Labor to aim for interim carbon target but can’t agree on gas


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“You can’t set a mid-century target and then check in 2049 whether you’re on track to meet it. No-one thinks that,” Mr Butler said.

“Anthony and I have both said that we recognise the need for Australia to set medium-term targets consistent with the terms of the Paris climate agreement.

“There’s an expectation that all countries would do that.”

Labor resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon questioned the need for an interim target when the economy was in recession.

“Right now, our thinking must be totally devoted to how a Labor government might rebuild a broken economy and save and create jobs,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Right now, we can’t afford to be spending too much time talking about how we might get to net zero emissions in 30 years’ time, or, worse, what [the targets] might be in 10 or 15 years’ time.

“Because that has the potential to undermine our economic growth and job security initiatives.”

Labor has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of failing to produce a system-wide energy policy and revealing a gas plan that will not create jobs quickly enough when the country is in recession.

At the same time, however, some Labor MPs have broken with the environmental movement by supporting the development of new gas fields and the construction of new gas-fired power stations.

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“We’ve got to support the gas industry. It’s less carbon intensive than coal for a start, and it’s crucial that we get affordable, reliable energy to industry and households,” said Shayne Neumann, a Labor frontbencher and the member for Blair in Queensland.

“That’s the economic reality – if you want jobs you will support the gas industry.”

Daniel Mulino, an economist and the member for Fraser in western Melbourne, said gas would have a role to play for the long term.

“There’s a whole lot of manufacturing that relies on gas for energy, and there’s a lot of industry that relies on gas for feedstock,” he said.

“We need to take that into account.”

Meryl Swanson, whose NSW electorate of Paterson includes the sites for potential AGL and Snowy Hydro gas-fired power stations, said this week she would welcome the jobs from new power stations and gas pipelines.

Pat Conroy, who holds the adjacent electorate of Shortland, said he was comfortable with a gas-fired power station or with a new gas field going ahead near Narrabri in northern NSW, subject to environmental approvals that were yet to be decided.

“We need to be increasing investment in the energy sector because it has fallen off a cliff in recent years,” Mr Conroy said.

“And the cheapest form of new power is renewable energy made dispatchable by pumped hydro and batteries.

“Anyone who says that investing in new gas fired power is the cheapest form of new power is flat-out wrong.”

Josh Burns, the member for Macnamara in Melbourne, said Australia should be focusing on renewables.

“I have yet to see any credible economic evidence that gas is our ticket out of our economic woes right now,” he said. “Obviously renewables are where Australia has an economic advantage and where we need to be going.”

While the caucus is undecided over whether to back the expansion of new gas fields and power stations, the government is yet to reveal any draft legislation that might force a Labor vote on specific parts of the gas policy.

Mr Butler questioned whether Australian gas would be cheap enough to deliver on the government’s claims this week.

“The new gas fields that are being proposed at the moment, including in NSW, are substantially more expensive than the traditional gas fields that Australian industry has been used to sourcing its gas from, particularly offshore Victoria and the Cooper Basin,” he said.

Citing estimates from Santos that the Narrabri gas will be $6.40 per gigajoule, Mr Butler said coal seam gas in Australia was more expensive and could not be compared to the cheaper shale gas being developed in the United States.

“There is a reality here that these eastern Australian fields produce expensive gas, and that’s a challenge for Australian manufacturing,” he said.

“So, yes, there’s a role for gas in firming up renewables, along with batteries and pumped hydro, but the market operator says that role is going to decline, mostly because of economics.

“Gas is just not going to be able to compete with these newer technologies, particularly in Australia, which has expensive gas as a feedstock.”

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But Mr Fitzgibbon, whose portfolio includes gas extraction and transport, is pressing for a Labor stance that actively supports the expansion of gas.

“We should absolutely be opening up new gas fields … it’s one of the few things we can use to drive jobs growth quickly,” he said.

“I’m a proponent of the Narrabri project and I am disappointed that the NSW government has taken almost a decade to consider the project and still hasn’t given us an answer.”

“At the moment, we have gas-fired generators working under capacity because they are unable to secure reliable and well-priced gas, and that’s one of the reasons we need to get more gas out of the ground.”

Mr Fitzgibbon said the use of renewables and batteries would increase over time but there was a need for gas-fired power as well.

“Gas-fired generation will be absolutely critical to stabilising the grid and avoiding energy shortfalls,” he said.

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