Australian solar lobby group the Smart Energy Council has thrown its weight behind the Independent candidate for Warringah in New South Wales, Zali Steggall, in her bid to oust former prime minister Tony Abbott in the soon to be announced federal election.
Steggall, a Sydney-based barrister and former Olympic skier for Australia, is one of a number of independents running for Liberal Party safe seats around the country on a platform of climate action and renewable energy advocacy.
The push by these independents – including Julia Banks in the Victorian seat of Flinders, and Oliver Yates in the Victorian seat of Kooyong – zeroes in on the electorates held by some of the chief climate and renewables obstructionists of Coalition administrations past, including former energy minister Josh Frydenberg, and former environment minister Greg Hunt.
But in an unscheduled appeal to the audience at the Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition in Sydney on Wednesday, SEC CEO John Grimes called on the industry to back Steggall against Abbott, who he described as “probably the most destructive politician in a generation.”
A defeat for Abbott would indeed be symbolic for Australia’s renewable energy industry, exorcising a political demon who, in his role as Prime Minister, brought investment in large-scale solar and wind in the country to a screeching halt between 2013 and 2015.
“(He) was not just destructive [to the renewable energy industry], but willfully so,” Grimes said in his short plug for Steggall, delivered directly after her speech at the Sydney conference on Wednesday.
“…It came out, via Peta Credlin, that Tony Abbott had taken the stance he had, because it was politically expedient to do so.
“Here we have Zali Steggall, with the forensic mind of a barrister, who weighs the evidence and can see in three-and-a-half seconds that not only is this really vital and important, but in fact it has to happen.
“For those of that live in Sydney, in fact for those who live around Australia… it’s time to swing in behind Zali … it’s time to put an end to the era of Tony Abbott.”
Steggall, in a speech delivered earlier at the conference, said it was “vital” that climate change and clean energy be at the centre of this federal election.
“Sadly the Coalition, in last night’s budget, certainly showed that there’s no real commitment to invest in reliable, clean, affordable power. There are cash hand-outs… But there’s no real investment to lower the prices and invest in a clean and affordable future,” she said.
Steggall described Abbott, as “a handbrake” in Australia’s development of climate and renewables policy and strategy and said she couldn’t stand by and watch him survive another election cycle unchallenged.
“Some people in the media and politics love to case misinformation about climate change, and love to cast climate change as being costly,” she said.
“But the same people… fail to take into account the cost of inaction. Who’s priced the cost to Australia of our failure to act in the last 10 years?”
Steggall said her policy plan included a push to reinstate the Climate Change Authority, with the resources to evaluate and recommend effective climate actions to parliament.
“It should be a new body that people must be able to trust. In that, I think it should be something like a Reserve Bank of climate change – to take politics out of the science and let business and government get on with the jobs.
She also said she would support energy policies to support the development of the future electricity grid, and in particular new signals for investment in large-scale renewable energy and storage development, including new targets, or a revamped National Energy Guarantee
“Our Renewable EnergyTarget has driven the private sector and uptake on renewables so far, but it expires in 2020, and the current political deadlock means that there’s nothing to replace it – that’s unacceptable,” Steggall said.
“Either a new RET or a proposed National Energy Guarantee could work, but we certainly have to provide certainty for investment. We must lead by example.”