What regions need on the path to net zero

Regional town of Newman in WA's Pilbara region (rio tinto)
Newman in WA's Pilbara region (Image: Shutterstock)

A new report from The Next Economy has found that Australia’s regions are undergoing an economic transformation, with historical coal and gas heartlands like Central Queensland, The Hunter Valley and the Latrobe Valley in pole position to capitalise on the global shift to net zero emissions with appropriate Federal Government leadership, investment and support.

For ‘What regions need on the path to net zero’, The Next Economy engaged with over 500 people and organisations across regional Queensland, NSW, Victoria, WA and the NT to assess the support communities with close ties to fossil fuels need to manage the inevitable and accelerating transition to net zero emissions.

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Participants included representatives of government, the energy sector, diverse industries, unions, economic development agencies, social services, universities and training institutions, Traditional Owners and First Nations groups, community members and environment organisations.

The research revealed a high level of consensus on a key theme—greater leadership is needed from the federal government, revolving around three key calls to action:

1. An honest conversation: The federal government must be open and honest about what the changing energy system means for regional Australia.

2. A clear, well resourced plan: The federal government needs to put in place the appropriate targets, policies and regulatory frameworks to guide investment, and to ensure that regional workers and communities are not left behind—such as a national transition authority.

3. A strong democracy: The federal government must put in place measures to improve the health of our democracy—such as protection of public servants and decision-making from political interference, banning political donations, and a national corruption watchdog.

The Next Economy CEO Dr Amanda Cahill said, “The discussion about energy futures in regional Australia has changed dramatically since the last election.

“When we started our consultations two years ago, most people were questioning the whole concept of the energy transition. Now people see that things are changing quickly, with early closure announcements for coal plants, our trading partners increasing their climate ambitions and the rapid expansion of renewable energy projects across the country. They want to see a clear plan and support so they can manage these changes.

“If we want to take advantage of the wide range of new economic opportunities available—in renewable energy generation and storage, the mining and processing of critical minerals needed for renewable energy, and the manufacturing of projects like green hydrogen, batteries, renewable energy components, biofuels and other products—we need to act now.

“Business has been leading the way in terms of investing in the new industries we need to develop to reduce our dependence on coal and gas export revenue. But it’s not enough and even industry players are now calling on the Federal Government for greater policy certainty and new regulatory frameworks to ensure that development is done well and actually benefits regions over the long term.

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“The next federal government has a lot of work to do,” Dr Cahill said.

“I hope that whoever it is shows the leadership and vision to grasp this once-in-a-generation opportunity, and to step up to the task of supporting our regions as the energy system changes.”

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