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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9216


Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (18:45): I got an email the other day. It is not the first one. I got a few actually from constituents writing to state how proud they are as Australians by the fact that our country has embraced renewable energy and what we have achieved so far with our renewable energy targets. I will not go through the whole of this email but it asks me, as their local member of parliament, what is my position on this issue. Helen who lives at Willmott said, 'Will you support keeping the RET as it is or will you support changes to it?' While this debate is about the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, it is also about whether or not we think this sector is important, provides value, and is worth pursuing. In terms of ARENA, it is.

When asked about whether I support renewables and whether I support the RET, of course I do. Any person with an ounce of common sense would think that, if we have finite resources which we use for the generation of energy and if it has been demonstrated that the way we are generating energy at the moment has an impact, that we need to find ways to offset that impact and, if there is a smarter way of generating energy and if we can look at, for instance, how to make the use of renewable energy a more efficient process, that is, apply research to see how we can generate renewable energy in a much more efficient way, you would do it. You would say, 'This is the way to go. It makes common sense.'

ARENA has dedicated nearly $940 million, which it has invested, with $1.8 billion mobilised in private investment. It has been doing a massive amount of work in the context of the broader push to make Australia's renewable energy sector a lot more vibrant and a lot scale stronger. It makes perfect sense. Those opposite have gone from a position where they said they would support ARENA but on coming to office they have changed their mind and they said they would support the RET.

We have seen Dick Warburton's efforts. This is a bloke who has sworn eye patches on both eyes when writing about the renewable sector. How he can recommend that a sector has an important role to play in the generation of energy in this country but pretty much sign a death warrant for that sector by seeing the end of RET escapes me and it escapes common sense. You need to work out why it is that those opposite are doing this. We have got it all wrong. There are no policy reasons for why they are doing this. They committed to it before the election and said that they would keep ARENA and keep RET, but then they committed to the review. A lot of people recognise the way this government works, that at its very heart it has pulled apart all the architecture, the framework that was there to support us generating energy in a much more efficient way, and by efficient I mean recognising that there is a cost which comes about as a result of generating energy through the use of coal, that we have a cost to pay in the clean-up.

Look at one of the biggest domestic political issues affecting China right now—that is, what are going to do about pollution? With pollution in some of their biggest cities so bad, there are serious concerns about peoples' longer term health. The government knows it is a major political issue. Whenever their political representatives are gathered, there is a focus and a recognition on generating energy in a much cleaner way, in changing the way people behave so that human activity that is causing that pollution has to change.

Governments in different parts of the world know that they have to do something about this. While all these other governments are spending their time finding ways to generate energy efficiently, more effectively and more cleanly, and to do it in a much more sustainable way, while the world is going one way this government is adamant it will go backwards. The rest of the world is going forward; this government has shifted into reverse gear. Why is that when you look at what ARENA is doing, at what is being achieved in terms of the renewable energy target and you look at the way Australians have responded?

For instance, when Labor went into office in 2007 about 7,000 homes in this country had solar panels on their premises. Look at Australia today . There are 1.2 million roofs with solar panels on them. At the peak in 2011-12, 7,000 a week were being installed. You can see that the community has supported renewable energy, in particular solar energy. The community has embraced it

There have been, obviously, some criticisms about the way that feed-in tariffs have operated and the way that that might have distorted the market. But if you then go to the issue of whether, for example, the RET and the embracing of renewable energy actually had an impact on wholesale and retail power prices, you can cite a raft of studies that demonstrate that that was not the case—that they have not been causing an upward tick in prices. The reality is that the biggest chunk of increases in electricity prices has been overwhelmingly as a result of the way that state based distributors, network owners, have invested in their networks and been able to obtain price rises to reflect that investment. So that has been the biggest driver of power price increases in this country—a fact, ignored by those opposite. The renewable sector has not had any impact, when you look at it, in relative terms, on the increase in power prices.

So why would this government be doing what it is doing in terms of trying to scale back ARENA and in terms of what it is doing with the RET, as has been announced in the last few days, and the report that has been handed to government? Why would it be doing it? Why would you want to get rid of a sector that is creating 24,000 jobs in this country, and the offshoots of that—the other people, the other companies, the other firms, and the other sectors that have benefited because of the work that they have obtained as a result of this increase in demand? Why would you do that? The installation of major wind-turbine facilities in different parts of this country is helping generate energy in such a way that, in some cases, you can see the increase in the share of energy production. Why would you get rid of a sector that is helping to be able to offset the increase in demand for energy that we have experienced?

Actually, what you are seeing now, for the first time, is a drop in demand. That is for a number of reasons. People are using energy a lot more wisely. Energy efficiency standards in homes are having an impact. Renewable energy is available and you can see the impact of that taking up a greater share of energy production generation in this country. You can see all of this happening. So you can actually witness—and we are one of the first generations to witness— a change in the way that energy is being generated and in the way that it is being used. So, if we are part of that, what is it that motivates this government to change its mind about what is happening with ARENA and what is happening with the RET?

Again, they committed—they said that they would commit—to ARENA and the RET. The now Prime Minister, before he was opposition leader, actually argued for a carbon tax. He said that the simplest thing to do was to apply a carbon tax—that was in 2009. You have got him saying that on the public record. And now he has built himself a reputation for tearing apart everything that has to go with the way in which we generate energy in this country and to avoid the way in which we operate when it comes to energy generation. So they have committed to ARENA and to the RET, but they have changed their mind on that.

You have a person who has gone from being a backbencher to an opposition leader to a Prime Minister, who has changed, at every step of the way, his position on the way in which we tackle emissions and on the way that energy is generated. And now we have got to this point, where we are debating the demise of ARENA. The thing is: I think that you have to look at the way in which the Prime Minister got to the job in the first place. Look at the way he got to the job of becoming opposition leader. Again, this is a person who had argued for a carbon tax. Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, had argued for a carbon tax, and then recognised the palpable sense of outrage in the coalition over the deal that was being done back in 2009 in setting up the CPRS or the emissions trading scheme then, and recognised that the only way to stop it was to take the top job. So what he did was to coast in on the sentiment that existed in the coalition; he surfed that to the top, and he got rid of the member for Wentworth from that role because of the depth of feeling that exists on the other side of the chamber in dealing seriously with this issue.

When they were in opposition they set up all these ginger groups. You see that now that they are in government; there are ginger groups all over the coalition. In a climate where wages growth is the worst it has been for decades, there are ginger groups that are arguing for the abolition of penalty rates. Then you see that there are ginger groups that are arguing for taxation reform on employee share-ownership schemes; they have had a really great run on that. And then we have seen this other ginger group form on the RET, arguing against the renewable energy target and arguing for changes to a scheme that was introduced by John Howard.

Clearly what we are seeing here is not the triumph of policy; what we are seeing here is the triumph of politics within that side, because no-one could seriously believe, on policy terms, or on their own commitments in times past, that they were serious about having a genuine reluctance to embrace what ARENA does or what the RET does. What this is about is the Prime Minister heading off at the pass the growth of another outbreak of the Neanderthals that exist within the coalition, dominating policy and potentially dominating his job. On no grounds—on no logic; on no common sense—can you argue for what is being put forward in this bill or what is being put forward in terms of the RET. This is not about saving the climate; this is about saving the PM's support within the coalition—ensuring that he keeps feeding the Neanderthals that exist on that side of the fence, who argue against the common sense, logic, fact and data that say that what we have been doing as a nation on renewables is the right thing to do.

You simply cannot see how this is going to benefit us into the longer term. When we have an opportunity to, as I say, transform the way that we generate energy in this country, and to ensure that the work of ARENA continues, in making sure that renewables become more and more efficient, then that is the way to go—not what is being put forward in this bill. We need to continue our commitment to the development of renewable energy generation in this country and to ensure that, in years to come, when we do need to make the moves that other countries are making, we are not left floundering and that we are ahead of the curve and not behind it as we always seem to find ourselves in these debates.