In sharp switch, Australia votes for climate action


Defeated Prime Minister Scott Morrison once mocked Labor, brandishing a lump of coal in parliament saying, “don’t be afraid”.

Since then, Labor – conscious of its defeat in 2019 when it lost seats in regions reliant on coal and gas jobs – has dropped or diluted policies that could hurt them.

Two days ahead of the election, a senior Labor politician heaped praise on the gas industry for building megaprojects that generate massive exports, forecast to reap A$70 billion (US$50 billion) this year.

“I want to be clear how enthusiastic I am, but also how enthusiastic Labor is for this industry, because we know that it creates jobs and creates livelihoods,” Labor’s shadow minister for resources, Madeleine King, told a petroleum conference.

Labor’s key climate policies are to boost demand for electric vehicles through tax breaks, provide A$20 billion in cheap finance to build transmission for new renewable energy projects and tighten the country’s emissions “safeguard mechanism”.

That mechanism sets a baseline of allowable emissions on the 215 big mining, energy and materials companies that emit more than 100,000 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Companies are awaiting details on the plan, which envisions ratcheting down the baselines to get to net zero by 2050, but are largely unfazed by the proposal.

“At a big-picture level, it’s probably not going to feel very different from commitments we’ve already made,” Meg O’Neill, chief executive of gas producer Woodside Petroleum, told reporters this week.

Cost challenges could hamper Labor’s push to achieve 82 per cent renewable energy by 2030, with the rising cost of materials used in power lines, solar and wind farms. At the same time power prices are set to soar, mostly due to high global coal and gas prices.

“The next couple of years look awful for energy users, and whoever’s in government will be under pressure over that,” said Tennant Reed, climate and energy policy head at Australian Industry Group.