Labor delegates call on government to match USA and Europe with 3% GDP to renewable transition

Image: Fossil fuel phase out – Wikipedia

Original Title: Do more to address climate change, government told at Labor conference

By David Crowe in The Age

Behind the debate was a concern among delegates that the government would not meet its stated target of cutting emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and to net zero levels by 2050 with existing policies.

The government has imposed a Safeguard Mechanism on big companies to force them to reduce emissions, set up a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to invest in clean energy and other projects, as well as a $2 billion fund to subsidise green hydrogen as a clean fuel.

While the motions do not force ministers to change policy, they reveal the pressure from Labor branches for federal cabinet ministers to develop new ways to cut emissions.

Labor Environment Action Network co-convenor Felicity Wade backed the arguments for more action on climate change but was opposed on a motion against land clearing and native forest logging.

Michael O’Connor, a forestry union official who is now national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining And Energy Union’s manufacturing division, said native forest logging should continue.

“You know what the greatest danger to habitat is? It ain’t commercial forestry – it’s fire,” said O’Connor, a key negotiator on national forests policy with former prime ministers from John Howard onward.

“If you don’t manage the forests, you have more fire and more extinction.”

O’Connor expressed frustration that forest management often meant logging native forests but leaving the timber in the forest or burning it rather than using it and creating jobs.

The debate ended with a motion agreed by all sides to “update” the national forests policy, but this stopped short of committing to rewrite the entire policy and thwarted hopes by the Labor Environment Action Network for a commitment to phase out native forest logging.

In the angriest contributions to the climate debate, CFMMEU national secretary Christy Cain and Electrical Trades Union Queensland secretary Peter Ong blamed the government for allowing foreign workers to undercut local workers on renewable energy projects.

“What we are struggling up against and what we’ve seen in Queensland is that when we set those [renewables] targets, we saw a lot of unscrupulous constructors come here and start building solar farms,” Ong said.

“And they’re building those solar farms with backpackers – not one apprentice on the job.”

Ong said one project used workers from the Philippines and underpaid them by $20 an hour compared to local union workers. This was a disgrace, he said, blaming the government for letting it happen.

The conference passed a motion calling for “best practice” in renewable projects, sending a signal to ministers to toughen labour standards and encourage union membership when solar and wind farms are built.

“We need to call out companies that are bringing in exploited labor,” Cain said.

“We need to call out companies that are bringing in exploited labor,” Cain said.

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