Brumby's carbon plan exposes Gillard

Brumby's carbon plan exposes Gillard


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PREMIER John Brumby has exposed Julia Gillard over climate change by unveiling an ambitious plan that would require hundreds of millions of dollars in federal support and - eventually - a national carbon price.

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PREMIER John Brumby has exposed Julia Gillard over climate change by unveiling an ambitious plan that would require hundreds of millions of dollars in federal support and - eventually - a national carbon price.

The state government climate change white paper, released Monday, includes a plan to close a quarter of Australia's ''dirtiest'' power station, the Hazelwood brown-coal plant in the Latrobe Valley, by 2014.

The Hazelwood plan is integral to a proposed legislated target of cutting Victoria's greenhouse gas emissions to at least 20 per cent below 2000 levels this decade.

But the target is likely to depend on federal action - initially money to compensate Hazelwood's owner, International Power, and eventually an emissions trading scheme.

Mr Brumby said the state had held initial discussions with International Power, but a staged closure of Hazelwood would have to be a partnership with the federal government.

Asked if Ms Gillard - who was his chief of staff in the 1990s when he was in opposition - had ''squibbed it'' by delaying action on climate change until after receiving advice from a citizens' assembly, the Premier declined to respond directly, but said: ''We're a state government, we're a strong economy in our own right and we've taken a decision as a government to move forward with this today.

''The reality is that the world is moving to a carbon price … We need to be at the front of the wave, not behind.''

Mr Brumby's plan is seen by senior Labor figures in Canberra as an unhelpful campaign intervention on an issue that will remain politically difficult for Ms Gillard in coming weeks.

Federal Labor figures also believe partially closing Hazelwood would be extraordinarily expensive, with no guarantee it would be replaced by renewable sources of energy.

A spokesman for federal Climate Minister Penny Wong said the best way to cut emissions and give certainty for investment in power was to build lasting consensus on a carbon price.

Mr Brumby's plan won backing from former Labor climate economist Ross Garnaut, who accused both major parties at federal level of promising ''that there will be no effective Australian national climate change policy for the foreseeable future''.

''Early Victorian progress on large emissions reductions in the electricity sector … would place the state economy in a strong competitive position when inevitably, at some time in the future, an Australian government takes mitigation seriously,'' he said.

Greens leader Bob Brown said Victoria had gone ahead of Canberra on climate change, and called on Mr Brumby to back a Greens plan for a carbon tax. ''Hazelwood would not compete if it had to pay a fair price for the pollution it puts into the atmosphere, but renewable energy would prosper,'' he said.

Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull said last night only the federal Coalition had the capacity to fund Mr Brumby's Hazelwood initiative - a reference to the Coalition's $10.5 billion ''direct action'' plan, which includes incentives for old power stations to cut emissions.

''What John Brumby has done - Labor premier, mentor of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and in a political scene rich with ironies - he's announced an initiative that can only be funded by the Coalition,'' Mr Turnbull said on the ABC's Q&A.

Earlier, federal opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt accused Mr Brumby of lifting the Hazelwood plan from the Coalition's plan. ''The only plan on the table to clean up Victoria's coal-fired power stations and help their conversion to gas is the federal Coalition's direct action plan,'' he said.

International Power corporate affairs manager Jim Kouts said the company was open to the proposal, but had had only a preliminary discussion with the state. Any deal would need to cover the phased closure of the entire 46-year-old plant, which it bought for $2.6 billion in 1996 under the Kennett government's privatisation program.

The state plan includes previous promises to create a large-scale solar power industry to generate 5 per cent of the state's electricity by 2020, and doubling the energy efficiency target. The energy efficiency program would aim to boost the energy rating of the average Victorian home from two stars to five stars.

The government would impose emissions limits for new coal-fired stations that would in effect ban them unless they came with ''clean coal'' technology. It would reserve the right to give the Environment Protection Authority power to regulate emissions from coal-fired stations if agreement cannot be reached on a phased shutdown.

But the state opposition said families would bear the cost of the emission cuts. ''Victorian families say to us they are already struggling to pay John Brumby's electricity bills,'' opposition environment spokeswoman Mary Wooldridge said.

But Ms Wooldridge re-affirmed the state opposition's commitment to an emissions trading scheme, putting it at odds with Mr Abbott.

The white paper won praise from environment groups, but was criticised by the Australian Industry Group's Victorian director, Tim Piper, who said it could place high costs on businesses and detract from investment and job creation.

Victorian Greens MP Greg Barber said the Premier had created his own credibility gap, questioning whether the 20 per cent cut in emissions could be achieved under the plans.

Meanwhile, Coalition finance spokesman Andrew Robb pledged to take the $394 million Labor proposes to spend on subsidies for people to get rid of their old cars and use it to reduce debt.

But given that Labor would fund the ''cash for clunkers'' program using money taken from solar energy and carbon capture and storage programs, the programs will face the same cuts if the Coalition wins the election on August 21.

Yesterday's pledge raises the Coalition's total cuts to climate change programs to $2.27 billion over the next four years.

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