The Greens will demand a sweeping change to Labor’s flagship policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by pushing for an amendment to stop all new coal and gas projects, setting up a third clash on big election promises after disputes on housing and industry.
Greens leader Adam Bandt will call for the single but far-reaching variation to the safeguard mechanism in a move that focuses the political debate on coal and gas while accepting every other part of the new scheme to cut emissions from 215 big polluters.
Greens leader Adam Bandt says the party is prepared to put aside other concerns about Labor’s emissions reduction scheme if it agrees to stop opening new coal and gas projects.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The latest call comes after the Greens attacked the government’s $10 billion housing fund as a “gamble” that would not build enough new homes, and sought changes to a $15 billion industry investment fund to stop it supporting fossil fuel projects.
With the Coalition vowing to vote against the safeguard mechanism and the two funds, the government must secure support from the Greens and at least two others in the Senate to deliver on the election promises, even at the cost of agreeing to amendments.
The government is hoping to secure the three policies before the end of March, when parliament will take a break for five weeks, so the disputes will not eat into time to be devoted to new policies unveiled in the May 9 budget.
While Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and key ministers attacked the Coalition’s stance, noting the previous government set up similar funds, its opposition gives Bandt and his colleagues a crucial say over the major policies.
“The Greens will back Labor’s scheme if Labor agrees to stop opening new coal and gas mines,” Bandt said of the safeguard mechanism.
“Coal and gas are driving the climate crisis, but Labor wants more.
“The Greens have huge concerns with other parts of the scheme, such as the rampant use of offsets and the low emissions reduction targets, but we’re prepared to put those concerns aside and give Labor’s scheme a chance if Labor agrees to stop opening new coal and gas projects.”
But the Greens are yet to introduce the wording of their amendment to the bill and show how the new law could stop any company from opening any new coal and gas project, given decisions on these projects are made under separate environmental law.
‘Coal and gas are driving the climate crisis, but Labor wants more.’
Bandt did not say the Greens would reject the safeguard mechanism if he did not get the amendment, and he made no statement indicating the party would vote down the entire scheme in the way it joined the Coalition in blocking Labor’s emissions trading scheme in 2009.
The Greens are also setting out amendments to the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund and the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund without saying they would vote against the two measures if they do not get what they want.
Greens housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather said the $10 billion fund was the wrong way to address affordability because a maximum of $500 million in earnings would be released each year to subsidise housing providers, which he said was not enough.
Chandler-Mather called for a $5 billion federal outlay on housing every year in perpetuity as well as $1 billion for Indigenous housing.
Grattan Institute economic policy program director Brendan Coates rejected a key criticism of the housing fund made by the Greens and the Coalition on Tuesday – that the fund would not be able to invest in housing if returns on the $10 billion were negative in any given year.
Coates, who set out a scheme similar to the fund two years ago, said the government policy would commit funds to housing projects and deliver the subsidies even when returns were smaller in some years than in others.
Independent senator David Pocock is also seeking changes to the housing fund in a bid to get more homes built, maximising pressure on Labor to increase spending to secure a deal.
On the reconstruction fund, the Greens want it to be banned from investing in projects that are “inconsistent with Australia’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets” – a provision aimed at stopping the fund from putting money into gas and coal projects.
Industry Minister Ed Husic, who has held talks with Bandt to clear the way to a deal in the Senate, has described the reconstruction fund as an investor in manufacturing, medicine, clean energy and other projects rather than energy infrastructure.
Asked if he might change the wording of the amendment in those negotiations, Bandt said he was willing to listen to arguments from the government about how to change the draft law.
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