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How to vote for the climate at Australia’s upcoming federal election: policies to look out for and where the major parties stand

Photography By Cottonbro, Daniel Faro
Published 21.04.22

Making an informed decision at the polling booth sounds easy enough: figure out the issues that are most important to you, and then vote for the party whose policies match. But finding reliable information to guide you on this decision-making journey isn’t always so simple.

That’s why, in the lead-up to the Australian election on May 21, we’re releasing a special series looking at the policies, candidates and potential outcomes that could make a difference for the climate. Consider this your way to get up to speed before you head to the booths.

Why climate action is so important this election   

The science is well and truly in: we need decisive action in the next decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.   

Globally, political leaders are facing increased pressure to ramp up 2030 commitments in line with Paris Agreement goals. In Australia, the Climate Council is calling on the government to commit to the science-based goals of 75 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2035.   

Current commitments fall woefully short of these targets (more on that below), and, with the next government’s term taking us halfway to 2030, the decisions made in the next few years have never been more crucial. That is why the RIISE team, like so many other Australians, will be voting for the climate at the next election.  

If you also want to put the climate at the top of your ballot card, then these are the issues to pay attention to and the candidates’ policies about them. 

Emissions reduction targets and net zero commitments   


The UN’s
2021 Emissions Gap Report warns global temperatures will hit 2.7°C this century without stronger targets, and it sets a deadline of eight years to halve greenhouse gas emissions. Analysis by the Climate Targets Panel, an independent group of climate scientists and policymakers, found Australia needs to set an emissions reduction target of 50 per cent by 2030 to fulfil the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 2°C. To hit the more ambitious target of 1.5°C, Australia would need to reduce emissions by 74 per cent by 2030.   

Where the major parties stand

Liberal National Party:

Ahead of last year’s COP26 conference, the Morrison government committed to the target of net zero emissions by 2050. Under this plan, there was no change to the emissions reduction target of 26–28 per cent by 2030 that was set under the Abbott government.   

Australian Labor Party:

Labor has pledged to hit net zero by 2050 and set an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030 in its recently released Powering Australia plan. This represents a two per cent drop from the 45 per cent target that Labor took to the 2019 election.   

Greens: 

The Greens are the only political party with science-based climate targets that would allow Australia to fulfil its global commitments. These are a 75 per cent cut to emissions by 2030 and net zero or negative greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 or sooner.   

Independents:  

Many independent candidates are calling for stronger climate targets. Independent MP Zali Steggall, who proposed climate change bills to parliament last year that were rejected by the Liberal party, has released a new five-step plan to get Australia to net zero by 2050 with a target of 60 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. Many Climate 200–backed candidates are calling for cuts of at least 50 per cent by 2030, while some regional independents are pushing for the Business Council of Australia target of 46–50 per cent by 2030.   

Hugo Heimenden

Plan to shut down coal-fired power stations and transition from fossil fuels  

Around Australia, coal-fired power stations are closing ahead of schedule as the rapid growth of renewable energy makes fossil fuels financially untenable. Australia’s clean energy transition is good news for the climate. To ensure widespread support the transition needs to be complemented with policies to transition workers in these industries into new opportunities.

Where the major parties stand  

Liberal National Party: 

The LNP has not announced plans to phase out coal or gas, or policy for the just transition of workers out of these industries. The party doubled down on this position at COP26 when it refused to join 40 nations that pledged to phase out coal (including the world’s top five coal power users). The government’s official register currently lists 114 new gas and coal projects in the investment pipeline. The recent budget also included a $50.3 million funding boost for gas projects across Australia. Just last month, Scott Morrison said coal-fired power stations “should run as long as they possibly can”.  

Australian Labor Party:  

Anthony Albanese has said his party will back coal and gas projects while there is demand for these products. While Labor opposes investment in new thermal coal mining, the party has not announced plans to phase out coal. Both Albanese and Labor’s resources spokesperson, Madeleine King, have voiced support for coal mining beyond 2050, even if net zero targets are adopted. The party also supports the continued use of gas as a ‘transition fuel’.   

Greens:  

The Greens are calling for an immediate ban on the construction of new coal-fired power stations, gas mines and oil wells, as well as the expansion of any existing projects. Its climate policy pledges to phase out the mining, burning and export of thermal coal by 2030; stop fossil fuel subsidies and ban political donations from the mining and resources sector; and support communities transitioning from fossil fuels via a $19 billion plan.  

Independents:  

In cities and regional parts of the country, independents are taking a hard-line stance against new and existing fossil fuel projects. Former ABC journalist and independent candidate Zoe Daniel, running for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, is calling for a ban on new coal and gas developments, an end to fossil fuel subsidies and the closure of coal-fired power plants. In the Riverina region of New South Wales, Pennie Scott is advocating for bans on new mining licences and exploration permits as well as the repeal of existing licences and grants for coal seam gas fracking and coal mines. To find out where other independents stand, check the climate policy section of their websites.    

Unsplash

Stronger investment in renewable energy infrastructure, including access to electric vehicles and solar   


With energy production responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, investing in renewables is one of the most effective ways to curb pollution. As the sunniest and one of the windiest countries on Earth, our renewable energy potential is enormous, with some research suggesting Australia has enough wind and solar supply to double worldwide production of energy from these sources.  

The financial incentives are huge too. A Deloitte Access Economics report estimates climate action, underpinned by a shift to renewables, could grow the economy by $680 billion and create 250,000 jobs in Australia by 2070. Renewables also generate savings for regular folks by driving down household energy costs.   

Where the major parties stand  

Liberal National Party:  

There were no major funding announcements for new renewable energy projects in the 2022–23 federal budget apart from $148.6 million for 60 community microgrid projects in regional Australia.   

The LNP has also announced investments in two major electricity transmission lines: $75 million for the Victoria to New South Wales Interconnector West and $75 million for the Marinus Link, an undersea electricity connection between Tasmania and Victoria, plus $65 million to fund the Tarraleah hydro redevelopment in Tasmania.   

In terms of plans to support electric vehicle use in Australia, the LNP’s Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy pledges to spend $250 million on charging infrastructure for over 400 businesses, 50,000 households and 1,000 public charging stations. The strategy does not include subsidies or tax incentives to drive EV uptake.   

Australian Labor Party:  

Labor’s Powering Australia plan outlines a suite of initiatives designed to boost renewables to 82 per cent of Australia’s total electricity market share by 2030. It also projects EVs will account for 89 per cent of new car sales by 2030. Notable commitments from the plan include 85 solar banks around Australia to improve household uptake of rooftop solar and the introduction of the Electric Car Discount policy to make electric cars cheaper.   

Greens:

The Greens want Australia to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy as soon as possible. If they win a shared power position in government, Adam Bandt has said the party will push for a 700 per cent renewables target that would allow Australia to meet its own electricity needs, electrify the economy, grow green manufacturing industries and export renewable energy to the rest of the world. You can read more about its renewables policy here.   

The Greens have also shared a $6.1 billion plan to boost electric vehicle uptake. This includes significant investment in Australia’s EV manufacturing industry, subsidies for EV purchases and plans to end the sale of petrol cars by 2030.   

Independents:  

Many independent candidates, particularly those with a background in the corporate sector, are pushing for stronger commitments to renewables. The standout is Allegra Spender, the CEO of the Australian Business and Community Network and chair of the Sydney Renewable Power Company. Spender is running in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of Wentworth and bills herself as a renewables advocate with a policy commitment to “turbocharge Australia’s renewable energy transition”.   

She is calling for a strong legislative framework to expand renewables, decarbonise electricity, boost the uptake of EVs and cut transport emissions. Spender supports Zali Steggall’s climate change bill and wants Australia to embrace the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower.   

While we’ve only discussed three climate policies we want to see action on this election, there are many more to consider. We also want policy that supports better protections for ecosystems, strategies to minimise waste and pollution and (especially for those living near the Murray-Darling Basin) improvements to water policy.  

As you weigh up the options over the next month, remember: bold climate action will only be possible with Greens or independents holding the balance of power in government, and your vote has the ability to make that happen.   

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