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Sophie on the Government's Future Gas Strategy

June 5, 2024:

I was pleased to see that the centrepiece of the budget that the government delivered last month was a move to invest in Australia's transformation to a net zero economy. The Future Made in Australia program is a big-picture policy that will deploy $22.7 billion in direct investment, production tax incentives and loans to drive development of future industries like green hydrogen, green metals, critical minerals and renewables. But this is just a first step in what needs to be a much larger investment to drive our transition to clean energy and to become a clean and renewable energy superpower.

The global energy transition is already well under way. In Australia, already 40 per cent of our energy generation is from renewable resources. But we have reached an inflection point, a watershed moment, where our country's future will be determined by the decisions we are making right now. Australia must choose whether to step boldly into the global race to make the most of our abundant renewable assets and become a leading renewable energy exporter or face being left behind. I believe it is beyond time for Australia to move away from the 'dig it and ship it' mentality and futureproof our economy and prosperity by building our value-adding and manufacturing capacity right here in Australia. So I support the Future Made in Australia program. It's an important investment in the diversification of our economy, future jobs and future prosperity. But the government's announced plan represents only the first step.

However, at the same time the Future Made in Australia strategy was announced with much fanfare, the government also announced its Future Gas Strategy. This strategy paves the way for major new and massively expanded gas projects to be approved, with lifespans beyond 2050, including some of the dirtiest, most carbonintensive and most polluting mines in the world. This is a confounding conflict the government has created—the most monumental example of a bet each way—and it is dangerous. The government is trying to convince Australians it is serious about climate change while at the same time giving the green light to fossil fuel companies to spend up big on infrastructure that will guarantee our reliance on gas for decades to come. Australia and the world are at a crossroads, and what we need is bold and visionary leadership, not equivocation. This equivocation by the government will not help Australia to become a renewable energy superpower. Rather, it will hold us back as it creates confusion, conflicting signals and uncertainty. What investors in our future renewable economy need is certainty and strong government leadership.

The announcement of the government's Future Gas Strategy has devastated climate scientists. What does this mean for our future? Esteemed climate scientist Joelle Gergis gave a briefing in Parliament House yesterday about her just-released Quarterly Essay 'Highway to hell'. In that briefing session, Joelle explained: … there is a 90% chance that the continuation of current climate policies will result in 2.3C to 4.5C of global warming by the end of century, with a best estimate of 3.5C. How is that consistent with a livable future? Quite clearly, if we veer away from our current path towards one that is expanding gas as the Future Gas Strategy does for us, we are locking ourselves into a devastating future. I do acknowledge that there is a small role for gas to play in firming and for industry as we transition to the clean energy generation. But to massively expand and bake in decades of gas production under the guise of acting on climate change, in my view, is a most monumental exercise in greenwashing and an egregious misrepresentation to the people of Australia.

So my questions to the minister are these. If the government truly believes in acting on climate change and driving Australia's journey to becoming a renewable energy superpower, why is it equivocating and not showing clear and decisive leadership on this? Why is it pursuing two energy strategies that are completely incompatible? When it comes to gas, isn't the government's plan to massively expand Australia's gas production and export irreconcilable with a safe climate, baking in our country's use of gas and economic reliance on gas exports for decades? Will the government be building on the Future Made in Australia plan as announced in the May budget, which can only be regarded as a first step at best for what is required for Australia to become a renewable energy superpower? If our goal is to truly become a renewable energy superpower, isn't encouraging new and expanded gas infrastructure investment a dead end? (Time expired)