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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4076

Mr KATTER (3:16 PM) —My question without notice is to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would be aware that the northern one-third of Australia has over 50 per cent of our arable land and 305 million megalitres of our annual rainfall, whilst the remaining two-thirds has only 83 million megalitres. Since the southern two-thirds produces 89 per cent of Australia’s agriculture, most off the Murray-Darling, would he not agree that past governments have overtaxed the south’s resources, whilst in sharp contrast north Australians have suffered an ever-increasing deprivation of their land and water resources? Finally, in the light of this, could the Prime Minister consider the radical proposed North Australia clean energy corridor which, whilst providing one-tenth of the government’s clean energy targets, would only utilise a miniscule one-tenth of one-hundredth of this water and land resource? Alternatively, could the Prime Minister remove the reference to ‘golden soil and wealth for toil’ from our national anthem?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Kennedy for one of his characteristically challengingly questions. I also note, by the way, for the honourable member asking this question, that part of the government’s nation building for recovery program includes a $18 million investment in the Ironsley Bridge in the honourable member’s electorate. I understand that it is a project which has been waiting some decades to be done. I understand that previous governments may have neglected to invest in that bridge. We are proud of the fact that we have done so. I am proud of the fact also that the minister for infrastructure has sought to intervene here. As I think he said himself, this particular proposal constituted an exception to the normal consideration of this matter, particularly given the impact which flooding has had on local communities over such a long period of time.

On the broader question which the member asks, about clean energy—and he made a particular reference to a clean energy initiative—I am not familiar with its detail. However, if the initiative is well constructed and well deliberated on, then I am confident that both the minister for the environment and the minister for energy would be keen to examine it and to provide him with a direct response.

On clean energy more broadly, I simply say this. Firstly, the government of course has embraced a renewable energy target for Australia. Secondly, the government has also in the budget allocated some $4.5 billion for investment in a range of clean energy proposals, one of which relates to how we advance clean coal technologies across Australia. The $2 billion-plus proposed investment in a range of clean coal technologies, both brown and black coal, against the raft of carbon capture and storage technologies is very important to the future of our coal industry. On the pure renewables side, our proposal to allocate some $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion for investment in what the government hopes will be the largest solar energy project anywhere in the world, equivalent to 1,000 megawatts, is also worth backing.

The third element of the government’s clean energy strategy rests upon the other category of renewable energy projects. While the minister for energy is absent today, I am sure that he would not mind me saying that the response to his application for tender and applications of expressions of interest from the renewable energy sector in response to the government’s $500 million renewable energy fund has been quite extraordinary. My recollection is that there are more than 60 projects put forward—small ones, and medium to large ones—and from memory the range goes from something like two megawatts to something like 200 megawatts across the entire raft of energy technologies, including solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, as well as others. This is an important part also of Australian moving to a cleaner energy future.

This is what the government are doing by way of direct investment or co-investment with businesses, including our largest coal companies down to our smallest renewable energy companies, in order to place Australia onto a more secure renewable energy footing for the future. Secondly, we are also seeking to do so by advancing our renewable energy target as well.

I might just add one more point to the honourable member’s question. Part and parcel of getting the price signals for this right, of course, is to seek early passage of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme through the parliament. This government have endorsed and ratified Kyoto. We have put forward a clear proposal as to how we intend to deal with this. We have obtained support from the three principal conservation organisations—the Climate Institute, the WWF, as well as the ACF. We have obtained support also from the BCA and from the AiG. We are therefore advancing this proposal—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr RUDD —It is interesting that those opposite would again seek to launch attacks on industry organisations with whom from time to time they may politically disagree. But returning to the point about the CPRS, the government is proceeding with what is necessary for the nation to establish long-term predictability for the price of carbon and also to encourage the further development of the renewable energy sector in Australia. That is really important.

Our strategy is clear. After listening to Senator Boswell today, I would like to know where those opposite stand on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. They say that they are engaging the government in dialogue. The National Party said today that the government has no hope of obtaining any National Party support. I look forward to what leadership is provided by the Leader of the Liberal Party on this matter when the joint party room meets within the next 24 hours.