Election 2022: The Coalition and Labor’s plans for shielding businesses from natural disasters and tackling climate change

Source: Mick Tsikas / Bianca De Marchi / AAP Image

What’s going on?

Climate change, driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, is making extreme weather events more frequent and intense. In the long-term, unchecked climate change will fundamentally alter life on Earth.

Why is it an issue?

Experts say we must limit global warming to within 1.5 degrees to avoid devastating, irreversible consequences. Pursuing greener energy sources is a key way to cut the use of fossil fuels. Green energy sources are also rapidly decreasing in price, presenting new opportunities for small businesses.

The impacts of climate change can be felt today. The costs of insurance and disaster resilience are rising, as businesses in storm-prone regions can attest. Beyond that, mounting cleanup bills are leading insurers to seek higher premiums; some businesses are simply going without coverage, risking both physical and financial ruin in case of disaster.

What are the parties doing about it?

The 2022-23 federal budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars for “low emissions” natural gas projects and clean hydrogen production as an alternative to other fossil fuels. The latter fuel source is the cornerstone of the Coalition’s climate ambitions, and the Morrison government hopes Australian businesses will become global leaders in the sector. 

The federal government also signaled it will spend $300 million of its Emergency Response Fund on flood recovery and post-disaster activities, including $150 million towards post-disaster resilience efforts in the Northern Rivers region. There’s also $800,000 in extra funds for the Regional Small Business Support Program. 

However, resilience funding has not come easy for some flood-affected areas. After initially refusing Queensland’s request to co-fund a $741 million investment in future flood resilience, drawing ire from the state government, Morrison acquiesced last week.

In his budget reply speech, Albanese declared: “We will act on climate change and seize the chance to transform our country into a renewable energy superpower.”

Key to its plan is a $20 billion investment in the grid so it can facilitate more renewable power sources. This will “deliver cleaner, cheaper renewable energy for Australian households and businesses”, policy documents show.

Labor also promises to invest up to $200 million a year on preventative measures and disaster resilience if elected. The party claimed it will help “spiralling insurance premiums in disaster-prone regions, by reducing the risk of expensive damage to homes and businesses”.

A Greens-led government would “immediately ban the construction of new coal, oil and gas infrastructure” and wind down Australia’s thermal coal industry, including exports, by 2030.

The Greens policy package includes funding to reskill and support fossil fuel workers whose employment is impacted by those changes.

The party also says it would provide financial support to small businesses helping them move from gas connections to electric systems.

What else should I know?

Neither major party has flagged a quick retreat from oil, coal, and gas. In fact, Energy Minister Angus Taylor wants to stop operators from closing their coal plants ahead of schedule.

The Coalition’s enthusiasm for new “low emissions” gas projects is backdropped by a stark warning from the International Energy Agency, which says the world can tolerate no new oil, gas or coal developments if we’re to hit net zero emissions by 2050.

Morrison was not keen to attend last year’s COP26 climate summit, and his government’s climate promises – predicated on a promise that yet-to-be developed technology will get Australia to net zero — received a frosty reception upon arrival. 

And this year, the Coalition successfully appealed a ruling which found Environment Minister Sussan Ley had a duty of care to future generations when considering the approval of a new coal mine.

Labor won’t push for coal plant closures ahead of the industry’s timeline, either. After all, Labor was punished at the polls in 2019 for its approach to coal, which some voters saw as a threat to jobs in regional Queensland.

The Insurance Council of Australia has criticised the federal government’s current disaster spending split, saying it assigns 97% on cleanup, and just 3% on disaster mitigation. Alexandra Hordern, director of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, described a sentiment of insurance “market failure” among the SME sector.

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