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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 10218

Mr HUNT (11:10 AM) —The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 is an important step towards fulfilling our generational responsibilities, from one generation to the next. Generational responsibility ranges across a variety of fields. We have an economic responsibility, as parents do to children, as one generation does to the next, to ensure that the steps we take today do not impoverish the generation tomorrow. We have a security responsibility to ensure that we put in place adequate protections so that the generation whether it be 10 years or 30 years from now has in place an adequate security environment. We have an ecological or environmental responsibility to ensure that we also take the same steps today to protect and nurture and to provide a better future on the environmental front for the next generation.

When you look at the general concept of intergenerational responsibility, of the task and duty that one generation owes to the next and that others have shown and given to us, that is where this bill comes in. It does so by seeking to make a significant contribution in that it helps to ensure that renewable based electricity generation in Australia changes from 10.7 per cent in 1990 to 12.7 per cent in 2010. In so doing it helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 700 million tonnes through following those processes. Interestingly, at the 2000 World Economic Forum, where a thousand of the world's business leaders and numerous political leaders and social leaders were polled, the number one issue that they described as being a threat and of concern to the long-term health of the globe was greenhouse gas emissions. While there is debate about that, there is little doubt—and it has certainly been accepted by the CSIRO in Australia—that it is a significant issue. That issue may have been displaced by two threats, the spread of HIV AIDS infection throughout the developing world and the threat of terrorism, but it remains an issue of paramount long-term generational importance to the world. In that context this bill, which is about encouraging a body such as Phoenix Windpower in my own electorate of Flinders or any of those organisations or any of those sources of power generation, be they wind, hydro, solar, biomass or tidal, is an important step forward. It is not the solution, it is not the end of the game; it is simply part of the process of moving forward.

I want to address the bill in three stages: firstly, the background; secondly, its importance; and, thirdly, the provisions of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002. Turning first to the background, the renewable energy bill is ultimately about increasing the supply of renewable energy in Australia, that energy that comes from sources which are natural and self-generating. The bill is about imposing tougher standards as well on those producers who attempt to defraud the current tradable permits system. The tradable permits system is a way of providing an economic instrument of achieving a desirable social, environmental and economic outcome.

The third thing about the bill is that it expresses the government's commitment to renewable energy and the objectives of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. That act promotes the use of renewable energy through a sophisticated and developed system of market based trading. The government's challenge is to produce an extra 9,500 gigawatt hours of renewable based electricity per year by the year 2010. So, very simply, the purpose of the bill is to resolve current challenges in the renewable energy sources scheme through adjustments to the legislation, and to provide new options.

The importance of the bill is twofold. First, it helps clarify key definitions about renewable energy, including guidelines on accredited power stations and the capacity to acquire new electricity resources. This information means that we are much better able to assess our progress, our challenges and our failures in providing the renewable energy that we need. It is both a desirable economic goal and a desirable environmental goal. The second important element of the bill is that it introduces new measures against producers who engage in illegal, inappropriate or fraudulent conduct.

There are three particular areas that this bill progresses in relation to combating fraudulent conduct. First, it introduces new penalties against gaming in the trading of emission rights, including the suspension of entitlements. What is gaming? Gaming is the manipulation of outputs for an increase in renewable energy certificates without actually increasing renewable energy production. It is taking smart steps to pretend that you are producing energy through renewable sources when you are not. That process of gaming is wrong. It is a fraudulent process that this bill seeks to address squarely and directly. The second of the measures against producers who engage in illegal practices is the appointment of officers empowered to enforce the guidelines and objectives of the renewable energy act. These officers play an important role in ensuring that the long-term actions that we want to introduce to reduce greenhouse gases are actually enforced. The third step to protect against illegal practices is to introduce new information-gathering powers to aid in the auditing, monitoring and compliance of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000.

I turn to the specific provisions of the bill. In essence, they amend the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. Perhaps most significantly, item 33 of schedule 1 of the bill outlines the definitions that constitute a renewable energy source. It changes the focus from the technologies—the means of producing the energy—to the sources from which they must come. So it provides greater flexibility; rather than closing off the technologies, it opens them up. The test must be whether or not these technologies genuinely use renewable sources in creating electricity. Wind, solar, hydro, tidal and biomass are all sources of renewable energy.

I want to focus very briefly on biomass because we have a significant problem within my electorate of Flinders. That is the problem created by the outfall of Boag's Rocks or Gunnamatta Beach. Daily, 420 million litres of secondary treated sewage flow out at Gunnamatta Beach. It is causing environmental damage to the area, it represents a health risk and, in the context of this bill, it also represents an extraordinary waste of renewable energy. Biomass—and there is much work to be done; I do not want to imply in any way that it is a completed process—offers a means of generating renewable energy. That 420 million litres contains a significant quantity of biomass. There is a great deal of treatment work that needs to be done, and this bill provides one of the incentives for biomass to be more effectively utilised in the future.

There are other provisions within the bill. Item 57 relates to the new penalties for producers who attempt to obtain tradeable permits by fraud. The regulator can now suspend a fraudulent supplier for up to two years. It is a powerful penalty, as anybody who seeks to perpetrate a fraud on the system of tradable permits will effectively risk crippling their business.

Ultimately, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 is about increasing the effectiveness of renewable energy within Australia. The bill is about demonstrating Australia's commitment to environmental sustainability. It is a step, though it is not the final step along the route. It demonstrates Australia's commitment by supporting the growth of renewable energy to 12.7 per cent of total electricity consumption by 2010, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 700 million tonnes in the above process and by ensuring that there is encouragement for Australian suppliers to move towards the position of creating greater renewable energy usage.

There is more to be done, but I want to thank in particular the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Environment Australia and the Australian Greenhouse Office for their work both on this bill and more generally in encouraging the use of renewable energy sources in Australia. Ultimately, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 is about creating an environmentally sustainable, competitive and efficient resource industry, and it does this by providing clear and relevant information on all issues relating to renewable energy production by providing a broader base, by providing incentives and by protecting against fraud. With the greatest enthusiasm, I commend this bill to the House.