OPINION - Positioning Hunter as a clean energy hub

Newcastle and the Hunter region have powered Australia for generations and we will continue to do so well into the future. With our skilled workforce, abundant resources, industrial expertise, and critical rail and port infrastructure our region is poised to take full advantage of new energy industries. 

The economics of climate change and energy are rapidly shifting. Australian businesses – heavy industry and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) alike – understand firsthand the need to remain competitive in a decarbonising global economy.

Alongside the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group, exporters, heavy industry, big business and SMEs are united in their call for a clear policy framework that supports them to remain competitive while achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

As a proud Novocastrian, I recognise the need for this too. I know that our nation is strongest when regions like ours thrive. Local industry needs certainty, stability and flexibility in a changing environment.

That’s why the Albanese Labor Government has announced reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism, among a suite of other measures which will position Newcastle and the Hunter as a clean energy hub. Importantly, these reforms will support Australian industry to reduce emissions efficiently, while maintaining competitiveness in the global economy.

Additionally, Labor’s $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund (PRF) provides dedicated support to make sure traditional and new industries in regional Australia harness the economic opportunities of decarbonisation.

It will ensure regions like ours are supported in Australia’s ambition to become a renewable energy superpower and meet our emission reduction targets of 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050.

The PRF will provide funding to help in the transition towards net zero by focusing on:

  1. Decarbonising Existing Industries
  2. Developing New Clean Energy Industries
  3. Workforce Development
  4. Purchasing Carbon Credits

We know strong action is needed to tackle the climate crisis. The Albanese Labor Government is committed to supporting carbon intensive regions like ours to take advantage of the economic and job opportunities that come with more affordable and reliable renewable energy.

The regions that have always powered Australia are the same regions that will power us throughout this global economic transformation – but only with the right investment.

A reformed Safeguard Mechanism is expected to deliver 205 million tonnes of abatement to the end of the decade, equivalent to cutting emissions from Australia’s cars by two-thirds over the same period. The reforms will introduce new emissions reductions obligations in manageable increments and give businesses flexibility around the timing of their abatement investments. If they can’t reduce emissions directly, facilities can either purchase Safeguard Mechanism Credits from other facilities or use carbon offsets.

Stakeholders across all sectors, including from industry, business and environment groups have engaged constructively on these reforms, and those views have been reflected in the preparation of their design.

These reforms are the latest in a suite of policy announcements to help diversify our local economy. The Albanese Labor Government is also investing:

  • $100 million to ensure hydrogen readiness at the Port of Newcastle;
  • $16 million to establish a New Energy Skills Hub at the University of Newcastle;
  • $100 million to support 10,000 New Energy Apprenticeships across Australia;
  • $10 million in a New Energy Skills Program to tailor skills training to the specific needs of new energy industries; and
  • Our Powering Australia plan will ensure that five out of six new energy jobs are created in regions such as the Hunter.

Together, these reforms have been carefully calibrated to deliver the policy certainty and support needed for regional economies like ours to continue to thrive in a net zero world.

The Albanese Government is committed to working with stakeholders to understand how the PRF can support existing efforts to decarbonise, develop new clean energy industries and support workforces in regional Australia. Find out more at https://consult.dcceew.gov.au/powering-the-regions-fund

Sharon Claydon MP
Deputy Speaker of the Australian Parliament
Federal Member for Newcastle

This Opinion Piece was first published in the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday 24 January 2023. 

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