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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7727

Senator ALLISON (2:25 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Why has the government decided not to renew funding for the Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy? Isn't it the case that there is now no federal money available for dedicated renewables research and development? What is the policy justification for this and for the fact that there are three CRCs for so-called `clean coal' technology, plus the $35 million for the new Rio Tinto Foundation for a Sustainable Minerals Industry?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The decision to not fund the CRC for Renewable Energy for a second time must be seen against the core criteria for CRC funding of excellence in science and a competitive bid process. The government has committed about $377 million in programs to support the commercialisation and development of renewable energy technologies and related industry development. The government has legislated to create a world first guaranteed market of 9,500 gigawatts of new renewable electricity generation through the mandatory renewable energy targets and, as the honourable senator knows, an independent review of that scheme will be carried out next year.

The government, in partnership with the renewable energy industry, has launched a Renewable Energy Action Agenda. This action agenda provides a strategic policy framework for the development of a sustainable and competitive renewable energy industry in Australia that aims for growth in annual industry sales of $4 billion by the year 2010, so the government's credentials in relation to support for renewable energy are high. But the other aspect of that of course is the point that I started with, and that is that this bid process was a competitive process. All applications were judged on merit by expert panels, referees and independent assessors, and I am advised that the minister accepted the advice of the CRC Committee's recommendations without change.

Senator ALLISON —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer but I ask him to explain how he thinks the renewable energy industry can be competitive with coal, given the enormous advantages this government has granted that industry. In particular, I ask the minister why he says renewable energy is supported by this government when the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme, which his government put in place, is not worth two per cent, not even worth 1.5 per cent but more likely worth something less than 0.5 per cent. Again I ask: doesn't this latest effort on the government's behalf, in eliminating money altogether for research and development in renewable energy, suggest that this government has no interest in that industry at all?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I thought I had made the point but I will repeat it. The support of the industry through the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target system, the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, the support of the government for photovoltaic systems, the Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program, the Renewable Energy Equity Fund and the Renewable Energy Action Agenda— all supported by some $377 million of funding—demonstrates a commitment to renewable energy. But this government is also committed to cleaner coal. Coal is a vital fuel in competitive terms and in terms of established infrastructure in Australia, and there is significant room within that industry to produce cleaner products with environmental benefits, including greenhouse gas—(Time expired)