LEAN AGM and Convenor's Report

At 5pm (AEST) Sunday November 21, the 2021 LEAN National AGM was held. It elected a new National Executive:  John Della Bosca and Felicity Wade are Co-convenors, Frances Perkins is Secretary and Louise Crawford and Sean Kellett are National Organisers. Read Felicity Wade's 2021 AGM Convenor's Report...


Good evening all. It is very exciting to see so many of you, evidence of the premise on which LEAN is built: the membership of the Labor party care deeply about the environment and climate change and that Labor’s mission in the 21st century is to build these challenges into its core DNA, creating a unique Labor version of a response, one that incorporates the values on which we founded, of equity, solidarity and the defence of community interest.

Our party, Labor has constantly turned up and done the brave and ethical thing on climate change, establishing one of the world’s first emissions trading schemes, that in its first - and only - year of operation reduced emissions in impacted sectors by 7%. We built great institutions like ARENA and CEFC.  After Labor lost the 2013 election, in which climate change had been a major scare campaign – remember the Wyalla wipeout and the $100 leg of lamb - LEAN members across the country mobilized, 370 local branches joined the call and the party responded.  In 2015 Labor committed to 50% renewable energy and a 2030 emissions reduction target of 45%. A target that remains credible today.

In 2019 climate change was once again a major issue in the Federal election. And what it showed was that two Australia’s operate when it comes to climate change. Communities that will be directly and materially impacted by the energy transition, most notably the Hunter Valley and Central Queensland, raised their voices clearly on this.

The effects however were not only felt in places directly impacted by the clean energy transition but in the outer suburbs of Brisbane and Perth – places where people know that mining is a back-bone of their state’s economy with many working in the ecosystem that supports it. Worse than this, climate change became a talisman for anti-elite sentiment, a lightning rod for the class tension that neo-liberalism has bred.

But equally true, climate change won Labor votes. In many places it was our key strength and central to holding seats across the country.

But the problem was stark: people who are core constituents of Labor – part of the coalition of communities our party was created to defend - said “we see the costs of climate action and we see them heading our way.’’ After 30 years of deregulation and neo-liberal policy these people know how economic restructuring goes, and who pays. With the scale of change that climate change demands, people did not see anyone in their corner – exacerbated by all time low levels of trust in government.

There was a backlash within Labor. This really kicked off in earnest when a prominent Labor front bencher attacked LEAN on the front page of the Australian. We were an easy target to blame and vilify. But we pushed back and leaders across Labor supported us, we regrouped and imagined a pathway forward.

LEAN’s aim is to have bold and effective climate policy to build a safe future, but know the only path is through building a consensus. We believe in democracy. We don’t see a pathway where the two Australia’s are at each other’s throats.

Soon after the 2019 election the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and LEAN began discussing how to work together. We created the Hunter Jobs Alliance and together are finding real solutions to creating new industries that benefit the community. It’s not straight forward, nothing that really matters ever is, that’s why the work is essential.  An example of the work we are doing is engaging directly with Tomago Aluminium smelter, the biggest energy user in the country and a local employer of over 1000 people. We are working to support its transition to renewable energy while defending jobs and workers’ interests.

So LEAN, because we are the Labor Environment Action Network has spent much time working trying to be part of the solution.

However, this challenge cannot be a reason for Labor compromising on ambition. The ANU has done an electoral study every Federal election since 1987. It is the best longitudinal study of Federal elections and the key currents that drive them. Economy, health and the environment were the three major issues identified by voters in 2019. The study’s high level conclusion was that the Coalition had the advantage on economy, tax and leadership, while Labor was ahead on education, health and environment and by far its strongest vote mover was environment and climate change. Votes switched to Labor on climate change, but sadly more switched to the Coalition on the economy and leadership.

The other important finding in the electoral study, that our party overlooks at its peril, was that fully 81% of voters 18-24 voted Labor or Green with 44% voting for Labor. In the 25-34 year old group 58% voted Labor or Greens, with a majority of that 58% voting Labor. These age groups are our party’s long term future but will not continue to support Labor if we do not have a robust answer to the greatest challenge humanity faces.

As LEAN’s slogan says, Climate change is core Labor business. It is essential to Labor’s mission and our electoral success.

Under the leadership of Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen, Labor has been running a smart race. LEAN has been working cooperatively with them. Our Core Labor Business campaign has continued to demonstrate membership support for action and myself and other LEAN leaders are working closely with the key decision makers. Decisions will be made on Labor’s climate policy in coming weeks.

What is LEAN looking for?

Labor has no choice but to be brave and answer the call of history. We are a party of reform. We exist to deliver big and hard changes in ways that share the cost and protect those impacted.

Australia is not going to move from laggard to head of the pack in one fell swoop. We have to build the confidence that the transition will create the prosperity we know it can.

I used to smirk when Mark Butler talked about targets getting harder to deliver the longer we were out of Govt, but I was wrong and he was right. If we win next year we will only have 7 years until 2030. If we managed to bring electric car manufacturing to Australia immediately and radically incentivized their take up, the impact of these policies would take a long time to deliver emissions reduction dividends. The Australian car fleet is one of the slowest to turn over in the world – the average age of an Australian cars is 12 years old and a complete turnover takes 21 years.  So the emissions impacts of strong EV policy will be small by 2030. This reveals the import of focusing on getting the policies in place not just the targets. And to do that, we must win government.

That said, Labor needs to provide a credible target, that ultimate arbiter of ambition. Our target needs to stick close to those of comparable, resource rich economies – the US has a target of 50% on 2005 levels by 2030, Canada a target 40-45% below 2005 levels by for 2030.

History shows that Federally, Labor Government’s don’t always last that long. Many of our reforms are long lasting, but not our governments. The Hawke-Keating Government was the exception to this rule in the three Labor governments that have existed in my lifetime. One of the grave mistakes in 2007 was the slow pace of getting policy in place. We can’t spend 24 months debating our approach, we need a plan to govern

The states are doing good work. They need Federal leadership to tie it all together. We need to work with the states to accelerate and coordinate. The Rewiring the Nation will be the fuel in the rocket of renewables.

Electricity is about one third of our emissions, solving this is a core driver of decarbonization. Another third is other fossil fuel energy use – we need to clean up our electricity sector and shift as many fossil fuel users onto renewable electricity. Good policy will do this efficiently and reduce electricity prices at the same time.

We need to set some rules. We are a country who believes in the role of government. And we all relied on government heavily through the pandemic. According to Morrison adequate climate change action can be delivered by random interventions by the private sector – technology not taxes – with government avoiding any leadership.

Governments exist to lead and make the rules. Capital is calling out for certainty; investment will only come when this exists. The Safeguard Mechanism is a policy created by the current Govt and introduced by Tony Abbott of all people. It is not radical. it is a mechanism to regulate emissions of the country’s biggest emitters, making it fair and certain. This existing policy can be adjusted to bring our economy in line with our biggest trading partners, many of whom are demanding this clarity. Morrison is already practicing his attack lines on his own policy. It is Orwellian. Angus Taylor has called his own government’s rules a “sneaky carbon tax”, even though it is a policy in which the government collects no revenue – the definition of a tax.  If this Government can manage to make a scare campaign of its own policy, a policy that the Business Council of Australia has endorsed, we are in trouble indeed. The alternative of tax payers paying for every bit abatement, as is the current approach, is unsustainable and deeply unjust.

Labor needs to rebuild the institutional infrastructure to provide the expert economic and policy advice to guide climate change policy. LEAN campaigned successfully this year to ensure the Climate Change Authority remains Labor policy in the National Platform. The Authority needs to be resourced again and  empowered to give advice on targets, on sectoral issues, on carbon budgets and ideally legislated to make it so.

We need a renaissance of industry policy. It seems to me that these policy muscles are calcified. We have to build the bridge between the promise of the Renewable Energy Superpower and reality in places where people live, particularly coal regions but across all of regional Australia. We should not abandon regional Australia to the Nationals. But we need policies that speak to a better future for regional Australia. And we need to ensure the jobs are decent, no one wants a Tesla factory with the industrial habits of their US equivalents. A fair transition is going to need a more active role for govt in the economy that is currently the fashion

We need to use the opportunity to build a carbon sink at scale. The World Bank has identified Australia as best placed in the G20 to deliver emission gains through managing our land better, protecting existing forests and replanting at scale. We need to stop the loss occurring through land clearing and then turn our attention to drawing emissions from the atmosphere through new plantings. This is the only proven negative emissions technology – it is the net in net zero. CSIRO modelling suggests, that as some sectors where technology gains make complete decarbonization hard, we are going to need 100 mt of carbon forestry by 2050, estimated to equal 5-8 million hectares of plantings.

We can deliver carbon outcomes and restore the environment while providing great jobs in regional Australia. The bones of this approach is there, but requires a visionary Labor party to realise the full potential. This is not about undermining agriculture, but about giving farmers and land holders, including traditional owners, choices and options to diversify their income through carbon and biodiversity markets.

On another important and not unrelated note. LEAN has been busy advocating for decent environment policy. As I’ve just outlined, much of this needs to be integrated with climate policy.  In 2018 we won the campaign for new environment laws and the establishment of a Federal EPA. The analysis that underpinned that campaign was confirmed when the Government’s own review, conducted by Graeme Samuel agreed that the current environmental laws are failing, and the Australian environment is in crisis. LEAN campaigned hard to ensure Labor stood by its commitments and defended the spirit of the Samuel review. A new environment Act and a Federal EPA are both firmly in the National Platform. The EPA can assist in the task of a step change in our approach. LEAN has recently convened a group of Labor aligned folks including elders Peter Garrett, Bob Debus working together to make the case for environment policy with the party leadership.  

Finally LEAN has campaigned consistently for an end to subsidy for new fossil fuel projects. This is something Glasgow has confirmed as important and something we will continue to pursue.

I haven’t spoken of the amazing work of our state branches. Like the Labor party, the state branches are the powerhouse of LEAN and each is doing good work with state party across many issues. Furthermore our network of local branches has continued to grow. LEAN Western Sydney and Kiama were launched this week by Chris Bowen, bringing the total to 16. From Townsville, to Darling Downs, Far south coast NSW to Gippsland, LEANers are doing their bit.

After policy is announced, LEAN’s immediate task is to help Labor get elected. This is the most pressing solution to climate change action in Australia. We will talk some more about our plans to assist and how you can help.

Then when Labor wins, LEAN is committed to being the most effective environment lobby in Australia. Over coming months we will be working to ramp up our capability and organizational capacity to ensure we are ready to deliver the strongest, most effective environmental Labor Government in history.

I want to say a huge thank you to Erin Watt and Leon Cermak who have stepped down from the National Executive at this AGM. Erin first joined LEAN and the party in 2013 as a young whipper snapper, she has been a key player in its rebuilding and our debt to her is huge. LEAN’s rebuilding has her finger-prints all over it. Leon has been a consistent, always positive and encouraging, smart voice from South Australia. It is great that John Della Bosca will join me as Co-convenor. My first days as an environmentalist were campaigning under the Carr Govt in NSW, John was the NSW ALP secretary when that government made its great environmental gains, and did so while being electorally unassailable. Since leaving politics John led the campaign for the establishment of the NDIS. John’s deep relationships across the party, the respect in which he is held and his cracking political skills will be invaluable to LEAN as we take our next steps.  

Read the SMH report of the meeting here.

Please note, Since 2014 LEAN has endorsed a 2030 emission reduction target of 45-55% on 2005 levels. 

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