Mar 24, 2005

Sustainable Development Strategy Launch – MECU

Speech by Anthony Albanese at the Members & Educational Credit Union Sustainable Development Strategy launch NSW Writers’ Centre, Rozelle Hospital Grounds

Thursday 24 March 2005

It is a privilege for me to be part of the launch of MECU’s Sustainable Development Strategy.

I’ve taken the opportunity to read up on the services offered by MECU, and I’d like to congratulate you on the balance you strike between economic, social and environmental performance.

Balancing economic, social and environmental matters is critically important not just for progressive financial service organisations such as yours, but I would argue it is just as important for Governments.

MECU’s green car loan caught my eye as a practical example of how a banking product could be tailored to help the environment.

The idea of giving consumers an incentive to buy environmentally friendly cars by offering lower interest rates according to the pollution levels of the vehicle is a fantastic product for you to offer.

Then, MECU offsetting the car’s greenhouse gas emissions by planting 17 native trees every year for the duration of the car loan not only gives back to the environment generally, it connects the consumer in a responsible way to balancing the emissions the car will produce.

When I read about products like this I am encouraged that the important balance between competitiveness, social policy and environmental policy can be enhanced.

Products like this need to become the norm, not the exception. They are an important part of us balancing both growth and sustainability.

I regard sustainability as a necessary component of future economic growth.

Sustainability promotes business: by creating job opportunities, enhancing the commitment of employees, increasing efficiency, spurring innovation, encouraging the careful use of natural resources and prompting social acceptance of products and services.

Sustainability is becoming the organising principle for innovative companies, nations and regions across the world.

Sustainability will improve Australia’s economic success – and ought to continue to do so.

Climate change and loss of natural resources endanger human mankind and the world economy.

Across a range of environmental issues – from soil erosion to the depletion of marine stocks, from water scarcity to air pollution – it is clear that these problems which arise from economic activity in themselves threaten future economic activity and growth.

While climate change is a real threat to so many aspects of our economy & environment, it also positively impacts on the market by inducing investment in energy efficiency, and efficient production and consumption schemes.

At the latest gathering of the G8 group, UK chancellor Gordon Brown stated that it was “no longer tenable to separate climate change from the economic goals of high and stable growth and employment”.

I endorse that position, and believe sustainability and climate protection are an opportunity for Australia and for the World.

Without a doubt, reversing environmental degradation and putting our economy onto a low carbon and sustainable footing will be amongst the most difficult issues confronting Australian governments over coming decades.

Labor does not, however, accept the argument that the pursuit of environmental sustainability threatens future economic and employment growth.

In Spain, Denmark and Germany alone the expansion of the renewable energy sector has created about a quarter of a million new jobs in the last few years.

The Howard Government’s most significant failure is its decision to pursue an isolationist position on climate change.

This issue will be front and centre of Labor’s environmental strategy.

It is an issue from which other issues flow.

The coming into effect of the Kyoto Protocol on 16 February was a historic day.

On 16 February this year, 140 nations plus the European Union joined together in a historic agreement to take international action on climate change.

Labor believes implementation of the Kyoto Protocol is only the start of a truly long-term strategy, one that will be handed to our children and grandchildren.

And we must build regulatory and market based systems that will see Australia meets its emission reduction commitments, generate economic opportunity and provide model systems for other countries.

It is clear that stemming environmental degradation and creating an environmental sustainable global economy requires, above all, leadership.

What remains in doubt, however, is whether today’s political and business leaders are going to rise to the challenge or whether we are simply going to leave the problem to future generations.

Thankfully, there are people in industry with the foresight to rise to the challenge and we in the ALP will also rise to the challenge.

What MECU is doing is a good example of what can be done. Other smart companies like BHP Billiton, Shell and BP take a look at emerging trends and see the writing on the wall.

Even in George W. Bush’s America, energy security and the acceptance of climate change is driving the market towards more efficient cars. That is one of the reasons Toyota’s market share is increasing in the USA while others are shrinking. The automotive companies that work out how to drive the market in that direction will grow faster with lower risk.

One has to look no further than how BP is literally investing millions to change its image. It now does not want to be known as British petroleum. It prefers Beyond Petroleum. The world is going to transform around sustainability.

I hope that, in 50 years, we’ll have cars that are safe and pollution-free, power stations on our rooftops, cleaner and healthier food and, you just never know – we may even have cities that are sustainable and enhance the quality of life for all who live in them.

And I hope it’s going to happen because one of the most powerful institutions on the planet – business – will take us there by combining the pursuit of profit and growth, with sustainable values which balance social and environmental performance.

Environmental sustainability must become a part of the quadruple bottom line alongside profit, jobs growth and social impact.