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Planning for the future: The case for a National Energy Transition Authority

Speech to the Smart Energy Expo in Brisbane

Thank you very much. I want to acknowledge the Turrbal and Yuggera Peoples, the traditional custodians of the lands we are meeting on here today, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded. 

I’m delighted to be here with so many passionate people working to transform Australia’s energy system. I want to thank the Smart Energy Council for organising such an important and impressive expo, and for their continued advocacy.

The fact that we have so many people dedicated to improving our energy future gathered in one place is a testament to the hard work of the organisers, and the commitment of all of you here today. But it is also a sign of the urgency of the issue we’re facing. Transforming our energy systems to provide affordable, green power and make sure that people retain control over those systems, is critical to addressing the climate crisis. 

There can be no doubt that the climate crisis is here. And the biggest contributor to the climate crisis is the extraction and burning of coal and gas. The IPCC, the International Energy Agency, climate scientists and environmental groups all agree: continuing to open up new coal and gas flies in the face of all scientific and environmental reason and would keep us on the path towards a planet that is no longer capable of supporting human life.

Not only can we not open up new coal and gas mines, we must also phase out existing coal and gas extraction and energy production and rapidly transition to a zero emissions economy.

That is what I want to make the case for today: The case for a National Energy Transition Authority.

We must ensure that the inevitable transition away from coal and gas to a green economy is one that is well-planned, well-executed, and protects workers and their communities. And I say inevitable transition, because it is inevitable.

The global market for coal is drying up, as more and more renewable energy comes online and the urgency for climate action ramps up. Our major trading partners are beginning to abandon Australian coal, with a recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis saying the export market is in "permanent decline".

The Australian Energy Market Operator is preparing for a grid dominated by renewable energy, with around half of Australia’s coal-fired power stations scheduled to be retired in the next decade. The former CEO of AEMO, Audrey Zibelman, described the retirement of Australia’s existing coal fleet as “inevitable”.

The transition has begun. But what’s missing is a plan for a fair and equitable transition that ensures we are able to rapidly and responsibly exit coal and gas while securing the futures of the workers and communities who are at risk of being left behind.

In Australia, some state-based initiatives in places like Collie in Western Australia and the Latrobe Valley in Victoria have had variable success in managing the decline of coal, but we still lack an overarching national approach.

That’s why I’m introducing a Bill in Parliament for a National Energy Transition Authority. Unions are calling for it. Business is calling for it. Coal workers and communities are calling for it. And the Greens hope this parliament will vote for it.

Our Bill establishes a new independent public authority, the National Energy Transition Authority, to guide Australia’s shift from an economy powered by polluting coal and gas to one powered by reliable, secure and low-cost renewable energy.

The Authority has three primary functions: to advise governments and state based authorities; to suggest changes to laws where necessary; and to provide national leadership on planning for, and funding, a transition to clean energy that supports workers and their communities.

By providing national coordination, expert advice and funding, the National Energy Transition Authority will work with communities, workers, unions, energy companies and governments at all levels to plan the pipeline of clean energy projects, creating good, secure jobs and opening up new export markets while pushing down power prices for homes and businesses.

Critically, the National Energy Transition Authority will support communities to develop localised transition plans so that coal- and gas-dependent areas get the funding and support that they deserve.

We don't want these communities to collapse. Australia owes coal workers a debt of gratitude for their contribution to this country. They have literally kept the lights on. The communities that have grown around mines and power stations – whether it’s in Collie in Western Australia, the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, New South Wales’ Hunter Valley or my home of Central Queensland – can not simply be left to the whims of the market. We all know how that ends, and they deserve much more respect than that.

We can create thousands of jobs for former coal and gas workers right here, whether those jobs are in mining critical minerals, manufacturing green steel, or building the renewable energy infrastructure that Australia needs. Using our sun and our wind to make green steel locally from our own ore, we can lay the tracks for high-speed rail or build the wind turbines that are going to power the country with renewable energy.

That is what our Bill is about.

The National Energy Transition Authority will ensure that no worker is left behind during our energy transition. It will support and fund the creation of the new industries and jobs that communities want and help revive the fortunes of declining regional centres.

We know this can be done. It’s been done before. In Germany, under the slogan “No one left in the pits,” thousands of workers have been helped in their transition out of coal. The plan they made between workers, employers and government meant that every coal worker walked into a new job or transitioned safely into retirement.

I believe in an Australia that leads the way in renewable energy, and ensures that all workers have well-paid, secure employment and world-class social services.

This is why a National Energy Transition Authority is so critical, but also so invigorating. We can harness the power of the state, alongside private investment, to guide, to shape, to implement, and ultimately, to transform our country’s relationship with energy. 

We can, once again, engage in nation building.

Everyone here knows that there is massive potential for clean energy and for job creation if we manage this transition properly. I believe that the Government knows this as well. As people involved in the clean energy industry, your support for a transition authority is critical - the government needs to hear your voice. 

With planning, compassion and foresight, we can tackle the greatest threat humanity has ever faced while embracing new energy opportunities, looking after workers and breathing new life into regional Australia. But we need this Bill to do it.

Thank you.

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