After roughly a decade of inaction, ineffective sloganeering, and obfuscation, a legislated “baseline” for emissions reductions heralds a new age of climate cooperation in Australian parliament. Though the 43% emissions reductions by 2030 “baseline” falls far short of the scientific consensus of what is required to keep global warming below 2°C, the agreement reached between the Labor federal government, the “teal” independents, and the Greens, indicates that a new era of cooperation rather than conflict on climate legislation may be dawning.
The government’s 43% emissions reductions legislation, which sees the reduction target signed into law, passed the House of Representatives this week. It will still have to pass the Senate in September, but it is expected to do so with the support of the Greens and the independent Senator for the ACT, David Pocock.
In this week’s vote, even Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossed the floor to vote in support of the bill.
Notably, the legislation passed the lower house of federal parliament with the Labor party voting for some amendments to its legislation proposed by the “teal” independents – despite the votes of the crossbenchers not being required by the government.
The amendments include a requirement that future emissions reductions targets would draw on the “best available scientific knowledge” and that the 43% represented a minimum, or baseline. It also included a provision that climate change policies support regional communities.
Second-term independent member Zali Steggall, who unseated former prime minister Tony Abbott in 2019, noted that the government had been collaborative in getting the legislation passed. Under Abbott, the federal government scrapped the former climate change legislation that had been in place – the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).
“I can only say the evidence so far is that there is a genuine desire from senior ministers in the government to work with us, they have heard the calls from our communities,” Steggall said.
“We are getting numerous briefings on significant pieces of legislation, we are contributing, we are raising our concerns and amendments are being agreed to.”
Climate Change Minister Chris Bowan specifically thanked the crossbench for their support in parliament this week.
Cooperation trumps chaos in what could be a major shift
Given just how contentious climate legislation has been over the past decade, the legislated “baseline” for emissions reductions heralds a new age of climate cooperation between Labor, an influential group of independents, the Greens, and even the odd Liberal member. Both the Greens and the independents have indicated that they will continue to push the government to ramp up its ambition, from its now legislated baseline.
Independent MP Kylea Tink pointedly observed that she expects the government to continue to work with her fellow crossbenchers.
“The planning starts from now, so whether it’s a fight or whether it’s the capacity to actually work together to move our country forward is what this parliament needs to decide,” said Tink. “We won’t just accept the minister’s word and we won’t just take it on good faith these things are going to happen.”
While many agree that the 43% emissions reductions law is largely symbolic, there are a range of other measures that can be taken to foster renewable energy deployment, drive emissions down, and to see Australia pursue a clean energy future. It is likely that the Greens and the “teal” independents will continue to push for such measures.
The leadership of states such as South Australia and, more recently, Victoria have shown in providing support to households to adopt solar and battery storage is an illustrative example of what action can be taken. Both states have spearheaded the adoption of residential battery energy storage systems to allow for rooftop solar to become more widespread, by bolstering the electricity distribution network where it might be congested, and building resiliency through things like Virtual Power Plants – the latter having been particularly effective in South Australia where renewables remain the dominant electricity source.
There is legislation ready to go to bolster battery uptake in this new era of cooperation in the new federal parliament. In February, the independent member for Indi Helen Haines introduced the Cheaper Batteries Bill, which would subsidise residential batteries. Haines was re-elected at the last federal election with an increased margin.
In introducing the Cheaper Batteries Bill, Haines argued that the rollout of batteries would bolster electricity supply in the regional communities she represents in the face of power surges in towns on the edge of the network and in occasions when communities were left without power because of bushfires. It represents precisely the type of legislation that aligns with the new emissions reduction legislation that passed the House of Representatives this week.
“Right now, a 13.5kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 might set you back around $15,000,” said Haines, when introducing the Cheaper Batteries Bill to federal parliament in February. “That’s just way too much for most Australian households to even consider. My Bill could drive down that price by around $3000.”
While only a snapshot, the Cheaper Batteries Bill is an example of the kind of legislation that may see the light of day as the government, Greens, and the crossbench continue to work together to bolster renewable adoption right across the country. And there are good reasons to believe that it is just the beginning as cooperation and an “end to the climate wars”, as enunciated as being a priority of Prime Minister Albanese, becomes the new reality in a federal parliament that is beginning to look very different to those of the past decade. The belated “baseline” for emissions reductions is a good place to start.