Labor and Greens at Crossroads Over Environment Safeguard Mechanism

Labor and Greens at Crossroads Over Environment Safeguard Mechanism
Party supporters attend the Greens national campaign launch at Black Hops Brewery on May 16, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Dan Peled/Getty Images)
2/16/2023
Updated:
2/16/2023

The Australian Greens’ attempt to compel the Labor federal government to stop new coal or gas projects has put the two political parties at crossroads.

Labor is currently in negotiations with the Greens to drive the Safeguard Mechanism legislation through the Senate after the Liberals and the Nationals said they would oppose it, leaving the crossbench and Greens Party senators in control of the legislation.

The Safeguard Mechanism Reform bill, which the government is looking to pass through the Senate, will empower the federal government to force Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters to keep their net emissions below a baseline emissions limit set by the government.

The Greens announced on Wednesday they would pass the bill if the federal government promised to not allow any new coal or gas projects in Australia.

However, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, has said categorically that the federal government will not be banning new coal and gas projects.

Bowen is in charge of the negotiations for the Safeguard Mechanism.

“We won’t be doing that,” Bowen told ABC Radio National Breakfast programme on Thursday.
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen speaks to media during a press conference in the Mural Hall at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on June 23, 2021. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen speaks to media during a press conference in the Mural Hall at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on June 23, 2021. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Bowen noted that the Safeguard Mechanism reform put forward by Labor was a “big deal.”

“It will require 205 million tonnes of emissions to come out of the system by 2030. This is no small thing. It covers 28 percent of our emissions,” he said.

“You don’t reduce emissions, you don’t reach our targets unless you’re dealing with our biggest emitters, and the biggest emitters covered by this are not just coal and gas, but its aluminium steel.”

Meanwhile, the Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibisek, said in parliament on Feb. 14 that it was shocking that the Greens would consider not voting for the reforms given their voting base would want the changes.

“I think that Greens voters would actually be shocked to see Greens members of parliament getting ready to sit next to Peter Dutton and Barnaby Joyce to vote against action on climate change,” Plibisek said. “They would be shocked to see the Greens voting with the Liberals and Nationals against a safeguard mechanism.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek speaks during a stand-up in the Press Gallery at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 24, 2021. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek speaks during a stand-up in the Press Gallery at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on March 24, 2021. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Coal and Gas Deal an Offer, Not Ultimatum

Greens Leader Adam Bandt said on Thursday that the Greens’ no new coal and gas proposal is a formal offer, “not an ultimatum,” but then noted that as Labor does not hold the balance of power in the senate, he expected the federal government to adjust their positions as the Greens had already compromised on a range of issues.
“We put on the table an offer, not an ultimatum,” Bandt told Radio National.

“We’re prepared to give a lot, but I think on this issue of opening new coal and gas mines, things have shifted.

“I think this is a proposition that people would accept; everyone is going to have to move a bit for this to get through the Senate.”

New Greens Leader Adam Bandt speaks to the media in Canberra, Australia, on Feb. 4, 2020. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)
New Greens Leader Adam Bandt speaks to the media in Canberra, Australia, on Feb. 4, 2020. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Bandt also took aim at Labor, noting the party had lost a percentage of its primary vote during the last election to independents who were campaigning on an environmental platform. He pointed to Labor heavyweights Justin Elliot, Tanya Plibersek, and Josh Burns as placing themselves in a difficult position with their electorates if the government did not get the reform bill through.

On Wednesday, Bandt noted in a media release that the Greens have huge concerns with other parts of the scheme, such as the rampant use of offsets and the low emissions reduction targets, but were prepared to put those concerns aside and give Labor’s scheme a chance.

“If Labor’s scheme falls over, it will be because Labor wants to open new coal and gas mines. Labor has to decide how much it wants new coal and gas mines,” he said.

Greens Criticised For Previous Behaviour on Climate Legislation

This is not the first time there has been a stand-off between the Australian Greens and Labor over emissions legislation, with former Australian prime minister and Labor party heavyweight Paul Keating accusing the Greens of being an “enemy of Labor” on climate issues.
“The Greens preen themselves on what they claim is their environmental credentials,” Keating told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, but he noted that they had also voted against previous Labor attempts to deal with carbon emissions in 2009.

“This is the same outfit that, with all-purpose, destroyed Kevin Rudd’s carbon pollution reduction scheme, leading the country into a decades-long political morass on climate, putting the population and the country’s land mass at risk and degradation,” he said.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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