A history of the Direct Action train wreck

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

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 Lateline how 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 Efficiency publishes 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, makes clear “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 and reforestation.

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 2013: Lateline 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.

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