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Unlikely alliance dumps more pressure on PM over net-zero targets

Politics

Big business, unions and conservation groups have joined forces in championing the economic benefits of a net-zero economy.

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The push came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison held discussions with cabinet colleagues on Wednesday on a plan to deliver net zero emissions by 2050, while at the same time boosting jobs and keeping a lid on power prices.

A final decision is not expected until next week, after the plan goes through separate Nationals and Liberals partyroom meetings and the joint coalition party room.

The Business Council of Australia, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia believe 395,000 clean energy jobs could be created by 2040.

They’re backing an analysis by Accenture looking at what Australia has to gain from exports of battery technology as well as hydrogen, ammonia, critical minerals, steel and aluminium produced or processed using renewables.

It found these markets, combined with a focus on leveraging opportunities to train international students in clean energy-related fields, have the potential to generate $89 billion of gross value added and 395,000 jobs.

“These industries offer the opportunity to create tens of thousands of well-paid jobs, mostly in regional areas and accessible by workers across all levels of skill and education,” the groups said.

They also called for a $5 billion fund for workers and regions to be administrated by a new energy transition authority made up of government, industry and unions.

Other suggestions include $10 billion co-investment to incentivise and scale-up clean energy industries.

The BCA, unions and environment groups also want to see an interim target to establish six gigawatt of hydrogen capacity and three green metals plants by 2027.

Nationals Senate leader and cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie said before the meeting with Morrison there would be “no deal unless it is right for the regions”.

Senator McKenzie will meet with her party colleagues on Sunday afternoon.

“This actual debate isn’t about climate change, it’s about regions,” McKenzie told ABC radio.

“We haven’t supported anything that has been put before this parliament previously because it hasn’t been right for the regions.”

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has seen the detail of the plan and indicated the junior coalition partner wouldn’t simply roll over.

“No individual will make a determination of that. We are a party room of 21,” he told Sky News.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor maintained the coalition would stick by Australia’s resources sector while talking up rural and regional opportunities for carbon abatement.

The Morrison government has so far only expressed a “preference” for a target of net zero by 2050.

But other countries and business and industry groups have been pressing for a strong commitment from Australia ahead of COP26.

Opposition climate change spokesman Chris Bowen said new emissions targets should be legislated if they were to have any meaning.

“Anything less than meeting those tests – 2050, legislate it and increasing medium-term target – will just be another cop-out at COP,” he said.

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