Australia invests $1 billion in technologies to fight climate change

A tourist boat floats above an area called the Coral Gardens located off Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia.
A tourist boat floats above an area called the Coral Gardens located off Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia will invest A$1 billion (S$1.04 billion) in clean energy technologies, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Wednesday (March 23), in a stark shift away from his predecessor's climate change policies as an election looms.

Mr Turnbull, long known as a supporter of action on climate change, said the Clean Energy Innovation Fund would be run by two agencies slated for the chopping board under former prime minister Tony Abbott.

"What that is going to do is every year invest A$100 million in the smartest, most cutting-edge Australian clean energy technologies and businesses," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney alongside Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

"This challenge of global warming, this challenge of climate change, we will beat... by being really smart, by being technically, technologically, scientifically sophisticated and innovative."

The decision to keep the two agencies, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Clean Energy Finance Corporation, came as tensions between Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott ratcheted up a notch after the latter claimed credit for policies the conservative Liberal-National coalition is taking to the federal election.

Mr Turnbull, who said this week that national polls could come as soon as July 2, slapped down Mr Abbott's comments on Tuesday, saying he was wrong.

But the moderate conservative has struggled to distinguish his policies from Mr Abbott's more right-wing agenda since becoming prime minister in a party leadership coup in September.

On Wednesday, Mr Turnbull was criticised by the minor Greens party for unveiling a policy they said cut funding from ARENA.

"Tony Abbott should never be the benchmark for good climate policy," Greens leader Richard di Natale said, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

"What we need to do is judge this policy against whether it sets out what we need... (the government has) used a tricky political manoeuvre to actually gut funding for ARENA, to change its mandate, to stop it driving the innovation which is necessary."

Canberra is looking to boost spending and growth in non-mining sectors as the country exits an unprecedented resources investment boom that has helped the economy avoid a recession for 24 years.

While Mr Abbott was an advocate for coal, one of Australia's largest exports along with iron ore, Mr Turnbull has sought to strengthen his coalition's green credentials and attended December's UN climate conference in Paris.