Given Parliament is sitting this week, I am joining you from the land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and I’d like to take this chance to pay my respects to their elders – past present and emerging.
Thank you for the invitation to speak today at the Smart Energy Conference. Thank you to John Grimes, Wayne Smith and the Smart Energy Council team for their close engagement over the last few months I have been in this portfolio, which has been very valuable.
Some of the greatest energy minds, innovators, entrepreneurs, and experts are guests and speakers at this week’s event.
I’m thankful to have been able to meet with many of you in my short time in the climate change and energy portfolio.
You know as I do that the globe’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity. But only if we take it.
For far too long – 15 years at least, Australia’s political debate has been dogged by the most toxic rhetoric around climate and energy. It has felled more than one Prime Minister and lost more than one election.
It centres on the falsehood that any action on climate change comes at an economic cost and a cost to jobs.
The climate change debate has been caught in a false narrative: that somehow advocates of good climate change policy are advocates of austerity and job destruction.
Its incumbent on all of us to the spread the word that in fact, one of Australia’s great job creation opportunities is investment in new energy, in storage and in upgraded transmission.
Now of course, opponents of climate action have plenty of cheap one liners at their disposal.
It’s easy to make up stories like saying that electric vehicles would end the weekend, to disparaging the work of electricians, engineers and researchers who’ve been able to find solutions to storing intermittent renewables – calling big batteries as useful as the big banana or the big prawn.
They trot out their line about ‘oh well the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow’ like it’s some revelation.
Well it’s not always raining yet we’ve worked out how to get water from a tap when we need it.
Opponents of climate action have their cheap lines, but we have a positive story about a brighter future. A better environment with good, well-paying jobs.
Storage and upgraded transmission – are both incredible job-creating opportunities for our nation.
Using the fact that renewable energy needs to be stored and transmission lines upgraded as an excuse for inaction - not seeing it for the job-creating opportunity it is, is lazy and dishonest, but not surprising.
Strong, jobs-focussed action on climate change and energy – is an investment in Australia’s future.
And first and foremost – it has to be focussed in the regions that have built and powered Australia.
That’s because the job opportunities of a new energy economy are the natural inheritance of the regions and the outer suburbs – they have the access to the ports, the pipelines, the railways, the transmission lines, the factories to continue to power and build Australia.
So, I’d like to speak to you today on the two flip sides of a coin. One where that opportunity is squandered, and one where it is seized with both hands.
I’ll start with the squandering given it is budget week.
Another year, another opportunity missed.
The Government has been in office for eight years and they will soon be asking for twelve years in office- longer than John Howard had.
But what have they got to show for it? A trillion dollars of debt – the majority of which was racked up before the pandemic – and no legacy, no reform to improve this country for the better.
A budget is a government’s opportunity to share its vision and priorities for the nation.
This budget was yet another missed opportunity when it comes to climate action.
Australia is one of the best endowed countries in the world to take advantage of a new energy future, and we know all too well from the last 18 months Australia’s significant exposure to climate risk.
Yet this Budget does nothing to address either.
I’d like to touch on two examples of squandered opportunity before painting a picture of what a jobs focussed climate and energy agenda would look like under an Albanese Labor Government.
Just last week it was revealed that the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt – extraordinarily intervened to stop the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility from supporting a huge new energy project a couple of hours out of Cairns.
This was a project ready to create 250 jobs in North Queensland, and worth $380 million.
It’s also 157 MW of more affordable power for households and businesses – with the grid upgrade unlocking potential for another 150 MW of energy projects nearby.
This is jobs, jobs and more jobs for North Queensland, and I cannot think of a more fitting example of the destructive influence on the regional jobs future of Australia – than having Ministers with an opposition to new energy.
Ideology isn’t the right word for this – it implies that there is some coherent logic or reason behind a decision – which I may not agree with, but at least you can identify the path that has been followed.
This is just prejudice – and it is a prejudice that is costing jobs.
They’ve moved beyond gross neglect of economic opportunity into straight out squashing it.
The NAIF had fallen victim to the usual modus operandi of the Government – all announcement no delivery.
$5Billion was promised to Northern Australia and only 6% of it delivered – at this rate it would take 80 years to deliver the promised investment to Northern Australia.
Yet it finally finds a good project and it gets killed.
When the NAIF veto powers were introduced to the Parliament by Josh Frydenberg – it was claimed they would only be used ‘to ensure projects which are contrary to the national interest are not funded.’
Pulling the rug out from under a $380 million project and 250 jobs is not in the national interest.
As global markets decarbonise – we need a Government that puts investment in regional futures ahead of deception and cheap politics.
I’ll also just touch briefly on something I’m concerned about, which has arisen because of the Commonwealth Government vacating the field when it comes to making sure our energy system and grid is up to scratch.
Thanks to Australian households and businesses, we lead the world in rooftop solar.
Households and businesses have made this sound investment that cuts emissions on behalf of a government that has no policy to otherwise do so, and they’ve done this because it’s a good investment.
It makes sense to the hip pocket.
But because the Commonwealth has done little to support private investment in the urgent upgrade of our grid, it’s now being proposed that solar users pay to feed their energy back into the grid.
Solar households being able to supply their excess zero emissions energy back into the grid – are part of the economic rationale behind the explosion in rooftop solar.
And I’m really concerned about sending a price signal that could act as a disincentive to people thinking about investing in solar. Particularly under this Government where it’s one of the only areas where emissions are going down – because of the initiative and investment of individual households.
Accordingly, I hope the proposal for to levy a charge on owners of solar power when they feed into the grid is re-thought and abandoned.
Which brings us nicely to the other side of that coin I was talking about earlier.
The side where we seize the jobs opportunities with both hands and run with it.
The very basis of these opportunities, to be able to send a signal to business, to investors, to those training the workforces of the future, is a target for net zero emissions by 2050 – and the roadmap to get there.
Labor will legislate net zero by 2050, and we’ll be delivering the strong roadmap to get there.
All of Australia – all major business, industry, agriculture and energy groups, all the states and territories have this most basic commitment – that is, all of Australia besides Scott Morrison and the 112 members of his Coalition.
All of Australia bar those 112 people, is joined by more than 70% of our trading partners – and over 120 countries on the same trajectory.
What this means is there is a race for new energy jobs and investment around the world, a race Australia should be leading.
Running from South Australia to Tasmania to Far North Queensland, Australia’s National Energy Market grid is one of the longest in the world.
But it’s not fit for purpose – it was built for the last century.
Bringing it up to scratch is a huge project – a huge job-creating one.
So we’ve committed $20 billion to establish the Rewiring the Nation Corporation and support the investment needed for Australia’s modern energy grid.
It’ll be thousands of jobs for sparkies, fitters, construction workers and more in regional Australia, using Australian steel at the lowest possible cost.
We’ll also support the grid – and support increased uptake of household solar with our Power to the People Community Batteries policy.
400 community batteries across the country - It’s a $200 million investment to cut power bills, cut emissions and reduce pressure on the electricity grid.
And it will allow households that can’t install solar – like apartment owners and renters – to draw from excess electricity stored in community batteries.
We’ve also announced the first part of our transport policy – which is our Electric Car Discount – to cut taxes on EV’s and develop Australia’s first Electric Vehicle Strategy.
And finally our National Reconstruction Fund – $15 billion to partner with the private sector and support strategic, value for money investments to grow the economy
Low emissions technologies and manufacturing for the globe’s new energy economy is a huge opportunity.
We have just about all the rare earths needed for renewables underneath the ground in Australia – but we currently send them overseas before value-adding – and buy the finished product back at a premium.
We used to be a country that made things – and it makes sense to be again.
I’ll go back to the flip side of that coin – opportunity squandered.
Deloitte has done analysis where Australia stands to lose 880,000 Australian jobs over the coming decades if climate change remains unmitigated.
The flip side - opportunity seized - we are looking at a gain of 250, 000 new jobs and a $680 billion economic boost over the same period.
I know what side I want the coin to land on.
So I hope it’s clear from these few examples – that there is a path we can take – that puts people and good, secure employment at the forefront of climate and energy policy.
It is my strong view that if and only if, we put people at the front of it – can we move past this toxic debate – and to a better future for Australian jobs and the Australian political debate.
We have to defeat the scare campaigns by making the opportunities of climate action real in people’s everyday lives.
That is the role of good Government and a good jobs-focussed climate and energy policy.
So, it is the task for all of us to be loud and clear, that good climate policy means jobs for the regions, and cheaper bills for families and businesses.
If we are able to do this effectively, this false debate will be over.
It’s only a Labor Government that can deliver action on climate change. Not a Prime Minister who can’t even deliver his party room on net zero by 2050, and not the Greens who are not a party of Government and have quashed good climate policy for the sake of politics more times than I can count.
I know that the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity.
It is time to seize the day, to take the opportunity, to create jobs, investment and growth that comes with a net-zero carbon economy.
Only a Labor Government will seize that opportunity, and take Australia to a brighter, more optimistic future in which we generate new energy and new jobs.
And I look forward to taking that opportunity under a Labor Government with this industry, that is capable of so much and so much more with the right national leadership.