Labor leader Anthony Albanese has told a clean energy summit Australia can’t afford to waste any more time in the transition to renewable energy, hours after the Prime Minister avoided any firm commitment to further emissions reduction.
In a speech on Tuesday in Canberra, Mr Albanese framed the transition to low-cost renewable energy as “key to unlocking jobs growth for decades to come”.
Cheaper, cleaner renewable energy will create direct jobs for engineers, scientists and miners of the rare earth materials used in battery storage, Mr Albanese told a Clean Technology Jobs Summit convened by Labor.
But he argued the lower cost renewable energy could also help decentralise Australia’s power grids, leading to more jobs across the board.
“I’m talking about a revolution in jobs growth right across the Australian economy based on one inescapable fact – renewable energy is not only clean, but cheap. And getting cheaper…falling power bills will unshackle businesses, allowing them to expand and create jobs,” Mr Albanese said.
“With the right policy settings, falling power prices will act as a catalyst for a revival of the Australian manufacturing industry.”
The Opposition convened Tuesday’s Canberra Summit, bringing together representatives from energy, investment and renewables groups to discuss those policy settings in the context of a global renewable transition.
Labor has already pledged to partner with the private sector, including superannuation funds, to invest $15 billion in Australian manufacturing, should it win government.
The Opposition also committed $20 billion to “rewire the nation” by upgrading the national energy network to handle and disperse the growing input of renewable energy. In addition, Labor would invest in “community batteries” to bring down the cost of renewables storage for consumers, and adjust tax incentives to increase the uptake of electric vehicles.
While Mr Albanese confirmed Australia would continue to export coal based on “global demand” under a Labor government, he was emphatic about the future role of renewables.
“But renewables represent the future, and we ignore this fact at our national peril,” he said.
The night prior, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government intended to take advantage of “the big global energy transition” but it would “not sacrifice our traditional industries in regional Australia by seeking to tax our way to lower emissions and a net zero economy”.
Mr Morrison told a Business Council of Australia dinner on Tuesday he was “increasing in confidence” that Australia would transition to a net zero economy “as quickly as possible and preferably by 2050”.
He said the reduction will come through technology and innovation and not through taxation, pointing to existing government policy such as the Technology Investment Roadmap.
“We’re not going to achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities. It will not be achieved by taxing our industries that provide livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet, as our political opponents sought to do when they were given the chance,” Mr Morrison said.
“It will be achieved by the pioneering entrepreneurialism and innovation of Australia’s industrial workhorses, farmers and scientists.”
The Australian leaders are posturing in the lead up to US President Joe Biden’s international climate action summit to be held virtually later this week. President Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Scott Morrison, to the event where he is widely expected to announce an ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target for the US.
Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said Australia’s renewable energy transition needn’t be driven by “international pressure from allies” but “because it’s in our national interest”.
“Australia often gets characterised as part of a climate change problem – well Labor wants us to be part of the solution,” Mr Bowen told the Canberra Clean Technology Jobs Summit.
“The fact of the matter is Australia is trading in a mid-century net zero environment.
“But Scott Morrison is playing word games instead of making this most basic commitment – net zero by 2050, leaving Australia a global laggard amongst 70 per cent of our trading partners and 120 countries.”
Mr Albanese said he did not want to see Australia’s transition to renewable energy “bogged down by negative partisan politics”.
“For more than 20 years, the Liberals and Nationals have rejected scientific advice and chosen to portray the rise of clean energy as a threat to jobs and exports,” Mr Albanese said.
“At their worst, they have deliberately misled Australians, pretending we can ignore change, even as it happens right before our eyes.”
The Opposition leader compared the risk of a poor transition to renewable energy based on “ideological reasons” to the bungling of the National Broadband Network. The landmark Labor policy was downgraded by the 2013 Coalition government “with a new model using 19th-century copper wire technology” before a cost blowouts and an eventual return to Labor’s fibre model.
“We must not repeat this mistake when it comes to renewable energy. We need to be at the front of the pack, not well behind the pace,” he said.
“We have the technology. We have the best natural resources in the world. We have an opportunity to act now to secure a better future for ourselves and our children. We must seize the day.”
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