Welcome to your monthly update on the major national political news and events we’ve been working on over the past month.
We hope these monthly updates on federal political developments on environmental protection and climate action policy and law help keep you informed and inspired.
This month you’ll find:
The Morrison Government’s budget for 2020-21 was a massive disappointment. It bolsters fossil fuel extraction, generation and exports, and largely ignores the opportunities offered by investing in an economic recovery built on clean energy and protecting nature.
The gas industry was a big winner in the budget with $52.8 million allocated to accelerating gas projects, including $28.3 million over the next four years to invest in research and development.
The Morrison Government will continue to provide tax subsidies to fossil fuel companies. The fuel tax credit, which allows multinational mining companies like Rio Tinto, BHP and Glencore to pay zero tax on their off-road diesel use, will cost Australians $33 billion in foregone revenue across the forward estimates. Of that, coal miners will receive more than $1.2 billion a year in diesel fuel subsidies.
$50 million over three years was allocated to speculative carbon capture and storage, even though this experimental fossil fuel enabling technology has already received $1.3 billion in taxpayer support with no commercial success.
Outrageously, the Morrison Government will provide public money, reportedly $8.7 million, to upgrade Delta Electricity's 40-year old Vales Point coal-fired power station on the NSW central coast. Vales Point was selected for funding under the government’s Morrison Government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments (UNGI) program, which also includes gas import and production projects. The Budget allocated $2.2 million over two years to the UNGI program.
$1.4 billion was allocated to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) so it can continue to operate but the funds will be stretched over twelve years. While it was great to see ARENA refunded, it will only receive a $223.9 million investment in research and development.
Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions Angus Taylor said the Budget allocated funding to the CopperString 2.0 project in Queensland but didn’t reveal how much or when. The project involves constructing a 1,000 km high voltage transmission line between Mount Isa and Hughenden that should allow multiple new renewable energy projects to connect to the grid.
In other energy-related Budget measures:
The environment portfolio budget confirms existing commitments and announcements made by the Morrison Government, including about $233 million for Commonwealth managed national parks and $122 million over two years for bushfire recovery for species and landscapes.
This falls well short of ACF’s recommendation that $1 billion a year is needed to restore our landscapes and tackle the extinction crisis.
The Budget included $36.6 million over two years to "maintain the timeliness" of environmental assessment processes. Of the $36.6 million:
The Budget allocated $47.4 million over four years to support Australian ocean management including:
See the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources Portfolio Budget Statements 2020–21.
See the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment Portfolio Budget Statements 2020-21.
ACF has been invited to provide evidence to the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquiry into the Government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020 on 13 October at 10.30am based on our joint submission with other environment organisations.
What does it mean? The Morrison Government’s Bill would create a new $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund (GRF), separate but alongside CEFC funding, to support grid reliability and affordability by enabling investment in additional energy storage, electricity generation, transmission or distribution, or electricity grid stabilisation technologies.
But buried in the Bill are new powers for the Minister to direct the CEFC to fund certain projects, including projects that support fossil fuel mining and generation, and even loss-making projects.
This creates a real risk that the publicly funded GRF could be misused to back a minister's personally preferred projects, undermining the CEFC’s independence and its wise investment strategies that have been key to its extraordinary financial success.
What happened in Parliament? Energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor made it clear when he tabled the Bill that the intention is for the CEFC to be used for backing the government’s ‘gas-led recovery’.
New funding for the CEFC is welcome but the Bill needs serious amendment. We’re working hard with Parliamentarians to amend the Bill to remove any ministerial interference in the CEFC’s financial decisions.
What next? ACF’s presentation to the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications Legislation Committee GRF Bill inquiry on 13 October is a great opportunity to set the record straight on the government’s move to undermine the CEFC’s objective. Tune in! The Committee’s report is due on 4 November.
We hope that amendments to the GRF Bill will be introduced in the Senate in sittings beginning on 9 November.
The CEFC GRF Bill (above) is the latest attack in the Coalition Government’s long-standing war against our incredibly successful national clean energy institutions. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is also in its sights, as the governments’ Technology Investment Roadmap released on 22 September has made clear.
What is it? The Morrison Government said the Roadmap is “the cornerstone of Australia’s Long Term Emissions Reduction Strategy” the government said, and it incorporated the First Low Emissions Technology Statement – 2020.
However, it also said a long term national emissions reduction strategy won’t be released until late next year, ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
What’s the problem? The Roadmap has no emissions reduction targets. ACF had recommended it adopt a target for net zero climate pollution by 2050 and a specific goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030.
The Roadmap fails to support key zero emissions technologies, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transport, urgently needed to reduce Australia’s emissions.
Instead, the government allocated $18 billion of investment to support a selection of costly, harmful and unproven technologies, such as nuclear and carbon capture and storage connected to fossil fuel extraction and use.
The Roadmap also backs hydrogen produced from coal and gas as well as renewable energy.
Of most concern, the Morrison Government’s Roadmap will require changes to the legislation underpinning the CEFC and ARENA to ensure their board director can deliver the Government’s investment priorities, and a requirement that they focus on accelerating the government’s priority technologies.
Again, this will undermine the independence of these two incredibly successful national clean energy institutions.
What next? We’re expecting to see Bills in Parliament in November that will further undermine the CEFC’s mission and alter ARENA’s remit so their boards can invest public funds in technologies that will lock Australia into continued dependence on fossil fuels instead of only investing in renewable energy.
What’s ACF doing? We’ve been continuing to talk to parliamentarians about our concerns, warning them about the coming CEFC and ARENA Bills.
We’re encouraging Labor Senators to hold firm on their commitment to oppose changes to CEFC and ARENA legislation that undermine their purpose.
We’re urging Independent House of Representatives MPs Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Rebecca Sharkie and Andrew Wilkie to speak up to protect the CEFC and ARENA.
And, we’re asking cross bench Senators Rex Patrick, Stirling Griff and Jacqui Lambie to please use their important votes to protect our national clean energy institutions, as they have in the past.
What can you do? You can sign the petition calling on cross bench MPs and Senators to be champions of clean energy.
South Australians can email Senator Rex Patrick to ask that he use his crucial vote to protect the CEFC and ARENA.
Tasmanians can email Senator Jacqui Lambie to ask that she continue to support the CEFC and ARENA remaining clean energy funds, as she has in the past.
The Morrison Government’s Bill to designate a pastoral property in SA’s Kimba Shire as the site for a radioactive waste depository has stalled in the Senate, suggesting our campaign to stop this bad law is working
What does it mean? Although the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020 [Provisions] was listed for a vote in the Senate on several days in early October, it was repeatedly withdrawn and ultimately dropped as Budget business took over. The Bill’s disappearance from the Senate program suggests the Morrison Government is not confident it has the votes needed to pass it. It also tells us we’ve been successful in our campaign to reveal the real intention behind the Bill - to remove the legal right of any Australian to challenge the Minister for Resources, Keith Pitt’s decision about where to site the facility.
What’s the problem? The Minister already has the power to designate a site for the facility. He doesn’t need this Bill to choose the Kimba site.The Barngala Traditional Owners of the Kimba land were excluded from voting on the proposal and are strongly opposed to the facility being built on their native title land. The Morrison Government is clearly worried they, and possibly others in South Australia, may challenge a decision of the Minister in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and so are using this Bill to remove that legal right. Removing procedural rights to challenge government decisions is unprincipled and fundamentally undemocratic.
And there’s more...We have other serious concerns with the Morrison Government’s nuclear waste management plan. Australia’s most dangerous and long-lived Intermediate-Level Waste (ILW), currently securely stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights facility, would only be stored at Kimba temporarily. The ILW would have to be moved again in 20-100 years. Double handling this type of nuclear waste is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. Public consultation among South Australians has also been inadequate causing division in the regional community. We think governments can do better on public consultation to resolve this issue. Meanwhile, the waste is safe where it is.
What happened in Parliament? The Bill passed the House of Representatives in June while a Senate Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into the Bill was underway. See ACF’s joint submission here. The Committee’s report on 14 September included several dissenting reports, revealing some division among Labor Senators. However, we’re assured Labor Senators will not support the Bill in its current form.
That means the Morrison Government would need one of three cross bench Senators’ votes for the Bill to pass - Jacqui Lambie or one of the two South Australians, Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff or Independent Senator Rex Patrick. Senator Patrick has his own amendments to the Bill to store nuclear waste at the Woomera Prohibited Area controlled by the Department of Defence.
What’s next? We expect the Bill will return to the Senate in November sittings. We’ll keep up the pressure on Senators to block it, and keep you in the loop.
This has been a huge month in environmental politics, and ACF Community members have been in the thick of it to make sure our voices are heard by our elected representatives. ACF Community members are calling for a recovery from COVID-19 that is nature and climate positive, with future-proof jobs, strong laws and a pathway to a renewable future.
Here are some incredible achievements from the ACF Community this month:
Until next month!