David Pocock calls for ‘climate trigger’ in environment laws ahead of new parliament opening

by Katharine Murphy
Labor will rely on the Greens and independents to pass its 43% emissions reduction target but independents say there’s a mandate for a bigger goal

Senate kingmaker David Pocock says the Albanese government would build parliamentary support for its climate bills if it was prepared to insert a “climate trigger” as part of its looming revamp of national environmental laws.

Ahead of the opening of the 47th parliament on Tuesday, the independent senator for the Australian Capital Territory said last week’s state of the environment report, which documented an alarming deterioration in Australia’s natural heritage, made a stark and compelling case for considering greenhouse gas emissions when new development proposals are assessed.

“Reading the state of the environment report, climate cuts across everything,” Pocock told Guardian Australia. “Climate change will affect every part of our lives. For me, [a climate trigger] really needs to be considered and needs to be in there because [the climate crisis is] clearly already having a huge impact.”

Pocock said that while Labor, the Greens and independents all had different electoral mandates, “that’s when you mix them together and have discussions and negotiations and get good outcomes for the Australian people”.

Labor will use the opening of the new parliament to bring forward legislation implementing its proposed emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030. It has the numbers to pass that bill in the lower house, but will need support from the Greens and Pocock to pass the legislation in the Senate.

Pocock will meet the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, this week. He said his constituents want the progressive forces in the parliament to resolve their differences and pass the legislation enshrining emissions reduction targets.

Bowen will also continue discussions with the Greens leader, Adam Bandt. With MPs converging on the national capital for the opening of the new parliament, Bowen is also briefing caucus members about the progress of the negotiation.

Pocock says he’s particularly concerned about securing agreement from Bowen making sure the legislation allows ambition to be ramped up over time, and making sure the target nominated in the legislation is consistent with any commitment Australia gives the United Nations through nationally determined contributions.

“My feeling is there is an expectation from the community that something will be legislated,”he said. “Labor have been repeating again and again they won’t budge on 43%. I’ve been open and honest that I’d like to see more ambition than that.

“But the reality is to be able to legislate something that does allow [a target] to be ramped up over time because … we are seeing the effects of climate change more and more, and the economics of climate action are changing so quickly that whatever we legislate needs to be able to be made more ambitious so we can play our part here in the Pacific and then internationally.”

The Albanese government is already facing internal pressure to include climate change in its promised revamp of national conservation laws. The Greens also support that position, and have their eyes on cutting subsidies to fossil fuels in Labor’s October budget.

The new environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, has not ruled our a climate trigger, which would require a development’s emissions to be considered when it was assessed out. But Plibersek has signalled the government would probably follow a blueprint set out by the former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel in a 2020 review of the act. Samuel argued climate impacts could be addressed in other ways.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has ruled out supporting Labor’s emissions reduction target legislation, which has irritated some colleagues. Two Liberals have signalled they could cross the floor and support the legislation.

The prime minister held a family afternoon tea at the Lodge on Sunday afternoon to welcome members of the caucus as MPs began arriving in Canberra ahead of the opening of parliament on Tuesday.

As well as the legislative program, the coming week will have a heavy economic focus. New inflation figures are due this week, and the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will deliver an economic statement to parliament on Thursday as a stepping stone to the budget the new government will hand down in October.