Anthony Albanese Gives Press Club Address
Anthony Albanese Gives Press Club Address

Cleaner future in sight — if we listen to the scientists

If there is one thing Australians have learned during the coronavirus crisis, it is that we should always listen to scientists.

Australia has managed the pandemic better than many nations because our governments - all of them - listened to the medical experts.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: Rohan Thomson/Getty Images
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: Rohan Thomson/Getty Images

Australians responded. We embraced social distancing. We stayed home.

We accepted that protecting each other's health required shared sacrifice, including restrictions to our liberty and significant economic damage, the effects of which will be felt for many years.

Listening to the scientists on coronavirus has paid real dividends.

If only the Morrison government showed respect for science when it comes to climate change and the need for an energy policy that can drive increased investment and jobs growth.

Economists and scientists tell us there are great opportunities for Australia in renewable energy that can create new jobs and economic growth right across the economy.

But since 2013, internal divisions have prevented the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government from devising an energy policy that can establish a framework for investment.

Renewable energy investment fell by half last year.

We are missing out on opportunities to create jobs for Australians in manufacturing, energy and a range of other sectors.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group are begging the government for policy clarity. Their members want to invest in clean energy. But they lack confidence because of the absence of a clear energy policy.

It is time to listen.

The experts are telling us climate change is real and that if we are smart, we can harness the transition to renewables in a way that will create jobs across the economy - jobs desperately needed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

That's why this week I wrote to Scott Morrison offering to work with him to create a bipartisan policy framework under which we could set basic principles about how to drive investment.

Such a framework would give business the certainty it needs to invest and create jobs.

Renewable energy is cheap, it's clean and it's the future.

The government now admits as much in its recently produced Technology Roadmap, which outlines the options worthy of exploring in renewables.

While Labor opposes the Roadmap's advocacy of using nuclear energy, we welcome the government's new-found acceptance that renewables and other clean technologies are not only key to addressing climate change, but also key to more investment and more jobs.

However, the Technology Roadmap isn't an energy policy.

It identifies a destination, but does not include a mechanism about how to get there.

We need an energy policy framework that will support the investment required to deliver on the Technology Roadmap's promise.

Business knows this. Investors and energy market agencies know this.

When the Morrison Government abandoned the National Energy Guarantee in 2018, they turned their back for a time on the prospect of an enduring bipartisan energy policy.

Today, with the importance of scientific advice being front and centre, and a need to invest and create jobs, it's beyond time that Australia had an energy policy.

Labor is open-minded about the specific investment framework to be adopted.

We can work with a National Energy Guarantee, a Clean Energy Target, an Emissions Intensity Scheme or other models which deliver the essential component of providing investment certainty.

It should be possible to agree on a policy framework that can deliver confidence to investors even though there is disagreement over Labor's net zero emissions by 2050 target.

Labor and the government have different levels of ambition when it comes to the pace at which we should reduce carbon emissions.

But if we agree to establish an investment framework we can both support, action can be scaled up or down as required.

Labor is also willing to support research into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies being able to generate carbon offsets, as long as the usual quality safeguards are met.

When the science is clear politicians should act.

Action on climate change that provides investment certainty will create jobs, lower energy costs and reduce emissions.

For Labor, the road ahead has always been clear.

At the Economic Summit that followed the election of Bob Hawke in 1983, the communique singled out new technology as a key driver of economic growth.

It's a vision that has gone missing in more recent years.

COVID-19 has reunited us with respect for science.

And with that has come an understanding that science can take us from lockdown to unlocking our potential.

Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Australian Labor Party

Originally published as Cleaner future in sight - if we listen to the scientists