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Meeting the climate change and energy challenge

Speech to All-Energy Australia 2010 Conference in Melbourne

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today. I am very pleased to be addressing you as the first Greens MP elected to a lower house seat at a general election. If you cross the river you will be in my electorate of Melbourne, a place that has for much of Australia's history been a centre of movements for change. And there is no bigger set of changes required at the moment than those necessary to meet the climate challenge.

The challenge of energy reform in Australia offers enormous difficulties but also enormous opportunities.

But, given the perils we face, we have no choice but to pursue these opportunities.

I had the chance to cover some of these in my first speech to Parliament last week.

I said: We all have a very short period of time in which to respond to the climate emergency facing us, to this planet's rapidly dwindling condition and to the nagging feeling many of us share that this way of life simply is not sustainable. We are all in this together but we should never forget the amazing things humans are capable of when our creative labours are unleashed. We chose to go to the moon-and we made it.

To quote Jodi Dean, the Apollo project boldly predicted the 'we' of a common humanity aspiring to break the bonds of particularity and reach beyond our imaginations. It is that commons that we can find again.

I believe that it is with dreams of great proportions that we will solve our current crises.

What are those dreams of "great proportions"? For The Greens that includes a rapid shift towards 100 per cent clean renewable energy by the middle of the century and engaging in the process of creating a zero-net carbon economy.

And it is these goals that underpin the approach that I and The Greens take to the challenge of the new reform process. An approach that will ensure we can rise to the dual challenge of achieving energy security and moving on the path to a carbon free future.

Now many will say that we set our aspirations too high, that our goals are too large or too hard.

Climate change and energy

There may be some truth behind that concern, but we are faced with a much harder truth; the reality of the ecological crisis, in particular the climate crisis.

Again as I outlined in my first speech to Parliament:

As human beings we have an amazing capacity to interact with our natural environment.

But we have also sought to tame and master it, and now we have learned that in the long run such a relationship is unsustainable.

Our actions in heating the planet have led us to a very real climate emergency. In 2007, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said, 'This is an emergency, and for emergency situations we need emergency action'. In recent congressional testimony in the US, the NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, warned:

We have reached a point of planetary emergency ... climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a perfect storm, a global cataclysm, are assembled.

We would not get on an aeroplane if it had a 50 per cent risk of crashing or even a 15 or a five per cent risk. Yet these are precisely the kinds of risks we seem prepared to take with the planet and all its inhabitants. Accepting the science means accepting the science, not what we would like the science to say.

So we now know that the science tells us we must take profound steps to cut our carbon pollution and reform of the stationary energy sector is central to this task.

So the question for all of us is: what exactly are those steps are?

The Greens took a range of policies to the election which if implemented will start us on this path away from fossil fuel dependence and towards clean energy security, and I will outline some of those in the moment.

But first let me talk about what I am sure you may be keenly interested in which is the Climate Change Committee.

Climate Change Committee and a carbon price

The Committee was established by the agreement between the Greens & ALP that assisted the ALP in forming government.

It was able to be established because of the high Greens vote here in Melbourne and in the Senate.

The purpose of the committee is to discuss how to implement a price on carbon. As you know the composition of the committee was outlined by the Prime Minister and Senator Brown just over a week ago.

The committee will comprise the Prime Minister and the Greens leader Senator Brown and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Greg Combet and Greens Senator Christine Milne will be deputy Chairs and Independent MP Tony Windsor will also participate.

Four independent experts- Professor Ross Garnaut, Professor Will Steffen, Mr Rod Sims and Ms Patricia Faulkner-will support the Committee as expert advisers.

The committee will have its first meeting soon and we are looking forward to getting down to work on developing a plan for carbon pricing and potentially a range of complementary measures that can be implemented as quickly as possible.

People need be clear about what the committee is and is not. It is not a Senate Inquiry or other type of Parliamentary committee that will be holding hearings and taking submissions.

It is a working committee that aims to negotiate a plan for a price on carbon and potentially relevant complementary measures that can go to Cabinet and then potentially be legislated.

We accept, as Bob Brown outlined in the press conference with the Prime Minister, that there will need to be compromise on all sides. And we also accept that the given the delay up until now that we all need to go the extra mile to make this work

But our participation on the committee does not mean we will automatically support any outcome and we reserve the right to disagree with approaches that lock in failure and that will prevent us building on reform in the future. We need an approach that is both effective at cutting pollution and that will ensure that investment in clean energy can move forward, but also an approach that is capable of being supported by the parliament.

This approach by the way is supported by the community. A national poll conducted by the Greens in April showed that 72% of Australians were in favour of the government working with the Greens, independents and other senators to introduce a levy that will ensure the biggest polluters pay for climate pollution.

You may have many questions about the committee, and I happy, with the moderators approval, to allow time for you to ask them.

And finally I want to outline some of the Greens policies that will be bringing to the these discussions.

Before I do so I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the five years of hard work and policy development by the Greens spokesperson on Climate Change, Senator Christine Milne. It is in large part her determination and commitment that has got us to this point in the climate debate.

The policies I am about to outline are by and large contained in the suite of Safe Climate Bills prepared by Senator Milne. These are interconnected bills that will drive the changes I'll talk about

So, first, our approach on a carbon price.

Most of you would be aware of our proposal for a carbon levy, based on the Garnaut Review proposals, starting at approximately $20 a tonne and rising rising each year. This would be an interim measure in the transition to a functional and effective emissions trading scheme.

Revenue from the scheme would provide a dividend for households and include assistance to small business and the emission intensive trade exposed industries. Most importantly the rest of the revenue could be used to drive the transition to clean energy and investments in energy efficiency.

This is policy we took to the election and this is the thinking we take to the table in the current discussions.

We believe a range of additional measures are needed to facilitate investment in clean renewable energy.

These include planning, setting a short term target for renewable energy of 30%, increased public investment and guarantees to facilitate private investment.

Infrastructure Australia

Secondly, in addition to a carbon price is the question of infrastructure.

Right now, the development of renewable electricity infrastructure is uncoordinated and directionless.

So to ensure the most cost effective approach is taken to achieving the goal of 100% renewable energy, we want to give Infrastructure Australia the job of:

  • mapping the renewable energy resource areas of Australia;

  • bringing all levels of government, transmission and distribution authorities, retailers, the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO), local communities and renewable energy developers together in consultation; and

  • creating renewable energy development zones based on the mapped areas, with streamlined approval processes and funding connection of the zones to the electricity grid.

Renewable energy Target

To reach our goal of 100% renewable energy, the renewable energy generators need to be able to sell the electricity at a fair price which reflects social, environmental and long term benefits associated with green energy and to cover their costs and provide appropriate returns to project investors.

To achieve this, in addition to a carbon price, we want to see a higher Renewable Energy Target of 30 per cent by 2020, supported by a national 'gross' feed-in tariff for emerging technologies.

Public Investment

A grant program is needed to help meet the costs of an array of special and one-time costs associated with developing a first time large-scale renewable energy project. These special costs include everything from planning and permitting approvals, through to transmission grid augmentation, and can typically total one third of the total project costs.

The existing Solar Flagships program seeks to provide this sort of support, however, to date this program has been mismanaged and is at risk of not delivering major new green field deployments of large scale solar generation plants in the near term.

Most recently this program has been raided to support the Government's highly dubious 'Cash for Clunkers' program.

A Renewable Energy Loan Guarantee Scheme

Renewable energy companies need to be able to raise finance and a loan guarantee scheme could provide a mechanism to facilitate this.

Loan guarantees to help renewable energy investors raise finance, especially for "first of a kind" solar thermal, geothermal and very large scale photovoltaic projects, have become particularly critical since the global financial crisis.

These schemes are proving successful for renewable energy projects in the United States in particular. They are already used in Australia in a range of other sectors, for example Export Finance Guarantees.

While loan guarantees involve the Government taking on financial risk, the advantages of loan guarantees include that they stimulate the economy and create both construction and manufacturing jobs. They leverage private investment and innovation, and introduce banks to new ventures which increase the likelihood of them lending to similar projects later without the government guarantee.

Conclusion

If there is one thing that the recent financial collapse has taught us, it's that the economic platitudes of the last 30 years - that nothing should stand in the way of the market and that the era of government backing winners is over - can go out the window at the drop of a hat when there is a crisis brewing.

But just imagine if we'd reacted to the financial crisis in the same way as the climate crisis, with global meetings rescheduled for years on end and endless deference to the self same groups that caused the crisis in the first place.

It is now time to extend to the planet the same courtesy we have to merchant banks.

We need a GFC like response to the climate crisis. We need to see the kind of urgent, globally coordinated and massive intervention to get us quickly to a clean energy future.

Government needs to be the midwife of a clean energy future. It is our job to help bring into being the industry that will have sustainability as its core organising principle, not endless earth depleting growth. In the meantime, every dollar that goes into backing a loser in the fossil fuel industry is a dollar that is holding us back.

During the campaign in Melbourne, the number one issue as declared by both me and my opponent was the need to put a price tag on pollution. And it is clear from the election result that seats will now start changing hands not on the basis of who can delay climate action the most, but rather who has the best plan for meeting the climate change and energy challenge.

When Labor governments want to bring into existence a new coal-fired power station in the La Trobe Valley under the supposedly green 'DualGas' moniker, which will according to the Friends of the Earth increase Victoria's greenhouse gas emissions by between 3 million and 4.2 million tonnes each year, at one stroke wiping out the mooted 4 million tonnes of abatement associated with a partial closure of Hazelwood, one wonders whether they are getting the message. The construction of a new coal-fired power station is climate madness.

However, with The Greens' mix of a price on carbon, support for emerging industries, government intervention, legislative amendments and altered policy settings, we will create the framework human beings, with our infinite creative capacities, need to usher into place ways of powering our society with clean renewable energy.

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