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Albo on Energy and Science

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese appeared at the National Press Club on Wednesday to present Labor’s new policies on science, energy, and climate change.

Mr. Albanese opened his address by saying that Australian banknotes are an Australian invention that is now emulated around the world. He said Australia has had many great inventors including David Unaipon who is featured on one of the notes. The pandemic has shown the benefits of science to the Australian public but the great achievements of science have not been communicated to them and are barely known.

When it comes to listening to science the Coalition government has been willfully ignorant. It has cut funding to scientific institutions like the CSIRO and refused to listen to scientists on climate change.

The pandemic has accelerated the focus on the internet and an Australian invention Wifi. It has changed the way we think about work.

Labor wants to create a Centre for Disease Control to prepare Australia for future pandemics. It also wants to improve the operation of the World Health Organisation.

It believes that Australia can be a renewable energy superstar. Australia is a world leader in high-speed chargers for electric cars. It is also likely to become a leader in hydrogen production.

Australia needs an energy plan that gives the investment sector the necessary signals to encourage investment. Labor wants this plan to be developed on a bipartisan basis but it is opposed to any inclusion of nuclear energy.

Labor wants a new funding vehicle to support new technologies such as carbon capture and storage. It does not support the renewable energy funds being used for this purpose.

The future belongs to countries that innovate and invest. Labor recognizes this and wants to develop an industry and science policy that strengthens our capacity to do these things. This contrasts with the Morrison Government that wants to cut research and development assistance.

The Government needs a plan to produce STEM workers. It needs to put government money into industry sectors that represent our future areas of comparative advantage. Labor agrees with the tech sector that R&D tax incentives should be paid early. This could be used to encourage investment in artificial intelligence which is the fastest growing area of the global economy.

Labor understands the core role of science in lifting people’s standard of living. It should be the basis of a new economy based on manufacturing and high-quality innovation. Mr. Albanese promised an increase in funding for research and development.

In response to a press question, Mr. Albanese said that under Labor Australia had a framework for energy investment but now there is no framework. He believes that this needs to change, which is why he has put forward suggestions for a bi-partisan policy. He said that Labor was not looking to reintroduce a price on carbon because it was no longer necessary to drive investment in renewables. He also said the future of coal would be determined by the market. As global demand for coal declines then coal mining will decline in Australia.

Mr. Albanese made a great virtue of relying on science to determine targets and the way to achieve them. However, it is clear from his comments that he is unaware of the work of engineers around the world that have developed a consensus that an economy based on 100% renewables is technically impossible.

However, his address marked a shift in medium-term policy. He is more flexible about medium-term targets for emission reductions; he has said a carbon price is a thing of the past and he is prepared to accept a mechanism like the National Energy Guarantee without hard targets as the basis of a national energy plan. Importantly he is not insisting on a ban on coal.

This reflects the power of the right-wing OTIS Group within the Labor caucus.

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