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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6660

Mr IAN MACFARLANE (GroomMinister for Industry) (09:26): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.


The purpose of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014 is to repeal the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011 (the act).

Australia is blessed with a diverse energy mix. Along with the traditional energy sources such as coal, which has powered our economy and our society for decades, we also have rich gas reserves which supply domestic power and through our exports make Australia an energy superpower.

Renewable energy also plays a very important role in our energy mix.

Ensuring Australia's energy security and addressing long-term questions relating to energy policy are a key priority for the Australian government.

Australia is making significant investments in renewable energy.

One billion dollars of taxpayer funds have already been committed to nearly 200 ARENA projects across a suite of renewable energy types.

Industry has matched this investment with a further $1.8 billion, taking the investment in Australian renewables to a total of $2.8 billion as a result of the program.

This is a very significant amount of money in anyone's language and comes on top of direct and indirect support, which amounts to literally tens of billions of dollars over the life of the program, that has occurred through the renewable energy target scheme. As well as that there have been various other state and territory renewable energy schemes.

The government has been very clear that we are facing a budget emergency and savings have to be achieved to return the budget to surplus.

Passage of the bill will transfer management and decision making on Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) functions to the minister and the Department of Industry.

It is anticipate that this will deliver savings of almost $1.3 billion, as identified in the 2014-15 budget. The investments of more than $1 billion in projects will continue under this new arrangement. Contrary to what some may claim, Australia is not walking away from renewable energy.

I will say again—$1 billion in taxpayers' funds, and another $1.8 billion in private funds has been invested in renewable energy projects under the ARENA banner.

By any definition, in any industry, that is a lot of skin in the game by Australian taxpayers.

Established on 1 July 2012, ARENA's objectives were to improve the competitiveness of and increase the supply of renewable energy and related technologies.

Financial assistance, largely through grants, has been provided to nearly 200 renewable energy developments, including the construction of renewable energy projects, the research and development of various technologies and the development and deployment of renewable energy, along with activities to capture and share knowledge gained through all of these projects, to advance the sector towards full commerciality.

ARENA has made significant progress towards achieving its objectives.

The investments have been made to support renewable energy projects across all stages of the innovation chain—from research in the laboratory to large-scale technology demonstration projects.

The total value of these projects is around $2.8 billion. Some examples of projects currently being supported by ARENA include the large solar photovoltaic project by AGL at Nyngan and also at Broken Hill—the largest solar project in Australia, and a project that was granted $166 million of taxpayer funds through ARENA; the Carnegie wave energy project, which I have followed from its inception, which is offshore from Garden Island in West Australia—a project currently at demonstration phase that will receive ARENA funding totalling $13 million; the King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project, which uses a unique combination of several renewable energy technologies and has also benefitted from over $6 million of ARENA funding ; and a facility at James Cook University that received $5 million to demonstrate biocrude production from seaweed. I congratulate the member for Herbert who has shown me this project on a number of occasions. It is an interesting project that has great potential.

The government is keen to see outcomes from these and the many other projects currently funded under ARENA.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the CEO of ARENA—Ivor Frischknecht, the chair of the ARENA Board, Greg Bourne, and the three other board members: Dr Brian Spalding, Judith Smith, and Betsy Donaghey, who have been thoroughly professional in executing their duties under the ARENA Act. They have done an excellent job and the government and I are appreciative of the work they have done. Under the board's direction, ARENA has played an important role of increasing the competitiveness of technologies and the supply of renewable energy in Australia.

The government will be ensuring that each project is well managed, meeting its contracted milestones and contributing to the advancement of an industry that has seen considerable government and customer funded investment over recent years—for now, almost a decade.

This government believes in providing the policy framework where Australian businesses can grow and compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace without relying on hand-outs.

We will be ensuring that the $1 billion of existing investment and the knowledge shared as a result of this investment gets us closer to this goal.

This focus over the life of these projects will be to make sure that the investments that are already made help progress the renewable energy industry as a whole.

Delivering on these projects will allow Australia to take a pragmatic approach, focusing on our capabilities to ensure that Australia is well positioned to take up technologies that work as they become commercial.

The government supports renewable energy and acknowledges the important role it plays in Australia's diverse energy mix.

And this government is making the tough choices to address the incredible debt left by Labor, along with the deficit disaster, and it is doing that by returning the $1.3 billion from ARENA to the budget as a result of this bill.

But despite Labor's appalling record in managing the country's finances over their six years in government, we still want to ensure the $1 billion of government investments in the renewable energy industry provides us with projects with every chance to succeed and advance the industry.

Specifics of the Bill

I now turn to the specific aspects of the bill.

The bill repeals the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011.

The bill also provides for the transfer of all of ARENA existing contracts and commitments to the Commonwealth, with the Department of Industry to assume management on the commencement of this bill.

Those applications for financial assistance from ARENA which are undecided by the commencement time will lapse.

This government supports the energy and resources sector. We recognise it as one of our economy's most significant drivers of jobs, private sector investment and national revenue.

We recognise and value the sector's depth and its diversity and we will continue to build a long-term framework that will seize our advantages, build on our strengths and consolidate Australia's global standing as an energy superpower.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.