Prime Minister Scott Morrison has questioned the costs of Labor’s net-zero emissions pledge.

Did Scott Morrison say net zero emissions by 2050 would be ‘catastrophic’ for the economy?

George Driver February 23, 2021

AAP FactCheck Investigation: Did Prime Minister Scott Morrison say adopting a target of net zero emissions by 2050 would be catastrophic for the economy?

The Statement

“Scott Morrison needs to explain how it is that his rhetoric when Labor adopted net zero by 2050, he said it would have catastrophic economic consequences.”

Anthony Albanese, Labor Party leader, February 2, 2021.

The Analysis

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has accused the Australian prime minister of backflipping on net zero emissions targets, claiming Scott Morrison previously implied a 2050 target would have “catastrophic economic consequences”.

During a speech to the National Press Club on February 1, Mr Morrison said the government’s goal was to reach net zero emissions “as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050”.

A few months earlier, he had only said the objective was to reach the target “as soon as possible” – while in September 2020 the stated goal was net zero in “the second half of this century”.

The addition of the words “preferably by 2050” was widely interpreted by commentators as a significant shift towards the Australian government adopting the net zero target (examples here, here and here) already embraced by more than 100 countries worldwide in a bid to limit global warming, according to the United Nations.

But the change in language drew criticism from the opposition leader, who claimed Mr Morrison had previously said adopting the target would cause dire harm to the economy.

“In some of the papers today, I got up and I read ‘net zero emissions by 2050’, and I thought to myself: ‘There is an idea, why didn’t the whole world think about that?’ Well, it appears they have actually,” Mr Albanese said.

“Scott Morrison needs to explain how it is that his rhetoric when Labor adopted net zero by 2050, he said it would have catastrophic economic consequences.”

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Albanese’s statement that the prime minister suggested adopting a target of net zero emissions by 2050 would have “catastrophic economic consequences”.

Mr Albanese’s office did not provide a source to support his statement when contacted, while the prime minister’s office did not respond when asked if he previously made the comments or words to that effect.

The Labor Party first announced a policy of net zero emissions by 2050 in 2015, under then leader Bill Shorten, taking the same pledge to the 2019 election. The party recommitted to the policy in February 2020 under Mr Albanese.

AAP FactCheck searched transcripts of Mr Morrison’s speeches and press conferences, as well as his press releases, media coverage and statements in parliament to establish his comments on the policy.

One of the first examples of Mr Morrison referring to Labor’s net zero policy occurred in parliament in October 23, 2018, when the recently installed prime minister answered a question from Mr Shorten on energy policy.

In his response, the prime minister cited comments from the Business Council of Australia about Labor’s interim target to reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030: “The Business Council says: The (coalition’s) emissions target of 26 per cent is appropriate and achievable. 45 per cent – that’s Labor’s target – is an economy wrecking target.”

He went on to quote the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, another business lobby group, as saying that Labor’s proposal for deeper cuts by 2030 “with a long-term target of net zero emissions by 2050 was not backed by a credible plan that protects economic growth”.

“If you elect the Labor Party at the next election, you will pay more for everything – your electricity, your taxes and your private health insurance – because they are their policies,” Mr Morrison added.

The first example AAP FactCheck found of Mr Morrison being quizzed by the media on the net zero policy came at a press conference in September 2019, when he said he wouldn’t commit to further targets beyond Australia’s existing agreement to reduce emissions 26 per cent by 2030.

At a press conference in January 2020, Mr Morrison said the government was reviewing its policy on a net zero target, but he wouldn’t agree to the plan until he knew the cost. He then proceeded to attack Labor for not having a strategy to meet the target – a line he would later repeat multiple times in response to similar questions.

“We’re going to meet and beat our emissions reduction targets … And I’m going to do it without increasing people’s taxes with a carbon tax,” he said.

“I’m going to do it without pushing up their electricity prices. And I’m going to do it without wiping out important sectors of our economy upon which this nation depends, and particularly in regional communities, for their very living.”

At another press conference on February 18, 2020, Mr Morrison repeated that the government wouldn’t adopt a policy until it knew the cost – and again suggested it could cost jobs, particularly in regional areas, after saying the coalition favoured “technology over taxation”.

“Currently no one can tell me that going down that path won’t cost jobs, won’t put up your electricity prices, and won’t impact negatively on jobs in the economies of rural and regional Australia. And my government is absolutely committed to the jobs of rural and regional Australians,” he said.

At a press conference on February 21, 2020, after Mr Albanese announced Labor was retaining the net zero policy, Mr Morrison said the opposition didn’t have a plan to meet the target or know its costs and again implied there could be job losses and increased electricity prices.

Three days later, in response to questions from Labor’s then climate spokesman Mark Butler in parliament, Mr Morrison suggested the target would lead to higher consumer prices, as well as other costs.

“(Labor has) zero positive news for the Australian people, who would be hit by a policy, if those opposite were ever elected, with a higher price on electricity, a higher price on farming, a higher price at the check-out, and a higher price on transport and petrol,” he said.

On the same day, in response to a question from Mr Albanese, Mr Morrison implied that Labor’s policy would result in Australians losing their jobs after taking aim at the former Labor government’s introduction of an emissions trading scheme.

“I’ll tell you what I won’t do: I’m not going to make a promise to Australians; I’m not going to put a tax on them to get emissions down; I’m not going to take away their jobs in the way that the leader of the opposition wants to do.”

On February 25, Mr Morrison was quoted by The Guardian as criticising Labor’s commitment to net zero emissions in the context of the rapidly unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

“Given the economic challenge, Labor’s reckless approach on the economy is particularly troubling, signing up to a target with no knowledge of what it would cost,” he said.

During an interview with 2GB host Alan Jones on February 28, 2020, the prime minister again questioned whether the policy would harm the economy.

“The reason we haven’t embraced this target, Alan, is because no one can tell me how you can do it and at the same time protect jobs, keep electricity prices down and support industries, particularly those in rural and regional Australia,” he said.

However, Mr Morrison’s rhetoric surrounding a net zero target softened later in the year.

During an interview on ABC in September, when asked why he wouldn’t commit to a net zero target, the prime minister said he was focused on “technology that delivers lower emissions, lower costs and more jobs” before adding it was the government’s policy to achieve the goal “in the second half of this century”.

In November 2020, Mr Morrison again emphasised that emissions reductions needed to be achieved through technology rather than taxes but said Australia “would like to get zero emission as soon as possible” (here and here).

The Verdict

AAP FactCheck found Mr Albanese’s statement that Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested adopting a target of net zero emissions by 2050 would have catastrophic economic consequences to be somewhat true.

Mr Morrison has repeatedly questioned the impact of the policy, variously implying it could lead to job losses, rising costs and the “wiping out” of parts of the economy, although many of these comments were also linked to suggestions of a carbon tax.

But AAP FactCheck was unable to find any record of the prime minister expressly stating that reaching net zero emissions would have “catastrophic economic consequences” as claimed.

The closest example was in 2018, when Mr Morrison reiterated comments from the Business Council of Australia that Labor’s interim target of a 45 per cent emissions cut by 2030 was an “economy wrecking target”.

Somewhat True – A part or parts of the claim are accurate but there is also a significant problem or inaccuracy.

* Editor’s note: AAP FactCheck has expanded its ability to fact-check environmental issues with the support of the Australian Conservation Foundation. AAP FactCheck retains full editorial independence in this project and continues to apply the rigorous standards required for accredited members of the International Fact-Checking Network.

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