“A very positive step in terms of Australia reducing our emissions”: Greg Hunt Photo: Andrew MearesEnvironment Minister Greg Hunt has insisted his Direct Action program will deliver the promised 5 per cent pollution reduction target by 2020 and will be rigorously measured along the way to ensure progress, now it has cleared the Senate.
Speaking just hours after the cross-bench dominated upper-house approved the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund, Mr Hunt faced sustained questions over how the scheme – about which key details remain unclear – is intended to work and how its effectiveness can be independently verified.
He suggested Direct Action would be a great success and would be measured in a manner that is satisfactory to industry, environmental scientists, and its many critics.
“We will in fact be releasing the updates on targets over the coming months and I think what you will find is that that will be a very positive surprise, a very positive step in terms of Australia reducing our emissions,” he said.
He foresaw no problem in the government marking its own performance on climate change abatement.
“This has always been done by the department but it’s subject to verification and all the early advice I have is that there are very positive signs there.”
The comments came as concerns were also raised about the future of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – also known as the green bank – and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, both of which Palmer United Party founder Clive Palmer has previously claimed to save.
In the Senate on Thursday night, Greens leader Christine Milne expressed fears that the two bodies had only been given a reprieve with amendment documents for the government’s Direct Action policy only stipulating that they are not abolished this year.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate on Thursday night that the government’s objective was to abolish both groups in the future.
The PUP has suggested it will oppose this but given his party’s recent record of flip-flopping on policies – from financial advice laws to the environment – confidence is low that Clive Palmer’s promised protection will hold.
Critics of Direct Action, including almost all economists and climate scientists, say not only will it fall short of the 5 per cent target, but that its operations will be unhelpfully opaque.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has repeatedly stated that Direct Action’s $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund will receive no additional money while also insisting its reverse auction where polluting companies bid for public grants to help clean up their outputs, will meet the target emissions reduction nationally.
The legislation establishing the scheme needs to clear the House of Representatives but this is now a formality because the government controls this house.
The first ERF auction is expected to be held by April of 2015 however the government has indicated that it will not be possible to see who had received what money and on what promise as this would be “commercial-in-confidence”.
Instead, the government plans to publish what it has called “weighted averages.”
Government officials defended the lack of transparency on the grounds that if one company knew what another had proposed to reduce emissions by a set amount, that could then be undercut to secure the subsidy and achieve a commercial advantage.
Officials also expressed frustration that constant calls for modelling of the Direct Action policy were premature as it was not finally determined how all aspects of the policy would function.
Labor and the Greens have slammed the Palmer United Party for agreeing to a compromise with the Coalition to pass Direct Action without securing a binding undertaking to anything beyond an emissions trading study, which the government has already promised to ignore.