Anthony Albanese set to present his most significant, and electorally risky, policy gambit to date
Labor is poised to unveil a new medium term emissions reduction target and a suite of policy measures – including significant investments in new energy economy jobs – provided the package is given the green light by the shadow cabinet on Friday morning.
Guardian Australia understands the shadow climate change minister, Chris Bowen, has prepared options in a range between 35% and 45% for a new 2030 emissions reduction target, depending on the underpinning mechanisms and policy measures the shadow cabinet is prepared to adopt.
Labor leaders met on Thursday afternoon, and the shadow cabinet will consider the tightly held climate policy proposals on Friday morning.
Federal parliament adjourned for the summer break on Thursday, but the Labor caucus has remained in Canberra for an early meeting to endorse Anthony Albanese’s most significant, and electorally risky, policy gambit to date.
Guardian Australia understands any new commitments – expected to include economy-wide abatement measures, including policies driving the electrification of transport, and investments in the low billions in new jobs in the renewables sector and in emerging industries like hydrogen – will be underpinned by economic analysis from a respected firm.
Labor was slammed by the Coalition during the 2019 campaign for not having bespoke modelling identifying the cost of its climate policies. The underpinning analysis of Labor’s election offering for 2022 is an effort to blunt the electoral scare campaign that will inevitably accompany the opposition proposing a higher 2030 target than the Coalition.
While Scott Morrison has already committed the Coalition to a net zero emissions reduction by 2050 in an effort to shore up Liberal moderates under political pressure from climate focused independents – the government is already muscling up for another federal election cycle of weaponising climate ambition in regional Queensland electorates and in Labor-held seats in the Hunter Valley.
Given the electoral stakes, and the internal spectrum of risk appetites, the Labor leadership waited until parliament adjourned to bring the climate policy options into shadow cabinet, and has planned a public announcement directly after caucus to minimise the window for potential leaks.
The shadow cabinet submission had not been circulated widely on Thursday evening, but options for the new target are understood to include a 35% cut, which would line Labor’s election commitment up with a forecast overachievement on the Abbott-era Coalition target.
The Coalition’s current 2030 target is a cut of 26 to 28% on 2005 levels by 2030 – but the latest government projections suggest the government’s technology-driven approach to the transition could deliver a 35% reduction.
Under sustained diplomatic pressure from key allies, including the United Kingdom and the United States, Morrison sought a formal increase in the 2030 target ahead of the recent Cop26 summit in Glasgow. But that sortie was vetoed by the Nationals.
As well as a potential 35% cut, shadow cabinet is expected to consider more ambitious options – a reduction more like 40%, and an option up to 45%. The higher targets would involve Labor engaging the Coalition’s safeguards mechanism to drive lower abatement during the transition to the new energy economy.
While Labor is likely to deploy existing government mechanisms to drive emissions reduction, the Morrison government is already limbering up to brand its own safeguards mechanism a carbon tax in the event Labor lands on a higher target.
The safeguards mechanism isn’t a carbon tax, and the business community has urged the Coalition to expand its own mechanism to push companies to reduce their emissions consistent with net zero.
The politics of climate change have shifted since the 2019 election. There is bipartisan agreement on the 2050 target, and the business groups that once campaigned against Labor’s carbon price now propose 2030 targets up to 50%.
But Labor went backwards in Queensland at the last federal election in substantial part because of its more ambitious climate policies.
Last weekend, the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said the Queensland government had given Labor a template for pursuing higher cuts to emissions while giving workers a pathway to the jobs created during the transition.
Chalmers told Guardian Australia medium-term targets need to be accompanied by government investment in “additional jobs, additional industries”.
“If you look at the Palaszczuk government, they’ve made some really quite remarkable investments in Gladstone in hydrogen, in Townsville, in other minerals,” Chalmers said last weekend.
Imposing ambition and aligning that with investments in new economic opportunity allows people to see “tangible opportunities in regional communities”.
“I think that’s the way through this issue.”