15 April 2021

THE ECONOMICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
 
ONLINE
WEDNESDAY, 14 APRIL 2021

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I’m joining you today from my office in Fairfield West, which sits on the land of the Cabrogal people of the Darug Nation, and I acknowledge their stewardship of this land over the millenia.  
 
Thanks to the Australia Institute for inviting me to participate in this Webinar, and thanks also to Ben and Richie for the strong contribution the Institute makes to the climate change debate in Australia. 
 
Today, I want to leave you with two key related messages, which inform my approach to the role of Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy and, in turn the approach Labor will take to climate change policy in the lead up to the next election. 
 
Firstly, while the moral case for strong climate change action is strong, the key to winning the Australian domestic argument for such action is to win the argument good climate policy is good jobs policy. 
 
And secondly, that while our opponents claim that continuing with a policy driven by denialism and delay is somehow standing up for our national interest against so-called “negative globalism”, in fact such as an approach is a sell out of our national interest.  
 
The U.S Climate Summit will be held this time next week.
 
It’s an important stepping stone to COP26 in November, and Australia is already under pressure from our most important ally to show a much stronger commitment. 
 
It’s been a strategy of our political opponents to pretend like the international situation somehow doesn’t apply to Australia when it comes to acting on climate change, as if what happens overseas doesn’t affect Australian jobs.
 
But in fact, these coming weeks are not just a time for us to point to the need for Australia to “do its bit” in the international context, but even more importantly to point to the economic cost to Australia of being left behind, as we currently are being. 
 
Australia is now operating and trading in a mid-century net zero environment. With over 120 countries, and 70% of our trading partners committed, that is just a fact.
 
Australia is the only developed country not committed to reaching net zero by 2050. 
 
Or I should say more accurately, the Australian Federal Government is the only developed economy government not committed to net zero by 2050, because the country through every state and territory, local government and the business community is. 
 
All we are lacking is national leadership from the very people meant to provide it.  
 
 
So, decarbonisation has begun – at the hands of global capital and our trading partners. Now we can allow workers and communities to be decimated as that ramps up over future decades with no policy framework here. That’s the Government’s plan.  
 
Or we can recognise that the globe’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity.
 
Deloitte estimates over 250, 000 Australian jobs can be created.
 
In my view, the jobs opportunity as we and the world moves towards net zero is three-pronged. 
 
Energy generation, resources and manufacturing.
 
Again, our opponents like to paint good climate change policy as some sort of austerity measure.  They paint a picture of a trade-off between climate action and economic growth. 
 
Nothing could be further from the truth. 
 
I believe passionately in economic growth.  It lifts people out of poverty and turns aspiration into reality. 
 
We don’t need less economic growth. 
 
What we do need to do is cut the cord between economic growth and emissions. 
 
 
As we decarbonise our economy we are going to need to generate a lot more electricity, not less. 
 
We need to electrify our passenger transport, and basically anything else capable of sensibly being transferred to electric power. 
 
And as we move our electricity generation to renewables, there is a massive task to create that electricity, store it, and transmit it to where its needed, through very significant upgrades to our electricity grid. 
 
And the good news is, the very areas which have powered Australia with cheap and reliable energy are the same regions best placed to capitalise on the need for more electricity. 
 
These are the areas with access to the ports, railway lines and pipelines.  These are the areas with the space for renewable energy generation. 
 
These are Central and North Queensland, the Illawarra, the Hunter, the La Trobe Valley, Collie-Bunbury and Whyalla. 
 
And just as Australia currently exports the materials for energy generation, with the right policy settings, we will be exporting clean energy. 
 
We have 58 million peta joules of solar radiation beaming down on us every year – 10, 000 times more than our total energy generation, and some of the best wind resources in the world. 
 
The Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory and the Asian Renewable Energy Hub in Western Australia are just two excellent examples of the opportunities for renewable energy export. 
 
Germany, Japan, South Korea and other countries are already expressing great interest in the potential for Australian renewable energy stored through hydrogen. 
 
Of course, sceptics and opponents think they are clever in pointing out that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. 
 
And of course, renewable energy does need to be stored.
 
But again, that need to expand our storage also represents jobs opportunities. 
 
Take batteries.
 
Australia produces nine of the 10 minerals needed for lithium-ion batteries. In fact, we’re the biggest producer of lithium in the world. 
 
 
And it should not be, it cannot be simply about extracting those minerals. 
 
 
We’ve already stepped out some of our plans to help revive the Australian economy by looking at the climate emergency as a jobs opportunity. 
 
The $15 billion to a National Reconstruction Fund announced by Anthony Albanese a couple of weeks ago will partner with private capital to promote manufacturing and strategic industries in the recovery - with low-emissions technologies and renewables manufacturing highlighted as a key priority for that investment. 
 
And the Rewiring the Nation policy is another vital step:  to again, partner with the private sector to transform our ageing electricity grid and get renewable energy to where it is needed, creating jobs in the process 
 
Rewiring the Nation is crucial for our economy – to broaden access to affordable, renewable electricity for households and reduce energy costs for business. 
 
And we’ve just announced a $200 million investment in 400 community batteries around the country, as well as providing tax cuts to incentivise electric vehicles and a commitment to develop Australia’s first electric vehicle strategy.
 
These are some of our first commitments but they won’t be our last. 
 
These are just a fraction of the opportunities – and I’ll just talk quickly about some of the economic risks. 
 
The climate summit next week will reiterate the global imperatives for action on climate change. 
 
Scott Morrison has said he won’t be dictated to by other countries. 
 
Michael McCormack has said he’s not worried about what might happen in 30 years’ time. To me, that comment sums up the unspeakable negligence of the Morrison Government: not thinking about the implications of their policy inaction for Australians in thirty years time is abhorrent. 
 
Their policy inaction is consigning Australians to the risks and shoals of an international economy decarbonising with no proactive plan from the Government to help communities and families impacted by that decarbonisation. 
 
Morrison talks of “Negative globalism” but its hard to think of anything more negative than his policy of destructive negligence. 
 
And climate change is at the top of the diplomatic agenda for many of our key allies in Asia and Europe, as well as in the U.S and UK.  
 
They’re not only allies but large export markets whose trade Australia relies on for its wealth. 
 
I’d like to see climate change much higher on our diplomatic agenda too.  But unless and until we get our own domestic policy house in order, there would be no point in doing this because we come to the diplomatic table with very little credibility indeed. 
 
But despite the Deputy Prime Minister not caring about what happens in thirty years time, the economic cost of inaction is real, both in the short term and the longer term.  
 
We know that the European Parliament is developing a carbon border adjustment mechanism to start in the next two years, that will impact Australian exporters and local jobs. 
 
This is not to mention the immense risk of unchecked climate change itself on Australia. 
 
Deloitte pegs this as nearly 900, 000 job losses and a $3.4 trillion hit to the economy over coming decades.
 
Yes, acting on climate change is in the global interest. That is important, and we’ll hear a lot about it over the coming week. 
 
But because it’s in the global interest does not make it against our own.
 
We need to defend against that fallacy.
 
Getting energy policy right and acting on climate change is squarely in our national interest – and pretending it’s not will put a handbrake on our economy and cost Australian jobs. 
 
Part of my job will be making sure it’s in regional interests too – more jobs and new industries in the regions that have helped build Australia – we owe it to these regions – and we can’t do it without them. 
 
These economic opportunities I’ve talked about won’t just happen by accident. 
 
We need a jobs-focussed climate and energy agenda.
 
We need a consistent, national energy policy framework that lowers emissions and doesn’t scare off private investment.
 
We need a Labor Government to ensure workers don’t get left behind.
 
And– we need a Government that can deliver on what it promises, that is interested in outcomes now and into the future, not glib announcements and spin which is rarely accompanied by delivery.  
 
And that Government will be an Albanese Labor Government.  
 
Happy to take questions.