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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8003


Mr BALDWIN (5:05 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009. I am a representative of a region, the Hunter region, that not only generates the bulk of New South Wales electricity but also, through industries such as the aluminium industry, consumes a large part of that electrical generation. Given that, you will understand that I, as a part of the coalition, believe in the importance of a clean energy economy for Australia. As such, it is with some reservation that I support aspects of this legislation in its current form, which admirably sets out to achieve a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2010.

The coalition has a proud history of putting in place measures which ensure the preservation of our environment in a manner that does not burden the back pockets of Australian industry or the public. Former Prime Minister John Howard, along with the coalition, was by and large a strong advocate of putting in place measures which would protect Australia’s environmental future. In the speech entitled ‘Safeguarding the future: Australia’s response to climate change’, the former Prime Minister spoke of targets that would be set for the inclusion of renewable energy in electricity generation by the year 2010.

The mandatory renewable energy target, MRET, scheme was subsequently implemented through the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 and the associated Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Act 2000. As such, the implementation of this bill, with the support of the coalition, reaffirms our strong commitment to a 20 per cent of renewable energy target. We accordingly offer provisional support for the legislation before the House today, subject only to key amendments which we will move in the Senate. Let it be known that we, the coalition, believe in the potential of wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, wave energy, tidal energy and algal energy to contribute to our 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 energy security. Clean energy is about creating jobs in rural Australia. In fact, the coalition were so committed to this concept that in the lead-up to the 2007 election we guaranteed 100 jobs would be created with the development of a $360 million solar power plant on the doorstep of the Paterson electorate if the coalition were voted back into government. It was with great pride and passion for the environment and creating Australian jobs that the coalition made this pledge and set aside $20 million in funding for the CBD Energy solar project to manufacture solar power systems for both export and local use. Had the Rudd government supported this project, it would have been fantastic news for the future of renewable technology development and our region in the Hunter. Had the Rudd government supported this project, it would have seen around $400 million per year in exported solar panels that would have helped reduce the global emissions footprint. All we see is rhetoric and spin and little or no action.

The coalition has always been committed to putting into place schemes which will ensure a more sustainable and greener future for Australia. That is why whilst in government the coalition introduced the $8,000 solar rebate, which was widely applauded and utilised by the Australian public. We were as determined then as we are now to come up with clean energy economies. Unlike the present Labor government, we the coalition are determined to be a part of the solution and not the problem. We listen to what the Australian public have to say and we do not disadvantage them, empty their back pockets or put the environment on the backburner. We are proactive, and we want to get it right the first time by conducting the necessary investigations and providing reports which remain open and transparent at all times.

In direct contrast to our well-received initiative of introducing solar rebates, this Rudd Labor government disappointingly broke a major election promise and introduced means-testing for the rebate on budget night 2008. This cut out mums and dads on $50,000 each. It took solar panels beyond the reach of ordinary families in electorates like mine of Paterson. To add insult to injury, the Rudd Labor government put the Australian public offside and disadvantaged tens of thousands when on 9 June 2009 they scrapped the rebate altogether without any prior notice. The Rudd Labor government have to decide: either they are in or they are out when it comes to supporting renewable energy and reducing emissions.

This was an absolute sham, and the Rudd Labor government should be ashamed of their disgraceful actions. By ending the rebate prematurely, they left hundreds of people in the lurch and they all but crashed an emerging industry. They replaced the coalition’s plan with a scheme which will result in most families who invest in a common one-kilowatt system receiving about half of what they would have gotten under a coalition rebate. For a Prime Minister who continually sees the need to ask himself the question, the question the Prime Minister should now be asking himself is: where are the incentives?

Continuing in what is quickly becoming an infamous Rudd Labor government tradition, on 22 June 2009 at 8.30 am, without any notice to the opposition, they abolished the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program. This was a program which helped families, businesses and not-for-profit organisations connect to the power grid or install solar or wind units. With no warning or compensation granted, the axing of this program again sent thousands of Australian families and solar companies into chaos. For a government that claim to represent the hardworking Australian, how can they justify sending an entire industry and its workers into disarray? Solar companies have said that the Rudd Labor government’s decision will cost them an enormous amount of money and that they will consequently have to lay off staff. This is the disgraceful Rudd Labor government, who on the one hand plunge Australia into record levels of debt and on the other hand squash the solar industry and consequently send thousands of jobs flying.

My constituents demand to know how Labor expects to get back into budget surplus whilst at the same time implementing policies that will ensure a greener future for Australia. My belief is that this juggling act will not be possible under the reckless Labor government and that it will take a coalition government to be re-elected to ensure a clean energy economy for Australia’s future.

On the topic of the renewable energy target, I would like to know why the government has delayed its introduction by over one year. As I mentioned before, the coalition openly endorses the setting of a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. It would also enable the government to introduce a new solar rebate scheme based on renewable energy certificates that come with small energy units such as solar PV systems. This legislation progressively increases 9,500-gigawatt-hour annual mandatory renewable energy targets to 45,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, which I support. The legislation also replaces the coalition’s solar rebate of $8,000 with a solar credits scheme which issues renewable energy credits to installers of solar photovoltaic systems of 1.5 kilowatts or less. These credits can be traded on the market for a return of between $4,000 and $4,500 for a common one-kilowatt solar panel system.

Under the act, wholesale purchasers of electricity—that is, liable parties—are required to meet a share of the renewable energy target in proportion to their share of the national wholesale electricity market. Those who do not meet the target will face a financial cost. The Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 sets that cost at $65 per REC or each one megawatt hour.

I have stood before this House before and openly expressed my concern about the Rudd Labor government’s ETS model. It is my very real fear that, under the Rudd government’s current proposals for an emissions trading scheme, Australian businesses will be left out in the cold, Paterson’s businesses will be left out in the cold and Australian exposed businesses will be left disadvantaged against other competing countries in the market. Thankfully, Labor has come to its senses and agreed to decouple the renewable energy target from the ETS. To have tied the two together would have been to forgo common sense and would have subsequently been the marker of massive risk and uncertainty for Australian businesses over the next 20 years.

The coalition foreshadow moving the following amendments in the Senate: firstly, a full decoupling of the renewable energy target from its flawed ETS, which was voted down in the Senate; secondly, the inclusion of renewable gas or waste coalmine gas as a recognised zero-emissions source of energy, as occurs in the United States and Germany; thirdly, ensuring that food processing is categorised for assistance under the RET; and, fourthly, coverage of the aluminium sector for both its existing MRET and expanded RET liabilities to the 90 per cent already offered by the government for the latter.

The coalition will also seek to, firstly, eliminate a loophole in relation to the multiplication of RECs for industrial heat pumps and, secondly, move that a portion of the RET be banded and reserved for emerging renewable technologies, such as industrial scale solar, geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass. This would be 8,875 gigawatt hours or 25 per cent of the additional 35,500 gigawatt hours renewable energy.

Until the last term of this parliament, Tomago Aluminium was in the electorate of Paterson and, even though it is now in the electorate of Newcastle, many of the thousands of workers, both direct and indirect, are my constituents, as are workers at the Kurri Kurri smelter in the electorate of Hunter. The very idea that the Rudd Labor government has not moved to ensure long-term viability of the aluminium industry through environmental and economic stability is an act of economic and social treason against both workers and businesses alike, not to mention the broader local communities that rely on the economic flowthrough effect of this industry

 The New South Wales Labor government has just increased, by 20 per cent, the cost of electricity to consumers, and that is prior to the introduction of any ETS model. The big question that the Prime Minister should be asking himself is: what will the cost be post introduction of his CPRS and what effect will it have on consumers and businesses alike? What will the downstream effect be on business, on costs and on consumers? How will it be sustainable in the face of greater international competition?

The coalition will reserve its final Senate position, subject to the resolution of these issues. But we will negotiate in good faith and we want to see this legislation pass. The government has been its own worst enemy in bringing forward this legislation. It promised action on this target back in 2007 and yet, here we are, nearly two years down the track and the matter has only now been brought up for debate, which has been curtailed in this House to one day for such important legislation as this. The government has only itself to blame for its incompetence and tardiness.

I am committed to ensuring that constructive renewable energy legislation is passed through the parliament. I am very pleased that the government is backing down from its approach of holding hostage renewable energy—that is, solar, wind, geothermal energies—to the passage of the emissions trading scheme.

However, further changes need to be made, and I cannot stress enough the importance of the coalition’s proposed amendments being passed though the Senate. As the Leader of the Opposition said earlier today:

We’ve—

the coalition have—

set out some amendments in detail. They range through a whole … of measures, including protecting trade exposed emissions intensive industry, also making sure that there is room in the renewable energy target for the emerging renewable energies, like geothermal … solar … tidal … wave energy—these are important technologies—

and their potential growth needs to be taken into consideration when considering this legislation. The coalition’s aim is to get the best renewable energy legislation and the best emissions trading legislation through the parliament that it can. To do that we have to work together. The question for the Prime Minister is: does he want to work together, does he want to listen to the views of others and engage positively and constructively with us? There is a right way and a wrong way of achieving a 20 per cent renewable energy target, and the Rudd government must remember this the next time it goes to pull the carpet out from underneath the Australian public and industry by cancelling schemes without notice. Therefore, if the government is willing to consider our reasoned amendments then this legislation will pass.