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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 989

Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (12:17): One of the difficult things for me in any debate about energy is that we have to cast any discussion about this matter as though we are either entirely for existing forms of energy or we are entirely for newer forms—that there cannot be in some way, shape or form an intelligent use of alternative sources of energy that complement each other. It is simply a fact of life that, given coal reserves in this country, we will be dependent on coal for some considerable period of time.

I note that in discussion around this resolution there will be elements that will focus on opposition to certain parts of the resolution. My support for renewable energy is not just from an environmental perspective but also from an economic perspective. It is a statement of fact that, in our reliance on fossil fuels, we are relying on a finite resource. At some point in the future these resources will dwindle to such an extent that we will be required to use other forms of energy in a way that will accommodate a growth in energy use—which continues to increase year in and year out because of our lifestyle and because our economic development requires an ability to tap into reliable and constant forms of energy—and we need to be able to do it in a way that is efficient.

Anyone who supports renewable energy is not just an environmentalist but is also thinking, as we all do, from an economic perspective about an efficient use of resources. As a resource, particularly a finite one, becomes more and more expensive—because we are unable to find abundant sources of these resources—it is incumbent on us all, from the perspective of looking at what happens from environmental degradation but also from the perspective of the efficient use of resources, to find other ways to supplement energy generation. That is why I speak in favour of renewable energy. It is important that in the course of the last 12 months, and particularly in terms of the contribution made through the debate on putting a price on carbon, we have also seen as a result of putting a price on carbon that there will be impetus provided to look at smarter ways of generating energy that are also cleaner.

I am proud of being a member of a government that has not only introduced a carbon price from this year but will also through the renewable energy target provide a cross-subsidy of more than $20 billion to the renewable energy sector over the period. It will also, through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, invest about $10 billion in renewable energy—$10 billion to find cleaner ways of generating energy and to use energy more efficiently through the application of technology. That will be done through a combination of loans, loan guarantees and equity investments and will also create the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, to consolidate $3.2 billion in government support for research and development and also demonstration, deployment and commercialisation of renewable energy. We are doing this for a variety of reasons, including obviously for the immediate impact of what we are doing in relation to introducing a clean energy future. A carbon price is part of that. It is also important that the sooner we start embracing renewable energy the better it is in terms of future generations, because, frankly, not doing anything on this is in effect cost-shifting to future generations, requiring them to deal with the economic impact of having dwindling finite fossil fuels to meet our energy requirements.

In saying that, my deep concern is that, in setting up the loans and the loan guarantees, there is certainty for business. My opposition to the member for Melbourne's motion is the concern that, while obviously we want to have the efficient use of government funding, we want to be able to do that in a way that does not arbitrarily remove grants from businesses that have secured them. It is my understanding that the minister has granted an extension of time, and it is the final extension of time, to HRL to deal with this. But as we find that renewable energy and renewable technologies do from time to time meet community opposition, and other factors as well, there will be a requirement for us to be flexible to work through an infant technology or a newer way of generating energy. My concern about this motion is that it arbitrarily removes funds supporting one applicant who had been awarded this under a previous government. We need to be smarter about the way in which we work with industry to achieve a goal that we all support: generating more renewable energy.