ACT under pressure to 'succumb to politics' of energy guarantee, minister says

ACT under pressure to 'succumb to politics' of energy guarantee, minister says
ACT under pressure to 'succumb to politics' of energy guarantee, minister says

The ACT’s climate change minister, Shane Rattenbury, says the territory is under intense pressure to “succumb to the politics” of reaching agreement on the national energy guarantee, even though it doubts the change is in the national interest.

In a candid assessment of the backroom dynamics of the energy deal, Rattenbury said the territory continued to have significant substantive concerns about the Turnbull government’s signature energy policy.

But he said when the ACT had floated problems with the Neg that might prove a deal breaker when the Coag energy council meets on 10 August, there was substantial blowback, because Canberra is such a small jurisdiction compared with more populous states.

“I think this is the great dilemma for the ACT,” Rattenbury told a forum at the Australian National University. “We think there are significant policy issues still to be addressed but we have to survive the politics.”

“There’s a strong argument being put that it’s in the national interest for us to deliver an outcome on this.”

Rattenbury said the ACT’s decision about whether to support or torpedo the Neg would be a cabinet decision, not a decision he took unilaterally as the relevant portfolio minister. The territory cabinet is due to discuss its position next Monday.

Rattenbury is in an unusual position because he is a Greens MP in a Labor government. The Greens federally have signalled opposition to the Neg. Labor federally is critical about the policy but is thus far maintaining an open mind.

Rattenbury said because “people have sought to make some degree of political mischief and legitimise the ACT government’s position” he had taken the decision the territory government needed to own the final position.

“I’ll be perfectly blunt about that – I’ve taken the politically rational decision that this will be a cabinet decision, not my decision.”

As the decision on the Neg moves to crunch point, Victoria and Queensland have both expressed concerns about having to make a final determination before all the Coalition party-room processes are exhausted in Canberra.

The Labor jurisdictions are concerned that further concessions will be offered to Coalition MPs who support the coal industry in exchange for positive votes in the federal parliament on the Neg. Some Turnbull government MPs have flagged crossing the floor.

The ACT, Victoria and Queensland all say the Neg’s emissions reduction target of 26% below 2005 levels by 2030 is too low, but internal opposition within the Turnbull government constrains the commonwealth’s ability to offer an alternative at Coag with higher ambition.

In an effort to keep the states at the table, the energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, has offered state ministers a 2024 review of the Neg’s emissions reduction target, and a two-step process before sign-off.

The Coag energy council will meet on 10 August to approve the mechanism, and then there will be a second conversation on 14 August, where Frydenberg will show his counterparts the federal legislation giving effect to the emissions reduction components of the scheme after the package clears the Coalition party room.

The process the commonwealth envisages is in-principle agreement at the first meeting, with final agreement conditional on the states having no concerns on 14 August.

Rattenbury said at the ANU Frydenberg’s offer of a 2024 review was “a false olive branch” because there was no guarantee the review would lead to a higher target.

He said the ACT was concerned an emissions reduction target with low ambition could stall investment in renewable energy, and Australia would not meet its commitments under the Paris agreement if the policy remained in its current form.

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