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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 25

Mr BALDWIN (10:19 AM) —I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

The amendments made by the Senate to the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Bill 2005 respond to the majority recommendations of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee and improve related areas of the bill. (Quorum formed) The Energy Efficiency Opportunities measure is aimed at improved business energy efficiency, which will reduce the growth in demand for energy, reduce the growth in greenhouse emissions and delay the need to build new energy generation capacity while improving the competitiveness and productivity of business. From July 2006, around 250 corporations that use more than half a petajoule of energy per year will be required to undertake rigorous energy efficiency opportunity assessments every five years and report publicly on the outcomes, including their business response.

Businesses have stated strong support for the Energy Efficiency Opportunities program but asked for some changes to the details in the bill. The government considers the amendments will make the bill more practical, more workable and less burdensome for business. The amendments introduce significantly enhanced flexibility in public reporting under the bill to allow a wider and more practical range of company officers to sign public reports while still requiring board level consideration. Subsidiary bodies including joint ventures within the corporate group can also report on their own operations rather than through the parent body. These arrangements will ensure that energy use is given consideration as a strategic issue by firms but address industry concerns about the practicality of having the board as a single point of sign-off for reports. (Extension of time granted)

The amendments also emphasise that reporting will not be any more frequent than annually. The actual frequency will be defined in regulations and based on consultation with industry stakeholders. The amendments clarify the scope of obligations and regulation-making powers in a number of sections of the bill to make sure that their intent is clear and not open-ended. The government is holding open and intensive consultations on the development of the regulations and guidelines for the program—there were over 400 participants in workshops held over October and November 2005. The draft regulations and guidelines will be available for public comment and submissions in April 2006, before the new regulations are made and tabled for parliamentary review.

The amendments have emphasised the offences provided by section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914 for misuse of information supplied to government. These offences will cover unauthorised release of confidential information and will apply to consultants and contractors as well as Commonwealth employees. The jail penalty for refusing to cooperate with an authorised officer under a warrant has been replaced with a fine, more in keeping with a regulatory bill. There are also a number of minor technical amendments. The amendments have no additional financial impact on the Commonwealth.

Question agreed to.