Federal Labor climate and energy spokesperson Chris Bowen says his party will underline the economic opportunities from an accelerated shift to clean energy, but has stopped short of committing to phase-out the use of fossil fuels ahead of its refreshed climate and energy policy pitch to voters.
In comments made during a webinar hosted by The Australia Institute on Wednesday, Bowen slammed the Morrison government’s ‘gas led recovery’ proposal, labelling the plan as a “fraud”.
“It’s a slogan, it’s not a policy. It’s simply a fraud,” Bowen said. “There’s not been one job created, and there won’t be a job created of this alleged gas fired recovery.”
But, Bowen added that it was Labor’s view that gas would continue to feature as a part of Australia’s energy system for the foreseeable future.
“Gas will continue to play a role in firming and peeking our grid as we transition to renewable energy. We need to massively increase the storage in our grid through batteries, pumped hydro and hydrogen, which have various levels of development,” Bowen told the webinar.
“But that’s going to take time. And there’s varying views are around about how long that will take or indeed what role gas will play as we do that, but that is the role of gas.”
Bowen is seeking to distinguish Labor’s positions on climate change from those of the Morrison government, saying that while Labor saw a continued role for gas, he would need to be “very convinced” on the need for government subsidies to pay for new gas infrastructure.
“Public subsidies are really where the market has failed,” he said. “If the government really believed in investing in gas, they’d get out of the way, let the private sector get on with it. But you can imagine if you’re on a board of an energy company, and every time you think about investing in gas, and the government says, we might invest in gas too, that’s just a chilled to investment.”
Bowen indicated that Labor would look to reframe its climate and energy policies to break down regular conservative criticisms that climate action is a trade-off against jobs and economic growth.
“I think you’ll see a much stronger emphasis from the Labor Party on the economic opportunities of climate change. I refuse to accept this false trade-off that the conservatives peddle at every election that somehow ambitious action on climate change comes at a cost to the economy,” Bowen said.
“We don’t win that argument during an election campaign. We’ve got to win that argument now and every day between the election and including the election campaign.”
Bowen said that Labor was currently working on a ‘roadmap’ of policies for reaching zero net emissions in 2050, that would be released ahead of the next election, but would not say whether Labor would announce interim reduction targets or an increase to the Morrison government’s current 2030 target.
“I could announce wonderful targets for 2030. But unless we have outlined policies underneath it to get there, it’s going to be pretty meaningless. So we need to be doing the roadmap, the strong roadmap, and I am committed to providing that to Australian people before the next election, as well as the policy levers which underpin that roadmap,” Bowen said.
Asked about government policies on electric vehicles, Bowen said that he had some sympathy for State governments, including that of the Victorian Labor government, that are considering the introduction of new taxes on electric vehicles.
Bowen recently unveiled a federal Labor policy package to reduce the upfront cost of electric vehicles by providing exemptions from a range of federal taxes. But electric vehicle advocates have said such measures are being undermined by State government plans to introduce new road user charges targeted at electric vehicles and hybrids.
The Victorian state government is progressing plans to introduce a new per kilometre road use charge on electric vehicles in an effort to make up for lost government revenues from petrol fuel tariffs. The proposal has been slammed as de-incentivising the purchase of electric vehicles at a critical moment in their early uptake. Bowen said that it would be preferable that the issue was resolved at a federal level.
“I understand why State Treasurers, and not just Victoria, are concerned. They’re concerned about the eventual diminution of revenue to governments broadly, including the federal government, from petrol tax,” Bowen said.
“That needs to be considered, and it would be better if that was considered, in my view, in a holistic national fashion.”