Peter Rae, former Liberal Senator for Tasmania and known champion of renewable energy, was elected President of the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) in Jerusalem on Monday. A tireless advocate and business leader in the renewable energy world, what implications does Peter Rae’s ascendancy have for contemporary Liberals?
Instrumental in the early development of the Australian wind industry as Chairman of HydroTasmania, Rae says he will advocate for the role of wind as a major power generator and central element of community energy, as well as the broader benefits of renewables for sustainability. He has simultaneously been called a renewable energy advocate and ‘free-market rebel’ demonstrating how conservative politicians needn’t change parties in order to back renewable energy.
The Victorian Liberal Party can take inspiration from the former Liberal Senator’s example. Renewable energy is a strategic industry that will provide new jobs and investment at a time when Victoria is experiencing a decline in manufacturing, and should be supported by both sides of politics.
We have seen some encouraging signs that the Victorian Liberal Party may be changing direction on renewables. At Melbourne’s recent AllEnergy Conference, David Southwick, the first Shadow Renewable Energy Minister at any level of government, declared “The renewables revolution starts here in Victoria”. This is a considerable shift from an Opposition that just 12 months ago presided over the world’s worst anti-wind laws in government.
The Opposition has also shown leadership committing to a moratorium on onshore gas in Victoria, before a Parliamentary inquiry into the industry releases its findings and before the Andrews Government issues its own response. The Matthew Guy Opposition can take the same proactive approach to renewables. It could present its view on ambitious and achievable Victorian Renewable Energy Targets for 2020 and 2025. It can also clarify the policy mechanisms needed to grow renewable energy, unleash investment and create jobs. This would signify the Liberal party takes renewable energy seriously, and give substance to Southwick’s declaration.
Peter Rae has also highlighted his intention to “answer critics of the wind industry where these occur and reassure those with concerns” – a reasonable approach and important task. The risk politicians take giving credence to misinformation was made clear last week following NSW Assistant Health Minister’s spurious claim that wind turbines create pressure waves that “resonate in the skulls” of those nearby. The NSW Health Department promptly and publicly distanced itself from her comments, which the Sydney Morning Herald reported had created divisions within the Baird Government.
The Victorian Liberal Party appears to be turning a new leaf on renewable energy, and has already demonstrated foresight on unconventional gas. Staking an early position on the VRET will show the Victorian Liberal party is a proactive Opposition seeking to ensure best practice policies are adopted by the Government.
Pat Simons works as a campaigner for Yes 2 Renewables.