Federal Labor wants to reduce the Australian Public Service’s own emissions to net zero by 2030, but the plan will omit the public sector’s national security agencies.
The Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and security agencies would be exempt from the proposal. These agencies make up about 60% of all emissions from the Australian Public Service, according to Labor’s modelling.
The Australia Institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss told The Mandarin he supported the exclusion of the security agencies simply because the fossil fuel-intensive industries should be treated separately from a bid to decarbonise office spaces and vehicles.
“What Labor is proposing to do is roll out existing technologies very quickly to drive down emissions in the public sector, which will not only reduce public sector emissions but I think it will drive a lot of change in the commercial property sector,” Denniss said.
“When the public sector starts doing that at scale it will be harder and harder for private sector commercial property owners to explain why they are not doing it themselves.”
Denniss says the decision to leave Defence out of the pledge protected the opposition from potential criticism about “battery-powered fighter jets” and undermining national security.
He said individual departments and agencies had shown leadership with particular buildings but there had “not been a comprehensive commonwealth-drive for energy efficiency” in the APS.
“Reducing emissions is seen as some sort of culture war, when energy efficiency and efficiency standards for vehicles as well should be seen as cost-cutting penny punching efficiency drives,” Denniss said.
But he acknowledged public sector workforces and management should keep in mind the potential for employees working from home to also have an impact on emissions.
“If in the extreme example everyone worked from home, might everyone working from home use more air conditioning than if they were all sharing a building? Possibly there is the potential for that. But there is also significant savings in petrol in driving to and from work,” Denniss said.
Labor’s plan overall included an increase to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030, but the government has slammed this as a “backflip”.
“Unlike the government, Labor still has no post-2030 plan to achieve their 2050 target,” energy minister Angus Taylor said.
“At the heart of today’s announcement is a sneaky new carbon tax on agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transport.”
Labor argues its plan will cut power bills by $275 a year for homes and businesses by 2025.
“Australians deserve a plan to secure our nation’s future, to maximise the benefits of new technology, cheaper energy, new job opportunities and cheaper low-emissions vehicles,” Labor said in a statement.