Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP calls for amendments to the Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024

4 June 2024

I move amendments (1) to (18) as circulated in my name:

These amendments, along with many that have been put forward by the crossbench, are seeking to improve this legislation. Earlier this week, I spoke on the Net Zero Economy Authority Bill 2024, and today these amendments are trying to address the issues there are with that bill. As the bill currently stands, it has a narrow and hypertargeted scope that fails to provide the authority with what is necessary to genuinely support a net zero economy transition. This bill restricts the type of employer or worker that is afforded that just transition to support under the act, specifically limited only to those transitioning from coal- and gas-fired power stations.

In stark contrast to the broad objects of this bill, the operating provisions for worker transition are incredibly limited. Time and time again, members of the Labor government came into this place, talking about no worker being left behind. With respect, that is simply not true. The title of this bill is a shameless attempt to greenwash the effect of this bill. For all the rhetoric about leaving no-one behind in the transition and framing this bill as the Net Zero Economy Authority, the government is leaving many workers and industries behind—and regions, as the member for Indi has pointed out through her amendments. It's limited to helping approximately 5,000 workers, ignoring at least 110,000 others from export coal, oil and gas industries and ignoring a further 100,000-plus workers if we considers the mechanics, gas fitters and other geographically dispersed but emissions-intensive industries that will be subject to transition and that could also be supported by this authority. Even members of the government, like the member for Newcastle, identified that the bill will neglect almost 90 per cent of coalmine workers in the Hunter. The Hunter Jobs Alliance highlights that, in that region alone, an additional 2,600 workers between now and 2030 will be affected by coalmine closures, yet they do not get the benefit of a jobs plan or the real powers for the authority in this bill. The bill should be broadened to include workers who are part of emissions-intensive industries. Examples include gas networks or gas supply and manufacturing businesses, and mechanics for fossil-fuel-powered vehicles. Or, at the very least, the bill should include a mechanism to broaden the scope of powers of the authority to include more workers.

It's not only for workers that this bill is too narrow. The bill currently outlines a Net Zero Economy Authority with wide, overarching objectives. It is critical that these functions are not just aspirational but that they are actually achievable and have teeth or powers associated. It's crucial that the authority is mandated to proactively plan, coordinate and advise on the phase-out of fossil fuels, including their exploration and extraction for export as well as domestic use—something the government seems to remain in denial about. It will acknowledge closure of fossil-fuel energy plants, but it will not acknowledge the likely and very real closure of fossil-fuel export industries.

Independence is also an essential to achieve the goals and for the public to have confidence in how we transform our economy. So the independent body and the board of this new authority must be independent and made up of people with the right mix of expertise and experience. In that respect, I note a number of amendments have been made by members on the crossbenches, again seeking to improve this legislation, but these have not been taken up by the government. At the moment, ironically and quite extraordinarily, this bill doesn't require a board member to have climate or engineering experience, and yet it is a body that's said to be delivering a net zero economy. Without even having that kind of experience, it's hard to imagine that this board will in fact be fit for purpose to meet the very broad and aspirational challenge that it has been set. I would ask the government to rethink the approach. It needs to consider amendments that will enhance the recruitment of board members, ensure their independence and avoid captain's picks.

Finally, we still have the issue that there is good greenwashing in the title of this bill by calling it the Net Zero Economy Authority. Ironically, 'net zero' is still not defined, and I've had discussions with the assistant minister in this respect. The difficulty we have is that there are a lot of other industries that come into play, particularly carbon capture and storage. So it is important to start defining net zero to ensure we don't have industries involved that are not really in the purview of this authority.

Zali's follow up question:

Noting the assistant minister's comments, I want clarification in some aspects. You state that the provision to provide plans or create boards in relation to those other areas is already included in the bill. Could you identify the section of the bill that in fact provides that, because, in relation to jobs plans or employment plans, that is very clearly limited to part 5? Noting earlier comments in relation to the review provision in 12 months, it is limited only to that section. It states 'review into the operation of this part', and it's only that part, which is the operation of gas and coal powered plants. My understanding is that that is very limited, so I have not identified that there are broader powers in the remaining sections of this bill. I would further ask the minister to confirm that currently only approximately 5,000 workers will be covered by the energy industry jobs plan and that in fact over 100,000 coal, oil and gas workers are excluded from that jobs plan.

See amendments below:

(1) Clause 4, page 3 (line 24), omit "or a gas-fired power station", substitute ", gas-fired power station or other relevant facility or business".

(2) Clause 5, page 8 (after line 11), after the definition of national security information, insert:

net zero emissions economy means an Australian economy where:

(a) Australia's absolute greenhouse gas emissions have been significantly reduced to zero or to a residual level consistent with global efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃ above industrial levels in accordance with Articles 2 and 4 of the Paris Agreement; and

(b) any residual Australian greenhouse gas emissions are neutralised by, and continue to be neutralised after, the net zero target date.

net zero target date means the target date set out in paragraph 10(1)(b) of the Climate Change Act 2022 for Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions to reduce to zero.

(3) Clause 6, page 10 (after line 23), after subclause (2), insert:

(2A) An employer is also a closing employer if:

(a) the employer:

(i) is a constitutional corporation; and

(ii) owns (whether alone or jointly) or operates (whether alone or jointly) one or more parts of a facility that is a designated large facility for the purposes of the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 for a financial year;

whether or not the employer employs employees to perform work at the facility; or

(b) the employer is a constitutional corporation that owns (whether alone or jointly) or operates (whether alone or jointly) one or more parts of a business specified in a determination under subsection (2B).

(2B) The Minister may, on recommendation by the Authority, determine in writing one or more classes of businesses for the purposes of paragraph (2A)(b).

(2C) The Minister must cause a copy of the determination (including as varied) to be published on the Authority's website.

(2D) A determination under subsection (2B) is not a legislative instrument.

(2E) The Authority may, by notifiable instrument, make recommendations for the purposes of subsection (2B).

(4) Clause 6, page 11 (after line 19), after subclause (4), insert:

(4A) An employer is also a dependent employer if the employer (the relevant employer):

(a) is a constitutional corporation; and

(b) has a commercial relationship with:

(i) a closing employer within the meaning of subsection (2A); or

(ii) an associated entity of such a closing employer; and

(c) will, or will be likely to, cease a substantial part of the operations carried on by the relevant employer at the facility or business concerned, or in the same geographic area in which the facility or business concerned is located, as a direct result of the eventual closure of that facility or business.

(5) Clause 7, page 12 (after line 26), after subclause (2), insert:

(2A) A transition employee, of a closing employer within the meaning of subsection 6(2A), is an employee of the closing employer who is employed to perform work at the facility or business concerned.

(6) Clause 7, page 13 (after line 5), at the end of the clause, add:

(5) A transition employee, of a dependent employer within the meaning of subsection 6(4A), is an employee of the dependent employer who is employed to perform work in the operations that will, or will be likely to, cease as mentioned in paragraph 6(4A)(c).

(7) Clause 9, page 13 (line 21), omit "or a gas-fired power station", substitute ", gas-fired power station or other relevant facility or business referred to in subsection 6(2A)".

(8) Clause 9, page 13 (line 26), omit "or a gas-fired power station", substitute ", gas-fired power station or other relevant facility or business referred to in subsection 6(2A)".

(9) Clause 16, page 17 (after line 15), after paragraph (1)(b), insert:

(ba) with the Climate Change Authority and in consultation with industry, communities and the public and private sector—to proactively plan, coordinate and advise on the phasing out of fossil fuels, including their exploration, extraction and export and their use in Australia;

(10) Clause 16, page 18 (lines 3 to 6), omit subclause (2), substitute:

(2) In performing the Authority's functions, the Authority must have regard to the following principles:

(a) the principle of prioritising communities, regions, industries and workers that are or will be:

(i) concerned with manufacturing, installing or maintaining equipment, appliances, vehicles or devices that consume fossil fuels; or

(ii) otherwise significantly affected by Australia's transition to a net zero emissions economy;

(b) the principles of:

(i) economic efficiency; and

(ii) environmental effectiveness; and

(iii) equity; and

(iv) the public interest; and

(v) the impact on households, businesses, workers and communities; and

(vi) an effective global response to climate change; and

(vii) consistency with Australia's foreign policy and trade objectives; and

(viii) complying with Articles 2, 4, 8 and 12 of the Paris Agreement; and

(ix) boosting economic, employment and social benefits, including for rural and regional Australia; and

(x) achieving the safeguard outcome in paragraph 3(2)(d) of the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007;

(c) any other principles that the Authority considers relevant.

This subsection has effect subject to subsections (4) and (5).

(11) Clause 21, page 23 (line 5), omit "5", substitute "7".

(12) Clause 23, page 24 (after line 26), after paragraph (3)(f), insert:

(fa) climate science;

(fb) engineering;

(13) Clause 54, page 40 (line 5), omit "or a gas-fired power station", substitute ", gas-fired power station or other relevant facility or business".

(14) Clause 55, page 42 (line 29), omit "or a gas-fired power station", substitute ", gas-fired power station or other relevant facility or business".

(15) Clause 56, page 43 (line 24), omit "or gas-fired power station", substitute ", gas-fired power station, facility or business".

(16) Clause 56, page 45 (line 2), after "power station", insert ", facility or business".

(17) Clause 57, page 47 (line 11), after "power station", insert ", facility or business".

(18) Clause 57, page 47 (line 25), after "power station", insert ", facility or business".