Speaking to PM in early June, Opposition Environment Minister Peter Garrett opposed the Government’s Task Force on Emissions Tradings’ recommendation to abolish mandatory renewable energy targets (MRET).

Since the PM announced it in 1997, the MRET scheme has proved to be a very successful scheme which sets targets demanding that energy producers use a certain percentage of renewables to generate electricity. The scheme meant renewables would account for 12.5% of the market share of electricity generation by 2010, but was so effective that the target was actually met around five years early.

Garrett, whose party has been on the front foot when it comes to climate change, condemned the call to dump MRET on PM:

We think the idea of abolishing the MRET scheme is a particularly bad idea and is the wrong way to go in terms of getting new investment in clean and renewable energy. It would be Labor policy to maintain the existing MRET but actually increase the percentages because, at the moment, we have only got a very, very small percentage.

Which is why Greens Senator Christine Milne is a little confused as to why Labor failed to support her motion to continue MRET in the Senate yesterday.

Senator Milne put forward a motion that included calling “on the Government to reject the recommendation of the Prime Ministerial Task Group on Emissions Trading that “all Australian schemes that set mandatory targets for deployment of particular technologies should be wound up over time, and new ones forestalled”.

Here’s the vote:

Ayes………… 8

Noes………… 50

Majority……… 42

The Noes had it. The Greens and the Democrats were the only ones to support the fairly uncontroversial motion.

“I’m frankly baffled that the ALP, a staunch supporter of expanding the very successful mandatory renewable energy target for years, would now drop the ball on it so spectacularly. I’m at a loss to explain why they opposed my simple motion to support the continuation of the targets,” Senator Milne told Crikey. 

“The ALP had a clear lead over the Government on climate change. Now they seem to be handing the climate issue to the Government on a silver platter,” said Milne. 

“By not engaging on the substantive question, Peter Garrett allowed John Howard’s lie on 2020 targets causing a “Garrett recession” to become accepted wisdom. Since then, he and his party have gone silent, allowing the Government to keep the upper hand,” said Milne. “Labor is clearly spooked by Howard and Costello’s economic L-platers line, but going to ground will only feed the fear campaign.”

Crikey contacted the offices of Peter Garrett  and the manager of Opposition business in the Senate, Senator Joe Ludwig, for an explanation, but they didn’t get back to us before deadline. 

Could Garrett plead ignorance on this one?

“Labor in the Senate takes its instructions on how to vote directly from the shadow minister’s office,” Milne told Crikey, “and we put it on the books the day before. He must have known about it.”

Brad Shone, spokesman for the Alternative Technologies Association, told Crikey: “It must be remembered that what Senator Milne is suggesting is that the Government reject the recommendations of an independent report; this is not actual government policy. Still, it certainly is disappointing that Labor has taken this stance, as the motion seems quite reasonable and one ATA would fully support.”

So, it would  be hard to paint Milne’s suggestion as cooky. And even using the most Machiavellian part of her mind, Senator Milne can’t quite fathom the strategy on voting this one down, even if the ALP are wanting to wash the Green off themselves and single-handedly set the climate-change agenda. “What’s to be gained from voting against it?,” says Milne. “If the ALP give up on climate change, they are giving up on the election.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey