Scott Morrison flags royal commission into bushfire season, aims to reduce emissions further

Scott Morrison flags royal commission into bushfire season, aims to reduce emissions further

“In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we’re going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices, and without shutting down traditional industries upon which regional Australians depend for their very livelihood,” he told the ABC on Sunday morning.

Asked if he was open to a bigger target, Mr Morrison said he would not put jobs at risk or apply a tax to do so.

“What I’m saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it,” he said.

“I want to do that within a balanced policy which recognises Australia’s broader national economic interest and social interest.”

Mr Morrison has come under criticism from political opponents, climate change experts and sometimes global celebrities during the bushfire crisis for not doing enough on climate change, while appearing reluctant to talk about the issue.

Asked on Friday whether he expected fire emergencies to become more common due to climate change, he said “the links and the implications here have been acknowledged” but did not elaborate.

The sky turns red as fires close in on Omeo in Victoria earlier this month.Credit:Getty Images

On Sunday morning, however, Mr Morrison backed an inquiry into the bushfires and told Insiders host David Speers that he expected climate change to be considered in the process.

Mr Morrison indicated he would support a national royal commission into the fires alongside any operational review by the states.

He said the commission should look at the operational responses, the question of overlapping federal and state responsibilities and the role of climate change.

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“It has to be done in the acknowledgment, not to seek an answer to, but in the acknowledgement of the climate we now live in and how climate change has affected that,” he said. “That is not an issue of dispute, that is an issue of acknowledgement.”

Mr Morrison then outlined three elements for the government’s response to climate change.

“The first one, which is most talked about, is emissions reduction. And Australia is taking action on emissions reduction, we are a signatory to the Paris agreement,” he said.

“The second one is our climate change action in relation to resilience. Our emission reduction targets can be higher or lower but the fact is [in] the next 10 years and beyond we’re going to be living in a very different climate.

“And we need to prove our resilience in response to that on the ground through a range of measures which have both state and federal responsibilities.

“And the third is climate change adaption. These are the areas of climate change action that I think need greater attention because they’re the things that are practically affecting peoples’ daily lives here in Australia where we can do practical things that can make us more resilient and ensure that we’re safer.”

Mr Morrison said this included water infrastructure, responses to droughts as well as dealing with floods and cyclones.

“Building dams is key to that. Native vegetation management is key to that. Land clearing is key to that. Where you can build homes is key to that. And that is as much a climate change response as emissions reduction,” he said.

In line with his arguments on climate change since becoming Prime Minister in August 2018, Mr Morrison said the government would “meet and beat” its target of reducing emissions by 26 per cent by 2030.

‘We’re going to do it without a carbon tax’

Climate change experts have repeatedly warned that Australia will not meet its target.

Mr Morrison also stood by the government’s plan to rely on “carry-over credits” from surpassing previous climate change commitments in order to meet the 2030 target, an approach that is the subject of dispute.

Mr Morrison canvassed the scenario, however, where the government was “in the position where we don’t need them” because technology and other factors could help achieve the target without the carry-over credits.

While he did not rule out one day having a more ambitious target than 26 per cent, Mr Morrison ruled out a “tax” on carbon.

“In the years ahead we are going to continue to evolve our policy in this area to reduce emissions even further and we’re going to do it without a carbon tax, without putting up electricity prices, and without shutting down traditional industries upon which regional Australians depend for their very livelihood,” he said.

Asked if he was open to a bigger target, Mr Morrison said he would not put jobs at risk or apply a tax to do so.

“What I’m saying is we want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it,” he said.

“I want to do that within a balanced policy which recognises Australia’s broader national economic interest and social interest.”

Mr Morrison rejected the stance taken by backbencher George Christensen, who blamed the fires on arson rather than climate change, and said it was the government’s position that climate change contributed to hotter, drier conditions.

But he also rejected a call from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday to restore the National Energy Guarantee and its mechanism to reduce emissions.

‘It won’t be done that way again’

Asked whether he acknowledged any mistakes in his response to the fires, Mr Morrison emphasised the scale of his response, including the defence deployment and a $2 billion recovery fund, but admitted some errors.

Mr Morrison said he had promised his family a holiday in Hawaii before Christmas, but “in hindsight I would not have taken that trip, knowing what I know now”.

“I’d made a promise to my kids and we’d taken forward that break, as I explained when I came back, and I thought I was very up-front about my contrition on that,” he said.

Asked why he had not announced he would be out of the country on that holiday, Mr Morrison said: “I’d texted Anthony Albanese on my way out the door so I wasn’t being secretive (about the trip).”

The Prime Minister’s office told journalists they were wrong when they asked questions about whether Mr Morrison was in Hawaii at the time, something Mr Morrison also appeared to regret.

“It won’t be done that way again. You learn from these things. The office won’t do that again,” he said.

David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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