Greens leader Adam Bandt has put the Albanese government on notice that he will push back harder on key climate and housing affordability legislation and target three Labor seats over the approval of new coal seam gas wells.
Bandt warned that his party gave Labor the benefit of the doubt in the first few months after last year’s election and that the Greens would now stand its ground on three Labor proposals because they would make the climate crisis and housing affordability worse.
He also said the party would target Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s approval of 116 coal seam gas wells in Queensland, naming Macnamara in Melbourne, Richmond in northern NSW and Plibersek’s own seat of Sydney as electorates where Labor is vulnerable over the decision.
After working with the government to pass a number of its signature election commitments in 2022, Bandt said the Greens would push for significant changes to the safeguard mechanism to cut emissions, the $10 billion housing fund and the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
He said the party was willing to work with Labor on amending the legislation but “at a minimum, once we pass the legislation, the problem should get better, not worse”.
“In the first few months of the government, we were prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them the opportunity to bring forward plans to parliament,” he said in an interview laying out his agenda.
“What we’re seeing this year is the government bringing forward proposals that will see the problems get worse. It’s not even incremental progress where we can have a debate about whether the government is going fast enough.”
The comments suggest the Greens are unlikely to support the three bills unless the government makes substantial changes. The government is hoping to pass the three policies before the end of March, when parliament will take a break for five weeks.
In return for supporting the safeguard mechanism, Bandt said that Labor should legislate a ban on any new coal or gas projects.
Bandt said this could be done in the form of a “climate trigger” in the nation’s environment laws, or it could be in the safeguard mechanism legislation itself.
“We put an offer, not an ultimatum, that we will put aside our concerns about the weak targets, the offsets, the fact that it’s Tony Abbott’s scheme … and vote for the package in full,” Bandt said.
“But we want to see, in law, a commitment that there’ll be no new coal or gas projects.”
The Greens will begin running digital advertisements on Sunday, targeting Macnamara MP Josh Burns and Richmond MP Justine Elliot over the approval for gas company Santos to drill new coal seam gas wells in the Surat Basin, with photos of the two MPs next to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and a burning gas station in the background.
The party won three lower house seats in Brisbane at last year’s election, giving it a total of four, while also receiving a 5.5 per cent swing in Macnamara and a 4.9 per cent swing in Richmond, which put the seats within reach for 2025.
While Plibersek recently rejected Clive Palmer’s proposed central Queensland coal mine, and holds her seat on what should be a comfortable 16.7 per cent margin, the Greens are also looking at her seat as an outside chance.
“The Greens grew significantly at the last election and that can happen again at the next one,” Bandt said.
“Labor have to explain to people in Macnamara, Richmond and Sydney why they want to open new coal and gas mines.”
Plibersek said the Greens had been targeting her seat for decades and she’s never taken it for granted.
“I’ll continue to work hard to represent the views and values of my electorate,” she said. “I look forward to Adam Bandt and the Greens supporting our strong new environmental laws.”
Burns said the Greens “can focus on all of the politics that they want. I’m focused on getting things done for the community I’m privileged to represent”.
After taking over the leadership in 2020, Bandt said he had made a priority of focusing on economic inequality and cost of living, as well as the environment and climate.
He named rental affordability, getting dental into Medicare and lifting JobSeeker as key issues that set the Greens apart from the two major parties.
“Historically, the biggest obstacle to people voting for the Greens was just not knowing that we are going to fight for people just as strongly as we’re going to fight for the planet,” he said.
Bandt said this term of parliament was the best chance in a generation to pass “really progressive laws”, but Labor wasn’t being ambitious enough.
“This is the best parliament we will have for a generation to get to reduce inequality and tackle the climate crisis,” he said.
“I think the biggest obstacle to progress in this parliament is Labor itself.”
Bandt said his party would ramp up its campaign against the $254 billion stage three tax cuts heading into the May budget, and was starting to tie it to other issues when Labor claimed a certain proposal wasn’t affordable.
The Greens leader is coming off a difficult month internally after its then-First Nations spokesperson Lidia Thorpe resigned from the party and joined the crossbench over her opposition to the Indigenous Voice to parliament.
The departure has slightly diluted the Greens’ power in the Senate. Previously, the government only needed the support of the Greens and one more senator to pass legislation, but now it needs an additional two votes.
Asked whether he would still work with Thorpe on key votes in the Senate, Bandt said he had a lot of respect for her and the two had campaigned together for years.
“She will obviously make her own decisions from here on in, but I hope to have a good working relationship with her as I do with a number of other members of the crossbench in this parliament. I have respect for her and will continue to do so,” he said.
Bandt said the Greens would campaign for the Voice after receiving assurances from Labor that it wouldn’t cede First Nations’ sovereignty, but said they would also hold the government to account over its promise to follow the referendum with a process for truth-telling and a treaty.
He said there was still a role for the First Nations Network, known as the “Blak Greens”, inside the party despite Thorpe’s departure.
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