Speeches

OPENING REMARKS TO THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB DEBATE

May 18, 2016

NATIONAL PRESS CLUB

WEDNESDAY, 18 MAY 2016

Thank you President Uhlmann, members of The Press Club, ladies and gentlemen.

And also to Greg, a daunting opponent in a debate. Not only was he famously crowned the World’s Best Minister in February this year I’m also told he was something of a World Champion debater at university – I presume at about the same time he was penning his thesis about making polluters pay; but that’s a story for another day.

Today is – to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister – a terrifically exciting time to be talking climate change policy.

We’re still basking in the warm afterglow of the remarkably successful conference in Paris in December. Sure, there’s much more to do, but it was a quantum leap from the division and the disappointment in Copenhagen only 6 years ago.

And last year – for the first time in history – investment across the globe in renewable energy was greater than the combined investment in coal, gas, nuclear and hydro power, and it’s hard to see things ever changing back.

Australia should be surfing this enormous wave of jobs and investment in renewable energy.

It’s hard to think of a clearer example of innovation and the post-mining boom opportunities that Malcolm Turnbull is so fond of trumpeting in the abstract.

And we were beautifully positioned to lead the world.

In 2013, Ernst & Young’s global index rated Australia one of the four most attractive investment destinations for renewable energy – up there with the powerhouses of China, the US and Germany.

We’d approved the largest wind farm and the largest PV solar farm in the southern hemisphere.

During our term in Government, the number of households with rooftop solar panels skyrocketed from 7400 to 1.3 million in just 6 years. Jobs in the industry tripled and pollution levels from electricity started to come down – for the first time in our history.

But that platform for jobs and growth – to borrow another phrase from the Prime Minister – has been smashed to pieces by this Government.

In their enthusiasm to go after the so-called Carbon Tax, the Government completely dismantled Australia’s climate change policy framework – ditching the baby with the bathwater.

And – in 2014, Tony Abbott’s general year of overreach – the Government then went after the renewable energy industry, causing investment in large-scale renewables to plummet by 88% and causing thousands of jobs to be lost.

The consequences extend far beyond the renewables industry.

Carbon pollution levels from electricity are rising again – up by more than 5% in less than two years. Emissions from tree clearing are also on the rise after Campbell Newman tore up Queensland’s landmark tree clearing reforms.

And the Queensland Nationals won’t let Greg do a single thing about it.

Australia is now pretty much the only major advanced economy where pollution levels are going up, not coming down. The Government’s own data – which it released around Christmas Eve last year – projects that pollution will rise by 6% between now and 2020 under this Government’s Direct Action policy – after dropping by 8% during our term in office.

That same data projected that carbon pollution levels in the year 2020 will be 6% higher than they were in 2000 – a far cry from the 5% cut promised by Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott.

And the wreckage extends far beyond climate and energy policy. Over the past 3 years, Greg’s been working hard to make himself redundant – seeking to hand the Commonwealth’s longstanding responsibilities to protect matters of national environmental significance over to State Governments, including the protection of world heritage properties, our water resources and much more.

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott tore up the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement and lodged an unprecedented application to de-list 74,000 hectares of world heritage listed wilderness – an application dismissed at UNESCO with barely-disguised contempt.

Management Plans for the Commonwealth Marine Reserves – one of Tony Burke’s signature achievements as Minister – were all revoked. And three years on, new plans have yet to emerge from this Minister’s office.

And there has been a shameless – and shameful – attack on civil society in this area.

While Kevin Rudd’s first decision as Prime Minister was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Tony Abbott set about abolishing the Climate Commission.

He completely de-funded the Environmental Defenders Offices across our nation – including funding that had survived eleven Howard and Costello Budgets.

Last year, the Government introduced legislation to remove the right of environmental and farmers groups to appear in court under Federal environmental laws – a right enshrined by that radical greenie, John Howard.

And – only a few weeks ago – Coalition members of a parliamentary committee recommended an attack on the charitable status of environmental NGOs under our tax laws.

It is beyond time to have a meaningful debate about climate, energy and environmental policy – because the past three years have been a disaster.

None of this is meant to suggest that our time was perfect.

I will say that our legacy in the natural environment is a proud one – particularly Tony Burke’s work in oceans, forests and the Murray Darling Basin. And we will fight to protect and build on that legacy.

But it would have been negligent of us not to have reflected deeply on the design and presentation of our climate policy.

Well, we did reflect – and we did consult. Over the past summer in particular, I held consultations directly with 250 businesses and organisations across Australia.

And much of the detail in Labor’s Climate Change Action Plan is a product of those discussions.

Labor’s plans will position Australia again as a renewable energy superpower. We will ensure that at least 50% of the nation’s electricity is renewable by 2030 – an ambitious but an achievable target.

And a targeted grant round will finally give concentrated solar thermal power, solar power with storage, a foot-hold in Australia.

Labor’s review of the National Electricity Market rules will bring the system into the 21st Century – reflecting trends like distributed generation and storage – as well as the imperative to decarbonise one of the world’s most emissions intensive electricity sectors.

And Labor will make sure that the transition that is already underway in electricity is a Just Transition for workers impacted and regional communities.

Labor will lock in the tree clearing regulations put in place by NSW and QLD state Labor Governments over the past two decades.

We’ll introduce emissions standards for Australian cars – cutting pollution on our roads and fuel bills for Australian motorists.

And Labor’s ETS will cap and reduce pollution from heavy industry without a direct carbon price.

But the most consistent message I received in my consultations – across the board – is that the next Parliament must simply do better than the past three have on this question.

While no-one I’m sure expects it to happen in the next hour – or even the next 6 and a half weeks – people do want the next Parliament to work much harder at bridging our differences and establishing a level of consensus that gives businesses and the community the confidence to move forward on this question.

Thank you very much.   

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