A letter by Isabel Higgins

Our technological advance across time is truly awesome. Our creativity and intelligence has taken us from walking on barefoot to flying in jet aeroplanes and projecting our ideas around the planet via satellite. But nonetheless we seem unable to realise that this is an inevitable progression. Our problem is that we can't visualise the changes about to unfold. The picture has never been painted for us. So let me do it.

I see a future Australia where full advantage is being taken of our natural assets to access electricity that is free, once the relevant technologies have been put in place. We need to harvest the energy of the sun and the wind. The tides are so reliable they can be predicted years ahead and their energy is available night and day. Geothermal (literally the heat of the earth) is present in Australia in two separate forms, one of which is in such abundance across Victoria that it could probably supply the whole continent as base load. There are other forms of baseload energy already being explored by such companies as Pacific Hydro and Infigen. Even now well over 1 million households have turned to roof top solar to help them cope with the rising cost of electricity. Business has been less forthcoming but the economics of energy is becoming such that even large consumers will need to embrace solar energy to minimise their overheads and maximise their profits. The large energy companies controlled by our governments are closely linked to the coal industry and may well be the last to transition to newer clean technologies.

Look at the government; how much electricity do you think it expends on temperature control and light in Parliament House alone? Think of all the other buildings concerned in government – concerned in all the governments in all the various states. Think of the schools and hospitals, the law courts, the prisons, the police stations etc. Think of the subsidies to industry paid by you, the taxpayer, for the diesel plants and vehicles that power our mining sector. Think of the subsidies the aluminium smelters receive on their exorbitant electricity use. Rather than propping up an old technology with these subsidies think of the better the uses Government could put our tax towards; health, health research, education, disability, the CSIRO, the ABC, and such organisations, and developing new markets and greater productivity from our land and water resources.

We would all be so much happier not to receive electricity bills and be able to do other things with our money. Like saving for a house perhaps or setting up a business. It would also put our manufacturing industries in a much better position to compete on the world markets and reduce the number deciding to move offshore. Of course it would also enable us to build a huge international market in Australian renewable technology, which, considering the collapse of so many of our present industries would surely be a priority.

Of course setting it up would be costly and require investment, but investment with guaranteed returns which cannot be achieved by short sighted election slogans like 'axe the tax'. Our carbon pollution controls were put in place to point to a better future but the direction has been lost in the current climate politics. Our government is filled with yesterday's men: we need tomorrow's people to free us to step into a more positive future for Australia. But it will come as surely as did steam trains which at first needed a man on a horse carrying a red flag to ride ahead to safeguard us from this dangerous vehicle of a new technology.

The other certainty besides death and taxes, is that the future will come.

The uncertainty is, will we be prepared to embrace the continual path of advantage that new technologies offer, or do we resist it, clinging to outmoded past technologies that, though useful in their day, now present emission problems that could destroy our future?