Jobs, trade to benefit if Australia acts on wealth of clean energy resources

15 October 2021

This opinion article by Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott and ACTU President Michele O’Neil was first published in The Age on 15 October 2021 

Ensuring Australia keeps pace with the global shift to net-zero carbon emissions, and making the most of the vast opportunities presented by that change, will require genuine and far-sighted political leadership.

Analysis from Accenture – released on Thursday in a collaboration between the ACTU, Business Council of Australia, Australian Conservation Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature – show that clean energy goods and services could generate 395,000 new jobs and $89 billion in new export trade by 2040.

mportantly, the report shows that job opportunities span far beyond those directly involved in building new wind or solar power stations and networks, with the majority of new jobs identified in renewable hydrogen and ammonia, green metals, critical minerals, battery supply chains, education and training and engineering, ICT and consulting services.

It’s these goods and services that the rest of the world, as it reduces emissions, will have a thirst for. Once again, Australia is best placed to meet changing global demand, with an abundance of the best clean energy resources in the world.

But this future hinges on decisive action in the present; collective action from government, business, unions, environmental groups, and the community.

If, as a nation, we sit by while new, greener industries establish themselves in competitor economies, Australians will miss out on a monumental stampede of investment into new technologies.

This report outlines the five policies we believe are critical to establish Australia as a frontrunner in new and emerging clean energy exports:

  • coordinated investment in seven regional precincts that are best placed to produce and handle clean energy exports
  • A $10 billion co-investment in new industries
  • $5 billion to support workers and regions that are reliant on carbon-intensive industries - with an energy transition authority to bring together government, business and unions to coordinate the process
  • a program to support low-carbon procurement for major infrastructure projects, and
  • setting targets for hydrogen production and green metals production.

Australian workers and businesses know that our future lies in producing the clean products and services needed in a net-zero emissions world. The nations that benefit most from this transition will be those on the front foot.

Our biggest trading partners are already making this transition and Australian businesses and workers are already acting to respond to global trends.

Doing nothing simply means that we will fall behind, especially in the regions and other countries, other workers and other businesses will take advantage of these opportunities.

The question of how to respond to a changing climate has real world consequences for the livelihoods of everyday Australians. It’s a question about hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in potential trade, and the economic future of our nation.

It’s on all of us to avoid a re-run of the same, tired debate. We need to rally behind a common purpose and pursue the national interest.

That is why we’re part of a coalition of environmental organisations, unions and Australia’s biggest businesses to put forward a comprehensive plan to maximise the benefits for all Australians.

Workers and businesses have already been moving to anticipate the transition to net zero emissions, but we cannot do this alone. We need decisive investment and commitment from all levels of government and businesses to support the shift to these new products and services.

Our organisations stand ready to work with the Federal Government and all governments to see the policies detailed in this report implemented. We have seen over the course of the pandemic that we can achieve unprecedented outcomes when work together. It’s our best chance of ensuring Australians secure a safe climate, jobs of the future and a prosperous economy.

Michele O’Neil is president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Jennifer Westacott is chief executive of the Business Council of Australia


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