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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4839


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (21:01): In the south-western corner of my electorate of Bennelong is the suburb of Ermington, a busy neighbourhood of battlers and real families working hard to make ends meet. Many work in industrial companies on the other side of Silverwater Road in the electorate of Parramatta, such as the manufacturing headquarters of Rheem Australia in Rydalmere. Rheem's history of manufacturing electric hot water heaters in Australia dates back to the Second World War. Rheem employs 350 of these battlers in their manufacturing arm alone, producing household brands like Solahart, Vulcan and Aquamax. This is a great Australian company that supports local workers and relies on a stable operating environment. The government's decision to suddenly scrap the $1,000 solar hot water rebate at one minute to five on 28 February was a sly and deceptive measure that has directly hurt many of these hard-working families.

As a result of this decision, Rheem has witnessed a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in sales and has been forced to sack 60 employees. They are fighting to hold on to their team of manufacturing staff. So far, discussions with this government have not given Rheem any security or assurance that the future for these workers and their families will be any better than for the 60 workers already retrenched. This government's decision has put workers out of jobs and businesses at risk of financial ruin. The Clean Energy Council estimates that 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,000 installation, sales and administration jobs are at risk as a result of the government's axing of this program—which bears a great resemblance to the sudden closure of the Solar Homes and Communities Plan in 2009 and the bungled Home Insulation Program, the Green Loans Program and cash-for-clunkers failures. This government has consistently and repeatedly disregarded the needs of businesses and families in Bennelong, Parramatta and across the nation.

This private member's bill, the Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 [No. 2], moved by my colleague the member for Flinders, will ensure that businesses like Rheem can continue to operate as they had planned and that homeowners in Ermington and around the nation are given a fair chance to access the rebate. It is very disappointing that the government voted against this bill being debated prior to the budget so as not to cause any political friction with their alliance colleagues the Greens.

The government knows that their decision is anti-environment and based on a lie. First they claimed the solar hot water rebate was shut down because it was oversubscribed and that all allocated funds would be spent. Yet the recent budget papers tell another story—one that shows more than 50 per cent of the $88 million promised by the government to support this environmental initiative had vanished. In one breath this government claims that the Australian people deserve some financial punishment through the carbon tax because the environment is worth it, and with the next breath they axe their own solar hot water program because they cannot afford it. The key question which remains for this government is whether this farcical situation is a result of incompetence in the management of the program or is just another broken promise. The use of solar hot water is a genuine way for households to reduce their greenhouse emissions and cut their power bills ahead of the carbon tax on 1 July. Perhaps this government does not actually want people to reduce their coal-powered electricity consumption. After all, this would mean less carbon emissions and therefore less money collected in taxes to pay for the cash handouts.

The coalition is committed to the solar industry. The direct action plan has a one million solar roofs policy, which includes rebates for the installation of solar hot water systems. The coalition is committed to a stable and secure future for companies like Rheem Australia that need a certain operating environment so that they can invest in their local communities and create jobs for manufacturing workers. Just like the medicines manufacturers hurt by the deferral of PBS listings in contravention of the memorandum of understanding and the cattle exporters punished by the suspension of trade after a Four Corners episode, the solar hot water industry has learnt the hard way that this government cannot be trusted and only the coalition can provide the hope, reward and opportunity for successful business and job creation. I commend this bill to the House.