CLIMATE CHANGE AND CANBERRA
The Canberra Times, 30 December 2021
They’re only a few dozen kilometres apart, but there’s a remarkable difference between the conversation about climate change in schools in my electorate, and from conservative Liberal and Nationals in Parliament House. Canberra’s school students know that Australia needs to take stronger action on climate. They’re excited about renewables. They love electric vehicles. The tinfoil hat brigade in the Coalition party room want to use taxpayer money to fund new coal fired power stations that the private sector won’t touch with a barge pole. They fearmonger about renewables. They claim that electric vehicles will end the weekend.
Sadly, Australia’s most progressive jurisdiction has one of the most conservative senators in the federal parliament. When Zed Seselja isn’t voting against territory rights, he’s peddling baseless fear campaigns about the dangers of climate action. Zed is a walking example of why Australia recently ranked last for climate policy among 64 countries in the Climate Change Performance Index – worse than Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Brazil.
What’s particularly pitiful about this is that the Coalition used to be the party of markets, with strong confidence in the ability of firms to adapt to new circumstances. Yet when it comes to the renewables transition, they seem to regard companies as helpless in the face of change. Thankfully, that’s not the way business peak bodies see things. They know a smooth transition is in Australia’s national interest, and climate denialism is likely to end with Australian exports facing carbon tariffs from our trading partners.
The bumbling approach to climate policy was on full display when Resources Minister Keith Pitt told parliament that Australia couldn’t rely on renewable power generation because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Presumably the poor bloke expects that water will only come out of the tap when it’s raining. As the experts have shown us, a joined-up electricity grid and better battery storage are fundamental to ensuring that we make the most of renewables.
That’s why Labor has announced that if we are elected, then by 2030 an Albanese Government will deliver a 43 percent cut in Australian emissions off 2005 levels.
As modelling by Reputex shows, our plan will generate 64,000 direct jobs by 2030. It will spur $76 billion of investment. It will cut power bills for families and businesses by $275 a year for homes by 2025, compared to today. Fewer emissions. More jobs. More investment. Cheaper power.
Labor’s plan for emissions reduction isn’t pie-in-the-sky; it’s a direct result of policy changes that will create a stronger economy and a healthier environment. We will upgrade the electricity grid to fix energy transmission and make electric vehicles cheaper with an electric car discount. For facilities already covered by the Coalition Government’s Safeguard Mechanism, we will adopt the Business Council of Australia’s recommendation that emissions be reduced gradually and predictably over time – consistent with industry’s own commitment to net zero by 2050. Labor would also work with large businesses to provide greater transparency on their climate related risks and opportunities.
There’s a plethora of promising industrial opportunities in a renewables-powered Australia. A Labor Government would allocate up to $3 billion from the National Reconstruction Fund to invest in green metals (steel, alumina and aluminium); clean energy component manufacturing; hydrogen electrolysers and fuel switching; agricultural methane reduction and waste reduction. Labor would also invest in 10,000 New Energy Apprentices and a New Energy Skills Program.
Many Canberrans have installed solar photovoltaic panels on their homes – reducing electricity bills and helping the environment at the same time. But not every home is suitable for rooftop solar. So Labor would roll out 85 solar banks, which are especially good for renters and people who cannot afford rooftop solar. Labor would also install 400 community batteries across the country.
As for Canberra’s biggest employer, a Labor Government would demonstrate Commonwealth leadership by reducing the Australian Public Service’s own emissions to net zero by 2030. It’s an initiative that I know will make many Canberrans proud, as they see their departments taking tangible steps to reduce their carbon footprints.
I’ve heard from many Canberrans about how ashamed they are about a government that won’t even be straight with Australians about its climate failures. Under an Albanese Government, we’d replace secrecy with transparency. We would restore the role of the Climate Change Authority, and introduce new annual Parliamentary reporting by Chris Bowen, Labor’s spokesperson on climate change. In contrast to the Morrison Government’s attempt to slow international progress on climate talks, a Labor Government would bid to host the COP29 meeting in 2024. Australia would move from being a climate pariah to a serious player.
The Morrison Government’s 2030 emission reduction target is 26-28 percent: the target set in 2015 by Tony Abbott. When Abbott set that target, it was explicitly designed to ‘sit within the range of efforts by other major economies’. Yet these countries have now updated their 2030 emissions reduction targets. Korea’s is 40 percent. Canada’s is at least 40-45 percent. Japan’s is 46-50 percent. The United States’ is 50-52 percent. The European Union’s is at least 55 percent.
It’s time Australia seized the opportunity to become a clean energy superpower. But we’ll only tackle climate change if we change the government. Under the Coalition, Australia’s climate policies remain frozen in time, while the world warms around us.
Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, and the Federal Member for Fenner. His website is www.andrewleigh.com.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra