by Anthony Albanese, Federal leader of the Opposition and Labor member for Grayndler
The global shift to reduce carbon emissions is driving fundamental changes in the global economy.
Renewable energy is not coming. It is here. And because it is clean and cheap, it offers us great opportunities.
In Australia, with our ample resources of sun and wind, the switch to renewables will cut power bills for householders and for businesses right across the economy.
Our Powering Australia plan will focus on greater use of renewables and will cut the average household’s power bill by $275 a year by 2025.
Lower power costs will boost profits and allow businesses to create more jobs.
But it will also open up new and lucrative opportunities to reinvigorate existing businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and to build new industries, particularly in manufacturing.
For many years, political leaders have said they want Australia to be a nation that makes things again.
But in recent decades, this has been difficult, because so many manufacturers have moved offshore to access cheaper labour costs in developing nations.
In the 2020s, increasing mechanisation of factories is reducing the influence of labour costs in decisions about where to manufacture goods.
When you add to this the lower cost of renewable energy, we in Australia suddenly find ourselves well placed to prosper in coming decades.
While the Morrison-Joyce government has spent years ridiculing renewables and struggling to come up with a viable energy policy, Labor has a plan for Australia to seize the opportunities of the age of renewables.
It is a plan to build new industrial capacity, back it in with skills training and work with industry to shape change to the national interest.
If successful in the coming election we will establish a National Reconstruction Fund to help drive our post-pandemic rebuild.
The fund will offer loan guarantees, grants and other support to help Australian businesses recovering from the COVID pandemic as well as new enterprises, particularly in manufacturing.
Just as the Curtin and Chifley governments established manufacturing, including the rise of the car industry, after World War II, the National Reconstruction Fund will drive our recovery in the post-COVID era.
We can make things in Australia again.
Renewables can drive a revival in domestic manufacturing.
We can add value to existing bulk exports like resources and agricultural products, rather than sending them overseas for someone else to add value and then sell them back to us.
We can also target the manufacture of renewable energy technology, such as batteries, wind turbines and electric vehicle recharging stations.
Australia has huge resources of lithium and other materials required to make batteries, particularly for electric vehicles. It’s a great opportunity to make Australia a renewable energy superpower.
At the same time as we build these new industries, our existing resource export industries will continue for as long as there is international demand for their products.
These plans are ambitious, but achievable. All we need is a government prepared to back in Australian ambition and know-how.
Managing change will be a key theme in the coming election campaign.
By definition, conservative political parties resist change and seek to preserve the status quo.
Their view is that market forces will sort out all of the challenges our nation might face.
But, as the COVID pandemic has proven, there is a place for governments to intervene in the economy to serve the national interest.
In 2022, with the global economy changing in ways that require significant adjustments on the Australian industrial scene, Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund will make a real difference, particularly in regional Australia.
TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION
We also need to boost investment in training to ensure Australians have the skills required to make these new industries successful.
A Labor government would deliver 465,000 free TAFE courses and 20,000 new university places in areas where our economy is being held back by skills shortages.
We’ll train up the next generation of electricians, builders and engineers as well as filling shortages in the caring industries like nursing and aged and disability care.
Under the current government there are 70,000 fewer Australians in apprenticeships or traineeships than there were when the government took office.
That’s not good enough.
Also read: Time to build our skills base
It explains why Australia’s economic growth is being held back by a serious skills shortage that is forcing businesses to recruit overseas workers on temporary visas.
It is extraordinary that we have become over-reliant on overseas workers at a time when two million Australians are either unemployed or underemployed.
We must do much better.
For the past three years, Labor has worked closely with businesses, trade unions and civil society to identify the opportunities that come with the changes sweeping the world.
Fighting for the past in a changing world is counterproductive.
Labor stands ready to fight for a better future for all Australians.
This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Mail on Thursday, 10 March 2022.