Atlassian co-founder and renewable energy investor Mike Cannon-Brookes is backing a plan to revitalise the economy post-pandemic, and create 1 million jobs, through investment in green projects and renewable energy.
Spearheaded by climate change think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, The Million Jobs Plan is focused on research, community engagement and collaboration with business and industry to boost the economy in an environmentally sustainable way.
Speaking at the plan’s launch event yesterday, Beyond Zero Emissions chair and interim chief Eytan Lenko said Australia is “at a crossroads”.
Some 85,000 jobs have been lost since March, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted, and billions of dollars will have to be invested in order to get the economy back on track.
“The principle of an effective stimulus is that it should create jobs, obviously,” he said. “But that’s best done by accelerating a trend.”
The plan focuses on bringing forward spending that has already happened, Lenko noted.
“We should do that by encouraging private investment.”
The interim chief also pointed to a “megatrend” towards digitisation, which has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.
In an energy context, that move has been from inefficient ‘analogue’ energy technologies, towards cleaner ‘digital’ renewable energy solutions.
Currently, renewable energy is also the cheapest form of energy, and it’s only dropping in cost.
“This makes any economic plan that doesn’t rely on that fact uninvestable, at least through private investment,” Lenko said.
“We’ve got a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild Australia’s economy and set ourselves up for the next 50 years of growth.”
Speaking on a panel at the launch, Cannon-Brookes asked: “How do we get a future that’s better for our economy and better for our country?”
The answer lies partly in focusing on our assets, that is, the natural advantages of Australia’s sun and wind, and also Australians themselves.
Where his own investment activities come into play is in proving that new technologies can work, or that existing technologies can be deployed in ways they never have been before.
“There’s a huge momentum towards ‘if it’s not been done before, we’re not convinced it can be done’,” he said.
“We’re slightly more risky capital,” he added. “We’re looking to show people … that it is possible to do.”
The big vision is to prove that Australia can export energy in a new way that is more economically viable.
“We’ve exported energy for a long time, just in the wrong form,” he explained. “They happen to be non-economic forms to export energy, too.”
Both Cannon-Brookes and Deanne Stewart, chief executive of First State Super, also noted that government policy could be holding back private investment in renewable energy and tech projects.
“Now is time to get really clear policy that allows players like business and super funds to really deploy their capital and really back the future with much less risk at hand,” Steward said on the panel.
“At the moment there’s a lot of risk out there without a really clear path and policy.”
Cannon-Brookes agreed, suggesting there’s a lot of risk and uncertainty in long-term policies that could be removed.
“That would certainly increase greatly the amount of investment in future forward technologies and projects that deploy existing technologies in future forward ways,” he said.
Australia could also do with a longer-term goal, he suggested, calling the government’s Technology Roadmap a “strategy without a destination”.
And, it’s not necessarily all about invention, he noted.
“It’s not about inventing new technologies,” he said. “It’s about deploying the technologies we already have today at scale, to generate jobs and economic prosperity for Australia.”