‘This is their first offer’: Tony Abbott puts pressure back on Labor over renewable energy target

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Joe Armao Industry is eager for a bipartisan deal to ensure certainty for renewable energy in Australia. Photo: Graham Tidy
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Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Joe Armao

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Joe Armao

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Joe Armao

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has conceded the ongoing deadlock over Australia’s renewable energy target must end, but has appeared to indicate the Labor Party should shift further before a compromise can be reached.

But Labor has rejected any suggestion it needs to budge further, having given significant political ground to the government in an offer on Wednesday.

Mr Abbott indicated on Thursday that he was looking to reach a deal with the opposition, saying: “I accept this matter is going to have to be resolved.”

On Wednesday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would agree to a compromise put forward by the Clean Energy Council that would reduce the target from 41,000 gigawatt hours of annual renewable energy production by 2020, to 33,500.

Labor had previously said it would not accept any cut below the mid-to-high 30s.

But while Mr Abbott acknowledged it was important to bring the stalemate to an end, he appeared to back Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, who is refusing to budge beyond 32,000 gigawatt hours.

He also repeated the government’s line that Australia’s renewable energy target – also known as the RET – was only ever intended to be 20 per cent of electricity production by 2020.

Australia’s target has never been legislated as a percentage – it has always been a specified gigawatt hour figure.

When the 41,000 figure was agreed to by both major parties, it was believed that would equate to roughly 20 per cent by 2020.

“I accept that this matter is going to have to be resolved. I absolutely accept that. But it’s important to get it right,” Mr Abbott said.

“You might remember that the Parliament committed on a bipartisan basis to a 20 per cent renewable energy target. As things stand, we are headed for a 26 per cent renewable energy target.

“With the position that the Clean Energy Council put forward yesterday, it will still be over a 23 per cent renewable energy target and the position we all agreed upon some time ago was a 20 per cent renewable energy target.”

The Clean Energy Council put its proposal in a letter to the Prime Minister more than two weeks ago.

Mr Abbott said talks would continue and the matter was in the “capable hands” of Mr Macfarlane and Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

He indicated Labor would need to concede further ground to the government if it wanted to reach the bipartisan agreement sought by industry.

“This is not the latest offer, this is the first offer and it is good that finally the opposition in the Federal Parliament have actually come up with a position,” Mr Abbott said.

“The position of this government is that we want to get power prices down and we want to protect jobs. That’s what we want to do.”

Investment in renewable energy in Australia dived by 88 per cent in 2014 after the government launched its review of the target.

Labor rejected any suggestion from the government that the opposition should reduce its offer further.

Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler said the government should accept a compromise that had support from major business groups including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Aluminium Council.

“He says he wants to protect jobs – but hundreds of jobs have already been lost because of the Tony Abbott’s determination to destroy the renewable energy sector,” Mr Butler said.

“Every day this drags on more and more jobs will go overseas until Tony Abbott instructs his Environment and Industry Ministers to accept the renewable energy industry’s compromise position, Labor has.

“The only conclusion from Tony Abbott’s inaction on this matter is that he’s happy to see the renewable energy industry, and billions of dollars in investment it attracts and thousands of jobs it creates, go overseas.” WHAT THEY WANT

GOVERNMENT  Initially wanted to reduce the 41,000GWh target to 27,000GWh.Compromised to 32,000GWh but insists this is its final offer.

LABOR Compromised to 33,500GWh.

GREENS Wants to keep the original target of 41,000GWh.

CROSSBENCH Glenn Lazarus: wants original RET target.Jacqui Lambie: wants hydro power included.Ricky Muir: wants original RET target but with wood waste included as a source of renewable energy.Leyonhjelm, Day, Madigan, Xenophon: appear willing to negotiate.Palmer United Party’s Dio Wang: wants original RET target.

INDUSTRY Renewables industry: 32,500Gwh.

Source: AAP

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