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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8039

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (7:39 PM) —The word ‘coupling’ applied to bills—the RET bill and the CPRS Bill—has become the jargon of the day. What did the coupling really mean? How was it done? Basically, it is in the legislation that the RET bill will become law only when the CPRS Bill is passed. So, in order to allow the RET bill—the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009—to stand alone, it is probably necessary to have an amendment that says that the bill will become law upon assent.

But what does that, in effect, do? It still means that the provisions that are in the CPRS Bill—the so-called carbon pollution reduction bill—that give relief to electricity-intensive trade-exposed industries are contained in the second bill. So it is perfectly open to us to argue, in fact, that the bills are not truly decoupled—they are only partially decoupled—because the impact on those industries will be that they will be obliged to pay for 20 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources at the higher rate.

Those of you who receive your electricity bill now will probably find—certainly in New South Wales—that there is an option for you to pay 10 per cent more for your electricity on the basis that that is coming from renewable sources. The effect of the bill will be to turn that voluntary payment of additional money for your electricity into a compulsory payment for your electricity. For industry, it means that they too will be paying an increased amount of money for their electricity, because that part of the plan to give them relief from that increased cost is contained in the other bill.

So the question is: will we see amendments come forth from the government which say that they will take that part of the CPRS Bill that contains the relief for the electricity-intensive trade-exposed industries and place it in the RET bill, thereby making it a stand-alone package, or will they continue with the fiction that they have decoupled the bills wholly when all they are doing is changing the date on which they shall become law? I think we are entitled to know that, and I think we are entitled to know it as this debate is progressing, but all we have at the moment is the statement that we have decoupled the bills.

The people who are really hurting and who come to people like me as their local members—they have done so in quite considerable numbers—are the people who plead for the passage of this bill and for it to become law because it also contains the provisions that will pay the subsidy for the installation of solar panels. Under the previous government, the Howard government, we had put in place a scheme where you got an $8,000 subsidy, and John Howard said that that scheme would be uncapped—in other words, it would go on indefinitely. So individuals who wanted to use solar panels and source their electricity from an alternative renewable source could do so. But virtually overnight that scheme was cut off, the reason being that it was just too successful; more people were taking it up and the amount of money that had been allocated for that program had been used. So, instead of allowing it to be an uncapped scheme as we had said, this government, which says it is all in favour of alternative and renewable energy sources, cut off the program, and it said, ‘But don’t worry about that; we’ve got another “you beaut” scheme coming in, and you’ll get, basically, $4,000 a time.’ Well, the poor installation people have been waiting and waiting. They have been paying the staff, their individual employees. They have been trying to keep their businesses together. There have been virtually no solar panel installations sold into this market for months, and they are at breaking point.

When one reads a letter from a constituent that says, ‘Please let this bill have passage so that we can start our business operating again,’ one feels an enormous amount for these small business people. They are being punished by a piece of politicising by the government, which is trying to say, ‘If you want these people to have the subsidy paid for them and their businesses to continue and the people they employ to have jobs then you have to also pass the hugely flawed CPRS Bill.’ It of course brings in the new green tax, or whatever other name you like to call it, and makes Australia uncompetitive in so many areas.

I hear a lot said about the term ‘certainty’—‘We have to have these bills because business wants certainty.’ I thought agriculture was a business too. There is absolutely no certainty for them because in that CPRS Bill it says, ‘Agriculture will come into the scheme in 2013 and we will know all about it by 2015.’ If that is certainty then I think we must be using a different dictionary from the one used by the government. What about those people who, again in the name of certainty, look at the future trade in derivatives that come from carbon trading and see that they can make a fortune. It will be the next big thing—out with credit default swaps and CDOs and in with derivatives from carbon trading. Perhaps certainty for them is something that is not deserved. Perhaps certainty for people like farmers and small business owners is what is indeed required.

We are very keen to see the RET bill passed because we want certainty for those small businesses that are currently being forced to the extent that they may well have to fold. We want their businesses to be able to continue. We want the people they employ to have jobs. So I would simply put it to the government that we need some certainty too. We want to see what the nature of the proposed amendments of the government are. We want to see whether not the provisions that are contained within the CPRS Bill are going to be translated into the RET bill so that we can see that the aluminium industry, the cement industry and so on are being granted the exemptions they need.

There is an interesting quote in an excellent article written by John Kerin and Adrian Rollins in the Financial Review today. It said:

Australian Aluminium Council executive director Miles Prosser said Ms Wong’s less generous interim assistance arrangements only made it more certain that aluminium producers would face higher costs than overseas competitors. He said the RET scheme as proposed by the government would impose costs of $700 million over the next decade on smelters in Gladstone, the Hunter Valley, Portland, Geelong and Bell Bay, while the CPRS as currently proposed would add another $3.3 billion.

I think this debate has a long, long way to go. Whereas I hear a lot of people say that we must give the benefit of the doubt to the planet, I say we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the Australian people. What we have to do in this place is find out what is in the interests of the Australian people and make sure the laws that we pass do not in fact push wages down, push the cost of living up and push the standard of living down as well, all in the name of trying to reduce our emissions, which contribute just over one per cent of the world’s emissions.

I think we should look at ways in which we could help the people in China and India, where it has been shown by people who associate themselves with the IPCC that it is the emissions from stoves in those countries which account for 18 per cent of global warming. We could have a human face and actually improve their health and their way of life. We could be doing something constructive to better human life and also meet the requirement to lessen emissions in a really humane and meaningful way.

I repeat my comments from right at the beginning. We need to decouple the RET bill from the CPRS Bill. It needs to be total and not partial. The provisions in the CPRS Bill which provide relief for trade-exposed industries who use large amounts of electricity need to be completely taken out of that bill and put into the RET bill.