Time to plug in some energy policy, says aspiring senator

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Independent ACT candidate for the Senate Anthony Pesec. Photo Holly Treadaway

PEOPLE are frustrated with politics, says Anthony Pesec who, frustrated himself, has decided to run as an ACT independent candidate for the Senate.

He’s been frustrated about many government policies but what really sent him towards a political career was Australia’s missing energy policy, which he says hasn’t been there for more than a decade.

“We live in a country which is abundant with resources yet we have amongst the highest energy prices in the world,” says Anthony, 43, of Chapman.

“It’s absurd that it’s forced some Australian subsidiaries of businesses to shut down whilst their overseas operations flourish, particularly in the steel-making industry, because you just cannot work here with these sorts of energy prices.”

Anthony, who is the co-founder of Intelligent Energy Solutions, a company specialising in solar-power purchase agreements in Canberra, says it hasn’t been a lighthearted decision to run as a Canberra candidate for the Senate.

“It’s not easy to make that decision, to be prepared to shelve a lot of your business interests and ambitions and demands so you can focus on a political career,” he says.

But many of Anthony’s life experiences and passions have led him to this decision.

Born in Canberra, Anthony’s parents, both Croatian immigrants, came to the ACT in the ‘60s.

He did his schooling in the Weston Creek area at Chapman Primary, then Stromlo High, formerly known as Weston Creek High and then Stirling College, which no longer exists.

Anthony grew up on residential construction sites with his dad who was a home builder and, at 17, he went to Sydney and studied civil engineering at the University of NSW.

“That conveniently finished a few years ahead of the Sydney Olympics so that meant I was quite busy,” he says.

In 2001 he went back to university and studied for an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management, where he undertook two internships and studied on exchange in Barcelona.

“Following on from the MBA, I fell into investment banking. I got recruited by Barclays Capital (now Barclays Investment Bank) in London, which was pretty exciting,” he says.

Anthony wasn’t planning on moving to Europe but ended up living in London for many years before moving to Croatia for a decade, all the while coming home to Canberra to visit his parents every Christmas and escape the cold European winters.

“In Croatia I set up a corporate finance consultancy based on the experience and the connections I had in London,” he says.

“That went really well. I picked up the largest corporations in south-east Europe as my clients and did a lot of structured finance and corporate finance deals.”

When Anthony’s father passed away in 2012 he felt compelled to come home and be close to his mother.

Back home he decided to start a business around a long-term interest of his – renewable energy.

“It was a good opportunity to set up another business, but one that I was really, really passionate about,” he says.

“I think it’s something that’s really important and is perhaps the most important issue of our time.”

Teaming up with Lucas Sena, the pair co-founded IES and discovered there was a good take up of solar panels by the residential market in Canberra, but the commercial properties didn’t have it.

“We think there’s a few reasons for that,” he says.

“One was the bureaucracy and extra paperwork they go through that residents are exempt from.

“In the absence of commercial property owners putting solar on their own roofs, we thought we would be happy to do it for them. We devised a way where, with the appropriate Australian Energy Regulator approvals, we can trade with solar energy.

“We build, own and operate solar systems. We put them on the roofs of our customers and we contract to sell our energy at a discount.

“It’s a bit of a no-brainer approach, it’s cheap energy, they don’t have to spend anything up front and it’s also clean so everyone’s happy.

“It’s really good being able to offer something where everybody wins. That’s led me to the frustration that Australia’s had with a lack of energy policy for well over a decade now.”

While governments have been continuously arguing over a sensible energy policy, Anthony says energy prices have drastically dropped.

“We’re at a time where whilst the Australian Liberals and Labor, who are both influenced by the coal lobby, have been arguing about what policy Australia should have, there’s been a reduction in costs for renewable energy technology,” he says.

“So solar panels have come down drastically in price, wind turbines have come down drastically in price. And both have become more efficient over time.

“And we still don’t have any policy framework that incentivises investors agnostic to any type of energy production to actually invest in new forms of energy. It’s a bit of a no brainer that Australia should be adopting clean energy for the future generations because those arguments of the past are gone.

“It is now cheaper and it’s cleaner.”

‘Neither senators have done anything because they have
a safe run in under their Liberal and Labor banners’

FRUSTRATED by Australia’s “missing” energy policy, Chapman’s Anthony Pesec made the decision to run as an ACT independent candidate for the Senate in the expected May election.

In this Q&A he discusses his reasons for standing and why the ACT needs an independent voice such as his.

Q:  Why are you running as an independent for the Senate?

A:  I just don’t think we’re being well represented here by our current senators.

By default, because of the way the proportional representation voting system works for the Senate, it usually means that whoever the candidates for Labor or Liberal are, just walk on in. But things have changed as a result of a lot of turmoil last year within the Coalition and the toppling of Malcolm Turnbull and, as both Labor and Liberal parties drift away from the centre, it has left a lack of representation for sensible voters.

I think the independents like myself are offering something that the major parties aren’t offering anymore. Our Canberra-based senators are a little bit more focused on their careers as politicians and in both instances they are career politicians. I’m looking to shelve a career that I already have to get into this. I have genuine intentions of what I think I can offer in terms of representation and I’m just not really sure that’s being offered by either of our senators at the moment.

Q: Why hasn’t Canberra been represented well by its current senators?

A: Decentralisation, for example, has been an issue that’s been happening for years. Barnaby Joyce notoriously decided to move out the APVMA in 2016.

Putting aside pork barrelling and party politics, it makes no sense to be decentralising government offices and ministries away from the nation’s capital. Canberra is after all the seat of government. This isn’t about job creation in rural areas, it’s just about job transfers.

We’ve had absolutely no representation here by Liberal senator Zed Seselja who has let this happen. He’s been focused on the politics within his party ahead of representing the people of Canberra. I just don’t think that either of our senators has really done anything in their term in the Senate and I believe it’s because they feel that they have a safe run in under their Liberal and Labor banners.

That’s been another reason that I’ve been compelled to do this. In the past we haven’t had an independent ACT senator, but I think now there is an opportunity for this given this push nationwide by independents and the continuous dissatisfaction amongst voters with the major parties. Many voters, like me, have been dissatisfied.

Q: What will you do differently?

A: Canberra’s had self government for over three decades now and what we’re seeing is Senator Seselja arguing against the territory having its own rights to legislate on certain matters and I think that’s quite disingenuous to approach politics that way. I’m talking about the issue of euthanasia.

To push for a restriction on territory rights is not true to being a representative of the territory. Seselja is trying to push through his agenda on an issue without actually respecting the view of the territory and that’s completely contrary to what a senator on behalf of the ACT should be doing.

If we look back at former Liberal senator Gary Humphries, he famously crossed the floor on these sorts of matters because he deemed them not to be for Canberra’s benefit. It’s been years since we’ve seen that sort of bravery in representation here in Canberra because of a career politician’s desire to pander to his own hard right supporters as opposed to representing the people of the territory.

I wouldn’t play politics with a matter in trying to restrict the territory’s rights to legislate. We are a democracy after all. I think it’s okay to have different views on matters.

The whole word parliament comes from the word “parlay”, which is to talk or to discuss. It’s good to have our representatives debating different opinions on matters but they must do so respectfully and I just don’t think that’s been done.

We had a broken promise to honour the territory’s view expressed through the postal vote on marriage equality where Senator Seselja promised to vote in line with Canberra’s views on the matter. He didn’t seem to have any problems breaking that promise. Why he made that commitment in the first place is beyond me. If he had an opinion on the matter then stick to that opinion. He should have known that the postal vote was going to come in overwhelmingly in support of marriage equality here in Canberra.

These are all examples of the misrepresentation that we’ve had and whilst I do criticise Zed a little bit here, on the other hand, Labor’s Katy Gallagher hasn’t done a thing for the city, either.

Q: What is your main policy platform as a Canberra independent candidate for the Senate?

A: I’m concerned with climate change and a lot of my concern is about the Coalition, specifically Energy Minister Angus Taylor. We’re not meeting our Paris commitments, emissions are going up and they will continue to go up with the Coalition.

But I’m equally concerned with Labor policy. We’ve got a situation right now where Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is the most unpopular Opposition leader ever. The fear I have is that with a fairly comfortable lead in the polls against the Coalition, Labor feels that it can bring in any policy it wants. I think its tax policies will be bad for Australia.

My focus with everything is on economic and social sustainability. This includes renewable energy. It is being argued in an ideological way but it isn’t an ideological matter. It’s very much science-based and very much economics-based and when we have renewables, which are clean and are cheaper, then that should be the end of that discussion. Renewables are now at a point where, without subsidiaries, they are competitive with fossil fuel.

We have a whole fleet of coal-fired power plants in Australia, which will have to be retired eventually, yet we remain in this policy vacuum. Similar to the business I’ve got, which proves that you can have clean energy that is cheaper than the grid energy, I just don’t understand how government continuously bashes its head against each other and, in the meantime, achieves nothing. That’s been my primary reason to become a candidate for the Senate but there’s a lot more to it than just that as well.

Q: What other policies will you focus on as a candidate?

A: A key issue for me is planning. We’ve got a lot of national capital areas within Canberra such as the Parliamentary Triangle and West Basin. There has been a lot of criticism about overdevelopment of apartments in Canberra, there’s been a bit of fear about the height of developments on Northbourne Avenue for example. That’s a Federal matter because Northbourne Avenue is a major point of entry into Canberra. Canberra should be iconic, it should be something that all Australians are proud of.

These are Federal matters and ones that I hope to take to the Senate and represent Canberra’s best interests. I will also fight for more resources for aged care and mental health care, and I’ll fight against cuts to health and Medicare funding.

Authorised by Anthony Pesec, Unit 6, Erindale Chambers, Grattan Court, Wanniassa, ACT, 2903.

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