Anthony Albanese will accuse the Morrison government of putting Australian jobs and exports at risk by its opposition to renewable energy and its bellicose rhetoric on China.
The Labor leader will use a speech to the Minerals Council of Australia to reassure mining companies that the opposition supports the continuing export of fossil fuels.
But Albanese will also signal Labor’s intention to hasten the shift to the new energy economy because the world is moving to a low-carbon future, and “markets change”.
Albanese’s speech comes as Labor continues to wrestle over the direction of its climate and energy policy. During Tuesday’s regular meeting of the caucus, the Victorian MPs Ged Kearney and Libby Coker expressed concern about new gas development in the Beetaloo basin during a debate triggered by a disallowance motion proposed by the independent Zali Steggall.
Steggall’s motion, which has support in the caucus, seeks to halt new gas development in the Northern Territory. But Labor has resolved to reject the proposed disallowance, and a number of MPs, including Joel Fitzgibbon and Bill Shorten, argued that was the correct call because Labor supported the use of gas as a transition fuel.
Fitzgibbon has been on a public crusade since Labor’s election loss in 2019, claiming the party has lost touch with its blue-collar base, allowing the Coalition to portray itself as a better friend to workers due to its support for traditional extractive industries.
Albanese will declare in Wednesday’s speech to the Minerals Council that the Morrison government has distorted “investment decisions while undermining job-creating ventures that will lower power prices” through its opposition to renewable energy.
The Labor leader cites the resources minister, Keith Pitt, vetoing a recommendation from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility board to invest in a windfarm south of Cairns “that would have created 250 jobs and helped reduce power prices … leaving the Labor government in Queensland to step in to fill the gap”.
Channelling concerns in the resources sector about the damaging economic impact of the trade dispute between Canberra and Beijing, Albanese will also chip the government for its handling of the relationship with Beijing, which he notes must be of “real concern” to members of the Minerals Council and other exporters.
“Scott Morrison has no long-term strategy to deal with a changing China that is pressing its interests more assertively, while finding areas of potential cooperation, including on trade, that are in both our countries’ interests,” he says.
“Mr Morrison is making the grave error of prioritising his domestic political interests over Australia’s national interests.”
Albanese cites comments from the defence minister, Peter Dutton, and the home affairs department secretary Michael Pezzullo’s warnings about the drums of war as forays that might “inflame nationalistic sentiments” but harm Australia’s interests.
“Australian needs more strategy and less politics when it comes to managing our differences with China.”
Albanese argues that despite eight years in office the Coalition lacks a legacy of economic reform, accusing it of spending $100bn in the latest budget with no plan to pay back net debt of $1tn. “This budget is a debt sentence for Australia,” he says.
The policies establish off-budget funds to invest in Australia’s electricity transmission network and manufacturing, in the same way the Clean Energy Finance Corporation invests in renewables.
Albanese argues that lower energy costs combined with increased automation provide an opportunity to reverse the long-term decline of Australian manufacturing.
“It’s no longer good enough to ship raw materials to overseas markets then buy back manufactured goods at a premium. We can do better.”
Nevertheless, Albanese acknowledges that Australia “will continue to export” its current top resources: iron ore, liquefied natural gas, gold, metallurgical and thermal coal.
“But as everyone here knows, markets change,” he says. “As the world moves to a low-carbon future, demand for some resources will decline. But there will be strong demand for other resources, particularly those needed for growth sectors like electric vehicles and batteries.”
Albanese notes that Australia also has a “bright future” exporting other resources including aluminium, lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel and rare earths.