Labor’s new policy platform commits a future Albanese government to the “responsible” and “environmentally sustainable” development of gas while recognising renewable energy as “central to our economic future”.
With Scott Morrison’s much-vaunted “gas-led recovery” reigniting public debate about the best way to make the necessary transition to low-emissions energy, the draft Labor platform, seen by Guardian Australia, backs new gas development but attempts to define the terms.
The draft reads: “Labor supports the responsible development of Australia’s gas reserves, subject to environmental approvals to ensure communities’ concerns are addressed through rigorous science-based processes, including gas from coal seams, shale and tight gas formations.”
It says a future Labor government would ensure “gas development is environmentally sustainable, science-based and safe, managing environmental impacts and ensuring sustainable local economic activity”.
“Labor will ensure the industry operates at the highest environmental standards and will ensure the coal seam gas industry assesses and manages environmental and other impacts, including on water reserves and co-existence with other agricultural activities, and engages constructively with landholders.”
The Morrison government has declared that increasing the availability of gas for energy and manufacturing will be critical to Australia’s economic recovery after the pandemic. But environmentalists are concerned the government’s current strategy will lock in gas, a fossil fuel that creates pollution during extraction and use, for several decades, which works against Australia’s climate policy commitments.
Labor is battling internal divisions about climate and energy policy. The shadow resources minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, argues Labor skewed too far left at the last federal election, and the party’s ambitious climate policy alienates blue-collar workers in traditional industries, making them more likely to vote for the Coalition or protest parties like One Nation.
Fitzgibbon, who suffered a substantial swing against him in his Hunter Valley coalmining electorate in the 2019 campaign, argues climate policy is one of the factors behind Labor’s federal election losses since 2013.
The focal point of the internal fight is whether Labor signs up to a medium-term emissions reduction target to take to voters at the next federal election. The draft Labor platform removes previous references to a medium-term emissions reduction target.
Fitzgibbon has declared Labor does not need to set a medium-term target for emissions reductions, defying the party’s leader, Anthony Albanese, and contradicting its climate spokesman, Mark Butler.
But asked about a 2030s target recently on Sky News, Fitzgibbon said: “The government sets targets, the opposition doesn’t. Let’s wait and see where we are in a couple of years’ time – see how technologies are being built.”
Fitzgibbon says Labor needs to be more vocal in its support for gas development.
Labor has been tentatively stepping back from coal over recent election cycles, but the party has never been anti-gas.
However, the environmental movement both in Australia and globally is stepping up its opposition to gas as a transitional fuel, concerned about the impact of methane emissions, which are more potent than carbon dioxide pollution.
Gas is said to emit half the carbon dioxide of coal, but Global Energy Monitor, a US research and advocacy group, found the role of fugitive methane emissions from new gas developments in global heating was likely to be as large as or larger than the expansion of coal power.
The draft Labor platform commits a future Albanese government to “working with industry, workers and states [to] ensure access to affordable gas to support Australian households, power generation and industry, including through measures designed to ensure Australia’s energy security”.
The platform says Labor will work with state and territory governments, industry and unions on “a strategic national approach to the future development of our energy system, including transmission and distribution planning and investment and supporting the development of renewable energy zones”.