Speech to South Australia Climate Change Conference

We meet, of course, on the lands of the Kaurna people, and in celebrating their Elders past, present and emerging, let us also acknowledge some fundamental truths. At a conference like this it’s important to acknowledge that there is no inequality in the world that climate change doesn’t make worse.

Whether it is First Nations families living in substandard housing in a remote community or our Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters dealing with rising sea levels, climate change makes every inequality worse, including First Nations inequality.

Secondly, First Nations teachings and learnings should be part of the solution, and we have to learn from the people who have had stewardship of our land for over 60,000 years. We need to do more of it. We need to do that now, for example, with the Indigenous-led savanna burning carbon credit system, which works very well. And there are many more examples where we could do better.

And finally, of course, this important point: later this year we’ll have the opportunity for the most important act of reconciliation our country has ever undertaken. Earlier this year the eyes of the nation moved to Adelaide. We were so proud and interested and engaged in the work of your government in legislating the South Australian Voice. It was really uplifting to see. But I know the Premier and the cabinet will be the first to acknowledge and to agree   we’ve got to build on that. The most important thing we can do is constitutionally enshrine a voice for our country later this year.

There’s a lot of heat about this, but fundamentally the points are simple: firstly, do we as a country respond to the Uluru Statement from the Heart with a positive answer from our hearts? Secondly, do we acknowledge that First Nations people should be recognised in our governing document? And, finally, should our constitution enshrine the opportunity for First Nations people to be consulted on matters that impact on them? I’m confident the answer to each of these questions will be yes across Australia, and I thank those of you who are participating in the debate.

Well, thanks for coming today, and congratulations to the Malinauskas government for organising this important conference, which I was very keen to accept the invitation to as soon as I saw it and, more importantly, for leadership across the board when it comes to climate change and energy.

Friends, we have a very important national task: to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, to lift our energy grid to 82 per cent renewables by 2030. That’s 82 per cent in 81 months. That’s not long. We’ve got a lot to do and we have to do it fast. We have to be all in to achieve this. One level of government alone is just not going to do it. Governments – state, territory, local, federal – all have to be cooperating. Businesses, industries, unions, communities, all of us, a whole-of-society effort.

And the relationship between the commonwealth and the states is key. Since May in partnership with the states and territories we’ve done a lot. Putting the relationship in relation to energy and climate change between the commonwealth government and the states back on an even, respectful footing has been one of my key priorities. And we’ve had no more important partner than the Malinauskas government – with the Premier directly, the Deputy Premier and Climate Minister, the leadership she shows, and with my mate Tom, who is such a keen and important member of our energy ministers council and such an important partner for me personally and for us in the federal government. Your leadership on renewables, on hydrogen, on the management of the transformation is world leading and is essential to our national efforts.

And this conference comes at a good time. Yesterday, we began the process of developing fuel efficiency standards for our country – a well overdue reform. Australia and Russia are the only two developed countries without fuel efficiency standards. They cover 85 per cent of the world’s car markets, but we have been missing out. We’ve become a dumping ground for inefficient, polluting and costly-to-run cars. As a result of our lack of standards there’s no requirements for manufacturers to send fuel efficient cars to Australia. And as a result, we have a very inefficient fleet.

You might not be surprised to learn that our cars are on average 40 per cent bigger emitters than cars in Europe. But I think you might be surprised to learn that they are 20 per cent bigger emitters than cars in the United States and 15 per cent bigger than New Zealand. So hence we need full efficiency standards, and we’ll deliver them. We have a lot more to do in relation to electric vehicles, and I’ll say more about that in a few moments.

But the broader point is this: yesterday’s announcement is just the latest iteration of the Albanese government working through the challenges and opportunities when it comes to climate policy and making reforms that are long overdue.

Last year we passed our climate act through the parliament, which was critical for a number of reasons, most importantly, it sends a message to renewable energy investors to Australia and around the world that Australia is open for business. We have stable, legislated framework. It was important to put our targets into law. The one of relatively few countries around the world to have done so. It sends that message that not only has the government changed but the parliament has changed, the country has changed. It's been important in the 50 per cent increase in large-scale renewable investment we’ve experienced in 2022, the vast majority of that increase after May.

But setting the targets, even enshrining the targets is just the beginning – far from the end. Targets are much easier set than met. It’s been incumbent on us to then set about moving the levers that actually achieve that emissions reduction, and that’s what we’ve been doing. Firstly, there’s no transition without transmission. That’s why we have a Rewiring the Nation policy – to build the transmission we need to get renewable energy from where it is generated to where it will be consumed. Our grid is not fit for purpose for our 82 per cent or 100 per cent renewable economy. It’s just not. It needs major investment, and that’s exactly what we’re providing with our $20 billion fund with the agreements that we’ve already reached and rolled out.

Importantly, of course, there’s our safeguard reforms which we passed through the parliament a few weeks ago. We’re not going to get emissions down as a country unless we get them down from our biggest emitters – 215 biggest emitters across the nation. And our safeguard reforms provide a stable, sensible policy framework to do just that – to encourage and enable and require emissions reductions from our biggest industrial emitters.

We’ve passed our electric vehicle tax cut through the parliament, which has played no small part in the increase in electric vehicle sales – 2 per cent when we came to office, 7 per cent after 11 months based on the latest figures. But we have a lot more to do. And, importantly, work through the State energy Ministers meetings we have developed a Capacity Investment Scheme unanimously with the states and territories. The previous government talked about the need for a Capacity Investment Scheme but they couldn’t deliver one. We are delivering.

We’ve settled the design – again, working through the National Energy Ministers Council, and it will underpin at least $10 billion of investment, at least 6 gigawatts across the country in clean, renewable, dispatchable generation. And I don’t mind telling you that Tom and I have already discussed the need and our intention for South Australia to be a very early adopter of the Capacity Investment Scheme and for us to roll out the Capacity Investment Schem in South Australia at the very earliest stages of its delivery. And Tom and I will have more to say about that in the next few months.

We’ve also agreed the development of a National Energy Transformation Partnership. This is important. We’re lucky in Australia to have the ISP. It’s a very good document. It governs our Rewiring the Nation policy, provides a road map for the transmission we need, but it only applies to electricity transmission. We need to do a lot more than that. The National Energy Transformation Partnership which we’re developing with each and every state and territory will be what I call the ISP on steroids. It will outline what we need across the board in renewable energy, in transmission not just of electricity but of all energy, of the investments we need in our capacity and it will be developed and agreed in 100 per cent partnership between the Commonwealth and the States.

So they’re some of the things we’ve done in the last 12 months. And we’re making progress internationally. This didn’t get much attention – for understandable reasons – but last week we became the first country in the world to submit our National Inventory Report, the annual stocktake of emissions, to the United Nations under the Paris Agreement guidelines. We’re not traditionally first to do so. We are now. It’s actually a pretty big deal. It required a significant update to our reporting and provides more transparency. And, as I said, I’m glad that we were the first nation in the world to do it.

For too long we’ve been at the back of the pack. Now we’re striving to be and sometimes succeeding to be at the front.

A tangible example of how we’re matching our ambition with action was our international update, and this was also reflected in, again, something which hasn’t received too much attention which happened overnight – the International Energy Agency’s report on Australia. The report notes the change in Australia. It’s a decisive and very substantial document, and I encourage you to have a look at it. It’s a big, long document, but it’s an important one. I’m not going to go through it all with you, but I’ll just give you one example of it. It says, and I quote, “Since the International Energy Agency’s last review of Australia in 2018, the Australian Government has stepped up its climate ambition at the federal level, building upon the goals and policies of the states and territories.” I chose that quote because it underlines what I’m talking about – all in. The Albanese government working hand in glove with the Malinauskas government and with all the governments across the country.

We’re providing the ambition and the framework, but we’re doing so in partnership with key stakeholders like states, particularly South Australia. They rightly identify the federal ambition, but they also acknowledge the importance of state and territory action, as I do.

So, we’ve made good progress I think over the last 11 months, but I want to say to you very clearly: I’m pleased but I’m far from satisfied. We have a lot more to do. As I said before a few minutes ago, we have 81 months to achieve our 2030 targets. There is no time to rest on our laurels. We consistently have to build on the progress that we’re making. We consistently have to do more and work in partnership with anyone in industry or in government to achieve those aims.

As I said yesterday after having earlier this year passed our safeguard reforms, we moved on to fuel efficiency standards. We don’t have time to waste to say, “Safeguards is all we’re doing this year.” We have to move on quickly. Yesterday I announced the fuel efficiency standards. Today I’m announcing the next steps here at this conference: we have more to do on electric vehicles, so today I’m announcing that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – the CEFC – will be providing $40 million towards concessional discounted EV loans to save on average between $1,400 and $2,500 depending on the size and length of the loan. They’ll partner with the non-bank lender FirstMac to make discounted financing available to the lowest emitting EVs for the purchase price under $90,000 to make them more available to more people and to more businesses.

This is practical assistance to incentivise more people to access EVs. As John said, they’re wonderful to drive. I was talking to a driver of a small van, a small truck, delivery truck company in Sydney that the converted its fleet to electric and asked him what it was like to drive, and he said, “It’s improved my working life extraordinarily. They’re quieter, they’re easier to drive, I enjoy driving it.” These are the opportunities and the choices we need to make available to more people.

We’re also announcing today that we’re going to partner with Origin Energy to help them deliver a thousand electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to their business customers. They’ll be making those available on a commercial rate to their business customers, and we’ll be providing funding and assistance to make it attractive for those business. We’ll be providing $6.2 million in funding to Origin Energy to enable them to make that offer of a thousand electric vehicles to their customers.

But it’s not just the federal leadership that I think people are taking notice of in Australia but around the world; it’s the national effort that we’re trying to engender. It’s the cooperation at all levels. It’s the policy consistency that we’re all heading in the same direction. We don’t have time for arguments about the direction to travel. We could have proper debates about the best ways from time to time, but we have no time for an argument about the direction to travel. And under our government there is no argument about the direction of travel. The direction of travel is clear: we can and will be a renewable energy superpower. We can and will play our role in international efforts to reduce emissions. We will seize that not as a challenge but as an opportunity for our country.

For years, for decades, for centuries, we’ve been looking for an economic advantage or a comparative advantage as a nation. We now have a clear one – more sunlight hits our country than any other country in the world. We have above average wind onshore and offshore. Until recently offshore wind was unlawful in Australia, which strikes me as several different levels of craziness considering we are the world’s largest island. We’ve fixed that and have already declared our first offshore wind zone and are well advanced to declare our second one, with more to come this year.

These are the sorts of things we have to do to meet our 43 per cent emissions reduction. Some people say it’s not ambitious enough. I understand that. I understand that point of view. But let’s not underestimate the size of the task we’ve collectively agreed to undertake. I’ve got to tell you, it’s actually extremely ambitious. To achieve our 43 per cent emissions reduction target we’ll need to install about 40 7-megawatt wind turbines every month between now and 2030.

For solar, and while we have been a global leader, and South Australia in particular has been a global leader, we need to do much more. We will need to install 22,000 500-watt panels every day. That’s 60 million by 2030. We’ve installed 60 million over the last decade; we’ve got to install another 60 million over the next seven years or our targets simply won’t be met. This is the size of the task that we are collectively undertaking.

We’ve set clear and legislated goals to drive this revolution. But we’re already about a quarter of the way through the decade – the key decade – for emissions reduction. So be under no illusions, friends: achieving our 43 per cent emission reduction target will be challenging and won’t be done by any one government, any one company, any one state, any one community alone. It will be all of us. We need partners and we have partners. We have no better partner than the Malinauskas government, and we need more. We’ve partnered with you, your industry, your businesses, your ideas. I’m optimistic that we can and will do it, and we’re determined that we’ll do it. We have the passion and the energy now in the Albanese government, but we don’t have all the answers, we don’t have all the ideas. Our door is open for willing partners across the board. Because, frankly, we don’t have another choice as a country.

Emissions reduction isn’t a nice thing to do. It is an economic opportunity for our country, but it’s so much more than that. These are the stakes that we are facing. Our country is very exposed today to climate change. We all remember Black Summer 2019 and 2020. I and my family ourselves were evacuated. We all remember the devastation, the lives lost. We all said we need to do more. Just think of the stakes. Unless we arrest global warming and keep the world as close as possible to 1.5 degrees, those climatic conditions in 2019 will be the average by the 2040s. The average year, and it will be regarded as a good year by the 2060s.

We can’t let that happen. We can’t do that to our country. We can’t enable that. We can’t leave that for future generations. That’s not an option available to us. It’s unacceptable and unthinkable that we will do so, and we won’t. Protecting the climate is not an option. Acting is imperative, and acting is exactly what we intend to continue to do. Thanks for your time.