Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the Federal Government will easily meet its 2020 target on cutting carbon emissions despite concern over key elements of its policy.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
The Government has unveiled its long-awaited white paper* detailing its planned Emissions Reductions Fund.
The fund is the key plank of the Direct Action policy intended to replace Labor’s carbon tax.
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Mr Hunt says he is confident the new Senate will pass the legislation despite the fact Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party are threatening to block it.
The Federal Government’s Emission Reduction Fund would pay more than $2.5-billion four years, with $1.5-billion being spent in the first three years to polluters who reduce their emissions.
The clean-energy regulator will manage the fund through a reverse-auction process, with payments made only when companies can demonstrate a genuine emissions reduction.
Auctions for business to win the carbon-abatement funding will begin late this year and will be conducted every three months.
The Government says the fund will focus on practical action, like cleaning up waste coalmine gas, wasteland-fill gas and methane gas and focusing on energy efficiency on a significant scale.
The fund will also have what the Government calls a safeguard mechanism to discourage businesses from emitting higher than historical levels.
Mr Hunt says it will apply from July 2015 to approximately 130 firms or facilities that emit more than 100,000 tonnes a year.
But he says any penalties for companies that significantly increase their emissions are yet to be set.
Mr Hunt says the Government will push ahead on both fronts, releasing exposure legislation in the next few weeks and then introducing the laws to parliament in the Budget sittings.
“Our preference is to have legislation, and we will be releasing that. We have a mandate from the Australian people to repeal the carbon tax, and I just want to repeat we will not stop until that is done. And we have a mandate to implement the Emissions Reduction Fund. So we will be putting forward draft legislation in the coming weeks on the enabling and assisting features.”
But the legislation is facing a significant hurdle in the Senate, even after July the 1st, when the new Senate takes its place.
Labor and the Greens say they will not support it.
Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler says the scheme shows the Government is not serious about tackling climate change.
“It’s extraordinary, really, that a policy that was released more than four years ago still has more questions associated with it than answers. This gives us no confidence that Direct Action is a policy that will use taxpayers’ money wisely or will deliver any substantial reduction in Australia’s carbon pollution.”
Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt says the policy is not going to work.
He says a major flaw with the Direct Action scheme is there is no legal obligation for Australia or Australia’s biggest polluters to actually cut their pollution.
And now, Federal MP Clive Palmer has strongly indicated his party will not support the Direct Action plan.
The Government says it will tie the Emissions Reduction Fund to next month’s Budget bills, but Mr Palmer says that is blackmail and he is prepared to vote against the fund.
“They are doing this, really, as a tactic, like little kids wanting to get their way. But if they’re going to adopt a tactic like that, we’ll have to reconsider our position when it comes to the mining tax and the carbon tax. If that’s the sort of way that they want to play out power politics in Australia, if they won’t let the Australian Senate have a fair and free vote on a matter like that, we’ll have to see what we do. Because, the 1.5 billion dollars in the first three years could be better spent supporting our pensioners, giving single mothers a fair go. It could be better spent supporting our veterans.”
This throws up a major hurdle for the Government, which will need Palmer United Party support in the new Senate to repeal the carbon tax and pass its alternative policy.
Two PUP senators will make their political debuts in the next Senate, with Dio Wang also expected to take a seat after the final vote count in West Australia’s by-election.
The Government will need the votes of at least six crossbench senators to get its legislation passed.
But Mr Hunt says he is not concerned about Mr Palmer’s threat because the pair are on good terms and have recently met.
“I casually bumped into Mr Palmer, and we actually had a very, very friendly conversation, and what we agreed was to catch up in the coming weeks. And he was very keen to read the paper. I will let him speak for himself, but we historically have a very good relationship.”
Mr Hunt says he will be writing to all of the crossbenchers offering to meet and to discuss the carbon-tax repeal and the so-called white paper, or policy paper, with them.