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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 9570


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (13:28): Like the member for Makin, I am very pleased to speak on the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Bill 2012 and the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards (Registration Fees) Bill 2012. These bills for me push three important buttons. The first one is reducing greenhouse emissions as we move toward a clean economy. The second is empowering consumers to drive innovation and reduce their own electricity costs. The third is something this government has worked on consistently since coming to power in 2007—the removal of duplication across states in order to simplify the red tape burden for business. The legislation deals with the way businesses and consumers communicate with each other about the energy efficiency of appliances. We all know about the E3 system. The familiar energy rating label is one of the best recognised brands in Australia. In 2005, 83 per cent of consumers reported that they referred to the label when purchasing major household appliances. We have all seen those star rating stickers on appliances when we shop.

The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Bill 2012, the GEMS Bill, establishes national legislation for the Equipment Energy Efficiency Program, the E3 Program—one of the better acronyms I have seen in a while. The GEMS Bill implements a 2007 election commitment and a 2009 commitment by the Council of Australian Governments to establish national legislation to regulate equipment energy efficiencies.

Since the program's inception at state level in 1992, things have gone quite well. There has been a lot of work at state level and one can only say that the program has been successful. But a large number of inconsistencies and inefficiencies have arisen in what is essentially a state regulated E3 program. By replacing the seven state based legal frameworks with a single national framework and replacing four state regulators with a single energy efficiency regulator, we are significantly reducing the red tape burden for industry in this area and simplifying things for consumers.

The GEMS Bill will also allow the expansion of the energy efficiency program to a wider range of products. The program originally started in 1986 with domestic refrigerators and freezers. It has grown significantly since then but still focuses on electrical products. This bill will allow energy efficiency regulation for products that use other forms of energy, such as gas, and products that affect energy use, such as insulation and windows. The GEMS Bill will deliver a more consistent and expanded E3 Program which is all about reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and reducing power costs for Australian households and businesses. The GEMS Bill is appropriate and adapted to implementing Australia's commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards (Registration Fees) Bill 2012 supports the main GEMS Bill with a legislative basis for the national regulator to charge registration fees, consistent with the process in the existing E3 Program.

The energy consumed in the operation of appliances and equipment in the home is a major cost to householders. Most of us do not really know what the energy cost is appliance by appliance. We are becoming more and more aware of leaving appliances plugged in that are drawing power 24 hours a day. We are now aware of the need to turn things off when they are not being used. But there is still a long way for us to go. In many cases, people are completely unaware of the amount of energy their appliances use, how much that costs and how much it contributes to emissions.

There is considerable potential to improve the energy efficiency of many products at minimal cost. When I am talking about this to people, I use a related analogy. In the United States of America, power points do not have switches on them: when you plug something in it stays on, whereas in Australia we have switches on our power points and we often have switches on our appliances. For many decades it was believed that this was a relatively cheap form of power. There is no practical reason that that was the case; it is just the way it was. There are many things in our own houses that are very similar to that. There are things that we do because we always have done them that way, but we are actually using considerably more power than we need to use.

This legislation implements a commitment that we made at the 2007 election to establish national legislation to regulate the energy efficiency of products and appliances supplied in Australia. COAG also made a commitment to that in 2009. The E3 Program comprises two elements. Minimum energy performance standards set mandatory energy efficiency requirements for equipment and appliances sold in Australia and prohibit the sale of the worst-performing products. As consumers, we are becoming more aware that certain products that we use in the house draw considerable power but are used for only short periods of time. Setting minimum energy performance standards is a very important element of reducing greenhouse gasses.

Energy rating labels assist people to choose the most energy-efficient product at the point of purchase, using the familiar star-based rating system: the more stars shown on the label, the more efficient the appliance. This is a system that Australians have become quite used to. When you buy a new appliance, it is quite common for people to ask, 'How many stars does it have?' It is one of the first things that my family consider when we are buying an appliance. It is always a great pleasure to remove the old item with one or two stars and replace it with something with five, six or more stars.

The benefits to consumers are clear: energy bills are reduced and there is better consumer information to inform the choices that consumers make. Because the consumers have more choice and power, they will drive innovation themselves. As consumers become more aware and choose the better rated appliances, manufacturers will respond. Giving consumers the power to drive innovation is a very important part of moving towards a clean energy future.

Since energy-rating labelling began in New South Wales in 1986 with domestic refrigerators and freezers, energy used in those appliances has decreased by 67 per cent—an amazing achievement just by giving consumers choice. Refrigerators have become cheaper in real terms, and their effective size has increased. I will repeat that number, because it is quite amazing: with the use of energy-rating labels since 1986, the energy use of domestic refrigerators and freezers has decreased by 67 per cent. At present, people are upgrading their televisions for all sorts of technological reasons. If you switch from a one-star to a seven-star television, it could save your household about $100 every year in energy bills.

The GEMS legislative package will deliver efficiencies to regulated businesses and government by replacing seven state and territory laws with one national law and by replacing four state regulators with a single national regulator. The national legislation will correct the different treatment of suppliers and importers that exists in state law, so ensuring a level playing field for Australian businesses and cutting regulatory burdens. This government has been diligent over the last four years in reducing duplication across state borders and simplifying the business activity of companies which trade across borders. We hear of many cases where these changes have made a substantial difference to the way businesses operate. Now, for the first time, the same regulations will apply to businesses that import products for commercial use. The fact that this same regulatory system did not in the past apply to the import of products for commercial use has made the playing field somewhat uneven for domestic manufacturers. This legislation contains regulations that will level the playing field for domestic manufacturers.

It is estimated that the GEMS legislative package will drive energy efficiency gains that will deliver $5.2 billion in energy savings in 2020 and reduce household power consumption by up to 28 per cent compared to power consumption under business-as-usual conditions. In 2007 we committed to do this, and the nation has been moving towards it since 1986 with a great deal of success. It is great to see this package of legislation, which takes a national approach. I commend the bills to the House.