Anthony Albanese flags 'ambitious' emissions target but won't recommit to 45% reduction

Paul Karp
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Anthony Albanese has described the decision to recommit to a 45% emissions reduction target by 2030 as “a mistake” and declared Labor would not take the same franking credits policy to the next election.

In comments to Sky News on Sunday, Albanese confirmed Labor had repositioned by dumping its 2016 election commitments since “our policies aren’t there until we announce them proactively, positively”.

Albanese promised Labor would “take climate change seriously” and had a “very strong” policy that aimed to be “as ambitious as possible” but did not commit to outbid the Coalition because he hoped the Morrison government would take action before the next election.

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Albanese said that after the 2016 election, Labor had “added on policies – everything stayed the same and we just added more on … [which] doesn’t end well”.

The Labor leader suggested he would avoid that mistake by having a proper shadow cabinet and caucus process to determine new policies before the next election, which he expected to fall between October 2021 and March 2022.

The 45% emissions reduction target was first adopted by Shorten’s opposition in 2015 and was Labor’s policy at both the 2016 and 2019 federal election, which Labor lost despite a record number of Australians nominating global warming or the environment as their top concern.

The shadow agriculture minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, has suggested copying the Coalition’s target of 26-28% emissions reduction by 2030, but the climate change spokesman, Mark Butler, has rejected the idea.

On Sunday, Albanese backed Butler’s position by saying Labor’s policy would be “very strong” and “as ambitious as possible”.

Albanese said Scott Morrison was correct that Australia “needs the whole world to act” on climate change, but Australia was “not only [not] doing anything domestically, but on the world stage we’re a handbrake”.

Albanese said that at the most recent climate talks in Madrid – at which Australia argued for use of Kyoto carryover credits to meet 2030 targets – the energy minister, Angus Taylor, had positioned Australia as “one of the recalcitrants … arguing for less action”.

“The government says ‘oh we’re going to meet our emissions [targets]’ – the lie of that was exposed by the fact that they went to Madrid and argued for an accounting trick.”

Albanese said that when Labor set its 45% target in 2015, it was a 15-year target, suggesting that “in 2022 our 15-year target would be very different”.

He said climate change was one area where Labor is “likely … to announce a longer term target” before it releases a full policy.

“We’ll make our announcements at an appropriate time,” he said. “To an AFL analogy: it’s a four-quarter game between 2019 and 2022. You’re asking me how it will play out in the final quarter – you’ve got to know what the three-quarter time score is first.

“Frankly, I think it was a mistake in 2019 to continue to say ‘well we’ll do exactly what we’re doing in 2015’, as if [the task] hadn’t changed.”

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Asked why he didn’t promise to do more than the Coalition, Albanese replied: “I’m trying to be generous to them – hopefully they’ll wake up tomorrow and say ‘there’s something in this climate change thing’ and take action”, suggesting he didn’t want to let the Morrison government “off the hook”.

On taxation policy, Albanese said that “very clearly we won’t be taking the same policy” on franking credits to the 2022 election, although he did not rule out grandfathering the policy so existing shareholders paying no tax can receive taxpayer-funded rebates while future shareholders miss out.

Asked about whether Labor would abandon a high-taxing high-spending approach, Albanese replied: “If you have less revenue you will have less expenditure. Certainly, it’s the case we intend to match up the two things.”

Albanese refused to commit to no new taxes, explaining that he “doesn’t shy away from” the fact “in a civilised society” taxes fund schools and hospitals.

He said he believed in running surpluses but it “depends on the circumstances”, arguing Labor was right to run a deficit to stimulate the economy during the global financial crisis but would have run a surplus if it had been in government this year.

Labor has been urging the government to do more to stimulate the economy for months and the former prime minister and treasurer Paul Keating has suggested it should abandon the surplus to do so.