TED O’BRIEN – SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR FAIRFAX
ANA NUCLEAR SUMMIT, SYDNEY
06 October 2023
Thank you so much and to the organisers of today’s conference. For everyone behind ANA, a very big thank you for bringing together a pretty awesome group of people, as I looked at the list of those who will be attending today. And I also want to give a call out to, to my colleague Dave Gillespie. Great to see you, Dave. Well, around about 11 days ago, or 250 hours and 55 minutes ago, my wife Sophia, delivered a little baby girl, we named Edwina Rose O’Brien.
Now that I have applause, that’s the end of my speech, thanks very much.
I’ll pass that applause onto Sophia, because as we know, Sophia is who really did the hard work, and that’s our third child. And so you’ll have to forgive me for a moment, if, after spending a few days really holding a baby, a newborn, and in the euphoria that comes yet again with parenthood, as well as the fog of sleepless nights. If I’m a touch sentimental, as I begin these remarks.
It’s been said so often that energy is life and you don’t get a more powerful, safer, more reliable form of energy than nuclear. When it comes to the preservation, and the promotion of the very essence of life, Australia needs nuclear in all its forms. When it comes to health and well-being, nuclear saves lives, just look at ANSTO. When it comes to national security, nuclear has the capacity to protect lives. Look at the AUKUS submarines. When it comes to industry, nuclear has the ability to create livelihoods, especially look at the new reactors and their ability to produce heat. You look at electricity, and nuclear helps protect a way of life with a cost and reliability that modern societies need. When you look at the environment, nuclear saves the lives of threatened species and much-loved animals from the Koala to the Humpback Whale, especially when you compare it to the footprint of alternative clean energy sources.
When you look at the climate, nuclear saves the life of the planet. And so, with all the hardheaded talk from, from economics, to engineering, from physics to politics, I think it’s worthwhile every now and then, new baby or not, to take a step back and just reflect on the ‘why’ for nuclear. And as a dad of a very young family, If I think of Alexandra, Henry and now little Edwina and I think of their future, I think as a dad. And I know that we need nuclear technology in Australia for their livelihoods. So, before I break out into a lullaby, I might leave the sentimentality there if that’s okay, so let’s talk politics.
So, we know that Australia has joined global efforts, with a view to achieving net- zero by 2050. And we are at a fork in the road right now. There is one of two pathways we can take; depending on the pathway to net- zero we take, it will determine the sort of country we are in the year 2050. Again, when my kids will be late 20s through to late 30s. Australia will either be rich or poor, will be strong or weak, will be a fiercely independent liberal democracy, or we will be a country that is dependent on foreign powers, some of whom have interests diametrically opposed to our own. Whether or not we succeed in managing the challenge of climate change and energy in the run up to 2050, will determine what sort of country we become. And when we’re thinking of these issues, therefore, we have to remember, the stakes are genuinely that high. That’s what we’re talking about. When we’re talking about the fork in the road and the two pathways that can get us to net- zero. The Australian government today has already chosen a pathway. That pathway will lead to an Australia that is poorer, weaker, and more dependent.
Now already, we’re now very quickly approaching the halfway mark of the Albanese government, a government that made big promises on climate change and energy. It’s time we therefore, to critique some of that before talking about some of the bigger issues that face the country in this area. After successive years of emissions coming down in Australia, since the Albanese off, government has come to office, emissions are going up. Despite even the last term of government under the coalition prices coming down for households and businesses, as we know, the $275 promise of power adoption for households has been broken. Prices are skyrocketing- Australians are now paying among the highest prices for electricity in the world. As for the promise of renewables, Australia was among a very small group, only a few years ago, for record investment in renewables. Investment in renewables has stalled. It is at its lowest levels in years. Not to mention, of course, the lack of investment now, in gas, in other forms of technology. We have a sovereign risk issue; Australia is not accustomed to. We have some of our closest, closest trading names, sounding the warning bell, about their own energy security, because of the risk of Australia. We have regional communities right across this country that is screaming about being steamrolled by government, in their rush to roll out energy infrastructure that lacks a social license. We have manufacturers that are writing down assets to zero. Others that are looking at not just outsourcing their manufacturing, their operations, to higher emitting countries but with that, of course, offshoring the emissions. Allowing us to deindustrialise here, but of course, the world, to have a multiple volume of emissions due to where those operations go. This is where we’re at right now.
But what worries me is not the report card, if you like, of where we’ve been but where we’re going to go. When it comes to baseload power, we know that by 2035, around 80% of Australia’s baseload power will be gone. Gone. Coal fired power stations, not just turned off but dismantled, in many cases blowing up. This is a country which is an island. We don’t suck in electricity importing it from elsewhere, we’re it. We’re going to blow up 80% of our baseload power stations. We are baseload power. Without any guarantee of a replacement, we’re turning off one system without having another one ready to go. And don’t even start me on gas. You too probably read the front page of the newspapers today, the concerns of Japan with gas. We are suffocating the supply of gas in this country right now when we need it most.
I mean the government with extraordinary interventions in the gas market from price cap to the mandatory code. A government that actually decided it wanted to determine, who can produce what to whom they can sell, and at what volumes. That’s not Australian, that’s not a liberal democracy. They stripped gas out of the capacity mechanism, they stripped money from carbon capture and storage, they helped abate gas from the budget. They have made approvals even harder with more and more red tape, they funded a whole bunch of legal activists to fight against gas projects. So, gas has been suffocated. And renewables, of course, have stalled. That’s the pathway we’re going down towards net-zero. And it’s a pathway that excludes nuclear. This government hates coal, hates gas, hates nuclear. Is there an alternative? I believe there is an alternative for Australia to successfully decarbonise.
But that alternate requires an ‘All-of-the-Above’ approach. An ‘All-of-the-Above’ approach. It is going to be so difficult, that the last thing we should be doing is taking any option off the table. In the short term, we need to be rethinking everything, from system design to system planning. Over the short term, we need to make sure we are not having premature closure of baseload power stations without replacements being there ready to go.
We have to pour more gas into the domestic market. We need more renewables and storage. But the objective should not be to have the maximum amount. Instead, we need an optimal amount. There’s a big difference between those two objectives. And in the medium term, we need to introduce zero-emissions, nuclear energy. We need zero-emissions, nuclear energy as part of a balanced mix of technologies. And so, we are indeed now as a country, having a serious conversation. If you even think of the last 12 to 18 months where the discussion of nuclear energy was in Australia, we’ve come a long way. We have come a long way in just 12 to 18 months. This is now an issue that is squarely on the political radar. It is being discussed in mainstream media. The ‘N word’ of nuclear has been normalised. Thankfully. And so much as the coalition has taken the lead on that politically.
We don’t take credit for it all, I tell you. There are many people including people in this room who’ve done an enormous amount by generously giving up their own intellect and time to talk common sense, to provide evidence, analysis and take on a topic that others have found historically very difficult to take on. But such is the state our country faces, such are the states. We have to be able to engage with that topic. Now, from a policy perspective, the Coalition is not looking at a zero-emissions, nuclear energy pulse. What we’re looking at is a Climate Change and Energy policy, of which zero-emissions, nuclear energy will fall part of. It’s been probably one of the worst kept political secrets in Australia over the last 12 or more months, that we’re looking at this and seriously considering it. And we are because as we stand at that fork in the road, and look at those two pathways to net-zero, I’ve certainly drawn a conclusion. A conclusion based on an enormous amount of research and analysis, assistance from many people in this room.
Helen mentioned some of the, some of the lessons I’ve been trying to learn from overseas. When I was previously doing a parliamentary inquiry into this topic, I was on the ground meeting with people in Europe, including France, Switzerland. I’ve visited and toured facilities. China, India. Yes, I’ve been to Japan end of last year, as Helen mentioned, as well as the US and Canada. I look forward to going to the UK next month in the UAE the month after that. If Australians have a reputation for anything overseas, for those who, like me, have spent some time overseas, and I’ve spent much of my 20 plus business career, living and working in Asia. It’s a reputation we have as Australians for humility. We’ve never run the world. Get our backs against the wall, yeah, we’ll fight alright. But we have an extraordinary ability to engage with other cultures because we’re multicultural. But I think it’s also because we have a good dose of humility. Australia needs humility, in working out our best pathway to get to net-zero. And that means learning, from other countries, many of whom are doing it a lot better than we are.
The conclusion I’ve drawn from all of that has been, there is no credible pathway for Australia to reach net-zero without zero-emissions, nuclear energy. No nuclear, no net-zero. It’s that clear cut. And so, as we are looking at, how do we include, how do we consider, zero-emissions, nuclear energy. We are looking at everything, micro reactors, small modular reactors, and large reactors. We are looking off the grid, on the grid. We are looking at its capacity to provide heat, its capacity to provide electricity. And we’re doing so on an evidence-based level.
And I’ll end with this. If there is a main prerequisite for zero-emissions, nuclear energy in this country, it’s a social license. In fact, any form of energy generation, any major infrastructure, requires a social license. Its people in this room and beyond. We’re hoping having a sensible conversation with the Australian people, who are building an understanding, a positive understanding of what nuclear can offer to our country, to our kids, and theirs. And with that, thank you very much for having me here.
Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy