The big three-day industry funds superannuation conference in Cairns finished at yesterday and global warming was a key feature of the discussion.

The father of the industry funds movement, Gary Weaven, was presiding over his 12th straight annual conference with a number of other Labor luminaries in toe, such as former Federal Treasurer Ralph Willis and Paul Keating’s former senior adviser Don Russell.

The conference opened with some powerful arguments against the Howard Government’s do nothing approach to climate change from former ABC science reporter turned consultant Alan Tate. Then we heard from Pacific Hydro CEO Rob Grant.

Pacific Hydro was Australia’s biggest listed renewable energy company until the industry funds won a bidding war and took it over last year in a deal worth $780 million.

The funds have now had the business independently valued at $880 million but there’s an ambitious expansion program to be pursued which will require an injection of another $500 million in equity over the next decade.

The industry funds control more than $100 billion and are long term investors so making a $1.3 billion plunge into hydro and wind power is not as stupid as it sounds, but it does leave them hostage to regulatory risk – namely governments who reject carbon taxes and mandated markets for renewable energy. No wonder they are hot to trot against John Howard’s “world’s worst” lethargy.

Weaven is tight with the Victorian Labor government, which is leading the nation with its mandated target of 10% renewable energy by 2016 – a policy that unquestionably helps Pacific Hydro. He seemed very angry with the Victorian Liberals for changing their position and announcing they would repeal the legislation if elected on 25 November.

The conference also heard from Amanda McCluskey, the “manager sustainability” at Portfolio Partners, who produced this league ladder of Australia’s biggest energy consumers:

Rio Tinto: $2.48 billion

BHP Billiton: $1.94 billion

Zinifex: $219 million

Boral: $208 million

Caltex: $200 million

Amcor: $85 million

Toll Holdings: $79 million

Conference sponsor Goldman Sachs-JB Were is also on the case, strongly pushing Australian companies to co-operate with the global Carbon Disclosure Project and even promising its clients an early screening of Al Gore’s powerful doco An Inconvenient Truth in Melbourne and Sydney before it opens nationally on September 14.

This could mark the moment when the Climate Change debate gets seriously hot in Australia, despite the best efforts of the Howard Government and the Murdoch press to pour cold water on it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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