Speech to the CEDA State of the Nation Summit

13 June 2023

Thank you for the warm welcome to Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders past and present. 

And I thank CEDA for the opportunity to speak this morning. 

For an organisation dedicated to Australia’s economic development, this might be the most fundamental question of all. 

Because we stand on the edge of something truly extraordinary here.

A future powered by cheaper, cleaner, more plentiful, renewable energy.

A future with more power available to more people, produced at lower costs, and sold at cheaper prices.

And we should be absolutely clear what this future means for people.

Because this is not, as the critics want to argue, a journey back to the grey old days of scarcity. 

This is a journey towards abundance.

And the prospect of energy abundance is unbelievably exciting, whoever you are, wherever you live, and whatever you do for work.

In my experience, this is something that most Australians already understand, which is why we lead the world in rooftop solar installation.

And it’s something your companies have known for many years now, as smart business practice.

But for the best part of a decade, we’ve been missing the third pillar here – which is reliable government support.

And that is what we’ve sought to provide in our first twelve months in office.

To help you, to work with you, to lead the way wherever we can.

And to do so with the upmost urgency.

Because we’re in a race here, the race of our lives.  

We’ve got less than 82 months to reach our target of 82% renewable energy.  

It feels a bit like that Wallace and Gromit cartoon, where he’s laying down the train tracks as fast he can, while the train is racing up behind him. 

Which is why we’ve moved so quickly this year:

Passing our safeguard laws and legislating a path to net zero.

Doubling the number of renewable projects being approved.

Investing $20 billion to rewire the nation, with 10,000 km of new transmission lines.

Establishing massive new offshore wind zones.

Supporting electric cars with our national EV strategy.

And investing $1.6 billion to support the electrification of homes and businesses.

It’s been a frenzy of work, catching up on lost time.

And I want to acknowledge Chris Bowen here, for all his leadership and dedication.

But we’ve still got a long way to go. 

This process will take much longer than a year, or a single term in office.

This is a generational project we’re embarking on.

But what we can do right now is get the settings right.

To make sure the conditions are stable and clearly signposted, so you can invest with confidence and security.

And one of those settings is environmental approvals – which is my job.

I don’t know if anyone saw this, but there was a front page of The Economist recently, which was telling environmentalists to stop hugging trees, and to start hugging renewable energy transmission lines.

It was a bit tongue in cheek. And I understand the point they were making.

But I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. 

Because this is a real tension we need to manage.

To make sure this massive industrial transformation is as sensitive to nature as possible. 

And we need to show communities we’re being thoughtful here – to bring people along with us, and to maintain our social license.

I want to be clear – our government’s strong instinct is to support renewable projects, wherever they’re feasible, wherever they’re appropriate.

Our overwhelming preference is for action.

Because the absolute worst thing we could do for nature is delaying our fight against climate change.

But not every proposal is the right one, in the right place.

We wouldn’t put a wind farm on top of the Great Barrier Reef, or a hydrogen plant on a World Heritage site.

So we need to be smart in where we plan these projects.

So we can roll them out as quickly as possible, with minimal obstacles.

And so we don’t waste our precious time investigating the wrong places.

And that’s what our government is trying to do, with our reforms to national environmental approval law. 

I’m sure most of you will agree, these laws are broken.

They’re bad for business and even worse for nature.

Currently, your companies have to find out, usually from scratch, whether a proposal will impact a matter of national environmental significance –
like a threatened species, or a fragile ecosystem, or a critical habitat. 

Which means it can take years to establish that a project is ok.

And it can take even longer to establish it’s unacceptable – when that should have been clear from the start.

It all adds up to wasted time, wasted money, and massive opportunity cost for your companies.

We want to improve that system.

So that we’re there with you, from the beginning of the process.

With the best available environmental information, with the correct guidance, and with practical advice on where to direct your energy. 

And if you need to amend your project, we can also help.

Like we've done with offshore wind projects, to minimise their impact on critical species.

And where we can, we want to identify the places where renewable projects are likely, and make these a focus of our regional plans, which we’re currently developing with Queensland and New South Wales.

We want to be active partners in this process.

With our laws, with our investment, and with our official support, all moving in the same direction.

When I talk to people, I usually find that this is the mainstream position, held by industry, environmentalists, and the vast majority of Australians.

But unfortunately, it’s not a universal position.

It’s a position we need to defend, as forcefully as we can, from people who want to undermine renewables – and from people who are trying to block them in practice.  

Even from seemingly supportive people, like some Greens politicians, who argue for a radical change in our energy system, while protesting against many of the renewable projects that would achieve that change.

And on the other side, in total bad faith, from conservative politicians who are using the cover of environmentalism to attack renewable energy. 

It’s quite shameless really.

Last month in Question Time, David Littleproud asked me about the impact of renewable projects on land clearing.

Which would have to be the first time a National leader has ever criticised land clearing in the federal parliament.

And it’s not just David Littleproud – it’s Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan, Gerard Rennick, most of the Queensland branch.

All claiming that renewables are bad for the environment.

This midlife conversion to environmental activism might seem laughable.

But it’s dangerous.

It’s attempting to create a fog around new projects. 

To scare regional communities into opposition.

And to slow down our fight against climate change.

So we all have a job here – to cut through that fog.

To show that we can roll out renewable energy rapidly, intelligently, and sensitively.

And to offer an optimistic vision of the future – with cheaper, cleaner, more abundant energy, driving higher living standards, shared by a great number of people.

Thank you.