Federal Election 2019: A primer on environmental policy

Federal Election 2019: A primer on environmental policy

The environment is shaping up to be a crucial policy area for both major parties in the upcoming federal election. It’s not hard to see why. Voters will head to the ballot box at a time when drought, fish kills, and bushfires are all in recent memory. Unsurprisingly, the major parties have recognised the importance of courting environmentally conscious voters and have developed policy platforms accordingly.

The Coalition

The central component of the Coalition’s environmental platform is a suite of policies called the ‘Climate Solutions Package’ (CSP). The CSP is designed to facilitate the Coalition’s promise to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26% before 2030.[1]

An integral component of the CSP is a two billion contribution to the Emissions Reduction Fund, an Abbott era carbon abatement strategy. The fund helps farmers, Indigenous communities and small businesses implement emissions reduction projects, including reforestation schemes.[2] Supporters of the Emissions Reduction Fund note that it allows companies to reduce emissions without depressing business activity, compared to a carbon tax, which places the abatement bill at the feet of private industry. Opponents of the Emissions Reduction Fund are concerned that it encourages the subsidisation of abatement projects that would have occurred regardless. Indeed, Malcolm Turnbull once called the fund “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale.”[3]

The Coalition is also promising to inject at least $1.3 billion of taxpayer money into Snowy Hydro 2.0, a pumped hydro project.[4] Pumped hydro systems move water uphill when there is excess electricity in the grid. When electricity demand is high, the system draws on the stored water to generate power. With conservative estimates putting the total cost of the project at $4.0 billion, Snowy 2.0 is not coming cheap.[5] Some commentators have noted that Snowy 2.0 (and other energy projects supported by the Coalition) are unlikely to be economically feasible unless several coal-fired powerplants are retired early.[6] Perhaps the Prime Minister believes that domestic coal-fired power plants are nearing their demise, despite recent rhetoric to the contrary?


An emissions reduction target of 45% by 2030 is the centrepiece of the ALP’s environmental policy platform. To achieve this aggressive target, Labor promises to fund renewable energy projects by injecting $10 billion into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.[7]

Labor is also planning on reducing emissions in the transport sector, with a suite of policies designed to ensure that 50% of all new vehicles sold are electric by 2030.[8] These policies have been the subject of a substantial scare campaign in recent weeks. Some commentators have made the patently incorrect suggestion that the electric vehicle target will increase the cost of owning a car. The evidence contradicts these assertions. Deloitte and many others predict that electric vehicles will reach ownership cost parity with their internal combustion counterparts by 2022.[9] It is also worth noting that the target is aspirational. Consumers won’t be forced to purchase new electric vehicles.

The ALP’s position on the mining of fossil fuels is more ambiguous than the Coalition. Bill Shorten recently announced that an elected Labor Government would invest up to $1.5 billion of taxpayer money unlocking gas supplies in the Northern Territories’ Betaloo Basin.[10] Environmental Groups suspect that this plan would be equivalent to building 50 new coal-fired power plants and dwarf the expected emissions from Adani’s Carmichael mine.[11] However, you won’t see any suggestion of this policy in the glossy brochures the ALP is handing out in environmentally conscious Victoria.

[1] Liberal Party of Australia. (2019). Protecting Our Environment. [online] Available at: https://www.liberal.org.au/our-plan/environment [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[2] Department of the Environment and Energy. (2019). Emissions Reduction Fund. [online] Available at: https://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/government/emissions-reduction-fund [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[3] Morton, A. (2019). Up in smoke: what did taxpayers get for their $2bn emissions fund?. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/03/up-in-smoke-what-did-taxpayers-get-for-their-2bn-emissions-fund [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[4] Verrender, I. (2019). How Morrison’s Snowy scheme will accelerate coal’s demise. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-04/how-morrisons-snowy-scheme-will-accelerate-coals-demise/10866164 [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Australian Labor Party (2019). Labor’s Climate Change Action Plan. [online] Available at: https://www.alp.org.au/media/1692/labors_climate_change_action_plan.pdf [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[8] Ibid.

[9] Deloitte LLP (2019). New Markets. New Entrants. New Challenges. Battery Electric Vehicles.. [online] Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/manufacturing/deloitte-uk-battery-electric-vehicles.pdf [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[10] Davidson, H. (2019). Labor’s support for ‘carbon disaster’ in Beetaloo basin condemned. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/apr/26/labors-support-for-carbon-disaster-in-betaloo-basin-condemned [Accessed 28 Apr. 2019].

[11] Ibid.