The collapse of the Rudd Government’s "Continue Polluting Regardless Scheme" in the senate yesterday is the best opportunity Australia has had since the defeat of the Howard government to take meaningful action on the climate crisis.
The CPRS was destined to fail at its own task, with its inexcusably weak targets and a $16 billion handout to polluters. It would have sent a clear message to polluters and investors that they should keep going as they are. An independent poll conducted by Galaxy Research showed that three in four Australians supported the Greens’ moves to toughen up the scheme before agreeing to pass it.
The CPRS would have seen our emissions keep rising for two years and not fall below today’s levels until 2013. Now that it is off the books in the Senate, we can move on with action to reduce Australia’s emissions fast — immediately implementing policies to boost renewable energy, protect forests, move to clean transport and upgrade our building energy efficiency — before putting a price on carbon pollution with an effective emissions trading scheme.
The first step the Government must now take is to bring in the Renewable Energy Target legislation for debate in the Senate on Monday, consider the Greens’ amendments to improve the bill, and get it signed into law as soon as possible. Australia’s clean and clever renewable energy sector is crying out for this legislation to level the playing field with the entrenched coal industry.
But the RET will only support those renewable energy technologies which are cheapest now, not those that could easily become cheaper in a few years if given the right support. If the Government finally accepted the Greens’ Private Member’s Bill for a national gross feed-in tariff for renewable energy — instead of relying on COAG’s lowest common denominator approach — the full spectrum of renewable energy technologies could start delivering baseload power and a tremendous jobs boom within months.
Taking serious steps to upgrade Australia’s homes, offices and factories for energy efficiency, instead of fiddling around the edges with ad hoc policies, would also deliver major emissions reductions and tens of thousands of jobs on a tight time frame. The Greens have proposals for each sector (such as this one for the household sector) that have been welcomed by industry groups such as the Green Building Council of Australia and Lend Lease’s sustainability program as sensible and far-sighted. Climate Minister Penny Wong should engage with us when we raise them instead of simply telling us to support her flawed ideas.
Moving Australia towards sustainable transport, redesigning our cities around people rather than cars, is a longer term project. But there is no time like the present to start. With the CPRS’s bizarre treatment of fuel — take with one hand and give it all back with a little bit extra with the other — rejected, the Government should now consider the array of options for real change in this area.
The Green Car Innovation Fund, for example, should be allocated to cars that are actually green and innovative, not used as yet another slush fund to keep Holden and Ford in the business of manufacturing ordinary petrol-powered cars that might be a little more efficient than those they used to make. Australia’s car industry will never be competitive unless we move it into the 21st century and start making cars that Australians will be driving in a few years as climate change and peak oil really begin to bite.
One of the simplest steps the Government could take to dramatically and swiftly cut our greenhouse pollution would be to immediately protect the vast carbon stores in our forests and woodlands. It would be an act of leadership that would be overwhelmingly welcomed across Australia, would create high quality jobs in land management, and would bequeath these magnificent forests and ecosystems to future generations instead of literally flushing them down the loo.
It will take a shift in attitude for the Rudd Government to move onto this forward-looking path, of course. They would have to loosen their attachment to the current, dirty economy to create new manufacturing industries and jobs in the clean, carbon zero economy.
The Greens have long been calling for a full skills audit of Australia, starting with those communities most vulnerable to climate change, climate action and the global financial crisis. A well-thought-out industry policy incorporating skills training and moves to seed new, clean industries in those vulnerable regions, would be fairer and more honest than pretending these communities can continue as they are. Regional development policies — including decentralising parts of the public service — would revitalise rural communities. Rudd can no more stop the shift to a clean economy than Canute could stop the tide. Far better to work with communities on a just transition than condemn them to dislocation further down the track.
This is the phoenix from the ashes of the CPRS. We must seize this opportunity to get Australia moving in the right direction and put our economy onto the right footing so that, when the time comes to try again to put a price on carbon pollution, it will be the obvious thing to do.