Labor’s environmental lobby warns bipartisan energy deal comes with conditions

October 23, 2017

Any support for Coalition’s national energy guarantee needs to defend ‘50% renewable energy target by 2030’


 (L-R) Chris Bowen, Bill Shorten, Andrew Leigh and shadow Mark Butler visit the Mount Majura solar farm in Canberra. The Labor party have committed to 50% renewable energy by 2030. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP



Labor’s major environmental lobby group has endorsed the ALP reaching a bipartisan position with the Turnbull government on energy policy, but warned that a deal should not be at any price.


The Labor Environment Action Network, which exerts considerable influence over the ALP’s climate and environment policies, has written to Bill Shorten and Labor’s climate spokesman, Mark Butler, setting out its principles for any agreement with the Coalition.


In a letter circulated to party members on Monday, the group’s national convenor, Felicity Wade, told Shorten and Butler the network understood “there are many factors in play” with Labor’s response to the national energy guarantee, not only “complex policy questions but the politics as well”.


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Wade said the organisation supported a bipartisan agreement in principle, and an end to the climate wars, but it had a number of concerns about the policy outlined last week.


Wade laid out five criteria which should “govern Labor’s approach” in any discussion with the government about the national energy guarantee.


She said there needed to be a “clear defence of Labor’s 50% renewable energy target by 2030 and 45% economy-wide emissions reduction” and a clear pathway “to ramping up any policy adopted to deliver greater emission-reduction targets under Labor’s leadership – that reflect Labor’s renewable energy ambition and the potential efficiency of the electricity sector delivering a greater share of economy-wide emission reductions”.


Wade said she had concerns the national energy guarantee would entrench the market power of vertically integrated power companies and undermine competition in the electricity sector.


She said Labor needed to ensure whatever policy mechanism was adopted would allow the electricity market to continue moving towards decentralised power generation and storage, rather than further entrenching the incumbent “gentailers” – the power companies that run generation and retailing businesses.


Wade said she had been “heartened to hear Mark Butler and other senior Labor figures in recent days reiterate Labor’s commitment to the energy transition and 50% renewable energy by 2030”.


Labor has responded critically to the government’s new policy, which would impose reliability and emissions-reduction obligations on energy retailers from 2020.


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Mark Butler, the shadow minister for climate change and energy, speaks to Katharine Murphy about the government’s new national energy guarantee (Neg). 


But the opposition has also left the door open to an agreement on the policy if Malcolm Turnbull can convince the state premiers to overhaul the national electricity market rules.

People broadly supportive of the concept within Labor point out the policy mechanism is scalable – meaning Labor in government would be able to increase the level of emissions reduction for the electricity sector, and usher in a higher proportion of renewable energy in the market.


The government wants to set an emissions-reduction trajectory for electricity of a 26% cut on 2005 levels by 2030, which Labor regards as too weak for Australia to meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement.


On Monday Turnbull said he had spoken to “several” of the premiers, and his energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, was speaking to his state counterparts ahead of a council of Australian governments meeting in November.


Publicly, a number of premiers have been hostile about the national energy guarantee, particularly South Australia’s Jay Weatherill, who has urged federal Labor to hold the line against the policy, but Turnbull suggested state leaders were adopting a more conciliatory tone in private.


“Well, the conversations I’ve had, they’ve been very receptive,” Turnbull said. “But there’s often, as you know, a mismatch between the private conversations and the public rhetoric.”


The manager of government business, Christopher Pyne, said the states needed to support the policy, because the public were sick of arguing about climate and energy policy.


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