Sand Processing

Why the extractive industry can lead in the energy policy vaccum

At time of writing, I’ve just returned from CMIC 18. It was a fantastic conference, with excellent speakers, and plenty of thought-provoking topics.

What was interesting about the conference was the depth of cynicism we as Australians now have for the Federal Government (following the axing of a fourth Prime Minister in eight years). It was a theme that underscored some of the presentations – in veteran financial commentator Michael Pascoe’s entertaining portrayal of the Canberra bubble, Sky News presenter Janine Perrett’s summation of federal politics, Dr Kerry Schott’s and John O’Brien’s presentations about energy policy, and Steven Spurr’s presentation about Edelman’s global trust barometer (which reveals that in 2018 Australians are second last only to the Russians in having no confidence in their national government!).

There was a strong agreement amongst delegates that the Federal Government has indeed let industry down – poorly. There was even a sentiment among some presenters that when it comes to infrastructure, energy and sustainability policies, industry and state governments should just ignore the Feds and get on with the job.

This attitude certainly did not resonate so strongly when veteran political commentator Barrie Cassidy presented at CMIC 16 – and it’s a little surprising given state governments can be equally slow with extractive approvals and processes. On the other hand, the eastern states are perhaps viewed more favourably because they have infrastructure runs on the board.

{{quote-A:R-W:300-Q:"What was interesting was the depth of cynicism Australians have for their national government."}}The likelihood is that the uncertainty around energy policy will continue under the Morrison Government – at least until the next federal election. The National Energy Guarantee is dead, despite being the most constructive energy policy idea this government has developed in five years of office – and enjoying the backing of energy suppliers, business groups, unions and even some environmental groups.

In fact, the great irony of the NEG is that it was never formally opposed by the Labor Party (either by the Federal Opposition or the various state governments) – and could yet be adopted as part of Labor’s energy policy platform, albeit with a more ambitious emissions reduction target. It will be very hard for a government devoid of policy to credibly argue in an election campaign against the very policy it once championed.

There is still hope that the reliability component of the NEG (which Dr Schott alludes to in her interview) can still be legislated by the South Australian Parliament. That could provide some relief for businesses (including quarry operations) in terms of power prices. However, when and if the reliability component comes into law remains to be seen – and how widely it is adopted may be impacted by the outcomes of state elections in Victoria and New South Wales.

That leaves industry to show leadership in the energy policy vacuum. The quarrying industry already leads the pack when it comes to energy initiatives – on a case by case basis, many producers have invested in environmental and sustainability initiatives. Producers should also not be afraid to invest in the renewables space – whether through providing aggregate for wind and solar projects, or even co-funding such options. Further, suppliers to the industry are increasingly developing new technologies that will reduce the reliance on diesel power and mitigate toxic emissions.

If our politicians are unwilling to take decisive action on behalf of their constituents, then perhaps it’s time the industry took the reins from them.

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