The federal Coalition government, as we know, is deeply entrenched in its “technology, not taxes” mantra on climate action and the energy transition. Now Labor wants to focus on a “policies, not targets” approach as it prepares for the coming electoral campaign.
“We’re going to have to electrify everything that can be electrified in Australia and transfer the energy generation to renewables, and export as well,” Labor’s climate and energy spokesman Chris Bowen says in an interview in the latest episode of RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast.
“We’re one of the world’s largest energy exporters. And we can continue to be in a different form, whether it’s through Sun Cable, or the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, which has hit a bump, but I’m hopeful that they can overcome that bump.
“We live on the edge of a region in Southeast Asia, which is going to have some difficulty creating their own renewable energy because of the space constraints. So we have to be very optimistic about that.”
But while Bowen is upbeat about the transition to renewables, and the ability of Labor to pitch that to the electorate as key to future job opportunities and economic growth, it is still not ready to talk about the sort of targets that it brought to the campaign in 2019.
Those targets – 50 per cent renewables share of power generation by 2030, a 50 per cent EV share of new car sales, and a 45 per cent emissions reduction target – made it relatively easy pickings for the scare campaign led by the Coalition, and eagerly broadcast and amplified by the Murdoch media.
When Labor backed away from those targets after the election defeat, the implication was that they could be wound back given that the Coalition had vowed to do next to nothing during its term, and Labor – should it win power – would have less time to deliver them.
But, as it turns out, technology change – the falling cost of wind and solar, and the emergence of battery storage and EVs – makes two of those targets more or less a fait accompli.
Even the federal Coalition admits Australia will reach 50 per cent renewables by 2030, and the new initiatives by the NSW Coalition government on EVs – and the switch to electric cars by most of the world’s car makers – means the 50 per cent EV target is more or less inevitable too.
On emissions, it’s not so easy. Science is calling for even greater action on greenhouse gas emissions cuts as the climate emergency becomes ever more obvious. And as a signatory to the Paris climate treaty, Australia is expected to announce a much more ambitious target for 2030 than the weak target of 26-28 per cent reductions from 2005 it currently has.
Bowen, however, is not biting. At least not yet, and insists that the focus will be on the policy roadmap.
“I could announce, you know, an 80% reduction by 2030,” Bowen told the Energy Insiders podcast. “Unless I put the policy levers out there, which are capable of credibly being understood to achieve something like that, then we’d be kidding the Australian people and ourselves.
“So it’s got to be all the above. We’ve started announcing some of the policy levers, we’ve got more to do. And we’ll also be announcing that roadmap to net zero by 2050.”
The Labor policies that have been announced so far are focused on a $20 billion fund to support the grid infrastructure identified in AEMO’s Integrated System Plan, which presents a blue-print for a rapid switch to renewables (up to 94 per cent generation share) by 2040.
Labor also proposes funding for community scale batteries, and policies to support apprentices, and Bowen says he is keen to boost Australia’s solar manufacturing capacity.
“It’s unthinkable that we continue to make less than 1% of those (solar panels) in Australia. We’re a huge solar market. We have the size, the economies of scale, it adds up to make more in Australia, but we haven’t been.”
Bowen has focused much attention on EVs, including a fringe benefits tax for businesses, which will slash $9,000 off the price of company cars, for instance.
On EVs, however, Labor will not be setting a target per se, after the Coalition succeeded in turning the 2019 EV goal into a mandate, with its ridiculous, but successful, “EVs will ruin your weekend”, and “Labor will steal your utes” campaign.
“They got away with it,” Bowen says. “Morrison was able to say … 50% EVs will mean the end of the weekend. It’s complete garbage, as we all understand, but it was pretty effective.
“I don’t think we need an EV target. I prefer the levers, the powerful levers, that are bringing the cost of EV’s down and I paint it as a choice. I prefer to look at it through a choice prism, providing the policy framework to encourage more affordable EVs into Australia and giving people that choice.”
To read more about Bowen’s comments on Labor’s EV policies, please go to our EV-focused sister site, the Driven.
Bowen also confirmed that there won’t be a carbon price under Labor.
“I was a member of the cabinet that put it on in Julia Gillard’s cabinet,” he said. “We knew what we were doing. We knew it was a big call, we knew it was going to be politically difficult, but we knew it was the right thing to do for the times,” Bowen said.
“But we then became the only country in the world to impose a carbon price and then repeal it. You don’t go back. And I do think we’ve moved on. I do think we no longer need an economy wide carbon price to achieve the sort of progress that we need. What we now need is a sectoral approach.”
And Bowen says there won’t be another deal with The Greens, as occurred in the Gillard years when Greens and the independents held the balance of power. Current leader Adam Bandt has pitched the idea again.
“No,” he said. “We’ll govern alone or not at all. I understand why it’s in the Greens best interest to promote it, but it’s not something we’re interested in. A Labor government and we’d welcome the Greens support on good climate change legislation when I introduce it as Climate Change Minister.”
Bowen, who brought a solar panel into the House of Representatives last month in a stunt reminiscent of Morrison’s lump of coal three years earlier, says it is clear that many in the Coalition ranks are scared of wind and solar.
“They are afraid of renewable energy on the other side, they just are. There’s multiple examples of which we can talk about.
“But it’s prejudice. I don’t call it ideology because ideology is sort of a consistent framework, even one I might disagree with. You can have conservative ideologies, which I respect, I might disagree. This is just prejudice. There’s no sort of consistent logic to it. They’re just prejudiced against renewable energy, and it needs to be said.”
He singled out resources minister Keith Pitt, energy minister Angus Taylor and backbencher Matt Canavan.
“They’ve just got this this mindset against renewable energy which I really can’t explain. The politics of it used to work for them. They used to be able to divide. I’m not so sure it works for them anymore, but they just can’t change gear.”
“Keith Pitt … actually said this, you probably heard him. This astounded me, even for him and even for them. He said: ‘You shouldn’t have to look out the window to decide whether you can turn the dishwasher on to see if it’s sunny outside.’
“I mean, the guy hasn’t heard of the term storage or batteries, or pumped hydro or hydrogen or anything? They say the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Yeah, that’s true. The rain doesn’t always fall either. But we drink water. We’ve found a way to store it, we can do the same with renewables. But they just don’t get it.”
And on Barnaby Joyce’s re-emergence as Nationals leader:
“I wouldn’t say Barnaby Joyce’s elevation makes it easier or harder. It does make it sharper, because he’s just so out there.
“You know, he’s prepared to say anything. Basically, he’s promoting nuclear. He’s promoting a coal fired power station, which they tried last time. And, you know, all we’ve had is a fraudulent $3 million feasibility study for Collinsville.
“It’s a movie we’ve seen before, there will be no new coal fired power stations built in Australia. One side of politics is honest about that, the other side of politics is dishonest. That’s just the argument we’ve got to win. And I’m prepared to back honesty as the winner. But I’m not suggesting it’s going to be always easy.”
You can listen to the full interview on the Energy Insiders podcast here.
See also on the Driven: Bowen says Labor’s FBT exemption will make electric cars very affordable