December 07, 2021

MIKE O’LOUGHLIN, PRESENTER: Earlier last month we crossed to Glasgow you might remember and we caught up with Federal Shadow Minister Assisting for Climate Change, Pat Conroy who was attending the COP26 United Nations Conference. So we thought we’d check in and see how that went and also get details of Labor’s Powering Australia Plan they call it that was released just Friday.

Pat, good morning, welcome back to Tasmania Talks. Thanks for your time. 


O’LOUGHLIN: I’m well thank you. Now tell us a little about your Glasgow trip. What were the highlights for you? 

CONROY: Well for me, what I learned most was how out of step with the rest of the world Australia is in terms of the debate here is sort of 15 years behind what’s happening overseas in terms of looking at the economic opportunities, the job opportunities there are from taking action on climate change. And so for example, 140 nations increased their emissions reduction targets at the Glasgow conference, not just because it was the right thing to do to stop global warming, but they know that it’s the way of accelerating economic growth and getting new jobs and new industries up. So that was my main takeaway from Glasgow is that we are missing out on a jobs boom because unfortunately the current Government is dragging the chain on climate action.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well that means obviously now a month on from the conference it was probably timely that Labor released its, what do you call it, Powering Australia Plan which allegedly will bring cheaper renewable energy to Australian homes and businesses. Tell me about that.

CONROY: Yes. So we always said we would announce our policy after the Glasgow conference to see what the rest of the world is doing, and the policy we announced on Friday is accompanied by the most extensive independent economic modelling of an Opposition policy ever conducted in this country. We had RepuTex, which is the preeminent energy and climate modelling outfit in Australia do that work.

And so our policy is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 on the way to net zero by 2050. And importantly, by taking action on climate change and putting in place strong policies, we will create 600,000 jobs, we will reduce power prices by on average $275 per year for each household, and we will drive 82 per cent renewable energy into the grid. So it will lower power prices, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, five out of six of which will be in regional areas - Northern Tasmania is a great example of that - and we will also drive a lot more renewable energy into the grid.

So I think it’s a strong policy but it’s moderate. We’re being criticised by both the Greens and the Liberal Party which to me seems to imply that we’ve got the balance right, and our policy is being supported by people like the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, and a whole lot of stakeholders who realise we do need these policies to drive job creation in this country.

O’LOUGHLIN: And Pat, first of all congratulations on Labor having a plan. But the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as you know has absolutely jumped on your plan for a 43 per cent emissions reduction target claiming its use of the safeguards mechanism “would punish large industrial companies”. He says “if Anthony Albanese gets his way, we will get a Green Labor Government. Greens leader Adam Bandt is already calling his Parliamentary members Shadow Ministers,” says Josh Frydenberg who was mentioning it to a Liberal council meeting on Sunday. And he says Anthony Albanese has also accused the PM of cuddling up to antivaxxers and giving comfort to extremists.

So interesting comments. But certainly when you say net zero emissions by 2050, yeah you plan to do that, but also reducing emissions by 43 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. I mean a lot will agree with you on that, but where are these jobs coming from?

CONROY: So the jobs are driven by a number of things. First off, the jobs are driven by the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation fund that will build a lot more transmission connections. At the moment, we’ve got lots of renewable energy projects that are hitting hurdles that are being built but can’t connect to the grid. So our investment in those poles and wires will drive more renewable energy into the grid, so that will create jobs, but it will also lower power prices which will then lead to a boom in manufacturing.

And accompanying that is a commitment of a $3 billion fund to grow new industries whether it’s green hydrogen, battery manufacturing, light metals, there’s great opportunities from these new industries as the world decarbonises. And obviously Tasmania is in a good position to do that. Bell Bay is a great location for green hydrogen production, for example. So they’re the sorts of jobs that will be part of the 600,000 jobs of which 500,000 will be in regional areas.

And Josh Frydenberg is just wrong on this. Like, the safeguards mechanism which is a scheme to get the 215 largest facilities in the country to reduce their emissions is the Government’s own policy. They just haven’t implemented it properly. And nine out of 10 of the largest facilities and two thirds of all 215 facilities have net zero emissions policies by 2050. That’s their own policy. All we are doing is providing more certainty in actually having a scheme that will work that will help them make the investments to reduce their emissions which will lead to new jobs as more machinery is put in place or they buy offsets from tree plantations and other things.

So this is good news in terms of growing jobs, and it’s good news for Tasmania in particular because your own Liberal Government has a plan for net zero emissions by 2030. So if anything, we’re more moderate and conservative than the Liberal State Government, but we want to work with them to grow tens of thousands of new jobs in Tassie.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well you say five out of six new jobs are in the regions, so obviously you’re talking Tasmania there in the regions. I know that Chris Bowen your Energy Minister – Shadow Energy Minister said there’s absolutely, look it’s non-negotiable in terms of 43 per cent by 2030. But come 2030, the Opposition, you estimate that 82 per cent of the energy mix will be from renewables right, with the remaining 18 per cent a mixture of traditional energies. And you’re saying not one coal fired power station closure comes into that?

CONROY: No, what we’ve said is that none of the coal closures will come forward because of our policy. Most coal fired generators already have closure dates set by their companies. I represent a seat in the Hunter Valley where we’ve got four power stations that produce about 9,000 megawatts of power. We produce 25 per cent of all of Australia’s power, and three of those power stations have closure dates set by their companies - 2023 in one example, 2032 in another, and 2034 in the third case.

All of those closure dates are set by the companies, and what the independent modelling shows is that out policy will not move those forward. What will happen is there’s an organisation called the Energy Security Board in this country that’s tasked with maintaining energy security as the name suggests across the whole national electricity market, and they’re introducing a thing that’s called capacity payments because we do need gas generators and coal fired generators to be available when we don’t have sufficient renewable energy in the grid, and those capacity payments mean that those generators will be available to produce electricity, but they won’t produce all of the time.

And that’s why we can say, and that’s why the modelling says that we won’t bring forward a single coal fired power station closure, but we will still get much higher levels of renewable energy into the grid. So those power stations will be on standby to produce when needed, but the good news is that renewable energy is so cheap now that even with all of that in place, we will cut power bills by $275 for households, and large industry by 18 per cent by 2025 and 26 per cent by 2030. So that will lower power prices and drive more jobs.

And as Chris Bowen pointed out yesterday, the 43 per cent is non-negotiable. We will be putting it to Parliament. We won’t be doing deals. If the Parliament rejects it, we will not be changing that target. And Mr Albanese has already ruled out any sort of coalition with the Greens. We’ve been very clear about that. The only people that have a coalition is the current Government where Barnaby Joyce is running the show. We’ve been very clear: it’s 43 per cent, take it or leave it, and that’s what we are taking to Parliament and that’s what we are seeking a mandate for at the next election.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well when you read, and it is a good read to say that families and business will be cut by $275 a year by 2025 compared to today, huge impact for many Australians, but also I believe that Australia is seeking to host the COP29 climate summit. But do you believe that’s a possibility? I mean I personally haven’t felt like the rest of the world takes Australia very seriously in this space at all.

CONROY: Well we are almost pariahs on climate change because we are global laggards. Just as 140 nations increased their targets, we haven’t, so we are seen as an outlier and we are missing out on those opportunities.

So we are talking about bidding to host the COP. Obviously we may not get it, but the symbolism there is important. It’s like Australia rejoining the world on climate action. So the rest of the world may say ‘no thanks, we will give it to someone else’, but I think the rest of the world benefits if Australia takes climate action seriously because we have to make a contribution. We are something like the 13th largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, around that mark, and we are the top per capita in the developed nations.

So us reducing our emissions is significant from a global point of view, but also the symbolism of us starting to export lithium batteries for example or green hydrogen produced at Bell Bay, the symbolism of that for the rest of the world is really, really powerful. And that’s why we could be an attractive host for the COP, but in the end, that’s a nice to have. The core of our policy is driving those 600,000 jobs, cutting emissions, driving renewable energy, and cutting power bills.

O’LOUGHLIN: But also saying that you’re going to spur $76 billion worth of investment. Okay, where from?

CONROY: Well from the private sector –

O’LOUGLIN: Huge amount!

CONROY: It’s a huge amount because the private sector knows that they have to decarbonise. As I said, two thirds of the large greenhouse gas emitters have net zero emissions policies by 2050. They know they need to make these investments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, they just need governments to actually set the rules of racing and provide the policy certainty so they can get on because their investments have a payback of 20 or 30 years, and they need to have some confidence that governments will be there with policy certainty. And also we will be supporting them with grants to help that process.

So of that $76 billion, $24 billion is government investment, and the rest is private sector investment. But that’s really important because that will drive not just cutting greenhouse gas emissions which is important, but it will drive new jobs. As these companies invest in new machinery, that not only will cut their emissions, but it will often be more energy efficient which will cut their costs of production and will probably cut their power prices as well in many instances.

So this $76 billion of investment is the critical driver of the 600,000 jobs. So the private sector is ready to go. That’s why the Business Council is effectively supporting our policy. Their target is 46 per cent to 50 per cent. So if anything, we are slightly less than them. They’re ready to sign up to this because they know this is where the rest of the world has already headed.

O’LOUGHLIN: Pat, I wanted to ask you about these solar banks around Australia. I mean in Tasmania, very keen on solar on top of the roof, all of that, as you know how popular that is pretty much around Australia. But you’re saying you’re rolling out these 85 solar banks to ensure more households can benefit from this rooftop solar and installing 400 community batteries across the country. How many will Tassie get if that’s the case?

CONROY: Well we will determine that. Some of that may be announced before the election, but certainly there will be a good process after the election. But Tasmania will well and truly get its fair share because we know you’ve got a great renewable energy resource, but more importantly you’ve got households that are really keen on solar because it cuts their power bills and helps them cut their emissions.

But the reason we’re looking at solar banks is because there are a lot of people who want to be a part of the solar revolution that can’t. They might be renting, they might live in apartments or townhouses, or they just might have a house that’s in a shady place where they can’t put solar on their roofs. but they still want to be part of it. They want to grab the power bill cuts as part of that.

So that’s why the solar banks are so important. And the community batteries are also important because while there are some people who can afford to and want to put batteries in their homes to match their solar panels, in lots of areas it makes sense to have a community-level battery so that everyone feeds their solar power into that battery and they can then pull it out when they need it. So this is just all about helping the households of this country that have been investing in solar for decades, who know it cuts their power bills, making it a bit easier, and doing it at a local level. So it’s a really popular policy, and quite frankly when I talk to communities about it, they just say ‘well why haven’t people done this earlier?’.

O’LOUGHLIN: Yeah, what about mining, Pat? Let’s look at that. We’ve got broadly untapped local reserves of critical minerals – nickel, cobalt, that sort of thing – which is a great transition to renewable technologies. Let’s face it, we need it. But also, what about the demand for the five metals – copper, lithium, aluminium, nickel, and cobalt – because you’ve got the Greens also saying ‘oh no, we’ve got to shut all of these mines down’. They forget that lithium etc., they make the bloody batteries. I mean, people forget the reality of what these mines mean, and Tasmania does very well, let’s face it, with some of these industries.

CONROY: That’s absolutely right. We will need as a result of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we will need more mining, not less mining. We will just be mining different things over a longer period.


CONROY: We’ve got all of the resources to make lithium batteries. We’ve got, if you think about it, all of the key inputs into batteries and renewable energy. We’ve got the greatest reserves of iron and titanium, the second greatest of lithium and silver and copper. We’ve got a great opportunity to be a clean energy export superpower which means thousands of new mining jobs. What we need is a Government that will have the policy in place to support that investment. So for example, we’ve put aside $3 billion from the National Reconstruction Fund to help support this, to help fund lithium processing facilities, help support through grants and loans battery manufacturing facilities.

So we’re the biggest lithium miner in the world at the moment, but it’s all just exported as a raw material to China. Why can’t we be processing it in this country, growing new jobs out of it, and having a bit more national independence and sovereignty? Because the COVID pandemic has demonstrated we need to bring back manufacturing jobs, and we need a real national sovereignty, real independence, and in energy that’s critical. So I think Tasmania is really well placed to be mining and manufacturing those key inputs into batteries, into other renewable energy inputs, and Labor is certainly committed to supporting that process and driving tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs through that.

O’LOUGHLIN: Well it’s interesting, it’s watch out. Go out and google Labor’s Powering Australia Plan if you will, and I appreciate your time this morning Pat. Pat Conroy is the Federal Shadow Minister Assisting for Climate Change. Thanks indeed, and I am sure we will have a chat in the near future. If I don’t get a chance before Christmas, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

CONROY: To you too. Thanks for the opportunity, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.