We're At Risk Of Becoming The Rust-Belt Of Asia

20/08/2015 9:47 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
Nick Moir, SMH

Where I come from, in the Hunter Region of NSW, energy production and distribution is significant to our local economy.

My electorate is home to the largest power station in the country and a number of operational coal mines. With our stake in the future of energy production high, we are attuned to changes in the sector.

In April this year AGL Energy, owner of Liddell and Bayswater power stations in the Upper Hunter, announced they would 'take the lead' in the decarbonisation of the energy sector, making a commitment to not build, finance or buy new coal-fired power stations or extend the life of existing stations.

This is not just a commitment to the environment, though that should not be undervalued.

This is a major stakeholder in the energy market making it clear that the future of the sector is not in conventional coal-fired power. The future is renewable energy; and the future is now.

This will impact coalmining, which is already in transition as a result of low export prices. The burning of coal for energy without capturing the carbon is problematic in a carbon constrained world, but it is action at an international level that will have the greatest impact.

In particular, China and India's transformation of their domestic energy sectors will see coal consumption decline. This will accelerate as the world commits to post-2020 emissions reduction targets.

Our international counterparts have set reasonable and achievable emissions reduction targets. The US has a reduction target of 41 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. The UK has a 48 percent and Germany a 46 percent emissions reduction target. In comparison, the Australian Government has set out a reduction target in the order of 26 percent.

Does Tony Abbott believe, in all seriousness, that Australia should aspire to have one of the lowest emissions reduction targets of any developed country?

He's got form on this. He once referred to climate change as crap. He tried to decimate the Renewable Energy Target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. He doesn't like windfarms. A search of Hansard shows that over the last 21 years in Parliament, Tony Abbott has mentioned 'renewables' on only three occasions.

By comparison, he has mentioned BA Santamaria four times. He has mentioned bananas three times, bikes six times and apples ten times.

Mr Abbott has presided over the greatest investment strike in renewable power ever seen in this country, an 88 percent decline from $2.7 billion under Labor to less than $200 million under the Coalition.

We have fallen from 11th in the world for investment to 39th, putting us behind that paragon of renewable power investment, Myanmar. Mr. Abbott has pushed ahead with Direct Action; a policy which has produced a $66 carbon price.

Tony Abbott is a threat to our future economy in that he fails to grasp the opportunities presented to us by the clean energy industrial revolution. Worse, he is doing a disservice to every worker in the energy and coalmining industries in the country, including in the Hunter region.

This head-in-the-sand approach will see us become the rustbelt economy of the Asia Pacific, have carbon tariffs imposed upon us, and we will be under intense pressure from our neighbours as a result of our post-2020 emissions reduction targets.

We need a smarter approach -- and there is one on offer. Labor has adopted a goal to derive 50 percent of Australia's energy mix from renewable sources by 2030, in conjunction with an efficient emissions trading scheme. The goal is to have prosperous and secure jobs going into the next century.

A comprehensive approach must be grounded on an emissions trading scheme, because it is the most efficient way to reduce emissions.

Importantly, Labor's policy will also put in place structural adjustment policies for affected communities.

The worst thing we can do is lie to affected communities. We need to work with communities that are affected by change, we need to have proper conversations with them -- the workers, industry, unions -- about how we grow the jobs of the future.

I genuinely believe that my region is up to this challenge. We have got the best energy workforce in the country, and massive transmission and generation infrastructure. We have research facilities, including the CSIRO's clean energy flagship and the National Institute of Energy Research at the University of Newcastle.

We can lead this country as a clean energy hub, but we need good investment from a government that accepts the science of climate change and that accepts the good economic policy of an emissions trading scheme and renewable energy industry policies.

That is the way forward -- not Abbott's aggressive rhetoric that will condemn him and his Government throughout history as reactionaries who led Australia down the wrong path.

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