Jobs and growth: Albanese recasts Labor’s planned clean energy revolution

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Albanese sells Labor’s clean energy revolution as key to jobs and manufacturing, and promises a future for coking coal industry.

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Credit: AAP/Bianca De Marchi
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Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has reframed the Labor party’s policy on climate and energy, focusing the core of the party’s clean energy revolution on manufacturing jobs and ‘the future of work’, and insisting that there is a long term role for coal, at least the metallurgical variety used to produce steel products such as wind turbine towers.

In his first major policy speech as opposition leader at a CEDA event in Perth, Albanese was due emphasise Labor’s renewed focus on jobs and manufacturing, and sending the message that Labor continues to see metallurgical coal as having a central role in the Australian economy into the future.

Albanese is using a series of speeches to reshape and re-imagine the Labor party’s climate and energy policies, after a largely unexpected defeat at the federal election held in May. At the centre of this is a re-jigged climate and energy policy, after the Labor party was rebuffed by voters after presenting an “ambitious” package of policies under Bill Shorten.

The jobs and growth style rhetoric is ironic, because it is reminiscent of the mantra from former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose government was not so keen on a clean energy revolution.

Albanese acknowledged that the falling costs of wind and solar meant that the of future of the manufacturing sector lay with sourcing energy from renewables.

“In the century that’s before us, the nations that will transform into manufacturing powerhouses are those that can harness the cheapest renewable energy resources,” Albanese said.

“We have the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent. We don’t need to create nuclear power when every day we can harness the power of the greatest nuclear reactor in the solar system: the Sun.”

Albanese used his speech to highlight Labor’s commitment to blue-collar job creation, fighting back against persistent Liberal party messaging, and reassured voters that the party’s more ambitious targets for renewables and emissions reductions are not inconsistent with job creation.

But Albanese made the point that Labor believes there’s a role for coal for some time to come, particularly during the transition to clean energy. Albanese said metallurgical will be needed in the manufacturing of materials, such as steel necessary for the ongoing construction of components for wind and solar energy projects.

“Just as coal and iron ore fuelled the industrial economies of the 20th century, it is these minerals that will fuel the clean energy economies of the 21st,” Albanese told the CEDA meeting.

“Labor’s vision for Australia will always be one of a country that continues to make things. Simply put, the road to a low-carbon future can be paved with hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs, as well as supporting traditional jobs, including coal mining,” Albanese said.

“Our traditional industries are also poised to benefit from a low-carbon future. Australia could be exporting 15.5 million tonnes of coking coal to build these turbines. This is the equivalent of three years output from the Moranbah North coking (metallurgical) coal mine in Queensland.”

During the election campaign, Labor faced pressure from both sides of the political spectrum; from the Coalition claiming Labor would sacrifice jobs in the resources sector and from the Greens who accused Labor of hedging its bets on the Adani Carmichael coal mine.

The Queensland State Labor party has since backed the enormous coal mine to be constructed in Queensland’s Galilee basin, waving through water management plans for the project quickly after the federal election.

Albanese sought to re-orientate Labor’s messaging, combating Coalition claims it was anti-coal, by backing a revival of Australia’s manufacturing sector fuelled by Australian coal. The Labor leader cited the statistic that more than 200 tonnes of coal are required to produce the steel used in a single wind turbine tower, a figure that mirrors those produced in lobbying material by the Minerals Council of Australia.

However, progressive think tank Beyond Zero Emissions has challenged the premise of this point, saying that Australia is ideally placed to become a world leader in both renewable energy generation as well as the production of zero-emissions metals.

“We already have technology that lets us make steel using hydrogen instead of metallurgical coal, and countries like Austria and Sweden are developing pilot plants to make fossil-free steel at scale.” Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Vanessa Petrie said.

“But Australia has more iron ore than anywhere else in the world, and more than enough wind and sunshine to power our steelmaking and other industries. With the right investments, we could become a top exporter of zero-carbon steel and renewable hydrogen, while re-employing coal workers in these sunrise industries.”

Albanese sees an opportunity for Australia to seize an advantage in the global market for energy storage technologies, particularly in the production of lithium-ion batteries. The Labor leader proposed Australia invests in both the extraction of battery component materials like lithium and copper, as well as value-adding these resources by processing them in Australia.

“The emerging lithium industry is a living example of how real world economic progress happens – business, unions, researchers and government coming together to deliver on an aspiration bigger than just digging stuff out of the ground and letting the value-adding happen offshore,” Albanese said.

“Not only is Australia in a position to build the batteries, Brisbane-based company, Tritium, has developed and is already exporting the technology to recharge them. Their charging stations are the fastest in the world, and are fuelling the shift to electric vehicles in Europe.”

“Experts tell us achieving 50% renewable energy at home while building a hydrogen export industry would create 87,000 good, well-paid jobs. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel sees a hydrogen export industry that in ten years could be worth $1.7 billion,” Albanese added.

Labor is relying on the fact that the earliest it will be able to form government will be after a federal election scheduled for late 2021 or early 2022 as a reason for reshaping its climate and energy policies.

With an ever narrowing window to achieve emissions reduction and renewable energy policies with a 2030 deadline, the Labor party has been actively considering whether to place a greater emphasis on its longer term, 2050, energy and climate targets.

“The policy we took to the last election had a starting point based upon the Climate Change Authority findings of 2015. We need to know what the starting point is. And I don’t want to let this Government off the hook for having no policy on renewables or on climate change or on energy between now and 2022, because the consequences of that would be devastating for the national economy,” Albanese told a doorstop in Perth ahead of his speech.

Former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill is leading an internal review of Labor’s 2019 federal election campaign that has already seen the party’s climate policy become a internal battleground between party factions.

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