RENEW ECONOMY: Independent MP Zali Steggall welcomes positive response to Climate Change Bill

11 December, 2020 

Independent MP Zali Steggall has welcomed a positive response to her proposed Climate Change Act, with a flood of public submissions expressing support for a plan to legislate a commitment to zero net emissions and the creation of an expert climate change commission.

Steggall has proposed legislation modelled off similar legislation passed by the parliaments of New Zealand and the United Kingdom, that would enshrine a zero emissions target into law, as well as establishing an independent expert body to provide advice to government about progress towards the target and recommend regular interim emissions reduction targets.

Steggall hopes the legislation can cut through the decade long impasse on Australian climate and energy policy, which has seen Australia excluded from having a role at several major international climate summits due to a failure to adopt meaningful climate change policies.

The independent MP introduced the legislation to parliament in November, and the Climate Change Bill was subsequently referred to a parliamentary committee for review and has already attracted what is understood to be thousands of submissions, including from major energy market players, environmental groups and social services groups.

Electricity retailer Origin Energy expressed support for the bill, saying that the proposals, which includes the creation of an independent commission to advise governments on climate policy and targets, and a legislated commitment to reaching zero net emissions by 2050 would be positive developments.

“Many businesses in both Australia and internationally are already considering long term targets and strategies of their own. This is being driven by their stakeholders – including investors, customers and the general public – who are demanding that business show leadership on the issue,” Origin Energy’s submission says.

“We believe that the draft bill contains a number of useful and prudent proposals which could be incorporated in Australian policy design in the future.”

Steggall, who unseated former prime minister Tony Abbott from the Sydney north shore electorate of Warringah at the 2019 federal election, welcomed the strong positive response to the bill, saying that the feedback received would help improve the design of the proposed legislation.

“The Climate Change Bills are an opportunity for Australia to grasp the opportunities of climate action and mitigate the risks,” Steggall told RenewEconomy.

“This inquiry is showing that there is extraordinary appetite from across sectors and throughout the community for real change in national climate policy. Some highlights include Origin Energy, the City of Melbourne and Kilara Capital.”

“The vast majority of submissions have been supportive and some offer constructive feedback which I will consider. I am looking forward to reading more submissions and hearing evidence at public hearings next year. With a record amount of submissions there is a lot to go through,” Steggall added.

The Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS) said that they welcomed the proposals contained within Steggall’s bill, that would establish a framework for bridging a gap in Australia’s climate policy ambitions, and would help cut through the influence of vested interests over governments.

“This Bill is needed as it addresses the lack of ambition seen so far in Australia,” the ACOSS submissions says. “The Bill improves on the status quo as it legislates science based targets, includes a national risk assessment, a national adaptation plan, yearly reviews, is principles based, includes a Commission that is independent from the Government of the day and aims to include a spectrum of interests rather than being driven or responsive to a narrow range of interests.”

Pollination Group, which is headed by former Clean Energy Finance Corporation chair Martijn Wilder, said that the adoption of a climate change bill would come at a critical time, as Australia continues to deal with the economic fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In this rapidly evolving political environment, certainty in relation to Australia’s national climate policy will be required to drive investment of the magnitude required to scaleup the net-zero aligned technologies and industries that represent the future of the Australian economy. The Climate Bill is a sensible approach to filling this policy void,” Pollination Group told the inquiry.

The inquiry is set to report on its findings and recommendations on the Climate Change Bill sometime next year.

Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.