Standing up for Canberra

Speech to the Global Renewables Forum

I’d like to start by acknowledging that we are meeting on the land of the Ngunnawal people, and to pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

It’s fantastic to be here with you today, representing the Federal Labor Party.

Recently I held a climate change community forum with the Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Mark Butler.

Two hundred passionate Canberrans turned out to demand real action on climate change.

And two main concerns arose:

The first is that Australia is not doing anywhere near enough, or acting quickly enough, to combat climate change.

Canberrans are genuinely concerned about the economic, health and environmental cost of inaction.

We have a fragile atmosphere, which we all share – and which we rely on for our food, our water, our air and our energy.

We know that if we do nothing, if we watch as warming passes 2 degrees, the environmental consequences will be devastating.

We will see more extreme weather, more often.

This means longer droughts, broken by more damaging floods.

More frequent bushfires and more severe storms.

Canberrans, like most Australians, have seen first-hand the devastation that natural disasters can bring.

Anyone who lived in Canberra in 2003 will remember how we came very close to losing it all – how bushfires ravaged our city.

And beyond the flashpoints of these events – there are the well-known, incremental impacts:

- A massive decline in agricultural production especially in the Murray Darling Basin.
- Irretrievable damage to the Great Barrier Reef.
- Widespread shortages of urban water supply, extreme spikes in global food prices.
- Increase in heat-related deaths and increased airborne disease.
- Heightened instability in the coastal megacities of our region.
- And a surge in the displacement of people in steadily submerged islands adjacent to Australia.

I’d like to wear my Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence hat for a moment – and also stress the importance of climate change being seen in the national security context.

Last year an elite group of retired three-and four-star officers from the United Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps produced two reports on climate change.

They stated:

 “The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenge we have faced”.

They also wrote that:

“The impacts of climate change will be more than threat multipliers; they will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict”

This group of experts predicted that an increase in more extreme weather events will result in:

- greater demand for our military personnel to assist in disaster recovery  - at home and in the region.
- as well as exacerbating preconditions for political instability: poverty, food shortages and displaced people.

When we also consider the combination of ongoing uncertainty in the Middle East and the fact our oil is a dwindling resource, volatile in price, and increasingly refined overseas, then the security case for renewable energy becomes even more compelling. 

This is where climate change and energy security meet.

The second main point that Canberrans expressed to me at the community forum was much more positive – that the opportunities presented by effective action on climate change and embracing renewable energy are endless and they are exciting:

New jobs, new industries, new markets and trading opportunities.

Already 20,000 Australians work in renewables – and this will more than double in the next fifteen years.

And by 2030, there’s going to be $2.5 trillion of investment in renewable energy up for grabs in our region.

Australia has some of the best renewable assets in the world.

More sunlight than any other continent.

And we are also one of the windiest places on earth.

That’s why last month - Labor set a bold new goal for renewable energy.

We have said, by 2030, 50 per cent of Australia’s electricity should come from renewable energy.

A few weeks ago I met with Miles George from Infigen Energy at the Capital Wind Farm – which is just north of Canberra and in an area that has some of the best wind resources in the country.

Miles told me that on a good day, the Capital Wind Farm generates enough energy to power half of Canberra’s homes.

Or consider the Royala Solar Farm, also just outside Canberra.

This is a prime example of the success of Australia’s solar industry, and the investment and jobs it creates.

The Royalla Solar Farm is made up of 83,000 solar panels and has the capacity to power more than 4,500 Canberra homes.

It is the biggest operational solar farm in Australia, and the first to be connected to the national grid.

The company has a 20-year deal with the ACT government, in which it will be paid up to $7.9 million a year by ActewAGL for the energy it feeds into the grid.

And in fact, across Australia, we have enough renewable energy resources to power our country 500 times over.

With our resources and innovation – Australia should be leading the world on renewables - but we’re not.

Last year investment in renewables around the world grew by 16 per cent.

At the same time, renewables investment dropped by 88 per cent in Australia - from over $2 billion to around $240 million

The people in this room know that statistic well.

I acknowledge that the past two years has been a period of incredible instability for your sector – and I thank you for your perseverance.

Under the current federal government, Australia is falling behind.

China is making massive investments in renewables.

India is experiencing a ‘saffron revolution’, with a massive increase in solar investment and solar production.

Solar panels are covering irrigation canals in an increasing number of regional areas in India – providing protection from the harsh sun while at the same time, powering homes.

Meanwhile, at the State and Territory level, governments are taking bold action.

On Saturday, I was proud to be one of 400 delegates and observers at the ACT Labor Conference who give a standing ovation to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr as he announced that under a Barr Labor Government, the ACT will have 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.

And I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the ACT Deputy Chief Minister and Environment Minister, Simon Corbell, on the leadership he has shown in transforming Canberra’s energy future. Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to this city. You will leave behind an enormous legacy.

The ACT may be the leader in this space, but it is not alone.
- South Australia has a target of 50 per cent by 2025

- And Queensland has a target of 50 per cent by 2030

At the start of this century, experts predicted that worldwide wind capacity would reach 30 gigawatts by 2010.

They were wrong.

By 2010 this goal was exceeded by a factor of 6, by the end of last year, a factor of 12.

At the same time, it was said that the solar energy market would grow by one gigawatt a year by 2010.

This year, it will be exceeded by more than 50 times.

And while the technology in this sector continues to improve – it’s also getting cheaper.

In 1976 the cost of solar cells was $79.40 a watt.

In 2014, it was 69 cents a watt.

In the last five years, solar photovoltaic prices have fallen by 75 per cent, and wind power costs have fallen by 14 per cent.

Over the next five years – costs are projected to halve, making solar the cheapest form of electricity generation in many parts of the world. 

And the cost of battery storage has been halving every 18 months. 

The trend is unstoppable.

For the first time, new global investment in renewables exceeds new investment in traditional sources.

And I believe Australia can be a clean energy superpower.

We can be one of the best markets in the world for this new technology.

This is the why Labor’s goal for renewable energy matters.

Our goal will:
- Provide certainty and confidence for investors.
- Encourage research and development.
- Foster the right regulatory framework, allowing industries to thrive by generating their own power.
- And managing the transition to a clean energy economy in a fair way, without leaving Australian workers behind.

Millions of dollars of investment, tens of thousands of jobs - an entire future industry await us if we take the right path.

I’m lucky to represent a progressive electorate - the people of Canberra are the most highly educated in the country – and they want real action on climate change.

And I truly believe most Australians are on board.

I know that most Canberrans are on board.

Renewable energy in Australia is a no-brainer.

Australia has some of the best scientists and the most innovative businesses to take advantage of this revolution.

The renewable energy industry creates jobs, attracts investment and drives down household energy prices.

It offers alternative job opportunities to replace those being lost in the traditional manufacturing sectors.

But most importantly – it’s an industry that is entirely necessary to reduce carbon pollution and limit the devastating impacts of climate change.

Thank you.


Speech delivered to the Global Renewables Forum in Canberra