Letter Response from 18.09.08 August Forum Reflections to Tim Wilson 10th October 2018

Dear Tim,

David Rothfield
David Rothfield

Thank you for your reply message dated 18.09.18, which regrettably missed our September newsletter deadline. We will however publish it in our October newsletter.

We gladly note your approach to the discussion, including:

  • that you are held to account by your constituents,
  • that you are attuned to the issue of climate risk,
  • that Australia faces important choices about how to cut emissions,
  • that concerns about the environment become second order when workers lose their jobs and households feel the pinch,
  • that we need to be honest about the trade-offs,
  • we have to act proportionately, in reference to working with other countries,
  • that Australia has great opportunities to both reduce our energy consumption and improve our national economic competitiveness,

We are grateful that you listen to us and that you have, in the past, even drawn the attention of the federation chamber to our discussions with you.

We agree with you that Australia faces important choices about how to cut emissions. Such choices must be articulated by the government in the process of forming policy that responds to the advice it receives.

Sadly, the coalition government has repeatedly ignored such advice. It rejected the advice of the Climate Change Authority, including that of the Abbott appointees to its board, to develop an emissions intensity scheme to drive emissions reduction. When the Chief Scientist came up with a less prescriptive idea, the Clean Energy Target, as requested by the government, that too was rejected in favour of a more nebulous National Energy Guarantee that had not been fully defined. The final version of the NEG would have made little if any difference to the government’s existing (and inadequate) renewable energy targets, yet even that was rejected by the fringe right of your party and ultimately lead to the second downfall of Turnbull, for articulating a policy that could have achieved bilateral COAG support.

No doubt you have already appraised yourself of the IPCC Special Report just released. Two senior government spokespersons have been on air belittling the report, whilst admitting they had not yet read it. The Australian public are likely to take the report’s conclusions more seriously. As one of the few federal parliamentarians that has studied climate change, it must be clear to you that such a government response is discouraging; we can no longer continue on the basis of business as usual.  We can no longer just kick the can down the road.

Yes, we do need to ensure the public understands the need for action but that may not be so difficult to achieve. Opinion polls have confirmed that there is public support for climate action and for promoting renewable energy, outrageous distortions and negativity from the popular media notwithstanding. The government has a role to play in promoting the need for climate action to the public, based on factual evidence.

We agree that consideration to job losses and energy costs are important considerations. However, such consideration need not impede progress. It has been well established that policy settings designed to discourage GHG emissions and open the market to new players will put downward pressure on energy prices. Just as the government might have worked with the motor vehicle industry more closely to ensure minimal dislocation of the workforce as manufacturing plants close down and to facilitate retraining programs where applicable, we believe it is the role of government to work with energy generators to facilitate an orderly and timely transition from fossil fuel sourced energy to renewable energy. Rather than attempting to force generators to extend the lifetime of ageing plant at great cost and/or jeopardy to reliability, investment in clean energy storage can be facilitated as was done in South Australia and which has put downward pressure on energy prices there.

As for being honest, sadly that has been missing from some minister’s comments when describing the reasons for high energy prices and when allocating blame for energy outages.

We agree that we need to act proportionately and work with other countries. Yet, Australia is one of the two highest emitters per capita in the world, and is one of the few countries in the developed world, whose emissions are still rising. Furthermore, our economy has become over-dependent on fossil-fuel exports. Prof. Peter Newman from Curtin university, a lead author of the IPCC report, has said, “..if we don’t face up to the fact that coal is phasing out, then we’re just going to suffer economically because investments will be made that will be stranded.” As stated by a key architect of the Paris Climate Agreement, the coalition government’s inaction on emissions, goes against the science, squanders economic opportunity and risks Australia’s international standing.

As you have observed, we have opportunities to improve our national economic competitiveness. That does not mean promoting investment is yesterday’s technology. Rather it means encouraging investment in our cheap and abundant renewable energy resources, where Australia will have a natural advantage in a decarbonised world. Such investment is job rich, with the potential to spawn new energy intensive industries, as is happening today in Whyalla and Port Augusta. Rather than being a laggard in the international community, Australia can still become a leader in renewables and in the development of clean energy-intensive industry, and in clean energy export in several forms.

We are glad to hear from you that the federal government is now developing a new emissions reduction policy framework. Hopefully, the architects of that framework have studied the IPCC Special Report. They will understand the threat that climate change poses, not only to Australia’s future economy but to the very fabric of human civilisation. The Australian public want to see clear and ambitious climate policy objectives. The government will be judged accordingly. If the new framework sets measurable goals capable of leading Australia into a future decarbonised world, the public will welcome it. We are keen to hear more.

Sincerely,

David Rothfield
President
Bayside Climate Change Action Group

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