Climate

The government's climate and other environmental policies will face Senate scrutiny. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Labor and the Greens have combined to force a Senate inquiry into the Abbott government's Direct Action plan to curb emissions.

The two parties look set to also use their numbers in the Senate to block another key plan, with Labor indicating it will also oppose the government's proposal to reduce Commonwealth oversight of the states' environmental policies.

The Senate inquiry will be set up next week and scrutinise the government's policy to repeal a price on carbon and scrap two key bodies set up by the Gillard government – and replace them with a Direct Action strategy of paying polluters to cut carbon. It is expected to produce a report by March 24.

“This will expose how Direct Action is just a slogan,” said Greens leader senator Christine Milne. “I hope it will be able to expose just how expensive it is, but also how dubious the plan is.”

Labor's environment spokesman Mark Butler said the Senate inquiry would cast light on the government's preferred method for reducing carbon emissions.

"The government has not been honest with the Australian people and provided details on their plans to pay big polluters to cut carbon pollution, taking Australia in the opposite direction to the rest of the world," he said.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt was unapologetic about the government's plans. "The Labor Party is doing everything it can to keep a multibillion-dollar electricity and gas tax,"  said.

"We can and will reduce emissions without a carbon tax," he said. "We won't stop until we have repealed the carbon tax and taken practical action to clean up our power stations, improve energy efficiency and clean up our landscapes.

Senate Milne said the inquiry would be held in parallel to the preparation of the government's green and white papers on its policies to scrap the carbon price and replace it with a $2.55 billion emissions reduction fund to meet Australia's commitment to cut carbon emissions by 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.

“The fundamental issue with [Direct Action] is that it can't be scaled up,” Senator Milne said.

The science indicates emission cuts of 40-50 per cent would needed by 2030 if dangerous climate change was to be avoided, she said.

Green fund

The government's efforts to repeal the former Labor government's carbon reduction policies were stymied this week when Labor and the Greens used their Senate majority to split off two of the bills – to abolish the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority – slowing their passage to a vote.

Senator Milne said the splitting of the climate bills had already produced more scrutiny of the government's plan to axe the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, with independent senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon indicating they would oppose the move.

The Greens leader said she planned to speak with the Palmer United Party to secure its support for saving the fund when the new Senate sat next July.

The CEFC formally began operations to help channel private money into energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in July, with more than $2 billion worth of deals approved so far.

The government has indicated it will not review its plan to abolish the fund, with ministers saying the CEFC is using taxpayers' funds to invest in speculative ventures that should be left to the market to decide on.

Biodiversity block

The Greens hope to work with Labor in the Senate to block government moves to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Under the bill, ministers would no longer be forced to consider formal conservation advice for endangered species before approving big projects such as mines or ports.

The bill was aimed at quashing the implications of a case this year in which the Federal Court overturned an approval by former Labor minister Tony Burke for a mine in Tasmania's Tarkine wilderness.

Labor's environment spokesman Mark Butler told Parliament on Thursday the party was concerned the bill transferred excessive Commonwealth powers to the states.

“It is the national government's responsibility to protect matters of national environmental significance,” Mr Butler said.

He indicated support for splitting the bill, separating out a provision to increase penalties for poaching or illegal hunting of six turtle species and dugong.

“We are happy to support the turtle and dugong protection elements of the bill but will not be supporting [the rest],” he said.

Greens senator Larissa Waters said the Greens were optimistic about working with Labor to block the amendments.

“Labor's stance in the Parliament on this could influence whether Labor states sign up to Tony Abbott's one-stop shop plan at [the Council of Australian Governments] on Friday,” Senator Waters said.

“Labor and the Greens can block Tony Abbott from weakening threatened species protection and send a strong message to the states about the pitfalls of Tony Abbott's one-stop shop for environmental approvals.”