Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to the Paris climate change targets but effectively exempted the nation’s single largest emitter, the energy sector, from having to make a contribution.
As new Energy Minister Angus Taylor detailed an interventionist policy agenda aimed only at forcing down prices and increasing reliability, Mr Morrison said the task of reducing emissions fell to new Environment Minister Melissa Price.
“It’s her job to continue to pursue our policies in relation to climate and to pursue the policies we have to address our emissions commitment that was given under the Abbott government,” he said.
Electricity accounts for one third of the nation’s emissions and unless it makes a contribution, the heavy lifting would have to be done by other sections such as transport and agriculture.
Ms Price released a short statement saying she was confident the nation would be able to reduce emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent on 2005 levels.
“The Morrison government is committed to delivering lower energy prices and meeting our international obligations,” she said.
“Australia is already on track to over achieve on its 2020 target.”
She said if the government were to abandon the Paris targets, that would be a decision for cabinet. Already, senior members have resisted this, saying there would be international repercussions, including a collapse of any free trade deal with the European Union.
In his first speech on his new portfolio yesterday, Mr Taylor repeated the policy proposals that were announced by the government before the leadership coup, and he signalled the end of striving for a bipartisan approach on energy policy by disabusing business of the notion that it would ever get policy certainty on energy, something the National Energy Guarantee aimed to achieve.
“I think there’s some naivety in the idea that governments can largely eliminate uncertainty for businesses or should even try,” he said.
“Parliaments and governments can’t bind future Parliaments and governments. They simply can’t do it. This is a breach of the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
“But we can create an environment where there’s sufficient confidence and incentive to invest.”
Panned subsidy schemes
He panned subsidy schemes including the Renewable Energy Target, which peaks in 2020 and ends in 2030, but the government has no intention of trying to abolish it.
One source said there was too much investment already committed under the scheme, it was phasing out anyway and the Senate would never approve its abolition.
Emissions reduction is no longer a consideration of energy policy.
Shadow energy and climate change minister Mark Butler said Mr Taylor’s speech “confirmed our worst fears, which is that the Morrison government intends to place its anti-renewables ideology ahead of good policy”.
“It’s abandoned the idea of putting in place a bipartisan policy framework that will deliver the policy certainty that every single body that advises government on this area has said is needed over the last couple of years.”
Mr Taylor confirmed the government would adopt as a last resort the powers to force energy companies to divest assets, and it would adopt many recommendations from last month’s retail pricing report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
These include underwriting new, stable, low-cost generation by agreeing to be a buyer of last resort, forcing power retailers to offer low price default contracts, and limiting market power by placing a cap on the share of generation any single market participant can own or control, excluding investment in new capacity.
It will also establish a mandatory code of conduct for energy comparator websites to ensure they focus on benefits to consumers, not the commissions they receive from energy companies, and establish greater transparency in the wholesale electricity market and provide additional powers for the Australia Energy Regulator to address market manipulation in the wholesale market.
These will be backed by enforcement remedies including fines and other penalties.