Senate passes Abbott’s ‘Direct Action’ climate plan

The Abbott government’s “Direct Action” climate change policy has been passed in the Senate, three months after Labor’s carbon tax was repealed.

The Federal Government’s centerpiece climate change bill was brought in on October 31 with the support of the Palmer United Party (PUP) and independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon. It ushers in the Emissions Reduction Fund, which will get $2.55 billion across four years to fund abatement projects.

As part of the deal with crossbenchers, the government abandoned its pledge to scrap the Climate Change Authority and tasked the advisory body with exploring PUP’s policy for a “dormant” emissions trading scheme.

This ETS would only take effect once Australia’s major trading partners adopted similar schemes, as reported by The Australian.

Labor and the Australian Greens fiercely opposed the government’s alternative climate plan but didn’t have the votes to defeat it.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt insisted Direct Action would be able to meet the government’s 5 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020 and was capable of working for 20 or 30 years.

He said the emissions reduction fund, instead of raising the price of electricity and gas, “simply focuses on practical things that reduce emissions such as indigenous land management, cleaning up power stations, energy efficiency on a grand scale, improving soils by increasing the volume of carbon, looking at vegetation coverage”.

He also said there would also be a safeguard mechanism to make sure rogue emitters did not undermine the scheme by increasing emissions.

Senator Xenophon said his amendments, which were part of the deal, would make the bill effective and that taxpayer funds would be spent for a good purpose, “emissions reductions”.

Senator Xenophon’s amendments will ensure Australia must take into account international agreements with respect to climate change; having an extension of contracting periods to give more certainty to emissions abatement projects.

The other amendment related to the insertion of penalties into the safeguard mechanism.