Labor’s resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has declared Labor does not need to set a medium-term target for emissions reductions, defying party leader Anthony Albanese and contradicting its climate spokesman, Mark Butler.
Albanese told the National Press Club in June Labor would set a medium-term target for the 2030s “based on science”, and Butler has made that commitment several times since the 2019 election.
But asked about a 2030s target on Sunday, Fitzgibbon told Sky News: “The government sets targets, the opposition doesn’t. Let’s wait and see where we are in a couple of years time – see how technologies are being built”.
Fitzgibbon said although he supported climate action and understood the science, Labor had lost elections in recent times in part because of its climate change policies. He said the time had come to “stop running ahead of the rest of the world when we are 1.3% of carbon output”.
“If China and the US and the other big emitters aren’t doing the heavy lifting, then we can’t hope to make a difference here in Australia alone,” Fitzgibbon said.
“We need to do better, but we have got to be smart about it because it has had an impact on our election outcomes.
“It isn’t the only reason we’ve lost elections but it has had an impact, and you can have the best climate policy in the world but if you are perpetually in opposition it doesn’t make much difference.”
Although Labor signed up after the election to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 without dissent, the medium-term emissions reduction target remains controversial internally.
Fitzgibbon, the veteran NSW rightwinger, does not want to set a target for the 2030s at all. Others think Labor could commit to a process for setting a medium-term target if it won government at the next election, but not the target itself. Others are adamant a 2030s target needs to be set.
While Albanese has declared Australia needs to become a renewable energy “superpower”, Fitzgibbon also declared on Sunday that gas was critical for energy and manufacturing, and noted coal-fired power generation would be needed for a long time.
Despite the fact Butler and Fitzgibbon are very obviously at loggerheads, Fitzgibbon said their differences were around emphasis rather than substance.
“There’s not much we disagree on,” he said. “Sometimes in the Labor party it becomes a matter of emphasis. Some might say we are not opposed to gas, when I say we very much support gas.
“Mark Butler understands we need to get more gas out of the ground.”
Fitzgibbon’s front running of the policy deliberation around the medium-term emissions reduction target has some internal support, but it is also infuriating many colleagues.
Over the weekend he was critical that the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) had formed common positions with the Labor Environmental Action Network (Lean).
He said Labor did not need ginger groups like Lean “constantly pulling us to the left” and declared “we can’t have a manufacturing industry without gas”.
A number of Labor MPs blasted him for adopting that stance. Pat Conroy, Butler’s junior in the climate change portfolio, and who, like Fitzgibbon, hails from the Hunter coal region of New South Wales, said the AMWU was absolutely correct to hold common positions with Lean.
“The opportunity to revitalise manufacturing through cheap renewable energy is just one reason why Labor is arguing so strongly for an economic recovery centred on investing in renewables firmed with batteries and pumped hydro,” Conroy said.
“The AMWU’s constructive leadership is completely consistent with Labor’s agenda. The AMWU is doing the right thing by promoting the long-term prosperity of manufacturing, which will occur if Australia can become a renewable energy superpower.”
That position was echoed by Victorian Labor MP Kate Thwaites who congratulated the AMWU “for standing up for workers’ long-term economic and health interests”.
“On the other hand, pretending renewables won’t lead to jobs and that climate change won’t change our way of life is standing up for vested interests, not workers,” she said.