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Coalition chooses spin over substance as Labor announces climate policy

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Labor’s climate policy announcement has exposed the Morrison Government as divisive and confused as ever on climate action, writes James Fitzgerald.

With an election expected to be called within the week, it is no surprise that Labor has announced its recalibrated climate change policy.

Yet, as Bill Shorten has gently rocked onto the front foot in announcing his election pitch, the Coalition have reverted back to baiting and bickering on a topic that has enveloped Federal politics in toxicity for far too long.

On Monday (1 April), Labor announced that if it were to win the coming election, they will essentially be trying to reboot the Coalition’s own former scrapped policy in the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), yet with an increase in commitment to a higher emissions reduction target of 45% by 2030 — compared to the Coalition’s 26% within the same time frame.

Labor has also stated that if support for the revamped NEG isn't forthcoming, if in power, then they will look to commit up to $10 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). In addition, Labor will invest $5 billion into renewing existing transmission infrastructure, in order to work towards a target of 50% renewables within Australia’s electricity grid by 2030.

Other measures were tabled in Labor’s announcement, such as changes to heavy industry, a Just Transition Authority, continuing with the Direct Action Scheme as well as a new electric vehicle target of 50% by 2030. But it is the Coalition’s old, divisive policies which Labor has brought back into the limelight that has Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor champing at the bit.

Almost as soon as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had concluded his press conference, we were treated to the second coming of the term so bandied about by the Coalition in previous election campaigns: the "carbon tax".

Although Labor’s revamped NEG is shallow on details and fairly non-committal in regard to the inner workings of the policy as a whole, a new "carbon tax" as Morrison, Taylor, Cormann and co put it, it is not.

What we are seeing now is the standard, fearful and divisive reaction to climate policy that ripped the Coalition apart last August. Instead of action and picking up on the public mood, the Morrison Government instead brings out its fearmongering rhetoric in the hope that this will cut through.

This is due to the fact the Liberals have no discernable and realistic climate policies of their own apart from a "big stick" and some dodgy Kyoto carry-over carbon credits — which Labor announced it would not be including in its reduction plan.

It is little wonder that the mere thought of supporting any sort of coherent climate policy within the Liberal Party room instils fear within all who attend. Former PM Malcolm Turnbull was toppled twice by attempting to come up with some answers to the climate question. Once, by attempting to deal with then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009, leading to a Liberal Party room revolt. And again last year, when he tried to force his own version of the NEG through only to witness his colleagues rise up and end his tenure as Prime Minister.

This shows Coalition ministers tend to have a short life span when attempting party cohesion where climate policy is concerned. Yet, if fear takes priority over public sentiment and opinion, then nothing will ever be done under the Coalition flag in regard to climate change and this so far has proved to be the case.

By reawakening the "carbon tax" attack upon Labor, Morrison may have fallen into a trap that he himself has set. With voters seemingly sick and tired of the spiteful and well-worn buzz words that his ministers fling out towards any sort of climate policy, the Coalition might just find that voters who want and expect action on these matters are more willing to see through their spin this time around.

We will have to wait and see if Labor’s announced climate policies actually come to fruition if they win government in May. But what has been shown with the announcement of Labor’s rejig of turfed Coalition policy is that the Morrison Government’s ideals and responses towards the climate issue are as divisive and confused as ever.

James Fitzgerald is an Australian freelance journalist based in London. He has a keen interest in world politics as well as social and environmental issues across the globe. You can follow James @Jamesfitzsport.

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