Australia opposition bets big on renewables to win next election

Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten leaves a Community Housing Industry Association seminar at the Stamford Plaza in Melbourne, on Nov 20, 2018.
Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten leaves a Community Housing Industry Association seminar at the Stamford Plaza in Melbourne, on Nov 20, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Opposition leader Bill Shorten has announced plans to turbo-charge Australia's response to climate change, seeking to fill a policy vacuum left by the government in a bet that Australians' love of the natural environment will win him votes in an election next year.

Shorten, in a speech at a BloombergNEF event in Sydney, will announce a range of initiatives to boost the use of alternative energy and help meet the Labor party's goal for 50 per cent of the country's power to come from renewables by 2050.

"Frankly, the single most important thing about energy and climate policy right now is to have one," Shorten will say, according to extracts of the speech released by his office. "I will act to lower prices, to cut pollution, to boost renewables and create jobs."

Labor plans to bring back the government's dumped National Energy Guarantee, which sought to ensure stable electricity supplies while cutting carbon emissions. "A Labor government I lead will be prepared to directly underwrite and invest in cleaner, cheaper power for Australia," Shorten will say.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he expects to meet Australia's Paris Agreement climate targets comfortably. But he has dropped plans to legislate the cuts amid government infighting, which contributed to his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull being ousted by his own party in August. The new energy minister Angus Taylor has instead been tasked with the single aim of getting power bills down.

Opinion polls have consistently put Labor ahead of the ruling Liberal-National coalition ahead of an election expected by May next year. A Fairfax-Ipsos poll this week showed Labor's advantage had narrowed to a 52-48 split on a two-party preferred basis, from 55-45 in October.

The poll also showed that 47 per cent of Australians think reducing power bills should be the main priority for the country's energy policy, compared to 39 per cent who said the prime focus should be on cutting carbon emissions. The survey underlines Shorten's challenge in targeting the green vote.

If he wins the election, Shorten said he is prepared to work with the new opposition leader to find a way to move forward with the NEG framework.

Shorten will announce a target of one million household battery installations by 2025, with lower-income households set to receive a A$2,000 (S$1,993) rebate. He also plans to invest A$100 million in a Neighborhood Renewables Program to give renters and social housing residents better access to cleaner energy.