Proposed energy transition authority hits Senate roadblock

Brandon How

A Greens proposal to establish a National Energy Transition Authority has been shot down by a Senate committee report, although an alternative coordinating body for the transition to renewable energy is still being considered.

Both the Economics Legislation Committee and the Greens dissenting reports, released on Friday, acknowledged the popular support and need to establish a Transition Authority to plan and manage the move towards a low carbon economy.

However, the Committee report notes that many submissions to the inquiry into the National Energy Transition Authority (NETA) Bill “commented on a lack of clarity of the function the proposed transition authority, its scope, and what power the bill outlined the authority would hold; and made recommendations for changes to the bill”.

It also acknowledged submissions that the NETA Bill, if passed, could lead to the duplication of government functions, “particularly the advice function of the bill, which is currently performed by” the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Greens Senator and Industry, Transition, and Regional Development spokesperson Penny Allman-Payne introduced the bill to the Senate last September.

The NETA Bill proposes the establishment of a national authority to support “national planning, coordination, and funding” for the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.

The proposed NETA would include a law reform and an advice function at the Commonwealth, State, and Territory level. Priorities would include the protection of affected workers and communities as well as maximising the benefits of a zero carbon economy.

The committee, chaired by Labor Senator Jess Walsh, recommended rejecting the bill but acknowledged the need for a Transition Authority to be established, calling on Parliament to “work together towards a flexible, inclusive Transition Authority”.

In particular, the Senate committee report argued that passing the NETA bill would be “premature” as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Net Zero Economy Taskforce is expected to recommend, in mid-2023, a Transition Authority model that “fills the gap to improve the coordination and delivery of government services and support for communities impacted by the transition”.

In a statement, Senator Penny Allman-Payne called for an independent statutory NETA to be funded in the May Budget.

“In this Parliament, the only thing standing in the way of climate action is Labor. If Labor wanted it, Australia could have a transition authority in place by June,” Senator Allman-Payne said.

“Instead of squandering this opportunity and standing in the way of climate action, Labor should back the Greens’ bill and provide funding in May’s budget to establish an independent statutory transition authority.”

She also noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s synthesis report, released on Monday, which calls for “deep, rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors” is needed to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, emphasises the urgency of transitioning the Australian economy away from coal and gas.

In additional comments to the committee report, Economics Legislation Committee Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg suggested that “instead of creating another government body, the market should be further supported to invest in low and zero emissions energy and transmission infrastructure”.

Last week a joint pre-budget submission by the Australian Business Council, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation called on the government to fund “an independent national-level Energy Transition Authority”.

The submission also called for a $10 million commitment to enable the Net Zero Economy Taskforce to develop a National Renewable Exports Strategy as well as a National Renewable Infrastructure Plan, although no funding commitment was attached to this recommendation.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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