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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12368

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (19:48): I am delighted to hear that there is excitement in Maranoa in terms of the future. There is optimism being generated in the communities in which I have been speaking about the Clean Energy Future, and particularly about what geothermal energy might offer, and I think this is something that is quite widespread around the country. People around the country are picking up on a sense of the future that this government is creating.

I rise to speak this evening in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011, which is furthering the Gillard government's commitment to ensuring that Australia works towards a clean energy future. This bill complements the clean energy bills recently passed though this place by establishing the Australian Renewable Energy Agency which will play a key role in the continuing development of our renewable energy industry. It will provide independent administration of Australian government funding to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy and related technologies and to increase the supply of renewable energy. The establishment of this agency demonstrates that the government is committed to ensuring accountability and transparency throughout the implementation and operation of the government's clean energy policies. Indeed, contrary to the allegations of those opposite, the government's objectives are to foster an environment encouraging investment in renewable energy.

The primary role of ARENA will be to provide financial assistance for the research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies. ARENA will also be responsible for developing skills in the renewable energy industry in addition to promoting collaboration on renewable technology innovation with state and territory governments and other institutions. In seats such as mine, the seat of Robertson on the Central Coast, I can only hope that very happy coalitions between the federal and state governments enable an increase in jobs. In regions such as mine we are certainly looking to have many, many job opportunities to keep people working in the area rather than having to get on trains and commute to Sydney for work, as is sadly currently the case for too many coastal residents.

Importantly, as stated by the minister, ARENA will have oversight of around $3.2 billion in existing renewable energy grant funding currently managed by the Australian government and by the federally-funded Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the Australian Solar Institute. The independent nature of ARENA will ensure that grant funding decisions will be made on a merit basis rather than on a political basis—and we sadly saw too much of that in the Howard years. In this regard, ARENA will be expected to develop programs and issue program guidelines for its general allocation of financial assistance.

The board of ARENA will consist of seven members with the skills required to administer the agency. This legislation provides decision-making authority to ARENA in a number of areas. First, ARENA is to administer around $1.5 billion in current renewable energy technology funding agreements. Second, ARENA is to determine its funding strategy and develop and manage programs for funding for around $1.7 billion in unallocated funds. This is an incredible investment in our future. Third, ARENA will have the authority to select projects and make binding funding decisions for provision of financial assistance for research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies.

Importantly, whilst the decision-making authority of ARENA is independent from government direction, important safeguards remain in place. That is a question of balance and care that this government is consistently attending to. The minister is to endorse the ARENA funding strategy and any grant where the amount exceeds $50 million. There are also requirements for the minister to endorse program guidelines where the guidelines permit grants in excess of $15 million to an individual project. Additionally, this bill specifies that the minister may give directions to ARENA regarding the giving of advice in relation to improving the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies. This requirement also extends to the giving of advice regarding increasing the supply of renewable energy in Australia, improving the development of skills in the renewable energy sector and increasing the use of renewable energy technologies.

This bill is a vital component in the Gillard government's commitment to ensure that Australia plays a leading role in our own clean energy future. It is vital that, in a country with a high abundance of renewable resources, including solar, wind and geothermal—about which many of the participants in this debate have spoken this evening—that we make appropriate investments and utilise them.

This contrasts quite markedly with the policy of those opposite, which is to continue our reliance on fossil fuels and increase our consumption of these into the future. It is only those opposite who, despite the prevailing wisdom of the CSIRO and the consensus of the scientific community, believe that our reliance on fossil fuels has little or no environmental impact. The government, on the other hand, recognises the importance of acting in the national interest by investing long term in renewable energy and renewable energy technologies. This bill demonstrates the commitment of this Labor government to act in the long-term interests of the Australian economy, to ensure that we properly utilise our natural resources.

As stated by the minister, the definition of 'renewable energy technology' in this bill includes hybrid technologies. Hybrid technologies are a vital component in the ongoing development of a clean energy future and, as we have witnessed, hybrid cars are becoming an increasingly important component of our domestic car market. Indeed, representing an electorate with a large commuter population, I recognise the potential that hybrid technologies will play in cutting our emissions. As people like me and my family in the seat of Robertson replace family and small business vehicles, we will be increasingly considering energy-efficient vehicles that employ these hybrid technologies. The inclusion of hybrid technologies into the bill will improve the economics of renewable energy projects because of the significant advancements that have been made in this area of technology. As stated by the minister, ARENA is going to support a number of existing projects that include hybridisation. A few I want to mention in particular include the Solar Flagships' program Solar Dawn, the King Island REDP project and the ACRE Kogan Creek Solar Boost project, about which a number of other participants in the debate have spoken.

We should be excited that we are being innovative as a nation. Labor is leading with this landmark legislation towards a clean energy future. I firmly believe that in the 21st century we will witness an economic and social transformation akin to the industrial revolution in this field of new, clean energy. This is what a clean energy future is all about. I understand that underpinning the strength of the Australian economy is its capacity to grow, develop and offer increasing opportunities to the Australian people. With the prospect of 1.6 million new jobs created by our Clean Energy Future before 2020, that is exactly the kind of initiative that the people in the seat of Robertson are yearning for in terms of the leadership that they seek from us here in parliament.

Like all members in this place, I delight in the health of the Australian economy. This is a time when the global economy is facing unresolved challenges, but we are strong. I also delight in the continuing growth of the Australian mining industry and the opportunity that that presents to us as the Australian nation. In the introduction of the minerals resource rent tax legislation coming later this week, we see Labor's commitment to make sure that at this historic moment of opportunity, with the incredible resources boom, that the resources that belong to all Australians, and the benefits of that industry, are spread to all Australians across the nation instead of being captured by a few or indeed taken offshore in excessive profits by mining companies.

Despite this, it is unsustainable for us to continue to grow economically if we adhere to the coalition's backward looking stance and rely on carbon. Even Margaret Thatcher, an icon to those opposite, recognised the importance of acting on climate change. Indeed, Mrs Thatcher stated during her term as British Prime Minister that the threat of global warming was:

… real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, to that we do not live at the expense of future generations.

I do not believe it is too much to ask those opposite to sacrifice their rear-vision, out-of-date view and turn their gaze to the future.

As part of the Gillard government's policies on a clean energy future, this legislation will assist us in making the changes necessary to ensure that as a nation we do not live knowingly and willingly at the expense of future generations. The government and members on this side of the House have worked to make the right decisions for our nation's future. In contrast, those opposite and their shock jock supporters, who have attempted to wage an ideological war, seek to malign scientists and science in a way I have never before witnessed in my life. Growing up, doing projects even on things such as the sugar industry, I learned that the highest source of authority you could go to was the CSIRO, yet we have heard scientific agencies right across this nation maligned time and time again by those opposite, who are only interested in peddling their own brand of misinformation for their self-interest, not the national interest.

The act of putting a price on carbon and investing in renewable energy is a critical thing for our nation. It is based on doing the right thing and acting in a proactive manner to ensure that our economic growth does not compromise future generations. I want my children and grandchildren—indeed, all Australian children and grandchildren—to look to the future with hope and optimism, just as I did in my youth.

With the passing of this bill and the clean energy future legislation I know that we can look forward to that future with hope, with optimism and with anticipation. They clean energy fuels are the fuels that will, unlike fossil fuels, drive our young people to great heights. We simply have to give them the opportunities, and that is part of what this legislation will ensure.

I see a future where Australia is a renewable energy powerhouse in a clean energy global economy. To achieve this, however, we need to be proactive and the Gillard Labor government has taken the tough decisions necessary for that proactive government to be delivered. I am proud to support this visionary government and I hope that this parliament shows that it is ready and progressive by passing this legislation at the earliest opportunity. I commend the bill to the House.