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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 9928


Mr BALDWIN (8:30 PM) —I am delighted to be speaking on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002. This bill will strengthen legislation which is at the core of the government's commitment to increasing renewable energy use. I do not think there would be anyone in this House who would say that Australia should not be reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation which has a long history of producing energy through the emission of greenhouse gases, I am pleased to see this government taking a leading role in introducing measures that are looked upon as models for the rest of the world when it comes to reducing our emissions. I am also pleased to see that this government recognises not only the benefits of increasing the use of renewable energy but also that any measures introduced have to take into account our existing markets, which are a significant part of our economy and employment.

Representing a seat which is based partly in the Hunter Valley means that I am very familiar with the natural resources that Australia has, which have created employment for generations of families in this country. An example of this is coal and the port of Newcastle is the world's largest coal export port. Thousands of people in the Hunter Valley work in the coalmining industry and the region has a long history of open-cut and underground mines. My own electorate has the Stratford mine. The Hunter region also has a number of power stations including Bayswater, Liddell and Redbank. But the ALP's ongoing campaign for Australia to sign the Kyoto protocol threatens jobs in the electricity and coal industries.

The opposition has failed to recognise that ratifying the Kyoto protocol will damage Australian business and Australian jobs. It will impose legal obligations on our industries which our competitors overseas will not have and it will threaten investment decisions. Given the level of foreign investment in industries such as gas, alumina and aluminium production, coal and metals processing, and its importance in the Australian economy, it is a point that must be taken very seriously. We cannot afford to give a message to foreign investors that if they decide to invest here they run the risk of doing so with legal obligations that their competitors in other regions of the world do not have. This will threaten local industries that are based in regional areas and provide regional employment. Professor Warwick McKibbin states:

... the sum of the future costs to Australia of ratifying Kyoto far outweigh the sum of the future costs of not ratifying. More importantly there is a great deal of uncertainty about the extent of these costs ... Even our most optimistic assumptions support the government's decision about the long term costs of ratification. A key finding is that Australia needs to convince the rest of the world to try an alternative approach to Kyoto because Kyoto is clearly not in Australia's economic interest.

Our government has taken these factors into consideration and it believes that it is far more beneficial to design long-term measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have a global approach.

We should not forget the fact that the Kyoto protocol will make barely one per cent difference to global greenhouse gas emissions, that it fails to cover 75 per cent of global greenhouse emissions and that it does not involve developing countries. This in itself has tremendous problems, given that emissions coming from developing countries will be greater than those coming from developed countries in the next decade. The Labor Party's failure to come together on this issue was clearly demonstrated in September when the Queensland Premier endorsed the government's decision not to ratify the Kyoto protocol. He did that because he knows that ratification will risk jobs and investment in his state. In an interview he was quoted as saying:

There's only one state in Australia that would be advantaged economically by the Kyoto Protocols and that's NSW. I understand Bob's position but he is the only Australian Premier that wins from it.

I dispute the suggestion that New South Wales would win from the Kyoto protocol ratification, particularly when we look at the industries based in the Hunter region involved in energy and aluminium production. All of these industries rely heavily on electricity production and the effects of the Kyoto protocol would be devastating. On one hand you have a state premier saying that ratification is not good for his state and should not be done; on the other hand you have the federal Leader of the Opposition joining the Kyoto bandwagon saying that the government should ratify it. That is showing that the opposition is not listening to businesses and it is not looking at the long-term viability of our local industries and local jobs, in particular in regional areas. It is failing to look at the issue of how to balance the needs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with our own economic, business, emerging technology and employment needs.

When it comes to introducing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Australia has been a world leader. It was the coalition that established the Australian Greenhouse Office, which is the world's only national greenhouse dedicated agency responsible for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Investments include up to $114 million for the development and commercialisation of renewable energy; $31 million for the use of photovoltaic systems on residential buildings and community-use buildings; and up to an additional $179 million for the use of renewable energy for remote power generation. The government has also made a commitment to increase electricity from renewable resources from 10 to 12 per cent by 2010; accelerated reforms to improve the efficiency of energy production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; introduced the mandatory labelling of fuel efficiency for cars; implemented energy efficient building codes and standards and the $400 million Greenhouse Gas Abatement program, which will result in maximum emission reductions or sink enhancements; and last, but not least, provided $75 million in support for conversions and alternative fuels for commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, trains and ferries. These measures clearly show that this government is taking the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions very seriously and is doing so with a view to long-term solutions. Industry within Australia is also going a long way to develop new technologies to tap into renewable energy.

We are all familiar with the various alternatives available in renewable energy, including wind, water and solar power. Here in Australia, companies are developing technology around these basic alternatives, and they are coming up with amazing projects that have received funding and support from this government. Under the renewable energy industry program, CityPower in Victoria received a grant for a project which involved the installation of at least 50 grid-connected rooftop systems. The project was aimed at using these systems in domestic and small-scale commercial areas for the supply of electricity into the grid. Integral Energy in NSW received a grant for its Environmental Strategies Program, which aims to develop long-term business success for small and medium sized Australian manufacturers of renewable energy products, particularly in the South Pacific and South-East Asia. Solahart Industries received a grant for the commercialisation of an advanced pressed tray collector for solar hot water systems, aimed at tapping into the European market. The Sugar Research Institute and the Mackay Sugar Cooperative received a grant which went into a project that would improve the capacity and efficiency of existing boilers fired by bagasse, which is a biomass waste by-product in sugar mills. This project expands the potential of bagasse as a source of green energy. Ocean Power Technologies received funding for the construction and installation of a wave power generation system. It involves a generator, which looks like a large buoy and is moored off the Victorian coast. It generates renewable power for transmission to the mainland. Biomass Energy Services received a grant for a project that involves harvesting and processing noxious weeds and turning them into a solid and gaseous green energy. These amazing ideas are coming out of Australia, and they have the potential to be sold overseas. All this also shows the type of innovation that exists in this country and how we can tap into this innovation and create jobs from it.

The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 was a world-leading piece of legislation, and a number of countries have used it as a model for promoting renewable energy through a market based trading system. The act implements the mandatory energy target, which currently prescribes that an additional 9,500 gigawatt hours of electricity per year must be generated from renewable sources by 2010. This will result in annual greenhouse gas emission reductions of around seven million tonnes. Since coming into force on 1 April 2001, the act has performed strongly, with some 170 power stations accredited, representing a broad diversity of eligible renewable energy sources and technologies throughout the country. The first year's interim target of 300,000 renewable energy certificates, which represents 300,000 megawatt hours of renewables based electricity generation—or displacement in the case of solar water heaters—was met comfortably. So the measures introduced by this government are working, and they are going a long way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The administrative amendments contained in the bill we are discussing today will also provide for greater efficiency and effectiveness in the administration of the legislation. The scope of the amendments relates to the clarification of definitions, including those related to eligible renewable energy sources, components of a power station and relevant acquisitions of electricity and penalty charges, and the capacity of the Renewable Energy Regulator to vary decisions, including those related to energy acquisition statements, energy shortfall statements and the 1997 eligible renewable energy baseline for an accredited power station. This action may be at the regulator's own instigation or at the instigation of the liable party and it will be exercised in a limited number of circumstances.

The scope of the amendments also relates to the introduction of information-gathering powers to underpin the monitoring, auditing and compliance requirements of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2002 and to bring this legislation into line with similar pieces of Commonwealth legislation; the extension of authorised officers to include officers appointed by the Commonwealth and by state and territory governments; the capacity of the Renewable Energy Regulator to suspend entitlements, including the accreditation of a power station, in a number of limited circumstances; and, finally, the inclusion of administrative review provisions covering decisions by the Renewable Energy Regulator to take action to vary or suspend. This bill is full of positive measures that will benefit the environment and the industry alike. Therefore, I commend this bill to the House.