Address to the Energy Efficiency Summit

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners – the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation.  And for those joining online, all the traditional owners across the country.

Thank you to the Energy Efficiency Council and Luke Menzel in particular, for organising today’s summit.

And from one McAllister to another, can I offer a very warm welcome to Australia to Commissioner McAllister.

Somewhere in Scotland a clan is missing not one but two of its energy policy enthusiasts.

And to all of those in attendance today – in person and online – thank you for your engagement on this issue.

I know you come to this summit with different perspectives and different priorities. 

However, the spirit of collaboration I’ve observed since becoming Assistant Minister is a solid foundation for us to achieve a lot together.

My speech today is about setting a course of where I believe we can go together.

And the key message I have for you is this: for the first time in a long time, the Federal Government is prepared to lead on energy efficiency.

Energy touches on almost every aspect of our lives.

Some 118 years ago, on a wet and stormy afternoon at around 5pm, the Lady Mayoress of Sydney switched on the electricity supply to the city, just a few kilometers over that way, on the site now occupied by the casino.

We were, I concede to Commissioner McAllister, some decades behind the Californians. Regrettably, we were also behind the Victorians. Nonetheless, the effect was – electrifying.

A contemporary described it like this:

Without warming, a brilliant light struck the heart of the city. It seemed as though a flash of lighting had seared its way across the night.

But unlike lightning – it remained – radiant and steady. People ignited the wind and rain, and stopped to stare wide eyed at the new streetlamps. Stranger spoke to stranger of the phenomenon.

Of course, over the 20th century, electricity offered much more than novelty.

The electrification of our industries transformed our industrial potential, electric trams and trains changed patterns of settlement, and electricity in Australian homes transformed the way Australian families lived.

Governments have long seen the necessity to lead on harnessing this technology – essential as it is for our economic and social progress.

As we stand on the threshold of an incredible revolution in energy technology – it’s a responsibility the Albanese government recognises.

We each come with a different, perspective but I want to explain the Labor perspective.

We see this conversation through the prism of our values.

Affordable energy is the foundation for our economy to provide jobs – good jobs, with good conditions – in Australian manufacturing.

We also know that high energy costs contribute to inequality and the burden is borne by those who can least afford it.

No one likes paying energy bills. But, for some, paying the bill means going without.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence reports that one in five Australian households are facing energy stress.

Unlocking savings from efficiency requires the spare funds that many in our community simply do not have.

And for the nearly a quarter of rented households– whose energy costs are 8 per cent higher than homeowners in similar dwellings – they simply cannot make the upgrades.

No one held back; no one left behind. Just as relevant to our energy system as any other area of public policy.

And that is before we get to the impacts on our climate.

Each summer seems to be the hottest on record – but for those born today – these may be some of the coolest in their lifetimes.

And the reality is many older homes were not up to scratch to meet the needs of the last 50 years, let alone the needs of the next 50.

The community rightly expects that our energy system is reliable, affordable and limits the impacts of climate change.

That is a shared interest across every organisation and individual in this country.

Australia is undergoing the most fundamental transformation in our energy system since it was first built.

I’m proud to say the Albanese Government will lead.

Legislating our emissions reductions target was an early priority.

I was immensely proud to see so many diverse organisations coming together the day the PM and Minister Bowen wrote to the UNFCCC – some in the room today.

There will be no single solution to meeting our commitment on the path to net zero.

It will mean using more fuel-efficient cars, reducing our industrial emissions, and bringing renewables online.

It will mean building the storage and the poles and wires to get the new clean energy from where it’s produced to where it needs to be.

But this Government has a plan on all these fronts led by Minister Bowen.

The challenge Minister Bowen has asked me to take up is the demand side of the energy market.

Through no fault of their own, Australian homes and businesses are wasting too much energy.

Preventing this waste is a double win on energy prices. For the consumer, who pays less directly, the reduction in demand lowers costs across the system.

And energy efficient homes aren’t just cheaper – they are more comfortable and healthier.  

A study on the Victorian Healthy Homes Program found a relatively minor upgrade meant not just using less energy but better health outcomes – saving $887 per person in the healthcare system over the winter period.

And of course every watt we waste contributes to the climate emergency.

According to the International Energy Agency, energy efficiency represents more than 40% of the emissions abatement needed by 2040.

These challenges on the demand side are naturally intertwined with those on the supply side. 

We know taking the pressure off the system means savings in the capacity of future generation.

We face a significant burden of construction – both as a consequence of ageing plant, and the policy failures of the last government which saw 4 GW of capacity leave the system, but only 1 GW of new investment to replace it.

In the coming decade, every KW hour we can save will makes the transformation easier and lighten the burden on households and businesses.

For every business, organisation and household, there are ongoing and significant benefits.

The opportunities are there waiting for us to grasp.

We can build better homes.

Upgrade the existing stock.

Bring greater transparency.

Use more efficient appliances in our homes and our businesses, and better equipment in our industries.

And find smart ways to manage demand to not just use less electricity but to use it when its cheapest and cleanest.

But we also need the right policy framework to make these outcomes a reality.

Doing so requires the supply chains and the skills to see that transformation through.
We aren’t starting from scratch.

NABERS – established by the Carr Government in NSW – works well to bring transparency to commercial buildings.

The E3 Program – established under Labor in 1992 and expanded in the GEMS Act introduced by the Gillard Government – has made enormous gains in the use of appliances.

States and territories have set out on their own course to tackle some of these challenges.

Businesses have stepped up – setting your own energy and emissions targets.

Australians have stepped up too – installing vast amounts of rooftop solar and making investments in their own homes.

But Federal leadership on managing energy demand has been missing.

As with broader energy policy, the previous Government’s inaction and inability to agree on any serious policy framework left it to others.

The National Energy Productivity Plan had some decent ideas, but its target set the bar far too low and was then mostly ignored by the Commonwealth.

We have languished for a decade as the international community has left us in the dust.

And Australians are paying more for their electricity than they had to.

We are exposed to the international market, where Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has had profound effects.

A decade of coalition inaction has seen us fall behind. Consumers are paying more because of their absence of leadership.

That will change.

Today, I am pleased to make this commitment: the Albanese Government is prepared to lead.

In mid-2023 the Albanese Government will deliver a Plan for Better Energy Performance.

Our aim is to drive down energy bills and emissions – preventing energy waste and taking the pressure off households, businesses, the energy system and our climate.

It will be a strategy that sets a long-term framework to bring focus to this area of policy.

Over the coming months we will be undertaking a process to engage with all of you who are prepared to step up and make a contribution.

Those with technical and policy expertise.

State and Territory energy ministers and governments of every level.

Businesses across every sector and their peak bodies – especially those with a direct stake.

Workers and their elected representatives.

Advocates from across civil society.

Innovators, philanthropists and ordinary Australians.

We are serious about consultation – you saw that on display at the Jobs and Skills summit.

Together we can set clear goals.

Together we can begin to put in place the measures that kick start a rapid transformation.

Together we can put in place a framework that ensures we can adapt in the long term.

This Government is determined to put downward pressure on the cost of living.

Australians deserve to not have to worry about choosing which essential to go without.

Australians deserve good jobs.

Australians deserve healthy, comfortable homes and workplaces.

And Australians deserve a stable climate.

We are at the beginning – thank you again for the seriousness, professionalism and collaborative spirit you’ve brought to this challenge.