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Rex Patrick on Labor’s Safeguard Bill: bigger holes than the Ozone but not beyond repair

by Rex Patrick | Mar 7, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

The Government’s key emissions policy has been dealt a blow with a Senate Committee report showing the Greens are firmly withholding their support for Labor’s Safeguard Mechanism Bill, in circumstances where Prime Minister Anthony Albanese needs their votes to get it through the Parliament. Meanwhile, Rex Patrick writes, some good work is being done in the House of Representatives to fix broken elements of the scheme. 

A broken mechanism

The Government needs 39 votes to get the Safeguard Mechanism legislation through the Senate. They only have 26 votes themselves and so, when the Coalition are not onboard, they need the Greens’ 11 votes and the votes of two other senators. But without the Greens, they simply can’t get the legislation through.

The Liberal-National Coalition are on the record as saying ‘no’ to the Safeguard Mechanism changes, so when the Greens handed down a dissenting report in the inquiry looking into the Bill, the bombshell was dropped.

The Greens opening few lines said it all:

“The evidence from this inquiry is clear. Under Labor’s Safeguard Mechanism, actual pollution from coal and gas goes up and the climate crisis gets worse.

This isn’t incremental progress, it’s making things worse. You cannot put the fire out while pouring petrol on it. The first step in fixing a problem is to stop making the problem worse. But Labor’s Safeguard Mechanism makes the problem worse.

The Australian Greens are of the view that, given the danger that new coal and gas projects pose to a stable climate and a safer society, this bill and legislative instruments should not pass in their current form.”

Those who have been following the debate here at MWM won’t be shocked by the Greens’ position.

Safeguard Mechanism is great … for big polluters and landowners, not so much for the planet

Fixes needed

The Greens want “a scheme that makes pollution from coal and gas go down, not up”, they want no “new coal, oil or gas project proceeding in Australian lands or waters” and “immediate action to ensure all credits, including existing credits have integrity”.

No-one has moved on the amendment to the Bill to date, except the independent member for Member for Goldstein, Zoe Daniel.

Integrity amendments

In the last 24 hours Ms Daniel has announced she’ll be moving an amendment to the Bill to deal with some integrity issues. Any fudging of Australia’s Safeguard mechanism or our carbon credit scheme is a fraud against the taxpayer, the environment and the future of our children. As such, I’ll be moving amendments to the Safeguard Mechanism Bill to strengthen the integrity of the mechanism,” said Ms Daniels.

My amendment focuses on the [Australian Carbon Credit Units] that are eligible for use under the Safeguard Mechanism, blocking credits from projects where there are known integrity problems.

There are 37 methods used in Australia to generate carbon credits. Numerous scientists and researchers have raised material integrity issues with the Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) issued under the two most popular methods: ‘human-induced regeneration’ and ‘landfill gas’. These two project types account for almost 60% of the ACCUs issued under the scheme – a proportion that is likely to increase over the coming years. 

Human-induced regeneration

Human-induced regeneration projects are supposed to involve the regeneration of native forests in areas that have previously been cleared. 

Last financial year, almost 40% of all ACCUs issued went to human-induced regeneration projects. 

The regeneration associated with the projects is not directly measured, it is modelled. The model assumes that, when the projects start, the areas that are credited have no, or very few, mature trees and that they regrow evenly across the site as a consequence of the project activities (stopping re-clearing and reducing grazing pressure). 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the areas being credited under the human-induced regeneration method have never been comprehensively cleared – they contain intact native vegetation, including substantial numbers of mature trees and shrubs. This means the projects are being credited to regrow trees that are already there. 

Landfill gas

Landfill gas allows for the generation of carbon credits by utilising methane from decomposing waste at a landfill site to generate electricity, of by collecting the emission.

Some of the power generators are highly profitable and so do not need to be paid carbon credits. The credits were intended to be used for those landfill generation sites that would, without the money made from credits, lose money.

Chubb amendments

We cannot have a scheme that grants carbon credits to emitters that are not properly offsetting those emissions. The taxpayer loses, and so does the environment.

Zoe Daniel.

Prior to the election the Morrison government commissioned an independent panel, headed by a former Chief Scientist of Australia Professor Ian Chubb, to review the integrity of ACCUs. Despite receiving evidence as to the issues around regeneration and landfill gas, the review’s report was silent on the fraud taking place, although it did make recommendations on how to improve the integrity of ACCUs.

My amendments, if passed by the Parliament, bring into primary legislation the recommendations of the Chubb Review,” said Ms Daniel.

The issue of addressing climate chance is just so important, we cannot leave the integrity of the scheme to chance.

It seems from the views expressed in the Senate report that there’s a good chance Ms Daniel’s amendments will get traction; if not in House, then in the Senate (if moved by the Greens or Senator David Pocock). But they’ll be of no benefit if Albanese can’t address the Greens’ overall concerns with the Bill, after which time they’ll become essential for the ongoing integrity of the emission reduction scheme.

Beyond the Vales: towering profits and squalid PR tactics at the twilight of the coal boom

Rex Patrick is a former Senator for South Australia and earlier a submariner in the armed forces. Best known as an anti-corruption and transparency crusader -

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