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Wednesday, 11 February 2015
Page: 527

Senator MUIR ( Victoria ) ( 18:34 ): Please note that this is not my first speech; however, I am delighted to inform the Senate and those watching at home that I have booked that in for 5 March this year. I would also like to make a short contribution to today's matter of public importance. Some commentators may say that the fact I am speaking in the chamber two days in a row is a matter of public importance in itself! But I would like to speak on an issue that I believe is important and deserves attention. That issue is the renewable energy target.

On Monday, I attended a high-level industry and stakeholder roundtable on renewable energy hosted by the Australia Institute and chaired by Professor John Hewson. The roundtable created a renewed push to stop the attacks on the renewable energy target and make Prime Minister Abbott commit to the current target. The industry also turned its focus towards the longer term opportunities—in particular, how to secure stronger support for renewable energy.

Australia is at a crossroads in relation to the RET, and we have been here for far too long. The longer this discussion goes on, the harder it will get to meet the target. There are currently enough projects with planning approval that mean that Australia can meet the target of 41,000 gigawatt hours. Finding equity and investment to fund these projects is the problem, and this problem has been caused by the uncertainty created by the government.

The government's refusal to keep its commitment to the RET is creating investment uncertainty for the renewable energy sector, which must be allowed to continue to produce jobs and economic growth opportunities for all Australians. The renewable energy sector currently employs 21,000 people directly and tens of thousands more indirectly. A prolonged freeze on investment would put many of these jobs at risk. Renewable energy offers billions of dollars of investment in the future. Politicians who stand in the way of renewable energy are standing in the way of these future business opportunities and all the benefits that go with them.

I will stand firm to protect the current legislated RET. I do support minor amendments, such as extending the exemption to energy intensive industries to 100 per cent and recognising wood waste sourced from sustainably managed forests as an eligible source of renewable energy within the RET.

I also want to take this opportunity to remind the government of the importance of maintaining the Automotive Transformation Scheme at such a crucial time for the automotive industry. The loss of vehicle manufacturing in this country is tragic, and the flow-on effect through the supply chain will be huge. We need to focus on transitioning these workers and businesses, not place further pressure on the industry by cutting short the Automotive Transformation Scheme.

But one of the most important messages that I want send to the government, and indeed the opposition, today is that the RET needs bipartisan support. The renewable energy industry needs bipartisan support. I urge the government and opposition to negotiate productively and, for the sake of the sector, the environment, consumers and Australian jobs, reach an agreement.