Saturday Dec 02, 2023

Bowen open to change with crossbenchers emissions push underway

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Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen has signalled a more open-minded approach to negotiating the government’s policy, talking to independent MPs and suggesting the emissions-reduction target could go higher.

Mr Bowen told the National Press Club on Wednesday that the government would introduce legislation inside the first week of Parliament’s post-election sitting for its 43 per cent emissions-reduction target.

But where the minister has previously emphasised the government’s lack of need of other MPs’ support, on Wednesday he explicitly invited negotiation, which The New Daily has learned is already under way.

Mr Bowen said the Albanese government would consider “sensible” amendments to its climate legislation as long as they aligned with Labor’s agenda and mandate.

He added that Labor’s target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent on 2005 levels this decade was not capped – the first time the government has openly acknowledged climate cuts may go deeper.

His remarks suggest Mr Bowen will be more accommodating of negotiation and possible compromise than he had indicated after the election.

Earlier this month Mr Bowen said he did not want energy targets to be subject to a vote by MPs and another round of the “climate wars”; the government was then planning to install its reduction plan via regulation.

Open for discussion

Now the government is inviting not only a vote but input on the legislation itself.

The New Daily has learned that Mr Bowen has already held talks with a wide range of MPs including Zali Steggall in the lower house and David Pocock in the Senate.

“I have worked pretty hard to develop a good and respectful relationship with the crossbench in the first month,” Mr Bowen said.

“But anything which is inconsistent with our mandate and agenda is not something we’ll entertain.”

Separately, the Greens have argued until recently that the government’s emissions cut is far too unambitious for an election in which so many MPs backing greater climate action were elected.

In another departure from its rhetoric on the campaign trail, where the ALP denied any plans to increase emissions cuts, Mr Bowen now suggested the headline emissions cut of 43 per cent could be increased.

“It’s not a ceiling,” Mr Bowen said. “We’re not going to treat it as a ceiling. It’s the modelled impact of our policies.”

Up to a point

Incoming MP for Wentworth Allegra Spender told The New Daily she would be pushing for more emissions reduction from the outset and steps to ensure that greater action did not affect families dealing with rising power prices.

allegra spender sportsbet
Independents such as Allegra Spender won seats largely due to their push for climate action.

“New policies should also be easy to scale up, so we can take advantage of a next decade that will be crucial for both the climate and the economy,” Ms Spender said.

“I’m hopeful Australia finally joins the rest of the developed world in implementing fuel efficiency standards in light vehicles, so car manufacturers sell cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars to us.”

Australia is one of only four members of the G20 without such fuel standards for passenger vehicles.

The New Daily understands that discussions with Ms Steggall focused on her proposal for a 60 per cent cut, as well as plans for greener industry and public transport.

Mr Pocock’s meetings with the minister have focused on his commitment to ridding a national emissions-reduction system of what he says are carbon credits, or pollution offsets, provided in exchange for activities of dubious environmental value.

“I look forward to working constructively to ensure it’s a target with integrity,” the incoming Senator said.

“That will require addressing the need for greater integrity in the [Emissions Reduction Fund], strong independent advice to government, and increased adoption of clean energy technologies, from [electric vehicles] and household goods to clean energy production and battery storage at scale.

‘‘We have to ensure that households benefit from the cost savings that come from electrification.”

The government will likely require the support of the Greens and two other Senators to legislate.

But Mr Bowen said he would be ensuring that any negotiation did not detract from the government’s agenda by simply removing any bills from Parliament and moving back to regulation.

“If the Parliament doesn’t wish to pass it, we will simply get on with the job, as we have already started to do,” Mr Bowen said.


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