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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4242

Mr BILLSON (8:46 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on two grievances. The first grievance I share with many in Australia who have seen through the wheel spins and the word spinning of the Rudd government to recognise that Labor’s sustainability agenda is all announcements and no action. Australians with an interest in improving the sustainability of our economy and our lifestyle will be left scratching their heads after the Rudd government once again rebadged existing programs and moved money around as a poor substitute for real action and progress.

The Rudd budget axed or wound back more than 10 sustainability programs, some of which had not survived a year or progressed beyond the spin of a political announcement, only to replace them with a new set of headline-seeking announcements with no action in sight. Many of the axed programs dealing with improving the energy efficiency of our buildings, homes, workplaces and appliances have seen incentives for action replaced, delayed or substituted for yet-to-be announced regulatory requirements that have not been finalised or agreed.

The Rudd government simply repackaged commitments announced in the Council of Australian Governments’ communique from a fortnight earlier, when dealing with building requirements, appliance standards, rating tools, labelling and energy efficiency, and claimed them as a new $62 million National Strategy on Energy Efficiency. Most elements of the Rudd government’s National Strategy on Energy Efficiency are conditional on yet-to-be-commenced regulatory impact analysis processes and still require agreement between all state and territory governments, which have traditionally each wanted to go their own way. It could be well beyond next year’s budget before any clear progress is made and the building construction and management industry and builders, occupiers and consumers have any clarity about the new prescriptive demands the Rudd government wants to impose on them.

The National Strategy on Energy Efficiency is not to be confused with The National Energy Efficiency Initiative, which is being spun by the Rudd government as ‘smart grids’ for the nation. The budget detail, however, reveals that this ‘$100 million program for an integrated system of renewable energy’ is for just one regional city of at least 25,000 people. While the Rudd government might claim to tick the box on smart grids, no thresholds, requirements or prerequisites for town selection were detailed in the budget. Let us hope that the process for selecting the regional centre or town to receive the National Energy Efficiency Initiative funding is more open and transparent than the way in which the Rudd government moved away from an open, transparent and evidence based Infrastructure Australia process to select some of the infrastructure projects proclaimed in the recent budget.

The Rudd government, without explanation or justification, overlooked and varied projects recommended by Infrastructure Australia, reannounced old projects and, in some cases, substituted its own as part of a road, rail and urban transit budget package that is scaled down from the former Howard government’s ambitious Auslink 2 agenda. This government seems to be focused on rebadging, redirecting or rolling over old programs as new announcements in the hope that people will happily accept their media spin and these announcements as substitutes for real sustainability action and substance.

Labor again missed another opportunity in the budget to make a real and meaningful advance in addressing energy efficiency in Australia’s existing building stock. While Australians will pay for Labor’s reckless spending spree over the past 18 months, we have not seen any tangible action to provide incentives and encouragement to deal with energy or environmental sustainability improvements in the existing built environment that already the advantage of having embedded construction emissions already in place. There is no obstacle to the Rudd government embracing the coalition’s green building depreciation initiative as a cost-effective sustainability measure and a practical stimulus step, and yet the Rudd government has passed up the opportunity.

The measure announced by the opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, will introduce accelerated depreciation rates for green building capital spending by doubling the depreciation for energy efficient, sustainable building measures. Instead, the Rudd government has chosen to direct building owners, managers, occupiers and the construction industry professionals on what they should be doing, without providing encouragement for sustainability improvements that are most cost-effective for individual buildings and their particular uses. This is another example of Labor’s short-sighted and confused approach to securing real and meaningful improvements in the sustainability of the built environment, and again it was illustrated by the changing, rebadging and lack of decisive action in the recent budget.

We did look, though, to see what is happening in a tangible sense, and I draw the parliament’s attention to the 30 May 2007 policy commitment by the then Rudd Labor opposition. It said, to great acclaim: ‘A Rudd Labor government to tackle climate change by example’. When we look for the example what do we find? The then opposition leader, the now Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced in his words ‘a new bold, wide-ranging initiative to reduce energy and water use by the Commonwealth government’. The statement went on to say:

A Labor government will lead by example using its enormous purchasing power to drive markets for cleaner and greener goods and services helping to bring down prices for all Australians.

Amongst other things, one of those commitments was to ‘set an objective to power Parliament House and all MP electorate offices with renewable and clean energy’. Given that commitment, you could see why it would be an appropriate question to ask in Senate estimates. What has happened to the Rudd government with its election commitment to green power Parliament House? After 18 months in government Parliament House is yet to benefit from Mr Rudd’s election commitment that a Labor government would lead by example and ‘set an objective to power Parliament House and all MP electorate offices with renewable and clean energy’.

When asked about the lack of progress that the Prime Minister and the Rudd Labor government have made to power Parliament House with green energy, Mr Alan Thompson, a man I admire and have known for many years, who is the secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services, was forced into telling the Senate estimates hearing the unmentionable truth. He said:

I think there has been a brief discussion with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about green energy but, as we explained to them, there is a significant budget cost. Once we explained that I think they decided to leave us to join up with the whole of government contract, and that is what we have done.

Clearly, this election promise made by then opposition leader, now Prime Minister Rudd, was not costed. It was an idea that was dreamed up, and no analysis was made into its achievability and what it might actually cost. Eighteen months on there is no real evidence that any progress has been made in achieving that goal. What we see in the answer to the question from Senate estimates is that the Department of Parliamentary Services is trying to buy some percentage, a modest percentage, of the Parliament House energy needs as green power. This is a long way off having this magnificent building powered in the way in which the Prime Minister convinced the Australian public it would be if he were elected.

I feel sorry for Mr Thompson—a man, as I have said, whom I admire—having to explain this, pointing out that he was trying to get a good price for electricity for the building. He went on to talk about the cost of green energy, and then Senator Bernardi asked:

So they have broken their promise for cost savings?

Mr Thompson said:

It is not my business to comment on that basis.

You can understand why it was a difficult question to be asked. It was a hospital pass from Prime Minister Rudd to the departmental bureaucrats, to the parliamentary officers, to explain his inaction and another example of how, when it comes to sustainability, they are all announcement and no action. The conversation went on to consider the question further. Senator Ryan, to his credit, asked:

And you were not told to seek 100 per cent renewable or green energy in that discussion?

Mr Thompson was then forced to account for his memory that there was not the money to achieve that goal. So, a far less significant proportion of energy is being pursued as green energy to power this building.

This is yet another example of how Australians are being told something by the Prime Minister, who knows more than anybody else what they should be doing, but when it comes to demonstrating, to setting an example through practical action, this Prime Minister and this Labor government fall short. They fall short over and over again. Nowhere is this clearer than in the sustainability goals that we should all share for our nation; nowhere is this clearer than in the sustainability programs that the Prime Minister claims he has in place but which, as I have said, are all announcement and no action.

In the minute that is available to me I will touch on one other point. Constituents in my electorate have said they welcome the previous government’s work on do not call registers and do not fax lists and the like. With some of the internet antispamming technologies, they feel they can manage the traffic coming onto their computers. I have been asked to pose the question: is it time for a ‘do not knock’ register? We have had in my electorate in some cases very persistent salespeople repeatedly returning to the same house offering wonderful deals on electricity, and I do not know how many times people have had to say they are not interested. They keep getting those visits. There have been others offering a pathway to salvation, and their persistence is admirable. People in my constituency recognise the common-law right for anyone to approach their front door; what they would like to know is whether there is some opportunity to say, ‘No, thank you. Do not knock unless you have been invited to attend the premises.’ (Time expired)