A group of Labor, Greens and Independent federal MPs have called on the Morrison government to address the severe lack of transparency around the its economic response to Covid-19, as it looks set to embrace the fossil fuel industry, while ignoring the opportunities in a green recovery.
The concerns about the lack of transparency in both its Covid-19 economic response and the development of climate policy were all expressed by Labor climate spokesperson Mark Butler, Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt and Independent MP Zali Steggall all joined an online panel hosted by the Carbon Market Institute on Friday.
All three of the parliamentarians said that the disruption caused by Covid-19 created an opportunity for Australia to embrace green technologies as part of its stimulus response to the growing economic crisis, which could drive substantial economic opportunities in clean energy and clean industry.
However, Labor climate and energy spokesperson Mark Butler said that the Morrison government’s push into a ‘gas-led’ recovery made little sense given the industry’s poor track record of supporting the Australian economy.
“What has happened to the Eastern state’s gas market will provide rich material for many, PhDs over the coming years. It really is one of the most abject failures of public policy over the last 20 years,” Butler said.
“So the idea that we would go back for more, and ground economic recovery on a fossil fuel that is the subject of a fundamentally dysfunctional market, where prices have tripled and supply for domestic businesses and households is scarce, doesn’t doesn’t have much attraction to me.”
Independent MP for Warringah, Zali Steggall, told the panel that it was concerning that the Morrison government had handpicked a commission to advise on the economic response, will little transparency and a clear lack of diversity in experiences and industry representation.
“At the peak of the shutdown, we had the creation of the National Covid Coordination Commission. I’ve raised concerns that we have very little information as to its terms of reference which are broad, but really unspecific. We have concerns around duty of disclosure of conflicts of interest, the nomination process and the skills that are around the table,” Steggall said.
“There’s certainly a lot of areas that aren’t represented around that table that I think would add to the to the work being done. And clearly, despite the reassurance from the Prime Minister that this is a body looking at just facilitating supply lines. It’s doing a bigger job than that. And we need, we need visibility, there should be transparency and there should be accountability to the public.”
Steggall added that it was disappointing to see the Morrison government take an approach of circumventing sources of expertise, including the Climate Change Authority, to instead draw upon advice and recommendations from its own handpicked bodies.
“It’s really interesting to see what’s happened with the the King Review now, that has completely circumvented the Climate Change Authority that’s also doing a review. Is it because it’s a cherry picked small group of people that the government, or the ministry, is comfortable with doing a review?” Steggall queried.
“We’ve seen the recommendations and broadly be accepted by the government. Now, we don’t know the process by which that’s occurred. So there’s real questions of why has the minister circumvented the Climate Change Authority and gone to the King Review.”
Steggall added that the key to ensuring that the green stimulus opportunities were being considered as part of the Covid-19 economic response was to ensure there were a wider range of experts advising the government on the economic opportunities, beyond those of the gas sector.
“We clearly have great opportunities when it comes to green steel, green aluminium and green hydrogen. I don’t agree it’s going to be a gas fuelled recovery. I agree that gas plays a part, but it simply is not the technology of the future,” Steggall told the panel.
Bandt said that without a formal seat at the table, it will be up to “loud voices with good ideas” to convince the government to look beyond.
“I think the ideas now need to be put on the table and we need to find ways of muscling our way in to the recovery debate. That is happening because there’s no official few official seats at the table. So it’s going to need to be loud voices with good ideas,” Bandt said.
This is a growing view amongst climate and energy policy experts, including director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the ANU, Frank Jotzo, who echoed Bandt’s comments in response to the government’s release of the Technology Investment Roadmap released on Thursday.
“It seems that it will be up to external participants in this debate – our universities, research organisations, think tanks, business associations and NGOs – to explain that Australia really can make a low carbon economy happen, and what the priority actions are,” Jotzo said.
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