Posts Tagged ‘Australian Greens’

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Greens denounce Gillard Labor government

19 February 2013

The Greens have publicly distanced themselves from the Labor government in the leadup to the Australian federal election on 14 September.

Last month, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott each launched their party’s election campaign with a National Press Club speech. (Gillard discussed economic policy, hinted at more budget cuts, and announced the election date; Abbott reiterated past promises including a budget surplus.) Today, Greens leader Christine Milne similarly addressed the National Press Club. In a strong speech, Milne argued Labor has flouted the principles it agreed with the Greens in 2010: “transparency and accountable government”, “policies which promote the public interest”, and “policies which address climate change”.

The move is long overdue. As I’ve written before, the Greens’ support has given credibility to a government which has gotten away with: Read the rest of this entry ?

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Liberals Part 4: Australia has a legitimate government

27 January 2013

This is the fourth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. This part debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate.

Both sidesIllustration: Stephen Wight

There has been a persistent campaign by the conservative Coalition, led by Tony Abbott and his Liberals, assisted by most of the mainstream media, to create the perception that the incumbent Labor minority government, led by Julia Gillard, is illegitimate. Don’t get me wrong: I have a long list of disagreements with the government. But the implication it is somehow illegitimate is simply unjustified. Read the rest of this entry ?

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No closure for coal power

5 September 2012

Australia’s climate policy just got even worse.

Last year when the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee agreed a carbon price, they also agreed a number of complementary measures, many arguably better than the carbon price itself. One of them was a floor price; it was scrapped last week. Another was that the Government would pay electricity generators a negotiated amount to close 2,000 MW of coal power – so-called “contracts for closure”. Guess what? Now it’s gone too.

Contracts for closure were supposed to be completed by June, but generators failed to accept the amount the Government was offering, so now the policy has been cancelled entirely. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson, announcing the cancellation of the policy, said “the companies themselves will make their own commercial decisions as to their future over time.” Allowing the coal industry to decide the future of the coal industry will not address global warming.

The generators claim they are still profitable despite the carbon tax. This is a further demonstration (in addition to those I covered yesterday) of just how ineffective the carbon price is. In particular, it has to do with the $1 billion per year that coal-fired generators which continue to operate will get in “compensation”, supposedly to protect “energy security”. This ludicrous compensation, which the Greens should never have agreed to, effectively keeps coal-fired generation profitable and locks in its continued existence for years. It is just one example of many fossil fuel subsidies on which Australian taxpayers spend $13 billion annually, outweighing the $8 billion revenue raised by the carbon price. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to have free market advocates up in arms; their silence on the issue betrays a double standard.

There is a silver lining: it is possible that something good may come out of this latest backflip. Greens leader Christine Milne says she will move immediately for the Productivity Commission to review the generators’ compensation, and that the Greens will “use every political and parliamentary lever we can to speed up the transition to a clean energy economy.” That’s stronger rhetoric than we’ve heard from the Greens for a while. Could it mean the Greens will finally get back on the front foot?

Update 6 September 2012

According to a new analysis by Frontier Economics, coal-fired generators have been overcompensated for the carbon price, increasing their profitability by up to $1 billion. This is partly due to the recent agreement to link to the EU ETS and not implement a planned carbon floor price.

All this reinforces what should have been obvious: the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee should never have decided to shower coal power plants with compensation. The Government cannot pay polluters to close while also paying them to stay open. Of the money allocated for coal power compensation $1 billion has already been spent, but the remaining $4.5 billion should be immediately cancelled and instead put into renewable energy.

I encourage concerned readers to sign this petition.

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Yes, the Greens do compromise

10 July 2012

Representatives of the Australian Labor Party have repeatedly accused the Australian Greens of being unwilling to compromise. Though this is obviously a self-serving argument designed to shore up Labor’s own support, it is so blatantly false that I felt compelled to set the record straight.

In negotiations with the Gillard Labor Government over climate policy, the Greens made the following compromises (and this list is probably not exhaustive):

  • The carbon price initially proposed by the Greens in January 2010 was a compromise, beginning as a fixed price of $23/tonne (an inadequate price based on a 550 ppm target) to break the deadlock until agreement could be reached on emissions targets.
  • The Greens guaranteed supply and confidence to the Gillard Government in exchange for initiating negotiations on climate policy.
  • The Greens agreed to not only tolerate, but guarantee in law for at least five years, Labor’s ridiculous compensation package, where the highest-polluting trade-exposed industries will get 94.5% of their pollution permits for free, diluting the $23 price to $1.27.
  • The Greens agreed to give free permits to coal power plants, with the only condition being that they continue to operate, effectively locking in their existence for years.
  • The Greens agreed to allow Australia’s emissions targets to be met by international offsets.
  • The Greens agreed to completely exclude transport from climate policy.
  • The Greens have accepted a Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will not be additional to existing policies, which will spend money on fossil fuels and fossil/renewable hybrid technologies, and may be too risk-averse.
  • The best that can be said about the final policies is they are flexible (in contrast to Labor’s original policy, which would have locked in failure), but that flexibility goes both ways.
  • The Greens’ presentation of the agreed policies has made them sound better than they are. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Stop saying yes: The Greens

14 June 2012

This is the sixth in a series of posts about the Australian climate movement.

I am not at all happy with the Australian climate movement, but I have fewer complaints about the Australian Greens party.

The Greens deserve credit for being the only Australian parliamentary political force which has made a positive contribution to climate policy in at least the last three years. Without the Greens there would have been no Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and probably no new climate policies in this term of government. In 2011 the Greens did a better job than the non-governmental environment groups, consistently arguing for policy improvements in the MPCCC negotiations while the “Say Yes” campaign neglected to demand any. In the end the Greens agreed to some indefensible things, but at least they got the Government’s policy over the line from definitely worse-than-nothing to probably better-than-nothing. On the other hand, better-than-nothing is a very low bar considering the urgent need for much more dramatic action.

I am certainly concerned about the way the Greens have presented the Clean Energy Future policy. I accept the Greens have negotiated a compromise which they judge supportable, but some of their rhetoric makes it sound much better than it is. For example, on the day it was announced, Christine Milne proclaimed “this is the moment where Australia turns its back on the fossil fuel age” (because of the process for setting emissions targets), yet she knows perfectly well that this policy, on its own, is only the beginning of what needs to be done. Sharing ownership of the policy shouldn’t stop them admitting its failings. To gloss over the greenwash is to be manipulated by Labor. The Greens must not stop loudly advocating real climate action, when they are the only party in Australian politics who understand what is necessary.

I am also frustrated that the Greens have sometimes failed to take advantage of their considerable parliamentary leverage. For example, they all but rubber-stamped Labor’s watered-down mining tax despite wanting to strengthen it – raising the question, what are they there for?

My big complaint is more about the interaction of the broader movement with the Greens. With their compromise policy of an interim carbon tax, the Greens have attempted to get a foot in the door that can be built on over the coming years, and solicited the support of climate action groups. Given the circumstances, this was not necessarily a bad strategy per se; I can see that a parliamentary party needs to be pragmatic, and the climate movement needs to support the Greens. The problem is the Greens have received the wrong kind of support from activists. The non-parliamentary wing of the movement has been even more pragmatic than the parliamentary wing, when it should be more radical. Those of us who aren’t in Parliament are not constrained by parliamentary process; we can be as ambitious as necessary. We need people on the inside negotiating, and it makes sense for the Greens to play that role, but at the same time we also need people on the outside protesting, to put pressure on the Government, and that’s what is missing. While the Greens negotiate pragmatic improvements, we should be building a movement for real climate action.

I hope under Christine Milne’s leadership the Greens will be more assertive in explaining the urgency of climate action, exposing government greenwash, and using their influence to change government policy. The party must act now, while it holds the balance of power in both houses of Parliament.

In Part 7, I review where Australian politics is at now.

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Stop saying yes: A not-so-clean energy future

6 June 2012

This is the second in a series of posts about the Australian climate movement.

The Clean Energy Future policy negotiated by the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee falls far short of what is required, and is riddled with flaws. The $23 carbon tax in isolation will not drive the transition to a zero-carbon economy. The true cost of emitting a tonne of CO2 is probably far higher than $23; indeed it could be up to US$893 (AU$906). A price of perhaps $100 might be required to make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels. $23 is so low it risks driving investment in polluting gas-fired electricity rather than renewable energy. It is supposed to rule out new coal-fired power plants, but the Government has not explicitly banned them. The biggest polluters will receive absurd amounts of compensation, propping up unsustainable industries. The complementary policies which the Greens extracted from Labor should help start the transition, presuming they are implemented – though unfortunately some CEFC funding will go to non-zero-carbon projects, and I am concerned the coal plants which are closed could be replaced with gas-fired plants (or even, in one case, a new coal-fired plant!).

How does the Clean Energy Future compare to Labor’s original CPRS? Treasury projections of the policy’s effects are very similar. The modeling predicts virtually no change in domestic emissions by 2050, with the 2050 target of an 80% reduction being supposedly met by international offsets. Contrary to Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s claim “the carbon tax is the death of the coal industry”, fossil fuels would still supply the majority of Australia’s electricity by the mid-2030s, after which the Government hopes its pipe dream of carbon capture and storage (CCS) will come true so fossil fuels can still dominate in 2050. Of course, this is an improvement on business-as-usual, in which Australia’s emissions would have risen about 80% by 2050, but it’s utterly inadequate at a time when all countries need to get to zero emissions well before 2050.

On the day of the Clean Energy Future announcement, Greens climate change spokesperson Christine Milne said it and the CPRS were “so different it’s like comparing chalk and cheese”, because targets will now be recommended by the Climate Change Authority and because of the new complementary policies. Yet Labor Climate Change Minister Greg Combet gloated on The 7:30 Report on 8 November: “Consider some of the things [the Greens] voted against on the last occasion in the CPRS; there are some remarkable similarities with what’s contained in the Clean Energy Future package: for example, the support for emissions-intensive trade-exposed businesses or coal-fired generators.”

So who is right: Milne or Combet? Although Combet is right to point out the initial form of the Clean Energy Future closely resembles the CPRS, Milne is correct in that the Greens have largely removed the barriers to improving the policy later. The CPRS would have actively prevented Australia from shifting off the path projected by Treasury. The Clean Energy Future at least keeps the door open, with built-in independent reviews of almost every aspect. And the Climate Change Authority will be required to consider climate science in recommending emissions targets.

On the other hand, a situation is foreseeable in which a majority of the Parliament agrees to lock in weak targets until 2019 or beyond (this might occur if Labor controls both houses or colludes with the Liberals). If we do end up in such a situation, it is unclear whether it would be constitutionally possible to later reduce the number of emissions permits; any attempt to do so might be legally challenged as an acquisition of property.

I credit the Greens with the positive aspects of the policy. How much they should be blamed for its numerous negative aspects is a question I’ll come back to after looking at how the broader climate movement has behaved.

In Part 3, I discuss the debacle of the “Say Yes” campaign.

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It’s time to stop saying yes

5 June 2012

This is the first in a series of posts about the Australian climate movement.

The Australian climate change action movement (which I will call the “climate movement”) has, in recent years, made an error of strategy. In the hope of winning a victory, however small, activists have become extremely pragmatic and “politically realistic”. This culminated in 2011 in the various environmental groups uniting under the lowest-common-denominator message “Say yes to a price on pollution”. We need to be much more assertive.

Global warming is not just another issue; it is an urgent threat to human civilization. Carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel burning is its main cause. The extent of climate impacts centuries and millennia from now will be determined by decisions taken in the near future. To avoid passing tipping points for dangerous climate change, humanity must reduce atmospheric CO2 from 392 to ~350 ppm. CO2 in the atmosphere is like radioactive waste: much of it hangs around for a very long time. So to reduce its concentration everybody needs to cut emissions to zero or near-zero as soon as possible. That means we cannot afford to burn most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves; humanity needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. If we begin in 2013, we must cut global fossil fuel emissions by 6%/year, and the longer we delay, the steeper the required rate will become. The central solution is to switch to 100% renewable energy. Bear all this in mind over the coming series of posts discussing the politics of climate change.

I’ll begin by going over the history of the current Labor government’s climate policy, for context about how we got to the present situation. Read the rest of this entry ?