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The political “salon” dinner

19 October 2012 : It’s not often you get to have dinner with the political and business leaders who are most influential on the green property agenda. In late September The Fifth Estate did just that and we think everyone who reads the edited transcript of the conversation  will gain rare insights into the current state of politics in Australia, and  why political support for sustainability and the green agenda is failing, but also on why it will rise again.

There was talk of the electricity markets, trigeneration energy systems and connecting to the grid, political courage and the lack of it, a rising carbon credit price and potential for windfall profits, Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd and, of course, who will win the next election.

See The Fifth Estate political “salon” dinner, in Sydney 21 September, with guests:

  • Senator Christine Milne, Australian Greens Leader
  • The Hon Mike Rann, Low Carbon Australia chair and former South Australian Premier
  • Peter Verwer, Property Council of Australia chief executive
  • Bruce Hawker political campaign strategist
  • Ms Tanya Cox DEXUS Property Group chief operating officer, board member Low Carbon Australia
  • Monica Richter, sustainable Australia program manager, Australian Conservation Foundation
  • Michael Zorbas, head of Strategy and Communications, Grocon.

Sponsor, with thanks, DEXUS Property Group

Guest of honour Greens Leader Christine Milne pointed to the inexorable global pressures that would push the price of carbon ever higher and China’s determination to get out of coal as fast as possible. (Hence the mad rush of development approvals for new coal mines is no surprise.)

By the way, said Milne, corporate Australia has the potential to make windfall profits from the carbon credits by buying them cheap now, and selling them later in the European market, when she is prepared to bet, and has bet, that the price will go up.

This will be news to most people, said Property Council of Australia chief executive officer Peter Verwer.

Sustainability champion Mike Rann, former South Australian premier, chair of Low Carbon Australia and soon to be High Commissioner for the UK, talked about vision and clever thinking and how he switched the thinking in SA from looming rust bucket state to innovative green leader.

From Tanya Cox, chief operating officer of DEXUS Property Group and board member of Low Carbon Australia came news from the inside on energy prices and the struggle to get trigeneration energy systems connected to the grid.

At Low Carbon Australia, said Rann, there’s a flood of demand for retrofit loans from businesses hit with rising electricity prices.

Green energy precincts were the future, said Peter Verwer, in between spicing things up with his views on Canberra politicians and public servants.

The ACF’s Monica Richter said that what was needed to re-ignite the green agenda was a business sector prepared to speak out.

Milne proved again she was perhaps the strongest advocate for the property industry in Canberra.
Reform of the National Energy Markets, and connection of green energy to the grid were critical, she said.

The bad news was that Canberra, desperate to secure a surplus, had frozen the Clean Energy Program and delayed he Energy Efficiency program.

“It’s all about for example. It’s all about manipulating the timeframes to just get that surplus in the financial year,” said Milne.

“I can’t emphasise enough that this is the front and centre of where the government is, so getting any movement on these programs is all to do with maintaining the surplus.”

And what will history say?

Sure the carbon price will be seen as the “greatest economic and environmental reform in decades.”

But Bruce Hawker, who was an adviser to Kevin Rudd, thinks it will be Rudd [making yet another comeback as we speak] who will go down as the most “environmentally adventurous prime minister this country’s ever had”.

Which is interesting given that a lot of people blame Rudd for abandoning the carbon pollution reduction scheme, and unleashing the forces of climate sceptics.

But is that fair? There was a looming GFC and people suddenly woke up in their ivory tower and realised carbon reduction would cost, said Hawker.

But… read the rest of the conversation for yourself.

Lynne Blundell has done a huge job in editing this massive content.

Our format was that the conversation would be recorded, with  participants given a chance to view the transcript and to edit it for errors or context.

The changes were miniscule.

Chatham House rules, eat your heart out.

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