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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4155

Ms OWENS (12:11 PM) —In 50 years time I think there will be people looking back at some of these speeches on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2010 and cognate bills and wondering what the hell was going on in the climate change debate in Australia in 2010. It is a bizarre world we live in. We had the member for Flinders spending most of his speech trying to prove that the opposition are actually the champions of renewables. The government cannot be the champions of renewables because the opposition are the champions of renewables! The coalition are the champions of renewables; they did it all, they had all the ideas. Given the seriousness of the issue of climate change, it is time for us all to be champions of renewables and to recognise that that is actually what we need in this House. We need to acknowledge each other’s support for this and get on with it and stop arguing about whose idea it was. Let us just deal with it.

The first mandatory renewable energy target was introduced by the Howard government in 2000. It was set at that stage with a 9½ thousand gigawatt target by 2010. There was a report done in 2003 known as the Tambling report which made a number of recommendations, including that the target be increased to 20,000 gigawatts by 2020. That recommendation was not accepted by the government of the day. Nevertheless, they did introduce some programs—rebates for solar panels, for example. All of that should be acknowledged. But we should also acknowledge that, at the moment, where we are in Australia is a hell of a long way from 20 per cent renewables by 2020. In 2006 we were at four per cent. We still get the vast majority of our renewable energy, electricity, from the Snowy hydro scheme—still, now.

The world has known for 30 years. Governments of the world first met in the 1970s to talk about the need for action on climate change. So we have known about it now through the Whitlam government, arguably, the Fraser government and the Hawke and Keating governments—although the need became greater and the knowledge became greater. We certainly knew about it through the Howard government and we know about it now. It has been a long time coming, and the time for arguing about whose idea it was is well and truly over. It is time for consensus on this. We thought we had that when we introduced the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Certainly, both parties went to the last election promising an emissions trading scheme. We thought we had it up until two days before the final vote in the Senate. It is time for us to get that consensus back so that this nation can play its role in acting on climate change.

We have heard two extraordinary speeches. We heard the member for Groom, who voted against the CPRS, lamenting that this piece of legislation will not make the kinds of reductions in emissions that we need to make to meet our five per cent target by 2020. Of course it will not. It was designed to work in operation with the CPRS; it was designed to be phased out after 2020 as the CPRS became more mature. This bill is part of a strategy. It alone will never lead us to meet that target. We need the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to do that.

What we have at the moment is an opposition, the Liberal and National parties, that voted against action on climate change. Many of them do not believe in climate change. The Leader of the Opposition himself said openly that he does not believe in climate change. We have the Greens party that voted against it.

Mr Hartsuyker —You guys don’t believe in it.

Ms OWENS —We introduced the bill. We introduced it twice. We voted for it. The opposition voted against it. We voted for it twice. It is the greatest moral challenge of our time, and if you believe that then I am sure you would have voted for it. I can only assume that you, like so many of your colleagues, believe that it is absolute ‘nonsense’—and I use that word because I am being polite in this House—as your leader has said, and well you know.

This amendment today is an extremely important one, and it is welcomed by many of the small producers of renewable energy technology in Western Sydney. It reaffirms our target of 20 per cent of Australian power to come from renewables by 2020, but it alters slightly the mechanism to get there. It does that essentially by separating the large suppliers of technology from the small ones. It creates two systems with their own fabulous acronyms. I am getting very tired of the acronyms, I have to say. I have invented a new one: the TLA—the three-letter acronym. I see today that we have some FLAs—four-letter acronyms. Like names, I believe we can only hold about 200 of these in our heads at one time. Some of these acronyms are starting to slip out of my brain. We now have the large renewable energy target, or LRET, for large providers and the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme—SRES—for small-scale systems such as solar panels and solar water heaters through the creation of a small-scale technology certificate, known as STC.

It has been separated into two because last year when the government decided to include photovoltaic solar panels in the Renewable Energy Target Scheme, the demand for solar panels grew significantly and started to impact on the price of the renewable energy certificate. This made certainty in this area, particularly for large investors, very difficult. This amendment reasserts stability essentially by separating the scheme into two parts, with the large scheme having a target of 41,000 gigawatt hours and the scheme for small-scale systems having a target of 4,000 gigawatt hours. It is a very sensible amendment that will provide certainty for a very important sector that works to move the Australian economy from a carbon based economy to a low-emissions economy. We absolutely need to do that. The science on climate change is well and truly in, and we can see action now around the world as other countries seek to set up their systems for the future.

Australia should be a leader in this field. The rejection of the CPRS by the opposition and the Greens makes it very difficult for us to move forward with the kind of speed that we should. But it is necessary for us to move from a carbon economy to a low-emissions economy. Australia is one of the great creative nations in the world. I said in the appropriations bill debate yesterday that we have come to think of ourselves as a country whose wealth is in the ground. Our minerals have, of course, served us very well, as has our farming community. But so have our imagination and our innovation. About 15 years ago, we were a world leader in solar technology. We held the largest market share. We of course do not do that now. But we are also a nation with great resources for renewable energy. We see countries like Germany and Spain moving ahead very strongly and investing in renewable technology without anywhere near the level of natural resources that we have in this country. We have the sun, we have the wind, we have the waves, we have the hot rocks technology and we have the imagination among our researchers and scientists to make this work for us. We should be well and truly a world leader. We need to actually move now. The earlier we move on this, the further ahead we will be in the future.

Solar technology is particularly interesting. I was looking at a map of Australia and at the varying levels of sun exposure around the country. Essentially, the further north you are, the higher the price for your certificate because clearly you generate more power in the sunnier parts of the country. Virtually all of Australia is closer to the equator than Europe. If you turned the world upside down and looked at the map of Australia, Tasmania would actually be in the Mediterranean. All of the rest of Europe is further away from the equator than Tasmania, yet we see European countries moving on solar technology at a rate that puts us to shame. Remember, again, at this point in Australia’s history, in spite of all of our natural resources the vast majority of our renewable electricity supply still comes from the Snowy hydro scheme—after all these decades. We have an incredibly long way to go.

I commend this bill to the House. It is an important amendment. It is an amendment that will provide certainty for both large- and small-scale providers of renewable technology and will go at least part of the way in setting us up for a low-emissions future.