Treasurer Jim Chalmers.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the government's approach will be "ambitious but uniquely Australian". Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Net zero policy to draw on national strengths: Chalmers

Poppy Johnston November 2, 2023

More public investment is likely to be funnelled into critical mineral processing, green metals and other industries vital to securing a uniquely Australian position in the developing net zero global order.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said Australia would forge its own path to meet its own emissions reduction targets and bed down its position as a renewable energy super power.

The government has been under pressure from environmental groups, unions and other stakeholders to introduce multi-billion dollar incentives for the renewables industry similar to the US Inflation Reduction Act.

Dr Chalmers told a conference held by the Melbourne Institute and The Australian newspaper his government’s net zero policies would complement, not mimic those in other advanced economies.

“We won’t realise Australia’s unique geographical, geological, geopolitical, intellectual and meteorological advantages by designing an Inflation Reduction Act lite – looking only for big numbers but missing the bigger picture,” Dr Chalmers said on Thursday.

The federal government plans to support four key industries with more public investment and efforts to unlock more private capital.

The four areas – refining and processing critical minerals, battery manufacturing, renewable hydrogen and ammonia and green metals – all pass the “test” of playing to the nation’s advantages.

Battery manufacturing facility Melbourne
 Battery manufacturing is among the industries earmarked as a net-zero priority. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Australia’s strengths include an abundance of clean energy resources, its skilled workforce, and its status as a trusted and reliable trading partner.

The treasurer said government investment was appropriate in the priority areas “to make industries competitive for the long term, not just underwriting short term profits”.

Decisions would also have to recognise the key role of the private sector and deliver “genuine value for money for government”.

Different areas will need targeted policy responses, with capital only one part of the equation when it comes to standing up major projects – the suitability of the workforce and technology challenges are other issues that need to be considered.

More net zero measures to accompany the $40 million that’s already been invested can be expected in the next budget in May 2024.

Without decisive action from all levels of government, industry, investors and communities, Dr Chalmers said the energy transition “could fall short of what the country needs”.

Australia is seeking to deliver 82 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 in a bid to achieve its Paris agreement target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Acting opposition leader Sussan Ley said Labor’s energy policy was “in tatters”.

Ms Ley said the government should be focused on gas as a transition energy source.

“They have added risk to any gas investment in this country, which will push it offshore,” she told Sky News on Thursday.

Jack Curtis, co-founder of Australian climate-tech company Neara, commended the government’s renewed commitment to its clean energy targets.

“The address called out the most critical aspect of Australia’s climate crisis – more needs to be done to secure sufficient renewable generation, transmission and storage,” he said.