09 October 2017

Renewables Labor will support the Coalition on a genuine Clean Energy Target and introduce a National Interest Test for gas in government.

It’s extraordinary to think that a decade ago there was a bipartisan consensus on the challenge of climate change and the solutions needed to tackle it.

The argument back then was over which political party was doing more to tackle climate change, not less.

Ten years on, instead of world-leading action on climate change, Australia has among the world’s highest power prices and the world’s worst carbon emissions per capita.

Australians are fed up with a debate that is stuck in the past, and bogged down by politics. People want to know what we are doing to tackle out-of-control power prices.

And, to their credit, Australians also want a clear and credible plan to tackle rising carbon pollution.

They understand that protecting our environment doesn’t have to come at a cost to our economy.

On the contrary, they accept that tackling pollution can be good for the economy, good for power prices and good for jobs.

That’s why, for months now, I have said that Labor is ready to negotiate on a Clean Energy Target and a broader framework for energy policy in the decade ahead.

A Clean Energy Target was the central element of the chief scientist’s blueprint for the electricity system – and it’s up to both sides of politics to find some common ground on this.

This does not mean compromise at any cost. A framework that isn’t fair-dinkum will not receive our support. But there must be a way through. Leaving this in the toohard basket will entrench high power prices, a chaotic energy market, and longterm uncertainty over investment.

We also need to take immediate action to resolve the gas crisis – because out-ofcontrol gas prices are a direct threat to the viability of hundreds of Australian businesses and thousands of Australian jobs.

In April, Mr Turnbull promised to halve wholesale gas prices from $20 a gigajoule to $10 a gigajoule.

Australians haven’t forgotten this promise – they get a reminder it hasn’t been delivered every time they open up another energy bill.

We need more than a gentleman’s agreement with the gas exporters that everything will be fine.

If Labor were in government, we would immediately use the export controls that are available to restrict gas exports until prices come down.

The government still has until November 1 to pull the trigger and put export controls in place for next year. I urge the Prime Minister to do this today. We also need to look beyond the current crisis and plan for the future. That’s why the next Labor government will introduce a National Interest Test for all new LNG export facilities, and for significant expansions of supply at existing export facilities.

An independent board, appointed by the Treasurer, would assess what impact a new or expanded project would have on the national interest – such as the impact on households and businesses, prices and jobs.

Our National Interest Test will help guard against a repeat of the current crisis – and it will also guarantee an adequate supply for the Australian domestic market in the future.

Reducing the price of gas helps ease the burden on businesses and families today, and it helps Australia move responsibly towards a renewable energy future – locking in the reliable, dispatchable power we need.

Australia can set ourselves up for success as a renewable energy superpower – but only if we start preparing for it now.

At today’s The Australian Financial Review National Energy Summit, I will be outlining new policies to help Australia seize the massive wave of jobs and investment that is up for grabs.

The first is modernising the National Energy Market rules. These were written more than 20 years ago, and they don’t reflect the growth in renewables, our energy priorities or the decisions that households and consumers are making.

As recommended by the chief scientist, a Labor government would also organise Australia into a series of Renewable Energy Zones. These zones would be based on both existing generation and storage in the area – and the potential for future development.

Identifying these zones will also plant a flag for investors – signalling future sites for job-creating projects.

We also need to free-up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in more generation and more storage.

That’s why Labor will set the investment return benchmark for the CEFC at the weighted average of the Australian government bond rate – where it originally was under the last Labor government.

Under this government, the benchmark has been set too high – holding back the crucial investment that Australia needs in new generation and storage.

We will remove this hurdle – to unlock new investment and create more jobs.

These are sensible ideas to find a way through the partisan bickering and a way forward on national energy policy. At the centre of it all is an acknowledgement that we need to find some common ground, for the common good.

We’ve already got the investment dollars, the infrastructure and the ingenuity to make the next 10 years a decade of delivery – for lower power prices, less pollution and more jobs.

What we need now is leadership.

Bill Shorten is Leader of the Opposition.

Our National Interest Test will help guard against a repeat of the current crisis.

This opinion piece was first published in The Australian Financial Review on Monday, 9 October 2017.