The Importance of Queensland State Election for Climate Policy in Australia

Australia, like many countries around the world, will be holding many elections in 2024. All Australian states and territories have fixed-term political representative appointments, except for Tasmania, and all Australian states and territories hold their elections every three or four years. In 2024, residents of Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Region will head to the polls to elect their representatives. At the local government level, elections will be held in Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales. The Australian federal election is not fixed and could be held between August 2024 and May 2025, with a 2025 most likely date. Elections are crucial in setting the agenda on climate policy across all these three levels of government. At the federal level, Labor’s election in 2022 led to a substantial shift in commitment to accepting the need for action on climate change. Before this, States did much of the heavy lifting in areas such as renewable energy while the Federal government lagged. The 537 local councils across the country have also played an essential role in climate policy, organizing and implementing initiatives such as climate change risk assessments and adaption programs, as well as providing financial support for initiatives such as reforestation and local decarbonization efforts.

The Queensland state election is one of the most critical climate policy elections 2024. Queensland has long been perceived as dragging the country behind on climate policy, with much post-election analysis highlighting the urban/regional split that results in many pro-fossil fuel regional political representatives being elected at all three levels of government. However, 2024 may be the year this begins to change. Long-serving Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk was replaced by Steven Miles in December 2015, who promptly introduced a bill to legislate one of Australia’s most ambitious emissions targets: a 75% cut by 2035 (up from the previous Labor commitment of just 30% below 2005 levels by 2030). Despite support from around the country for this policy, it is unclear whether the opposition (the right-wing Liberal and National Party) or independent candidates are in favor or whether they will support decarbonization actions to meet the target.

While this new emissions target was ambitious, Queensland lags behind other states in another area of environmental and climate action. For example, Queensland is the only state that does not have an independent Environmental Protection Agency, and it continues to approve new fossil fuel projects despite being a significant contributor to the climate crisis. Indeed, Queensland is responsible for 32% (in 2020) of Australia’s total net emissions, 27.4% of agricultural emissions, and is the lowest state for renewable energy generation (19.6% in 2022).

Right-wing and populist political parties have strong support in some parts of Queensland. The primary political parties that are currently represented in the state government are Labor (center-left, currently in power), the Liberal National Party (center-right), and a range of smaller parties, including The Greens (left-wing, with a focus on environment and social justice issues), One Nation (right-wing populist focusing on immigration and identity), and Katter’s Australian Party (focusing on agriculture and conservative social issues). The state’s demographics heavily influence voter support for different parties and political stances on social and climate issues. The southeast corner of Queensland has 70% of the State’s population, is highly urbanized, and has a diverse mix of industries and cultural amenities. This area is likelier to vote for left-wing parties such as The Greens or Labor. Regional and rural areas of the state are a mix of agricultural, tourism, and mining areas, which tend to have higher proportions of older residents and tend to vote for right-wing parties such as the Liberal National Party, Katter’s Australia Party, and One Nation. In general, climate concerns are believed to play a more significant role in voting intentions for voters in the southeast corner.

Figure: Map of results of the 2020 Queensland state election. Sourced: DrewPwein from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Currently, only the Greens prioritize climate in their campaigning, calling for an immediate ban on new coal, oil, and gas projects and a phase-out of fossil fuel exports by 2030. As mentioned, Labor’s new Queensland Premier strongly supported climate action with the increased emissions target. However, this has not yet led to any significant action to stop fossil fuel emissions. Furthermore, it is not yet apparent whether other political parties are making new climate policy pledges as part of their campaigns.

Queensland has long been viewed as a socially conservative and pro-fossil fuels State. There has been a perception that the Queensland economy is tied to coal mining, gas extraction, and agriculture, with politicians finding it challenging to juggle emissions reduction messaging with a vocal pro-fossil fuel lobby. As a result, while politicians have increasingly been able to set emissions reduction targets (sometimes derided as ‘net-zero greenwash’), little to no progress has been made in reducing emissions to date, with Australia ranking 59/64 in the Climate Change Performance Index. Recent analysis indicates that corporate influence may heavily influence this lack of action. This is particularly true at the federal level but can also flow down into State-level politics. The result in Queensland has been voters who are still unsure about the reliability of a renewables transition and continue to believe that the state economy is coal-dependent despite extensive evidence to the contrary.

International collaboration on climate action and the Paris Agreement is the Federal government’s responsibility. However, states and local governments can set their policies and plans for climate action. The Federal Labor Party’s commitments towards the Paris Agreement have been assessed as misaligned with the country’s 2030 target and inconsistent with the global 2035 target. Despite this federal inaction, some States have responded by setting higher state targets to reduce emissions. For example, Queensland Premier Steven Miles has long been a vocal advocate for increased climate action that better aligns with urgent emissions reduction. However, the political landscape in Queensland, heavily influenced by the influence of fossil fuel giants and the lobbying sectors, presents formidable obstacles to reducing emissions, as they will support candidates and parties who seek to delay climate action, whether at the state or Federal level. The challenge for the Queensland Labor Party is whether they can withstand this pressure in the upcoming 2024 state election. To do so, they will need to successfully convince voters that they can not only deliver climate action that is beneficial for the environment but will also generate tangible benefits for the people of Queensland.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Robyn Gulliver.


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