2019
“The Carmichael mine has always had our support, and to facilitate it. The approvals have been provided, and the approvals have to be delivered on, by the company, and of course that has to be. Right across the Galilee Basin, we want to see the continued growth of this industry”, on the Adani Coal Mine, 7 November 2018.
What others have said about the Coalition:
The Climate Council considered the Coalition’s failure to act on climate change over the last six years as “the defining leadership failure of the past decade.”
Analysis by Climate Analytics found that the Coalition’s emissions targets were “very far away from the Paris Agreement”.
The analysis also showed that the Coalition’s policies were likely to lead to overall increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and is not at all consistent with preventing global warming.
The Australian Conservation Foundation gave the Coalition a score of 4 out of 100, with a catastrophically bad set of climate and environmental policies. The Coalition failed in each category assessed by the ACF, with a small number of points awarded for a commitment to fund indigenous rangers.
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition went further and gave the Coalition a negative score (minus 1 out of 25) for their climate change policies, losing marks for its enthusiastic support of the Adani Coal mine.
“This inaction is putting us at war with a climate that has no more room for atmospheric pollution,” – Former UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres.
While predicting the outcomes of an election are equal parts science and guesswork, the Coalition are facing increasingly diminishing prospects of retaining power.
It’s not impossible for the Coalition to retain Government, but it will need to fight off challenges from some formidable independent campaigns and will need to take seats off Labor to regain a majority.
The Coalition’s open co-operation with potential crossbench members in One Nation and Clive Palmer could leave a booby-trapped Senate for any new Labor Government.
If the polls and the betting markets are to be believed, the Australian Labor Party, and its leader Bill Shorten, is on the cusp of winning power this Saturday.
After six years in the wilderness, and six years of relative leadership stability under Shorten, the Labor Party has regained the confidence to embrace climate change as a core pillar of its platform for re-election.
After getting booted from office following its failure to sell an otherwise successful carbon price policy, the Labor Party has borrowed from Coalition policies toolkit to use the Coalition’s toolkit against itself.
Buoyed by consistent polling showing that climate change and the environment is a top concern of voters, the Labor Party has developed a comprehensive set of policies and targets that give it credibility in acting on climate change, while dampening blows that the Morrison may seek to land during the election campaign.
The Labor platform has not been without its criticisms, with the issue of the Adani Carmichael Mine being the most notable source of friction. Labor has attempted a fine balancing act, between its own dislike of the project, and not wanting to spook Queensland voters.
What the Labor Party is promising:
- 45% emissions reduction target by 2030.
- 50% renewable energy target by 2030
- Introduction of Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee, to reduce emissions in the electricity sector
- Will adapt the safeguard mechanism, strengthening the emissions cap on other industries
- Will provide additional $10 billion to the CEFC to finance new clean energy and storage projects
- Electric vehicle target of 50% of new car sales by 2030 and the development of a new national electric vehicle strategy.
- Will support completion of Snowy 2.0
- Will provide $2000 rebates to households for the installation of up to 100,000 batteries.
- Has pledged $1.5 billion for the development of new gas pipelines.
- Will not use Kyoto “carry-over” units to meet its 2030 target, but will consider the use of international offsets.
- Has said the Adani Carmichael coal mine must “stack up environmentally and financially” but has stopped short of opposing the mine outright.
In their own words, Bill Shorten:
“Electricity bills, well they are out of control – so we’re going to fill the void and the thirteen energy policies of failure of this government and we are going to get more renewables into the mix, to get prices down.“ – Address to Labor campaign launch, 5 May 2019
“We choose renewables and we choose real action on climate change.” – budget in-reply speech, 4 April 2019
“I have no plans to review the approvals. But if we want to be fair dinkum, let’s be fair dinkum and let’s tell the voters the truth here, all of us. First of all if I’m Prime Minister I will adhere to the law of the land. I’m not going to be intimidated or bullied by environmental activists or big mining companies. For me it is all about the best science, the law of the land and not creating sovereign risk.”- on the Adani Mine, 23 April 2019.
What others have said about Labor:
Analysis by Climate Analytics rated the Australian Labor Party targets as being consistent with a Paris Agreement pathway, but only just.
Labor’s target scraped in at the low end of being compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees under the Paris Agreement, but fell short of being considered a “fair share” commitment.
The Australian Conservation Foundation gave the Labor Party a pass mark for their policies on climate change. The ACF score of 56% reflects stronger policies on renewable energy and for environmental protection. However, the ACF scored the Labor Party poorly on their policies to phase out fossil fuels, and a for its ambiguous position on the Adani coal mine.
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition likewise gave the Labor Party a middle-of-the-road score. AYCC awarded the Labor Party full marks for their policies to support solar on schools, but penalised the Labor Party for its commitment of funding to build new gas pipelines.
“Labor has a much better climate change policy than the Coalition.” – Former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
By all measures, Labor is the favourite to seize Government at this year’s election, however, it will be a close contest.
Polling and betting markets suggest that Labor will secure more seats than the coalition, but it’s unlikely to be a landslide result.
Projections from the ABC and Poll Bludger likewise suggest that Labor should win enough seats to control the House of Representatives in its own right, but depending on results in a few contests involving key independents, Labor may need to negotiate a hung parliament.
Either way, the prospects for stronger policies for climate change and renewable energy look good.
As they have always done, the Greens have led the pack when it comes to climate change and energy policies. Which is no surprise for a party founded by environmentalists.
It’s therefore no surprise that the Greens have developed the most ambitious package policies and targets for climate action in 2019.
The Greens policy package, by design, is outlines targets and indicatives that aim higher and would deliver more than both the Labor and Liberals respective platforms.
The Greens will be aiming for securing the balance of power in either, or both, houses of parliament – with a likely strategy of seeking to negotiate with a potential new Labor Government, as they were able to do under Julia Gillard in 2010.
What the Greens are promising:
- 63% to 82% emissions reduction target by 2030.
- 100% Renewable Energy Target by 2030
- Will provide additional $10 billion to the CEFC
- Will provide an annual budget to ARENA of $300 million
- Create a $1.7 billion Clean Energy Export Development Fund
- Will introduce a ban on new coal mines, fracking and conventional gas and oil fields.
- Establish Power Australia, a publicly owned, not for profit, electricity retailer
- Opposes the Adani Carmichael coal mine.
In their own words, Richard Di Natale:
“This is the climate change election. Only the Greens have a real plan to tackle dangerous climate change and transition Australia out of coal to a jobs-rich, renewable economy. The Greens have a plan that is based on science, not politics.” – 11 April 2019
“We are in the middle of a climate emergency, and we can’t be opening up any more coal, oil or gas fields if we are going to hand over a sustainable environment to our children and grandchildren,” – 23 April 2019
“A transition away from coal is urgent and necessary, but the Greens want to ensure that it doesn’t leave workers and communities stranded.”- 26 February 2019
What others have said about the Greens:
Analysis by Climate Analytics found that the Australian Greens’ emissions reduction targets were within the “fair share” range based on scientific research.
The Greens’ targets were the most ambitious of the three largest parties and were compatible with a 1.5-degree warming target under the Paris Agreement.
The Australian Conservation Foundation gave the Greens an almost perfect score for their environment and climate change policies, awarding the Greens a score of 99%.
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition went one better and gave the Greens a perfect 25 out of 25 in their own election scorecard.
“[Greens Senator] Sarah Hanson-Young is one of the few in our parliament who has a genuine commitment to decisive and urgent climate action — a leader when so many lag,”, former Liberal leader Dr John Hewson.
The Greens face a tough test at the 2019 election. Due to the way Senate terms are allocated following a double dissolution election, the Greens have a senator up for re-election in each of the six States.
Polls suggest that the Greens have held their vote at similar levels to that of the 2016 election, which should see Senators returned from WA, Tasmania and Victoria. However, the battle for re-election in South Australia, NSW and Queensland will be a lot tougher.
Polling suggests they should also retain Adam Bandt’s lower house seat in Melbourne and will be very competitive in the contests for the seats of Higgins and Kooyong.
If the Greens can hold on to most of their representation within the Senate, they will be in a strong position to hold the balance of power in the Senate.
One of the unique features of the 2019 election has been the emergence of a large number of independent challengers that are looking to win seats in Parliament on a platform of strong action of climate change.
Five of the independent candidates to watch:
Zali Steggall – Warringah
Steggall has run the strongest campaign of all of the independents, in her bid to unseat former Prime Minister Tony Abbott from his north-shore Sydney seat of Warringah. The former winter Olympic medallist turned barrister has tapped into growing dissent amongst Warringah voters, is a slight favourite to end the political career of one of parliaments most notorious climate wreckers.
Kerryn Phelps – Wentworth
Phelps won the eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth at last year’s by-election following the resignation from Parliament of another former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Phelps won on a platform of climate change action and compassionate treatment for refugees. Phelps faces a tough task for re-election, as her electorate’s anger from the ousting of Turnbull as PM may have subsided, but incumbency is always an advantage.
Oliver Yates – Kooyong
The former head of the CEFC has run a high profile campaign in an attempt to unseat Treasurer and former energy minister Josh Frydenberg. Frydenberg holds the seat with a 12.8% margin, but may be defeated by strong campaigns in the seat run by Yates, along side Labor and the Greens, whose candidate Julian Burnside remains an outside chance.
Helen Haines – Indi
Helen Haines is contesting the regional Victorian seat of Indi, with the endorsement of Cathy McGowan, who has retired from federal politics. The former nurse and midwife has campaigned strongly for action on climate change
Rob Oakshott – Cowper
Rob Oakshott is tipped to return to the Federal Parliament through the regional NSW seat of Cowper. Oakshott played a key role in the passage of the Gillard Government’s clean energy future package, having shared the balance of power in the House of Representatives following the 2010 election.
Wildcard – Clive Palmer
Clive Palmer has spent up big during the 2019 election – a tactic that worked for him in 2013, which saw him both the hero and enemy of climate campaigners and the renewable energy sector. Palmer is hoping to win a seat or two in the Senate, where we previously controlled a set of balance-of-power crossbenchers, before the alliance disintegrated.
Palmer used his position to repeal the carbon price, but also to protect funding for ARENA and the CEFC and to prevent efforts to repeal the RET. Palmer is running on a populist platform, driven primarily out of self-interest – and perhaps his coal assets in the Galilee Basin next to Adani – so its hard to predict what impact he may have on the 46th parliament.