November 09, 2021

PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: Greta Thunberg, the teenage activist who is of course very outspoken about such things has labelled it a failure. She has said COP26 is a failure. Well one person who has been there and observing is Pat Conroy, Labor MP who’s the Shadow Minister Assisting for Climate Change. He is in Glasgow, good morning to you.
CULLIVER: Very well indeed. Do you agree with Greta Thunberg? Was it a failure?
CONROY: No, no I don’t. I’ve termed this conference the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good is that because a huge number of nations have ramped up their commitments for 2030 emissions reduction targets, if those commitments are implemented – and that’s always a big if – we can keep global warming to about 1.8 degrees Celsius. Now we need to keep it to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but this is the first time commitments of all the nations around the world are under two degrees. So that’s good news and we should applaud that. Unfortunately the bad news is that it just puts into stark relief Mr Morrison’s refusal to increase Australia’s 2030 target.
CULLIVER: Yeah. For communities in Central Queensland, is there any takeaway from what was agreed to at COP26 that is actually going to change our way of life here?
CONROY: Well I think it’s twofold. If the world takes action, obviously we can avoid catastrophic climate change which you mentioned, and if we don’t stop that, you can see the impacts of climate change on Central Queensland, more flooding along the coast, and obviously greater risk of drought inland.
But more importantly, if Australia’s not part of the global solution, we’re going to miss out on the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that are being grabbed by countries around the world, and that was the main takeaway I got from my visit to Glasgow which is there’s huge investment around the world going on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we are missing out on that in Australia and in particular in regions like Central Queensland and the Hunter Valley where I come from. We’re missing out on the huge job opportunities because unfortunately we’ve got a government that’s not investing in taking action, and that’s in industries like hydrogen, heavy industries being fueled by renewable energy, things that will be perfect for the Central Queensland area that we are missing out on right now.
CULLIVER: Ah, well aren’t we investing in hydrogen? That’s exactly what the Federal Government is throwing money at. That’s what all sorts of focus is being done on to invest in hydrogen in the Gladstone region, and various industries, various corporations are signing up to explore that. Isn’t that moving in the right direction?
CONROY: Well the Queensland Government and Fortescue Industries – Twiggy Forrest – you’re absolutely right are putting huge amounts of money into building electrolysers, but all the Federal Government seems to be doing is funding study after study. They were in Newcastle yesterday announcing another $3 million study when the rest of the world is taking action.
So you’re right that the private sector is ahead of the Federal Government and the State Governments - whether it’s the Queensland Labor Government or to be frank the New South Wales Liberal Government – are trying to invest and grow hydrogen industries, but what they need is a Federal Government that can act as a partner rather than just blowing hot air onto the scene. And so that’s why I am frustrated because Central Queensland and the Hunter and Northern Tasmania can be the hearts of a global hydrogen industry, but we need more action from the Federal Government to achieve that.
CULLIVER: Pat Conroy’s your guest. He is the Shadow Minister Assisting for Climate Change. He is in Glasgow at the tail end of the COP26 meeting. Pat Conroy, how would you characterise, what have you learnt about how Australia is seen on the world stage?
CONROY: Well I think our refusal to lift our emissions reduction target has hurt our international reputation. The fact that, for example, American doubled their targets to 50 per cent, the UK has done a similar thing, and a lot of Western nations have done that.
So Mr Morrison’s refusal to lift our 2030 target has really hurt our reputation. And what’s made it worse to be quite frank has been the speech he delivered to the world leaders last week. If you have a look at the text and see the delivery to an empty room, he basically said to the assembled world leaders ‘you don’t count, you can’t solve the climate crisis, this crisis can only be solved by scientists and engineers working in laboratories’ which a) was offensive and b) factually wrong. The only way we can combat climate change is by all the nations in the world taking action together to cut emissions. And by the way, those scientists and engineers – they can come up with great inventions, but unless there’s government policies to bring forward demand for their products, nothing is going to happen.
So on top of the sort of incident with President Macron, it’s been a bit of a diplomatic disaster for Australia, Mr Morrison’s visit. And that’s not just about us having a good international reputation. It’s about us losing those economic opportunities that are there for the taking.
CULLIVER: Obviously just before the Prime Minister went overseas, he unveiled the net zero emissions by 2050 plan. It’s all about investing in low emissions technologies and technologies of the future. Now can I just contrast that with we have not seen yet the Federal Labor plan to get to net zero emissions. I understand that’s meant to be unveiled before the next federal election. What did you learn at COP26 and in Glasgow that’s going to inform that policy, and can you give us any indication of where it’s headed?
CONROY: Well I certainly learnt that the rest of the world is taking a lot of action and that that action is driven by the economic opportunities, so that will inform Labor’s policy. And our policy that we will announce shortly will be more ambitious. It will have a higher target, and it will be very much focused on the jobs opportunities that can be seized from it.
But we’ve already announced big chunks of that policy already. The $20 billion Rewiring the Nation fund will invest in the transmission infrastructure that will connect the giant renewable energy zones to the heavy industrial areas like Gladstone and Rockhampton that will allow a new generation of manufacturing industries to be born. We’ve committed to a community solar batteries program and an electric vehicle policy that will reduce the price of electric vehicles by up to $9,000.
So we’ve announced a lot of climate policies but we will announce the full policy before the election informed by my visit to Gladstone – sorry Glasgow. That is going to have a very strong focus on jobs. And Mr Morrison can talk about technologies, but unless you have government policies to create a market for those technologies, you just won’t get the jobs. So for example, 90 per cent of the world’s solar rooftop cells are based on technology developed in Australia but we got very few jobs out of it because we had a Federal Government not committed to investing in those industries. So you can talk technology, but unless you’ve got government policy to back it up, it doesn’t mean much.
CULLIVER: And look Pat Conroy, I’m not sure how across the announcements over the course of the morning you are, but we do understand the Prime Minister Scott Morrison today will unveil the Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy. This is of course pivoting towards more charging stations and all sorts of money into future fuels. They are obviously getting on board with the idea that electric vehicles are going to be vehicles of the future. What have you made of what we’ve heard so far?
CONROY: Oh well we’ve got – I welcome any announcement that moves us from the Government’s previous position, but it would be remiss of me to note that it is complete hypocrisy from a Prime Minister who only two years ago argued that electric vehicles would end the weekend which was utter rubbish then and is utter rubbish now. So it’s good that they are sort of at least mouthing rhetoric to support electric vehicles, but we need much, much more. And Labor has announced much more policy, and that’s because not only are those vehicles good for cutting transport emissions which are the fastest growing segment of greenhouse gas emissions. We think we can have a great industrial future mining lithium, making batteries for electric vehicles and other components, and you won’t get that unless you have people driving electric vehicles in Australia.
CULLIVER: Alright Pat Conroy, really appreciate you joining us on the line from Glasgow and safe travels back home to Australia.
CONROY: Thanks for the opportunity and have a great morning.