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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 9945


Ms JULIE BISHOP (9:56 PM) —I rise tonight to speak in support of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002. The bill, administrative and technical as its provisions may be, serves the purpose of bringing debate before this House on the Australian environment and the public policy deployed by the Commonwealth government to remedy and safeguard that environment. There is little doubt that the 6½ years that have passed since the election of the first Howard government have been to the lasting, substantive benefit of the Australian environment. One would not think so, if forced to rely solely on the protestations of those who make their living as crusaders against development or on the more hackneyed journalistic efforts on this topic. To them, the environment is just another cultural issue where the winner is surely she or he who can best empathise, who can mouth the most fashionable platitude and who can generate the biggest stunt or steal the five-second grab.

In the meantime, the people who actually care for the environment—the people who wish to ameliorate negative externalities associated with modern life and who wish to ensure that a balance is reached between the needs of mankind and the needs of nature—are getting on with the job, supported every step of the way by a government that gauges success by evidence, not by newspaper headlines. By building partnerships between industry, communities and governments, the Commonwealth has made significant advances in recent years in managing and protecting the environment. These successes include focusing attention on oceans, through Australia's oceans policy, introducing new national environment protection legislation and involving Australian communities in the repair and conservation of their own environments through the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

In the field of energy and climate policy, the federal government has been equally sure-footed. In the face of often wildly dishonest and sometimes just plain hysterical lobbying from so-called professional environmentalists, the Howard government has reiterated that it will not ratify the Kyoto protocol unless and until it is demonstrated that it is in the national interest to do so. Instead, it will continue to work with industry and agriculture so that Australia can achieve by 2012 the target of 108 per cent of our 1990 greenhouse gas emissions. Australia will also strive for a more effective global response to climate change—a response that maintains high living standards in this country. It is important to grasp that, by expressing scepticism about the Kyoto protocol, the government is not expressing scepticism about cutting greenhouse gases.

As the Minister for the Environment and Heritage noted in his press release dated 18 November:

The Federal government is already committed to meeting Australia's Kyoto target and has committed $1 billion to abatement programmes.

What is more, two expert reports on the costs of ratifying the Kyoto protocol have concluded that the long-term costs of ratification outweigh the short-term benefits. And those benefits are confined almost wholly to the state of New South Wales. That is why the Premier of New South Wales has gone out on a limb on this issue. But opinion north and west of the premier state is considerably less acquiescent. Mr Carr's counterpart in Brisbane, Mr Beattie, stated:

There is only one state in Australia that would be advantaged economically by the Kyoto protocols and that's New South Wales ... The rest of us are disadvantaged.

The Premier of Western Australia, Dr Gallop, said:

I am not happy about the Commonwealth just signing up ... we shouldn't sign it until all of the states and territories have been properly involved in the process so we're not disadvantaged.

The stance presented by Mr Beattie and Dr Gallop is quite refreshing. It acknowledges that resource based economies like Queensland and Western Australia would be disadvantaged significantly by the submission of the Commonwealth to the position advocated by the federal opposition. This presents a dilemma to the opposition members of this House from states like Western Australia. It is incumbent upon such members, like the member for Hasluck—to whom I listened earlier on this bill when she was effectively opposing Dr Gallop's stance—and the members for Swan, Stirling and Cowan to support the federal and Gallop governments' united front on Kyoto.

Western Australia's mining and other resource industries not only produce profits for the balance sheets of the companies on St George's Terrace but also put food on the table in Carlisle, Balcatta and Alexander Heights. Their royalties help fund schools in Canning Vale and the police in Dianella and in Gosnells. Anything that represents a threat to our state's development is a serious threat to the prosperous future of our community. It might be hard for the member for Perth, who is in the shadow cabinet, but the member for Brand is not and the member for Fremantle certainly is not. These members, along with their colleagues in the swinging seats of suburban Perth, should do all in their power to ensure that their comrades in New South Wales cease and desist.

The Kyoto protocol in its present manifestation will do nothing for Australia's environment, or the global environment for that matter, but it will surely be an economic disaster for Western Australia. The member for Hasluck concedes tonight that the Kyoto protocol is not perfect, but she and other Western Australian Labor members should do the right thing by their electorates and eschew the politics of symbolism for public policy based on facts. The Kyoto protocol is flawed. It will deliver only one per cent of cuts when much more substantial cuts are required. It exempts developing countries when it is those countries that are emerging as the planet's heaviest atmospheric polluters.

The federal government recognises that public policy should rest on science and reason rather than symbolism and has sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without recourse to economic lunacy through programs like Cities for Climate Protection and the Greenhouse Challenge. The federal government has also established the Australian Greenhouse Office, the world's only national greenhouse dedicated agency responsible for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and has allocated from the federal budget $1 billion for abatement measures, including up to $114.3 million for the development and commercialisation of renewable energy; $31 million for the use of photovoltaic systems on residential buildings and community-use buildings; the $400 million Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program that will result in maximum emission reductions or sink enhancements; and $75 million in support for conversions to alternative fuels for commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, trains and ferries; and up to an additional $179.4 million for the use of renewables for remote power generation.

As well, the federal government has accelerated reforms to improve the efficiency of energy production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; introduced the mandatory labelling of automotive fuel efficiency; implemented energy efficiency building codes and standards; and fostered plantation forestry and revegetation to provide carbon dioxide sinks. To facilitate these reforms, the federal government passed the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Bill in 2000. That legislation requires retailers of electricity and liable entities—that is, large scale purchasers of electricity—to collectively source an increased 9,500 gigawatts of electricity—an increase from 10.7 per cent to 12.7 per cent; the equivalent of two new Snowy Mountains hydro-electric schemes—from renewable resources by 2010. In this context renewable energy means sources such as wind, solar, hydro, and methane from landfill. The measure would have the effect of both increasing investment in renewable energy production and reducing greenhouse emissions.

The measures before the House tonight will improve the renewable energy certificates—or RECs—implemented by the act. Definitions and provisions in the act will be clarified, including those related to eligible renewable energy sources, relevant acquisitions of electricity, RECs for solar water heaters, penalty charges and power station components. The Renewable Energy Regulator will be empowered to vary a number of assessments and determinations made under the act, including varying the energy acquisition statement, the renewable energy shortfall statement and the 1997 eligible renewable energy baselines for accredited power stations. The regulator will also be granted information-gathering powers for the purposes of more effective monitoring and compliance.

Finally, the bill provides for the suspension of accredited power stations where, for example, gaming is suspected. Gaming in this context refers to the manipulation of outputs in order to artificially increase RECs without actually increasing the production of renewable energy. The greenhouse abatement measures adopted by the federal government since 1996 are on track to deliver emission reductions of around 60 million tonnes annually. To put this figure in perspective, that is the equivalent of removing every single passenger vehicle from Australia's roads. The bill before the House, by improving the working operations of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act, will contribute to that reduction in emissions. Accordingly, I commend the bill to the House.