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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 9565


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (13:05): The coalition has a good record of caring for the environment, while restricting green tape. The coalition does this through coordinated, considered policies rather than through the incongruous group of complex and inconsistent schemes that have blown out of control and proportion under Labor, particularly since the last election. The coalition seeks to reduce green tape in a number of schemes to deliver consolidated air, land, water and energy schemes through a national structure.

The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Bill 2012 and associated bill only take into account a national scheme within the energy component. It is a good start, but a lot more can and needs to be undertaken. The largest imposition of green tape is the carbon tax, which started on 1 July. The carbon tax, as we all know, is a $9 billion a year tax and it will hit every Australian through their electricity and gas bills.

Australia had low-cost power at one stage and had affordable energy. That is why we were a country so beneficial to business and industry. But that does not exist any more. The carbon tax hit Snowy Hydro, an electricity generation and retailing company that owns, manages and maintains the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. It helps power New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. It provided, in 2010, 4,500 gigawatts of clean renewable energy or 37 per cent of all renewable energy in the mainland electricity market in that year.

The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Bill 2012 puts in place a set of national standards for the energy efficiency labelling of products in Australia. The bill allows the government to set uniform national labelling standards, taking over from all existing state and territory legislation for the same purpose. The bill will deliver a national expanded Equipment Energy Efficiency E3 program, which will enable Australian governments to regulate all electrical product types; products that use forms of energy other than electricity, for example, diesel or gas; products that affect energy consumption of other products such as insulation, window glass and air-conditioning ducting; the greenhouse gas intensity of products; minimum performance requirements for regulated products, such as the temperature at which refrigerators must operate; and potentially negative environmental and health effects relating to regulated products.

Agreement was made by the Council of Australian Governments, COAG, in October 2008, to begin the scheme. The Australian government pledged $37.1 million over four years in the 2012-13 budget to finance the Australian government's share of the cooperative E3 program. After initial stakeholder consultations, the strategy was themed around four key areas. Sourced from COAG meeting outcomes, the document on the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency came out in April 2009, firstly, to assist households and businesses to transition to a low-carbon future—not that the amount of money or the number of families and households it covers will go anywhere near compensating for increased power bills, fuel prices and grocery costs under the clean energy bills. As for business, they have no hope of covering costs and must absorb the so called cleaner energy bills' imposition. There is little government help and it is difficult to pass costs on to consumers—secondly, to reduce impediments to the uptake of energy efficiency; and, thirdly, to make buildings more energy efficient. Local governments have also taken up the cudgels in this area, perhaps too officiously. Government working in partnership and leading the way would be desirable yet it would be considered almost idealistic in this day and age with this Labor government.

Energy efficiency labelling is currently regulated by individual states and territories. Contained within the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Bill 2012 is an upgrade to the existing star rating scheme for the energy efficiency labelling of products to a national system. Having identified various legislative options, in January 2010 the government published a regulation impact statement and held a further six public information sessions. This was followed by a supplementary discussion paper, which drilled down on compliance obligations and enforcement measures, and another consultation period followed that. On 31 May this year the bill was referred to the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts. The House committee referred the bill to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. The ECA committee delivered its report on 20 August, just this week.

The report called for the bills to be passed. The coalition supports passage of the legislation but has dissented specifically on noting the concerns of the Lighting Council Australia in respect to certain criminal sanctions. The coalition is concerned about the heavy burden of regulation and red tape—some might call it green tape—imposed on business across all areas of government. There is concern the legislation adds to that onerous regulation. Coalition senators also note the numerous issues raised by the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee in respect of an individual's personal rights and liberties. However, the matter has been raised directly with the government. We understand it is being looked at. We will have to take Labor in good faith—if only the public had similar confidence in what Labor says and what Labor does.

While I am not normally accepting of government undertakings, on this occasion the government has been reasonably cooperative, has addressed the coalition's concerns that have been raised and in particular has given an appropriate undertaking that it will do so as part of the discussion of this particular bill. These undertakings have effect under the Acts Interpretation Act. I acknowledge the government for its cooperation yet note this is a win for coalition senators.

The major stakeholders of this bill are Master Builders Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Electrical and Communications Association and CHOICE. All industry groups mentioned have given this bill in-principle support. Master Builders Australia and the National Electrical and Communications Association have expressed concern about possible duplication of regulations under this bill and a further inquiry through a parliamentary committee is needed to fully understand the bill's implications. ACCI has indicated that it has no concerns with the overall intentions of the bill provided the bill itself does not add to increased regulatory burdens for the industry. That government's exposure draft on the bill has noted that the government intends to work with industry to allow individual contributions from each affected industry during the regulation impact statement process. In August 2011 the draft GEMS bill was released and submissions were accepted over a two-week period. In response to concerns of stakeholders, the government did publish a consolidated response to the main issues raised at that particular time.

The star energy system is good because it is so simple. The beauty of it is in its simplicity. As the member for Corangamite stated, it empowers consumers when they are buying such products as televisions and refrigerators. When I refer to televisions, we live in an age of high-definition and digitalisation that has caught up with and well passed by a lot of pensioners. If only a simple system had been in place for many pensioners. Many in my electorate have expressed a lot of concern about the rollout of the set-top box program. Quite frankly, it would have been cheaper in many circumstances for the government to have bought a new high-definition television for pensioners rather than roll out this non-sensical set top box program, which is going to ultimately cost the taxpayer and Treasury.

Also, whilst referring to the six-star rating, it is great that we have a star rating system on the fridge door, but what about the labelling of the food inside the fridge? I would encourage anybody who is listening to go to YouTube and search for 'orange dumping'. There is a video there by Rocco Pirrottina, of Distant Light Productions, posted on 1 August this year, showing the dumping of oranges. It is a sad video to watch. It is the dumping of oranges from the back of a truck—oranges freshly grown in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, some of the best oranges you will ever see in Australia—on a paddock for as far as you can see. And that was not just happening on 1 August; it has been happening every day since. That is because there is so much cheap imported juice concentrate and so many overseas oranges coming through. And they are poorly labelled. Our labelling system is not as good as it ought to be. It is a shame that the government cannot put forward a bill similar to this one so that consumers, when they open their six-star rating fridges, can look inside and take out food which is also properly labelled. That would prevent these sorts of videos going up on YouTube showing the tragic dumping of fresh, tasty Australian fruit which is meant for metropolitan and regional markets right throughout Australia but is unfortunately being ploughed into paddocks as we speak.

This bill is agreed to by the coalition but with certain conditions. The bill has already been referred for inquiry to the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts. We have put forward our concerns about it. There are some other aspects of it which still need to be looked at, but, overall, it is good. It will empower consumers, when they buy household appliances, to see whether they are energy efficient and make their choice accordingly.