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Election 2022: Is sustainability a big election talking point in Australia?

A survey conducted by Griffith University’s Climate Action Beacon found that while climate change concerned a minority of Australians (34 per cent) a decade ago, it was a mainstream issue for the majority of Australians (72 per cent) who demanded government action in 2021.

Another survey by Deliverect found that 43 per cent of Aussie consumers are willing to pay more to support sustainable restaurant practices.

In 2020, one research revealed a staggering 87 per cent of shoppers are more likely to purchase products that are ethically and sustainably produced, suggesting a substantial shift toward conscious consumerism.

So it’s safe to say that consumer preferences for eco-friendly practices and sustainability initiatives have shifted in the past couple of years. However, when it comes to legislation, climate and environmental issues are frequently treated as afterthoughts to more pressing concerns ranging from pandemics and economic recovery to SME alleviation.

So, where do the election campaigners really stand in terms of sustainability and climate change?

The Liberal/National coalition’s stand on green policy

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was forced to defend the government’s emission targets a few days ago after a member of the junior coalition partner claimed the global push toward net-zero was “sort of dead anyway.” 

Furthermore, National Party Senator Matt Canavan, a vocal opponent of emission targets, reportedly urged the government to build more coal-fired power plants, reigniting a schism within the Coalition over climate policy just weeks before the election.

“Everybody knows that Matt hasn’t been supportive of (net zero) position … that’s not his party’s position, that’s not the coalition’s position and it’s not the government’s,” Morrison told reporters. “There is no news there.”

Many reports have suggested that Morrison had trouble gaining support for the net-zero target from the National Party, his coalition government’s partner, which has a regional power base based on agriculture and mining and has long been opposed to climate policies. 

Prime Minister Morrison declared in October of last year that Australia will aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 but that the goal will not be legislated and that they will instead “rely on consumers and businesses driving emission reductions.” 

In the same month, Morrison said in a joint statement with Minister for Industry, Energy, and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor that Australia will continue to build on its track record of reducing emissions and meet its targets “the Australian way.” (Read the full statement here)

“Our Plan continues the policies and initiatives that we have already put in place and proven to be successful while preserving existing industries and jobs and supporting regional Australia,” Minister Taylor said.  

“It will not shut down coal or gas production or require displacement of productive agricultural land.”

The Coalition claim that Australia’s current $20 billion investment in low-emission technology would unlock at least $80 billion in total private and public investment over the next decade, including clean hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and energy storage the same statement.

“The Plan identifies the potential for continued technology advances and breakthroughs to unlock ultra-low-cost solar. As part of the annual update to the Technology Investment Roadmap, we have set a stretch goal of solar electricity generation at $15 per megawatt-hour (MWh).” 

Bottom line: Morisson’s coalition wants to act in a “practical and responsible manner” to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Labor’s green policy

The Labor Party’s climate policy appears to be more ambitious on paper, with a target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. (Read more here)

Will they be successful, however? Only time will tell. The Labor Party intends to adopt the Business Council of Australia’s recommendation that emissions be gradually and predictably reduced over time to support international competitiveness and economic growth – consistent with the industry’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

Furthermore, as part of the plan, they will invest up to $3 billion from Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund in green metals (steel, alumina, and aluminium), clean energy component manufacturing, hydrogen electrolysers and fuel switching, agricultural methane reduction, and waste reduction. 

Aside from these measures, Labor has promised to make electric vehicles more affordable by offering an electric car discount and launching Australia’s first National Electric Vehicle Strategy and investing in 10,000 New Energy Apprentices and a New Energy Skills Program.

However, during a recent press conference, a Sky News reporter repeatedly asked Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles whether coal mines under Labor’s policy would be forced to buy carbon credits if they exceeded their baseline emissions threshold. 

Mr Chalmers gestured to shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who took the microphone instead. 

“Our policy is designed not to disadvantage our exporters against the countries and the companies with which they compete around the world, and that goes to the core of your question, he said.

“What Richard is saying is that we have put out a detailed policy, the safeguard mechanism which we have adapted and adopted from the government itself means that 215 of the biggest emitters will reduce their emissions in line with the safeguard mechanism.

“The best outcome from our point of view is that businesses reduce their emissions in line with that timetable and that timeframe and that safeguard mechanism. Ideally, businesses would do that.”

Green’s green policy

“Here’s our plan: We’ll tax the billionaires and big corporations and provide the things we all need for a better life,” reads the Green Party’s election policy platform, highlighting a broad policy agenda that promises transformative politics, tax the billionaires and big corporations, and expand essential services.

And when it comes to setting emission targets, the Greens have the most stringent policies, as they emerge as a clear winner. If elected, the Greens have pledged to cut emissions by 75% by 2030 before reaching net-zero 15 years earlier, in 2035.

“We’re calling on Scott Morrison to put in place a formal legislated plan to reduce Australia’s emissions by 75% by 2030 and phase out coal and gas. Our future depends on it,” as per their election manifesto. (Read the full statement here

“As the rest of the world gets out of coal and gas, our future is being held to ransom by a bunch of wilful deniers in the Liberal and National parties who are choosing their coal and gas donors over the community.”

According to a recent poll by Employment Hero, which surveyed 528 Australian SMEs about the upcoming federal election to determine which party is better at resolving climate-related disruptions for small businesses, 31.1 per cent of respondents said the Liberal Party. Labour received 40.2 per cent of the vote. Meanwhile, 28.8 per cent said they weren’t sure. 

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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