Is Labor’s 50% energy target all bark and no bite?

Bill Shorten is about to announce a 50% RET by 2030, but is this all just lip service? Can Labor change Australia’s energy trajectory?

The Australian Labor Party National Conference is happening this weekend in Melbourne, and reports indicate that Labor leader Bill Shorten will announce the party’s new Renewable Energy Target; at least 50% of Australia’s large scale energy will be generated by renewable sources by 2030.

Obviously for this target to be legislated, the ALP will need to win the 2017 federal election. Taking into account their humiliating defeat in 2013, Labor has a lot of ground to cover in the next 18 months. Assuming they win, we’re still unsure if the leadership could actually gain Liberal Opposition support for a 50% RET. Is this policy a long term focus, or just a platform for election victory?

Do Labor’s leaders really do have the drive and stamina to fight for this issue? Here’s a run down of the key players starting with Mark Butler, the ALP National President.

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Mark ButlerAs the Shadow Minister for environment and Climate Change, Mark is outspoken on all environmental issues. Mark is also the Member for Port Adelaide, and as a representative from South Australia (the wind energy capital of Australia) you can bet his heart is in this fight. Over the last month he has aggressively attacked the Prime Minister over his ‘war on windfarms’.

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Bill Shorten

In 2011, the Member for Maribyrnong made a strong speech supporting clean energy for small businesses in his electorate. In the past he has voted for a carbon price and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. With everything else on his plate as Labor leader though, we wonder if Bill be able to focus on this issue above other party platforms?

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Tanya PlibersekMs Plibersek is the Member for Sydney and given her electorate’s gay and lesbian community it’s clear why she has been campaigning hard for same-sex marriage. Regarding serious environmental concerns however, there has really only been one parliamentary challenge and subsequent media statement on renewable energy. Plibersek will tow the party line on the RET, but it’s clearly not her first priority.

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Chris BowenMr Bowen represents the seat of McMahon, an electorate known for construction and agriculture. Locally, he is focused on gun crimes, highway & airport development, and medicare. Bowen has made no statements about the effect of renewables on the budget. It just doesn’t seem like his cup of tea.

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Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy is a surprising champion. As Senator for Victoria, in 2013 he announced prevention of logging in Tasmania World Heritage Forests; in 2014 he spoke in favour of tighter regulation of offshore petroleum and greenhouse gas storage practices; and he is currently supporting a biofuels bill to help maintain and expand the use of sustainable biofuels in Australia: “The growing internationalisation of our economy presents opportunities and challenges. We must grasp these opportunities if we are to sustain our living standards and our children’s futures”. BOOM. WE’VE GOT A LIVE ONE HERE!

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Penny WongMs Wong is Senator for South Australia, and again as a representative of Wind Central, we can be sure she will protect renewable energy interests. As Minister for Climate Change and Water in the Rudd Government, Penny significantly expanded the RET, driving strong investment in solar and wind energy projects. She also represented Australia in international climate change negotiations, whilst also developing Rudd’s carbon emissions trading scheme. Ms Wong is respected and experienced, and we think she will fight passionately for a 50% RET.

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Anthony AlbaneseMr Albanese represents the electorate of Grayndler, known for manufacturing, engineering and services. In 2013, Anthony supported an emissions trading scheme and last month he supported Labor’s Renewable Energy Amendment Bill. He seems to focused on the issues, but makes no headway in his own electorate. If he acts with the same passion he shows when speaking in Parliament, he could be a real asset to the ALP in this fight.

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There are some strong advocates and supporters in this bunch, but there are also some real questions. Sure they will all put their best foot forward as this is a national party issue, but when push comes to shove, can this team as a whole be trusted to put a 50% RET at the top of their agendas – ahead of other ministerial issues and responsibilities? We will have to watch it play out over the next few years but at this point the lay of the land at this point doesn’t inspire a huge amount of confidence.

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