Greens move to block clean energy cuts sets up double dissolution trigger

The Greens’ leader, Christine Milne, said she would move, this week, that the Senate should vote on the government’s bill, which faces certain defeat because Labor also opposes scrapping the $10bn renewable energy initiative.


A vote on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013 will be taken before the July changeover of the Senate, when the Greens and Labor lose control of the upper house.

The Senate has already rejected the legislation, but in March the government rushed it through the lower house in the expectation that it could wait until a number of conservative crossbenchers entered the upper house.

Milne said the Greens wanted to put the bill to a second Senate vote immediately, which would give the prime minister the first trigger needed to call a double dissolution election.

“We reject Tony Abbott’s effort to destroy renewable energy investment in Australia,” she told ABC Television.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation was set up by the previous Labor government to support renewable energy projects with loans, guarantees and equity investments. Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said on Sunday the party would determine its position on the Greens’ procedural motion “when they provide the terms of their proposed motion”.

Meanwhile, the environment minister, Greg Hunt, has said Australia will easily reach greenhouse gas reduction targets, despite his government’s push to dismantle the carbon tax and a reported backflip on funding for solar energy.

Climate change mitigation has been a focus on Abbott’s visit to the White House. The US president, Barack Obama, was reported as saying he accepted the Australian government’s mandate to repeal the carbon tax but he urged Australia and other nations to adopt “ambitious domestic climate policies as the basis of a strong international response”.

“The big point here is that the carbon tax hasn’t been doing its job,” Hunt told the Seven Network on Sunday.

“Why did the Australian people vote to get rid of it? Because you had a $7.5bn tax on electricity and gas … [and] emissions went down by 0.1% in the first full year of the carbon tax.”

However, the latest official figures show a 0.8% fall in emissions – excluding land use changes and forestry – in the year to December 2013. The update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory said emissions by the electricity sector fell by 5% in 2013 compared with the previous year, “reflecting lower electricity demand and changes in the generation mix”.

Generation using black coal and brown coal decreased by 4.1% and 6.9% respectively, while hydroelectric and renewables’ generation rose. The year-on-year decline in emissions from electricity generation was partly offset by rises in fugitive emissions and agriculture, the report said.

Meanwhile, new modelling of the coalition’s direct action plan by an energy advisory firm, RepuTex, suggests Australia can expect to fall well short of its target of 5% emission reductions by 2020.

Its analysis predicts that by 2020 the emissions reduction fund alone will buy between 30m and 120m Australian carbon credit units, leaving a carbon shortfall of more than 300m tonnes.

The environment minister said the country was still on track. “We will hit our targets and we’ll do it easily,” Hunt said.

The assurance came as Fairfax Media reported that Hunt had been forced to back down on a promise to the Clean Energy Council last November that the coalition was still committed to its $500m program to fund “one million solar roofs”, a policy from the 2010 election.

Hunt reportedly described the flagship solar rebate program as a “shining beacon” of the government’s direct action climate policy, though the policy had not been reaffirmed by Abbott.

Asked about the report, Hunt said: “We have added $1bn during the course of the budget process to the emissions reduction fund … we’ve had to make some difficult choices.”

The opposition’s climate change spokesman, Mark Butler, said the solar “debacle” was the latest in a string of broken promises by the government on its renewable energy policy. “When Greg Hunt talked about this, the Australian people [and] the solar industry were of the view that the renewable energy target was a bipartisan position,” he told Sky News.