Australia's climate policy leader

02 August 2018

This morning I addressed the Legislative Assembly about the ACT Government's commitment to a renewable future, the National Energy Guarantee and the significant problems that the Federal Government has failed to address.

Below is my speech.


The ACT has been Australia’s leader on climate policy for over a decade. We will be powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity in 2020 – just two years from now. We are taking steps today that will see the Territory achieve zero net emissions by 2045.

We have supported the roll-out of more solar panels and batteries to individual homes than any other jurisdiction in the country. And we have driven the establishment of major new wind and solar facilities along with the creation of thousands of new private sector jobs in the process.

Delivering clean, reliable and affordable energy in a way that recognises and responds to the huge shifts underway in the sector and our wider economy has been a priority for this Government throughout our time in office.

So we come to the debate about the National Energy Guarantee with a significant investment in getting our national policy settings right, but also a long and consistent track record in getting something done.

Our community needs a reasonable, durable framework that can deliver clean, reliable and affordable energy for households and businesses. That is our focus, and that should be the standard against which new policies are assessed.  

The Turnbull Government’s National Energy Guarantee proposal calls to mind that line everyone’s dad has used at least once: if you wanted to get there, you wouldn’t start from here.

We should be under no illusion about the internal Liberal and National Party contortions or compromises of principle that have led to the NEG’s development.

We should not brush past the fact that real damage has been done to the security and reliability of our electricity networks, and the new jobs and investment pipeline, because this policy debate has gone on far longer than it should have.

But nevertheless, here we are. We believe the states and territories have a responsibility to work constructively with the Commonwealth to get the best outcome possible on energy and climate policy.

We need to improve the proposal that is now in front of us or it won’t achieve its promise of reducing prices and emissions, and improving reliability of supply. In fact, expert advice suggests it could end up having a negative impact in all the areas it promises to improve.

In that context, there are a series of amendments and adjustments we believe must be made to the National Energy Guarantee to deal with the serious shortcomings Minister Rattenbury has outlined.

The NEG has two components: the first is a series of Commonwealth policies – intended for eventual introduction to the Commonwealth Parliament - which deal with issues such as the emissions reduction target and its trajectory.

The second is the Energy Security Board’s framework which will amend the National Electricity Laws to establish reliability and emission reduction obligations on electricity retailers. We believe both components of the scheme need to be improved in key ways.

On the emissions reduction side, there is a strong view from experts and climate scientists that a 26 per cent emissions reduction target is too low. If the Commonwealth is in any way serious about limiting the impacts of harmful climate change on our economy, our environment and our community, then it needs to raise the ambition of this target right now.

At an absolute minimum, we want to see the inclusion of a provision which allows the emissions reduction target to be increased in the future, while ensuring it cannot be wound back.

Essentially, once a target is set, this should become the permanent floor and a future government would not be able to wind it back. That would at least make the current Government’s 26 per cent target an absolute floor for Australia’s reduction efforts. 

This is necessary to give industry certainty when making long-term investment decisions about energy-generating assets. Leaving open the possibility of a future government dramatically cutting back the target will provide no more certainty than we have today.

We simply cannot have yo-yoing targets that go up or down according to various views – some more valid than others – holding sway in the government of the day.  

There must also be a review mechanism built into the scheme so that we can assess Australia’s progress against the level of emissions reduction necessary to meet our Paris Agreement commitments at reasonable intervals.

The Commonwealth initially said the target would be locked in for five years, increased this to 10 years, then reverted to five. Five years is still too long a period to lock in a target.

It must be possible to ramp up the target, to flexibly adjust, and ensure we are making adequate progress on cutting our emissions and preventing harmful climate change.  

Importantly too, the NEG design must make clear that nothing constrains states and territories from pursuing their own renewable energy generation targets or other renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes that exceed the emissions reduction targets set by the Commonwealth.

These more ambitious renewable electricity and emissions targets need to be additional to the national emissions reduction target for the electricity sector.

This links into the Energy Security Board’s framework.

Currently, the framework proposes a mechanism through which the voluntary emissions reduction effort by consumers who choose to buy GreenPower can be recognised. But it assumes that all voluntary effort by state and territory governments that have already set more ambitious renewable energy and emissions reduction targets will be subsumed into the national effort.

In effect, the ACT, Victoria and Queensland will be doing all the heavy lifting of national emissions reduction through our ambitious schemes, leaving states like New South Wales to freeload on our efforts. That isn’t fair and it isn’t good enough.

If the ESB framework can accommodate additional voluntary action through GreenPower, then there should be no technical reason why it cannot also accommodate additional state and territory effort.

Canberra households have put their money where their values are in supporting our transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity. We will not let our community’s leadership on renewables become the excuse for other parts of Australia doing less.

If the Commonwealth agrees to incorporate these adjustments – whether at the next COAG meeting or in further consultation with jurisdictions over the months to come – then this will go a long way towards securing the ACT’s agreement to sign on.

These are reasonable, constructive proposals that recognise the need for reliable and affordable energy, while confirming the ACT’s commitment to ambitious emissions reduction and renewables as the responsible way to deliver this and prevent further harmful climate change.

I look forward to all members of this Assembly supporting the ACT’s negotiating position going into the next round of discussions on the National Energy Guarantee.

All parties in this place have previously stated their commitment to the ACT’s 100 per cent renewables target, and so all parties in this place should be prepared to stand together in advocating for a national energy deal which protects our own hard-won progress and delivers the best energy and climate outcomes for the future.