Decades of inertia and bitter partisan politics have revealed an inescapable truth - the Federal Parliament is incapable of dealing with the complex issues and diverse interests involved in delivering action on the climate crisis. This cries out for a new process of stakeholder engagement to negotiate an emissions-reduction settlement that can then be put back to Parliament to fine tune and implement. A Climate Compact is the intervention we need to break Australia's climate policy impasse.
Faced with a Coalition government in denial, an opposition catch-up strategy full of unanswered questions and the unachievable ambitions of the Greens - and the free-for-all battle between them - a Compact is the mechanism to harness the growing consensus among business, unions and civil society for real climate action.
There is a compelling case to step the agenda outside the political process for negotiation in a non-adversarial environment - a Climate Compact process smoothing existing ideas and giving collective support to settle Australia's response to the climate challenge. The Compact would encompass ways to reduce emissions while maintaining or improving living standards. It must involve all forms of industry and levels of government together with unions, farmers, the welfare and environment sectors, First Nations Australians and members of the wider community. An Australian Climate Compact would identify barriers to change and seek their resolution, ensuring coordination between industry sectors, different levels of government and across the community. The best minds of Australia would be called upon to focus on real emissions reductions and ways of unlocking the benefits of a global post-carbon economy.
The Compact mission would be to engage all stakeholders in a unifying process of negotiation towards a common objective. It would mobilise business constituencies and the majority of voters to systematically work through the contentious issues in search of achievable outcomes, and it would then lock the stakeholders into transparent and accountable commitments. It would recognise the interdependence of the stakeholders and their commitments, creating safety for each to move forward in the confidence that all are doing so in parallel. First movers would not be disadvantaged by free-riders, the costs of adjustment would be split equitably and without exposure to exempt competitors, the commercial risk of innovation would be shared with the taxpayer, those displaced would be supported with orderly notice and adjustment assistance. In this way, all would contribute to averting climate catastrophe, none would be put at risk through acting alone, and everyone would benefit from the wealth generation implicit in the move to a post-carbon future.
The 1983 Prices and Incomes Accord is a precedent for the Climate Compact. The 1983 Accord broke the curse of stagflation and opened the way for the Hawke-Keating government to embark on historic economic reforms. The Accord, and the national economic summit which preceded it, lifted the curtain on a decade-long program of economic transformation that inevitably put workers and their families at significant risk. The summit and the Accord were the platforms on which difficult choices in the national interest were negotiated, trust was built, protections were offered, and the economy was restructured with dramatic effect.
The objective of the Climate Compact should be to deliver Australia's "fair share" contribution to the global efforts to limit warming to well under two degrees and pursuing efforts towards limiting it to 1.5 degrees. The issues covered in the Compact should be clarified in preparatory consultations, but could be categorised in order of importance.
First-order issues go directly to the decarbonisation of the domestic economy. These issues are urgent, foundational and either of low-contention or within reach of negotiated solutions. They must be resolved before moving on to other priorities. Second-order issues would deal with the fossil fuel export sector. Third-order issues would go to the growth agenda for the post-carbon economy. As for targets, they should start with a floor of 50 per cent reduction by 2030, aspiring for a higher target but with a firm commitment to support the relevant parts of the community through this transition.
Negotiations must be completed by December 2022 in order that federal government responsibilities are fed into the 2023-24 budget. Anything that cannot be resolved in this first tranche of negotiations should be deferred to a second tranche for resolution in 2023.
This Climate Compact would not only seek crucial progress on Australia's responsibilities domestically and internationally, but also embody principles that I see as fundamental to my approach in politics. Central to the Compact is its unifying and enabling approach, bringing together the community for engaged discussion and consultation; working together, with the evidence, to achieve the best outcomes. The Compact approach can deliver achievable policy, building on the groundwork laid through the Australian Climate Roundtable.
There is so much positive work already being done across sectors, notably by state and territory governments, that must be harnessed to break the stagnation on climate action at the federal level. It is distressing to see the government's minimalist approach to climate policy despite public sentiment demanding serious and concerted effort to reduce emissions. We can't ignore our moral responsibility to demonstrate credible leadership in the global effort to arrest global warming.
Whatever the election outcome, the significance of the Climate Compact lies in its unifying, collaborative approach to realising the shared ambition of industry, unions and civil society for urgent decarbonisation and the pursuit and embrace of a global post-carbon economy. We must move beyond the politics of division that has so far defeated action on the most important issue of our generation.
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