The Morrison government has defied a Senate order to release modelling produced as part of a possible commitment to a net zero target, as the Australian government is outed for trying to meddle with the contents of an influential climate report.
Heated debate broke out in the federal Senate on Thursday, after the Morrison government failed to comply with an order to publish modelling prepared as part of a proposed zero emissions target.
It refused to disclose potential details about policy costings and concessions being provided to shield the fossil fuel industry from the impacts of a decarbonisation target.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed a motion requiring federal energy minister Angus Taylor to table the government’s net zero emissions modelling – a motion that was, ironically, co-sponsored by Nationals senator Matt Canavan.
Former resources minister Matt Canavan had tweeted earlier in the week that “if this modelling is so good why does it have to remain a secret?”. Canavan subsequently broke ranks with the government to support the motion ordering the release of the modelling.
The order imposed a deadline of 10 am on Thursday for Taylor to produce the modelling. However, the deadline came and passed without the modelling being produced.
With the Morrison government effectively defying the Senate, the federal Labor opposition will seek to move a subsequent motion to compel the government to either produce the modelling or explain why it was refusing to do so.
Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, criticised the government for failing to release the modelling, given how much it had stressed the importance of producing a costed plan for climate policies.
“This government has failed to comply with the provision of the modelling,” Wong said.
“It does seem strange that a government that spent so much of the last eight long years saying to people, ‘you can’t have a target without a plan. You can’t have a target unless you know what it means,’ is going to such lengths to hide the economic modelling they are doing, or they have done for their climate plan.
“We all remember what Mr Morrison was like, bringing his lump of coal and saying ‘electric vehicles within the weekend’ and saying that ‘renewable storage was a big banana’. We know all know this is all fake. But what we do want to understand is the economic modelling that the government is predicating its policy on.”
The government’s leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, dismissed the attempt to force the government to publish the modelling as “grandstanding”.
“There are a number of quite predictable things in this place. It’s predictable indeed that the Labor Party, and indeed The Greens, will always find and seek any opportunity to play politics, do a bit of grandstanding to pursue different stunts,” Birmingham said.
“We will release, in relation to what we take to Glasgow, those commitments, those plans, and we’ll do all of that when we’ve concluded government processes, and before the Prime Minister provides those commitments in Glasgow.”
Senator Zed Seselja, who represents Angus Taylor in the Senate on matters relating to the energy and emissions reduction portfolio, said that more time was needed before the government could table any modelling of a net zero emissions target and that it would give further details by 29 October.
This timeline would conveniently allow the Morrison government to settle its position in its negotiations with the Nationals, before releasing the modelling.
The latest stoush comes as the Nationals outline their demands in negotiations with the Morrison government over a commitment to a net zero emissions target for 2050.
The Nationals are seeking substantial concessions from the government, including funds for the agricultural and resources sectors, as a condition of signing up to such a target.
Without an agreement, Morrison faces the prospect of attending the COP26 talks in Glasgow without a commitment to any new climate policies. Morrison cabinet minister, and Nationals senator, Bridget McKenzie, has warned that “it will be ugly’ if Morrison attempts to adopt a net zero target without the backing of the Coalition’s junior member.
Meanwhile, the BBC has reported that Australia was among a number of countries that tried to water down an influential climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
A huge cache of documents has been leaked, detailing more than 32,000 submissions made by governments and business groups and received by climate scientists working on the IPCC report.
According to reports, this included a push by senior Australian government officials for the removal of wording that called for a phase-out of coal fired power stations, despite the report finding that ending coal use was necessary to keep global warming within safer levels.
Australian officials also asked for language around the influence of fossil fuel industry lobbying to be removed, which had suggested the industry’s lobbying efforts had led to a watering down of the Australian government’s climate policies.
Both Japan and Saudi Arabia also lobbied for the IPCC report to be watered down, ensuring the Assessment Report – considered an authoritative statement of the current understanding of climate science – would not be seen to be talking down the future prospects of fossil fuel industries.
The documents had been leaked to Greenpeace’s investigative unit Unearthed. Greenpeace Australia CEO David Ritter said they showed the extent of the Morrison government’s attempts to undermine global climate action.
“These leaked documents reveal the shameful lengths the Morrison Government will go to to protect fossil fuel interests and damage global efforts to reduce emissions and safeguard the climate,” Ritter said.
“What we see in these leaked documents is Morrison Government officials in sabotage mode, rather than acting in good faith with the best interests of the Australian people to collaborate to secure ambitious global climate cooperation.”
“Scott Morrison has rejected setting a stronger 2030 emissions reduction target for Australia, and now we know his government is pushing back against key recommendations by the world’s leading climate science body on the need to phase out coal over the next decade,” Ritter added.