Australia

Ten years on, Labor rues 'disastrous' failed vote on emissions trading scheme

Protesters with placards participate in The Global Strike 4 Climate rally in Sydney, Friday 20 September, 2019. Source: AAP

Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy has marked the 10th anniversary of the defeat of Labor’s emissions trading scheme by releasing new figures detailing the cost of “policy failure” over the past decade.

Australia missed a crucial chance to tackle climate change and reduce emissions with the failure of its emissions trading system ten years ago, Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy says.

Monday marks the tenth anniversary of the vote in the Senate by the Liberals, Nationals and Greens to defeat the legislation for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

In 2009 the then Rudd government introduced legislation for an emissions trading scheme to cap Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy delivers his speech at the Australian National University.
Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy delivers his speech at the Australian National University.
SBS News

In a speech marking the occasion, Mr Conroy rued the cost of this “policy failure” saying Australia’s carbon emissions would now be 200m tonnes lower and electricity prices cheaper if the scheme had gone ahead.  

“The Coalition and the Greens bear a heavy responsibility for the fact that, a decade later, Australia still does not have an effective policy to tackle climate change by reducing emissions,” he said.

“It has had disastrous and long-lasting consequences for Australia’s ability to respond effectively to climate change.”

The assistant opposition spokesperson for climate change delivered his speech at the Australian National University releasing new figures on the cost of failing to reach agreement on the energy policy framework.

He argued Australia’s annual emissions are now projected by the Department of the Environment and Energy to climb to 540 million tonnes in 2020 and keep rising to 563 million tonnes by 2030.

“By contrast, under the CPRS Australia’s emissions would have been reduced to 469 million tonnes in 2020,” he said.

“That is 81 million tonnes lower than now projected, or more than all of the fugitive emissions from the Australian coal mining, and oil and gas production industries combined.”

Mr Conroy estimates Australia would have prevented 218 million tonnes of cumulative emissions between 2010 and 2020 under the emissions trading scheme.

Since the failed vote, Labor and the Greens have continued to struggle to reach a consensus on carbon targets and the Morrison government remains committed to its current policy.

The Coalition has vowed to reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, which it says will ensure it meets international obligations.

Liberal Senate leader Mathias Cormann said the Coalition stood by its decision to vote down the carbon trading system. 

"When it comes to climate change our government is absolutely committed to effective action ... in a way that is economically responsible," he said.

The Greens argued the emissions reduction targets of the previous trading scheme were inadequate and its transitional assistance for emissions-intensive industries was too generous.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said focus should remain on the present need for action on reducing emissions. 

"The Australian people don't give two hoots about a fight that happened ten years ago," he said.

"People care about what happens now - what they want to know is what do you stand for."

But Mr Conroy argues a carbon price would have been “embedded in the economy” and reduced emissions in an environmentally and economically effective way.

He said a “policy vacuum” in relation to implementing national energy policy in Australia has been “perhaps the most consequential policy failure of the modern era in Australia.”

“The cost of this failure are being born by Australian households and businesses facing higher prices, risks to the reliability of energy supplies and missed economic opportunities,” he said.

Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy marks ten years since the defeat of its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy marks ten years since the defeat of its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
SBS News

Two years later the Greens would go onto support Labor’s Clean Energy Future package, which implemented the same emissions targets before this was repealed by the Coalition Abbott government.

But Mr Conroy argues by this time the political cost had been taken. 

“The policy was working, but the political damage had already been done,” he said.

“There is no denying that Labor made mistakes in its prosecution of the climate change debate in those years."

Senator Di Natale said Labor's leadership crisis between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard was partly to blame for the removal of the carbon trading scheme. 

"Maybe we would still have a carbon price if you had your act together," he said. 

Labor is yet to determine the emissions target it will take to the next election but Mr Conroy stressed the need to “find a path out of the political impasse on climate and energy”.

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