Money Finance News Open letter to Barnaby Joyce: unlock the power of regional Australia
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Open letter to Barnaby Joyce: unlock the power of regional Australia

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce follows the PM into Wedneday's meeting with energy providers.
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Dear Mr Joyce,

Your Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been knocking heads together in Canberra this week, telling energy generators and retailers they’ve got to stop ripping off consumers.

But you know full well there are other heads that need knocking together, in the party room your 22 National Party colleagues share with the Liberals.

A significant number of your Coalition partners are yet to grasp how their actions are holding back a food and energy investment boom in the regions – which your party says it represents.

Coalition MPs have blocked and re-blocked a steady and sensible transition to low-emission power generation for nearly a decade.

They are still doing it, by blocking adoption of the Clean Energy Target recommended by the Turnbull government’s own Finkel Review into energy markets.

And you, Mr Joyce, know exactly who is doing the blocking.

When that blocking process began in 2009, with the tearing down of the Rudd government’s carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS), Coalition MPs believed they were acting in the best interests of businesses and the economy.

A lot has changed since then. Putting politics aside, a technological revolution is underway that is handing a competitive advantage to the regions.

Power that has previously been generated centrally and transmitted to users at great expense is now shifting to renewables assets scattered across the regions.

One example, covered recently in The New Daily, is the company Nectar Farms which is building a huge 34 MWh battery storage device in western Victoria to help it harness wind power to run 10 hectares of horticulture greenhouses.

Farmers and remote communities have been using off-grid power for years, but the larger power systems that will give agribusinesses, food processors and other regional businesses a cost advantage have been held up.

Why? Because your friends in the Liberal Party are out of touch with the speed of the technological revolution. As Nationals leader, surely you are not.

Some Coaltion MPs are stuck on outdated and frankly wrong ideas about baseload power and ‘cheap coal’, when even the Finkel Report spells out in black and white that renewable energy is now the cheapest new-build energy source, even when the ‘firming cost’ of back-up gas generation is taken into account.

The turbulent climate politics of the past decade – especially the repeal of Labor’s emissions trading scheme and the weakening of the renewable energy target – has scared investors away.

And they are still wary of the prospect the Coalition will vote against the Finkel Review’s clean energy target – or even repeal any scheme Labor might create if it wins government at the next election.

This is madness. Regional Australia is dominated by conservative politics, but the conservative parties – yours included, Barnaby – are holding up the development of new industries and new competitive advantage in those very regions.

Despite its size, Australia does not have the arable land to become the ‘food bowl of Asia’. At most we can feed about 80 million people. But we can become the ‘delicatessen of Asia’ by adding value to what we grow.

However, adding value almost always requires high energy inputs – be it through heating a greenhouse, running a fish farm, manufacturing high-end packaged foods or pumping, desalinating or recycling water.

The energy that’s ‘out there’ is being harnessed by a few visionary firms – such as Sundrop Farms, which is using concentrated solar power to grow tomatoes in the South Australian desert.

But how many more firms would invest, or how many specialist power firms would build the new energy capacity out in the regions, if the Coalition ended the policy uncertainty?

The value-added food boom will run and run, as the world’s population grows from 7 billion to around 9 billion by 2050, and new middle-class consumers look for higher valued-added food products.

But to profit from that surge in demand, we need to capitalise on our world beating renewable energy resources, and our existing ‘clean, green’ reputation abroad.

Barnaby, that’s why your party’s MPs and senators, more than anyone else, should sit down with the recalcitrants in the Liberal Party and explain what’s at stake.

I’ll be watching with great interest for signs that you understand the pressing need to unlock the economic potential of regional Australia.

Regards,

Rob Burgess

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