Labor will cut EV taxes and try to legislate 2030 emissions target, Chris Bowen says

New climate minister says calls to raise Labor’s emissions target are ‘odd’ and asks Greens and independents to ‘respect our mandate across the country’

Australia’s new climate minister has vowed to quickly cut taxes on electric vehicles and meet with state counterparts to address a “real vacuum of national leadership” on energy, but says new climate legislation will be limited.

Speaking before being sworn in on Wednesday as the climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen said the Albanese government would introduce a climate bill that included its emissions reduction targets – including a 43% cut by 2030 compared with 2005 levels – because enshrining them in law was “best practice”.

But he said it would not “spend years of negotiations” if the Senate “starts to engage in climate wars on legislation”.

He said the “vast bulk” of Labor policies – including a $20bn “rewiring the nation” commitment to accelerate the connection of new renewable energy to the grid and changes to the Coalition’s “safeguard mechanism” to gradually cut industrial emissions – did not need legislation to be implemented.

Bowen reiterated a commitment to restore the Climate Change Authority as a central advisory body after it was sidelined under the Coalition, and said it would be expected to give science-based advice on a new emissions target for 2035 before the end of this term of parliament.

But he dismissed scientific assessments that suggested Labor’s 2030 emissions target was not enough for Australia to play its part in living up international commitments to aim to limit global heating to 1.5C.

“I don’t accept that 43% is not consistent, because it is what’s necessary to get to net zero [by 2050],” Bowen told Guardian Australia. “I’ve seen commentators pointing out that is a good number for Australia to reach and it brings us back into the pack. Obviously, we’ll be seeking to implement our policies, and we hope they will be very effective. If they are more effective than we have modelled, fantastic.”

Labor set its 43% emissions reduction target after designing its policies. It asked consultants RepuTex to model their expected impact on national emissions and adopted the answer as its target.

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Responding to crossbench calls for Labor to do more than promised this decade following the strong vote for climate action – including setting a 2030 target of between 50% and 75% – Bowen said it was “odd to argue that the first act of the new government should be to trash a policy we took the election a week and a half ago”.

“I respect the mandate of the Greens and the teals [independents] in the seats they won. I would ask them to respect our mandate across the country,” he said.

With the Greens expected to hold the balance of power in the Senate, the party’s leader, Adam Bandt, has said it wanted to be collaborative, but the new government could not take its votes for granted if it showed it was “not serious about climate action” and approved new coal and gas mines.

Bandt has cited a warning by the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, that no new coal plants and oil and gas fields should be opened if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Bowen said the Greens position on new coal and gas “was a matter for them”, but the government’s position was clear: decisions on export developments – as long as they met state and federal environmental approval standards and were able to secure private finance for fossil fuels – were a matter for the companies involved.

He said there would be no government finance for new coal and gas fields, and he expected the Greens would support government legislation on its merits.

“I want to have a good working relationship with the Greens and with Adam Bandt, as I want to with the teals, but I see Adam goes around saying the Labor party shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said. “Well, perhaps that rule applies to his approach as well.”

Bowen said one of his early priorities after being briefed by departmental officials would be to introduce legislation to cut import tariffs and the fringe benefits tax on EVs that were cheaper than the luxury car tax threshold. Labor’s policy estimated that could cut the cost of a $50,000 car by between $2,000 and $9,000.

He said he would also meet with state and territory energy ministers in an attempt to find agreement on a number of divisive issues about the future of the electricity market. “There’s been a real vacuum of national leadership. State energy ministers, all of them, have made it very clear to me that they want to work with us, and they very much welcome a national framework,” he said.

Bowen also said that:

  • Changes to the safeguard mechanism, which would gradually require the country’s biggest 215 industrial sites to cut their emissions or buy carbon offsets, would be designed in consultation with industry before starting in July next year.

  • The Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Energy Market Operator would be asked to implement the $20bn rewiring the nation plan, promised to bring forward new electricity transmission links between states and to new renewable energy zones.

  • A review of Australia’s controversial carbon offsets scheme would be “short but thorough”, and conducted independently of government departments and agencies.

Bowen confirmed the government would bid for Australia to host a major UN climate summit, known as a Cop (conference of the parties), with interested Pacific countries in the next three years. If successful, it could be a galvanising event that would send a message that Australia was “under new management”, he said.

“Also, it’s probably the world’s biggest trade fair now, right? If we really believe that the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity, it is a massive opportunity to sell Australia’s renewable-energy wherewithal to the rest of the world,” he said.

“You’ve got 30,000 people in the country – renewable energy and climate change experts – so it’s a really good opportunity for Australian industry.

“And, of course, offering to co-host it with any Pacific nation which seeks to bid with us is really important for messaging. I can’t think of a better way to help our Pacific island brethren put their case to the rest of the world for stronger action.”


Adam Morton Climate and environment editor

The GuardianTramp

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