THE ENVIRONMENT WILL HAVE an important place on the agenda of a Coalition Government. We recognise that we live in a unique landscape which must be cared for and protected for future generations. To achieve this we will take a practical policy approach based around three key themes: clean air, clean land and clean water.
When Australians go to the polls this Saturday, they will be making a choice between two vastly different approaches to tackling climate change. It will not, as some would have it, be a choice about belief, science or targets. But it will be an important choice between two different mechanisms for reducing emissions.
A vote for Labor or the Greens will mean ever increasing financial pain for no environmental gain. Government figures predict the average family will be slugged $3,000 over the six years to 2020 under the carbon tax. Yet our emissions are predicted to climb from 560 million tonnes to 637 million tonnes in 2020.
Under the Labor-Greens scheme, in order to have any hope of reaching the target of a five per cent cut in emissions by 2020 businesses will be forced to spend billions on overseas carbon credits to make up the shortfall.
The Coalition has the same five per cent emissions reduction target as Labor. The difference is that we will achieve the emissions reduction needed to meet that five per cent target right here in Australia, not overseas. And we will do it by investing in projects that directly reduce emissions, not by imposing an economy-wide ever-increasing electricity tax.
The Coalition’s Direct Action plan will use the classic market mechanism of a reverse auction, a conventional method of finding the lowest cost way to achieve an aim. We will establish an Emissions Reduction Fund to purchase emissions abatement at the lowest price. The Emissions Reduction Fund will have an initial allocation of $300 million, $500 million and $750 million over the forward estimates period.
Allocations will be made through a reverse auction starting with the lowest-cost projects. Funding will only be forwarded when there has been a verifiable reduction in emissions.
By using a system of reward rather than punishment the Coalition will create opportunities rather than financial hardship. We do not believe it is fair to punish households for using electricity and we do not believe it is prudent to increase the cost of everyday items, especially essential items. By contrast, our plan is based on two clear principles: simplicity and incentive.
The Coalition supports the current 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target (RET) and supported the most recent review.
The Coalition will also provide rebates for low-income households to install solar panels, with a focus on solar hot water systems or heat pumps to assist with the cost of electricity. The program will offer up to 100,000 rebates a year.
In addition, we will plant 20 million trees to green our urban areas and create new green corridors.
Our focus through our plan for the environment is to deliver practical change at the local level. Our Green Army will undertake local environment projects, whilst also giving young people valuable work and training skills. It will be an environmental workforce that will grow to be 15,000 strong.
The Coalition intends to place Landcare back at the centre of our land management programs. The grants application process will be simplified and funding will be made triennially, to allow continuity of funding for projects. It is a recognition of the valuable work local Landcare groups undertake. We must ensure that they are part of the decision-making process with funding allocated at a local level, rather than in distant Canberra.
Perhaps Australia’s most important natural asset – the Great Barrier Reef – is a particular focus of the Coalition’s plan for the environment. Our Reef 2050 plan seeks to tackle the risks to reef health with the creation of a $40 million Reef Trust to fund major strategic projects. This trust fund will be built up over time, with the aim of taking a strategic approach to major threats such as farm runoff and the crown-of-thorns starfish. We will also ensure the protection of dugongs and turtles, which are under threat from illegal poaching.
Together, these initiatives form the backbone of the Coalition’s plan for the environment. It forms the basis of our commitment to the Australian people on the environment. The Coalition has a strong record on the environment and we will continue in that tradition of practical, on the ground environmental work that will protect our unique landscape, marine environment and wildlife for future generations.
Greg Hunt is the Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage.