An Election Guide: Morrison and Albanese Fact Check on Climate Claims | Adam Morton
PThe ols suggest that voters want action, but the climate crisis – what it is doing to our world and what it is demanding in response – has not been the focus of the election campaign. A search of major party leaders’ public appearances over the past week reveals little to no discussion of climate science, how the country should adapt to deal with worsening extreme events or the news that 91% of surveyed reefs on the Great Barrier Reef recently bleached.
But climate change policy, and its impact on consumers, is still showing up. Nine days ago, here are some of the claims made by Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese in press conferences, interviews and debates, and how they stack up.
Morrison: “Teal independents are proposing policies that the government does not support. I mean, we don’t support a 60% reduction in emissions. It would be catastrophic for our economy.
Reality: Morrison probably doesn’t mean what he says here.
The Coalition’s policy remains to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – although this is a point of internal contention. This suggests Morrison thinks the country can make a 60% reduction and avoid economic catastrophe sometime between 2030 and 2050.
When? He didn’t say. Might be a good question to ask someone. The government’s net zero plan does not actually chart a path to net zero. He suggests that new cheap clean technologies will arrive after 2030 and businesses and consumers will adopt it.
Several analyzes have found that much of the technology needed already exists and that an emissions cut of over 60% – within the range of what Australia could do to help limit global heating to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial – could be reached by 2030 without ruining the economy. Australian companies have generally not gone as far as 60%, but major players back a 50% cut by 2030 as good for the economy and have suggested how to get there.
Morrison: “We are already down 20% on our 2005 [emissions] levels.”
Reality: True, according to official government data – but the statement is misleading. Almost all of the cuts took place when Labor was in power between 2007 and 2013, and most were due to state policies that slowed the extraordinary rate of destruction of the country’s forests for agriculture, especially in the queensland. Government climate data suggests that Australia is still clearing native forests, but at a slower rate (although there is evidence that emissions from land may be higher than reported).
Fossil fuel emissions – the main game – were rising before the Covid-19 lockdowns hit due to increased transport, mining and big industry. Government projections suggest that these sectors will do little to reduce their impact before 2030 under current policies.
Morisson: “We are investing $22 billion to enable us to reach our net zero goal [target] by 2050.”
Reality: More than half of Morrison’s claimed $22 billion investment is just top-up funding for existing government agencies through 2030.
Most of this money goes to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, sometimes called the green bank, which the government wants to expand to invest in gas power. The $22 billion includes additional spending outside the agencies for gas, “clean” hydrogen – including hydrogen made from fossil fuels as well as renewables – and attempts to expand capture and carbon storage to limit fossil fuel emissions.
Budget documents showed that the Morrison government expects its annual spending on climate change to fall by 35%, from $2 billion to $1.3 billion, over the next four years.
Morrison: Electricity prices have fallen by more than 10% “and we have many reasons to achieve this”.
Reality: Not exactly a climate claim, but it’s about the continued militarization of climate policy – basically, the idea that more action would be terrible for electricity prices that would otherwise go down.
The reality is that while it is true that electricity bills have come down over the past two years, Morrison’s repeated assertion of what his government has been “able to achieve” is a selective take.
As Dylan McConnell of the University of Melbourne has shown, the national retail price of electricity increased by nearly 20% under the Coalition in 2017-18, largely due to the skyrocketing cost of gas-fired electricity and the closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station in Victoria.
It then started to decline – gradually at first, and more significantly after 2019. They are now roughly back to where they were in 2016. This was partly due to the influx of cheap solar and wind power into the network – a change the Coalition has taken steps to slow down.
But the key point of Morrison’s claim about power bills is that she ignores what’s going on right now. Wholesale prices – which account for about a third of the bill – have more than doubled due to outages at failing old coal-fired power plants and the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is starting to affect the bills.
Electricity prices rise regardless of who wins the election. Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute has suggested that the default offer for consumers could increase by 5-10%. Will the Morrison government also take responsibility?
Morrison: Labor’s policy to create a $20 billion company to ‘rewire the nation’ to invest in new transmissions – poles and cables – to connect renewables faster will drive up prices of electricity by about $560 per year by 2030.
Reality: We have already written about this. The claim was originally made by Angus Taylor, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction: nothing has been published to back it up and no one outside government supports it. Morrison continues to roll it out at press conferences.
Labor says modeling by consultants RepuTex suggests this would lower electricity bills by $275 by 2025 and $378 by 2030.
Morrison cited several organizations – Frontier Economics, the Victorian Energy Policy Center and the Grattan Institute – as agreeing that the Labor Party sums are implausible. This is broadly true, with some caveats: these organizations each have their own position, but they all doubt or outright reject the suggestion that Labor policy will cut prices to the extent suggested.
None of them agree with the Coalition’s position either. All believe that significant additional investment – whether in transmission, batteries, other “firming” power sources or all of the above – will be required, regardless of government.
Albanian: Compared to a carbon pricing system, which is supported by most economists, Labor has “a better system”.
Reality: Few, if any, experts agree.
Labour’s key climate policies are a $20 billion fund to rapidly build electricity transmission links, a commitment to use the Coalition’s ‘backstop mechanism’ to phase out industrial emissions and reduce taxes on electric cars. It is a deliberately small and piecemeal approach that builds on what is already in place.
Overwhelmingly, the expert view is that a well-designed carbon price should be part of the answer. Of course, the Labor Party once agreed: it ushered in a scheme with the Greens and independents, then was badly burned in the 2013 election after it imploded internally.
There is no political appetite to resume the fight against an ill-named “carbon tax,” but current policy reflects what the PLA sees as electorally feasible, not best practice.
Albanese: Labor policy “will end the climate wars” as it is backed by the Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia, National Farmers Federation, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and ACTU.
Reality: It is true – and always extraordinary, given history – that these groups are now comfortable with the policies of the Labor Party. Labor based their plan for the Safeguard Mechanism on a recommendation from the Enterprise Council.
But many listed groups actually want whoever will be in government after May 21 to go faster than the main parties are proposing (up to 50% cuts by 2030, compared to 43% for Labor and 26- 28% for the coalition).
As for ending the climate wars if Labor were elected… it’s not impossible. But given the history and ongoing attacks on climate action from Coalition newspapers and News Corp, the best that can be said is: good luck with that.
Albanese: “Climate change is an opportunity, not just a challenge, right now.”
Reality: This one is true.