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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1751


Senator KROGER (VictoriaChief Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:35): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and to continue Senator Birmingham's remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 compels the Government to spend the full $63.5 million funding allocated to the Solar Hot Water Rebate, under its 'Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme', in 2011-12.

The Coalition has been moved to introduce this bill by the Government's premature closure of its $1000 Solar Hot Water Rebate on 28 February 2012.

Businesses and homeowners were given no prior notice of the closure of this program, a repeat of the damaging sudden closure of the solar panel rebates under the Solar Homes and Communities Plan by then Minister Peter Garrett in 2009.

Contrary to its claims that the Government has been clear that the Solar Hot Water Rebate was always going to end on 30 June 2012, the Government's own program guidelines did not even mention a closure date.

While the Government is allowing applications to be lodged up to 30 June 2012, to be eligible for the scheme the systems had to have been installed, ordered or purchased on or before 28 February 2012, the day the scheme's closure was announced.

This is devastating for families who had been contemplating installing a solar hot water system and had every reason to believe they would be able to receive the rebate.

Solar hot water is a real and practical way that families can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and cut their power bills ahead of the 1 July introduction of the Government's carbon tax.

The closure of the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme and its Solar Hot Water Rebate shows the contradiction of this Government which is happy to slug families with a carbon tax from 1 July but which takes away a valuable solar program.

The Coalition, in contrast, is committed to the solar industry and, as part of our Direct Action Plan, we have a one million solar roofs policy including provision for the installation of solar hot water systems.

For now, this Bill simply compels the Government to spend allocated funds on the purpose for which they were appropriated.

The Government's own budget shows that $63.5 million funding was allocated to the Solar Hot Water Rebate in 2011-12, with $24.5 million set aside for the program in 2012-13.

The Government would have us believe that the processing of applications after 30 June will account for the $24.5 million allocated for next financial year.

However, the Coalition strongly suspects that, by winding up the program as prematurely as it has, the Government is effectively ripping funding out of the solar hot water scheme. This is funding that was budgeted and, in the case of the current financial year, appropriated for the purpose of this program.

The Labor Government may be desperate for budget savings at any cost, but that does not justify prematurely pulling the rug out from industry by ending programs that are budgeted for without any notice or transitional arrangements at all.

This premature closure suggests either that there has been complete incompetence in the management of the scheme or that the Government is not being honest with the Australian people - not for the first time - and has been willing to sacrifice the solar hot water industry to prop up its own budget.

This Bill will at least require the $63.5 million in appropriated funds to be used for the stated purpose, namely supporting the installation of solar hot water systems. Further, while the Senate is not in a position to legislate in relation to $24.5 million budgeted for 2012-13, the passage of this Bill would at least send a strong signal to the Government that they should honour that promise too.

This Bill is important to restoring some certainty to the solar hot water industry and some hope to households looking to reduce the spiralling energy costs they face under the carbon tax.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Debate adjourned.