Keynote address to the American Australian Association Benefit Dinner
In Australia, it has become customary to open speeches by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on – paying respect to the custodians and caretakers of the land.
I live in Western Sydney, on the lands of the Cabrogal people of the Darug Nation. And I pay my respects to any Australian First Nations people present here today.
In the same spirit I’d also like to acknowledge the Indigenous people of New York: the Lenape, Mohican and Iroquois peoples.
Thank you for the honour of being the keynote speaker at this important dinner.
On my first visit to the United States in 1996, as a young backpacking junior volunteer for Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign and the first, unsuccessful campaign for Mark Warner to enter the Senate from Virginia, I wouldn’t have envisaged that I’d be given an honour like this 26 years (and many intervening visits) later.
Thank you to the American Australian Association for your leadership over 70 years, seeking to strengthen and deepen the ties and bonds between our nations.
And of course, tonight this benefit dinner will help the AAA continue its support of future scholars working in a wide range of fields of mutual benefit to our two countries.
Allow me to add my congratulations Julie (Sweet) for your well-deserved accolade this evening and your commitment to important corporate values.
It is often said what makes the Australia-US relationship so strong is that it is underpinned by shared interests, values and sacrifices, and by a myriad of institutional and people-to-people links.
The alliance is stronger than any one personality, administration or government.
It is said because it is unquestionably true. I would never seek to deny it.
But that does not mean that something else cannot also be true.
That the alliance can be even stronger and more effective when the Australian Government and the US Administration are completely aligned on objectives and actions on big challenges facing our countries and the world.
No challenge is bigger than climate change, and our respective Governments are completely aligned in our approach to the biggest challenge facing us.
This means that the Australia-US alliance is being called on again in difficult circumstances, just as it has been called on at numerous occasions to deal with challenges over the last seventy years.
That’s what I want to focus my remarks on this evening: how closely the Biden Administration and Albanese Government are working together on the issue of climate change and how there is scope for us to do even more, together.
Of course, the changing climate needs a lot more than Australia and the US working together. It’s such an enormous issue that every country needs to be tackling it, and our multilateral institutes need to be focused on it.
Climate and cooperation
President Biden says, “when I look at climate change, I see jobs”. In the Albanese Government, we say the world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity. We are of course, saying the same thing.
The Biden Administration just passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which could just as easily have been the called the Emissions Reduction Act. The Albanese Government just passed our Climate Act through both Houses of Parliament.
We are aligned because we see action on climate as urgent, and we are also determined that our citizens benefit from the jobs and investment opportunities created by the massive economic transformation that climate change demands.
This co-operation and alignment come at a crucial time:
- How much we collectively reduce emissions over the next decade will determine whether we can keep the world’s warming to 1.5 degrees
- The world is in the grip of an energy crisis caused primarily by Russia’s illegal and immoral actions. Europe has been singularly reliant on Russian gas, yet some inexplicably argue that this is a reason to slow the transition to renewables. If anything, it is a reminder of the need for a faster and more orderly transition.
- But we know as well that geo-political tension makes multilateral progress on climate change harder.
All this makes co-operation between nations like the US and Australia on climate related issues more important.
We are running the same race.
I’m delighted that since May, we have developed a close working relationship with Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry and Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has made climate policy collaboration the signature of her tenure. I’m happy to report to you that in her short period so far as Ambassador she has already made a huge impact, particularly through her focus on climate policy.
The realities of climate change
Of course, both Australia and the United States have suffered from the impacts of climate change.
At home, they are called bushfires. Here they are called wildfires.
And increasingly, with worsening impact and longer fire seasons, our periods of exposure to bushfires and wildfires are increasingly over-lapping, making it harder for us to share our expertise and personnel with each other.
Of course, we are united in sacrifice and grief.
Many Australians died in the black summer of 2019-20.
And we will never forget that three brave Americans gave their lives fighting those fires.
In Australia, we remember Captain Ian McBeth, First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr and I know you join me honouring them this evening.
The cost of inaction is huge. Fires are just one example of the impact of climate change on our people – there are many more as well.
But for our two nations, the economic dividend of well-designed climate policies in both countries is equally large.
In Australia, our approach is clear: policies that deliver real emissions reduction and real job creation.
We believe we can be a renewable energy powerhouse, superpower… choose your preferred superlative. Australia has the potential, with the right policies, to be that. And to create all the jobs that go with it.
And there’s a lot of synergy between the US and Australia’s approaches: a lot in which we can assist each other, share, learn and trade.
A bilateral boost
Bilaterally I see this through the prism of technology co-operation and the sharing of best practice climate policy.
Our shared net zero journey is well underway:
The US is turbocharging onshore clean energy manufacturing, and building more clean energy components and getting them into households.
And in Australia we’re working towards 82% of our electricity coming from renewable energy by 2030.
There’s so much work to do together, as we both deal with supply chain challenges and labour market shortages.
As you know, Australia has some of the world’s largest supplies of nickel, rutile, tantalum and zircon, which are some of the most important minerals in the production of clean energy elements such as solar panels and batteries.
We’re also the largest exporter of lithium.
And yet the end use of these materials in manufacturing clean energy components is highly concentrated elsewhere – we remain reliant on volatile overseas supply chains to meet our decarbonisation goals.
The US faces similar issues.
Now I’m pleased that we have already taken some positive steps in this area. In July, I signed a new Net Zero Technology Acceleration Partnership with Secretary Granholm – aiming to progress work in exactly these areas.
The partnership will ramp up our capacity to produce, refine and manufacture critical minerals at all stages of the supply chain.
But this isn’t a set and forget – the scale of the problem, and the urgency of the solution, will require significant whole-of-economy efforts from both nations.
I was delighted to chair the first ever meeting of the Quad Energy Ministers in Sydney in July. Again, collaboration and diversification of renewable energy supply chains was high on our agenda.
We want Australia to be a trusted and reliable source of key materials up and down the renewable supply chain, not just of raw minerals but of manufactured compounds and of exported renewable energy itself.
So both our countries stand to benefit from closer collaboration - as we change the climate threat into economic opportunity.
Of course, if the world is to hold temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees, the whole world needs to see progress in emissions reduction.
The Clean Energy Ministerial this week in Pittsburgh, hosted by Secretary Granholm, will be important.
To be frank, it has been difficult for Australia to play a constructive role, let alone a leadership role in international climate discussions when we have been too focussed on domestic debates over climate for the last decade.
That period is over. Australia is back - and is a constructive partner for ambition in international discussions.
Under the new government, we’ll be playing an active, not a recalcitrant role in international climate change negotiations
Friends, the Australia-US alliance was forged in the most difficult of times.
The world was in the grips of a crisis, we’ve stayed together since.
Franklin Roosevelt and John Curtin probably would have had difficulty conceiving the concept of climate change, let alone the dramatic economic transformation necessary to deal with it.
Curtin and Roosevelt had a rendezvous with destiny. Our job is to avoid a rendezvous with disaster.
The alliance forged then is called on to contribute to a new challenge - the health of our planet.
We don’t have a second to waste. And nor do we intend to.
There is much to do. Together.