Following Labor’s federal election victory in May 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised Australia would get serious about climate-change action, and now the government’s climate bill has been passed in the House of Representatives, committing the nation to an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030, writes Gavin Dennett.

Following amendments by independent crossbench MPs and the Greens, the legislation was passed through the lower house – by 89 votes to 55 – on Thursday, 4 August, and it enshrines in legislation an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, and a net-zero emissions commitment by 2050.

Independent MPs Allegra Spender, Sophie Scamps, Kylea Tink, Zali Steggall, Rebekha Sharkie, Monique Ryan and Andrew Wilkie were joined by four lower-house Greens MPs in voting with the government.

Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer broke ranks with her Coalition colleagues by crossing the floor to support Labor’s climate bill, stating she wants to send a message to her electorate that she is in favour of stronger action on climate change.

Independents Kate Chaney and Helen Haines were absent from the vote due to COVID-19, however they contributed to the amendments adopted by the government in the bill.

Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen (pictured above left with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese) declared the passing of the legislation as a “good day for our country”, which has enabled the new government to fulfil its promise of progressive action on climate change.

While the former Coalition government’s stance on climate change and emissions reduction was painfully denialist at its core and deficient in its resistance to meaningful action, the clear message from voters at the federal election was that the nation wants change. Based on this tectonic shift, it was hoped Archer would be joined by more Liberal MPs in abandoning partisan allegiances to cross the floor to support the bill and send a clear message to their electorate.

However, the staunch resistance from the opposition shows the party is clinging onto the remaining remnants of the climate wars, a sentiment echoed by Prime Minister Albanese.

“The parliament functioned effectively to support the mandate that we received at the election, with the exception of the Coalition which continues to be stuck in time while the world warms around it,” he said.

“This so-called party of private enterprise has today thumbed its nose at the business community of Australia which is crying out for certainty going forward. It’s extraordinary they chose to do that.

“Today represents the opportunity for the parliament to stop arguing about whether to reduce emissions and start working together on how to reduce emissions.”

The new legislation includes obligations for the Climate Change Authority, including annual updates to parliament and amendments from independents and the Greens that allow capacity for enhanced future emissions targets.

Labor’s new emissions target still falls short of some other leading nations – including the 50 to 52 per cent target by 2030 in the US – and given the Greens and independent MP Andrew Wilkie were pushing to implement a 75 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030, and a commitment to reach net zero by 2035, which was not agreed to, the government can expect continued scrutiny from the crossbench.

In announcing the Greens support of the new climate bill, party leader Adam Bandt urged for a ban on new Australian coal and gas projects.

“To be crystal clear, the Greens have improved a weak climate bill, but the fight to stop Labor opening new coal and gas mines continues and, in this parliament, the only obstacle to greater climate ambition is Labor,” he said.

The bill will now be assessed by a Senate inquiry before it is passed into law during the September sittings of parliament with support of the Greens and independent ACT senator David Pocock.

Bandt said the Senate inquiry will be an opportunity for “rigorous examination” of planned coal and gas projects.

“The passage of this bill is a small step along the road to tackling the climate emergency, but the good work can’t be undone by Labor now by opening new coal and gas mines,” he said.

“[This is] the government’s opportunity to listen to the science, listen to our Pacific Island neighbours, listen to the United Nations, and come up with a rule that will keep coal and gas in the ground and stop new projects being opened.”

The Clean Energy Council has endorsed the new climate bill saying it represents significant progress in Australia’s climate-change strategy.

“The past decade was plagued by tired games and politics that stalled action on climate change and undermined investor confidence in new clean energy generation,” says Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton.

“The Australian clean energy industry has a strong track record of overachieving targets set by state and federal governments during the past decade, but targets really do matter.

“Rather than having protracted debates about ambition, we should lock in the current target and give investors the confidence to get on with delivering the energy infrastructure necessary for Australia to become a global clean energy superpower.”