Chris Bowen shares draft climate bill as independents and Greens turn up heat for more ambitious action

by Katharine Murphy
Greens call for moratorium on new oil and gas projects as some independents urge Labor not to rush major policy for political reasons

The minister for climate change, Chris Bowen, is under intensifying pressure to beef up the government’s proposed legislation enshrining emissions reduction targets, with the Greens and some independents declaring the current commitments inadequate.

Bowen met on Thursday with climate focused independent MPs and representatives from the Greens to share a draft of the bill he will introduce during the first sitting week of the new parliament. He has invited MPs and senators to suggest amendments or ideas over the coming days.

The political temperature around Labor’s initial climate commitments has ramped up significantly in recent days, with the Greens declaring Labor is intent on a take it or leave it approach, and Anthony Albanese raising the spectre of the Greens failing to learn “from what they did in 2009”.

Albanese’s reference relates to the Greens’ controversial decision in 2009 to vote with the Coalition to oppose Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme.

While in Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum, prime minister Anthony Albanese declared the government intended to introduce the 2030 emissions reduction target of 43% that Labor put to voters at the May election, saying “every member of the House and every member of the Senate should vote for it”.

Albanese said if the new parliament opened with a repeat of the public policy failure in 2009 that accelerated Australia’s climate wars and helped stymie effective action for a decade, then opponents would “be held accountable for it”.

While the prime ministerial taunt raised hackles, Bowen struck a more conciliatory note during Thursday’s cross bench briefing.

He said afterwards: “The government has made it very clear that we are happy to work with the cross bench on sensible suggestions that are in keeping with our agenda and mandate”.

“We have also made it crystal clear we will not be walking away from that mandate,” Bowen said. “We look forward to further discussions with the cross bench on that basis”.

Labor has the numbers to pass the legislation in the House of Representatives. The Greens could sink the bill in the Senate because Peter Dutton has signalled the Liberal party will oppose Labor’s legislation.

After Thursday’s meeting the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said Labor’s draft legislation was problematic because it “makes 43% effectively a legislated ceiling” and that would mean a future government could not automatically “lift the legally enshrined targets without coming back to parliament”.

Bandt argues the current draft of the bill allows the government to increase ambition in the nationally determined contribution it submits to the United Nations, but there is no accompanying mechanism to automatically update the legislated target.

As well as calling on Labor to adopt a ratchet mechanism, the Greens also want to accompany a more ambitious emissions reduction target with a moratorium on new oil and gas developments.

While the Greens are hardening their rhetoric as the opening of the new parliament draws closer, it remains unclear whether or not they will scupper the bill if any their amendments fail. The party room is yet to take a position on the legislation.

Independent Zali Steggall said after Thursday’s briefing the draft bill Bowen presented was a “statement of intent” and a “political manoeuvre” rather than comprehensive legislation enshrining a policy to address the threat of global heating.

“I’m concerned there’s an intention to rush this for political purposes, and major policy issues should not be rushed,” Steggall said.

Kylea Tink, who won the Liberal-held seat of North Sydney, echoed Steggall’s view about the dangers of rushing legislation. She said voters were sick of climate policy being a political football.

New Australian Capital Territory senator David Pocock said Bowen was offering a “constructive approach” in seeking to engage the cross bench ahead of the opening of the 47th parliament.

Pocock said he would like a higher emissions reduction target. But he added there was “a strong expectation in the community that we legislate a target”.

“Now that we have the bill, I am hopeful that the minister remains open to considering sensible amendments that could complement this work and ensure it is a target with integrity,” Pocock said.