Our current environment minister is a former mining lawyer. But what are Labor’s credentials?

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As voters around the country decide who to elect this weekend, climate change has risen as a key election issue for many swing seats. The current minister for the environment Melissa Price has been largely absent from the campaign.

With kids wagging school to demand climate action, men dangling off the Harbour Bridge with anti-coal signs, and the Greens proclaiming to be in “striking distance” of an otherwise safe Liberal seat in Melbourne - many pundits have labelled this Saturday’s federal election the “climate change election”.

But when the Coalition announced their environment policy ahead of the election in February, the Minister for the Environment herself, Melissa Price, was not by the Prime Minister’s side.

Ever since, her media presence has remained scant.

Her apparent absence in the campaign has attracted criticism from the Greens and Labor, with various media outlets announcing that the minister has declined repeated requests for interviews, including The Guardian, Channel Ten’s The Project, ABC’s 7:30 and ABC’s RN.

Days before the federal election was called in April, the Minister for the Environment gave the thumbs up to a Uranium mine in WA’s Kalgoorlie region.

Then, she approved Adani’s groundwater plan, the final hurdle for the major coal mine proposed for Queensland. The decision was controversial, but in a statement, the minister said she had accepted the advice of the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia.

“Both CSIRO and Geoscience Australia have confirmed the revised plans meet strict scientific requirements,” she said in a statement.

It is the last media statement Price published and she did not give interviews.

This week, emails obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information laws imply the Commonwealth decision to approve the water plan was rushed, and the assessment by the CSIRO not as unequivocal as Price suggested.

Anti-Adani
Anti-Adani protesters outside the Liberal Party campaign launch at Melbourne Convention Centre.
AAP

Price has not faced the media to address the controversy and Scott Morrison has addressed her absence, explaining to reporters that Price has been busy campaigning in her electorate.

The Feed reached out to the Environment Minister for an interview. She declined, but a spokesperson sent through a statement which you can read here. 

The minister’s Facebook page backs this up. Price has been campaigning in her Western Australian electorate of Durack. At 1.5 million hectares, it’s one of the largest political electorates in the world. Its economic roots lie in mining, and so does Price’s resume.

Environment Minister Melissa Price
Environment Minister Melissa Price has been AWOL during the coalition's national election campaign.
AAP

Who is Melissa Price?

In her maiden speech to parliament in 2013, Price outlined her work experience, which included management in the fast food industry, a stint as an aerobics instructor and - what may seem most relevant now - a long history of employment in the mining sector.

“My time working for Crosslands Resources, which is part of the Oakajee stable of companies, and is owned by Mitsubishi Corporation, was also very valuable,” she said.

“Wearing my business development hat, I had the pleasure of travelling deep into the mid-west to assess possible mining acquisitions, near to towns like Yalgoo, Cue and Meekatharra.”

 

The Feed
The Feed

Ms Price has worked for Robe River Iron Associates - which is largely owned by mining giant Rio Tinto; and Crosslands Resources - owned by Mitsubishi Corporation. As part of her role she travelled to the mid-west of Western Australia to assess possible mining acquisitions.

The minister was scathing of the mining tax.

“From a regulatory point of view, it put a drain on the industry, whilst also discouraging investment and making Australia internationally uncompetitive,” she said.

“Whilst we have taken the first steps to rid Australia of the mining tax, it is worth reflecting on the positive impact that the resources industry has had, particularly at a local level.”

Price dumped shares in the oil and gas industry

In 2013 was elected to federal parliament for the seat of Durack. But it would take five years in parliament and an appointment to the assistant minister for the environment in 2017 for Ms Price to sell her shares in seven mining and resource companies:  BHP, Otis Energy, Ampella, Panaust, South32 and Northern Star.

 

The Feed
The Feed

Melissa Price took over as the minister for the environment from Josh Frydenberg last August following the leadership spill. Since her appointment, the minister has championed the protection of endangered species, has insisted the government will stick to it's Paris climate commitments, and that current emission reduction policies are sufficient.

Labor's record this election

When it comes to the environment this election, the Labor party has been criticised for having a less-than-consistent stance on the controversial Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.

While Bill Shorten has recently come out saying he would be guided by science and the law, last November he said the mine would not affect greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.

"I believe that our policies on renewable energy will actually reduce our emissions. The actual decision about Adani is not going to affect Australian emissions," he said .

In February, the shadow minister for the environment Tony Burke would not state whether he supports Adani or not, saying he wouldn’t “prejudge” the project. But he did say he was skeptical from an environmental point of view.

Tony Bourke
Tony Bourke is the shadow minister for the environment.
sbs

“I’m concerned about what’s been reported. The government doesn’t appear to have followed the law with respect to the use of the water trigger,” he told ABC’s Insiders.

MPs in marginal seats in Melbourne and Queensland have been giving conflicting opinions in their support for the mine during the campaign.

Capricornia candidate and coal miner Russell Robertson told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age: "I'm going to do my best to make sure every one of those six projects get up and running."

Meanwhile, Josh Burns, in the marginal seat of Macnamara in Melbourne, told a candidate forum in April that he opposed Adani.

Last month as the election campaign kicked off, Belinda Hassan, Labor’s candidate for the electorate where the Adani’s mine is planned for production, dodged questions from the media about her suggestion that the Adani coal mine could be reviewed if the ALP is elected to government.

Belinda Hassan
Labor candidate Belinda Hassan did not answer questions about Adani in April.
AAP

If the Labor Party are elected to government after this weekend, it’s likely those charged with climate change policy will be shadow minister for the environment Tony Burke and shadow minister for climate change and energy Mark Butler.

Both MPs have a long history working in trade unions and politics, as staffers then eventually politicians. Neither have practical skills or qualifications in environment or climate science, but that is common for most politicians.

Where does the Liberal party stand on climate change?

The coalition says it is committed to finding solutions to climate change. Anticipating the election, the coalition introduced the Climate Solutions Package in February.

The package has been touted as a $3.5 billion investment over 15 years to help deliver on the country’s 2030 Paris climate commitments, including $2 billion for a climate solutions fund - basically an extension on the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Their aim is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels. But critics say these policies will fall short of what’s required to meet  Paris climate agreement targets.

“It’s completely inadequate, the worst targets of any developed nation in the world,” said Kate Doley, political scientist from the Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne.

The Liberal’s package includes plans to develop a national electric vehicle strategy and spruik the Snowy Mountains Scheme (basically a giant hydro pump) and the Battery of the Nation (a commitment to look at wind and hydro power in Tasmania).

What about Labor’s commitment?

The Labor Party has presented voters with a Climate Change Action Plan - a 10 page document full of promises with the ultimate goal of reducing Australia’s pollution by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, and to reach net zero pollution by 2050.

Leading their policies is a renewable energy target of 50 per cent electricity generation by 2030, household rebates for solar batteries and investment in energy efficiency.

Critics say this will still not put Australia on track to meet its Paris commitments, though if they follow through with their promises, could deliver a better result than the Liberal Party’s current policies.

“This is the absolute minimum to reach the Paris commitments,” Ms Doley said.

“Labor’s policy document states this target is informed by advice from the independent Climate Change Authority which are outdated - to reach our Paris commitments Labor would have to aim toward at least 60 per cent reduction in emissions.”

The Liberal party have demanded Labor “cost” their policies, which the Labor Party say they can’t do.

Earlier this month Brian Fisher, a controversial economist, released modelling that showed Labor’s carbon reduction targets could wipe up to $542 billion from the nation’s growing economy.

The Feed requested an interview with Melissa Price but did not receive a response.