Opposition leader Bill Shorten has put climate change and renewable energy firmly on federal Labor’s economic agenda in his budget reply, while his party has re-opened the door to re-instating funds to the Australia Renewable Energy Agency, should it be elected.
Uttering those two words that were conspicuously absent from the Turnbull government’s economic plan, Shorten told parliament on Thursday night that a Labor government would budget for “real action” on climate change, and help drive the new jobs and industries that would be created by renewable energy.
And he was quick to remind voters that his opposite number, Malcolm Turnbull, had seemingly abandoned his convictions on the issue, in accordance with the demands of the party’s far right faction.
“Of course, advocating climate action is hard, and running a scare campaign against it is easy. Mr Turnbull should know – you’ve done both.”
Beyond that, Labor’s position on climate change and clean energy is shaping up to be in direct opposition to the Coalition’s, which has consistently argued that too rapid a transition to renewables – and away from coal – would amount to economic suicide.
“Refusing to act on climate change will leave Australia isolated from the biggest economic opportunity of the next few decades,” Shorten said in his speech.
“Taking real action on climate change will create new jobs, attract new international investment and power our industries and services.
“But delaying action will be a hit on Australians’ cost of living, a drag on our nation’s economic growth and an attack on our farmers’ way of life.
“More than this – it would be a betrayal of the duty every generation owes the next – to hand down an environment in a better state than the one we inherited.”
And on the subject of future funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – the grant-based renewables support scheme that the Coalition wants to de-fund – the party appears to have had a rethink.
Labor, having helped set up ARENA, this week had a bizarre tantrum about continuing to support it, despite the fact that scrapping it would leave no avenue for government funding of the kind of early stage research that is vital to the development of better and cheaper renewable energy technology.
But the party has since clarified that it “will continue to support” ARENA, and was “committed to debt, equity and capital grant funding for the renewable energy sector” as crucial elements of its plan to reach 50 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030.
“ARENA’s funding trajectory has been a political plaything of the Turnbull Government with the various changes over the term of this Government making it lumpy and sub optimal,” shadow climate spokesman Mark Butler said in a statement.
“ARENA is fully funded for 2016/17 but we recognise that the balance of funds and programs needs further consideration to ensure that we have what is actually required to achieve our targets for the renewable revolution and deliver on the commitments in our Climate Change Action Plan.
“On winning government we will sit down with the ARENA board and work through exactly what is required.
“By 2030, there will be $2.5 trillion of investment in renewable energy in the Asia-Pacific. Australian workers should be collaborating with our universities and researchers to design, manufacture and export battery technology, solar panels and turbine parts.
“These are not niche markets or boutique industries. Embracing clean technology and renewable energy can revitalise advanced manufacturing in this country.
“In the last two years, the global economy added 2 million renewable energy jobs – but Australia lost 2,600. The world is powering ahead – and we are going in the wrong direction. It’s time to turn things around. Which is why a Labor government will deliver 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.”