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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 21817


Senator LEES (2:39 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Macdonald, Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. I ask the minister why there is still no announcement of a new mandatory renewable energy target by the government. The MRET report was presented when we were not sitting, back in January. I ask the minister why more and more money is being poured into the coal industry but nothing is said about renewable energy. Specifically, will the environment minister insist on an increase in the mandatory renewable energy target and will the government commit to a realistic target that will give a boost to these industries or do they plan to just keep funding coal research? I noticed the geosequestration announcement today. The renewable industries do not want any money. They want a new target set very quickly.


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I thank Senator Lees for her question. She would be aware, as all senators would be aware, that the Howard government is very keen and very much to the fore in promoting renewable energy. Renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro have taken great steps forward because of the forward thinking of the Howard government. Members on both sides of the house would realise that our mandatory renewable energy target scheme has been responsible for the burgeoning renewable energy sector in Australia. As required by the enabling legislation, a review of the scheme was conducted last year and the government tabled the report in January this year. We remain committed to the mandatory renewable energy target and we are very carefully considering our response in the context of formulating Australia's forward strategy on climate change and energy policy. In contrast, Labor's approach has been fairly predictable—and predictably slipshod. Labor nominated a new target without consideration of the cost to consumers or high energy users who ultimately pay for this scheme.

As I said, that reflects Labor's new approach to policy. It has had no new policies since 1996 and we are now seeing a return to the old ways of Labor letting special interest groups dictate its policy. I can tell Senator Lees again that the mandatory renewable energy target review is being closely considered by the government and I expect that a decision in relation to that will be made in the not too distant future. I might also say, while I am on my feet, that one of the renewable energy sources in Australia could be the waste product from the timber industry.


Senator Boswell —And from sugar cane.


Senator IAN MACDONALD —And from sugar cane. Senator Boswell, thank you for reminding me of that. There are real benefits to Australia if we use renewable energy and I am a bit disturbed that at times some of the senators in this chamber hesitate about using offcuts and waste from the timber industry—wood that has already been used for another process—in renewable energy. I hope that all senators in this chamber will assist the timber industry in making sure that those waste products from timber are useable. As Senator Boswell has said, the sugar industry is diversifying and readjusting. It wants to look to its own future from its own resources, and renewable energy is one of the very important aspects that the sugar industry will be looking at as it considers its future.


Senator LEES —I have a supplementary question. I would like to pick up on the last point that the minister made in his answer. If we are going to assist the sugar industry we need to increase the target. If you are serious about your support for solar and wind energy—and hopefully cogeneration—then the target has to be increased. I ask the minister: can he guarantee—or can he ask the environment minister to guarantee—that the target is going to be increased and that we will have the announcement within the next few weeks? Does he agree that there are five jobs in these new industries for every one in the coal industry?


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I do accept that there are a lot of jobs in the renewable energy industry, as there are in all the energy industries. The government does have to look at a number of issues. Cost is an issue, as are the various industries that compose Australia's energy industry and the jobs that they create. These are all things that we have to look at. I am not going to guarantee anything to Senator Lees today, but I can assure Senator Lees that, very shortly, all will be revealed when the government makes its response to this review.