Greens leader Adam Bandt has been forced to convene an urgent meeting to decide the party’s stance on Labor’s climate change bill in a last-minute sign of division over whether to vote down its 43 per cent emissions reduction target because it does not go far enough.
With a vote on the bill due within days, the Greens did not reach a consensus on Tuesday morning and needed extra time to finalise their position in the hope they could extract further concessions from the federal government this week.
Bandt declared last week he was open to a deal with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the issue but members of the party room have attacked the Labor target as too weak to prevent dangerous climate change.
Bandt is expected to announce the Greens’ position on the climate bill in an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday in which he will call Labor a “neoliberal” party and claim the Coalition has moved to the far right.
“Labor is now the party of the centre-right,” he says in an extract from the speech.
“Since Keating and Hawke, Labor has adopted neoliberalism, which has privatised public services, cut taxes for the wealthy, and adopted more and more austerity.
“The Greens are now the only social democratic party in Australia. We see it as our job to get the country back to a fairer place.“
The Greens debate will decide the fate of the climate bill after Liberal leader Peter Dutton confirmed on Tuesday the Coalition would vote against it, leaving the government to rely on the 12 Greens and independent David Pocock to get its way in the Senate.
In the first test for Bandt and three other Greens MPs in the lower house, Labor will seek a vote on the climate bill on Wednesday or Thursday in the hope of passing it this week and securing a final vote in the Senate next month after a short inquiry by a Senate committee.
Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen has played down the threat to his policy plans if the Greens veto the bill in a repeat of their decision in December 2009 to side with the Coalition in the Senate and reject the emissions trading scheme put forward by Labor under then-prime minister Kevin Rudd.
He could proceed with the major elements of the government’s climate policy, such as investing $20 billion to upgrade the electricity grid, and aim for the 43 per cent target without a separate law to give it legal force.
Bowen gave ground last week to help win Greens’ support for the climate bill by making it clear that legislating a 43 per cent target would not prevent later decisions to make deeper cuts.
“The targets set a floor on Australia’s emissions reduction ambition, not a ceiling,” said the explanatory memorandum for the bill introduced into the lower house last week.
“There is nothing in this bill that would prevent these targets being surpassed or achieved early.”
The bill also requires the federal government’s Climate Change Authority to advise on the targets and publish its findings.
“Finally, there will be periodic independent reviews of how this bill is operating, with the first
such review to take place within five years, and thereafter every 10 years,” the memorandum said.
Bandt said last week the Australian people wanted the Greens and Labor to work together and the Greens were “up for that” in the talks on the climate bill.
“We will continue these negotiations in good faith to see if we can reach a position where we can pass legislation that allows us to start taking climate action because that’s what people want,” he said.
Greens NSW senator Mehreen Faruqi criticised the Labor target ahead of the party room meeting to decide the Greens’ position.
“We know that 43 per cent, obviously, is not enough to deal with the crisis we are facing,” Faruqi told the ABC on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have been able to get the Labor government to move and to rewrite parts of that bill.”
Faruqi said the negotiations were “ongoing” and Labor had already agreed the target could be increased over time but flagged the Greens would also put amendments to phase out coal and gas, a call Labor has rejected.
A key point of contention is the demand from the Greens for changes to environmental approvals to insert a “climate trigger” into federal law so authorities including the federal environment minister would have to consider the impact of a project on carbon emissions before deciding whether mines or major infrastructure should proceed.
“The government has not said no to a climate trigger,” she said.
“It is really important that we enshrine this in law so that it forces corporations and big mine developers to be honest about the pollution they are causing, and it forces the minister to consider the assessment of climate emissions in terms of assessing developments.
“I mean, it does not make sense to not do that in such a climate-constrained world.”
Dutton gained support in the Coalition party room on Tuesday to vote against the government bill and launch a process to decide on a new climate policy to update the 2030 target of a 26 to 28 per cent emissions cut, set when Tony Abbott was prime minister.
Liberals including Bridget Archer, Andrew Bragg and Warren Entsch have signalled support for deeper cuts but did not tell the party room meeting they reserved their right to cross the floor.
Several Liberals said it was more important to focus on a more ambitious Coalition policy rather than the government bill, given Bowen had said he could go ahead with his policies even if the bill were defeated.
“Chris Bowen made it clear Labor don’t need the legislation to implement their emission reduction policies,” said Liberal MP James Stevens, the member for Sturt in South Australia, after the meeting.
“I’m focused on working with the Coalition team on the emission reduction targets we take to the next election for 2030 and 2035.”
The Coalition also agreed to being an internal review to look at the possible contribution of nuclear energy to Australia’s energy mix.
This review will be led by shadow climate change minister Ted O’Brien and the Coalition’s policy committee chair Marise Payne.
If we are serious about reducing emissions, while at the same time maintaining a strong economy and protecting our traditional industries, all technologies need to be on the table.
“Nuclear energy is a mature, proven technology. It can provide the reliable, emissions-free, base-load electricity Australia needs,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.
“Australia is already a nuclear nation. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has operated a nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights for over 60 years. A national conversation about potential of nuclear energy is the logical next step.”
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( Information from smh.com.au was used in this report. To Read More, click here )