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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3735

Senator BARNETT (12:51 PM) —I stand on this side of the Senate chamber, along with my colleague Senator Birmingham, speaking to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2010 and related bills. I wish to highlight the importance of renewable energy and its role in the energy make-up of Australia and, specifically from Tasmania’s perspective, the important role of renewable energy in Tasmania. I will have more to say about that shortly.

I want to go back in history and note on the record the proud achievement of the Howard government in 2000. In fact, this year is the 10th anniversary of the legislation for the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act being introduced to the parliament and passed under the Howard government. Historically, that was a very special occasion in support of renewable energy, and the mandatory renewable energy target has a very important role to play in promoting, supporting and encouraging renewable energy. I also want to put on the record my thanks for the leadership of David Kemp, former Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Former senator Robert Hill also had an important role to play in and around that time and since the year 2000.

The bills before us are fix-up measures because the government bungled it last year. As a result of the ‘muffing up’ of the process, as I call it, they have had to come up with remedial measures in the form of the legislation before us in the Senate today. Of course, they have bungled a number of things, and in this area and on environmental initiatives the pink batts fiasco comes to mind. That has been one of the most highly publicised and worst-bungled government programs administered by the Rudd Labor government in recent years. It is a shameful display of waste and mismanagement. It is a $2.45 billion program where $1 billion has clearly been wasted, and there is no commitment on behalf of the government to ensure that every home in Australia that has had insulation put into it as result of the program will be properly and fully inspected. So people still live in fear not knowing exactly whether their home has dodgy or unsafe insulation, whether they have electrified roofs and whether they might be next on the list for a house fire. The government has a track record. They mucked it up last year in terms of this legislation.

In doing my research on the bills before us, I am reminded of two Senate motions that were passed through this chamber. One was passed on the voices on 24 February but opposed by Labor. The other was passed on 15 March 2010. That one was moved by me, together with Senator Mary Jo Fisher from South Australia. The import of those motions, which are on the public record, is that they highlighted the fact that there were major flaws in the design of the federal government’s renewable energy target legislation that have led to a dramatic drop in the price of renewable energy certificates and have stalled investment in the renewable energy sector. The motion also indicated that the federal government was warned of these flaws by industry and opposition parties but chose to ignore the warnings. Those warnings were given last year. It was not just the coalition; the Greens and other opposition senators highlighted concerns. I am happy to note that on the record. The industry was very concerned last year but the government did not respond. They did not fix it until late in the day, late in the hour, and as a result have caused a drop in investment and job creation in this sector.

The motion that I put up in February said:

(iii) the Federal Government’s failure to act is now threatening the financial viability of major renewable energy projects such as the Muselroe Bay Wind Farm project in north-east Tasmania; and

(b) condemns the Government accordingly.

The motion in March indicated similar things. It referred to the Hallett Wind Farm in South Australia and called on the government to:

(i)   work cooperatively with industry, the community and the opposition parties to ensure the bill is properly designed and introduced without delay,

(ii)   without delay, release any modelling or other analysis on which this proposal is based, and

(iii)   provide assurances that the legislation will not result in unreasonable additional costs in power prices to end users.

These are very well-worded, sensible motions. They achieved the support of this Senate chamber, and for that I am most thankful. I like to think that these motions and the will of the Senate on behalf of the people that we represent in this chamber—the Australian people—were a stimulus to get this government to act to fix the problems that they caused last year.

The legislation before us confirms that we will have, as we have had for some time, 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity generated from renewable sources by 2020. The existing RET will be achieved through a series of increasing annual targets, culminating with a target of 45,000 gigawatt hours of eligible renewable energy generation in 2020. The bills before us provide for the creation of renewable energy certificates by generators of renewable energy. One REC generally represents one megawatt hour of electricity from an eligible renewable energy source.

Before I go on, I want to commend and thank the Senate Environment, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee for their report, which was tabled in recent days in the Senate, and thank the committee secretariat for their work in pulling that report together. That report contains the chair’s draft and the coalition senators’ report as well. It is a very useful document and informs members of the Senate accordingly.

As a result of the legislation before us, we now have an opportunity for large-scale renewable energy operators and technology. The renewable energy target is clearly broken up between large- and small-scale operators. In terms of the timing, as I have indicated, the motions put forward in February and March this year hopefully had a part to play in stimulating the government into action. In terms of the impact of this in Tasmania, I am hopeful that this legislation will be passed, and the sooner the better. We have been calling for this for a long time now—and why the Tasmanian Labor senators refused to support those motions earlier this year is beyond me, because this is definitely of benefit to Tasmania. The Musselroe Bay Wind Farm in north-east Tasmania has a lot going for it. It is strongly supported by the Dorset Council and by the local community. Tasmanians up there need investment and jobs, like many other parts of Australia, and I know they will be very pleased if this legislation is passed. This is a must-do initiative to support projects like that. Further things still need to be done by Roaring 40s, the proponent, but this is a must-do action; it is a condition precedent to getting action.

We know that that wind farm is around about a $400 million development for Tasmania, in particular in the north-east. I understand there are 56 turbines and it will deliver 168 megawatts of power. The company has already invested over $20 million in facilities and jobs, which is good. As I said, Roaring 40s has the full support of the local people and the local community. I am advised that the project will deliver around 180 jobs during the construction phase, so that is clearly good news.

This project will support businesses like Haywards Engineering just outside of Launceston near the airport at Breadalbane. Tony Abbott inspected the Haywards factory last year with the federal Liberal candidate for Bass, Steve Titmus, and Tasmanian Liberal Senate team members. This highlighted the importance of businesses like Haywards that build the towers that support the turbines and the wind energy industry generally. They had a very important role to play in the development of the Woolnorth Wind Farm in north-west Tasmania, as did many other small and large businesses throughout Tasmania. We are very proud of their efforts and developments, and I hope that they get success in the weeks and months ahead if things proceed positively.

I have been advised this morning that the REC price is under $40. Having talked to Steve Symons, of Roaring 40s, I know that they would prefer it to be somewhat higher than that. I just want to put on the public record my thanks to Hydro Tasmania for their positive contribution. We are proud of the Hydro in Tasmania. Tasmania, more than any other state or territory of Australia, is a renewable energy state, and we are proud of that. In fact, Tasmania is the largest generator of renewable energy in Australia. I know that most Tasmanians are proud of that. I am advised that Hydro Tasmania actually owns and operates in Tasmania some 29 hydropower stations. Based on the last estimates that I have been briefed on, these stations are worth $4.8 billion. Hydro Tasmania have a joint venture partner, China Light and Power, and they own Roaring 40s, a very important proponent for the Musselroe Bay wind farm. I look forward to continuing to work with them in the months and years ahead on behalf of the local community.

I want to commend the shadow minister for sustainable transport and alternative energy in Tasmania, Matthew Groom, who used to be an employee of Roaring 40s. He is now, of course, a Liberal member of the Tasmanian parliament for the electorate of Denison. He has been a strong proponent of renewable energy for a long time and he now has a shadow ministry role in that area. He is very keen to see if we can get fast action on renewable energy, as I know are Will Hodgman and the state Liberals. But I think we are heading in the right direction. I am fully aware that negotiations are continuing, and more action will occur in the committee stage on this bill.

I also want to put on the record the importance of protecting jobs at places like Rio, Temco and other major business enterprises that rely on power and energy for their operations. An aluminium smelter and other industrial developments in northern Tasmania are very important. We want to protect jobs, we want to make sure that the price increase for power is at an absolute minimum and we want to ensure that we get 20 per cent of our electricity from renewable energy in the long term. I am of the view that Tasmania can play a leadership role in this regard. Just a few years ago I had the opportunity of visiting Denmark and the Vestas factory, where they produce turbines and wind energy equipment and materials to support the wind energy sector. Of course, Denmark already leads the way in providing renewable energy in Europe.

There are also future opportunities for geothermal energy in Tasmania. KUTh Energy is a player in Tasmania, as is Tidal Energy, and there are other renewable energy opportunities. I, like other members and senators, have been lobbied by a range of players in the renewable energy sector. I thank them for their information. I am no expert in this area but I like to be informed and I certainly use opportunities to advance the cause. In conclusion, I remain hopeful that this fix-up job that the government have been forced into to remedy the problems that they caused last year will be successful and will provide further confidence and hope for the key players and stakeholders in the renewable energy sector, whether they be the Clean Energy Council or other players who are very supportive of giving confidence in this industry. We need it, we want it and I am hopeful of it. I thank the Senate.