The Safeguard Mechanism was introduced in 2016 by the Tony Abbot government. Now it’s being re-vamped – but we still need to make it tougher on big polluters like Woodside.

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The original Safeguard Mechanism policy, like today’s version, applies to Australia’s biggest polluters – largely gas, coal, mining and manufacturing . It was supposed to stop climate change by limiting the amount of dirty greenhouse gasses they pump out.

But it was, to put it mildly, a disaster. Emissions went up, big time. The baseline emissions cap was set far too high, and it only applied to emissions from specific facilities – ignoring the bulk of emissions which come from burning coal, oil, and gas.

When Labor won the 2022 federal election, PM Anthony Albanese and his climate change minister Chris Bowen promised to make the Safeguard Mechanism fit for purpose. And this made companies like Woodside – which have done very well out of the deal so far – chuck their toys out of the pram.

What’s the government doing to fix these loopholes?

Labor inherited this broken system from the Coalition – and PM Albanese says he wants to make it fit for purpose. But they aren’t doing nearly enough.

Right now, the government is talking about making the cap – the amount of climate change emissions individual companies can produce – a little bit tighter. They also want the baseline to get a little smaller every year, so there is steady pressure on companies to clean up their businesses.

The key problem is, though, that they only want these big climate polluters to reduce their emissions by 13% but have a target of 43% for the entire economy. It means the biggest polluters aren’t being made to pull their weight.

The government also has no plans at the moment to properly deal with the huge emissions from new coal mining or oil and gas drilling.

So why is Woodside so upset?

Let’s be clear – Woodside is making out like a bandit from the current system. It is making billions in profit due to the sky-high price of gas – and it gets to ignore all of the emissions produced when its oil and gas is burnt (in 2021, this was over 90% of its climate impact). Yet it is still demanding the Federal Government use taxpayer dollars to pay it to clean up its pollution.

Woodside is giving Labor a real headache because unlike most companies, it plans to massively increase its climate impact. Woodside’s Burrup Hub – which includes the monstrous Scarborough, Browse and North West Shelf projects – is the most polluting fossil fuel proposal in Australia right now. The greenhouse gas emissions from the Burrup Hub would wipe out all of the emissions saved by the Safeguard Mechanism between now and 2030.

So what do we do about it?

The government is consulting on its changes to the policy right now – and people are coming together to demand a robust system that holds big climate polluters like Woodside to account.  You can take 3 minutes to send an email to your MP now and ask for a stronger Safeguard Mechanism policy.


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