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Why a Clean Energy Future is Worth Fighting For

Two years ago Labor announced its plan to deal with one of the most important environmental, economic and moral challenges of our time – climate change. Our Clean Energy Future plan will reduce Australia’s emissions while keeping our economy strong.  Tony Abbott responded with no analysis, no credible alternative policies, and not even any willingness to accept the reality of climate change. All he had to offer was a massive scare campaign, which has now collapsed under the weight of its own hypocrisy.

Carbon PricingFor decades scientists have warned that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or there will be economic, social, environmental and human costs from climate change. The Gillard Government has been determined to tackle this issue. It is an issue which is about our quality of life and our responsibility to future generations. It’s about Australia playing its part as a responsible global citizen. And it’s about securing economic growth. Australia has some of the world’s best renewable energy resources. We need to harness these resources to generate energy without polluting the atmosphere. This will not only reduce pollution, it will give our country an economic edge.

The central element of our policy is carbon pricing. This requires around 370 of the largest polluters in our economy to purchase a permit for every tonne of greenhouse gas that they emit. This creates a price signal which drives polluters to reduce emissions to lower their costs. A year in, it is evident that this is working.

Take the electricity generation sector, one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Since the carbon price started, carbon pollution from the National Electricity Market has fallen by almost 12 million tonnes (7.4%). The electricity we are generating has become cleaner. Electricity generated from renewable sources has increased by 30% whilst generation from Australia’s seven most highly-polluting power stations is down by 14%. These are remarkable changes and they are a direct result of Labor’s policies: the carbon price, the Renewable Energy Target and measures to improve energy efficiency.

Labor’s policies are also driving billions of dollars of renewable energy investment. This investment is creating new jobs. In April, AGL opened its Macarthur wind farm in Victoria – the largest in the Southern hemisphere. This project has the capacity to power 220,000 homes and supported more than 2,700 jobs. Australian manufacturers, concrete producers, and local quarries all won work on this $1 billion investment – all 140 wind towers were manufactured in Australia. Macarthur is one of over 370 renewable generators now powering Australian homes in conjunction with more than one million households who are generating their own electricity with rooftop solar.

The Government is also helping our manufacturers to invest in new equipment to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution through the $1 billion Clean Technology Investment Program. This is supporting more than 220 projects around the country to clean up our manufacturing sector. As just an example, take A.J. Bush and Sons which has a large meat rendering plant in Bromelton in Queensland. In the past, A.J. Bush emitted methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, from its settlement ponds. Now this company is investing $12 million, with support from the Clean Technology Investment Program, into a project to capture the methane gas and use it to power its operations. These investments will cut the plant’s energy costs by 46 per cent and its emissions intensity by 64 per cent. Similar projects are underway around the country. This is the carbon price working exactly as intended to drive investment and cut pollution.

Mr Abbott wants to slug taxpayers so he can subsidise big polluters for projects they are already undertaking, without achieving any significant reductions in carbon pollution. The Opposition simply wants to socialise the carbon pollution problem by imposing the costs on taxpayers rather than on the polluters. This is a high cost, inefficient and fundamentally inequitable approach. Unable to develop a credible policy, all Mr Abbott has contributed fear and deception. The most reprehensible aspect of this Mr Abbott’s scare campaign is the way he seeks to frighten the socially disadvantaged and economically vulnerable, like pensioners.

Like the floating of the dollar and the opening up of Australia’s economy, the Clean Energy Future plan is in the great tradition of Labor reforms. A scare campaign will only take Tony Abbott so far. My contention is that he cannot and will not repeal the carbon price. Labor will remain committed to it. Tackling climate change has been in our platform for over two decades, and we will fight for what we believe in and for what we have achieved. There’s no doubt we have a very tough fight on our hands but that is when the labour movement is at its best. We will fight to win the election. We have made hugely beneficial reforms for the community – paid parental leave; national disability insurance; record increases in the pension and the child care rebate; repealed workchoices and we’re rolling out the NBN.  I could go on – it’s a long list. They are all things worth fighting for. And fight we will.

This article is an edited extract of a speech delivered by Greg Combet to the National Press Club on Wednesday 5 June 2013.

About Greg Combet

Greg Combet

Greg Combet was the leader of the ACTU from 1999-2007 and was elected to Federal Parliament in 2007 representing the electorate of Charlton.

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