Australia’s peak trade union body has called on the federal government to put in place “credible” emissions reduction and renewable energy policies or risk losing some of the nation’s core industries, including aluminium smelting.
In a submission on the Morrison government’s Technology Roadmap discussion paper, the Australian Council of Trade Unions said that without “immediate action” to guarantee a predictable trajectory of falling emissions, Australian metals manufacturing and fabrication industries risk going into terminal decline.
As RenewEconomy has reported, the federal Coalition’s thinking behind the roadmap, which was detailed in a discussion paper in May, appears determined to identify technologies needed before setting a long-term emissions target, rather than setting a long-term target and letting markets and technology decide how to get there.
The Roadmap has also been criticised as a blatant attempt to try and jam new gas infrastructure, carbon capture and storage, and even new coal investments, into Australia’s energy future.
In its submission on Friday, the ACTU said that most of the technologies required to transition Australia to a low-carbon economy – namely increasingly cheap solar and wind – were already mature, and their enormous potential was being held back by a lack of leadership from the top.
This policy void included the lack of an overarching net-zero emissions objective, the lack of education, skills, training and apprenticeship programs to accelerate uptake, the lack of policy and regulation to drive low emissions technology adoption, and the lack of support and assistance for communities impacted by the energy transition.
“Given that Coalition parties have spent a decade opposing any form of carbon pricing … or regulation, the Technology Roadmap risks being regarded as the latest attempt to craft a climate policy that is acceptable to a Coalition party room hostile to climate action,” the submission said.
“Despite this strong sense of déjà vu, the ACTU is committed to contributing to the development of a coherent Australian climate and energy policy..
“Without immediate action to guarantee a predictable trajectory of falling emissions, Australian metals manufacturing and fabrication industries risk continued decline and will be extremely difficult to re-establish.
The submission pointed to the fact that all four of Australia’s remaining aluminium smelters were currently under review, partly as a result of growing international demand for aluminium produced with renewable energy and partly as a result of energy security concerns and electricity price fluctuations.
“The absence of a credible emissions or energy policy nationally jeopardises the future of all of these smelters and many other manufacturing and processing businesses,” the submission said.
“These and other asset owners will need much more immediate steps to match their energy usage profiles with declining emissions sources in order to continue operations and remain internationally competitive.
“If we lose these manufacturers it will be very difficult to entice them back,” the ACTU said.
“While the confidence in hydrogen and low emissions manufacturing in the Roadmap is welcome, it cannot be a ‘future vision’- we need immediate action and policy support to expand and futureproof our existing manufacturing base and the jobs these industries support.
“Australia may well have a competitive advantage in renewable energy powered mining, metals processing and manufacturing, but it will not be realised if we have to start rebuilding our manufacturing industries from scratch.”
On private investment, the ACTU warned that this was also in danger of dwindling at the worst possible time without strong signals from Canberra.
“Frankly, every time a government backbencher questions the need for leadership on climate change and threatens to destabilise the Coalition unless ambition is abandoned the case for private investment and leadership is diminished,” it said.