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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4825


Mr HUNT (Flinders) (20:00): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Let me begin by placing the Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 [No. 2] in context. There was the Home Insulation Program with $2 billion expended, with over 70,000 defects found from the 200,000-odd homes inspected, at a failure rate therefore of close to 35 per cent, with 200 house fires and with four lives tragically lost associated with the program. There was the Green Loans Program, which wasted $100 million. There was the Green Start program, which we said from the outset was doomed to failure, and which was terminated by the government before it ever really got underway. There was the solar panel shock, which stopped retailers in their tracks, and caused chaos in the industry with the overnight decision. There was the cash-for-clunkers scheme, which we identified as being so bad and so irresponsible that no government could proceed; fortunately, those warnings were heeded. The announcement at the last election terminated it before the program could ever begin. There was the Citizens' Assembly, which effectively abrogated responsibility for the deep policy positions to 150 people randomly selected from the telephone book. Again, it was so bad that not even the government could proceed with it. Then, of course, there was the policy that the government denied before the election, when the Prime Minister said on the Monday before the election that, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead', which has become the carbon tax under a government she leads. All of these represent the background to this bill. All of these represent the form, the history and the record of the government's recent attempts at environment policy. Each represents a failure or a deception on a significant scale.

I want to proceed now in four steps: the breach at the heart of this bill, the essence of the bill itself in terms of its response, the damage which has been done in this sector and the deception which remains to this day. Let me take the House back to 28 February of this year. On that day, barely a minute to 5 pm, the government scrapped its $1,000 solar hot water rebate. Businesses were closing their doors for the day. Let me quote the press release from the next day from one of Australia's most significant hot water manufacturers, Dux. On 29 February 2012, the release said:

Dux General Manager, Simon Terry, said, 'We received the announcement just before 5pm, as many of our plumbers and solar dealers were closing their small businesses for the day. This was completely out of the blue …

Simon Terry went on to say:

Many of the dealers expressed pure disbelief on receipt of my call.

This is the response from a conservative firm, from a firm which does not seek publicity, which does not seek to be publicly engaged in the political process. It just wants to get on with the process of making things in Australia, in particular of making solar hot water heaters and heat pumps and of doing things to advance the cause of Australian manufacturing and to advance the cause of emissions reduction. Similarly, the Australian Solar Energy Society put out a release on the same day, under the by-line of John Grimes, the head of the Solar Energy Society, an organisation which is anything but political in nature. The release said:

The Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES) has called on the Australian Government to reinstate the $1000 solar hot water rebate for households, which was axed suddenly yesterday via press release at 5.10pm.

They got the press release even later than others. It continues:

'The disastrous solar policy rollercoaster continues.' said Grimes. 'Another solar scheme shut down without notice, more solar jobs lost. That’s bad policy and bad process.'

It is hard to imagine more damning words from a conservative industry organisation, but the release went on:

'The axing leaves householders and solar companies in the lurch putting at risk more than 1,000 jobs at companies that had planned for ongoing demand.'

And there is more:

'The leading solar hot water company Rheem has suggested the industry could halve overnight, leaving tens of millions of dollars worth of stock stuck in warehouses and puncturing a giant hole in our clean energy present.'

And to conclude, the Australian Solar Energy Society said very simply:

'The Australian Government should be making it easier, not harder, for Australians to cut their power bills and tackle climate change. This very successful rebate program should have been extended, not axed suddenly.'

So they are the facts. That is what the industry said. That was the shock, the surprise, the response from industry itself.

The Clean Energy Council were equally brutal in their comments. They believed that the 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,000 installation, sales and administration jobs were at significant risk from within the sector. It is part of a pattern of closure, sudden knee-jerk decisions and an inability to understand the moral duty to businesses that are relying upon you by acting to their detriment on your promise. Governments have to be consistent and reliable, trustworthy and predictable. The reason is simple: businesses invest their money, people invest their time and the public invest their commitment on the basis of pledges and promises and allocations by government—all of which failed in this case.

The Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 seeks to ensure certainty in the industry by requiring the government to spend the entire amount budgeted for the solar hot water rebate in this calendar year, because that is what is constitutionally possible. That would ensure that businesses continued to operate as planned and that homeowners had a fair chance to access the rebate. Business owners need to be able to plan for the future with confidence, and with this bill we are trying to provide a bridge to a future which was promised but has evaporated. I note that the government stood in the way of bringing forward this bill for a vote in March, prior to the 2012 budget.

It is interesting that we have at the table the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mr Dreyfus. In a letter to Senator Milne signed and hand dated 21 March 2012, the parliamentary secretary said to Senator Milne:

As discussed with you, the Government never intended to make any savings from the closure of this program and remains committed to support the transition to a clean energy future, which includes the solar hot water industry.

The funding allocated for this program remains in the forward estimates.

The intention of the statement—its implication—is absolutely clear: 'We're not going to reduce the amount of money allocated. The money's in the forward estimates; it's not going to be cut. It's all going to be expended on solar hot water.'

I turn now to what actually happened in the budget. Last year's budget paper was express: in the year 2011-12, $63.5 million was allocated for the solar hot water rebate; in the year 2012-13, in the May 2011 budget, $24.5 million was allocated. That is a total budgetary allocation of $88 million. If the parliamentary secretary's words are to be taken as they were intended to be taken, $88 million should have been expended over the course of this year. The actual spend, as allocated in this May's budget only two weeks ago, was: for 2011-12, $42.8 million, with a carryover to next year, 2012-13, of $0.5 million—a total spend of $43.3 million.

What is the gap between what the government pledged and committed to in last year's budget papers and what they delivered in this year's budget papers? It is $44.7 million. So what we have here is a $44.7 million deception. Again I point out that, on 21 March this year, the parliamentary secretary said to Senator Milne:

As discussed with you, the Government never intended to make any savings from the closure of this program and remains committed to support the transition to a clean energy future, which includes the solar hot water industry.

The funding allocated for this program remains in the forward estimates.

No, it does not; those estimates have been revised, and the money which it was said would be there—the $88 million—has miraculously been reduced by more than half. There was a net saving to budget against last year's May budget papers of $44.7 million. The Greens had the wool pulled over their eyes, the public had the wool pulled over their eyes and, sadly, it is the industry which has actually suffered.

I visited the Rheem plant at Rydalmere, near Parramatta, with the Leader of the Opposition in March. We met with 400 workers on the factory floor of the Rheem plant and saw the sense of disappointment. We heard their views and saw the fact that they felt betrayed. Similarly, I visited Rheem's Perth plant with the member for Swan, Steve Irons. Again, we talked with workers, we met with workers and we addressed the workers. They knew who was standing up for them and who was not. The sense was that they had no stronger advocate than Steve Irons, the member for Swan, and that they faced no greater threat than the government, which had pulled away support without warning.

All of that represents the background to this bill. This bill is all about the breach and the fact that we have a remedy which will ensure that the remaining gap of $20.7 million is expended and so provide a bridge for the solar sector; and then it is about the damage. We already know that Rheem has shed more than 50 jobs in recent weeks; they have quietly had to do that with enormous reluctance. But make no mistake and have no doubt that the government's stop-start-and-stop policies are right at the core of those job losses.

I challenge the Prime Minister, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the parliamentary secretary to go to the floor of Rheem in Rydalmere near Parramatta in Sydney and of Rheem in Welshpool in Perth and to explain their actions and why they broke their pledge to allocate $88 million over this financial year and next financial year . I challenge them also to meet with those workers who have lost their jobs—to meet with people such as Len Place from Dux, who has lost his job since the government's decision. I know him well, and his job has gone as a consequence of the cost-cutting associated with this government's decision. How do I know this? I met with him, I talked with him and we looked at options to try to take him forward. That is the damage.

Finally, I go to the future. We are trying this day to restore the damage, to keep the government's pledge, to hold it to account and to do the right thing by an industry which is in deep trouble. There should be no reason for the government to not support its own words and its own budget paper. We will also, if we are fortunate to win government, put in place a one million roofs solar policy over 10 years, with 100,000 roofs of solar panels a year, with a particular focus on solar hot water—but on a long-term, modest, sustainable basis. The key to policy which can endure is long-term, modest and sustainable measures. That is what the industry seeks. So today is a chance for the government to right that which it has done wrong and to repair that which it has broken. For those reasons, I commend the Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 [No. 2] to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms O'Neill ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Irons: I second the motion.