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This Budget Was A Travesty For The Environment

05/05/2016 10:27 AM AEST | Updated 05/05/2016 10:32 AM AEST
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Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison leaves a press conference before delivering the 2016 Federal Government's budget at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, May 3, 2016. AAP/Mick Tsikas/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. AUSTRALIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN AUSTRALIA. NEW ZEALAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NEW ZEALAND

In his Budget speech, Treasurer Scott Morrison emphasised a number of times that Australia was in the midst of an economic transition from a mining boom to a more diversified economy. Prime Minister Turnbull has pitched himself to the electorate as best placed to manage Australia's transition to the new economy.

A national discussion on economic transition -- particularly one that focuses on what future employment and industries will look like -- is welcome. It is up to our political leaders to convince us at the coming election that they have genuine plans to manage this transition.

Australians are about to be deluged by a wave of policy proposals and political rhetoric which will come our way in the 'marathon' election campaign. For the Turnbull Government, the Federal Budget is the beginning of their election pitch.

What the budget revealed was that the Government's conception of economic transition is extremely narrow, and lacks vision or a coherent narrative.

For the Government, economic transition doesn't include the need to restructure our energy and transport systems to address Australia's contribution to climate change. In fact, the budget laid out no vision on how the government conceives of Australia's place in a carbon constrained world. This flies in the face of the commitments the Prime Minister made on the international stage in Paris late last year.

There is no coherent or decipherable plan for how Australia is to share in the worldwide investment boom occurring in the renewable energy sector. Australia has some of the world's best solar and wind energy resources and yet the Government has reduced funding to Australia's Renewable Energy Agency by one billion dollars.

Aside from the obvious climate benefits, a clean energy boom in Australia would help stimulate research and investment, and yes, it would genuinely stimulate innovation. Over time it would also ensure Australian industry had access to cheaper power, freeing up funds for investment in other areas. A simple place to start would be improving energy efficiency in existing businesses, which again has both climate and financial benefits for the Australian economy.

The Government doesn't even have to necessarily spend up big to get results, incentives that remain in the budget, such as the over $7 billion in fuel subsidies, could be removed or reformed to ensure government money isn't incentivising behaviour that is both environmentally damaging and a barrier to innovation.

An acknowledgment of the path that Australia needs to head and a willingness to work with businesses, communities and workers to articulate a vision of a genuine economic transition would be another important first step.

There are a variety of people across the country from different sectors who are already having this conversation. One of these conversations is being had by Energy Transition Leadership Forum, a group of 17 eminent Australian's (brought together by the Australian Conservation Foundation) who recognise the need and opportunities inherent in moving towards a cleaner energy and transport systems.

A government that has the best long-term interest of the country in mind acknowledges the challenge and opportunities of Climate Change in its forward looking documents. The Abbott/Turnbull governments have refused to seriously include any discussion of the economic transition to a cleaner economy in three successive Budgets, the Intergenerational Report, the Agriculture White Paper and the Energy White Paper to name just a few 'visionary' documents.

Economic transition remains a hollow slogan when it doesn't take into consideration our economy in a carbon-constrained world. The longer governments fail to plan for a renewable energy transformation the more disruptive and expensive inevitable changes will be. The fact that they have failed to do this while governing a country with some of the best renewable energy resources and scientists in the world is a travesty.

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