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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Paul Karp Chief political correspondent

Labor faces internal fight over native forest logging despite emissions pledge

Anthony Albanese speaks to media outside
Anthony Albanese has been urged to make Labor’s commitments to environmental targets and the energy transition bigger. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Labor has significantly beefed up its commitment to reduce emissions in the gas industry but still faces a fight at its national conference over “weak” policies on native forest logging.

Labor’s Environment Action Network (Lean) has now signed up 294 branches for its push to end native forest logging and broad-scale land clearing, but both policies were omitted from the draft national platform distributed to delegates on Monday.

Felicity Wade, a Lean convener, said that means it will take the environmental protection issues to the conference floor in August in Brisbane, despite recognising the platform was “much stronger” on climate and energy than in the past.

The draft platform, seen by Guardian Australia, states that “Labor recognises that gas and methane are powerful greenhouse gases and the gas industry must contribute its share of emissions reductions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050”.

“The federal Labor government will ensure the gas industry plays its role in achieving net zero emissions, including through the safeguard mechanism.”

In March Labor passed the safeguard mechanism with Greens support due to a deal putting hurdles in the way of new fossil fuel projects, but still faces a significant challenge from the minor party to ban all new coal and gas.

The platform says Labor “will ensure that Australian gas is available at affordable prices to Australian households and industry” including through “reforms around gas supply, pipelines and storage”, but does not say whether this will be done by supporting new gas fields.

But the draft removes a reference in the 2021 platform to addressing the “environmental and climate change impacts of land clearing in the nation’s environmental laws in order to address biodiversity loss and climate change”.

Wade said that references to opposing native forest logging and land clearing are “either absent or very, very weak”.

Wade said Lean “expects the party to respond” to 294 branches that have called to end native forest logging and clearing, describing it as “a clear call from a large chunk of the membership”.

In the climate, environment and energy security chapter Labor commits to “lead Australia to become a renewable energy superpower” including becoming a “major clean energy exporter”.

“Labor acknowledges that the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity.”

The platform commits Labor to “holding the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) acting national secretary, Michael Wright, said the platform was a “big step forward” but it is clear that to hit environmental targets “we obviously need to pick up the pace”.

The ETU will use conference to start a discussion on whether Australia needs an equivalent of the US Inflation Reduction Act to keep up with the “mind-boggling” rollout of renewables in the US, he said.

Wright said it is clear “the energy transition at this point is basically baked in, in the sense that fossil fuels will be priced out”.

But his union had nudged Labor to make bigger commitments on the transition because “it’s a question of pace, the impact on communities and … seizing opportunities that arise”.

“We had 8.5 years of Coalition governments working against the energy transition, but during that period 12 coal power stations shut with no assistance to those communities.”

In June seven teal independents, the Greens, independent MP Andrew Wilkie and influential crossbench senator David Pocock all called on Tanya Plibersek to end native forest logging in New South Wales and Tasmania as part of upcoming environmental law reform.

The call follows Labor MP Josh Burns urging the government to “act to save our precious natural environment and native wildlife” ahead of the Victorian budget, which will end native forest logging from 2024.

The Australian Forest Products Association chief executive, Joel Fitzgibbon, told Guardian Australia that the industry is aligned with government on “addressing climate change and building sovereign capability”.

“A healthy forest is a worked forest and our sustainable forest practices – which harvest and replace just six trees in every 10,000 – are world’s best,” he said.

“Our plantation estate is shrinking and if we can’t secure a sustainable volume of native product here, then the gap will be filled by imports from jurisdictions which do not meet our environmental or labour standards.

“We’ll continue to work with governments to ensure we are striking the right balance.”

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