Government makes new call for urgent RET talks

Environment minister Greg Hunt has said uncertainty about the RET is hitting investment in the renewables industry. AAP/Paul Miller

The government has again appealed to Labor to immediately recommence negotiations over the renewable energy target (RET).

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has written to opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler seeking a meeting before Christmas, specifying that “there are no conditions”.

Labor previously broke off the talks, saying the gap between it and the government was too wide. This is the second appeal from the government for discussions to resume.

The opposition is willing to go back to the table but wants an indication that the Coalition will be flexible.

In his letter, Hunt says the government would also hold talks with crossbenchers.

The present target of 41,000 gigawatt hours by 2020 was originally expected to represent a 20% level, but falling demand for electricity means it would be more than that. The government wants to reduce the target to about 27,000 gigawatt hours, but Labor says this would be far too large a cut.

The uncertainty about the target is hitting investment in the renewables industry.

Hunt said in his letter that not only had the Coalition written offering to recommence discussions, but also placed “good faith” calls.

“Given the strong push by manufacturing unions to ensure that jobs are protected, it seems a surprise that not only did the ALP withdraw from what had been good faith discussions, but has consciously chosen to stay away.

"As a basis for discussions we have committed to no change in household solar energy, we have guaranteed a commitment to 20% renewable energy and we have set no preconditions on discussions,” Hunt wrote.

Butler said Hunt’s letter showed his frustration at not being sent to the Lima climate conference, where Australia will be represented by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

Butler said the government proposed target of a “real” 20% would represent a 40% cut to the large scale renewable energy target. “It’s a cut that we’re simply not willing to agree to.”

Greens leader Christine Milne, speaking from Lima, said the existing RET should not be changed. It was doing the job of bringing down emissions. The target should be kept and ways found to close down some coal fired power generation, she said.

On the Lima conference, Milne said other countries were awaiting the arrival of Bishop to see if there would be any shift in Australia’s position on the Green Climate Fund, to which so far Australia has not contributed.

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