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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7939

Mr HUNT (12:24 PM) —In rising to address the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 I begin with a very simple statement: our vision is of a clean energy economy. We strongly support the concept of a 20 per cent renewable energy target. We believe in the potential of the great mirror fields of California, Nevada and Spain; in the potential of geothermal energy; and in the potential of wave, tidal and algal energy to contribute to Australia’s and, indeed, the globe’s clean energy future. Clean energy is, with green carbon, one of the two most fundamental steps to dramatically reducing Australia’s net emissions. It is also about broadening the base of our energy security. Clean energy is also about creating jobs in rural Australia. I am glad that the government have backed down on negotiating these bills. Now they need to provide the details, but we will enter into negotiations today, immediately after this speech, and I am pleased that the government have agreed to do that. We have important issues with which to deal.

I want to deal firstly with the coalition and renewable and clean energy. It was the coalition which introduced Australia’s first mandatory renewable energy target. At that time, the 9,500 gigawatt hours represented an effective target of almost 10 per cent when combined with existing renewables. The coalition strongly supports the 20 per cent renewable energy target and we accordingly offer provisional support for the legislation, subject to key amendments that we will move in the House and once it gets to the Senate.

We are also committed to a 25 per cent reduction in national emissions if there is a comprehensive global agreement. We were the party that introduced the $8,000 solar rebate, which the government means tested in a broken promise on budget night 2008. We are the party which introduced the same $8,000 solar rebate which the government then completely abolished without notice as of 8.30 am on 9 June 2009. And we introduced the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, which the ALP abolished without notice on 22 June.

I compare what we have done with the Labor Party and its own attack on the renewable sector and see five things. Firstly, there was the means testing of the solar rebate. This took the price of solar panels out of the hands of mums and dads who earn $50,000 each. That was an extraordinary impact on mums and dads from middle Australia, be they a teacher and a policeman or some other combination as a couple. For them, solar power was taken out of their reach.

The second thing that the government did was to scrap the solar panel rebate entirely, as they did without warning on 9 June. The third thing they did was to scrap the remote solar program, to which I referred earlier by its more formal title. This was done with no notice on 22 June, and this took remote solar out of the hands of people in rural and regional Australia who were off grid. It had profound effects as a consequence: the solar industry suffered and people in rural and regional Australia were denied access to solar energy. So we have seen quite an impact.

The fourth thing we saw from the government—and this relates directly to this particular legislation—was to delay action on the renewable energy target by a year and a half. We are well over a year and a half into the life of this current government, and this legislation is only now being brought forward after we saw the collapse in the solar sector because of the combination of abolishing the rebate and the delay in this legislation. It is simply unacceptable. This very legislation has sat on the Notice Paper for two months, and now—finally—it is being brought on for debate.

The fifth thing the government did was to couple this legislation to the emissions trading scheme. One is good legislation and the other is bad. I will talk more about the backdown over the weekend and what we want to do in response. To the extent that there has been a backdown by the government on holding renewable energy legislation hostage, that is a good thing; but we have significant and substantive amendments which we believe can improve this bill and can protect key and critical sectors of the Australian economy.

What about the legislation itself? Firstly, the primary bill aims to set in place a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. It would also enable the government to introduce the solar rebate scheme based on renewable energy certificates that come with small energy units such as solar photovoltaic systems. The legislation progressively increases the coalition’s 9,500-gigawatt-hour annual mandatory renewable energy target to 45,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. We support this objective of a 20 per cent renewable energy target for Australia. The bill also replaces the coalition’s solar rebate of $8,000 with the solar credit scheme. But I should be absolutely clear that the market value of these credits will be somewhere between $4,000 and $4,500, plus or minus, for a common one-kilowatt solar panel system.

Those are some of the key elements within this legislation. What the government has done, though, is undermine its own renewable energy target in critical ways. Firstly, as we have seen, as the legislation now stands on the table before this House the government has taken its own renewable energy target hostage. It not only delayed that legislation for a year and half but also made it entirely contingent upon the emissions trading scheme. Over the weekend we have seen a backdown on that position and a willingness to decouple. We will meet with the government today and we will talk about those details. We want to know: what is the reality of those details? It was unnecessary and it was of great damage to solar employees and solar employers around Australia, and I am glad that the government has indicated a willingness to back down—but we have many things to discuss today.

Let me now move to our amendments to the legislation before us. The coalition will seek the following amendments in the House and in the Senate. Firstly, we will seek a full decoupling of the renewable energy target from the flawed ETS to which it was tied and which was voted down by the Senate last week. Let me say that we believe that a full decoupling is desirable. We believe that it is an important thing. But we will talk and we will discuss it. We do not want to see this legislation held hostage. We want to see the renewable energy legislation passed. We want to see real renewable energy legislation for Australia—this week if possible.

The second amendment which we will seek, which I will introduce in this House and which I believe is being circulated during the course of this speech, is the inclusion of renewable gas, or waste coalmine gas, as a recognised zero-emissions source of energy as it is in the New South Wales system, in the United States and in Germany. The reason why is very simple: it is about hundreds of rural jobs. These are jobs which exist. These are jobs which companies such as Envirogen and Energy Developments currently put in place. They do this for two important reasons: (1) it is good for rural economies to create these jobs and (2) this process will save 90 million tonnes of CO2 between now and 2020. Ninety million tonnes is almost twice as much as the government has promised from $3.9 billion being spent on pink batts. If you were to do this through pink batts, it would be the best part of an $8 billion program. Instead, by simply including renewable gas, or waste coalmine gas, in the system in such a way that it is credited as a zero-emissions energy source, which would then attract renewable energy credits, we could save 90 million tonnes. I will make the distinction for the record that we are not talking here about coal seam methane gas but waste coalmine gas or, as it will progressively become known, renewable gas.

The third of our amendments is that the coverage of the aluminium sector for both its existing MRET and the expanded RET liabilities should be at the 90 per cent which the government has given over the weekend. We want to see that and we welcome the fact that that 90 per cent has been extended for all future liabilities. We would also seek that the 90 per cent coverage be in place for the existing mandatory renewable energy target liabilities.

The fourth amendment—and this is very important to rural communities—is that we want to ensure that food processing is categorised for assistance under the RET. We are seeking a 90 per cent coverage of the food processing sector, we are seeking the broadest possible definition of the food processing sector and, in particular, we are mindful that dairy must be seen as a critical element here, as must also be food cannery works. These are important things for protecting our viability, our food security and our rural jobs.

The coalition will also seek to eliminate a loophole in relation to the multiplication of renewable energy credits for industrial or commercial heat pumps. We support domestic heat pumps. We support commercial heat pumps. But we will seek to place a 700-litre cap and we will seek to make sure that multiple systems do not receive an effective bonus which was never intended.

The final thing that we want to do is help build this vision of a renewable Australia with the great mirror fields and with tidal, geothermal and wave energies. Therefore, we will move that a portion of the renewable energy target be banded and reserved for emerging renewable technologies. These are, as I said, industrial-scale solar—or the great mirror fields—geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass. This figure would be 8,875 gigawatt hours, or 25 per cent of the additional 35,500 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020, and we have set in place in the amendments a scale which will bring this into being between 2015 and 2020.

If the government does not accept the principles of these amendments today as we enter into negotiations then we will show good faith by allowing the legislation to pass the House, but we will reserve our position in the Senate subject to completion of negotiations there. We will reserve our final Senate position subject to resolution of these issues, but we will negotiate in good faith. We believe our amendments are critical. At the same time I say that we want to see this legislation pass. It is now up to the government to come to the table and to respond over today, tomorrow and the course of this week, because we have acted in good faith.

Our message to the government is very simple. We want this legislation to pass. We want to be constructive. We have laid our amendments on the table. We want to get the renewable energy legislation through the parliament. It is time that the government stopped using renewables and the solar sector as political hostages. We are happy, once we have debated and concluded on our amendments, to let this legislation through the House, subject to reserving our position in the Senate on the basis of the final outcome there. Ultimately, if the government is willing to consider our amendments then this legislation will pass. I commend our amendments to the House. I implore the government to engage in serious negotiations which will improve this legislation and protect jobs in rural and regional sectors across Australia.