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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5723

Senator ALLISON (2:46 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Is the minister aware of the report prepared by Origin Energy which showed that the mandated renewable energy target legislation will deliver a 0.9 per cent increase in renewable energy by 2010, which is less than half of the two per cent this government promised the Senate? Does the government intend to fix this problem with the MRET? If not, why not?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I was asked a somewhat similar question, perhaps from elsewhere in the Democrat community, on the issue of failure to achieve the target. In that instance, it was being put to me that it was because of a baseline issue related to hydro. I think the best I can say, without referring it back to Dr Kemp—which I will do for a detailed response—is that this was a significant contribution by this government to achieving a better greenhouse gas outcome. In fact, the form of legislation was unique in terms of the developed world. It was designed to provide an incentive for an additional take-up of renewable energy. As far as I understand, it is succeeding, but there are issues as to whether further changes need to be made in order that it might be even more productive in the future. That potential was written into the legislation. A review is to be undertaken, which no doubt others in this place will have an opportunity to contribute to, but, from the government's perspective, we certainly want the measures to work because we believe in a better environmental outcome. That is why we brought these initiatives to the parliament in the first instance. I will seek a detailed response from Dr Kemp as to where we are in delivering the target that we indicated and, if necessary, what further refinement needs to be made to the scheme.

Senator ALLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. I want to clarify that this is nothing to do with the hydro baseline. In fact, the hydro baseline further reduces that target of just 0.9 per cent. Australia will fall short of its Kyoto target by around 14 million tonnes of CO2 per year. The energy sector says that increasing MRET to 10 per cent is easily doable and will allow Australia to meet its target. Why does your government continue to resist this option? Isn't it the case that this study shows that Australia's relative competitive position would not be damaged at all by increasing renewable energy by 10 per cent?

Senator Brown —Because the coal industry is running the show!

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I remember the battle it was to get any decent environmental reform through this chamber. Why was it a battle? Firstly, it was because the Greens totally opposed it—extraordinary though that might seem. But of course we know why they are opposed to it: because it is an initiative of the Howard government. Any step taken by the Howard government towards a better environmental outcome has to be condemned on principle.

Senator Allison —I rise on a point of order. Mr President, I ask you to remind the minister that the question that was put to him was quite specific and to ask him not to debate the matter of another party's response to environmental issues in this chamber.

The PRESIDENT —I hear your point of order. Senator Hill, please return to the question.

Senator HILL —I had said that the government is committed to a better environmental outcome, particularly in relation to renewable energy, and that we are prepared to work with those who are prepared to work with us. So I extend the invitation to the new Australian Democrats—who are now wanting to re-establish their place in the broader Australian political scene—to be cooperative, to come with us, to work through this process of legislative reform for renewable energy and to ensure that we are in fact maximising the potential that is out there. That is my invitation to the Australian Democrats, and, if they respond positively, together we can achieve a better environmental outcome. (Time expired)