You would have missed it, if you were relying on mainstream media, but Labor leader Bill Shorten did actually mention clean energy and climate policies in his scene-setting speech for 2018, which may well turn out to be an election year.
The mainstream media focus was largely on unions, pay, and the proposed integrity commission, but in a much-missed contrast to a government focused on being a major exporter of war machines, backing carbon capture and storage, and backing new coal generation and new thermal coal mines, Shorten had an alternative.
“If we want lower prices and more secure energy we have to back the transition to renewables,” he said in his speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday.
“If we want new industries and new technologies creating new jobs here, then we have to back the transition to renewables.
“And if we want our kids to be able to take their kids to the reef, then we have to back the transition to renewables.
“We’re Australians, we’ve got the brains and the get up and go – you bet we can build an energy system where everyone can have energy at an affordable price and indeed, renewables helping the environment.”
So at least one of the major parties is saying it, and the contrast with the Coalition could not be more stark.
A month after the world turned its calendar to 2018, and the growing promise of wind, solar, storage, and electric vehicles, the Coalition appears to have jumped into a time capsule and set the date for half a century ago.
Its bizarre and ill-founded ranting at renewables and EVs, and its desperation to rediscover the past glories of a “nation building project” like Snowy 2.0 echo that of the Trump administration, which is dismantling environmental protections and chasing a futile goal of “saving” coal.
“We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal,” President Trump declared in his State of the Union address. Australia’s Coalition shares Trump’s disregard for technology progress, energy economics and environmental impacts.
That means Shorten can find plenty of fodder against the Coalition rhetoric, and the uncertainty around its proposed National Energy Guarantee.
“Every time a light globe flickers, the government spend a whole Question Time blaming renewables,” he said.
“Yet analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows the Liberals’ so-called Energy Guarantee would see annual investment in large-scale renewable energy cut by 95 per cent.
“No serious energy plan, anywhere in the world, is built on the assumption of a decline in renewables investment.
“It’s like releasing a roads policy based on the resurgence of the horse and cart… or an National Broadband Network based upon copper.”
Shorten re-iterated that Labor’s “objectives” are “clear, achievable and responsible”, and include 50 per cent renewables by 2030, a 45 per cent cut in pollution (emissions) by 2030, and zero net pollution by 2050.
The question of how exactly this occurs is still not answered. But one wonders why, with a gift in the form of Craig Kelly spouting such nonsense across the aisle, Labor does not seek to make more of their differences.
Shorten was put on the spot by Katharine Murphy, from the Guardian, the only mainstream publication with a deep and abiding interest in climate and clean energy, about the Galilee Basin, and whether Labor would seek to stop the Adani mine, or just shut its eyes.
It was a well-timed question, given that environmental NGOs are seeking to replicate their success in the recent Queensland state election by targeting the seat of Batman, where Labor’s David Feeney is likely to go back to the polls over his citizenship.
“You can’t be serious about climate change and energy and have a bet every which way,” Shorten said. “So we’re certainly looking at the Adani matter very closely. If it doesn’t stack up commercially or if it doesn’t stack up environmentally, it will absolutely not receive our support.”
That’s still not saying he will veto it, but it is a step closer.
Shorten promised that he would spend 2018 “explaining to people why I think we can do better”, with a particular mention about “the hard generational issues, even if it they are politically difficult, even if it means confronting scare campaigns or vested interests.”
Time will tell exactly how far he wants to go with that. Technology, and the plunging costs of renewables, the emergence of storage and the possibilities of a smarter, faster, cleaner, cheaper and more reliable grid, should play into his hands.
As Audrey Zibelman, the head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, told RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast last year, trying to stop the energy revolution would be like trying to stop the internet.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s history with the NBN is proof that some governments will try. It’s a yawning chasm that must be filled.