David Pocock under pressure to block Labor’s safeguard mechanism bill after fossil fuel poll
A majority of Canberrans support a ban on new coal and gas projects in federal law, adding pressure to the independent senator David Pocock to withhold support from Labor’s safeguard mechanism bill.
The uComms poll of 1,112 residents of the Australian Capital Territory, commissioned by the Australia Institute, found 63% oppose new coal and gas, and 82% oppose the unlimited use of carbon credits to offset pollution.
The poll’s release comes as the Albanese government prepares to stare down a 4pm Thursday deadline to respond to a Senate order for forecasts of how big industrial emitters would use carbon credits to meet obligations created by the proposed safeguard mechanism.
The shadow climate and energy minister, Ted O’Brien, said the Coalition would “do everything in its power to shine a light on Labor’s secret modelling that it refuses to share with the Australian public” after it teamed up with the Greens to force disclosure on Tuesday.
The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, objected on the basis that releasing the modelling would reveal “deliberations of cabinet” and would be against the public interest “due to market sensitivities relating to the government’s role as a purchaser of [carbon credits]”.
Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoonemail newsletters for your daily news roundup
Despite the Senate rejecting the government’s public interest immunity claim, Labor is expected to refuse to comply, risking the Greens and Coalition refusing to allow the bill to be debated.
O’Brien told Guardian Australia that Labor “has refused to tell Australians how its reforms to the safeguard mechanism will impact families, businesses and jobs”.
“[Labor is] already suffering a trust deficit and this secret modelling doesn’t help,” he said. “Labor likes to talk a big game on transparency and so it’s time they stump up and deliver.”
The Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the modelling was an “important piece of the puzzle” for the Greens to determine their position.
“If the government doesn’t want to show that their scheme will reduce pollution … I don’t know how they expect the Australian people to believe them,” she told Radio National.
The Albanese government and the Greens remain deadlocked on the legislation to require big emitters to reduce emissions intensity by 4.9% a year, with the Greens calling for a ban on new coal and gas projects, while Labor insists it has a mandate to reject a condition it says would reduce supply of gas as a transition fuel.
Asked about the future of fossil fuels, the automated telephone poll found that 40% of ACT residents wanted to “stop new gas and coal projects and start to phase down production from existing fossil fuel projects” and a further 23% wanted to stop new projects but allow existing ones to operate “as is”.
More than a quarter (28.3%) opted to “allow new gas and coal projects to go ahead” and 8.4% were unsure.
Asked if “new climate laws should include a ban on new gas, coal and oil projects” 37.6% strongly agreed, 23% agreed, 15.4% disagreed and 15.8% strongly disagreed.
More than half (56%) said polluting projects should have to directly reduce their emissions, not use carbon offsets, with a further 26.3% saying they should be allowed to use carbon offsets for some of their emissions, but not all.
Canberra voters were in no rush to see the safeguards mechanism legislated, with 60.7% saying “it would be better to improve the legislation, even if it takes longer” –about double the 29.9% who said “it would be better to pass the legislation as it is now, so it comes into operation sooner”.
The executive director of the Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, said “Canberrans are overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on new fossil fuel projects” and wanted the legislation to be “right, not rushed”.
Given that the Coalition opposes the bill, the government needs the support of the Greens, their former senator turned independent Lidia Thorpe and either David Pocock or the Jacqui Lambie Network.
In a dissenting report in the Senate inquiry into the safeguards bill, the Greens warned that the safeguard mechanism would fail unless the Albanese government agreed to changes, despite having described the fossil fuel ban as an “offer, not an ultimatum”.
On Monday Pocock told reporters in Canberra he has “huge reservations” about the bill in its current form, citing modelling from RepuTex that new fossil fuel projects “could blow the budget”.
Pocock said it “wasn’t fair or right” that industrial users such as aluminium and steel were “lumped in with potential new fossil fuel projects”.
But he said discussions with the government “have been good” and it appeared prepared to “refine [the] legislation”.
On Tuesday Bowen urged parliament not to “squander” the opportunity to achieve 205m tonnes of emissions reduction.
He told ABC’s 7.30 the government was “not contemplating” a pause on new fossil fuel projects until it legislated a climate trigger in environmental approval legislation.
Similarly, Labor “will not contemplate any sort of blanket moratoriums on any particular proposals” such as all new coalmines, he said.
“If there are new facilities and this doesn’t pass, there’ll be no constraint on emissions.”