In 2001, John Howard introduced a renewable energy target (RET) to support the initial development of renewable generating capacity in the country and get it through the early stages where costs were high and private enterprise would be unlikely to support it without the legal requirement the RET provided.
In June 2007, Peter Shergold, then Head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, presented John Howard with a report produced by the emissions trading taskforce whose “key message was go soon because the longer you delayed, the higher the cost you imposed upon yourself and the greater the investment uncertainty.”
Consequently, the Liberal Party took to the 2007 election a policy to establish an emissions trading scheme.
EXCERPT FROM LIBERAL PARTY POLICY DOCUMENT 2007 ELECTION: A re-elected Coalition Government will establish the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading scheme in Australia, commencing no later than 2012.
Labor won the election and, by 2009, was well into negotiations with the Liberal Party, now led by Malcom Turnbull, on the details about how the system would work.
These negotiations, led by Penny Wong for the government and Ian McFarlane for the Opposition, were very close to completion – until the wreckers stepped in, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, and Cory Bernardi large among them.
Led by the Opposition Leader in the Senate and godfather of the liberals climate sceptics, Nick Minchin, the undermining of consensus began.
NICK MINCHIN: For the extreme left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left, and the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion. I don’t mind being branded a sceptic about the theory that that human emissions and CO2 are the main driver of global change – of global warming. I don’t accept that and I’ve said that publicly. I guess if I can say it, I would hope that others would feel free to do so.
CORY BERNARDI: Well I think that scientists need to justify their own actions. They will keep putting forward and saying we’ve got all this evidence, the evidence is increasingly discredited, why have they done it, what’s their motivations for doing it? Are they afraid to stand up to the extreme green lobby?
TONY ABBOTT: We want to be careful that we’re not jumping on a bandwagon or being taken in by a fad. It seems that the world has cooled slightly since the late 1990s. One of the things which I think has disconcerted a lot of people is the evangelical fervour of the climate change alarmists because they haven’t pursued their case with the kind of careful moderation that you normally associate with the best scientists.
BARNABY JOYCE, NATIONALS SENATOR, QUEENSLAND: And you can go to Copenhagen, you can go to Disneyland, you can go wherever you like but the position of the National Party on this will be quite clear, to understand the word no.
An increasingly frustrated Shadow Minister for Resources, Ian McFarlane, tried to bring some reality into the debate.
IAN MACFARLANE: The reality is, you are not going to see another coal fired power station built in Australia. That’s, that’s a simple fact. You can talk about all the stuff you like about carbon capture storage, that concept will not materialise for 20 years, and probably never.
Abbott rolled Turnbull shortly after, destroying any further negotiations with Rudd, followed by a ruthless and dishonest campaign that led to the repeal of Gillard’s carbon price.
The policy that Abbott took to the 2013 election committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5-25% on 2000 levels to be reviewed in 2015 to consider a longer term target in light of international agreement. He also committed to the RET of 20% by 2020 with a review in 2014.
In preparation for the Paris climate talks, the Bestest Ever Minister in the Whole Wide World as judged by the oil-producing nations, Greg Hunt pulled one of his accounting tricks by moving the base year for emissions reduction from 2000 to 2005. The reason he did this was because 2005 was a particularly high year for emissions.
To get an understanding of what impact that has, the following is an excerpt from the latest Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory:
“Australia’s annual emissions for the year to March 2017 are estimated to be 550.1 Mt CO2 -e. This figure is 0.8 per cent below emissions in 2000 (554.4 Mt CO2 -e) and 9.1 per cent below emissions in 2005 (605.0 Mt CO2 -e).”
Hey presto, an extra 8.3% reduction just by changing base years.
Despite professing bipartisan support before the election, the Abbott government also attacked the RET, initially with threats to abolish it altogether but reaching eventual agreement with Labor to reduce it from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh by 2020.
In a joint statement in April 2015, the environment and industry ministers said: “We will also remove the requirement for regular two-yearly reviews of the RET to give the industry the certainty it needs to move ahead.”
But less than a month later, Industry minister Ian Macfarlane backflipped saying Cabinet insisted the reviews remain.
“This is an issue we thought had been resolved now by both parties for the last 18 months,” Andrew Richards from wind farm operator Pacific Hydro said. “We thought they had understood that constant reviews is not good for investor confidence. We’d like to see it removed. We hope that saner people prevail eventually and they will remove it and will allow us to go on and invest with some level of confidence.”
Wind tower manufacturer Keppel Prince said while it was glad a 33,000 GWh deal has been reached, the reviews needed to stop.
“It just has that air of uncertainty and the industry just locks up any sort of spending for probably a good six to eight months beforehand,” Mr Garner said. “Every two years we seem to run out of work because the investment just stops.”
Changing back to Malcolm Turnbull has only made matters worse. It is still Abbott, Joyce and Bernardi who are driving the debate which is now totally devoid of any discussion of climate change. They are currently leading the campaign to destroy the clean energy target.
As Turnbull theatrically struts around throwing out childish taunts like Blackout Bill and No Coal Joel, it should be remembered that it isn’t Labor who has changed their support for emissions reduction and renewable energy.
You cannot privatise an essential utility and then create such uncertainty that the industry effectively grinds to a halt.
Our energy crisis can be laid squarely at the feet of a divided Coalition whose own power struggles over the last decade have made it impossible for them to come up with any sort of enduring policy.