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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8024

Mr BIDGOOD (6:31 PM) —I rise to speak in strong support of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009. This legislation implements the expanded national renewable energy target scheme to deliver on the government’s commitment to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity is supplied from renewable sources by 2020. The RET legislation package implements a key climate change election commitment, and we in the Rudd Labor government are in the business of delivering on election commitments. The Rudd Labor government is delivering for Dawson, and RETs will deliver jobs and investment to the seat and allow the building of electricity-generating infrastructure that is good for the environment.

The passage of this legislation is essential to prosperity and jobs in my electorate of Dawson. The passage of this legislation is sought to provide renewable energy investors with legislative certainty—and we are delivering. One such investor is Mackay Sugar, who operate the Racecourse Sugar Mill in my electorate. Mackay Sugar have my full support for their proposed co-generation and ethanol plant. Mackay Sugar are ready, willing and able to commence construction of a 36 megawatt renewable biomass co-generation plant in Mackay. This cannot occur without certainty around the 20 per cent RET legislation. This is an innovative, clean energy project that will deliver important benefits for North Queensland, the entire sugar industry and the environment.

Mackay Sugar have indicated that, on the passage of this important piece of legislation, they will be ready to commence construction of their co-generation plant in Mackay. This represents real investment by business as a result of this legislation. Australia’s largest sugar refinery is at the Mackay Sugar Racecourse Mill site. Sugar cane has a significant energy value and is well placed as a renewable energy source, as electricity is produced from a by-product of the sugar production process. Mackay Sugar’s co-gen plant will only be the beginning for other co-generation plants in sugar mills throughout Queensland and New South Wales, if successful.

Mackay Sugar produce around two million tonnes of bagasse each year, a by-product of the sugar-milling process. This has an energy value equivalent to 700,000 tonnes of coal. The difference is that bagasse is 100 per cent renewable biomass fuel. The bagasse will also eventually generate steam and electricity for a 60-megalitre green ethanol plant at the Racecourse Mill. This is exciting and it is great news for the region. This $112 million project will directly generate 270 construction jobs and, importantly, it will diversify the sugar industry for the future—an industry which peaks and troughs through world sugar prices, fluctuating exchange rates and fierce international competition.

The Racecourse plant alone will power 33 per cent of Mackay’s power requirements. Environmentally, emissions will be reduced by 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Mackay Sugar have indicated to me that engineering, finance, relevant approvals and capital costs have all been basically finalised. This expansion will not only benefit Mackay Sugar’s 950 canegrower shareholders, 540 permanent employees and 340 seasonal employees; it will also mean jobs, jobs, jobs and growth, growth, growth for the entire community.

The industry has projected that co-generation will supply up to 70 per cent of Far North Queensland households by 2016. In the north, around the Burdekin, Herbert and Townsville, they are talking about supplying greater capacity than is required for household consumption by 2016. The industry is even looking at supplying about 80 per cent of the estimated number of households around the Whitsunday and hinterland area and Mackay. This long-term projection can only be possible with the investment certainty this legislation provides. This large co-generation plant is ready for construction, ready to go. The Labor government is ready to go too. While the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal and National parties are divided and still debating whether climate change even exists, the government stands ready to act for the economy, for the environment and for jobs.

In conclusion, we are talking about real employment security for North Queensland. This legislation is about supporting the existing jobs in the sugar industry and generating new employment during project construction. More money in the sugar industry will have a flow-on effect for regional communities which are dependent on their local sugar industry. Millers, growers, harvesters, suppliers and contractors will all put money back into regional economies as a result of this. On behalf of people of Dawson, I wholeheartedly commend this legislation to the House.