Ben Oquist, CEO, The Australia Institute – EV Summit 2022 closing remarks

Ben Oquist, CEO, The Australia Institute – EV Summit 2022 closing remarks

by Katie

Speaker 1:

Let me conclude by providing opening remarks for the final speaker, Ben Oquist, who’ll be giving the closing remarks. Ben was the former executive director of the Australia Institute, currently a board member and is a friend and mentor and a longtime champion in this space. Please welcome Ben.

Ben Oquist:

Thanks, Richie. Thank you. Well, what a terrific, high powered, high profile, high impact summit that we’ve been part of today, also perfectly timed to take advantage of the transformed political moment we’re in. As Richie said, for those who don’t know me, I’m Ben Oquist, formerly the executive director of the Australia Institute. Thank you, Richard Dennis, for taking on that great load, and now I work at leading government relations firm DPG Advisory, and here today, as Richie said, as a board member of the Australia Institute. Congratulations to the Australia Institute for its role in helping organize today’s event. Clearly the institute is the country’s leading high impact think tank. Congratulations in particular to Richie Merzian, the Climate & Energy Program, lead there and transport lead Audrey Quicke, who I know many of you have interacted with in relation to this summit, what a great powerhouse you and your teams are.

                Also to the Smart Energy Council, John, your leadership and entrepreneurialism is inspiring. Behyad and the EV Council, your unrelenting advocacy is a model for others to follow, and to the big new kids on the block, ATAN and the team at Boundless, wow, what a shake up of the scene you’re making already. It’s exciting to watch, let alone be a part of your network. Mike Cannon-Brookes, thank you for not just being willing to put your money where your mouth is, but just as importantly, be willing to put your mouth where your money is. It’s all too easy to be quiet and not stick one’s neck out. Speaking up is enormously powerful, but I know it’s not without its downsides. You are setting a new benchmark. We need progressive capital, not just to give, not just to act, but to speak out, to use its powerful voice in the public debate to decarbonize our economy in the timeline needed, in fact it requires it, so thanks to you.

                It’s fitting that this event took place here in Canberra. The first jurisdiction has been mentioned earlier to transition to 100% net renewables outside Europe, and now the first to set a date to ban fossil fuel vehicles in Australia. What a terrific, dynamic policy, agenda setting city Canberra has become. The riding talk of the Canberra bubble is gone and indeed Canberra is back, taking its rightful place at the very heart of our democracy and politics, and I know many of you enjoyed hearing the chief minister Andrew Barr today. So to the politics, they say good policy makes good politics. Unfortunately, we all know that it’s not been that simple. In fact, to get good policy outcomes that have been proposed here today will require some good, clever, strategic politics. Of course, the 2019 federal elections saw the opposite in this space, some terrible but effective politics produced terrible policy outcomes.

                In fact, as Chris Bowen said earlier, it resulted in complete policy failure for many years, that the former government’s unhinged attacks on electric vehicles in the weekend was a low point. However, it was born out of clever politics that we cannot ignore. It needs to be counted, not just with better policy, but with better politics, and of course, that’s what today has been all about, bringing together business, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, unions, key politicians, non-government organizations, and experts to put aside different priorities and find a common agenda at the right time. It is, in fact, a great feat of good politics and political action here today, congratulations. And in politics, timing is critical. You’ve come together just at the right time. There is a new political dynamic at play, but it must be seized as well. A virtuous cycle of progressive business and unions and other organizations putting pressure on government to put pressure on business to do more is needed if we are to accelerate our timeframes.

                But indeed, rather than debate about how difficult de-carbonization is, as we have often seen done too often federally over recent years, we have moved on about how we can do it faster and better, but that requires all of us in this room to work smarter, tougher, faster, and better. Yes, we do have a government and parliament that better listens and responds, but they need to hear us raw, and they need to see us use effective politics to counter opponents. Today because of you, and this summit, we have moved forward on cleaning and electrifying our transport system.

                The minister for climate change and energy, Chris Bowen, provided us with the first new climate policy seen since the federal election, and you can see why this policy was selected, but we are only at first base and Australia, as you have heard, is a world laggard and consumers are being denied, cheaper, cleaner, healthier, safer alternatives, and Australia is being denied future prosperities. There is much more to do and I look forward to doing it all with you. Enjoy the weekend. I know those of you with EVs will be enjoying it all the more, and Richie has reminded us that for those who don’t have to rush away and get a plane, join us for a drink outside. I look forward to doing that with you too. Thanks very much.


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