It’s been a big week for conservative governments in Australia – both state and federal – and climate, environmental and clean energy policy. The last week of parliament has seen a raft of legislation and executive decisions. Not all, however, have gone to plan.
Here’s a quick summary.
Axe the Tax: The Abbott government began its week by pre-empting official data on greenhouse emissions with the absurd claim that carbon cuts had come at a cost of $26,700 per tonne – a figure eagerly embraced by the Murdoch press and Sunday staff at TV networks. Mike Sandiford explains why it was rubbish. The actual data shows that the electricity sector, the main one covered by the carbon price, reduced emissions by 6.3%. Other sectors not covered increased emissions. But the claim was made to try and bully the Senate into repealing the carbon price. It didn’t work, with Labor and Green senators stalling debate until next year. Labor, which wants the carbon tax replaced with an emissions trading scheme, has also supported a move by the Greens to establish a Senate inquiry into the Coalition’s Direct Action alternative.
Abolish the CEFC: Having sailed through the House of Reps, the Abbott government’s effort to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation was stymied in the Senate this week, with the $10 billion green investment bank now set to continue at least until next July, when a new Senate will sit. Labor, the Greens and independents such as Nick Xenophon and DLP Senator John Madigan combined to reject the government’s bill to dismantle the CEFC, having split this and other bills (such as that to close the Climate Change Authority) from the bill designed to repeal the carbon tax.
Abolish the Climate Change Authority: The government also sought to push through the repeal of the Climate Change Authority this week, but the Senate spent a lot of time talking about a social security bill, so didn’t get around to it. That means that the CCA is free to complete its final report into emission caps and targets – it’s draft conclusion was that the current 5% reduction target was woefully inadequate.
Review the Renewable Energy Target: As long as the CCA remains in place, the government may have no choice but to allow it to do the review of the Renewable Energy Target, which is the key policy issue for the clean energy industry in 2014. The Coalition, and many energy incumbents, didn’t like the CCA’s conclusions in the review completed a year ago, and would much rather than an “economic dry” outfit such as the Productivity Commission reviewed it. But there is a statutory requirement that the CCA does a review as long as it exists. That may explain why the release of the terms of reference for the review, expected this past week, is yet to see the light of day. The government insists the terms of reference are “coming soon” and there is no delay.
Green-light for Queensland mega mines and reef dredging: The federal government also gave the green light for expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion at Bowen in north Queensland. Millions of cubic metres of spoil must be dredged and dumped near the reef, although the exact location for the dumping has yet to be decided. Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the amount to be dredged has been significantly reduced, but environmentalists say it will still impact heavily on the reef. Abbot Point could now become the world’s biggest coal port and the approvals were crucial for work to continue on the massive “mega” coal mines planned for the Galilee Basin. Hunt also approved Arrow Energy’s Liquefied Natural Gas project on Curtis Island in central Queensland, and a transmission pipeline to the island.
Murray Darling Basin delisted: In what has been described as an act of ‘political expedience’, the federal government this week revoked the critically endangered listing of the Murray Darling Basin, overruling the findings of five years of independent scientific review. The listing was placed on the Basin by the former Federal Labor government the day before this year’s official election campaign began, prompting the ire of irrigators groups who thought it would make it harder to run or expand their business in the Basin.
Queensland’s clean energy snow job: Premier Campbell Newman pre-empted news of another 13.5 per cent rise in electricity bills by blaming the carbon price and green energy schemes, even though the actual announcement showed that the impact of the carbon price and renewable energy targets would actually reduce bills in 2014/15. The real culprits were a huge surge in gas prices, caused by the LNG boom, and yet more increases in network costs. Why the antipathy to solar, in particular? Because the Newman government is still intent in selling its networks and perhaps combining other assets such as Stanwell Corp and Ergon Energy, both of whom under attack from the growth of solar or dependent on government subsidies to deliver their services.
Victoria’s brown coal obsession: In Victoria, the Napthine government is considering allocating mining permits for 13 billon tonnes of Latrobe Valley brown coal, the equivalent of 13 new mines the size of the Hazelwood mine. The government hopes to establish a brown coal export industry, and according to Environment Victoria is on the verge of handing over $90 million of taxpayers’ money for new polluting brown coal projects.
Saying no to Holden: The announced closure of Holden is not directly related to climate and clean energy issues, apart from a history of ignoring trends towards smaller and fuel efficient vehicles. What will worry the clean energy industry – and any other industry for that matter – is the government’s hairy chested dare to GM to close down its Australian subsidiary, and its apparent refusal to extend subsidies by another $80 million a year, even if the mop-up job and economic impact will be significantly higher. The government’s preference for conducting industry policy by shouting across the chamber of the House of Representatives suggests to some that it is yet to make the transition from Opposition to government.