Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

From former PM Kevin Rudd declaring Scott Morrison “no longer fit to hold the high office of prime minister” to former Labor senator Doug Cameron calling Morrison’s platitudes to victims “bullshit”, the opposition has been quick to criticise the Coalition’s response to the bushfires. 

But this made Crikey wonder: just how robust are Labor’s policies? 

Land management 

Given how quickly critics accused the Greens of causing the bushfire crisis through blocking hazard reduction burning (misinformation that has since been debunked), it’s a little strange that Labor’s strict land management policies haven’t yet been raked through the coals.

NSW Labor’s controls on the clearing of native vegetation date back to when Bob Carr was premier in 1995. In November 2019, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro lashed out at the lack of hazard reduction burns, saying in Parliament: “The truth of the matter is we still live with Bob Carr’s legacy: lock up the forest and let it burn”.

Similarly, when Queensland went up in smoke (not this time, not even the last time, but the time before that), a report found that Labor’s land-clearing laws created confusion in the catastrophe.The Queensland Labor government had earlier that year tightened restrictions around farmers’ rights to clear vegetation from their properties to tackle the state’s deforestation crisis. While farmers were allowed to clear firebreaks and perform routine burning, apparently no one bothered to tell them. The report found landowners were worried about breaching the new, convoluted and confusing legislation. 

Federal Labor planned to extend these laws to other states if the party won the 2019 election. 

Firefighting capabilities

Labor’s support for firefighters runs rings around the Liberal Party’s — though, considering Liberal state government budget cuts to fire services, that’s not exactly a huge feat. 

Labor governments are vocal supporters for tax breaks and payments for volunteer firefighters. In June 2019, the Victorian Labor government passed reforms into the state’s fire services. This included merging the Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and introducing presumptive rights to cancer compensation. 

At the federal election, Labor pledged $80 million to establish a National Aerial Bushfire Fighting Fleet. This included aircrafts as well as bad-ass smokejumper units to rappel out of helicopters armed with chainsaws to cut down trees and form containment lines. 

Australia doesn’t currently have a government-owned fleet of water-bombing aircrafts. Instead, we rely on the 160 small planes and helicopters we currently have and any aircrafts borrowed from private companies or international governments.

In December 2019, the federal government announced an extra $11 million for aerial firefighting. This brings its total annual contribution to $26 million.

Climate policy 

Last week Labor announced it would adopt “a more ambitious climate change policy at the next election than the Coalition”. Will this be more robust than what the party already released in the lead-up to the “climate election”? Hold your laughter, please.

Bill Shorten’s policy promised to implement greenhouse pollution controls for heavy-emitting companies, cut greenhouse emissions from 2005 levels by 45% by 2030 (almost double the Coalition’s target), and have electric vehicles form 50% of new car sales by 2030.

Anthony Albanese also recently called for a carbon pricing mechanism of some sort (though he didn’t specify what he had in mind), as well as a renewable energy target. Federal Labor has also pushed for a national audit of flora and fauna destroyed by the fires, and wants to bring forward a meeting of Australia’s environment ministers.When you look at the cost of the bushfires, it’s hard to argue that these measures — including lowering emissions — are too expensive. There is, however, one glaring omission from Labor’s climate policy: how to move away from our reliance on dirty energy. 

Fossil fuel industry 

While Albanese is yet to strut into parliament cradling a lump of coal, he certainly shares some of Morrison’s love for it. 

He’s repeatedly expressed his support for the coal industry (even after the fires), arguing that, well, we have to keep dealing in dirty black rocks because someone else will just swoop in and take our place. 

The party was also heavily criticised in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election for tiptoeing around whether they’d approve the Adani Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, which they eventually did anyway.

As the adage goes: those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. While Labor’s support for the firies and actual policy on climate change is nothing to be sneezed at, the party has a long way to go until it gets a gold star from us. 

Peter Fray

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