Stonewalled by Coalition, Labor abandons negotiations on RET

In a move described by the Australian Solar Council as ‘a sign of strength’, the Labor Party has walked out on negotiations over the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), saying that there is ‘no prospect’ of finding common ground. Through weeks of negotiations, the Coalition has been holding firm on its determination to see the target cut by an estimated 40% by implementing a ‘real 20%’ instead of allowing the scheme to continue in its current form.

No major changes to the RET will be possible without Parliamentary approval. Labor joins a diverse coalition of parties strongly opposing changes to the RET even while holding differing stances on many other policy issues. These include the Greens, Palmer United and the Motoring Enthusiasts Party. Their cooperation ensures the scheme’s future.

This does not mean, however, that Australia’s renewables industry has not been affected; investment in the sector has already dropped precipitously since the scheme’s future was brought into question, resulting in a number of mothballed renewables projects (mainly wind) and layoffs around the country.

The timing of Labor’s move, which comes on the eve of the G20 summit in Brisbane, illustrates the high tensions surrounding the debate and also seems intended to bring international attention to the situation.

Australia remains ‘out of step‘ with other nations on climate change and renewable energy measures, being the only country in the world to have repealed a Carbon Tax. The Government is now trying to make cuts to the Renewable Energy Target as other countries double down on climate and renewables policies.

Critics point out that, unlike the Carbon Tax, a scaling back of the RET was never openly on the table during the campaign that brought the Lib-Nats into power. In a letter (pdf) to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane announcing Labor’s exit from the talks, opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler pointed out historic the bipartisan nature of the scheme.

“I note that the RET has received bipartisan political support since it was first legislated in 2000 by then Prime Minister John Howard. I also note the Prime Minister’s personal commitment prior to the last election that an Abbott Government would not make any changes to the Renewable Energy Target,” Mr Butler said.

In the letter he also points out that the RET is “driving a new wave of manufacturing jobs” in Australia–many of which would be in the line if the RET was cut. “Labor will not stand by and watch billions of dollars in investment in the Australian renewable energy sector – along with thousands of jobs – go overseas because of deep cuts to the garget.”

Australian Solar Council CEO John Grimes took to the media to discuss Labor’s withdrawal from negotiations. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” he said, explaining that Labor had been ‘strongarmed’ into negotiations on the issues.

“The battle lines are clear. The government wants to destroy renewable energy. They’re on a crusade–an anti-solar crusade.”

The RET is expected to lower electricity prices for all grid electricity users in the long-term, something which has been noted even in the Government-commissioned modelling for the RET review report which came out earlier this year.

Mr Macfarlane appeared resolved to attempting to find a resolution without Labor’s participation, but highlighted that it was the renewable energy industry that would suffer as delays continued.

“We’ll continue to have discussions with the crossbenchers and see if a position can be arrived at,” he said

“But the reality is that without a bipartisan position from Labor the renewable energy industry will be left in limbo. So it is the renewable energy industry that will lose as a result of Labor walking away from these negotiations.”

Top image: Mark Butler, via Wikipedia

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