Labor’s climate bill set to pass with support from Greens and Bridget Archer

by Paul Karp
Adam Bandt says Greens will back legislation but signals further fight on new fossil fuel projects, while the Liberal MP says she’ll cross the floor

The House of Representatives is moving towards passage of Labor’s bill enshrining emissions reductions targets for 2030 and 2050 after the Greens signalled they would support the legislation and Liberal MP Bridget Archer confirmed she would cross the floor.

After weeks of negotiations, the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, confirmed on Wednesday his party would back the Albanese government’s legislation in both chambers, and king-making Senate independent, David Pocock, confirmed his priority was “getting a target locked in and legislated”.

The legislation will pass the lower house on Thursday morning before moving to the Senate during the next parliamentary sitting fortnight in September. Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday the measure – an opening salvo in ending Australia’s decade long climate wars – was “as important a piece of legislation as will come before this parliament”.

Despite losing a swathe of heartland metropolitan seats to climate-focussed independents at the election on 21 May, the Coalition has resolved to oppose the bill.

But Archer confirmed on Wednesday night she would support Labor’s primary legislation, but not the consequential amendments bill.

Archer told the chamber climate change was an issue that “transcends age, gender, political beliefs and socioeconomic circumstances” and she had been approached from all types of constituents – including a Baptist minister, business leaders and pensioners of the left and right – “all of who believe this is not an issue of left or right”.

At the National Press Club on Wednesday Bandt said the Greens would support Labor’s legislation. He said the bill now ensured the 43% emissions reduction target was a floor and not a ceiling, and ambition could be ratcheted up over time.

He said Labor had bolstered its initial proposal by ensuring government agencies would have to consider climate targets before funding new projects, and had clarified the role the Climate Change Authority would play in providing expert advice.

But while supporting the legislation, he foreshadowed further discussions with Labor about the safeguards mechanism, and about inserting a climate trigger in environmental regulations, which would make it hard for new fossil fuel developments to secure approval.

“The fight begins now to get Labor to stop opening coal and gas mines,” the Greens leader said.

Bandt vowed to “comb the entire budget for any public money … going to coal and gas corporations and amend the budget to remove them”.

Albanese told reporters in Canberra that Labor had agreed to amendments that were “consistent with the policy we took to the election”, but had not committed to the Greens to consider a climate trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

He ruled out using the safeguards mechanism to block new fossil fuel projects.

Albanese welcomed the Greens’ decision that “they are prepared to vote for the legislation” even though some of their amendments were not accepted.

The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said it was “a good day for Australia”.

“A good day therefore [for] the economy, a good day for the future,” he said. “The climate wars may not be over, but they are suddenly in retreat, under this government.”

In question time, Albanese said Labor was “another step closer to delivering our mandate”, deflecting Coalition attacks about power prices by accusing them of “opposition to the cheapest form of energy, renewables” and support for “the most expensive solutions – nuclear power”.

Earlier, Bandt claimed that Labor’s position on new coal and gas projects was “untenable ultimately”, citing ambition for greater action from Australia’s “closest security allies” including the US and Pacific nations.

“This is round one,” he said. “There is three years of this parliament and there are a number of points coming up where we will push to stop opening coal and gas.”

Bandt cited the review of the EPBC Act, which he said “needs a climate trigger”. “An environment law that allows projects to go ahead, even if it makes climate change worse and destroys the environment is an environment law with a massive hole in the middle of it.”

The crossbench believed it has secured government agreement for a range of other amendments including: an objects clause in the legislation, a statutory review in five years of the act’s effectiveness, and clearer reporting obligations for the minister and Climate Change Authority.

Bowen said the government had “good conversations across the parliament with people of goodwill” and accepted changes that “improve the bill” and implement Labor’s mandate.

Others had “completely ruled themselves out of any discussions with the government”, he said.

On Tuesday the Coalition resolved to oppose the bill, reasoning that Labor had already increased Australia’s emission reduction obligations under the Paris agreement, and the opposition parties could determine a new target closer to the next election.