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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 10221

Ms HALL (11:21 AM) —The government's performance in the environmental area has been less than commendable. Over a long period, the government has shown that it has no or very little commitment to long-term environmental issues. When we hear the Minister for the Environment and Heritage talking about issues in the House, he tends to stand and talk about touchy-feely issues that have the support of the whole of the Australian population, like whale watching and preserving and protecting whales. These are very important issues, but there are other issues that are extremely important—and one of those is renewable energy. Whilst we on this side of the chamber will be supporting the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002, I would be very remiss if I did not express in the strongest terms my disappointment with the government for the way that it has performed in this area.

The member for Flinders spoke about intergenerational responsibility. I do not think there is any area where we have a greater intergenerational responsibility than the environment. It is not only about the environment; it is about our future as a country. The environment goes across all areas of government, and it is extremely important that we ensure sustainability. Without environmental sustainability, which links into economic sustainability, we as a country face a very bleak future.

The member for Flinders also spoke about ecological responsibility—that we need to protect and nurture our environment. I agree wholeheartedly with the member for Flinders on this. He says that this is a step along the way. I would argue that it is a very small step; it is not enough. We really need to make a substantial commitment to the environment. I see renewable energy and research into renewable energy as being one of the areas that are so important.

I come from a region that is rich in coal. The coal industry is extremely important to Australia. I believe that we should protect jobs; that is a very important part of our economy. We need to ensure that it grows and prospers. But there is the other side of it: coal is a finite resource. Unless we look to the future, unless we seriously consider that intergenerational responsibility in Australia and throughout the world, we will bear the brunt of being a short-sighted, inward looking nation that just reacts to the immediate issue and the pressures that are placed upon us at that moment. Our approach to energy, the environment and sustainability really worries me.

One issue that has been very prominent in today's news is the fact that the government has announced that it will no longer fund the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy. Here we are today debating the renewable energy amendment bill, and at the same time the government is refusing to give any money to the centre. This is very sad. On one hand, the government is cutting funding to the research centre in the area of renewable energy; on the other hand, it is giving $68.5 million to the mining industry. That is an industry that I support, and that money will be used for them to implement changes, to operate in a cleaner, greener way. But we also need to have money put into this alternate area. It is very sad that we have a government which really has no credibility whatsoever in the area of renewable energy. This decision demonstrates that very clearly.

This government is attacking the renewable energy industry rather than making a commitment to it. When it came to office, it cut all funding and shut down the energy R&D corporation. The Australian Greenhouse Office has now exhausted its funds for supporting renewable energy, and the Photovoltaic Rebate Program has been significantly underspent this year. The questions I ask are these: where are we going with research into renewable energy? Who will fund it? What incentives is the government putting in place? I believe the government really has shown that it has a total lack of integrity and commitment in this area. It makes me very sad. We are actually losing opportunities in the area of employment, which I will talk about a little later, and as a nation we are showing that we are very short-sighted.

I believe that this is another example of just following the United States, and I will talk a little about that later. There has been the failure of the government to ratify the Kyoto agreement; and the government has just adopted policies that have been adopted in the US rather than looking at these issues from an Australian point of view, embracing new technologies and new ideas and actually trying to be a leader. In Australia we are in a position where we could be a leader in the field of renewable energy; we could link that into the strong energy base we already have in Australia. Instead, we are putting our heads in the sand and not really embracing the opportunities that exist. The government has failed to fully understand the implications of greenhouse or has decided that it will not have to address the problem—that that will be for a government in the future. The impacts of climatic change will get worse. We will have more extreme climatic episodes. We will have more droughts, floods, hurricanes and cyclones. These are all side effects—

Ms HALL —I hear the member for Kalgoorlie on the other side showing his contempt for the environment and his total lack of understanding of issues relating to energy. We have already seen the effect of greenhouse warming on coral in the Great Barrier Reef with the bleaching of the coral. We need to seriously address this issue. I wholeheartedly support the proposal by the shadow minister for environment and heritage that the mandatory renewable energy level be increasedto five per cent. I noticed in an article I read that Greenpeace argue that the mandatory renewable energy target should be increased to 10 per cent. We on this side feel that the current two per cent target is not sufficient and we would like to see that increased to five per cent, as outlined by the shadow minister in his speech in this debate.

The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 aims to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and administrative integrity of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. I spoke on that legislation in 2000 and detailed some of my concerns and some of the issues that I felt needed to be addressed. It is good that we are coming back to make it a more workable document, but I am sad that it does not go far enough. It does not look at all of the opportunities we could gain from making a greater commitment to renewable energy. That is very sad. The bill clarifies definitions used in the act, including the definition of `eligible renewable energy sources', and covers all of the other issues that have been raised by previous speakers. I will not go into those, because I would be repeating what has already been said in the debate. In the time I have left, I will touch on a couple of other issues and look in particular at some of the activities happening in the area that I represent in this parliament.

Firstly, I draw the distinction between the government and the opposition in this area. The government is looking at administrative issues—things that we support—but it has a two per cent target, it is following the US and it fails to ratify the Kyoto protocol. On the other hand, the opposition are looking at creative ways to use new technology and embrace the renewable energy industry, seeing it as a future for Australia and an opportunity that Australia can become involved in. We are looking at increasing the mandatory target to five per cent and we believe in signing the Kyoto protocol. I do not think you could have a greater distinction between two approaches than that between the government and the opposition. The government is maintaining the status quo and just giving lip-service to developing the renewable energy industry, and the opposition are about embracing opportunity and the future. So we have one side in this chamber stuck in the past and trying to do everything it can to minimise its commitment in this area, and we have the opposition—which will be the government in the future—embracing new ideas and realising that it is important to invest in this area rather than take money out of research and development relating to renewable energy.

Before going to what is happening within my own electorate, I would like to refer to the Origin Energy report entitled Incremental electricity supply costs from additional renewable and gas-fired generation in Australia. The report addresses some of the fallacies that have been raised in this area. I recommend the report to members in this House. The report shows that our greenhouse emissions could be substantially reduced at a modest cost to the electricity supply industry and without damage to our relative international competitiveness and also addresses all the pluses renewable energy has for the environment. The report was brought out on 23 August and it is well and truly worth examining. I am sure members on the other side of the House will find it most edifying.

When I spoke on this bill back in 2000, I highlighted some of the initiatives that were being taken within the Hunter. I detailed to the House the fact that Pacific Power has a strong renewable group and that Energy Australia—the electricity distributor in the area—has taken a lot of initiatives in this area. The Hunter region as a whole has a very strong commitment to renewable and sustainable industries. As members of this House would know, the Hunter area has a very strong industry base and a strong coalmining history that we are very proud of and wish to see continue. The industry development centre in the Hunter has for some time been giving priority to the development of sustainable energy industries with clusters concentrated on the development of environmentally friendly commercial activities. The Newcastle council has also been involved in a number of activities through its business unit.

I would like to touch on Energy Australia very quickly. Energy Australia was the first company to introduce a `Pure Energy' renewable energy scheme. The scheme was introduced in 1996 and has flourished. It was an initiative of and supported by the Carr government. This once again contrasts the difference between governments: a government that is prepared to look at new initiatives, particularly in the area of renewable energy, and a government that has a closed mind and wants to maintain the status quo and do the least it possibly in the renewable energy industry.

I commend the bill to the House, but I encourage the government to open its mind, look at more initiatives and take this matter further. A two per cent target is not good enough. The government needs to look at some of the initiatives that have been taken in the Hunter, particularly the initiative of Energy Australia, which was introduced through the far-sightedness of the Carr government. I believe that, unless we address this issue as a nation, the future for Australia is rather bleak.