Ex-Greens leader says Labor to blame if climate reform falters over coal, gas

Former Greens leader Christine Milne says it would be fair and reasonable for the Greens to block the Albanese government’s signature climate policy if the minor party’s demands to veto new coal and gas projects are not met, and put the onus on Labor to find a solution.

The former Tasmanian senator – who led the Greens from 2012 to 2015 and was deputy leader in 2009 when the party blocked the Rudd government’s emissions trading scheme – argued the safeguard mechanism was not enough to address the threats of climate change. She is the second former Greens leader to speak out on the policy after party founder Bob Brown weighed in on Wednesday.

Christine Milne says it would be fair and reasonable for the Greens to block the safeguard mechanism if the party’s demands to veto new coal and gas are not met.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Greens leader Adam Bandt has demanded the federal government veto any new coal or gas projects in return for his party’s crucial Senate support for the safeguard mechanism, which will impose pollution limits on the nation’s 215 biggest carbon emitters.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has rejected this demand. Bandt has said he is not issuing an ultimatum to the government and is open to negotiations, which are currently underway.

The safeguard mechanism is due to start on July 1 but needs approval by the Senate before it can start and parliament has only two sitting weeks scheduled before the deadline.

Milne stressed that she would not issue advice to Bandt, but said it would be reasonable for the Greens to insist their support for the safeguard mechanism would only be given in return for a veto on new fossil fuel projects.

“It is incumbent upon them [Labor] to develop a set of policies that are acceptable to the parliament that actually bring down emissions.”

Milne said it was a mistake for former prime minister Kevin Rudd not to pursue another reform after the Greens blocked his emissions trading scheme and the current government will repeat that mistake if it insists its current proposal is a one-and-only chance at reform.

“All these threats about this is your one and only opportunity – no. They [Labor] are the government and they’re there till 2025 and everyone’s willing to work with them,” Milne said.

“So if they [Labor] choose to take their bat and ball and go home, then that will be as pathetic as Rudd having done it back in 2010.

“If one set of amendments doesn’t work, then sit down and work with the rest of the parliament to put through another set of amendments which do work. That’s what the role of government is.”

The safeguard mechanism is designed to impose, for the first time, binding caps on Australia’s 215 biggest polluters – including mines, factories, smelters and processors – to force them to reduce their carbon footprint by a cumulative 205 million tonnes by the end of the decade.

Brown on Wednesday handed back his life membership of the Australian Conservation Foundation, accusing the premier environment lobby of undermining the planet’s future by calling on the Greens to back the policy.

Milne said she was “100 per cent behind [Bandt’s] call for no new coal and gas”, as was the party members, arguing the world’s scientists had reiterated in the UN’s annual climate report earlier this week that ending fossil fuel was the world’s last chance to avoid the worst damage from global warming.

“I am absolutely confident that the Greens’ supporter base is right behind the Greens in standing up for what we went to the election for, which was no new coal and gas,” she said.

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