Direct action - Coalition policy


Apologies, this page is political.

When the politicians intrude into technology and promise to make a complete mess of it, they deserve a response. John Davis

Direct action is a policy by which the Tony Abbott Australian coalition  government  promises to reduce CO2 emissions.  There is no evidence it will ever achieve any worthwhile reduction. No reputable scientist, technologist, or economist can see how it will work.

It is a puzzling policy and we are left to conclude it is designed to achieve nothing but give taxpayer funds to large industry, and relive them of the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

They want to abolish the carbon tax that charges polluters, and instead pay money to industries that reduce their pollution. There is no penalty for any industry continuing to pollute.

In the right hand cell are details on the policy published by Tristan Edis in Climate Spectator.

Below is my assessment of the policy document taken to the last election.

To meet its target as detailed in the Kyoto Mark II protocol, the government says it needs to buy 421 million tonnes of CO2 abatement between now and 2020.

The government has said it has $2.55 billion to spend over 2014-15 to 2017-18.

It has left it vague as to what it will allocate for the remaining two years. However prior to the federal election I sought clarification from Greg Hunt’s office on what the funding allocation would be for the remaining years. I was told that there was no change from the prior 2010 election policy. This set out that annual funding for years five and six would be $1.2 billion. I actually then sought to confirm the annual funding would remain at $1.2 billion and was told ‘yes’ by one of Hunt’s spokespeople.

So $2.55bn + 1.2bn +1.2bn equals $4.95 billion.

Until I hear otherwise from the government that’s the budget number you can assume is the maximum the government has to spend in the emission reduction fund.

This means the government can only afford to spend an average of $11.75 per tonne of CO2.

Now go out and talk to people engaged in developing carbon abatement projects and ask them what they could deliver for $11.75 from the government for a tonne of abatement. I can tell you from more than a decade of talking to people across sectors -- from tree planting to power generation to industrial and residential energy efficiency -- that you’d struggle to get yourself a few million tonnes of abatement, let alone 421 million tonnes.

The two markets which probably reflect the lowest cost abatement available -- the NSW and Victorian Energy Savings Schemes -- have never traded their certificates at prices equivalent to $11.75 per tonne of CO2 or lower. And these schemes are delivering volumes of abatement of just a few million tonnes, not even close to the 421 million tonnes the government needs.

Leading carbon market analysts and brokers including Bloomberg New Energy Finance, SKM-MMA and RepuTex also confirm that the government has Buckley’s chance of reaching its target with the allocated budget.

Tristan Edis - Climate Spectator

Federal Liberal - National Coalition policy

"The Coalition’s plan for real action on Energy and Resources" 2010

“We will merge the departments of climate and environment.

We will abolish

  • the Climate Change Authority,
  • the Climate Change Commission,
  • the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the
  • Energy Security Council,”

-Shadow climate minister Greg Hunt  March 2013

Comments by John Davis in this column

It is most likely the Libe​ral National Coalition party will win the next federal election in Nov 2013. (They did) I find this depressing. They seem to be determined to destroy anything to do with clean energy and put fossil fuel energy back in it's place.

in this column I'm expressing my opinion of their policies.

My conclusion is that they are killing clean energy because they:

  • are ignorant, or
  • are pandering to the ignorant, or
  • have given in to the pester power of lobbyists, or
  • have received political donations, or
  • own fossil fuel shares, or
  • are corrupt

The logical path is to change to clean energy, yet they are actively following  the opposite path. Are they helping their donors to carry on business as usual with no thought for the future.

Liberal Party Energy policies

Direct action p​lan 2010 - Liberal Party

1. Remove the threat of La​bor’s mining tax 

Labor’s mining tax is a $10.5 billion hit on one of the most important sectors of the Australian economy. Labor’s mining tax has undermined confidence in Australia as an investment destination and as a secure sup​plier of resources.

The Coalition will restore confidence, stability and security for the industry so it can thrive and continue to create jobs and economic wealth for all Australians. The Coalition will stop this tax.


Comment on mining tax.

A lot of fuss about a tax the Liberals managed to reduce to become almost ineffectual.

Is the Liberal party trying to increase fossil fuel mining? If not why is it in this document?

Rather childish point scoring not befitting a government facing serious issues.

2. Remove the threat of Labor’s Carbo​n Tax

Labor will introduce a carbon tax - a great big new tax on everything. This will push up prices right across the economy, putting increased pressure on families, households and businesses. 

The impact of Labor’s Carbon Tax will fall particularly heavily on the mining industry, putting jobs, investment and growth at risk.


Comment on carbon tax

The carbon tax has given industry a plan by which they can invest and get on with business. Now the coalition has introduced uncertainty affecting business investment. Will they be the lucky ones to receive corporate welfare, or did they not "donate" enough.

The carbon tax has reduced CO2 emissions, but not as much as enforceable targets.

The state governments have wound back a lot of programs saying that the carbon tax will do the job. Are they going to undo the damage?

3. Introduce an Exploration Development ​Programme

...... To restore investor confidence and help ensure that the resources sector continues to explore for mineral wealth into the future, the Coalition will implement a $150 million Exploration Development Programme, commencing in 2011-12. The Coalition’s Exploration Development Programme will provide incentives for minerals 

exploration activity, with a focus on the small and mid-tier exploration sector. The Coalition will redirect $150 million from the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships (CCSF) programme towards this initiative over the forward estimates.  .........

Comment on exploration

This must refer to exploring for fossil fuels, or it would not be in this policy. They do not say this directly.

If it is for all minerals then they are stealing money from the CCS fund to explore for non energy minerals.

Does the old fashioned way of spelling program(me) reflect their thinking?. 

4. Su​pport for clean​ coal technologies

Coal accounts for about 80 percent of Australia’s stationary energy and will continue to be an important energy source for the  foreseeable future, both to Australia and on a global scale. 

Therefore a clean coal future is fundamental for Australia.

No viable solution in Australia for clean energy sources can work without a clean coal component. Rather than ignore our enormous natural advantage in coal, the Coalition will ensure it is an integral part of the future clean energy mix.

The Coalition will redirect $158.3 million from the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships programme towards clean coal technologies, including carbon geo-sequestration projects associated with coal-fired electricity generation.

Comment on "clean coal"

This must have been written by the coal lobby. 

They are "directing $158 million from CCS to clean coal technologies." But CCS is clean coal technology.

Are they confused? Or are they trying to confuse?

So what are they going to do with the money if not CCS?

The term :"Clean Coal" is both an oxymoron, and greenwash.)

Coal is not clean, and, it is corrupting the political process.


(CCS = Carbon Capture and Storage)


5. Commit to the development and implementation of soil carbon technologies

"The single largest opportunity for CO2 emissions reduction in Australia is through bio-sequestration in general, and in particular, the replenishment of our soil carbons. It is also the lowest cost CO2 emissions reduction available in Australia on a large scale.

Through the Emissions Reduction Fund a Coalition Government will commit to a “once in a century” replenishment of our national soils and farmlands.

Through the Fund we will support up to 85 million tonnes per annum of CO2 abatement through soil carbons by 2020 – and reserve the right to increase this, subject to progress and evaluation."


Comments on Soil sequestration

The coalition policy calls for 85 MT of CO2 (23 MT of C) to be added to farm soils every year to mitigate our emissions. 

The CSIRO says that the theoretical upper limit would be 100 MT /yr of CO2, if every hectare of cultivated land was improved. 

But CSIRO also points out, all soil carbon oxidises back to CO2, so this organic material must be added every year, forever.  

Some organic material has a mean life of 3 years, some 30 years, and some 120 years. Most of our soils are still losing carbon from the original clearing of bush.

Organic carbon increases the fertility of the soil and is worth doing, but it is dishonest or ignorant to claim it as a way of sequestering carbon.

A recent University of Western Australia study estimated the costs at $80 per tonne of CO2. ($22 / T of C).

Department of Climate Change estimates only one million tonnes of CO2 per year may be sequestered in soils at $33 /t.

Should we Biochar our forests?

If they were serious about fixing carbon into the soil then they could look at biochar which will last in the soil for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years.

If we wanted to bury our yearly emissions we'd need to bury about 500 MT of carbon dioxide every year.

Include our exports of another 800 million tonnes, and that is 1,300 million tonnes of CO2.

It would be a huge task, we would need to continually cut down and replant all our native bush and plantation forest and convert it to biochar.

85 million tonnes in the policy would sequester only 39 days of our emissions and export.

We have  problem, and the coalition policy is not addressing it.

The numbers

Trees in a plantation:

  • grow 30 cu m /ha /yr. Approx
  • 0.6 T/ of dry wood /cu M
  • 33% of wood converted to biochar
  • 0.2 T biochar/cu m
  • 6 T biochar /ha/yr
  • 500 MT CO2/yr is Australian emissions.
  • 800 MT CO2 in export coal and gas
  • 1300 MT CO2 total mine in Australia
  • 200 Million ha needed to produce the biochar.   We have:
  • 1.8 million ha plantation forest 2012
  • 150 million ha native forest in Aust. in 2012

We would need to continually cut down and replant all our trees and convert them to biochar. Plus sewage sludge, plant waste, municipal waste, etc.

Estimates put this as economic if the carbon dioxide price is $37 - $80/Tonne.

Another researcher puts this cost at $150/T of CO2.

Once coal is stopped, biochar gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to get our atmosphere back to 350 ppm.

Seems an extraordinarily high price to allow the coalition's sponsors to continue burning coal in business as usual.

Let's not squander this  for just a few more years of coal burning.

6. Accelerate the development of carbon capture through biological sequestration technolog​ies.

The Coalition will redirect $45 million from the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships program to accelerate the development of carbon capture through biological sequestration technologies, such as algae.
Biological sequestration technologies appears to have significant potential as an on-site or local carbon absorption medium for large scale CO2 producers, such as power stations (where suitable land space is available), thereby reducing the need for expensive compression and transmission pipeline systems.

Comment on algae

CCS  will probably use 40% of a coal fired power station's energy and coal companies would like to avoid this. They would prefer to use algae to turn their CO2 to biofuel which they would sell. They look good, and is a PR coup if they can pull it off.

But when the biofuel is burnt, the CO2 is still released and they don't get the blame for it.

This policy is a gift to the coal industry.

Click to enlarge                          Source

7. Support a pi​lot biofuel lignocellulose plant

Biofuel is an embryonic industry in early stages of development and there is a second generation of fuels coming. Lignocellulose is an abundant, low-cost, non-food, feed-stock which may be used in the production of biofuels.

Significant technical challenges must be overcome to achieve cost-competitive conversion of these feed-stocks. If technical cost issues can be overcome, there is potential for the development of second generation biofuels, in particular the production of ethanol, from new lignocellulose feed-stocks, such as, sugar cane bagasse, crop stubbles, sawmill residues and woody weeds.

To assist the development and trial of this new biofuel source, the Coalition will commit $8 million towards a pilot biofuel lignocellulose plant in Australia. 

Comment on ethanol from wood

Worthy aim, but the government would be trying to pick winners. Why are they specifying ethanol when butanol is more likely to replace it. Some processes produce diesel and biochar which may help their soil sequestration. Why has it been narrowed down?

Do they have a company and technology in mind? There are many technologies.

They are specifying $2 million per year for 4 years. I was head of research on one of these processes in Canadsa and in 1974 we were spending this much for research only. After 30 years of development and running a pilot plant, they now are seeking $500 million for a production plant.

This is greenwash, not a serious proposal.

8. Test the suitability of competitive biodi​esel blend

The heavy vehicle road freight market accounts for about 40 percent of diesel fuel sales in Australia. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the available range and sales of 

diesel powered light vehicles in Australia, following the UK and European trend.

Biodiesel can deliver better air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions.5 However, use of the most competitive biodiesel blend – B20 – is constrained by uncertainty about its impact on heavy vehicles.

The Coalition will provide $4 million towards a vehicle trial to test the suitability of B20 for heavy vehicle use.

Comment on greenwash

This seems a reasonable thing to do. But for only $4 million it seems more the sort of project a government department would normally do without any fuss. It hardly seems worthy of much mention in a policy document.

Are they short of ideas?

Are they latching onto the word bio in order to greenwash their policy?

9. Supp​ort development of logistics systems for LNG as a transport fuel

Apart from the significant export potential from our LNG production, the emergence of localised LNG production plants to service the growing uptake of LNG as an alternative to diesel for interstate haulage vehicles provides a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as providing strong economic and strategic benefits.

There are over 200 trucks now running on LNG in Australia. Facilities exist in WA, Victoria and one under construction in Tasmania to serve the growing trend by transport operators to use LNG. A network of filling stations has been built in key locations to service this market. The development of logistics systems for LNG as a transport fuel will build on the establishment of LNG production in Gladstone, potential LNG production in Newcastle and existing small-scale production in Melbourne.

The Coalition will commit $8 million to assist commercial enterprises in the development of logistics systems for LNG as a transport fuel, particularly in the Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne transport corridors.

Comment on LNG

Has this been written by the gas lobby?

LNG, CSG, shale gas, and biogas are all methane. The production can produce leaks making it as bad as coal.

Gas produces CO2. It is not a cure, but a delaying tactic.


10. International co-operat​ion to develop hydrogen as a vehicle fuel

Hydrogen fuel offers the promise of zero emission technology, where the only by-product from cars is water vapour. Current fossil-fuel burning vehicles emit all sorts of pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and microscopic particulate matter.
Hybrids and other green cars address these issues to a large extent but only hydrogen cars hold the promise of zero emission of pollutants. The US, Japan and Germany have been at the forefront of hydrogen vehicle fuel development.
The Coalition will maintain and encourage further international co-operation in the development of hydrogen as a long-term fossil fuel replacement for transport vehicles, particularly passenger vehicles.

Comment on Hydrogen

Yes, hydrogen is a worthy aim, but there is very little chance of success in the near future. Hydrogen is covered on this website

They plan to: "encourage further international co-operation in the development of hydrogen"

The seems to be no chance of them doing anything ourselves.

No money is mentioned, just vague encouragement.

15. Examine a new exploration incentive for solar thermal and geothermal projects

The Coalition supports further exploration of solar and geothermal energy sources. As a diverse and energy rich country, Australia should be at the forefront of exploring new sources of alternative energy.

The Coalition will examine the viability of providing a new exploration incentive for solar thermal and geothermal projects. Any incentive will need to be cognisant of prevailing budget circumstances and be subject to fiscal constraints.

Comment on nothing much

This is not a promise, no money mentioned, just a few weasel words: 

"will need to be cognisant of prevailing budget circumstances and be subject to fiscal constraints."

16. Re-establish a​greement to enable the sale of uranium to India

The Coalition will re-establish the agreement to sell uranium to India for peaceful, energy generation purposes.

Under the previous Coalition Government, Australia entered into an agreement with the Government of India to enable the sale of Australian uranium to India for peaceful, energy generation purposes, subject to strict conditions and safeguards

As one of its’ first acts in government, Labor reversed the decision to supply uranium to India.

The Australian uranium industry has now been locked out of a major new market because of the Labor’s ideological stance, and Australia’s overall trade relationship with India is also at risk. 

It simply does not make sense for the Labor Government to allow other countries to sell uranium to India, but deliberately prevent Australian exporters from accessing the same opportunities.

Comment on uranium

Anything for money.

I don't see any future in nuclear:

  • it is expensive,  
  • it is dangerous
  • there is not enough Uranium to produce the world's energy needs.
  • It is too late, there is no time to build enough plants to reduce the CO2



Nuclear power

17. Examine the potential of thorium as an energy source for export

The Coalition will examine the potential use of thorium as an energy source.
Australia possesses an estimated 18.7 per cent (489,000t) of the world’s identified resources of thorium.
The primary source of thorium in Australia and globally is the mineral monazite. Thorium can be used as an alternative source of fuel for energy generation and possesses an energy content that can be utilised almost in its entirety.

Comment on thorium

There is no time. Researchers have been working on it for 50 years without producing a commercial reactor.  More

After the development of the atomic bomb, USA had a choice of whether to develop nuclear power with fast or slow neutrons. Fast neutrons can turn Thorium into nuclear fuel and burn up 99.5% of the fuel leaving 0.5% waste.

They chose to develop slow neutrons which burn up only 0.5% and leave 99.5% waste. From this waste can be made atom bombs.

USA research on fast neutrons and Thorium was stopped by anti-nuclear protesters. It may have been a mistake.

Nice idea, but there is no time for Thorium to save the climate. Examine it by all means, but this is not a serious proposal. There is no money allocated.

The clean energy projects are dwarfed by the money to be put into coal, gas, oil, and mineral exploration.

This list of policies looks like a sponsors wish list combined with a few green sounding phrases. But I cannot see any hope of a cleaner future, or evidence of  thinking for the future benefit of the country.

History of Direct Action​

Article from Climate Spectator

Climate Change Minister Mark Butler details the Labor Party's chronology of Tony Abbott's controversial emissions reduction policy.

June 2007: Shergold Report released to Howard Government rejecting direct action and regulatory approaches over an emissions trading scheme because they ‘"would impose a far heavier burden on economic activity".

31 July 2008: Wilkins Review looked at failures of direct action style schemes which had been implemented in Australia, such as the failed Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, and warned "project based abatement is difficult to achieve through a grants program – further demonstrating why the ETS is a superior approach to achieving large scale abatement."

1 December 2009: Tony Abbott defeats Malcolm Turnbull by one vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

7 December 2009: Turnbull opinion piece makes clear that the new policy would be “an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing”.



2 February 2010: Direct Action policy document released to remain unaltered on Greg Hunt’s website for over 3½ years.

5 February 2010: Danny Price in The Australian starts to back away from costings and admits direct action is not “sustainable in the long term”.

8 February 2010: Turnbull explains to Parliament how direct action would be “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.

9 February 2010: Bloomberg New Energy Finance releases detailed assessment of direct action and cautions “half-baked responses risk being both ineffective and costly”.

March 2010: The Department of Climate Change tabled comprehensive analysis of the direct action policy which demonstrates it is not able to achieve the stated emissions reductions, even on optimistic assumptions.

14 April 2010: Peter Shergold tells The Australian Financial Review that direct action was a “more expensive and less effective response to climate change” … “a much more expensive way than setting a framework and then letting markets drive those decisions".

21 April 2010: Failures of the Howard government’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program which was a version of direct action exposed by audit report and reported by Lenore Taylor.

27 May 2010: The CSIRO sets out uncertainties with soil carbon.

July 2010: Climate Institute report debunks Coalition assumptions about soil carbon.

25 September 2010: Treasury advice to an incoming Coalition Government, Blue Book, released which makes clear ''a market mechanism can achieve the necessary abatement at a cost per tonne of emissions that is far lower than alternative direct-action policies. Moreover, many direct action measures cannot be scaled up, and, for those that can, the cost per tonne of abatement would rise rapidly, imposing further costs on taxpayers and consumers. All of this serves to underscore the conclusion that the sooner an emissions trading scheme can be implemented the better.”

22 February 2011: Geoff Carmody, now a Coalition adviser on costings, makes clear in an opinion piece rhetoric on direct action is “unconvincing bluster” which should be subject to Productivity Commission review.

1 March 2011: Garnaut Update paper on the land sector makes clear: "It is not realistic to expect that all or even most of the technical potential will be realised" – contradicting direct action assumptions.

7 March 2011: Peter Martin reports on the difficulty of finding an economist who would back direct action.

17 March 2011: Former Liberal leader John Hewson explains to Latelinehow direct action includes an implicit carbon price which is far higher than an ETS.

31 March 2011: Lateline exposes the area of land required for Greg Hunt's soil carbon promises as up to "65 per cent of the land mass of Australia." Experts from Australian Farm Institute, Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and CSIRO make comments to camera that there is no scientific evidence backing up Greg Hunt’s claims.

7 April 2011: Grattan institute issues comprehensive analysis of alternative emissions reduction policies and considers you would need to announce a grant tendering scheme of around $100 billion to meet the 5 per cent target.

21 April 2011: The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiencypublishes detailed estimates of potential land sector abatement which are significantly at odds with those promised by direct action, they put out a range of 5 to 15 Mt and set out why this was different to technical potential quoted by Greg Hunt.

18 May 2011: Malcolm Turnbull explains on Lateline that direct action is “a very expensive charge on the budget.” He explains its merits are that: “It can be easily terminated. If in fact climate change is proved to be not real”.

26 May 2011: AECOM modelling and analysis of land sector abatement released showing up to 15 million tonnes of abatement, far less than claimed by direct action.

31 May 2011: Garnaut address to National Press Club makes clear "reliance on regulatory approaches and direct action for reducing carbon emissions is likely to be immensely more expensive than a market economy."

9 June 2011: Productivity Commission looks internationally at emissions reductions policies and found "much lower-cost abatement could be achieved through broad, explicit carbon pricing approaches, irrespective of the policy settings in competitor economies."

3 June 2011: Barnaby Joyce makes clear in the SMH the Coalition's Direct Action policy is just a meaningless ''gesture'' for global climate change.

June 2011: Expert analysis by Ernst and Young for the Australian Industry Group sets out the key problems for direct action which could “hinder Australia’s participation in a deeper and globally consistent response to climate change.”

28 June 2011: Cameron Clyne, CEO of the National Australia Bank, makesclear “the carbon price followed by an ETS (emissions trading scheme) is economically superior to the direct action policy”.

10 July 2011: Treasury modelling sets of the likely costs of emissions reduction in Australia and sees the land sector contribute just 7 Mt in 2020. This included specific detailed papers on the Carbon Farming Initiative andreforestation.

12 July 2011: Australia Institute publishes a detailed analysis of direct action and building on past schemes suggests around $100 billion would be needed.

14 July 2011: Treasury executive minute covers the cost of direct action and achieving the targets domestically which would be double the economic cost of the carbon price.

21 July 2011: Ben Eltham sets out the evidence why direct action will not work and farmers will seek considerably more than promised by the Coalition.

8 August 2011: Bernard Keane from Crikey makes clear costing “has not been backed by any economists, agricultural scientists or climate scientists”.

22 March 2012: Michael Battaglia from the CSIRO debunks the attainable abatement estimates for 2020 with less than 1 Mt from soil carbon as opposed to 85 Mt assumed under direct action.

27 March 2012: Ben Rose makes clear that “the Direct Action plan is constructed on the premise of bogus soil carbon offsets” as it is ‘soil magic’… “is a ‘do nothing’ carbon policy”,  it is “is like trying to plug the leaks in the Titanic”.

10 May 2012: BREE releases analysis of energy intensity contradicting claims that all businesses are reducing their energy use.

21 June 2012: Global chief executive of Shell explains on the 7.30 they already include carbon pricing in investments and need long term certainty, which is not provided by direct action.

25 July 2012: Greg Combet points out in his speech in Clean Energy Week that moving to direct action and abolishing the ETS could add $20 billion to the cost of the Renewable Energy Target and risk not achieving 20 per cent contribution of renewable energy by 2020.

14 August 2012: Matt Parmeter outlines how the solar component of direct action is completely outdated.

24 April 2012: Climate Spectator outlines Abbott's 'gospel truth' on direct action and why no one takes it seriously.

14 September 2012: Ben Rose explains how it “is either deliberately deceptive, woefully researched or both” and the tree planting in their policy, ‘Green Corridors” could sequester "only about 0.1 million tCO2/year."

13 November 2012: James Bentley outlines direct action as “a Coalition policy con” that “compares poorly to our world famous water management policies”.

16 November 2012: Tristan Edis outlines why “no one trusts Coalition direct action”.

23 January 2013: University of Western Australian study estimates cost of soil carbon twenty times that assumed in direct action policy.

23 February 2013: Tim Lubcke publishes a new analysis of direct action demonstrating that it cannot achieve the scale of abatement promised.

18 April 2013Lateline follows up with CSIRO on soil carbon and proves again that Greg Hunt's soil carbon plan would require up to “two thirds of the land mass of Australia.”

19 April 2013: Climate Spectator points out mysteries, questions and problems after Greg Hunt's address to ANU.

The Government also releases a detailed line by line rebuttal of Greg Hunt's speech.

23 April 2013: Power companies urge Abbott to rethink direct action.

26 April 2013: Revealed Abbott's chief of staff regards direct action as a fig leaf.

29 April 2013: Greg Combet sets out flaws in direct action in Climate Spectator.

23 April 2013: Grant Anderson from law firm AAR makes clear “there is an element of 'picking winners', which in the past has not always proven to be a successful strategy for achieving lowest cost outcomes".

30 April 2013: Peter Costello calls on Coalition to scrap direct action spending on 7.30 report.

2 May 2013: Tristan Edis does a two-part piece on costing problems with direct action and land sector estimates pointing out that the Coalition's "budget costing is built upon an incredibly optimistic back of the envelope foundation stone".

9 May 2013: Michael Fraser, the Chair of AGL, makes clear that despite the policy being out for over three years “A very valid question that we should all be asking ourselves is to say what actually is the detail of direct action?...Quite frankly from my own perspective I’d like to see that detail and actually like to understand it to form a view as to which is preferable".  Other businesses are also concerned.

10 May 2013: Liberal MP Mal Washer makes clear in Fairfax papers: "The policy needs to be reviewed and only the valuable parts need to be retained ." At the same time Denis Jenson says direct action was "not optimal policy"… “there’s room to manoeuvre after the election on Direct Action".

11 May 2013: Investors warn of uncertainty from direct action in the AFR.

27 May 2013: Department provides evidence to Senate Estimates "With respect to the CFI abatement, we are looking at crop land representing soil carbon of about 0.7 of a megaton per year. With respect to revegetation and activities like preserving non-deforestation forest from land clearing, you are looking at average annual abatement of about 2.93 or 3 megatons per year."

9 July 2013: Lenore Taylor summarises the unanswered questions with direct action and contradictions from original statements.

26 July 2013: Government releases modelling of a National Energy Savings Initiative which quantifies the challenges of getting any large-scale emissions reductions from a crediting scheme.

10 August 2013: Star Liberal candidate Angus Taylor sets out how direct action will pay 'well above' the price of an ETS in a letter to the editor.

15 August 2013: Modelling by SKM-MMA and Monash University's Centre for Policy Studies sets out how on very conservative assumptions direct action fails to meet targets and would cost $4 to $15 billion more than budgeted or leave emissions 9 per cent above 2000 levels

Giles Parkinson sums up direct action in RenewEconomy as “a lot of hocus pocus that fails on just about every conceivable measure.”

16 August 2013: David Knox from Santos made clear that after over three years "I think the issue with Direct Action is we simply don't know enough about it to really intelligently comment".

19 August 2013: AECOM releases business survey and analysis showing only 7 per cent of businesses support direct action.

In The Age renewable investors warn Coalition policy would wipe out $4 billion of investment in first three years.

Tristan Edis publishes more analysis in Climate Spectator that direct action just “bluff and bluster”.

20 August 2013: Politifact considers direct action will cost billions more than budgeted. 

Ernst and Young releases further election analysis critical of direct action.

Climate Spectator publishes more evidence of business concerns on direct action, including recent comments by Tony Sheppard of the BCA that he wasn’t aware the policy had even been released.

22 August 2013: Greg Hunt interviewed on the 7.30 report. Initially accepts that they use government estimates then tries to redefine the estimated abatement from soil carbon as “it was always a case of up to”.

27 August 2013: Greg Hunt’s claims that Nobel laureates support direct action debunked by The Wire as they had not heard of ‘direct action’ or Greg Hunt and issue further followed up by Climate Spectator.

Ben Cubby sets out how penalties under direct action could operate on around 200 companies who increased emissions above their average levels in 2011-12, contradicting the Coalition claim these would not apply.

30 August 2013: Reputex detailed modeling on direct action finds it will leave emissions 16 per cent above 2000 levels, would require an extra $35 billion to meet the target, cannot meet higher targets and needs to pay polluters $58 per tonne by 2020. 

ABC fact check queries Coalition land sector abatement claims.

Mark Butler is the Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and Water.

Other criticism of these policies

Crikey The shredding of the Coalition climate plan continues apace

The real cost of direct action - The Australia Institute


ABC - The Drum: Direct action.      What does it promise? Will it work?

This is the Coalition's Direct Action Plan. It promises to "reduce CO2 emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 based on 1990 levels."
Several gaffes by Abbott this week suggests any Coalition commitment to the 5 per cent target should be considered highly conditional, to be charitable. But even if we believe the Opposition that it remains committed to the 5 per cent target, can Direct Action deliver that?

Despite the rhetoric, Direct Action contains much that is similar to the Government's carbon policy eventually agreed with the Greens and independents. Like the Government's policy, it will spend billions on retiring dirty power plants in the La Trobe valley like Hazelwood. Like the Government's plan, Direct Action promises to invest in clean tech and renewable energy. And, believe it or not, Direct Action also promises to establish a form of carbon pricing.
Unlike the Government's scheme, however, it will not cap Australia's carbon emissions, it will not allow carbon pollution credits to be traded on a market, and it will not charge polluters for their emissions.

Instead, the Coalition plans to tackle carbon emissions by paying industry to pollute less, through an Emissions Reduction Fund. As the Direct Action policy document states:

The Fund will commence operation in 2011-12 with an initial allocation of $300 million, increasing to $500 million in 2012-13, $750 million in 2013-14 and $1 billion by 2014-15. It is envisaged that the Fund will invest an annual average of around $1.2 billion in direct CO2 emissions reduction activities through to 2020.

The Coalition will also spend another billion or so on policies such as its $400 million "one million solar roofs" program.

Totalling those numbers up gives a total spend of $9.22 billion out to 2020. Showing typically fuzzy accounting values, the Coalition has also said it will cap the cost of the program at $10.5 billion out to 2020. That's money that the Coalition says will come from "normal budget processes", which means either more tax, more borrowing, or spending cuts.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have already promised that money will not come from extra taxes. That means an incoming Abbott government has committed to more than $10 billion in spending cuts in order to pay for its carbon policies.

Where will the carbon reductions come from? The Coalition says the majority will come from soil carbon. Soil carbon is a promising technology being investigated by a number of countries. An Abbott government plans to pay farmers $8-10 for each tonne of carbon they can lock up in their soil. As a result, the Coalition says 85 million tonnes of carbon emissions can be abated.

The problem is, the technology is not proven yet. Even if the Government spends billions, we don't really know how much carbon we can sequester. According to a comprehensive scientific review of soil carbon technology by the CSIRO last year, "a general lack of research in this area is currently preventing a more quantitative assessment of the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural soils".

The conclusions of the CSIRO report are worth reporting at length:

When [soil carbon] stocks were followed through time, the majority of studies indicated that there was an actual decrease in the quantity of carbon stored in the soil. These seemingly contradictory results suggest that much of Australia's agricultural soils may still be responding to initial land clearing and that many management improvements are just slowing the rate of loss [soil carbon]... it may be extremely difficult to project these findings out into the future where the soil carbon condition is unknown.

In other words: the CSIRO's soil carbon trials actually showed a decrease in the amount of carbon stored in the soil! Not only this, but the report says it is "extremely difficult" to predict whether soil carbon farming practices will work in the future.
Measuring soil carbon across an entire continent isn't easy either. According to the CSIRO report, "accurate monitoring and verification of soil carbon stock changes, due to the large and heterogeneous background levels are difficult and often prohibitively expensive" But the Coalition's policy doesn't explain how it will measure soil carbon, or advance any costings that explain the expense of measuring soil carbon.

Many farmers are already arguing that $8-10 a tonne is far too low. Michael Kiely of the Carbon Coalition, who was cited by the Opposition when they first released their policy, says that the price paid to farmers would need to "start at $25 and head north."

In other words, the Coalition is basing 60 per cent of its Direct Action policy on a technology that the CSIRO says it can't predict will work, and can't measure adequately either.



he story of the Canadian government's forestry policy shows what can go wrong when natural systems are used as climate policy instruments.

In 2002, Canada announced that it planned to rely on tree planting and improved forestry practices to achieve one-third of its Kyoto emissions reduction targets. This didn't happen. Instead, huge swathes of forest died, due to catastrophic infestations of the Mountain Pine Beetle. As a result, Canadian forest scientists estimate that Canada's forests went from a source of carbon reduction to a source of carbon emissions.

What caused the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation? Scientists believe it was in part climate change itself. Cold winters normally kill off Mountain Pine Beetles in large numbers, but as winters warm in the North American forests, fewer beetles are dying.


Energy efficiency

Leaving aside soil carbon, the second-biggest source of the Coalition's planned carbon abatement is energy efficiency and green building standards. The Direct Action policy promises a total of "20-30 million tonnes" of carbon emissions reductions by 2020 through this mechanism.

Direct Action is amazingly sketchy on how this will be achieved. It devotes all of two sentences to this aspect of its policy:

[A] Coalition Government will work with a range of industry groups including the Clean Energy Council, the Energy Efficiency Council, the Green Buildings Council and the Property Council to develop complementary energy efficiency measures.

The mechanism appears to be payments to developers through "a CO2 abatement price of $15 per tonne.

Can these payments by the government actually achieve a 5 per cent cut in Australian greenhouse gas emissions out to 2020? Nearly every credible analyst says no.

The Australia Institute's Richard Denniss and Matt Grudnoff have performed the most substantial analysis of Direct Action. They conclude that Direct Action will cost taxpayers $11 billion a year, require a thicket of new regulations and hundreds of new bureaucrats to enforce them.

The Treasury agrees. In its Red Book briefing for the incoming government, the Treasury stated bluntly that when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, "direct action initiatives alone will not do the job."

Its Blue Book, prepared for the Coalition should it have won government, was even blunter. "A broad based market mechanism which prices carbon," Treasury wrote, " the only realistic way of achieving the deep cuts in emissions that are required."

Direct Action is ultimately a competitive grants scheme essentially identical to "cash for clunkers" and other expensive and ineffective government spending programs to reduce emissions that have already failed under the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments - as the Australian National Audit Office and the Grattan Institute have both found. Like these programs, Direct Action is likely to achieve any emissions reductions at an exorbitant cost. One million solar roofs, for instance, will cost $133 for every tonne of carbon it abates.

If you stop to think about it for a minute, it's obvious that Direct Action won't work. It doesn't introduce a proper market mechanism for carbon abatement. It doesn't seek to cap Australia's carbon emissions. The odds are against it, even before we examine the depth of the Coalition's actual commitment to addressing climate change. No wonder Tony Abbott can't find any economists or climate scientists prepared to support it.

The take-home message is simple. The Coalition's plan is based on incomplete science, dubious economics and breath-taking political expediency. It will be hugely expensive. It won't cut carbon emissions. It won't even lead to lower taxes. And it will still introduce a shadow price for carbon.

Ben Eltham is a writer, journalist and fellow at the Centre for Policy Development.



Federal Liberal Party policy

Quotes from

If elected, the Coalition will take immediate steps to implement our plan to abolish the Carbon Tax.

On day one, I will instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to draft legislation that repeals the Carbon Tax and to have the legislation ready within one month.

On day one, the Finance Minister will notify the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that it should suspend its operations and instruct the Department of Finance to prepare legislation to permanently shut-down the Corporation.

On day one, the Environment Minister will instruct the Department to commence the implementation of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan on climate change and carbon emissions.
Within the first month, the Cabinet will approve legislation to repeal the Carbon Tax.

On the first sitting day of Parliament under a Coalition Government, I will introduce legislation to repeal the Carbon Tax.
The first piece of legislation to be debated in the Parliament will be the repeal of the Carbon Tax.

As soon as the Carbon Tax is repealed, the Environment Minister will introduce legislation to enact the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan on climate change and carbon emissions.

Within the first sitting fortnight of Parliament, the Finance Minister will introduce legislation to shut-down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

In summary, the Liberal party will:

Abolish the carbon tax.

Close the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.


Establish an emissions reduction fund of $3 billion.

Support projects such as exploring such as the exploration of soil carbon technologies


Pay some companies to reduce CO2.

What happens to the vast majority of companies who don't win the tender? Can they keep polluting?  Surely it would be better to charge them to pollute?

Do research into putting carbon into the soil.

More delay for a doubtful one off carbon reduction.

The farmer must commit to hold the carbon in the soil forever. How will this be possible?

What happens in a bushfire, drought, or flood? Will the farmer pay to put it all back?

How many years of emissions could the soil hold. 

No prominent scientist or economist has backed this plan.

Liberal party Direct Action Plan

Extracts from the policy document - it is undated and possibly an old version.

Clean Ener​gy 

The Coalition established the $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund to support these projects: 
  1. $75 million toward a $420 million project to build a 154MW solar concentrator in regional Victoria; 
  2. $50 million toward a $360 million pilot for a brown-coal drying and post-combustion carbon dioxide capture and storage project that will reduce CO2 emissions and potentially be retrofitted to other generators in the LaTrobe Valley; 
  3. $60 million to support the world's largest CO2 capture and storage project in Western Australia that will reduce CO2 emission by approximately 3 million tonnes per annum; 
  4. $75 million to the Fairview power project which will extract methane from coal-seams to power a 100MW power station; and
  5. $50 million for a world-first oxy-fuel demonstration project that will store approximately 30,000 tonnes of carbon over three years.
  6. The Coalition also invested more than $450 million in technologies to reduce emissions from coal activities. 


Comments  by John Davis

They must be referring to policies they did in their last term

1 Wasn't built and company went into receivership. Recently bought by  by Silex ans is planning to go ahead.

2 Carbon Capture and Storage keeps the brown coal burning. Will be a very expensive process requiring about 40% of the power station's energy.

3 This project led by Chevron will be designed to capture 3.5 Mt of carbon dioxide per annum from Greater Gorgon gas fields and store it in the Dupuy formation beneath the Barrow Island.  

WWF claims that the Gorgon geosequestration project is potentially unsafe as the area has over 700 wells drilled in the area, 50 of which reach the area proposed for geosequestration of CO2. Fault lines compound the problems. Barrow Island is also an A class nature reserve of global importance. wikipedia

4 Promoting Coal Seam Gas. Ugh!

5 At Callide A Power Station, the oxyfuel technology has been retro-fitted to the existing coal-fired power station. The idea is to burn coal with oxygen thus producing a flue gas of only CO2. This  can be compressed and buried without needing to separate it from the nitrogen present in air. The process of producing the oxygen is expensive. It may work. Continues coal burning.

6 More coal. Is the industry paying them?


The abdication of climate policy

Over the last six to nine months we have witnessed a very slow, but cumulatively large, abdication by state and federal governments from policy to reduce carbon emissions. It has crept up not through one big bang event, but rather a dropped program here, a tweak there and a few staff cuts to top it off. 

This really only just hit me between the eyeballs when I attended the Australian Alliance to Save Energy’s annual energy efficiency and demand management conference. This conference tends to be heavily attended by government policymakers from both state and federal government as well as a range of energy policy experts from academia and the private sector.  

In spite of coming from different states and often working in different areas of policy there was a common theme in the conversations – the introduction of the carbon price is providing an excuse for state and federal governments to withdraw from carbon reduction efforts. 

This would be entirely sensible if the carbon price was likely to do what’s intended, but it won’t.

A carbon price of $23 per tonne of CO2 rising steadily over time would make a meaningful difference to investment decisions and drive pollution lower. Yet irrespective of who wins the election in September, the carbon price is likely to plummet to something relatively inconsequential within the next few years (if not be abolished altogether). 

Nonetheless this hasn’t stopped state governments withdrawing from efforts to contain carbon emissions using the argument that the carbon price makes them unnecessary. While ironically also enthusiastically helping Abbott to demonise the carbon price so successfully that it is unlikely to survive for long.

As some examples, consider these key developments in Coalition-led state governments.

Western Australia

According to The West Australian newspaper, WA’s Environment Minister Bill Marmion said there was almost nothing the WA government could do to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new LNG developments because federal clean energy legislation overrode state laws. 

This is nothing more than a convenient excuse – state governments still hold powers to regulate the environmental performance of new developments including their greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, in the past, state governments have even introduced their own renewable energy targets, even through a federal scheme was already in operation.

New South Wales

NSW government staff working on climate change issues have been informed their jobs no longer exist and they need to reapply for new jobs in “resource efficiency”. The government has also chosen to walk away from a commitment to the phase-out of energy-guzzling electric storage water heaters that are very common in the state.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory government has largely sacked all government officials working on renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives in the last few months.


Queensland has cut almost all its clean energy programs as well as closing down the Office of Clean Energy. In addition, it has abandoned a range of energy efficiency requirements on new homes and also walked away from the planned phase-out of energy guzzling electric storage water heaters.

Incidentally, a detailed appliance energy usage study by CSIRO finds these electric storage water heaters are operated regularly during peak periods in Queensland (not just off-peak periods as originally intended).


The Victorian government has closed the energy programs operated by Sustainability Victoria and would be lucky to have more than a handful of people with expertise in renewable energy. It also recently announced it would be abolishing the Energy and Resource Efficiency Plans program that requires large energy users to implement short payback energy efficiency measures.

The Treasury has also sought to abolish the state’s leading effort on improving the thermal efficiency of new homes (rebuffed by Baillieu) and now is tasked with reviewing the government’s energy efficiency target.

The story nationally

Back in 2004, as part of a Howard government initiative, states agreed to a mandatory program for disclosing the energy efficiency of homes for sale or rent. This has now been abandoned in spite of a favourable cost-benefit analysis. The federal government has let this happen without a peep of protest.

The federal government has also made little effort to prominently fight for its 2007 election commitment on the phase-out of energy-guzzling electric storage water heaters, while a National Energy Efficiency incentive scheme built on tradeable credits seems poised to be buried.

In addition, the government’s promise to put in place an emissions standard for new power stations was dropped on the basis this issue was addressed by the carbon price.

Yet just like the states, the Federal Government has now abdicated carbon pricing to European nations who can't seem to work out even minor fixes to their own scheme.

The future

In September, on the balance of probabilities there will be a Coalition government in place nationally. A number of these state government and joint federal government programs would have been an important buttress in the event of the carbon price being rescinded. They might even have helped in the implementation of the Direct Action Emission Reduction Fund.

One can’t help but wonder that the vision of a perfect carbon price has become the greatest enemy of the good.

Source Climate Spectator

Leading climate change economist Nicholas Stern estimated the annual cost of NO action on climate change at 5-20% of GDP by 2050, whereas the cost of action would only be 1-2%!  

ABC The Drum: analysis of Tony Abbott

On Monday night on the ABC's PM program, Stephen Long finally examined some of Tony Abbott's claims. In a stunning piece of forensic investigation, Long single-handedly dismantled the distortions, misrepresentations and bald-faced lies that Tony Abbott continues to advance.

"Full credit to the Opposition Leader's political skill," Long said in his report. "But he's been aided and abetted by journalists who've continued to report unchallenged claims that appear to contradict facts."

Long singled out Tony Abbott's claims that the carbon tax would be "toxic" for the economy, and that it would shut down the coal industry. There is no factual basis for either argument. According to Long, "every credible analysis including the industry's own says the coal industry is going to enjoy a massive expansion despite the Government's carbon price."

But almost no-one in the mainstream media has bothered to hold Tony Abbott to account. Just to take one example, let's examine Abbott's argument, repeated a number of times, that Australia will be "going it alone" in introducing a price on carbon. It's hard to understand how this argument was ever accepted by anyone.

The European Union has had an emissions trading scheme since 2005, whatever its manifest flaws.

India has introduced a tax on coal.

China has recently announced it will launch a pilot program for emissions trading in the next five years.

California, the world's eighth-largest economy, has an emissions trading scheme at a state level, which will soon be linked to the European scheme.

To say some sections of the Australian media are against the carbon tax is something of an understatement. As Jonathan Holmes pointed out this week on Media Watch, some parts of the talk-back radio sector are spewing out hatred against the Prime Minister that is nothing short of sexual vilification.

The anti-carbon tax campaign from the Murdoch tabloids is unbalanced in a different way, cooly and calculatingly mispresenting the factual basis of climate change and the details of the carbon tax for reasons of cynical political animus.

So let's exert some scrutiny on Tony Abbott and the Coalition.