April 14, 2024


The Albanese government is facing major blowback over changes to its offshore gas bill, which the crossbench and environment groups have labelled “window dressing” that fails to prevent new rules watering down First Nations consultation.

Seeking to clear the decks before Easter, the government is expected to reveal tweaks to its proposed vehicle efficiency standards this week. And on Monday Labor introduced amendments to add safeguards to the offshore gas bill after widespread concerns, including from within it own ranks.

But the government will probably need Coalition support to pass its offshore petroleum and greenhouse gas storage bill, as the Greens leader, Adam Bandt, told parliament Labor were “climate con artists” prepared to “work with the climate deniers in the Coalition to fast-track offshore gas”.

The OPGGS bill states that approved offshore gas projects are taken to be compliant with environmental laws even if they wouldn’t otherwise be.

The bill has been panned by environmental groups, who are concerned it is an override designed to shelter offshore gas from imminent higher environmental standards, and First Nations groups, who warn it will hand power to the resources minister to rewrite regulations on consultation.

On Monday the resources minister, Madeleine King, introduced changes requiring the environment minister to agree that changes to consultation are consistent with ecological sustainability development principles.

The amendments include a sunset clause so that the override of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is phased out after 12 months.

Kirsty Howey, the executive director of Environment Centre NT, said the requirement for new regulations to be consistent with ESD principles was “practically meaningless”.

Louise Morris, oil and gas campaign manager at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said ESD “is a principle, not something that has any legally enforceable powers or structures”.

Environment groups have seized on a provision that, even if the resources minister fails to consult the environment minister, the validity of new regulations “will not be affected”, according to the explanatory memorandum. Howey said this meant the new safeguard was “technically pointless [and] nothing more than window dressing”.

A spokesperson for King said: “If there is disagreement between the two ministers, the regulations could still be validly made – however, if that were to happen then companies would be required to seek separate environmental approvals through both the OPGGS Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.”

A group of First Nations advocates, including Raelene Cooper, Josie Alec and Bruce Pascoe, have written to the Albanese government warning that the bill is a “betrayal”.

The group, who include First Nations leaders with responsibilities for sea country, will travel to Canberra on Tuesday to lobby against the bill, which they said was “intended to remove our consultation rights, rights to be heard over developments on our sea Country that affect our cultural heritage and songlines”.

On Monday Bandt attempted to suspend standing orders in the House of Representatives, accusing Labor of being “more pro gas than Scott Morrison”.

The Greens have offered the government support to pass vehicle efficiency standards, in return for Labor dropping the controversial provisions of the OPGGS bill.

Guardian Australia understands the government has confidentially briefed stakeholders on vehicle emissions standards and is preparing to introduce minor amendments focused on light commercial vehicles and utes to bring them in line with US changes.

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The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said: “Obviously the changes being made to the US standards announced this week are of interest to us, and are one of the things we’re considering as we finalise this policy.”

Auto industry leaders, including a group who attended a government briefing on the new vehicle efficiency standard last week, have called for tweaks including adding more credits into the scheme, as there are in the US version. An industry source who spoke to Guardian Australia was optimistic the government would ease its proposed NVES in line with these concerns.

“Supercredits” for the cleanest of vehicles, “off-cycle credits” for specific green technologies used in cars that are not measured in tailpipe emissions, and “air conditioning credits” for using greener refrigerants, only feature in the least ambitious NVES model being considered but not the government’s preferred “option B”.

Earlier on Monday Bandt fired a warning shot on both gas and emissions standards, warning that “Labor has to choose its dancing partner on climate change”

In question time King accused the Greens of wanting “to continue a lawyers’ picnic of approvals” going through courts, which she said delayed traditional owners having their say.

A spokesperson for King said “the bill is not and was never intended as an exemption for the resources sector to nature positive reforms”.

The Labor Environment Action Network, which had lobbied against elements of the original bill, said the amendments were a “workable resolution of a situation that threatened a huge own goal”.

The independent MPs Zali Steggall, Zoe Daniel, and Sophie Scamps all criticised the changes as inadequate to fix the original bill.

The independent senator David Pocock said: “The Albanese government legislating a backdoor approvals process for offshore gas stinks.”

Annika Reynolds, national climate adviser of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the ACF was still “deeply concerned” that the amendments did not address its “fundamental concerns”.



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