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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Chris Bowen says Labor’s climate policy will be ‘realistic and ambitious’

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Chris Bowen says Labor’s climate policy will be ‘realistic and ambitious’

With the Glasgow conference nearly over and the government promising to release its climate policy modelling before parliament resumes later this month, eyes are turning to Labor for its long-awaited alternative.

Climate change spokesman Chris Bowen says the policy will be both “realistic and ambitious” – which of course neatly embraces the debate within Labor about how far to differentiate itself from the government on an issue that caused it grief at the 2019 election.

“I hope and intend to be the climate change minister within six months. So anything we say […] it’s got to be realistic. But it will be realistic and ambitious. Both of these things can be true.”

Bowen slates the government for its lack of ambition. “We like to be an influential country and we have never been as out of touch on any issue ever in our foreign affairs than we are on climate change. So I think there’s a particular onus on Australia.”

On one of the issues to the forefront this week – ways to encourage electric cars – Bowen says there’s “a legitimate conversation to be had” about fuel standards (which NSW environment minister Matt Kean says should be addressed by the federal government).

Labor earlier this year announced measures on electric cars and has more policy to come.

Bowen says Morrison’s attempt to wedge Labor by linking an expansion of the remit of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to the $500 million for a new fund to encourage the commercialisation of technology, has backfired.“Two coalition senators have come out and said they’re crossing the floor to vote against it. […] He’s wedged himself.”

Asked about the claims the renewable sector won’t produce as many jobs as the old fossil fuel sector, Bowen says: “Every dollar spent on renewable energy and energy efficiency creates three times more jobs than a dollar spent on traditional energy.

"And that’s also true when you consider some of the other things the country has to do […] we also have to upgrade our transmission massively to get renewable energy from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. Our electricity grid can’t cope. So we need billions of dollars of investment to upgrade our transmission grid. We have a policy to do that and that’ll create lots of jobs.”

“I see it as a positive story to say we’re going to diversify regional economies, create new jobs, have lots of regional job creation as we go. And that’s a positive story for Australia’s regions.”

But, Bowen says, “it is dishonest to pretend that coal communities aren’t going to be impacted by reducing coal exports as countries move away from coal fired power.”

“We’re also going to have detailed plans for communities. We’re also going to have an opportunity for them to have a say from the ground up in their economic future.”

Speaking more generally about what the Labor party stands for today, Bowen says: “We still stand for growth and opportunity, which is what I’ve always said Labor stands for. Economic growth lifts people out of poverty. It turns aspiration into reality and we stand for giving people the opportunity to make the most of that. Though I do not mean a sort of narrow ‘equality of opportunity’ frame. I mean, the opportunity to live their lives to their fullest capacity.”

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