What regions need on path to net zero: Australia gives its deliverance

Dr Amanda Cahill, Chief Executive Officer of The Next Economy

A new report from The Next Economy released has found that regional Australia is undergoing an economic shift, with historical coal and gas heartlands like Central Queensland, The Hunter Valley and the Latrobe Valley in pole position to capitalise on the global shift to net zero emissions – with appropriate Federal Government leadership, investment and support.

What was the general consensus of the study?

For ‘What regions need on the path to net zero’, The Next Economy engaged with over 500 firms across Queensland, NSW, Victoria, WA and the NT to assess the support communities with close ties to fossil fuels need to manage the inevitable transition to net zero emissions.

Participants included representatives of gov’t, the energy sector, diverse industries, unions, economic development agencies, social services, universities and training institutions, Traditional Owners and First Nations groups, community members and environment firms.

The research revealed a high level of consensus on a key theme – greater leadership is needed from the federal government, revolving around three key calls to action:

  1. An honest conversation: The federal government must be open and honest about what the changing energy system means for regional Australia.
  2. A clear, well resourced plan: The federal gov’t needs to put in place the appropriate targets, policies and regulatory frameworks to guide investment, and to ensure that workers and communities aren’t left behind – such as a national transition authority.
  3. A strong democracy: The federal government must put in place measures to improve the health of our democracy – such as protection of public servants and decision-making from political interference, banning political donations, and a national corruption watchdog.

What are the thoughts of The Next Economy on study?

Dr Amanda Cahill, CEO of The Next Economy, said: “The discussion about energy futures in regional Australia has changed since the last election.When we started our consultations two years ago, most people were questioning the whole concept of the energy transition.”

“People see that things are changing, with early closure announcements for coal plants, our trading partners increasing their climate ambitions and the rapid expansion of renewable energy projects. They want to see a clear plan so they can manage these changes.”

“If we want to take advantage of the wide range of new economic opportunities available – in renewable energy generation and storage, the mining and processing of critical minerals needed for renewable energy, and the manufacturing of projects like green hydrogen, batteries, renewable energy components, biofuels and other products. We need to act now.”

“Business has been leading the way in terms of investing in the new industries we need to develop to reduce our dependence on coal and gas export revenue. But it’s not enough and even industry players are now calling on the Federal Gov’t for new regulatory frameworks to ensure that development is done well and actually benefits regions over the long term.”

“The next federal government has a lot of work to do. I hope that whoever it is shows the leadership and vision to grasp this once-in-a-generation opportunity, and to step up to the task of supporting our regions as the energy system changes”, Dr Cahill commented.

What are the stakeholder thoughts on the study?

Kahn Goodluck, Acting Mayor of Gladstone, boilermaker by trade and former union delegate commented, “As a region with a proud industrial heritage we need to ensure we plan and adapt for the changes that are coming in a rapidly decarbonising economy.”

“We have some of the biggest industry players in the world but we can’t leave it to industry and business alone, we need government policies and investment that support success.”

“Failure is not an option. Our workers and their families’ livelihoods depend on it. It’s not just about capitalising on the opportunities that come with new industries such as hydrogen and biofuels but also about decarbonising our existing industries and protecting, sustaining and even growing those jobs in a post 2050 world with net zero emissions,” Kahn further said.

Melanie Shannon, cattle grazier and facilitator of the Barfield Road Producer Group said, “Talks about shifting to renewable energy are becoming more frequent, with the message being that the transition is achievable. However, this hasn’t been well supported politically.”

“Governments need to be doing more to support farmers and land managers to reduce and absorb emissions with advice and knowledge-building in this area. We need ‘regional hubs’ so advice can be given in person on the ground via a local specialist,” Melanie further said.

“Renewable energy on agricultural land presents farmers with the opportunity to diversify their income, allowing future generations to continue working in the industry. Local people could also be employed to work in the renewable energy sector, helping regions to thrive.”

Sarah Lukeman, Former Councillor for Singleton Shire Council commented, “Regional people can see a transition to a low carbon economy is coming and want the federal government to stop pretending that they have any control over foreign contracts for coal. Regional communities want to be involved in determining their future. We’re not asking for handouts. We want the gov’t to help us build sustainable, thriving and diverse regional communities.”

Karen Cain, Former CEO Latrobe Valley Authority 2016-2021 said, “For generations of families in regional Australia that have heavily depended on fossil fuel energy production and now face the reality of significant change, a positive future can be achieved if the right support is provided for workers, industry, researchers, government and local people to truly collaborate, make decisions and act on what matters for collective benefit.”