The pivotal meeting will take place between the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg, and MPs from the states and territories.
Victoria will be represented by Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian State Member for Mill Park and Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change.
In an interview at our headquarters last Friday, Ms D’Ambrosio commented on the recent takeover of Fairfax by Nine Entertainment Co (NEC) with caution, highlighting the ongoing concern about the state of media ownership and diversity of opinion in Australia.
“There have been many shockwaves that have occurred as a result of the announcement yesterday, which points to a greater concentration of media ownership, but also the consequences that may come of that in terms of diversity of opinion and commentating,” she said.
“It is one to watch very carefully, but certainly there seem to be more concerns than approval that have come about as a result of the announcement.”
When questioned about Paul Keating’s opinion piece in The Guardian, in which he wrote that Channel Nine “has the ethics of an alley cat”, Ms D’Ambrosio responded:
“Paul Keating is renowned for his colourful language, so I certainly wouldn’t want to be seen to be endorsing his comments.
“However, we do know that with the changes that have been made at a federal level regarding cross-media ownership we are certainly seeing the potential concentration of opinion and commentary and the question is whether that is positive or otherwise for democracy in terms of our conversations.”
Moving on to discuss her role as Energy Minister, Ms D’Ambrosio recognised the rising cost of energy which affects many families and led to the formation of an independent and bipartisan panel to investigate energy retail businesses.
The report clearly indicated that the rising cost is a result of the sector’s privatisation.
“That report has been supported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) investigation which confirms the findings that we’ve had here for the Victorian government,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“This is very much down to the politics and policies of Jeff Kennett and his advisors at the time, who thought and made attempts to convince everybody that by selling off all our electricity and gas network assets, we were all going to see cheaper bills... but we’ve seen the exact opposite.”
The minister acknowledged that this situation is very difficult to reverse, given that many of the businesses in question are owned by global companies.
However, she added that the government has started to implement many of the recommendations put forward, including stopping companies from presenting discount offers in percentage terms without any transparency about their actual value.
“One of the strong recommendations is that discounts can only be offered in dollar terms so that people know what savings they will be making and be able to compare that fairly across a range of market offers,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
Though the COAG meeting is still a week away, the positions of its participants have been more or less predicted, especially those of Labor members who believe that the target of emission reductions isn’t ambitious enough.
“As I’ve said all along, if we can find a solution nationally, then that is something that we are keen to pursue,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“However, an NEG cannot get in the way of Victoria’s own ambitions when it comes to growing renewable energy because we know that more energy in our system will lead to wholesale prices and the cheapest form of new-build energy that can be built globally, and certainly in Australia, is renewable energy.”
Ms D’Ambrioso stated that renewable energy may be the answer to reaching the ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“What we’ve seen in recent years at a federal level is a stagnation of national energy leadership,” she added.
“Businesses and the energy industry have claimed that has led to a lack of confidence. When you have a lack of confidence in the industry, investment and spending stagnate.
“That means that projects that should be built in a very well-planned energy system which allows for investment to flow, will not be ready for the eventual closure of older infrastructure which is also becoming less reliable.”
Despite Mr Frydenberg’s offer of a more flexible emissions target and a review after four years instead of 10, Ms D’Ambrosio didn’t seem convinced.
“While we certainly welcome any movement from the federal government, it appears to be more of a symbolic gesture because ultimately, the federal government is still resting on its very low ambition of a target of 26 per cent of reductions in emissions on 2005 levels by 2030,” she said.
“All of the evidence shows us reaching that 26 per cent reduction by 2021. So what happens in those remaining nine years?”
Ms D’Ambrosio acknowledged that an agreement seems a long way off at the moment, however she remained open to any possibility at the time of the interview.
“Many things can happen in two weeks and things can move quickly but they also may not,” she concluded.
“We don’t want to close our minds to potential solutions being reached; however, we’re not going to be rushing into reaching a decision that may ultimately not be the best outcome that we can achieve through this process.”