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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5898

Mr BEVIS (3:17 PM) —My question is to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. How will the new solar credits continue the government’s unprecedented support for the solar panel industry? How does this approach compare with previous approaches in delivering value for money in environmental and water programs?

Mr GARRETT (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts) —I thank the member for Brisbane for his question. The fact is that there is more government support for the solar industry and there are more solar panels going onto Australian rooftops under the Rudd government than at any previous time. The pre-election commitment of $150 million for five years was to fund 15,000 solar rebates; we now have funded more than 80,000 solar rebates from the time we came to government. That exceeds our election commitment some fourfold. Over 60,000 installations are in the pipeline and that means that the industry has at least 12 months work, according to current rates, to continue putting solar panels on people’s roofs.

During the coalition’s entire 12 years in office, the solar rebate program supported around 10,500 installations of solar panels. That is 10,000 panels over 12 years versus 80,000 in just 18 months. I am reminded of that song What a Difference a Day Makes. Some of you will know the melody.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr GARRETT —I will not sing it here, although I know you would like me to. What a difference a day makes not only for the Leader of the Opposition, given the announcement by the member for Higgins; what a difference 18 months makes in the term of a government. Now, with solar credits operating through the renewable energy target, there is long-term certainty for the solar industry to go and to grow and to invest beyond budget cycles. There will be an up-front capital cost subsidy to all households and no means test. Households, the local fish and chip shop, farmers, community groups, businesses and families are all in the market for solar credits. The member for Flinders, who I notice is absent today, said last week in relation to the Leader of the Opposition:

Malcolm Turnbull was the guy who introduced the $8,000 rebate. He knew it was going to be successful. He wanted it to be successful and that is why he actually introduced it as an uncapped rebate.

He said, ‘Look, if this is successful, that’s a good problem we’ll have to deal with not a bad problem.’

I want to advise the House of the real story. When the now Leader of the Opposition did increase solar rebates in 2007, he said that he expected the program to be unpopular. I refer to the Daily Telegraph of 12 May 2007, which reported:

Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t need a state-wide survey showing him solar energy is unpopular. He already knows. The Saturday Daily Telegraph can reveal the reason the federal government didn’t make its $150 million solar rebate any bigger was because there was not enough demand for solar panels. ‘If demand exceeds our expectations then obviously we’ll review the scheme,’ he said. ‘To date shortage of money has not been an issue. Solar panels are still pretty expensive.’

So we have the member for Flinders saying that the opposition wrote a blank cheque for solar rebates because Mr Turnbull knew it was going to be successful. But, in 2007, the now Leader of the Opposition was backgrounding the Daily Telegraph and saying that his expectations would be that the rebate would be unpopular. This is an absolute sham. But we should not be surprised by the opposition.

I was asked how this compares with previous approaches to deliver value—on environmental values, on programs, on water programs and the like. At the same time as very few solar panels were going onto the roofs of Australian homes under the coalition government when the Leader of the Opposition was the minister for the environment, he had responsibility for water policy as well. What was that water policy? It was water policy dreamt up on the back of an envelope: a commitment to spend money, not a single delivery of water back into the Murray-Darling Basin system, with no consultation with Treasury, no consultation with the now-departing member for Higgins, no consultation with farmers organisations—in other words, just doing it on the run.

It should not surprise us because, well before the last election, we know that the Leader of the Opposition was focusing on another aspect of water policy. This was the advice that the Leader of the Opposition received from his department to spend some $2 million on investigating cloud-seeding technologies. There we were two days into the election campaign, with the substantial matters of policy to be determined, including what the government was then going to bring to the people by way of climate change policy and the like, and we had the member for Wentworth writing to the Prime Minister, saying, ‘Can we have $10 million to spend on the project?’

I should point out that a year earlier the member for Wentworth, the now Leader of the Opposition, had written to a scientific expert telling him that cloud seeding simply did not work. He used the expression that the results were ‘inconclusive at best’. Here we had a reckless spending exercise, against the advice of the minister’s department, whilst at the same time there were no policies for renewable energy, no policies for green jobs and no policies for increasing the capacity of the solar industry to do what it had to do. Now we have the opposition leader supporting, it is said, the government’s targets on climate change, but with coalition members in his own party saying right out loud that they oppose the scheme.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition: the confusion that is rampant within your ranks over climate change is an absolute disgrace—with business needing certainty, with green jobs ready to be put into place—and at this point in time we have an opposition leader who is opposed to the stimulus package and who opposed the energy efficient homes plan. This is a plan which will see an extraordinary number of homes—some three million Australian households—get ceiling insulation in their roofs, reducing the costs of energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and producing jobs and green jobs at the same time. It is time that the opposition leader focused on the real policy initiatives, recognised the importance of providing certainty for the Australian public in dealing with climate change and looked at these significant issues and at the commitment that this government has to solar panels.