Fighting words

“This is a genuine offer,” Anthony Albanese said of his plea to Scott Morrison to join him in ending Australia’s energy wars once and for all.

But it’s hard to call it a truce when one side concedes nothing. There’s another word for that kind of deal.

In his speech to the National Press Club this week, the Labor leader backed the government’s technology road map, which includes the much-maligned promise of carbon capture and storage.

In response to the address, Energy Minister Angus Taylor quibbled with the fact he didn’t rule out a carbon price. “Our focus is clear – technology, not taxation,” Taylor said.

So that’s exactly what Albanese did.

“It’s not necessary, Leigh,” he told ABC’s 7.30 when asked about the prospects of such a mechanism. “You don’t need a price signal when the cheapest form is renewables…”

But as his own missive showed, new investment in renewable energy generation fell by 50 per cent last year. And the Morrison government has fixed its eye on gas as the means to delay the transition to net zero emissions.

So, Labor talks about jobs and the economics of renewables.

“This is as much about business input costs, more competitive industries, new investment and jobs,” shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers wrote in The Australian Financial Review, “as it is about the important task of tackling climate change by reducing pollution.”

No, it isn’t.

Moving to net zero emissions, rapidly, and agitating for the rest of the world to join us, is about averting catastrophe. We are facing devastation and our leaders continue to tinker at the edges.

Responding to climate change will require a litany of policy changes, ranging from the minute to sweeping reforms. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking this can be solved through merely the painless and the acute.

A carbon price is a big idea, it is an ambitious idea – but at this point, ambition is necessary.

Perhaps it is ambitious, too, to think the party that toppled Malcolm Turnbull twice over climate policy would ever come to the table. But there is, in reality, no way to “meet in the middle” when neither side has a position.

Labor needs a firm, publicly articulated policy on climate change and energy before it seeks to enter into negotiations with the government. If Anthony Albanese is serious, that policy would leverage the market to incentivise lower emissions.

Bipartisanship is vital if there is to be any way forward. But this cannot be called a truce unless the government commits to net zero emissions by 2050 and lays out exactly how the country will get there.

Anything less would be surrender.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 26, 2020 as "Fighting words".

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