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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 32

Renewable Energy Target


Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (14:36): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy. I refer the minister to a statement by the PM that said, 'Electricity prices will be lower and energy supplies more reliable under my government.' I also refer the minister to research that says that the Liberal government's renewable energy target, the RET, has added an additional $3 billion to our nation's electricity costs each year. Does the minister agree that our nation's electricity prices will be lower—by $3 billion—and that energy supplies will be more reliable under his government if the RET is scrapped?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:36): I thank Senator Lambie for her question. To directly answer her question: no, I do not agree that would be the case, because that would only create further disruption and further uncertainty around energy investment in Australia. The matter of the renewable energy target was settled in this parliament around 18 months ago. At that time the coalition government took action to bring it to a level of generation that was closer to the 20 per cent target that had initially been set. It will need about 23 per cent under current projections. So we brought down the actual level of generation that had to be made to meet that target. In doing so, it provided a more achievable, certain environment for energy generation in Australia, which of course means that that keeps price pressures down to some point.

But, in terms of the renewable energy target, the big threat that would happen in terms of its operation would be if the Labor Party's 50 per cent renewable energy target were to be applied. They went off to the last election with a target of 50 per cent by 2030. But, of course, there was absolutely no detail of how that would be achieved, let alone any detail of how much it would cost, let alone any detail of what the flow-through impact would be in terms of the reliability of the electricity market or in terms of the cost to consumers. Just last weekend, Mr Butler, the shadow minister for the Labor Party, was asked whether they still stood by their 50 per cent target. And, of course, he had absolutely no answer to that whatsoever. There was no clarity as to whether this target remains Labor Party policy. We are certainly committed to making sure that—

The PRESIDENT: On a point of order, Senator Lambie.

Senator Lambie: If he could just answer the question on whether or not he agrees that electricity will be lower by $3 billion and energy supply more reliable under this government.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Lambie, there is no point of order. In the commencement of the minister's answer he answered directly the question that you asked. The minister is in order.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr President. I did indeed answer that directly at the commencement, Senator Lambie. But, through you, Mr President, I would absolutely emphasise that energy prices in Australia will clearly be lower under a Liberal-National coalition government thanks to our stable, sensible energy policies rather than the erratic policies of those opposite.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Lambie, a supplementary question.







Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (14:39): I refer the minister to his reply into recent scientific research that shows the world's average temperature is between 14.5 and 15 degrees Celsius. What lowering effect, expressed in degrees Celsius, does Australia's RET system have on the world's average temperature? And isn't it a fact that scrapping Australia's RET system will have zero influence on world climate change, while putting $3 billion back into the pockets of average Australians and businesses every year?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:39): The renewable energy target was established to absolutely drive a certain level of renewable energy in Australia to provide a mix and an incentive for the development of alternative energy sources.

Senator Lambie, your question goes to be role it plays in part to contributing to Australia's emissions reduction targets—targets which Australia has always met and exceeded in terms of our international commitments, which we will do again in relation to our 2020 commitments and which we are working on in relation to effective policies to deliver our 2030 commitments for emissions reduction.

So, Senator Lambie, you are right: the RET in and of itself does not, of course, change global emissions, but it does make a contribution in some ways to the achievement of our current targets. But we will, of course, be looking very carefully at whether it is an effective mechanism of making any contribution to future targets or whether there are better ways of doing so.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Lambie, a final supplementary question.



Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (14:40): I refer the minister to his reply. Can the minister detail the number of new jobs and apprenticeships that will be created by business if the $3 billion of annual RET costs on Australian power is scrapped and the average household industry power prices are decreased?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:41): I reject the premise of Senator Lambie's question. As I outlined in answer to the initial question, I do not agree that there would be a $3 billion saving that passed through to Australian business because the reality is we would create significant investment uncertainty through further changes to a target that was only set 18 months ago and only runs until 2020.

So far from seeing a significant saving for business and a significant generation of new jobs in those circumstances, it is quite likely that we would see the opposite from those types of policies being implemented. But I do absolutely agree that, if you were to go and set further, higher, ill-thought through, unjustified targets for the future, it would absolutely have a devastating impact on jobs, costs, prices for Australians. And that is why we flatly reject the policies of the Labor Party in this regard.