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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7742

Senator ALLISON (3:31 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to a question without notice asked by Senator Allison today relating to funding for the Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy.

Senator Hill said that the CRC for Renewable Energy was not funded this time around because it was uncompetitive. The extraordinary thing is that renewable energy has always been expected to compete against the giants of the coal industry, against the fact that we have an existing energy sector which is based on fossil fuels and against the fact that that sector has always relied on public funding for infrastructure. But now we expect renewable energies—solar and wind— to start from scratch and be competitive with those industries that have dug fuel out of the ground without cost and with infrastructure which has been publicly funded for many years. That cannot be the case.

It is also implicit in Senator Hill's answer that CRCs for renewable energy need to sign up with some giant corporation—as it is so easy for the coal-based CRCs and CRCs for other fossil fuels to do—in order to be competitive for funding for CRC activities. We know this is not the case in Australia with our fledgling renewable energy industry. It does not have those links, or, where there are links—as is the case with BP—most of their research is done overseas. If we were serious about a renewable energy industry which could easily pick up the market for much of South-East Asia, if CRCs for renewable energy had the sort of support and funding for research and development that could be expected from the federal government, then they would have a real chance. But, in the circumstances that we have just seen in the last 24 hours, there is little chance of that happening at all.

The minister says that this government is committed to renewable energy and he talks about the renewable energy target—the two per cent that we all know is not two per cent; it is not even one per cent and is more likely to be 0.5 per cent. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the first three years of the measure have been taken up by old hydro and there will be hardly anything left at the end of the day for real renewables such as solar and wind. In addition, the Energy Research and Development Corporation was demolished in 1997—another fine effort by this government. We also know that the PV scheme, which the Democrats negotiated, comes to the end of its four-year term at the end of next year. So all of this leaves the renewable energy industry with very little support at all from the federal government.

I think the government are not seriously interested in renewable energy because it is an ideological problem for them. They are so persuaded by people like former Senator Warwick Parer that our best interests are served by hammering on with that old carbon sequestration approach—the idea that fossils fuels are going to be here with us forever and that we should simply make the best of them, and the assumption that this is a sustainable approach into the future. It is the whole basis of our Kyoto negotiations. How can we sequester carbon? How can we find sinks? How can we do anything to avoid the ultimate question, which is: can we continue to generate huge quantities of electricity from fossil fuels and continue with some of the most carbon intensive processes, including the use of brown coal?

In finishing, I also want to note that it was announced today that Professor Martin Green, the Director of Research at the University of New South Wales Centre for Photovoltaic Engineering, won an international Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm. He was described by the award panel as `the world's foremost researcher and inventor in the field'. Tomorrow I will ask the Senate to not only acknowledge this prestigious award and congratulate Professor Green but also note that people like him are not going to hang around in this country if the government continues to say, `We do not care about research in this field.' (Time expired)

Question agreed to.