Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has committed to Australia’s first offshore wind target, in a wide-ranging speech also used to cast states and territories as the drivers of the nation’s ambitious agendas.
The premier gave a “state of the state” address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia on Friday — the first since December 2019 before the Black Summer bushfires and the upheaval of COVID-19.
Revisiting policies set in motion before the pandemic, including mental health reforms after the state’s royal commission, free TAFE, and the state’s infrastructure projects, Andrews said his government had not accepted the status quo.
“If you don’t have a reform, then you don’t have an agenda at all,” he said.
The notion of the state and territory governments being “the biggest drivers of growth” in the next decade loomed large in Andrews’ speech.
“Infrastructure, skills and training, health and wellbeing, energy. These are the things that move the needle on productivity and propel our economy and national economy forward,” he said.
On energy, Andrews circled back to the primacy of state governments in setting goals for renewables, announcing the first targets for offshore energy in Australia.
“If we wait for others to do what they ought to do, then nothing will get done,” he said.
The policy will strive for Victoria to produce two gigawatts of offshore energy production by 2032, four gigawatts by 2035 and nine gigawatts by 2040, he said.
“That’s the equivalent of 20% of Victoria’s energy needs today,” Andrews said.
In a signal of certainty for developers and investors, the targets follow previous funding announcements for three new wind projects off the Gippsland and Bass coasts.
Questioned after the speech about the suitability of the national cabinet, Andrews said the format of the nation’s leaders’ meeting had delivered unity and a common approach during the pandemic but ultimately allowed states and territories to respond in separate ways.
“The greatest strength of the national cabinet is the acknowledgement that every state is different,” he said, using WA as an example of a state with “options that we just didn’t have”.
Public servants were among office workers returning to Melbourne’s central business district last week. But Andrews said he doubted working habits would return to the way they were before the pandemic.
“We need to embrace that and turn that into an important opportunity,” he said.
“I would welcome a discussion about commercial real estate in the city and about the fact that that’s going to change now … if we want to keep the CBD vibrant then maybe you need to have more people living in the CBD.”
The premier acknowledged Victoria was facing changed economic realities because of the pandemic. Victoria is due to record a $19.5 billion operating deficit this financial year – $7.9 billion more than it forecast in the 2021-22 budget.
“Since those low points, we’ve seen the economy bounce back and a real shift in our jobs figures, points of pride, points of confidence as we look to the medium and indeed, to the long term,” he said.
Giving emphasis to Victoria’s pathway through the pandemic during the past two years, Andrews said the state of Victoria “is strong” because of its people.