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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8023

Mr HARTSUYKER (6:25 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to talk on the very important issue of renewable energy. It is certainly a form of energy supply which should be encouraged. Increasing the amount of electricity that we generate from renewable sources is something that is going to benefit our nation in the long term and benefit the environment. The measures that are contained within the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 build on the measures that were first implemented by the Howard government—a very visionary proposal to increase the amount of electricity sourced from renewable supplies.

I certainly commend the target that has been set of 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply being provided by renewable sources by the year 2020. The desirability of increasing the size of our renewable energy sector is often lost in the heat of the climate change debate, because there are many other reasons for maximising the output from this sector apart from the obvious climate change ramifications. That is why I deplore the government’s insistence on linking these measures to its flawed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and welcome its apparent change of heart. Whatever the arguments over climate change, one of the very good ways of reducing our carbon emissions is through renewables and also through energy efficiency.

The vast majority of our current energy needs are met through the burning of fossil fuels, and the total production of energy from renewable sources in Australia is currently in the order of 8½ per cent, which leaves some 91½ per cent of our energy coming from those fossil fuels. Our way of life and our use of cars, computers and domestic appliances have built a great dependence in this country on the use of coal and on the burning of oil. One day those supplies will run out. As we approach that day, we will see prices for those fuels increase rapidly. We will see the need for increased international competition for the remaining reserves. We will see our way of life threatened to an extent that we have never seen before.

Consumers rightly complain about petrol prices. Certainly, the Rudd government made great promises to the electorate during the 2007 election campaign that they were going to put downward pressure on petrol prices. We have seen very little happening by way of concrete measures in that regard except for the failed Fuelwatch scheme. They rightly claim that, when pump prices fail to follow the falls in the price of crude oil, they expect someone in that supply chain is lining their pockets. However, what tends to be forgotten in the fuel debate is that oils and fossil fuels are a very finite resource. They are a resource we should be attempting to conserve, and the use of renewables in all their forms is a very good way of doing that. We can look at a range of measures in transport such as hybrid cars that allow us to conserve resources but, certainly, in the field of electricity generation there are many opportunities to use alternative types of generation of electricity, be it geothermal power, solar or wind.

The use of alternatives is certainly tailor-made to a stationary type of operation such as power generation. Electricity prices in Australia are among the cheapest in the world. One of the challenges we face as a nation where we derive our competitive advantage from relatively cheap energy as opposed to other competitive advantages, such as cheap labour in other countries around the world, is: how do we maintain that competitive advantage against a backdrop of increasing our use of renewable energy? In virtually every case renewable energy comes at a significant cost penalty as compared to coal-fired power stations, which can provide large amounts of baseload power at very reasonable prices. Look at electric cars, for instance. We see them as a solution to pollution and a way of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. But where does the electricity come from? Electric cars are usually plugged into a socket, so once again we go back to dependence on fossil fuels and coal-generated baseload power.

For a society that is so heavily dependent on the finite resources of fossil fuels, it is only proper that we double our efforts to increase our use of renewable energy. In my electorate of Cowper, we have a range of businesses that use and specialise in renewable energy. But we certainly have a lot more work to do in that regard. China and India are often criticised for their carbon emissions. They produce 14.2 per cent and 30.1 per cent respectively of their total primary energy supply from renewable energy sources, as compared to a much lower level in Australia. We need a fundamental shift in our thinking as to how we source our energy needs, and this legislation goes a considerable way to moving down that path. I certainly commend the increased use of renewables in Australia. It is very important that we move down that path. We must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase our use of renewable energy. I commend this legislation to the House.