GREG BAILEY. Climate Change Politics in Theory and Practice (2). The ALP

Arguably the ALP since its election loss in 2013 has not been able to legislate for climate change mitigation though it was able to make some contribution when the National Energy Guarantee was proposed in 2017–only to be defeated by the right of the LNP. However, It had played a significant role in its genesis, in part because it was a COAG development involving some state Labor energy ministers. When it was in office from 2007-2013 its efforts in developing a carbon tax gave us a taste of what might have been.

In the ALP’s Climate Change Action Plan Fact Sheet, six key elements are axiomatic:

1. …ensuring that 50 per cent of the nation’s electricity is sourced from renewable energy by 2030, …

2. …ensuring that the transition in Australia’s electricity generation from old heavy polluting coal fired power stations to modern clean energy is an orderly transition, with concrete support for workers and communities.

3. … maximising the job opportunities from clean energy and clean technology, while also securing the future of critical Australian industries through a Strategic Industries Taskforce. This will be supported by a Strategic Industries Reserve Fund of $300 million to support the transition of key industries to 2020.

4. Cut Pollution through an Emissions Trading Scheme, placing a legal cap on pollution from large polluters through a cap and offsets scheme, while supporting industry by ensuring access to international carbon offsets.

5. …reinvigorating the Carbon Farming Initiative to encourage carbon storage on the land and in agriculture, and taking decisive action to deal with broad scale land clearing.

6. Increased Energy Efficiency doubling Australia’s national energy productivity by 2030 and implementing new emissions standards for motor vehicles to cut pollution on our roads.

This was published before the last election, in 2016 I think, though it contains no clear publication date, but has been reposted in the last few months. Collectively these six elements add up to a coherent and substantial program of action for mitigating the worst effects of global warming and provide a valuable example to other countries in the region. They signal all of the main sources of global warming whilst proposing to confront then in a manner sensitive to the need for transitional programs to assist those directly affected. But at the same time it quite explicitly rejects a carbon tax: “Labor’s plan does not include a carbon tax or a fixed price on pollution.” (p.2)

And it focusses more on energy supply and growth than anything else, meaning that an economic imperative is still dominant in its thinking. The idea that the environment is still essentially an economic concept is present here, and bio-diversity–a concept that might extend the environment further than being a mere economic concept-is mentioned only once (p.16) in relation to land clearing in Queensland.

Nevertheless, this policy statement represents a more radical program of activity than the ALP’s actual legislative achievements when in government from November 2007 until September 2013. In November 2011 the Gillard’s government passed what was essentially a carbon tax. It was effective in cutting aggregate emissions from the private sector during the period in which it was legislated. Prior to that the Rudd government had attempted to introduce the Carbon Pollution Reductions Scheme in 2009-10, but it was rejected in the senate with the support of the Greens with whom the ALP had not really negotiated properly (paddy-manning/2019/15/2019/1573787713/2009-forever).

Whatever fault may be placed on the Rudd government for its rejection, the media publicity around it and the subsequent success of the Gillard government’s carbon price did succeed in raising the spectre of climate change in the eyes of the general public, even if there was still not sufficient recognition of its severity.

These bills were still essentially about stopping the pace of global warming rather than mitigating the more comprehensive consequences of climate change, yet they did bring with them certain schemes designed to help industry and households begin to make the transition to a low carbon future. The most valuable initiative here was the $10 billion Clean Energy Future package. It has proved a linchpin in raising awareness about the dangers of climate change and even in pushing sections of the private sector to move beyond the denialist position of the LNP.

The carbon price and all of its associated bills were effectively repealed by the Abbott government on July 1, 2014, partly on the grounds that they increased energy costs for households. Since then with the coalition in power the ALP has not been in a position to propose new legislation regarding climate change mitigation. If Gillard’s carbon tax and its accompanying bills had not been repealed, Australia would be a lot further along the path towards a low carbon future that it is now.

More recently, after being severely rattled by its election defeat, the ALP seems to have somewhat lost its nerve in dealing with climate change, with the Queensland state Labor government giving the go ahead for the Adani mine. This not only allows a new wholly polluting mine to be developed, with the profits mainly accruing to an Indian company, but has a symbolic value in requiring the ALP to put the concerns of a small number of mining employees–who are very apprehensive about any changes to their life-style–ahead of the welfare of the country as a whole. It also heralds a slight movement towards populism by the people at the top of the party. More recent statements by Anthony Albanese indicate the ALP will put economic growth ahead of climate change mitigation.

Finally, as a brief aside it should be mentioned that the South Australian state government when ruled by a Labor premier, and now continued by a Liberal premier, have done much valuable work to put the state onto a renewable energy foundation at a very large scale. Equally, the Victorian Labor government released a Climate Change Adaption Plan in 2016 that has promised working towards a 50% renewable based energy supply by 2029.

Greg Bailey is Honorary Research Fellow in Asian Studies, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University. Formerly Reader in Sanskrit. He is a member of the Greens.

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