Leading the Way in SA: The Future of Climate Change Policy in South Australia

Posted 2nd June 2022

On May 27th, South Australia Deputy Premier Hon Dr Susan Close MP and former Premier Mike Rann AC CNZM delivered presentations at the inaugural Policy Forum of the Downer-Rann Scholarship Program. Present and former state government officials, members of the public sector, and Carnegie Mellon students gathered for an open forum discussion on the subject of “Becoming a Climate Change Leader: Regional Governments in Action”.

The event featured keynote speeches from Dr Close and Mr Rann AC, with opening remarks from CMU-A Head Professor Emil Bolongaita and former Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Alexander Downer AC. Speeches were followed by a Q&A session with Dr Close and Mr Rann, along with a cocktail reception. The evening was attended by many distinguished guests, including Dr Nicola Spurrier, Chief Public Health Officer of SA, Mr Damien Walker, Chief Executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Mr Tony Circelli, Chief Executive of the Environment Protection Society, and Mr Richard Price, Chief Executive of Defence SA.

Carnegie Mellon hosts some of the states most prominent leaders and dignitaries for the inaugural Policy Forum.

In her speech, Dr Close acknowledged the challenges we face in dealing with the climate crisis. “We’ve seen tremendous advances for humanity over recent times,” said Dr Close. “But that has come at a price, and it’s largely been the price of the planet.” But with challenge comes opportunity – particularly economic opportunity – and it’s one that the South Australian government is eager to embrace.

“We’ve got an agenda that brings together dealing with sustainability and climate change and having a thriving economy,” Dr Close explained, adding that she and Premier Peter Malinauskas were very deliberate when choosing her portfolios. “We wanted to bring together Industry, Innovation and Science along with the particular industries of Defence and Space, alongside Climate and Water and Environment. Because it’s only by bringing those together, we now understand that we will be able to have a prosperous and sustainable future.”

Dr Close also noted that 98% of businesses in South Australia are small businesses, and spoke about the need for public policymakers to assist these businesses in their transitions. “What government needs to do in an economy like ours is more than it needs to do when there are lots of big corporates leading the way,” Dr Close said. “What we need to do is be able to work with businesses and assist them to realise the opportunity to jump to being zero carbon earlier than others in order to maximise their return, but also, therefore, the prosperity for South Australia.”

South Australia Deputy Premier Hon Dr Susan Close MP and former Premier Mike Rann AC on center stage during the Policy Forum's Q&A.

Mr Rann, who was Premier of South Australia from 2002 to 2011, remarked in his speech that Australia has historically had a poor reputation when it comes to climate action. “For years, Australia has ranked close to last on the annual Climate Performance Index,” he said. “The previous government’s carbon reduction target of achieving 26 to 28 percent below 2005 figures is about the lowest in the OECD.” But he also noted optimistically that recent election results – particularly a large swing in votes for both ‘teal independents’ and the Greens – show significant support from the Australian public on climate change action.

When it comes to renewables, South Australia has long been ahead of the curve. Mr Rann spoke about the long history of innovation and leadership in SA and explained that in 2002 he made the decision that South Australia should be the first mover on renewable energy in Australia. He also credited CMU-A Professor Tim O’Loughlin’s support and leadership for their ability to achieve what they did in this area. But strong leadership was only the first step.

“To lead, you have to bring people with you,” Mr Rann told guests. “You have to get feedback. You have to consult. We decided there needed to be a substantial public education and consultation program about why it was important and symbolism helped us in that process, so we solar-powered the roofs of the Parliament, the art gallery, the museum, the Adelaide airport.”

Now, close to one in three houses in South Australia are solar-powered. South Australia became the first state to introduce solar feed tariffs, and the first jurisdiction in the world to enshrine a 2050 target in legislation. In just over 15 years, South Australia went from using less than 1% renewable energy to over 60% renewable energy and aims to reach 100% by 2030.

“The message is small states can be world leaders if they’re prepared to be first movers, to be innovators, to take risks and make mistakes. Sometimes people say be careful of sticking your neck out, but it’s also important to stand head and shoulders above the crowd,” said Mr Rann.

All speakers agreed that education was key in effecting meaningful policy change and emphasised the importance of having world-class universities like Carnegie Mellon in South Australia. “I do think the performance of a state or of a country is significantly determined by the quality of their public servants and administrators in the private sector, as well as other areas of the public sector,” said Mr Downer in his opening remarks. “It’s hugely important to have well-trained, well-organised, well-focused public administrators and a university like this can make such a contribution to upskilling people and to give them that sort of ability.”

“It’s hugely important to have well-trained, well-organised,
well-focused public administrators and a university like this can make such a contribution to upskilling people and to give them that sort of ability.”

As part of CMU-A’s commitment to upskilling the public sector to meet the challenges ahead, Professor Bolongaita announced that the number of Downer-Rann Scholarships to be awarded for this year’s August intake would increase up to 15.

Downer-Rann Scholarships are available to domestic students studying public policy, information technology, or data analytics at CMU-A, and cover 60% of domestic tuition fees.

Domestic applications for CMU-A’s August intake close on 15 July 2022.