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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7966

Mr NEUMANN (2:24 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change. Minister, what is the government doing to support the uptake of renewable energy in Australia?

Mr COMBET (Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change) —I thank the member for Blair for his question. He has taken a keen interest in the issue of renewable energy, and of course we have discussed a good deal of the government policy with him. Together the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the government’s renewable energy legislation and the energy efficiency measures that the government has announced represent comprehensive action by the government to tackle the challenge of climate change.

The renewable energy legislation of course is the subject of debate in the House today and is intended to help transform the Australian economy to a lower carbon future and to support investment in jobs in the renewable energy sector. The government’s target in this respect is to ensure that, by the year 2020, 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply is generated from renewable energy sources. It is an extremely important piece of legislation before the House at the moment. It is projected that the CPRS and the renewable energy legislation combined will generate about $19 billion in investment in renewables—a very significant contribution to the economy and the renewables sector—and will result, on Treasury modelling, by the year 2050, in the renewables sector being no less than 30 times the size that it is today. All of this is complemented by other government measures, including $2.1 billion to support research, development and the deployment of renewable technologies under our Clean Energy Initiative

External organisations of course have a keen interest in this matter. Only recently the Climate Institute released a study demonstrating that about $31 billion worth of clean energy projects are already underway or planned in response to the government’s climate change policies and, further, that these would generate around 26,000 new jobs, mostly in regional areas. Of course that does not include the employment that is going to be generated by the government’s $4 billion energy efficiency programs and the over $2 billion the government has committed to the development of carbon capture and storage technology. The fact of the matter is that, taking all of that into account, this government has done more in 18 months to support the renewables sector than those opposite did in 12 long years. The fact of the matter is that there are now more solar panels going onto Australian rooftops than ever before. A commitment for 80,000 solar rebates has been achieved since we came to office—compared to 10,500 installations in 12 years under the Howard government.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has statistics demonstrating that in fact renewables went backwards under the Howard government. In 1997 renewables contributed 10.5 per cent, compared to 9.5 per cent 12 years later. No serious attempt was made by those opposite to increase the mandatory renewable energy target, notwithstanding a 2003 review conducted by the Howard government which recommended that the target be lifted above five per cent. It is a welcome development that the opposition says it now supports the government’s renewable energy target. That is a welcome development, and of course the shadow environment minister has put forward a number of amendments to the government’s legislation—in stark contrast to the approach taken in relation to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation.

But it is very important in this place that the sort of posturing that says that the coalition is now starting to ‘green up’ because it says that it supports changes in the renewable energy target should not be left without comment. We still have contradictions on the record. Less than one month ago Senator Joyce, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, had this to say:

My predisposition is to vote against the RET.

Let us not forget that only last week the opposition voted against the most significant measure to bring about reductions in greenhouse gases—it voted against the CPRS in the Senate.

The test of the coalition’s position on Australia’s action against climate change will not just be to support the government’s renewable energy legislation in this House and in the Senate; it is going to be to support the CPRS, to develop a policy position and to put forward specific amendments, have discussion with the government and support these important measures. This is about taking strong action on climate change. That is what this government is doing. It is about bringing about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, about playing a part in the international negotiations, about playing a constructive role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change and about supporting investment in the renewable energy sector. All of that is what this government is doing and it is time that those opposite took responsibility to support those measures comprehensively.