Clive Palmer’s surprise climate manoeuvre has sent a shockwave through the Abbott government’s policy agenda. After meeting with former US vice president Al Gore in the Parliament yesterday, Mr Palmer has stated his party’s support for the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the independent Climate Change Authority.
This changed political landscape gives Prime Minister Tony Abbott a reason to back away from an anti-renewable energy agenda. Originally intended to rationalise cutting the Renewable Energy Target, the Warburton review is now the key to achieving this policy shift.
The Renewable Energy Target is driving a national transition to renewable energy. All available public polling shows Australians endorse this vision, with a recent Climate Institute poll finding 72 per cent support to retain or increase the renewables target.
A weakened Renewable Energy Target threatens peoples’ jobs, health, and aspirations; billions of dollars worth of investment in a vital emerging industry; and importantly, an effective climate change mitigation tool. When we consider these impacts, the lack of public support for cutting the target comes as no surprise.
Over the course of two months, Friends of the Earth undertook a fact-finding RET Road Trip. We travelled over two thousand kilometres to speak with eight communities who have benefitted from renewable energy or have been affected by fossil fuel pollution. We did this to get a real understanding of the impacts of energy policy.
The RET Road Trip uncovered strong public support for the 41-terawatt-hour Renewable Energy Target.
In Daylesford, we found a community who is has already benefitted from the scheme. The Renewable Energy Target allowed the community to pool their resources and build their own wind farm.
In Morwell and Anglesea we met with communities whose are sick of their health being the collateral damage of polluting coal-power plants. For these communities the Renewable Energy Target offer hope of a smooth transition to clean energy sources.
We witnessed the economic benefits renewable energy delivers regional towns when visiting Portland and Ararat in Victoria, as well as the Southern Tablelands of NSW.
Engaging with community members in Hoppers Crossing and Brighton we revealed the strength of the public’s solar aspirations. Conversations with these folk demonstrated that public understanding of renewable energy is greater than that of most politicians. The solar suburbs view renewable energy as an opportunity for self-reliance and lower power prices.
The populist Clive Palmer is listening to these constituencies. He knows which way the wind is blowing on renewables energy and climate change. In contrast, the Abbott government has demonstrated a tin ear on these important issues.
The RET Road Trip also raises serious doubts about the panel the Abbott government selected to review the Renewable Energy Target. It’s fair and accurate to say there’s no public confidence in the Warburton Review.
We’ve heard directly from community members that the Warburton review of the Renewable Energy Target lacks credibility. The review has been referred to as ‘ideologically driven’ and a ‘witch hunt.’
The background of chair, Dick Warburton, has raised alarm. How cam a former Caltex chairman and global warming sceptic be trusted? Panel members with links to the fossil fuel industry and accusation of conflict of interest amplifies the concerns.
Friends of the Earth have been told the Warburton Review will submit a draft report to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in July. The Abbott government will be out of step with the community if it takes the Warburton review seriously.
A politically astute government would shelve the Warburton report, respect public opinion and avoid inflicting self harm in the polls. This would see the Federal Coalition return to its longstanding position of support for the Renewable Energy Target.
The Coalition government of Victoria has set a precedent for this approach. Last year, the Napthine government instructed former Liberal politician Peter Reith to investigate the development of an onshore gas industry in Victoria.
Public awareness of the risks of coal-seam gas fracking (and other unconventional gas) was so great by the time the ‘Reith report’ was completed it would not be accepted as a credible piece of work. The Napthine government distanced themselves from the Reith report and have enacted a moratorium on CSG production and exploration until mid-2015.
Clive Palmer’s support for the Renewable Energy Target gives the Abbott government a reason to back away from an anti-renewable energy agenda. The Victorian government’s recent experience with coal-seam gas presents a model for how it can reposition itself.
Will the Abbott government shelve the Warburton Review and return to their longstanding position of support for the Renewable Energy Target? Let’s wait and see.
Friends of the Earth will send the findings of the RET Road Trip to the Climate Change Authority. With the Palmer United Party supporting the retention of the CCA, we will inquire about the authority’s legally mandated review of the Renewable Energy Target that must be completed by the end of 2014.
- If you support more renewable energy for Australia, sign our petition calling on PM Tony Abbott to protect the Renewable Energy Target.
- Support the Protect the RET petition in your community. A printable version is available here so you can get family, friends, colleagues and community members to sign on.
- Volunteer with Yes 2 Renewables and support our RET Review Road Trip. Contact us here to express interest.