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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7948

Mr BRIGGS (1:06 PM) —I rise to indicate my support for the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and cognate bill and for the position put so eloquently by the shadow minister for the environment and water at the beginning of the debate today—albeit a little earlier than I thought I would have the opportunity to do so. This legislation aims to set in place a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. What we have seen in the last few weeks is that, sadly, those on the other side have used this bill for political leverage against those of us on this side. Yesterday, that all came to a crashing halt with the backflip by the Minister for Climate Change and Water on this matter. Thankfully, common sense has prevailed. The minister has decoupled this bill, as she had been urged to do by those of us on this side and by others including the Greens and, last week, the Clean Energy Forum—not well-known supporters of this side of the parliament. Thankfully, the government did decouple the bill. It was part of a political ploy. There was no need to couple this bill and the ETS legislation that the government had before the parliament. As with so much of what this government does, it was purely about politics and not about genuine outcomes.

On that point—and I make it again in this place, as I did in the debate on the CPRS legislation—I support moves by our country, where we can, to reduce the amount of carbon that we emit into the atmosphere without getting ourselves into the situation where we are damaging our own economy ahead of the rest of the world for very little environmental benefit, arguably damaging our economy and also damaging the environment at the same time by emissions being pushed offshore, where they will still be emitted but with the loss of Australian jobs.

This legislation is important legislation, legislation which I and the opposition support. We have foreshadowed some amendments. As I understand it, the shadow minister for climate change has foreshadowed some amendments, which he is now seeking to negotiate with the government. I am pleased that, with the recent developments, the government is now negotiating on this. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, who is at the table, to encourage his senior colleagues to sit down and negotiate on the ETS legislation so that we can get the outcome that people out in the broader community expect us to get.

Unfortunately, again today we have seen some more politics being played by those opposite. We have heard claims that this side is celebrating and champagne corks are popping. I noticed this morning the member for Solomon at the doors, out there on instructions—I am sure—from those higher. The member for Solomon is not usually that sort of person but he was out there this morning hoeing into the Leader of the Opposition for a backflip of the government’s own making—and the backflip came because the government was playing politics with this important issue. It is legislation that we support and, now that it has been decoupled, this week we will be able to deal with it through the parliament.

Our vision is for a clean energy economy, and we have said that before. We strongly support the concept of the 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020. We believe in the great potential of the renewable sector to become a key factor in our energy supply needs going forward into the future, growing along with a strong economy. We want to see that young Australians have the best opportunity to get high-quality, highly paid jobs—not chucking the baby out with the bathwater, while addressing the important issue of climate change. That is what we have said in this debate and that is what we will continue to say on the ETS debate. We believe it is important that we get the balance right, and that is what we have been doing.

Clean energy is, with green carbon, one of the most fundamental steps to dramatically reducing Australia’s net emissions. It is also about broadening the base of our energy security, and clean energy is about creating jobs in rural Australia. We are glad that the government has seen fit to negotiate on this issue.

One of the important, developing industries in South Australia is the uranium industry, and in recent times we have seen strong development in the uranium market, particularly with those countries such as China and India that are increasingly using nuclear power to fulfil their needs. Australia has made the decision and this government has ruled out the use of nuclear power. However, we sell uranium for the rest of the world to use for its power needs, and China and India are two of those countries which are using substantial amounts. The United States has indicated that, although it will not build a new power plant for some years, it now intends to build quite a number of others—I think it is in the range of about 30—in the next while. For a member of this place from South Australia, uranium is a vital part of the energy mix.

We were pleased to see that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts—who does not have responsibility for the portfolio of climate change, strange as it may sound—was able to put aside his long-held beliefs on the issue of uranium mining and the exporting of uranium and to approve an additional uranium mine in South Australia in recent times. Obviously it was a difficult decision for the minister but one that we are pleased with, because it is part of the answer to reducing emissions around the world. We cannot solve climate change ourselves in Australia but we can certainly take action, and we are doing that through this legislation but also by contributing to developing countries through uranium and different types of energy mixes.

We in South Australia also have great potential through hot rocks technologies. In my electorate of Mayo we have a wind farm down at Cape Jervis, and there are plans for others in South Australia as well. In South Australia we have great potential for wind generation. In my electorate we also have quite a number of people who want to take action personally and who are interested in installing things like solar hot water systems and solar panels for their homes to contribute back into the grid. I remember visiting about this time last year a property in the Inman Valley—which is down near Victor Harbor, for those who are not so familiar with my electorate. It is a beautiful part of the world. A gentleman in the Inman Valley had hooked up his home to the solar grid and it was contributing back in, because he had invested through government assistance and so forth.

That is why I was a little surprised in June when the government scrapped the second renewable energy incentives scheme, and we have had quite a bit of correspondence in my office from people who are very disappointed with that decision. The answer the government gave was that that scheme had to come to an end and there is a new scheme as part of this legislation. However, I think the way it was handled was suboptimal and less than should be desired by those of us here. We want to encourage people to invest in their own means of power generation, if they can, to reduce pressure on the grid.

But the major issue with energy supply is industry, and the importance of this legislation is that it will mandate the uptake of clean energy and will reduce the impact and the amount of carbon emissions that go into the atmosphere. Therefore, we have supported this legislation. We have been disappointed with the political trickery from those on the other side, who have tried to couple this with another bill, all for the purposes of obtaining a double dissolution trigger to avoid going to an election after next May, when they will have to outline another budget.

Last Friday we heard Glenn Stevens, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, talk about how interest rates are likely to go up by a couple of per cent in the next little while, all because of decisions made by this government—whether it be reregulation of the labour market, instigating massive debt or putting pressure on Australian families. Over recent times we have seen the government undermine their own renewable energy target and hold their own legislation hostage. Firstly they delayed this legislation for at least a year. They promised it back in 2007 but now, in August 2009, it has just been brought on for debate. The government themselves have delayed this legislation. Secondly, they have held the entire renewable energy sector hostage by tying the ETS bill to these bills. It was certainly unnecessary and no-one supported it. The Clean Energy Council said that the government’s holding up the legislation was a politically tricky manoeuvre and would simply end in being a remarkable own goal.

The political trickery of this government has meant that they have backed themselves into a corner, and yesterday we saw the outcome of that with the Minister for Climate Change and Water having to do one of those embarrassing press conferences that you see from time to time in this place and announce a backdown by trying to allege that the opposition would be put under pressure because of it. The truth of it is that this was a backdown of the government’s own making, through political activity which has held this legislation up.

The coalition is seeking to make amendments to this legislation. As I understand it, discussions between the shadow minister and Minister for Climate Change and Water are underway and we will seek to have those amendments agreed to and get this legislation passed. Our message is simple: we want to be constructive, we want a clean energy economy and we want to be a constructive participant in this debate. We do not want to be held hostage to the political activity by the government; we do not want the Australian economy to be held hostage to the political activity by the government; and we do not want young Australians, in both this sector and other sectors, to be held hostage by political trickery on the part of this government. We are supportive of the 20 per cent renewable energy target and we are working with the government on the amendments that we propose.

We are amazed that the government has delayed its own legislation by two years, and we are amazed that the government used this as a political tactic in the last six or so weeks. It is a disappointing move from a group of people who believe that this issue needs to be dealt with quickly. We heard from the member for Bonner, just prior to my opportunity to speak, talk about how important this issue is, yet we saw the government tie this legislation together for its own political purposes. We hope that the government is willing to sit down quite seriously and take our amendments on board so that this legislation can pass and we can have a genuine renewable energy target in place in the near future.