CEDA: Green Jobs – Innovation and Sustainable Business. Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney

  • Minister for Employment Participation
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge

  • Dr Suzanne Rickard, CEDA State Director, NSW and the ACT
  • Representatives of CEDA
  • Industry representatives
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

Good afternoon and thank you Jessica for your warm welcome.

Last year we saw a great deal of passionate debate in Federal Parliament about climate change and emissions trading. Is global warming real? Is it not? Are the ice caps melting? Is emission trading a socialist conspiracy? Or was it Malcolm Turnbull's secret plot to destroy the Liberal Party? Unfortunately, now that Malcolm is retiring, we may never really know.

Today I don't intend to prosecute those same arguments. I am sure you're all breathing a sigh of relief.

I believe climate change is real and that a market driven emissions trading scheme is the best way to tackle the issue. But from a business perspective, the debate about whether climate change is real is, in my mind, irrelevant and counter-productive to our country's development.

It’s counter-productive because the vast majority of governments and businesses around the world have moved, or are now moving, to take advantage of opportunities that arise from sustainable and clean technologies. And it goes without saying that Australian businesses need to be in the main game or risk being left behind.

Here are a few facts.

Almost 21 million jobs in Europe are now linked to the environment. As the European Union seeks to further cut greenhouse gas emissions, the EU has found there could be a net gain of 950,000 direct and indirect full-time equivalent jobs by the end of this year.

Germany’s renewable energy workforce grew by 48 per cent, from 160,000 to 236,000, in just two years after they strengthened their renewable targets and laws.

The UK Government believes that by 2017 there will be 1.3 million people employed in their environmental sector. And the United States plans to create five million new green jobs over the next 10 years.

Even in developing countries like China very big green changes are happening. You may be surprised to know that China now produces 30 per cent of the world’s solar cells. And China has become a world leader in the manufacture of solar technology, with its six biggest solar companies having a combined value of more than $15 billion.

All of this leads me to that great Coalition furphy - that Australia is way out on its own and therefore economically exposed in developing an emission trading scheme.

In fact, we’re already well behind. 27 European Union countries have had emissions trading since 2005. Other countries are also developing or considering schemes including the US, Canada and Brazil as well as some of our largest trading partners such as Japan and Korea.

Unfortunately, world’s best practice on green and sustainable practices are powering ahead overseas and we’re stuck debating with Barnaby Joyce and Corey Bernardi in the Senate whether climate change is real or not.

Recently, the Climate Institute and the European think-tank E3G compared the low-carbon competitiveness of G20 countries.

They found the countries best placed to improve on their current carbon pollution are France, Japan, the UK, South Korea and Germany. Australia ranked 15th.

With all this going on globally, the Coalition's attempts to stop an emissions trading scheme have the potential to leave Australia floundering behind the developed world when it comes to cutting edge sustainable technology and the opportunities they provide.

The Conservative’s fear-mongering would have Australians believe that action to combat climate change will destroy industry and our international competitiveness.

Let’s be clear. Transitioning to a low-carbon economy does cost. But as other countries have found, it also creates profound opportunities. The sooner we transform our economy to take advantage of these opportunities, the bigger the competitive advantage.

And you don't have to choose between the two – it makes economic sense to do both. As US President Barrack Obama said recently:

“The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy – it's a choice between prosperity and decline. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognised as both a challenge and an opportunity”.

Australian businesses need to be at the forefront of these opportunities. We can’t afford to see the 21st century jobs moving off shore. Thankfully business is moving in the right direction.

Many of the CEOs I talk to have already done their risk analysis and factored in the economic effects of climate change. They’ve looked at what their competitors are doing overseas. They’ve also been confronted by significant changes in their short term and long term cost structures that are adversely affecting their bottom line.

As developing economies continue to grow, the cost of energy, food and water will continue to rise quickly. Devices that conserve water and reduce energy consumption have become critical to reducing business costs and are in high demand.

And business has also come to understand consumer demand for green and sustainable products is growing and is not just a fad or short term gimmick. Australian businesses know investing in environmentally sustainable industries and jobs of the future makes good economic sense.

When most people think about green jobs they think romantically about technicians standing on a wind swept hill working on a huge wind farm. Or they think of environmental activists cleaning up bushland or rivers. But the green economy goes so much further.

Green jobs are in every sector. Real jobs and real people, they’re throughout the economy. And they are with us now; they’re not a pipe-dream or a far off ambition.

The industry that is probably moving the fastest and transforming with the times is the construction sector. Companies are changing their building practices to take advantage of sustainability, new technology and corporate demand.

Just one example is Bovis Lend Lease. Lend Lease started making changes many years ago led by its innovative founder and great Australian entrepreneur Dick Dusseldorp. He realised that in order for the company to prosper the need for innovation and world’s best practice was paramount. This philosophy continues today.

I was lucky enough to tour Bovis Lend Lease's newest 5-Star rated energy-efficient development in Sydney – 420 George St. It’s a remarkable building at the cutting-edge of design. This building is one of the first Sydney office high rises to be awarded a 5-Star green rating for office design.

  • It incorporates an efficient floor plan to maximise natural daylight to save on energy costs.
  • The facade features high performance double glazed insulation to save on cooling costs.
  • The office component uses water efficient fixtures including waterless urinals and a high efficiency lighting system to achieve optimum lighting while reducing heat loads.
  • And the building also includes a rain harvesting system and capturing of test water from the fire protection system to be used for its gardens and toilet flushing.

And this building’s not a one off. Bovis's headquarters in Melbourne – The 6-Star Gauge building – has won numerous environmental awards for its green features.

Given their focus on sustainable buildings it is no surprise that Bovis Lend Lease is also committed to training its staff in green skills. All its employees, from executives to project site staff, are required to complete a sustainability-training program developed in-house to meet the needs of the business. The company also has 284 employees in Australia who are green building trained, with 152 professionals accredited by the Green Building Council.

There are countless other examples which illustrate the way sustainability is changing the way we view construction. And to meet the growing demand for green construction we need to prepare a labour force that has the appropriate skill levels and know-how. It’s a big challenge.

We need to make these changes not only the construction sector but in the wider economy. If we don’t continue to develop the skills base we will see skills shortages in the low-carbon economy and increasing costs as a result. And we don't have time to waste because these skills are needed now.

In Australia there is already an established and growing environmental industries sector. Its jobs are focussed on environmental management and sustainability. In areas such as waste, recycling, renewable energy development, eco-system and bio-diversity protection, water conservation and efficiency and heritage conservation.

Some are entirely new types of jobs and skills. But most build on traditional professions – albeit with modified job contents and competencies. Tradespeople are now the champions of the green economy.

Plumbers need new skills to install water-wise plumbing and irrigation systems, recycled grey water and solar hot water systems. For electricians the up-skilling and re-skilling needed is even greater.

I recently opened the 370 Degree Group’s new trade training facility in Melbourne, where I met apprentice electricians learning how to install and operate solar panels and automated lighting systems that save massive amounts of energy. Industry experts in the electrical sector tell me there is already a deficiency in the green skills required to meet demand.

So how are we going to get the training system geared up to meet the challenge?

The Rudd Government is moving quickly to build the training sector’s capacity to teach more people green skills.

Last December, the Council of Australian Governments, after much input from industry, endorsed the Green Skills Agreement.

It’s a significant milestone. The Green Skills Agreement requires the Australian, State and Territory governments to work with industry, unions, the training sector and the community to ensure the VET system can train the workforce in skills for sustainability.

The agreement makes practical sustainability training a fundamental part of all vocational training programs. It means developing national standards for green skills instruction. It means up-skilling VET instructors and teachers so they can teach the new skills which are so vital in training the next generation of tradespeople.

All new trade apprentices who started their training this year will graduate with a core set of green skills, knowledge and training. And 30,000 existing apprentices in carbon-exposed industries will graduate by late next year with qualifications that include clean and green skills. Every one of those 30,000 apprentices will be needed. Over 10 years the CSIRO predicts an increase in employment of more than 10 per cent in sectors that are high carbon emitters as they move to cut their carbon footprints. That’s estimated to add 230,000 to 340,000 new jobs in the transport, construction, agriculture, manufacturing and mining sectors.

As part of the Green Skills Agreement, the Rudd Government is funding Innovation and Business Skills Australia — one of the 11 Industry Skills Councils — to make recommendations around developing additional training.

The funding will see the 11 Industry Skills Councils strategically review all training packages. They will manage the process of consultation, revision and accreditation. This review will see sustainability knowledge, skills and principles embedded into all training packages. These changes are to be substantially completed by December.

But of course training is just one part of the picture as we move to the new low-carbon economy. Initiatives for industry, as well as research and development, are vital if we are to meet our renewable energy target of a 20 per cent by 2020.

In last year's budget the Government announced a $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative, to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies – to drive down their costs. The Clean Energy Initiative builds on other government action including:

  • $1.5 billion for Solar Flagships to deliver large-scale solar power stations feeding solar energy into homes across the nation,
  • $2.4 billion for Carbon Capture Storage Flagships which have the potential to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels by up to 90 per cent,
  • $100 million a year for the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute,
  • the $100 million Australian Solar Institute, and
  • $570 million for the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy.

All these initiatives mean that the Government is giving new clean energy technologies an unprecedented opportunity to compete in the market place. Solar, wind, geothermal and biomass technologies are all moving to the next stage of development.

The new Australian Energy Resource Assessment outlines the extent of these resources. And it’s estimated Australia will need about $100 billion invested in the energy sector over the next decade just to meet growing demand and to replace aging infrastructure.

Without certainty about a carbon price, that investment will stall. Australia needs to keep pace with that demand for the good of the economy and our quality of life.

There is no doubt that as a nation we are facing a major change in our economy.

The change to a low-carbon economy is here and if we don’t embrace it we’ll be left behind. It’s a change that confronts every sector, and every industry.

The transition will cost money. There’s no doubt about that. But to put our heads in the sand would be economic stupidity and we all would be culpable to future generations.

The transition will involve changes for all of us – encompassing the way we live, work and do business, and the mix of what we do in our economy.

But it creates great opportunities. If business tackles the challenges with innovative and fresh approaches there is much to be gained. If we do this in the right way we will create new economic opportunities for Australia.

The Government is committed to the task and stands ready to assist. Tackling climate change will create new jobs. But investing in green skills will also transform and save many existing jobs.

I’ll finish by urging you all to remember that your contribution is vital to Australia developing the green skilled workforce it needs to compete globally.

With your help Australia stands to become a more sustainable, and a more prosperous country. Working together we can give Australia the skills it needs to succeed in the climate change era.

Thank you.

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