Labor walks out on renewable-energy talks

The Government and Opposition are blaming each other for any damage to the renewable-energy industry after talks on changing Australia’s Renewable Energy Target broke down.

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Labor says it is clear it was never going to reach an agreement with the Government on reducing the target so it has walked away from talks to reach a compromise.

The collapse in talks means the Abbott Government has to negotiate with the Senate crossbench, including the Palmer United Party, which has so far opposed any reduction.

Hopes of a bipartisan agreement on a Renewable Energy Target have been dashed after Labor refused to continue discussions on how to adjust the target.

Opposition environment spokesman Mark Butler has written to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, saying there is no point continuing negotiations if the Government will not budge.

The Government wants to reduce the target, which requires 20 per cent of Australia’s energy to come from renewables by 2020.

But Labor opposes the reduction and has abandoned negotiations, saying the Coalition is creating uncertainty that threatens job creation and the renewable-energy industry.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says, unlike the Coalition, Labor has committed to keeping the Renewable Energy Target and that would benefit workers and the economy.

“It’s become clear to my skilled negotiators that the Abbott Government is not interested, it’s just not interested, in the renewable-energy industry. And what we’ve seen is there’s no respect for the billions of dollars (there). When you see the Treasurer of Australia trashing wind farms, when you see the prime minister of Australia openly expressing scepticism about climate change, then what we have is a problem for the renewable-energy industry, billions of dollars in investments, pressure on consumer prices and, of course, thousands of jobs.”

The Government has criticised Labor for walking away from the talks.

Ian Macfarlane has told the ABC the Opposition has deliberately created confusion with the Renewable Energy Target after pledging to come to the talks with goodwill.

“Well, I can only assume that the Labor Party is putting politics ahead of policy. And I won’t go into the content of the negotiations, but the Coalition was prepared to compromise. We are very disappointed that the Labor Party has walked away from these negotiations, and we are keen to resume them if they reconsider their position. We’ll continue to have discussions with the crossbenchers and see if a position can be arrived at, but the reality is that, without a bipartisan position from Labor, the renewable-energy industry will be left in limbo. So it is the renewable-energy industry that will lose as a result of Labor walking away from these negotiations.”

Greens Leader Christine Milne says it looks like the Government’s hopes of negotiating changes to the target are now finished.

Senator Milne says there is no support in the Senate to lower the target and it is up to the Government to accept that.

“It is the Government which won’t move. The Government actually wants to tear down the Renewable Energy Target, and nobody else. There’s nothing to negotiate here, except the Government to back off its attack on renewable energy. Labor went in to do a negotiation and found the Government is steadfast and determined to undermine renewable energy and promote coal.”

The Australia Solar Council’s John Grimes also has a warning for the Abbott Government.

“There are 21,000 solar workers around the country today who don’t know if they have a job at Christmas time. Effectively, investment in large-scale renewables has stopped dead. But don’t make any mistake, Bill Shorten didn’t do that. Tony Abbott did that. He did it when he broke his election promise. He did it when he commissioned a bogus review led by climate sceptic Dick Warburton. He did it when he failed to convince the Australian people and the other parties that any change was necessary. There has been no case made for change to the Renewable Energy Target. You know, the impact is tremendous.”

Labor’s decision follows a report from the Climate Council showing new investment into renewable-energy projects has dropped by 70 per cent.

The report says, in the past five years, most countries around the world accelerated action on climate change, with China and the United States two of the global leaders.

But it says, while Australia is a crucial player in global climate action, it has moved from what it calls “a leader to laggard.”