What is widely regarded as the last budget to be delivered by the Turnbull government before the next federal election ceded no ground on climate policy, insisting that it’s much criticised emissions reduction targets would remain unchanged.
Budgets are not usually the platforms for changes in climate or energy policy, but they are an expression of the importance that the government of the day attaches to certain programs, its values and its priorities.
For the last few years, it has usually been just an opportunity for the Coalition government to steal from budgets – from ARENA, the CEFC and The Climate Authority and this budget appears no different.
The budget delivered by Treasurer Scott Morrison on Tuesday night found $15 billion for short term hand-outs to average wage owners and promised a $140 billion handout in the future for mostly high wage owners.
But it couldn’t find a cent for any emissions reduction policies, and its only comment on climate and energy was to flatly reject the idea that encouraging more renewables will deliver cheaper electricity prices, as the renewables target is forecast to do by 2020.
Instead, Morrison – the man who brought a lump of coal into parliament in the middle of a heatwave last year – mocked the very idea of renewables.
“We will maintain our responsible and achievable emissions reduction target at
26-28 per cent, and not the 45 per cent demanded by the Opposition. That would only push electricity prices up,” Morrison said.
“And we will not adopt the 50 per cent renewable energy target demanded by the Opposition that will also only put electricity prices up.”
Energy minister Josh Frydenberg nodded furiously in agreement. And that was that for the Coalition’s climate and energy vision.
Morrison even claimed annual power bills will fall by $400 on average for every Australian household from 2020 “following the introduction of our national energy guarantee.”
But even what he called the “National Energy Security Board” has made it clear that the vast majority of those reductions will come from the benefits of the renewable energy target the government has demonised.
Morrison then went on to say that “all energy sources and technologies should support themselves without taxpayer subsidies. The current subsidy scheme will be phased out from 2020.”
This is the reference to the RET, but as environmental groups point out, the diesel fuel rebate scheme is budgeted to cost $30 billion over from now till 2021, including $1 billion a year just to coal mining companies.
Meanwhile, spending on the environment has been cut further, with no new monies for the emissions reduction fund, leaving Australia on a path of increasing emissions and no policy to address even its own inadequate Abbott-era targets.
Environmental groups also noted that budget cut continued – most notable to the Department of Environment and Energy, whose funding lost another $169 million and whose funding by 2021-22 will be 43 per cent lower than when the Coalition took office in 2013.
The Climate Change Authority, the independent body that Abbot tried to kill after it dared point out that Australia needed to aim a lot higher to meet its Paris commitments, is further trimmed, losing another $550,000 to just $2.9 million – less than half its first budget in 2011.
“This is a reckless budget that actively encourages climate pollution, invests little in clean energy and slashes investment in Australia’s wildlife, forests and rivers,” said Kelly O’Shanassy of the Australian Conservation Fund.
“This is a values choice by the Turnbull Government to slash investment in the clean water, healthy country and safe climate that sustains all Australians.
Labor’s climate spokesman Mark Butler labelled it a disgrace, noting it also confirmed the removal of the energy supplement for older and vulnerable members of the community.
“This budget makes official what we already know; Malcolm Turnbull’s Government is failing to tackle crippling power prices, failing our international obligations under the Paris Agreement, and most importantly failing all future generations of Australians.”
Butler also made note of the new data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency, which said overnight that renewables had created 10 million jobs worldwide, most of them in Asia.
Australia, Butler said, was missing out, and while it had enjoyed jobs growth for the recent (and much delayed) investment in large scale wind and solar projects to meet the RET, it could have been a lot more.
“If Australia had just kept pace with global renewable jobs growth, we would have 26,500 renewable energy jobs, almost 12,000 more renewable energy jobs than we do,” Butler said.
“The cost of the Abbott-Turnbull anti renewable crusade isn’t just higher prices and higher pollution; it’s at least 12,000 renewable energy jobs.
“Australia has the technology and the natural resources to be a world leader in renewable energy. But under this government Australia doesn’t even make it onto the world map of renewable energy jobs.”
The one bright spot?
The budget papers still include the $110 million promised for the Port Augusta solar tower and molten salt storage project in South Australia.
“The above figures incorporate the Government’s decision to make available up to $110 million for an equity investment, if required, to accelerate and secure delivery of a solar thermal project in Port Augusta, South Australia,” it says.