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Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton's keynote address to the National Jobs & Skills Summit

I grew up near Ballan in Central Victoria. It’s a small country town, established in the 1830’s on Wautherong land, along the route to the Victorian Goldfields. As the gold rush subsided, sheep farming became the backbone of the district.

The last five years have changed the face of Ballan, and dozens of similar country towns across Australia. They have become hubs for a flourishing new industry. Ballan is now at the forefront of the global clean energy revolution. A bunch of wind farms in the region have created a wave of new jobs and given the community hope for a strong and vibrant future.

The Australian clean energy sector is now preparing for a period of extraordinary growth and development as we accelerate toward a fully clean energy power system. Australia is now on a path to becoming a clean energy superpower.

The amount of clean energy we need and can deploy over the coming decades is truly eye-watering.

The latest Integrated System Plan by the market operator outlines the case for an eightfold increase, building 141 GW of large-scale wind and solar capacity, 63 GW of storage and hydro capacity and 69 GW of small-scale solar and household batteries by 2050.

We need to roll out over 10,000 km of transmission lines to build a modern and resilient 21st-century grid.

We need to create stronger, more resilient and ethical local supply chains, manufacturing more of our key clean energy components right here in Australia.

Electrifying Australian homes and businesses will be critical to reduce our exposure to high-cost gas and unreliable aging coal plants. And doing so can create tens of thousands of new jobs amongst electricians, plumbers, solar and battery installers and their trade assistants.

Add to that, the extraordinary export opportunity and the scale of change that can bring to Australia.

In Queensland alone a vibrant green hydrogen industry exporting energy to world, could require more than 26,000 construction workers by 2050.

The flow on economic and employment benefits to regions reliant on low-cost energy for their global competitiveness is difficult to comprehend, not to mention the opportunity for Australia’s critical minerals that will power the global clean energy revolution.

Delivering this transformation will require an enormous number of workers with the right skills in the right locations. According to Reputex’s modelling of the Government’s Powering Australia policy, there could be over 600,000 additional direct and indirect jobs created by 2030.

This presents an enormous opportunity at a time when even the current demand for clean energy workers is going unmet.

Over the past five years, we have doubled the amount of renewable energy in Australia, from 15 per cent to 30 per cent. This created a strong industry and workforce of some 30,000 people employed directly in the clean energy sector.

It also exposed immediate gaps in the workforce from electricians and trades assistants, battery design specialists, wind turbine technicians, electrical engineers, drivers and roofers and solar farm operators.

These gaps are only going to widen unless we take action, now.

Some of the solutions are very obvious. The clean energy sector has been a political football, kicked about as part of the climate wars and a wasted decade.

Nothing undermined confidence of investors more than unpredictable, unhelpful and unstable climate and energy policy.

Why would a business expand its manufacturing facility, bring on apprentices or reskill workers if they thought that government was just going to pull the rug out from under them?

The Albanese Government has taken some swift and significant steps in restoring confidence in clean energy in Australia, and that will have a material impact on the confidence of the 1000 businesses I represent to now invest in the workers they need over the next decades.

There are key parts of the Australian community that aren’t fully represented and participating in the clean energy workforce today.

While indigenous Australians make up over 3 per cent of the population, they comprise just 0.8 per cent of the current clean energy workforce.

There are many opportunities for First Nations people to participate and benefit from the clean energy revolution, and that must include the opportunity for a clean energy job, supporting them with the right training, pay and conditions to keep them on land and contributing to their local community.

Female representation in the clean energy workforce is at 39%, a long way ahead of oil and gas at 23 per cent and coal at 16 per cent.

But we see the same trends with women over-represented in administration roles (more than 60 per cent) and under-represented in senior management (32 per cent) and board (19 per cent) roles.

Thankfully this is changing rapidly thanks to our Women in Renewables program helping to evolve workplaces and develop and support the next generation of female leaders.

Over 70 per cent of the current clean energy workforce is in rural and regional Australia. This makes the clean energy sector unique –

bringing an enormous economic and jobs opportunity to regions of Australia buffeted by global economic forces, the transition away from fossil fuels or the impacts of climate change already weathering these communities.

Clean energy opportunities are both constrained by and can help reverse these trends, supporting and training people in the regions they call home. Clean energy has changed the face of Ballan, and can create hundreds of regional hubs just like it across Australia.

Solving the regional housing crisis and delivering training to the regions are key.

The outcomes of this summit are critical for the clean energy sector. If we get it right, we create hundreds of thousands of high-quality, sustainable clean energy jobs and we deliver Australia as a clean energy superpower.

Let me summarise what needs to happen.

  • Firstly, all sorts of common sense on climate and energy policy. Clear targets, stable policy, strong leadership and collaboration.
  • Active coordination of the massive project pipeline on its way. Sequencing the build-out of renewable energy with much-needed grid and major infrastructure and construction projects across the country. Getting the timing right will ensure we don’t overheat local economies and put further strain on the workforce.
  • Better understand and anticipate future workforce needs with detailed analysis and forecasting of our future needs.
  • Establish Transition Authorities to support regional communities and take a strategic approach to reskilling and developing new industries in the right regions.
  • Calibrate higher education and reform the VET sector’s capacity to understand and meet the needs of industry.
  • Reform our immigration system to attract skilled workers and talented students and establish Australia as a hub of clean energy expertise.
  • Raise the profile and career pathways to attract young people into the right clean energy career.

This requires collaboration between governments at all levels, community, development bodies, unions, the education sector and the clean energy industry. We don’t have time to waste.

Opportunity like this comes knocking once in a generation. This is our generation's opportunity to deliver a clean energy future for Australia, set us up to become a global clean energy superpower and create an extraordinary legacy for Australian workers.

Watch Kane Thornton's keynote speech in full, here.