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Q&A with Mr Adam Bandt MP: COVID-19, Climate Change and the Future of the Australian Renewable Energy Industry
Adam Bandt MP is an Australian politician and former industrial lawyer who is currently the leader of the Australian Greens and Federal MP for Melbourne. Perhaps, he is best known for serving as co-deputy leader of the Greens from 2012 to 2015 and 2017 to 2020. He was elected leader after the resignation of Richard Di Natale in February 2020.
Adam has been advocating for climate emergency, energy, and employment & industrial relations. He believes in transformative change and so he has been working with the community to tackle the crises that we are facing today. “I knew that it wouldn’t be enough to just change my personal actions; we needed big solutions – to transform our country and save the climate, we needed to transform the Parliament”, said Adam.
Kylie Browne of Solar Trust Centre spoke with him about his thoughts on the pandemic, climate change and the future of the Australian Renewable Energy Industry. The following is a transcript of the interview.
The health and economic impacts of the coronavirus hit Melbourne really hard and exposed growing inequality. You've been working hard to ensure everyone has access to adequate care and support to get through the crisis, I think you stated, "No one left behind." Here we are entering our third year of the pandemic facing a so-called new normal. What are your aims for 2022?
To make sure that there's no one in this rich country of ours living in poverty and that we also tackle the climate crisis. And we've got a real opportunity to tackle both those crises at once and recover from COVID by investing heavily in renewables and in energy efficiency. That way we're not only going to create long term sustainable jobs, we're also going to help people live in houses that are more comfortable and safer and bring down their power bills.
So many people would say that there's a clear disconnect in the country between Australia's vulnerability as a developed nation to climate change and our national policy. What factors do you feel can help address this disconnect in terms of influencing government policy and public attitudes more widely?
Australia is on the front line of the climate crisis and is one of the countries with the most to lose with so many of our people living in areas that are going to be hit by bushfires or droughts or floods. And we should be leading the world in climate action and the people of Australia want the government to be taking stronger action, but they're not. Governments still take significant donations from coal and gas corporations and the coal and gas corporations then get to write the laws of this country.
And as a result, while people and some businesses are charging ahead, getting solar on their roofs and doing everything they can to reduce their emissions, governments are going in the opposite direction opening up new coal and gas projects at a time of climate crisis. We've got to get the big corporate, coal and gas money out of politics. We just found out today that the coal and gas corporations are still donating millions of dollars to liberal and labour. And we're never going to really tackle the climate crisis until we get that big coal and gas money out of politics.
But there's, I think, big public support for a government that's prepared to step up and drive the transition to renewables much more quickly. People are already doing everything they can themselves and they're just waiting for the government to get on board.
Australians are slowly changing their habits that affect the environment, thinking that we are making a positive impact. Shorter showers, reusable products, recycling, electric vehicles, rooftop solar and they're things that make us feel good about trying to make a difference, but is it negligible? How big a role do you think Australian billionaires and companies should play in paving the way for this 2050 net-zero emissions target?
Look, people are taking matters into their own hands and are already putting solar panels on their roofs and switching and making decisions in their own lifestyle to reduce emissions as much as possible and that's to be applauded. People are in many instances voting with their feet and indeed some with their wallets often as well to make sure they're doing everything they can to make the switch to renewables. But if the government doesn't come on board as well, we're not going to get there in the time that we need. And it's the government that's got the capacity to say to big corporations and billionaires, "Look enough of making super profits out of wrecking our planet! You've got to switch over now to more sustainable industries."
And government has in fact been going the other way. Government, liberal and labor, are now giving public money to coal and gas corporations to open up new gas fields, right? I mean, we're going the other way. So it is something that, yes, people are leading the way but unless government steps in and redirects the Australian economy to be a cleaner and more sustainable one, by saying to those billionaires and big corporations, "You can't keep making big profits out of wrecking the planet" then we're just not going to get there in time. And we need both. We need people power that we're already seeing, but we need government to step in and lead as well.
Do you think that COVID-19 will be used as an excuse to further delay any political action in terms of climate change?
We know that federal government is trying to use COVID-19 as an excuse for more gas. They're talking about a gas-led recovery to COVID-19 as if the solution to a global pandemic is to build a new pipeline and to take public money that could be going to schools and hospitals and instead give it to big gas corporations who don't pay any tax. I mean, it's just laughable and it's no wonder that we are being laughed at, or our governments are being laughed at, by the rest of the world. We saw Scott Morrison go off to the Glasgow Climate Summit to say that his solution to dealing with the COVID pandemic and the climate crisis is a so-called gas-led recovery yet the rest of the world is trying to go in the other direction.
You had Joe Biden, the US president, saying the summit should be the beginning of the end of gas, where we get out of gas and everyone pledges to cut their methane by 30%. And instead Scott Morrison went there and like a cigarette salesman in the cancer ward, tried to tell the rest of the world that really yeah, I know we're in a climate crisis, but we just might need more fossil fuels! The rest of the world isn't buying it.
The rest of the world is moving and Australia needs to move with them otherwise we're going to get left behind. At a certain point, the rest of the world is going to tell us to stop digging. They're not going to want coal and gas and we've got to have something else to sell the rest of the world - and that could be our sun and our wind. We could be exporting solar fuels through green hydrogen and also even direct undersea cables across to other countries in Asia. These are the exciting export opportunities that await us. But to do that, we've got to firmly say it's time to get out of coal and gas.
Let’s chat about the Netflix movie, Don't Look Up. One of its main themes is that human beings are so easily distracted by pop culture and goofy memes that they can no longer focus on what's important. Do you think that the movie captured the essence of how the community is blasé about issues like climate change?
Look, I don't think the problem is with the community. I think the problem is with political leaders because the people are looking to political leaders to give a bit of guidance about how urgent the crisis is. And if it's the asteroid heading towards us and we've got a chance to do something about it yet we see our political leaders stand up and say, "Oh, don't worry, it probably won't hit and even if it does, we can wait 30 years to do something about it."
People take their guidance from them. So I think it's our political leaders who need to be forced to watch the movie and forced to do something about it and to understand the point that it's trying to make because, in future generations, they're going to be looking back. You have the prime ministers and presidents of today and they'll say, "You knew about it, right? You knew and you had all the knowledge at your fingertips and yet you didn't ring the alarm bells. You didn't say, 'Hey, everyone, we've got to drop everything."
Instead, you just went ahead and business as usual and expanded it. And I mean, we've got now a classic example with the coronavirus that hit and the pandemic that we were in, you saw a public willing to listen to political leaders who said, "Hey, this is serious, we've got to change the way we're doing things and if we change the way we're doing things, we're going to stop people dying and we're going to keep people out of hospitals." And you saw people accept that and saw the importance of listening to science. And we've got to do the same again with climate and understand that we are talking about millions of people dying if we don't get the climate crisis under control.
We're talking about our kids during their lifetime seeing sea levels rise and bushfires rip through far more regularly, and far more severely the places that we all love. And we are facing a crisis. It is an emergency and it's time for our leaders to stop pretending that we can have 2050 targets and it'll all be okay by then, because in 2049, someone will ride in on a unicorn with a magical technology that hasn't been invented yet! We need to act now. And I think that's the message not just from the Netflix movie, but its message from the climate scientists as well.
You've said that the clean energy revolution will create hundreds and thousands of well paid long term jobs enabling workers in fossil fuel industries to transition and farmers to be paid farm carbon and protect the land. What does an Australia in 2050 look like if it does seize upon these opportunities to grow its renewable energy industry? And what do you aspire us to do with this?
I could see Australia in 2050 or even in 2030 being a renewable energy superpower. That is selling our sun and our wind to the rest of the world and where we've turned around the slow global action that we've seen at the moment. And where instead, we become the country that other countries point to and say, "Hey, look, Australia's doing really well. Let's do what they're doing."
And instead of being embarrassed when our political leaders take the world stage, we could be incredibly proud. We could be running not only on 100% renewable energy ourselves, but we could be exporting it to the rest of the world going on what we're calling 700% renewable energy where we have not only our electricity produced by renewables, but we have our industry running on renewables as well. We have our cars and our transport running on renewables.
We could have our whole society running on the sun and the wind and we could be selling it to our neighbours as well. And if we get the climate crisis under control, we'll have a safer climate for our kids so they don't have to worry about going into every summer holiday worried about how many people are going to die from the heat waves or the bushfires, which they're on track to do. We would preserve our beautiful beaches that are under massive, massive threat from rising sea levels if we don't get it under control.
And we'd be able to give our children and our grandchildren, something like the good quality of life we've been able to enjoy so far. That's what I think we're holding still if we get off coal and gas, get onto 700% renewables. We could be the envy of the world.
STC is thankful to Adam Bandt, MP for giving us time for this interview.
Further information on Adam’s advocacies here.
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