Ross Garnaut’s recent book, “Super-power: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity” is a hopeful outline of a potential industrial future for Australia.
The first fifty pages are quite dense, diving into economic concepts like utility value and discount rates in describing the costs of action or inaction on emissions reduction. This is worth reading, because it does provide a comprehensive understanding of the economic considerations and modelling at play, but the book really hits its stride when Garnaut starts outlining the opportunities for Australia in a low-carbon economy. Garnaut points out that Australian manufacturing benefited from very low energy costs up until 2006, when electricity providers were privatised and coal and gas that was once reserved for domestic power generation began to be exported. Manufacturing is an energy intensive industry, and according to Garnaut, if Australia invests in renewable energy that can provide cheap power, we can once again exploit a power price advantage to become a global hub for the processing of mineral ores and associated manufacturing. The revival of manufacturing in the regions that Garnaut describes would create the kind of high wage, high skill jobs that currently exist in the coal sector. He makes a compelling argument for the viability and international competitiveness of these industries in Australia, if we have government support for renewable energy transmission networks and policy settings that provide certainty for private investors. Climate change is real and it is happening. We must take action to ensure we have a habitable planet in the future; but that action must place workers front and centre, ensuring that high wage, secure jobs do not disappear. Garnaut’s book provides a vision for a re-industrialised Australia with abundant manufacturing jobs, powered by our global advantage in access to cheap renewable energy. It is a powerful antidote to the claims that action on climate change will destroy jobs. Donherra Walmsley is the National Communications Coordinator at the AMWU. Twitter