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‘I felt your pain’: Wayne Swan criticises Labor’s ‘future gas’ strategy in address to party activists | Australian politics

Politics‘I felt your pain’: Wayne Swan criticises Labor’s ‘future gas’ strategy in address to party activists | Australian politics


The Labor party’s national president, Wayne Swan, has criticised the Albanese government’s future gas strategy, opposing its encouragement of new gas fields and telling the party’s environment activists they should push for a plan to lessen domestic demand.

In an online address to the Labor Environment Action Network (Lean) on Tuesday night, Swan sympathised with the activists who were dismayed that the strategy, released a week before the budget and which frustrated some inner-city Labor MPs, emphasised a role for gas “to 2050 and beyond”.

“I know that people are disillusioned with that announcement,” he told the Lean members. “I felt your pain. I shared your disappointment with that announcement because it didn’t do justice to what the government has done or is planning to do.”

The former federal treasurer, now on the board of Queensland government-owned electricity generator Stanwell Corporation, said while the clean energy transition was at the heart of last month’s budget, the Labor government had to do more to reduce Australians’ reliance on gas. He also opposed any expansion of gas.

“When it comes to ‘what do we do about reducing as much as we possibly can the use of fossil fuels?’, then we’ve got to be up for that task,” he said. “We’ve also got to recognise that gas is a transition fuel. But we do not want to be necessarily opening new supplies.”

While there was a lot “to be pleased about” in Labor’s policy approach overall, he argued there was more to be done to “electrify the country”.

“I think it is up to us who are concerned about this to make sure our voice is heard on that over the next six months or so,” he said.

On Thursday, the Lean national convener, Felicity Wade, told Guardian Australia that Labor environmentalists had been shocked by the government’s stand-alone pre-budget strategy and considered it “an own goal”.

“Labor has invested so much in the task of decarbonisation, it was madness to blow our credibility with many who care about climate change, largely on the back of unnecessary boosterish language,” Wade said.

In his Tuesday address, Swan endorsed Lean’s call for a demand strategy – a blueprint to reduce domestic gas use – as a companion to both the future gas strategy and the budget’s Future Made in Australia plan for subsidising and supporting the development of clean-energy technology.

Swan suggested the strategy created the wrong impression about Labor’s policy when the government was actually “making very significant advances when it comes to increasing the supply of renewables in the system”.

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In a recording of the address obtained by Guardian Australia, Lean’s webinar host asked Swan what Labor activists should do to mitigate the “disappointment and dismay and possibly damage” in sections of the party after the strategy was released without details of the clean-energy manufacturing policy that came later in the budget and with a pro-gas narrative.

“Speak to your local Labor members of parliament about this and impress upon them how important it is, not just as a policy solution, but to the future of the fight against climate change in this country and in fact I think globally,” Swan said.

He encouraged them to keep fighting for more and spoke in favour of activism generally.

“I think we live in a time where political activism must be valued,” Swan said. “I mean, the rise of the radical right globally is a real threat to the sort of values and politics that we in the social democratic movement share. We can’t take for granted that some of the successes we’ve had can be maintained not just in climate, but across the board in terms of the quality and endurance of our democracy.”

Contacted by Guardian Australia on Thursday, Swan did not resile from his remarks.

“I spoke to Lean because I value the work that they do in our party,” he said.

He had also wanted to emphasise the importance of seeing the energy transition through the Future Made in Australia investment plan and “all the other good work happening in the environment area” through the work of the climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, and the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek.

Lean national co-convenor Felicity Wade said the strategy had “caused more distress across our membership than I’ve seen in my decade at Lean”.

“It was the explicit support for new gas fields and complete failure to consider the suite of policies we could employ to reduce gas in the system, that rattled our people’s faith. It’s important people know that folks across the party, from the president down are agitating for this to be addressed.”

Wade said Lean members know gas will need to be part of the transition but the way the strategy was released had obscured the transition part.



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