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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7968

Ms PARKE (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the importance of renewable energy in meeting the challenge of climate change?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Fremantle for her question. Can I say to the House that, if we are serious about tackling the challenge of climate change, we have to move on multiple fronts. We have to move on the proper price of carbon—hence the government’s proposed legislation on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which those opposite chose to vote against last week. We as a government have also put forward a renewable energy target which will be a quadrupling of the number of gigawatt hours generated in this country through renewable energy sources by 2020.

We are also moving, as the Minister for Resources and Energy indicated before, on the question of carbon capture and storage. It is not just the global institute which we have constructed—the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, which was launched conjointly with a number of leaders from around the world in L’Aquila at the G8 Plus summit only last month. It is our domestic initiatives as well in terms of our proposed investment at scale in large-scale carbon capture and storage. Fourthly, we are moving also on energy efficiency—hence the government’s agreement with the state and territory governments on a new national energy efficiency strategy. As part of our economic stimulus strategy we are rolling out some $4 billion worth of investment in energy efficiency measures in people’s homes. As the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts just indicated before, we are also embarking upon a new set of measures to make it more possible for people to install solar panels on the roof. All these measures are necessary in our combined efforts on climate change.

On the question of renewable energy, we are dealing with the particular challenge which has been delivered to us by the fact that so much has not happened on renewable energies in this country for so long. Those opposite finally got around to setting a so-called mandatory renewable energy target of five per cent back in 2001. They then got together a report—led by, I think, then Senator Tambling, from memory—and decided in 2003, in the formal conclusions of that government-chaired report, that this was simply inadequate, that it was not going to give sufficient support to the renewable energy sector and it needed to be increased. The Tambling report, a bit like the Ergas review, fell off the edge of the table—gone, disappeared. It has gone into Davy Jones’s locker. Then we come to the eve of the last election, and those opposite say, ‘Finally, it’s time to do a little bit about renewable energy—we’ll have a 15 per cent target.’ Of course, we have seen from them no concrete policy since. But what has happened in the real economy since then?

Mr Hunt —What do you mean? How can you say something like that?

Mr RUDD —We particularly enjoy the interventions of the member for Flinders. As we know, he comes from a political party which constantly champions the cause of climate change. He has risen as a real leader amidst their ranks; hence the decisive policy they took on carbon pollution reduction last week and hence the decisive actions on boosting the renewable energy target when they had the opportunity to do so in government. In fact, his voice has counted for nothing.

Let us look at what companies had to say during the period when those opposite were in office. Look at what Roaring 40s had to say, for example, when they announced in 2006 that they were stopping work at Heemskirk in Tasmania and Waterloo in South Australia because of poor government support and a failure to increase the MRET. In May 2007, they said:

Without an increase in the initial [renewable energy] target level, electricity retailers are reluctant to commit to long-term REC deals which are crucial in financing renewable energy targets. Further substantial investment in the renewable energy industry is unlikely without an increase in the target.

That is the Roaring 40s company. From Pacific Hydro, in February 2007, there was a similar statement. Furthermore, the Vestas Nacelle company’s operations in Tasmania were affected by the absence of sufficient support by the previous government for renewable energy. But this one really gets me: Global Renewables, an Australian company, announced in March 2007 a $5 billion deal to cut greenhouse pollution in the UK because they could not get support for their technology here in Australia. The quote from them at the time is along the lines of:

In Australia there is no incentive to invest in our technology compared to cheaper options … which effectively allow polluting for free. We had to go to a jurisdiction that recognised our contribution to taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The member for Flinders protesteth too much. This is what these companies had to say not about what the previous government said but about what the previous government did or failed to do. That is the record and it is not just in terms of the individual stories of those individual companies; it is what the cumulative effect of that was, as the honourable member indicated in his answer before, of the overall decline in actual renewable energy generation during the period in which they were in office between 1997 and 2007. Hence the course of action we have before us now with the renewable energy target legislation which we have put forward.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: under standing order 100(e) the Prime Minister cannot refer to legislation that is currently before the House. I would remind you that we are right in the middle of a debate about the renewable energy target legislation in the House of Representatives. He cannot refer to the actual legislation or the debate. I therefore ask you to bring him back to the question.

Mr Price —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: I thought the anticipation rule had been removed some time ago.

The SPEAKER —One of the reasons that from time to time I have invited the House to review question time is owing to the problem we have where there is a whole host of rules about questions and one rule about the answers. If there had been reference to the debate in the question, that would have been out of order. I have to adjudicate whether the response is relevant to the question, and the response is relevant to the question. But I invite those that are concerned and who have frowns on their brows to speak to the Procedure Committee.

Mr RUDD —I have referred in my answer so far to what did not happen in the last decade or so on renewable energy. That is why the government has introduced its renewable energy target legislation—because we need to make a difference for the economy, for jobs and for the environment. And that is what we are getting on with the business of doing. Modelling produced for the Department of Climate Change in 2009 shows that the implementation of the expanded RET, together with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, if taken together, would lead to around $19 billion in investment in the renewable energy sector in the decade to 2020. Further, a 2009 Climate Institute study refers to the creation of 26,000 new jobs, primarily in regional areas. That is why we are getting on with the business of making sure that the renewable energy sector in this country has a future. That is why we are getting on with the business of ensuring that consumers have access to this scheme in order to provide support for the further installation of solar panels on their roofs. That is why we are getting on with the business of providing appropriate adjustment for businesses on the way through. But it all would have been that much simpler had those opposite instead risen to the challenge of leadership and put through legislation designed to create a proper carbon price, on the one hand through support for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and, on the other, supporting this particular means by which we provide further encouragement for the renewable energy sector—solar, wind and geothermal as well as wave and tidal and other forms of renewable energy. That is the way for the future.

Those opposite, in voting against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, have made the business compliance task for the Australian economy much harder than it need otherwise have been. Nonetheless, we have articulated our approach to this and we look forward to receiving what those opposite may have to say by way of amendments. Why have we had to do this? We have had to do this because at the end of last week they voted down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and we need to provide certainty for the renewable energy business for a scheme which will begin in January next year. Secondly, we also need to guard against the possibility that those opposite will again vote against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme come November, because, if we have seen this absolute explosion in party unity on the part of those opposite in their excitement to get behind the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme this time, what is going to happen next time given that they have no unity on this question at all? Thirdly, when it comes to the future of the renewable energy target regime, we need also to guard against the possibility that we are left in continued limbo into the future because of failed leadership on the part of those opposite.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition: it is time to put the partisan divide behind us. We need the national interest to prevail on this question of the future of climate change. It is time for us to act in the national interest in this parliament on something as critical for the economy and for climate change as the legislation which is now before the House. As the Leader of the Opposition finds this amusing, he finds it a matter for smirking, he finds it a matter of great general comic performance, I appeal to those opposite: this is not a matter on which the Australian people are prepared to tolerate your continued internal divisions. The challenge for those opposite is not, as the Leader of the Opposition sought to do on the weekend, to proclaim victory for the defeat of the carbon pollution reduction scheme. That is not leadership; that is a substitute for leadership. Real leadership means looking beyond the horizon and doing something for the future of climate change, doing something real for the future of renewable energy, and actually showing leadership with your own ranks so you can bring a united position to this debate and the critical one which now lies ahead in November. Therein lies the future. I suggest that he opposite, the Leader of the Opposition, lies firmly anchored in the past.

The SPEAKER —The eye contact was enough: I did indicate to the member for North Sydney that I had an announcement to make, and he did the right thing and cooperated—I am shocked, but maybe I should not be. I thank him.