The federal government had a chance to ensure Australia’s economic recovery tackled the climate crisis. Yet the budget that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivered on Tuesday October 6 failed to seize the opportunity.
Again, the responsibility to create jobs, catalyse new industries, and decarbonise our economy falls on the shoulders of states and territories such as Victoria.
It’s now up to Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas to forge a smarter path towards economic recovery—one that crates jobs while cutting emissions. Recent announcements from the Andrews government signal that this is the direction it could take.
In September, the state government announced a ‘market sounding’ for at least 600MW of new renewable energy capacity; committed $1 million worth of grants for 13 community-energy projects; and revealed that tunnelling for the Melbourne Metro 1 rail tunnel project hit the halfway mark.
Can Victoria’s budget and economic recovery build on the momentum? There’s no shortage of big ideas to create jobs in the short-term and drive long-term recovery.
Energy – The Low-Hanging Fruit:
Expanding Solar Victoria
Solar is booming across the state thanks to the Solar Homes program. It is now creating jobs for the solar industry and helping householders save on their electricity bills.
Expanding the remit of Solar Victoria to decarbonise households can accelerate the rollout of energy efficient heating (reverse-cycle air conditioners), induction cook-tops, and electric hot-water systems.
Not only would this initiative help get the gas out of Victorian homes, it would create jobs for installers, local manufacturers, and appliance retailers.
Renewable Energy Zones
Bottlenecks in the Victoria’s transmission infrastructure is a key barrier for bringing more solar and wind online.
Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) are gathering steam after the NSW government announced it will develop a whopping 11GW of new generation in the Central-West Orana and New England regions.
Establishing Renewable Energy Zones is the next logical step for the Andrews government following its ‘VRET 2’ announcement.
Facilitating new solar and wind farms in the near terms will create opportunities for local manufacturers such as Wilson Transformers and Keppel Prince, construction crews, and bring investment to regional communities.
Offshore Wind Industry Plan
Victoria could soon be home to the country’s first offshore wind farm—the landmark Star of the South project.
While the Morrison government has committed to deliver a national legal framework for offshore wind that would pave the way for the project, Victoria must take steps to attract the industry to the state.
Victoria needs an industry plan to invest in enabling infrastructure such as transmission and port upgrades; transition pathways for workers in the fossil fuels sectors; and maximise long-term benefits in terms of jobs and domestic manufacturing.
Transport – The Next Decarbonisation Challenge:
Transport is the second largest and fastest growing source of emissions in Victoria. It’s time for the government to treat it as a climate priority along with the energy sector.
The Andrews government can create jobs and stimulate dispersed economic activity by investing in projects to improve access to public and active transport.
Improving Access to Sustainable Transport
Upgrading train stations, bus stops, and tramlines to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities and mobility issues would create construction jobs and address long-standing disadvantage.
By establishing a dedicated unit within the Level Crossing Removal Authority, the state government can tap expertise and efficiently rollout infrastructure upgrades across the network.
Increased Funding for Active Transport
Ramped up investment in bicycle lanes and dual-use paths would help create jobs for road construction crews, improve safety for cyclists, and provide a healthier option than relying on private vehicles.
Given that car reliance is a major contributor to emissions in the transport sector, redirecting road funding towards building and maintaining active transport infrastructure is an eminently sensible move.
Melbourne Metro 2
The Melbourne Metro 1 rail tunnel will reshape the city and create 7,000 jobs during its construction. With the tunnel hitting the halfway mark, it’s time for the government to plan the follow up.
Commissioning a pre-feasibility study for the Melbourne Metro 2 rail tunnel to identify options for the route would create jobs for surveyors, planners, and draughts people.
This step will pave the way for a pipeline of jobs for construction workers who gained much experience working on Melbourne Metro 1.
Climate Policy – Setting the Direction:
Lastly, Victoria’s economic recovery needs a vision. And state leadership on climate is the perfect fit.
The Andrews government will soon set the state’s first interim Emissions Reduction Targets for 2025 and 2030. Setting science-based targets can be the mission that drives the state’s long-term economic recovery.
Targets that are bold and ambitious would bring cohesion to public investment and policy measures in the energy and transport sectors. And it would put Victoria on the map for global investors who are seeking to invest in forward-looking jurisdictions.
After the federal government’s failure to tackle the multiple challenges we face, Victorians are looking to the state government to show leadership in the forthcoming budget.
We will soon see how the Andrews government forges a smarter path to economic recovery.
Cam Walker is Friends of the Earth’s campaigns coordinator