Hunt attacked from all sides on ‘safeguards mechanism’, digs deeper into denial

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Labor calls “peak ineffectiveness” on Direct Action as Greg Hunt denies claims from the right the policy might actually have some bite.

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A week after they faced off at the National Press Club, Labor climate spokesman Mark Butler has laid into Coalition environment minister Greg Hunt over his climate “safeguards mechanism” and its apparent inability to actually drive down emissions.

“Direct Action is nothing but a dressed up slush fund, wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars while achieving no meaningful reduction in Australia’s pollution levels,” Butler said in a media release on Wednesday.

“The so-called ‘safeguard mechanism’ is so farcical it has set baselines to ensure no business is ever likely to exceed them.

“Expert after expert has been clear that the required cut to Australia’s emissions cannot be achieved without much tougher safeguard rules.”

Greg-Hunt-Liberal-MP-climate-change1
Labor says Greg Hunt has achieved “the pinnacle of ineffectiveness”. Right wing media says he’s trying to introduce an ETS by stealth.

“The only thing Greg Hunt’s safeguard mechanism is actually safeguarding is the dodgy deal Malcolm Turnbull has done with his party’s climate deniers,” Butler said.

Ironically, it is precisely this climate-denying rump of the Coalition that Hunt has been under pressure from this week – with plenty of help from the conservative media – amid claims that, as the AFR puts it, he has “secreted the structure of an emissions trading scheme” into Direct Action under the guise of a safeguard mechanism.

“The mechanism comes into force the day before the July 2 election but will not bite until 2020, when generous greenhouse gas emissions limits on 140 large industrial plants are due to be replaced by tough benchmarks,” the AFR report says.

“The innocuous sounding device could evolve into a carbon pricing scheme broadly like those that brought down Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, as well as the Liberal leadership of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2009.”

Interestingly, the claims appear to counter-balance the most common criticism of the Safeguards Mechanism to date, that it is safeguarding nothing and – as the Climate Institute’s John Connor put it here – explicitly letting heavy polluters off the hook.

But Hunt, who has repeatedly vowed never to bring back an ETS in any form, is having none of that and insists his scheme is “low touch”.

“We abolished the carbon tax. It’s not coming back under us. It will come back under the ALP. It doesn’t matter whether they call it an ETS or a carbon tax, it’s going to hike up electricity prices,” he said.

“Our scheme has consciously been designed for the long-term and it’s low touch which doesn’t raise revenue, unlike the ALP which just wants to raise a lot of money through hiking people’s electricity prices.”

Butler, meanwhile, has seized the moment: “Greg Hunt has today achieved the pinnacle of ineffectiveness,” he said in the release. “He has confirmed the Liberals’ climate ‘safeguard mechanism’ will do absolutely nothing to reduce emissions.”

Back in the real world, CME energy consultant Bruce Mountain noted that, semantics aside, both parties’ emissions targets would require “a lot of government action” to be met.

“If that’s what we have agreed internationally, it’s going to require a response. It simply has to happen or we are not going to meet those targets,” Mountain said.



And the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood said what people have been saying since the safeguards mechanism was first floated in September last year: that the scheme will need to be tightened to meet emissions targets, ideally with a law to create a genuine tradeable credit scheme.

“All the machinery is there and the minister can reduce the baselines without new legislation and you can create a version of a cap. But it’s not as neat as having a genuine cap-and-trade scheme,” he said.

“But if you want a proper trading scheme and to create credits automatically you’ll need some change in legislation and that puts it in the hand of parliament.”

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12 Comments
  1. howardpatr 3 years ago

    Hunt – I don’t know how useless can a politician be but Hunt must be a good guide.

  2. Jo 3 years ago

    He is a polite liar.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      And that’s putting it politely. He sir is scoundrel.

  3. DogzOwn 3 years ago

    How about local government winning in last auction, to get $13/t(or whatever) CO2e for capturing from landfill, which also saves fees for landfill, so should cost per tonne be doubled? Project justified by save fees without bonus from auction. Breaks all rules in Direct Action.

    • john 3 years ago

      The Council puts a pipe into land fill and burn off the methane to reduce it to CO2 gee that is such a good thing to do.
      Well actually it is better and yes is being done and they are being paid to do it.
      Perhaps utilizing the emissions and using it to create energy would be just a little bit better than burning it.
      Actually i have seen some land fill over garbage dump with a vent which just emits the methane: there was a sign which said no flame allowed in this area.
      Yes we are that stupid.

      • David Hall 3 years ago

        It would be even better if we had Energy from Waste plants that produced power from waste that was destined for landfill. The Europeans have been doing this for decade.

        • john 3 years ago

          I seem to remember this is being done in intensive piggeries not sure about dairy but the same tech works in both situations.

  4. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    So very disappointing. This is the first time in my memory the Environment Ministry has completely sold out to meaninglessness. A pox on all of them.

  5. john 3 years ago

    Greg Hunt has a problem, there is no way he can admit that the Direct Action policy is just taking up the previous initiatives put in place by state governments, so he has to try to say ” This action taken by the Government is so much better than any other Governments idea because it costs less”
    Admitting that having to put a price on that { Invisible, plant food, good for humanity product } is too high a hurdle to jump.
    So trying to keep a straight face while saying ” Our policy is working because it has delivered the lowest cost of mitigation in the world ” is shall we say just a little bit laughable.
    Meanwhile this is a total waste of time because the overwhelming majority of people will not care less as long as they can start up their 8 litre V8 and make sure they come back to the house with the AC set on 16c.

  6. David Rossiter 3 years ago

    As someone who has had the statutory role to set baselines (for the Renewable Energy Target), I wonder how these greenhouse gas emission baselines will be set for these 140 industrial plants. I would expect this process would be very data intense and technically onerous but I suspect from what I have read this is a safeguard mechanism to protect the business of the emitter not the environment.
    The statements made in the recent debate between Butler and Hunt were extraordinary. Hunt used his best debating skills with no concern for the environment. He has indeed reached the pinnacle of ineffectiveness and incredibility – it would appear there will be no abatement of emissions just confirmation of business as usual. As a start, it is time that a mechanism was introduced that makes the polluter pay not the tax payer paying the polluter.

  7. Dispassionate 3 years ago

    This has all been turned into a political football and everyone is buying into to it! It would be nice if people actually looked at the policies as they are without their red or blue glasses on and decided what was best for Australia rather than this football team supporter mentality that seems to make everyone one-eyed! Until that happens nothing will really happen in anything we might call a timely fashion. Well at least we can all wait in the warm.

    Edit: People like these should be in the news discussing the topic
    “We need a way of integrating energy and climate change policies in
    such a way that two key objectives are met – we keep the lights on and we get
    emissions down,” the energy executive said.
    “We need to get away from this sort of nonsense about one being better
    than the other. The political parties can argue about what the targets will be,
    that’s right and proper, but my appeal is they don’t argue about the mechanism
    for getting there.”
    People who want to look and make evidence based decisions.
    But that would be boring and sensible.

  8. Les Johnston 3 years ago

    Some politicians think Australians are not capable of intelligent thought. To try to claim that giving taxpayer funds to make more pollution is “smart” has logical gaps. Even an economic rationalist would not concur with that approach due to market failure arising from “emissions.” Climate change is one of the major issues facing the earth and we need critical analysis to tackle the changes required with least harm to the poor. We certainly do not need to be handing out taxpayer funds to the wealthy businesses to produce more pollution.

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