The federal Coalition government has delivered its last budget before the May poll, and pretty much finished the way it started in government nearly six years ago: Long term climate and clean energy policies and technologies are ignored, and the focus is on trinkets and handouts.
Don’t worry about climate, or even any other “assets” and themes that have long-term value, such as education and research, seems to be the message. Instead:Look, money! And it’s mostly awarded to people who probably don’t need it.
The cynicism is revealed in both the climate and the energy announcements. In climate, the Coalition appears to have given up all pretence that it is taking its own mediocre policies seriously.
The $2 billion of taxpayers funds it committed in February to its discredited emissions reduction fund, now branded the “climate solutions package,” has already been morphed into a 15-year program with a drip-feed at the start – just $47 million a year over the budget estimates.
As noted by Simon Holmes a Court, from the Climate and Energy College in Melbourne, this amounts to abatement of around three million tonnes a year, or about one sixth of the Chevron LNG plant in Western Australia.
Just to underline, this is the focus of the government’s emissions reduction program. The word “cynical” doesn’t quite capture it.
Over at the energy department, it is easy to imagine the staffers in minister Angus Taylor’s office having a bit of a giggle as they typed out the headline of his budget release: “$1.88 billion on action to reduce power bills and keep the lights on.”
There is actually nothing new here, and not much of it will reduce power bills or keep the lights on.
Already spent is the $1.38 billion for Snowy Hydro and its Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro scheme that won’t be operating until 2025 – if it goes ahead. The company’s own modelling shows that after an initial fall when it does come online, it will likely cause prices higher than where they would be otherwise, and lift emissions unless there is a big shift to wind and solar.
There is $56.0 million for Tasmania’s Marinus Link project – which would be the second interconnector between Tasmania and the mainland. to deliver the “Battery of the Nation” project. Again, this is a project that is ten years away.
- There is the $284.4 million one-off handout to age and disability support pensioners, but it does nothing to reduce ongoing bills.
- Other spending include those already announced – a welcome but insufficient budget for $79.2 million over six years for energy efficiency programs, and another $50 million to support feasibility studies for micro-grids in remote and regional areas.
- There is $13.5 million for the controversial underwriting new generation investment program, but the bulk of this ($10 million) will go to some lucky consultant to satisfy the demands from LNP and Nationals for an investigation into a coal-fired generation in Queensland, which is about as barmy an idea as you could have, particularly in light of climate change.
- Another $3.2 million has been set aside to establish a “Priority Transmission Taskforce”, to “speed up delivery” of transmission projects identified in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 20-year Integrated System Plan. Labor has promised a $5 billion fund to do the same.
As for electric vehicles, the Coalition – which decided not to reveal its EV strategy until the middle of next year, despite all the work done by the Senate inquiry – has allocated just $400,000 for that purpose.
The Greens transport spokesman Janet Rice described it as an “absolute joke” that would leave Australia “stalled on the sidelines of the electric vehicle revolution while the rest of the world zips us by.”
“The Budget even has $11 million earmarked for a luxury car rebate for tourist operators and primary producers. This is 25 times more funding for people to buy luxury cars than for a national electric vehicle strategy.”
The Greens want to ban sales of petrol and diesel vehicles in the passenger market by 2030, Labor has an EV target of a 50 per cent share by that time. Even the NRMA suggests banning fossil fuel passenger cars as early as 2025.
“This is a government with absolutely no plan, no vision and no desire to get Australia on track to enjoy the many benefits that electric vehicles will bring.”
Labor’s Mark Butler was similarly disdainful.
“This is a Budget from a government that has given up governing, and never tried to deliver real climate action, because they don’t really believe it. There is no plan to tackle power prices, no plan to address climate change, and no plan for the future.”
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of Renew Economy, and is also the founder of One Step Off The Grid and founder/editor of The Driven. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.