‘Time to get on with it’: Climate bill set for first sitting week

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Labor will introduce a landmark climate change bill to enshrine emission reduction targets in legislation and will reduce the price of electric vehicles through tax cuts when Parliament sits for the first time under the new government next month.

The climate change bill will legislate the new government’s 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction targets and establish new accountability mechanisms.

These mechanisms force agencies and ministers to demonstrate progress towards the targets in a move Climate Change minister Chris Bowen says is similar to the Closing the Gap reporting.

Separate legislation is to be introduced to implement Labor’s electric vehicle election promise to reduce the taxes on electric vehicles (EV) from next week, bringing down their price by several thousand dollars for some vehicles.

Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen outlined the steps during a National Press Club address in Canberra on Wednesday.

He said the climate change bill would have four parts: legislating emission reduction targets; requiring the Climate Change Authority to assess public progress towards them and advise on future targets; requiring the Minister for Climate Change to report progress towards targets to Parliament; and inserting the targets into the objectives and functions of government climate and infrastructure agencies.

Mr Bowen said the ministerial reporting on emissions reduction would be similar to the current requirement for the federal government to report on progress towards socioeconomic outcomes important to the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“I see this report as, frankly, being similar to the Closing the Gap Report, forcing the government to be transparent about progress and plans and, frankly, obliging the opposition of the day to share its views and plans as well,” Mr Bowen said.

“To focus the minds of parliamentarians and what the nation is doing to deal with this, our most pressing challenge.”

The bill would be introduced by the Labor government in the last week of July when the 47th Parliament of Australia sits for the first time.

Mr Bowen said Labor is committed to legislation on climate change, but if it can not gain support in the Senate the new government would “get on with it” anyway.

Labor needs the support of the Greens and independents to pass the bill through the Senate, because the Coalition has said it is against legislating emissions reduction targets.

Labor’s emissions reduction target is “at least” 43 per cent lower than 2005 levels, which the Greens have said does not go far enough. Newly elected independent, Senator David Pocock, also wants a more ambitious target but this week indicated he regards Labor’s target as “a good starting point” and would not rule out opposing legislation for it.

The bill would also include the bipartisan target of net zero emissions by 2050. Mr Bowen said the government would consider ideas and amendments to the legislation which are “complementary” to its agenda.

“I say this in the spirit of cooperation, if there’s a good idea which improves not undermines the bill, I’m happy to hear it, and we’ll work with it,” Mr Bowen said. “But we won’t be entertaining any amendments which are not consistent with our agenda and our mandate.”

A separate bill to implement the electric vehicle tax cut Labor promised in the election campaign will also be introduced. The policy is to cut the tariffs and abolish the fringe benefits tax on affordable EVs from July 1. Parliament won’t sit until July 26, but Mr Bowen said the tax office will be asked to make the changes retrospectively.

The changes will exempt non-luxury electric cars from import tariffs – a 5 per cent tax on some imported electric cars; and the fringe benefits tax – a 47 per cent tax on electric cars that are provided through work for private use.

Once implemented, direct electric vehicle buyers will save around $2,000 on a $50,000 car, while employers purchasing EVs up to $9000 per year. An update on when Australia’s first Electric Vehicle Strategy, which Labor also promised, will be made in the “not too distant future”, Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen concluded his address by saying Australia now has a government that “gets” the challenge of climate change and is determined to address it.

“We’ve wasted a decade,” Mr Bowen said. “We have not a second now to waste, and nor do we intend to. It’s time to get on with it.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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