The Morrison government has used its numbers on a parliamentary committee to recommend that legislation proposing to commit Australia to reaching zero net emissions by 2050 be rejected, arguing it was up to Australian voters to choose which climate policies the country adopts.
But two “moderate” Liberal party MPs have used the committee’s report to call on their own party leadership to commit to a zero net emissions target by 2050, and for the Morrison government to set interim emissions targets.
In its final report of its inquiry into the Climate Change Bills proposed by independent MP Zali Steggall, the committee’s majority Coalition members argued that the proposed legislation would hand over decisions over government policy to an unelected body.
Steggall has proposed an independent Climate Change Commission that would be made up of members with expertise in climate science and policy, in much the same way that the Reserve Bank operates monetary policy.
The committee’s chair, Liberal-National Ted O’Brien, said in a forward to the committee’s report that the proposed Climate Change Commission would also replicate the work of the existing Climate Change Authority.
This is despite the Climate Change Authority revealing during senate estimates hearings that federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor has never asked the authority to undertake any work to review or plan for a pathway to zero net emissions.
Steggall said she was disappointed that the Coalition members of the parliamentary committee decided to oppose the legislation and that it was “strange” that the Morrison government would oppose advice being provided by an independent expert body.
“In a time where industry and investors have been battered by COVID-19 they do not need more challenges. They need the Morrison Government to smooth the transition on climate for them. The inquiry has shown the accepted model to do this is proposed in the Climate Change Bills,” Steggall said.
“It is just strange to take issue with the proposed Climate Change Commission for being unelected experts advising government when for the last 18 months, the Government has followed the advice of the unelected chief medical officers in its response to Covid, and had no qualms in setting up the unelected advising Covid Coordination Commission, led by Nev Power, when it suited the Prime Minister.”
The bills have been modelled off the approaches adopted by the United Kingdom and New Zealand, which legislated commitments to long-term emissions reduction targets and established independent expert bodies to advise the government on how to achieve those targets.
While agreeing that the Bills should be rejected, two moderate Liberal party members of the committee included a separate statement calling on their own party leadership to commit to zero emissions targets by 2050.
Liberals Trent Zimmerman and Bridget Archer called for the Morrison government to set a long-term emissions reduction strategy consistent with “delivering the target of net zero emissions by 2050.”
“This strategy should include a national commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The government should consider the best ways to provide certainty to business and the community in relation to this commitment. [And] confirm the government will continue to develop emissions budgets for the Australian economy for the period to 2050. We recommend ten-year emissions budgets with five yearly reviews,” Zimmerman and Archer said.
The comments highlight the potential battle within the Coalition government, with Nationals members of the Coalition actively hostile to any suggestions Australia could commit to a 2050 target of zero net emissions.
Steggall, who unseated former prime minister Tony Abbott from the seat of Warringah at the last federal election, said that the government’s opposition to adopting stronger climate change targets and policies was making it easier for other potential independent candidates to challenge sitting government parliamentarians.
“This report has ironically paved the way for more independents to challenge moderate MPs who say they are strong on climate action and have failed to support the clear call for policy certainty on climate,” Steggall said.
“MPs like Trent Zimmerman should be embarrassed by their own government’s failure to act on climate change. They are looking for excuses not to support the approach proposed in the Bills and the recommendations; suggesting Australia should not be advised by independent experts when Australia has for the last 16 months followed expert advice at every turn in its response to Covid.”
In additional comments, two Labor members of the committee said that while the proposed legislation did not entirely align with Labor’s policies, they still viewed the Bills as a considered proposal that should be debated by parliament.
“Coalition members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy have today recommended Parliament shut down debate on climate bills, including for Australia to legislate a net zero by 2050 emissions reduction target,” Labor’s Josh Burns, Josh Wilson and energy spokesperson Chris Bowen said in a joint statement.
“This is further evidence that Morrison’s ‘preference’ for net zero by 2050 is just more weasel words from a Prime Minister that is loose with both truth and delivery.”
“Labor members of this committee supported these bills being considered by the Parliament.”
Responding to the committee’s report, the Australian Conservation Foundation called the Morrison government to allow a conscience vote on the proposed Climate Change Bills.
“Among the 99% of supportive submissions were contributions from peak business and industry groups the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group, yet the committee has rejected the bill and its key elements,” ACF’s climate change campaigner Suzanne Harter said.
“Many individual government MPs say they want climate action – not only metropolitan members like Jason Falinski and Katie Allen, but also regional representatives like Darren Chester, Anne Webster and Warren Entsch, who are well aware of what an increasingly hotter climate means for farmers.”
“These bills should be given a conscience vote in the parliament,” Harter added.
The Bills will now remain with the house of representatives for consideration, but it is unclear whether the Morrison government – which controls the business considered by the house – will ever instigate a vote on the bills, given its opposition.