Off track

The federal budget cemented the government’s indifference toward climate change and rising emissions with reduction targets to remain at 26 to 28 per cent and business-as-usual in phasing out the renewable energy target. So the outlook for renewable energy under a coalition government remains as bleak as ever, with shrinking investment in new clean technology, says the Smart Energy Council.

“The Federal Government has confirmed it will not adopt a 50 per cent renewable energy target and will instead deliver much less than that. It will channel millions of dollars into the National Energy Guarantee, which puts us on the path to more coal and more pollution at this critical time. When it comes to national clean energy policies, Australia is a pariah on the world stage,” John Grimes said.

“Nations across the globe are pushing ahead with renewables and see clean energy as the only way forward, but Australia is lagging because the government is instead choosing to put its money behind aging and polluting coal fired power stations.”

In other notable cost cutting the Climate Change Authority will be worse off to the tune of $550,000, with a budget stripped back to $2.9 million and axed next year. Yet there is money for miners: the diesel fuel rebate remains in place. As The Australia Institute notes, the Fuel Tax Credits Scheme will cost taxpayers $6.9 million in 2018-19, up $700m since last year and the biggest beneficiary is the mining industry at $3.0 billion or 44 per cent of the total, and coal mining pockets $1.4 billion.

In his budget response speech of Thursday night Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had this to say

“This budget does nothing for the next generation … it betrays it.

“We’re serious about tackling climate change and helping the environment. 50 per cent renewables by 2030. 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, and zero net emissions by 2050.

“I promise young Australians we will not leave you a ruined reef and rivers and oceans choked with waste.”

The ALP’s approach appears far more in tune with the general population. Recent polling shows 82 per cent of Australians want to retain or increase federal government spending on renewable energy and stronger emissions reduction targets. Six in ten want coal to be phased out by 2030 and most are calling for greater leadership on renewables from federal government.

Environmental groups remain frustrated by the coalition’s disregard for climate change and renewable energy.

Calling the budget “a bit of a fizzer” Climate Council acting chief executive Dr Martin Rice cited the conspicuous absence of reference to climate change, despite greenhouse gas pollution levels continuing to rise for three years running, and spending on climate issues projected to drop from $3 billion this year to $1.6 billion next year.

While renewable energy in Australia is hung out to dry after the RET is phased out from 2020, the fossil fuel industry will continue to receive billions of dollars in government handouts each year, he notes.

“The Australian public knows that clean, affordable and reliable renewables and storage are our future, it's just that the Federal Government seems to have missed the memo,” Dr Rice said.

The assessment was echoed by Australian Conservation Foundation economist Matt Rose who says a good government would stop companies digging up and burning coal which is damaging our climate and fuelling fire-storms, heatwaves, cyclones and floods.

“A good government would ramp up clean energy … but this budget? The Turnbull Government’s just listening to coal lobby ... this was a bad budget.”

He also says cuts to action on climate change and environment spending amounts to poor planning.

“The Turnbull Government’s listening to the coal barons, not the people. They’re giving Big Coal special treatment and actually paying big mining and big agricultural companies to keep burning diesel, pumping out pollution and damaging our climate.

“This bonanza of fuel tax credit subsidies will cost the Australian people $6.9 billion in public money next year, and $29.9 billion to 2021-22.

“Coal mining companies alone will receive over $1 billion a year in diesel fuel subsidies over the forward estimates … So why on earth is the Turnbull Government choosing to subsidise and prop up polluting companies with a hefty chunk of public money, as they profoundly damage our climate?” Rose asks.

Shadow Climate Change Minister Mark Butler says that the Budget Papers indicate a dramatic fall in renewable investment in the transition from the Renewable Energy Target to the possibility of a weak National Energy Guarantee.

He observes that after drawing $2 billion for new investment in 2017/18, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is drawing far less in 2018/9: $530 million.

“Few know the Australian renewables industry better than the CEFC, and this is an ominous sign of an industry getting ready for Malcolm Turnbull’s weak NEG,” Butler says.

“Under the current weak emissions reduction target of the NEG, analysis has shown there will be no new large-scale renewable energy projects built for the entirety of the 2020s.”

He is not alone drawing the conclusion that Turnbull and the Liberals continue to wage their war against renewables to appease the hard right climate deniers of the Coalition party room.

Yet polling of three key Liberal seats of Warringah (held by Abbott), Wentworth (Turnbull) and Kooyong (Frydenberg) on the National Energy Guarantee policy shows voters overwhelming support pricing carbon, would be more likely to support a NEG that achieves 50 per cent renewable energy, and do not think the NEG will lower electricity prices and back the States keeping their own renewable energy targets.

The ReachTEL polling, commissioned by The Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy program, took place late last year.

“In three key liberal held seats, these results are overwhelming evidence the community wants to get on with the transition from coal to renewables,” said Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute.

“The key to effective energy and climate policy is as much about the ambition as the design of any scheme and these results show voters back a more ambitious program of emissions reduction.

Previous modelling analysis by the Australia Institute shows the most economically efficient path to meeting Australia’s international commitment would see the electricity sector reducing emissions by between 40%-55% below 2005 levels by 2030. 

Back to the budget and one bright light: Australian small businesses have been given 12 more months to take advantage of the federal government’s instant asset write-off scheme which will now expire on June 30, 2019, instead of June 30 this year. 

The scheme allows small businesses (with up to $10 million in annual turnover) to claim immediate deductions for asset purchases up to the value of $20,000. The assets must be ready for use by June 30, 2019. 

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