Nick Xenophon and Rebekha Sharkie

After the election results, predicted by most polls but somehow registering as a shock to the pollies, we took a lens to what the independents elected to both houses of parliament might be thinking on climate and sustainability.

In a hung Parliament or a near hung Parliament (is it possible to be just a bit hung?) what the Indies are thinking becomes uber critical. This is because whether the government of the day has the numbers or not they’ll be sensitive to keeping their jobs whether at a snap poll or the regular poll.

The Indies themselves have jumped into the political fray on a few narrow issues, but that won’t last. The way of the world will have them making up their minds on a range of issues they may as yet know little about (time to educate, inform and get very friendly with?).

With this in mind on Tuesday afternoon we rang the office of new Senator-elect Derryn Hinch and asked where his Justice Party might stand on climate and sustainability.

Unfortunately a party official (he stressed he was not a party spokesman), was not aware of Hinch’s position on climate and sustainability saying the party had a specific focus on a handful of issues, listed in this order: Justice in sentencing, bail reform, parole reform, domestic violence law reform, equal rights, animal justice, public register convicted sex offenders, euthanasia.

However, GetUp was already on the ball and in a pre-poll survey we soon found had outed Hinch as a supporter on the climate agenda, along with other Indies, and the strength of that might well surprise on the upside.

Miriam Lyons
Miriam Lyons

According to senior campaigner with GetUp! Miriam Lyons, Hinch is “very strong on climate, renewables and the phase-out of fossil fuels”.

We got that feeling anyway.

In fact our official at Hinch Central said Hinch was a “very compassionate person” and was also very big on equality. The party would apply the same “commonsense logic” to issues that arose beyond the foundation agenda, he said.

Lyons, a seasoned policy analyst who previously ran the Centre for Policy Development she cofounded with John Menadue, had a lot more insight to add.

On Nick Xenophon, Lyons said GetUp was “delighted that he was backing Labor’s 50 per cent renewable power by 2030 target and supporting the Climate Change Authority on reducing carbon pollution. Not surprising, she said, with the jobs that was likely to produce – 28,000 Australia wide and 4000 in South Australia.

Xenophon also favours protecting ARENA “including its grant-making role, which is still under threat from the Coalition.”

People such as Barnaby Joyce were pushing very hard to keep Abbott’s climate change policies unchanged but it “really does not look like they’ve got a mandate for that based on how the electorate has voted”.

Overall the cross benches are closer to Labor’s policy on renewables and climate change than what Turnbull inherited from the Tony Abbott, Lyons said.

She predicted there would be “a lot of drift in what we are going into in the next three years”.

Very interesting times, indeed.

Her take home message?

What the election has hammered home, she says, is that renewables are vastly popular and that may be reflected in the likely make up of both the lower and the upper house.

The government has “no mandate to continue to stall on this and to hold onto the Abbott legacy”.

Lyon’s take is that the disastrous 2014 budget is what has continued to play on voters’ minds.

“It’s clear that Turnbull was popular as a centrist and that Abbott was not popular as a far-right politician and it soon became clear that [with Turnbull taking leadership] there was no change of policy.

The Climate Institute

At the Climate Institute chief executive John Connor’s take was “never a dull day”.

He was trying to remain professional, he said, but it was hard to resist the glass half full scenario.

Certainly the make up of the cross benches was looking good.

“One of the most significant developments in the campaign is that Nick Xenophon signed on the mid-range climate targets (see details below) of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

hinch pic

He wasn’t sure how important it would be in the final mix but it was good news that Derryn Hinch too had come out as climate change supporter.

Connor thought the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation anti-climate stance would be a benefit to climate action because it was bundled up with other extreme views that would make it uncomfortable for some to support One Nation.

“The voices of denial with Pauline Hanson are not new but they come bundled up with extremes. It makes the voices much starker.

“The Libs and the National Party are very wary of joining them because it potentially lumps them into a whole range of conspiracy theories, which are patently untrue.”

Connor pointed out this was a vastly different minority government than we had in 2010. The world was now a different place, far from the “dark shadows of the disappointment of Copenhagen and the GFC”.

“We now have the Paris Agreement with clear processes to drive people forward and the costs of solar have fallen by 80 per cent in the interim.”

Business was also calling out for “for clear energy policy and climate alignment”.

Just weeks from the election the voters signalled the same thing, Climate Institute polling showed, with “big bumps” in Coalition and regional voters seeing potential jobs and investment opportunities in tackling climate change.

“The reality is that the Coalition base and regional Australians are in the majority in supporting action on climate change.

“Business is supporting co-ordinated action” and the energy industry was talking about decarbonising the economy and “screaming for an integration of climate and energy policy”.

So was his optimism strong or just so-so?

“I’m trying to be professional about this but there are definitely pathways forward.”

GetUp!’s campaign

GetUp! looks like having jumped to the mainstream in this election, given there’s been rising mention of the organisation in daily media and radio reports and grumbling from right-wing Abbott supporter Cory Bernardi, saying the right wing needed similar passion.

How much passion?

According to Miriam Lyons the group held “45,000 conversations with marginal voters – 27,000 in Bass and Dickson.”

Also interesting to note is that GetUp’s strongest membership growth has been in the outer metropolitan (12 per cent) and rural areas (13.5 per cent) over the past year. Total membership was now one million people.


Overall polling reveals a “whole bunch of areas where people are ready for Australia to move forward not backward”, Lyons said.

“People rejected the backward looking of Abbott and expected Turnbull to take us forward.”

She reckons that the majority of Coalition voters think the Coalition’s policies on climate policy are not adequate. The support for renewables, she says, is “across the spectrum” and with so many people with solar on their roofs, it’s a “populist issue”.


What were the issues most concerning people in the marginal seats?

Hospitals, education and renewable energy, Lyons said. In Tasmania the renewable issue was a no brainer with the BassLink electricity connection to the mainland down in a very public way, and the electorate constantly reminded on the front page of newspapers of how much money this was costing taxpayers in diesel to pick up on electricity production.

“It was clear the state would have been in much better position if there’d been investment in wind and solar.”

The forest fires this year, for the first time ever in sensitive forest areas, were also powerful reminders of the importance of climate issues.

Polling by GetUp revealed nearly one-third of votes in Bass supported renewable energy, Lyons said.

So how does Lyons describe GetUp’s agenda?

“A grassroots people powered movement from across the country who want to see a fair, thriving and just Australia.”

Stephen Mayne on Menzies

Stephen Mayne, Crikey founder and City of Melbourne councillor, is another Indie who made a dent in the support for right wing Lib Kevin Andrews in the safe seat of Menzies.

In a post-election note this week Mayne said, “Unlike the mad Murdoch dancing bears such as Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann, we’re not about to start screeching like a banshee for Malcolm Turnbull to resign and Tony Abbott to come back.

“It now looks highly likely that Malcolm Turnbull will be able to form a government and this will be far better for Australia than the alternative of Bill Shorten and Labor taking over.

“We tried minority government on the left under Julia Gillard and, whilst some good reforms were achieved, ultimately we were left with a huge debt and deficit.

“The moderate Turnbull experience will hopefully be a lot better with the likes of Cathy McGowan and Rebecca Sharkie providing sensible support to the party they both used to work for.”

Mayne went on to point out that Shorten, despite his victory lap around the country this week, delivered the “second-lowest Labor primary vote in almost 100 years and also stooped into the gutter with his deceitful Mediscare campaign.”

He thought Turnbull’s tactic of choosing the “governance high road” would prevail over the longer term.

He’s got a point about positive campaigning, given a chance by the whiteants within his own party. Mayne also thinks Tanya Plibersek or Anthony Albanese could challenge for the Labor leadership.

Here’s a wrap of the issues supported by the independents, according to work conducted separately by the Climate Council and GetUp.

The House of Representatives

Nick Xenaphon Team (Rebekha Sharkie plus possibly one more) support:

  • An Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)
  • Taxpayer funded research into renewable energy and climate change made more easily available to Australian industry
  • A target of 50 per cent renewable power by 2030
  • The Climate Change Authority’s recommendations on carbon pollution reduction (such as 40-60 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2030)
  • Protecting ARENA’s grant-making role and full investment budget of 1.3 billion
  • Ruling out any public money for mining in Galilee Basin

Derryn Hinch supports:

  • The Climate Change Authority’s recommendations on carbon pollution reduction (that is, 40-60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2030)
  • Protecting ARENA’s grant-making function and full investment budget of $1.3billion
  • A moratorium on the approval of new coal mines
  • The phase-out of all coal-fired power before 2035 as long as workers are looked after during the transition

Cathy McGowan supports:

  • A price on carbon
  • Continued research into energy efficient technologies and renewable energy sources
  • Continued research into carbon sequestration

Bob Katter (The Katter’s Australian Party):

  • A mixed bag on renewable energy and fossil fuels – promotes Adani’s proposed mega-mine in the Galilee Basin, but is also a fan of big solar, see number one on his “20 key policy points”
  • Does not support a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme
  • Expects government commitment to clean energy projects such as the Kennedy Wind Farm
  • “Creation of a National Energy Grid facilitating resource development, the decentralisation of population and continuous access to clean energy resources, specifically solar, bio-fuels, wind and geothermal.”

Andrew Wilkie:

  • Supports a price on carbon
  • Believes Australia can achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2030
  • Supports phasing out coal and gas fired power stations and a shift to 100 per cent reliance on renewable energy by 2030

Adam Bandt (Greens) supports:

  • Aiming for net zero or net negative greenhouse gas emissions within a generation
  • Supports increasing the RET and creating 100 per cent of stationary electricity in Australia from renewable sources
  • Supports a binding national emission targets for each year through to 2050

The Senate

The Greens (3-6 senators) support:

  • Aiming for net zero or net negative greenhouse gas emissions within a generation
  • Increasing the RET and creating 100 per cent of stationary electricity in Australia from renewable sources
  • A binding national emission targets for each year through to 2050

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation

  • A royal commission into climate change science
  • Want to abolish the Renewable Energy Target
  • Opposes all taxes levied on Carbon Dioxide

Jacqui Lambie Network (Senate)

  • Supports the doubling of base-load energy in the form of hydro-electricity
  • Wants a community debate, followed by a referendum on nuclear power generation
  • Opposes the introduction of a carbon tax or ETS, prior to major trading partners doing so

Andrew Wilkie

  • Phasing out coal and gas-fired power stations and a shift to 100 per cent reliance on renewable energy by 2030
  • Putting a price on carbon pollution
  • Achieving zero net carbon pollution by 2030

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  1. You’re forgetting Nick Xenaphon’s well known hostility to wind turbines and his support of the “turbine infrasound nutjobs”.

    1. Yes, we are sceptical of Nick and watching closely…has a keen eye on popular appeal. In his defence I believe he said he didn’t want over-reliance on wind because it can create a big spike in electricity prices. Maybe he wants more solar instead… we hope and will continue to watch, closely. Happy for you and all to help!