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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4367

Mr WINDSOR (9:36 AM) —I know that the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2010, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2010 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Small-scale Technology Shortfall Charge) Bill 2010 are going to proceed through the parliament with the support of both sides of parliament, but there are a number of issues that really do need to be considered in a clearer light, and I know that the member for Lyne will be raising some of those concerns in his speech. There is concern in the community that the small people may well be brushed over in relation to issues such as the feed-in tariff arrangements that have been put in place in some of the states.

Here again we see probably the hallmark of the last decade of this parliament—and other parliaments—in relation to renewable energy policy generally. It has sent so many mixed messages to consumers that consumers really do not know what the policy is. They get the buzzwords and hear about the percentages of renewable energy. They feel good about that. They look at the fine print of the policy and they become confused. They see changes in the policy, as we have recently seen in the insulation arrangements. They see variations between policy direction at the state level and the federal level. They see competition going on between some of the various energy providers, not necessarily on price but to make it look as though various business entities are more in line with a sustainable and renewable future. They see the changes in relation to Green Loans, for instance. They see a myriad of changes. The most recent change is that the government has removed itself from the building in terms of its emissions trading scheme. People quite understandably are confused. A lot of people are quite happy that the government has changed its policies, but a lot of other people are very confused as to what these messages are.

These bills before the House were actually designed to plug into a broader scheme, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Now that is not happening, and we still have these bills. On the surface, they are feelgood bills. The words sound appropriate. The words from John Howard a decade ago, in 2001, when he put in place renewable energy targets, were appropriate at the time. The people in voter land listened and received the message that the government was serious about renewable energy and had put in place targets. But the putting in place of a target does not necessarily deliver anything. Many, particularly those in the coalition, would or should remember that the renewable energy target for biofuels back in 2001 was 360,000 megalitres. There is less biofuel in Australia now than before the Howard government put the target in. There is nowhere near 360,000 megalitres. So we had this feelgood announcement and a number of initiatives and grants—some of which were rorted and some of which were politically motivated in terms of where they went in the various electorates—rolled out through those coalition years. Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened in terms of promoting renewable energy, in that case biofuels, either biofuels as a value-add to an existing process or first or second generation biofuels that could have assisted agriculture.

Then along comes climate change, a great concern. ‘What can we do to maintain sustainability at a range of levels? What about renewable energy? That might help. Let’s develop a policy that makes it look as though we’re actually doing something about renewable energy.’ The member for Braddon, a man that I have many disagreements with in this House—

Mr Perrett —A fine member!

Mr WINDSOR —I notice his close colleague the member for Moreton is in the building. He may well report to the member for Braddon that he has been verballed in the parliament. But the member for Braddon made one of his better speeches yesterday, I thought.

Mr Oakeshott —That was easy!

Mr Perrett —A low base!

Mr WINDSOR —Yes, it was not difficult to have one of his better speeches delivered. I am sure he is listening. He made the point that, irrespective of who has been in government, this parliament has not delivered any certainty in any fashion in the signals that consumers receive. In the recent budget, the government announced something like $600 million for a Renewable Energy Future Fund. The coalition is going to remove that fund.

On the surface of it, we might say that it is a great idea to have a Renewable Energy Future Fund to put in some money to encourage industries to start up et cetera, because there is concern about where we are going in relation to solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and so on. But in the same budget there is a tax on biofuels, a renewable energy. I think it starts to ratchet up in 2012, although I may be corrected on that. So what is the message? Why are we starting up a Renewable Energy Future Fund to encourage renewable energy and then, a couple of pages further on in the document, actually imposing a fossil fuel tax on a renewable fuel? It is no wonder that people are getting confused.

It is becoming a bit like the superannuation debate, where originally it was a good idea for people to save for their retirement, then someone said, ‘There’s a lot of money in there; we could get some tax,’ and then the government said, ‘Okay, let’s tax it.’ So we taxed it twice and then we taxed it three times. I think it is back to twice now. But the message the consumers took was: ‘Why are we saving for our retirement if we are only saving to have the money taken away before we retire?’ Anybody that has been looking at the various superannuation funds in recent years, particularly through the financial collapse, would have to ask the question: ‘What have we been doing? What is the policy message in all of this?’

Now we have the new resource rent tax. I do not disagree with a resource rent tax. I think it is a much fairer way of receiving a share of our resources than a royalty, which takes money before any profit is made. I have some issues with the entry point. I think the long-term bond rate is too low. The government should have a very close look at that, even if it means that the total revenue stream drops off. There are some very real issues with having an entry point at the long-term bond rate. I am encouraged that there are discussions taking place on that issue. I would encourage the various industries themselves, the miners, to take up the challenge that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have issued that they are serious about negotiations and consultations with various industries. I think dealing with the Minerals Council is dealing just with politics. I think we really need to get down to the nub of this—what it actually means for real businesses in different structural circumstances, in different company structures and at different levels of development. We need to see what this, in a sense, blanket tax actually means to those various companies. So I encourage the companies. There was an issue raised yesterday—I think it was from Queensland—concerning an aglime mine. Those people sent me an email as well. In reading their email—

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr WINDSOR —The member for Moreton might like to talk about this in his delivery, because he probably knows more about it than I do. It seems to me that the government should have a very close look at their circumstances, because they are dealing not only with a product that they have dug up out of the ground and sent overseas with no value adding taking place but with a product that goes into a lot of domestic businesses, including agriculture, soil conditioning and a whole range of other things.

If we are serious about sustainability, we have to make sure that some of these policies are sending the right signal. Here again, on the margin of the resource rent taxation issue, we see an area where that signal could become very blurred and it actually impacts on things that other aspects of policy are trying to encourage. So I suggest that the miners themselves take up the option of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister and get into those one-on-one discussions about how the tax is going to impact on their company structures and the long-term profitability of their companies.

As I said, I think the member for Braddon made a very important point yesterday. I would agree with him that, for the last decade, we have talked about renewable energy and done very little. We have these confused messages out there—and the member for Lyne will talk about some of those—with the various state and Commonwealth arrangements. This is a Commonwealth arrangement. Essentially it was to have been piggybacked on to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme; nonetheless, it is here now. Again there are some blurred areas, including what it is going to mean for consumers, households and, particularly, the smaller end of the market where the real field for renewable energy is.

People want to be involved in doing things better. They want to be encouraged, but they want policy that does not penalise them when they get there. The Leader of the National Party made a very significant point the other day on the issue of natural gas, I think it was. The issue is similar to the ethanol issue that I just raised. Why did we encourage people to go into LPG cars et cetera and then penalise them when they did? Why do we do this? What was the point of doing it in the first place if not to trap them? I am not suggesting that liquid petroleum gas is a renewable fuel, but it is a better fuel in terms of emissions et cetera than some of the other fossil fuels that we have been using.

We constantly get these mixed messages. There are some good things happening in Australia. I do not think these things are being encouraged enough. The member for Moreton may well talk about some of the things that are happening. I know the member for Dawson raises the issue of cogeneration in sugar mills. The only reason we have a sugar industry now is renewable energy. The Brazilians removed themselves from the world market, in a sense, for sugar as a food product. They then moved back into producing energy from that food product, the sugar—producing bagasse and other things from the residues and then producing renewable energy at source. That is starting to happen along the Queensland coast and we should be encouraging that. We should be really encouraging those sorts of activities. Not only do they add value to an agricultural pursuit but they are renewable energy sources. You open up the areas where that particular primary industry exists. I do not have any sugar cane in my electorate, but I think it is an important area that we should be looking at—food production, renewable energy production and electricity production as well as molasses and other activities. It becomes a much more important and significant industry than that of just growing a plant and shipping the sugar as food to someone else overseas.

The member for Parkes would know the small town of Ashford in my electorate. Some years ago it relied very heavily on tobacco and, then, on a coalmine and a relatively small power plant which closed down. The town has been searching for activities that it can lend itself to. In recent years they have been trialling industrial hemp. The member for Lyne might remember from a previous lifetime that, in the New South Wales parliament, I was instrumental in introducing what was essentially a legalisation, a licensing, of industrial hemp, excluding high-THC—dope-smoking hemp—to be grown as a product. That industry has not gone far. There are a number of people that are actually looking at it in Ashford as we speak. Only the other day the Inverell Shire Council passed a motion to look at promoting what the small community group in Ashford is trying to achieve. That group had trials last year. They have established a small market. They need assistance to try and grow the business and find out where the pitfalls are. They have the ingredients: the water, the land and the expertise and capacity to farm that land.

They are asking for some degree of help. I will be very supportive of that, because we never know where that goes. Industrial hemp, for instance, is a sustainable product. Cars used to be built out of industrial hemp rather than out of the materials they are constructed from now. Industrial hemp has been used for a whole range of things, not just for ropes, tarpaulins and various clothing products. You can make furniture out of industrial hemp. It is a renewable product. We should be looking at and encouraging these sorts of people. I do not think the bills we are looking at today actually encourage the little people to motivate themselves too much. In fact, if you relate these bills to what is happening at the state level, they may in fact be counterproductive for the little people trying to make their contribution to a sustainable future. Mr Acting Speaker—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—It is Deputy Speaker.

Mr WINDSOR —Mr Deputy Speaker. I do apologise. I recognise that it is of significant—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do thank you for the promotion!

Mr WINDSOR —I know it is of significant difference to you, as I have had past indiscretions.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I was involved last year in a study tour to Europe and we looked at renewable energy sources, specifically in relation to climate change. I still cannot get over the enthusiasm of the researchers in those various countries. The researchers at the Scottish Crop Research Institute at Dundee were incredible in their enthusiasm for looking at various renewable futures. As I have mentioned in this place on a number of occasions, the European cropping systems are based on baling the stubble, because they have a narrow window of opportunity to plant the next crop. Currently, they bale the stubble and use it as bedding for animals or whatever else. Rather than just stop there, the Scottish are developing enzymes that will create biofuels from that biomass. In Copenhagen, for instance, I went to an electricity-generating plant that was fed by pure waste. The garbage trucks go out of a morning, pick up the rubbish, bring it back, dump it in these massive incinerators—and there are two of those—and create enough energy for half a million people in Copenhagen. That is yesterday’s fish and chips creating tomorrow’s power. There is nothing else involved. A by-product of that is central heating for people’s homes and businesses.

There is an enormous amount that can be done. The member for Braddon made that point. None of us—no party—has done anything other than touch the dictionary and touch the surface on renewable energy. I hope that, if we are serious about renewable energy this time, we will actually start to do something and allow the people on the ground to be partners in doing those things. Whether that is in terms of the farm sector and carbon in the soil, value adding through biomass to renewable fuels, solar, wind, geothermal or using the number of incentives put in place by these bills, we have to make sure that we start to go down that road rather than be trapped at a locked gate.