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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12590

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:17): I commend the contribution from the member for Canberra and look forward to seeing the photographs of her in the electric muscle car—I am sure that she will be distributing them to the caucus! I follow the member for Canberra in rising to speak in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Bill 2011 and the related bill. It is always good to be speaking in front of you, Deputy Speaker, and in front of the member for Hasluck. It is good to see representatives from the opposition here in the debate on this important piece of legislation on renewable energy. It would have been good to have had a voice raised in support of renewable energy today, but renewable energy is about the future and about hope.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): I remind the member for Moreton that I am here as the occupant of the chair.

Mr PERRETT: I beg your pardon, Deputy Speaker; I realise that you are not wearing that other hat that you keep downstairs for other occasions! It is a shame that there was no-one from the opposition available today to give even two or five minutes worth of contribution on the fact that renewable energy is a good thing. It would have been good to have someone talk about the hope for the future that comes with renewable energy.

Nevertheless, over the last four years the Labor government have achieved more for the environment than all previous governments together. Our biggest achievements include this renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. That is why I was a bit surprised that, while there were nearly 20-odd speakers from the Labor Party on renewable energy, there were none from the opposition today even though they have exactly the same target. This 20 per cent renewable energy target is supported by the honourable member for Warringah and all of the coalition, so the silence is a bit disappointing.

Note our clean energy package is before the Senate. And I point out that that is not supported by the coalition. But it is important to acknowledge that in this place there has been bipartisan support for action on climate change, especially in the era prior to the current Leader of the Opposition. Australia is the ninth largest energy producer in the world. We export 68 per cent and consume the remaining 32 per cent at home. Australia has 47 per cent of the world's uranium, 10 per cent of the world's coal resources and very significant natural gas reserves. We have abundant sources of renewable energy.

The beauty of renewable energy is that it is generated from unlimited sources like wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, ocean energy and hydro. Our planet produces these resources naturally. For the most part renewable energy is also clean energy, producing little or no greenhouse gases or toxic waste. In a carbon constrained future, we and our future generations need renewable energy technologies to provide low-cost, emission-free baseload energy. Australia's geology, climate resources and expertise have us ideally placed to develop renewable energies like geothermal, solar and wind energy.

As technology improves, renewable energy is becoming more cost effective and efficient. So, the more we can rely on renewable energies, the more we can reduce our overall greenhouse gas emissions. The renewable energy target and the clean energy future package will work together in concert to drive innovation and to see the development of new technologies. They will make green jobs the boom area of our economic future. This bill is another step along the path to our green energy future and will set up Australia as a world leader in renewable technologies, a fact alluded to by the member for Wentworth in his speech in London a few weeks back, saying that unfortunately China had stolen a march by taking some of these technologies and being ready to export them around the world when it could be an Australian advantage.

The legislation before the House creates a statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to administer funding to make renewable energies more competitive and drive further private investment in renewables. The agency, ARENA, will be independent and will direct funding towards the research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies. ARENA will also help promote greater cooperation between researchers and developers by helping to facilitate more sharing of non-confidential knowledge and information from the projects it funds. Obviously we need the investment to be rewarded and the intellectual property to be protected, but we also need to share wherever possible so that the planet benefits. ARENA will manage a massive $3.2 billion in renewable energy investment which includes cutting edge programs like the Solar Flagships Program, the Australian Solar Institute, the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program, the ACRE Solar Projects, the Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund, the Australian Biofuels Research Institute, the Energy Renewable Program, the Geothermal Drilling Program, the Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program and the Connecting Renewables Initiative, to name but a few.

As you can see, there are a range of clean energy strategies. We are not in the business of picking winners; that is not necessarily what the government does best. That is the unfortunate problem with those opposite. They say the government will always pick the best winner. Even on Melbourne Cup day we do not necessarily get it right, so it is best to let the markets and the scientists work together.

This bill also establishes the ARENA board and management positions, including CEO and CFO. It empowers ARENA to make decisions concerning financial assistance, developing skills in the renewable energy industry and promoting collaboration on renewable energy technology between governments both here in Australia and abroad. The agency will also provide advice to the Minister for Resources and Energy regarding renewable energy technologies.

If Australia is going to achieve its ambition of a clean energy future, we need an organisation like ARENA. This is not a half-hearted approach. This is practical common sense backed by more than $3 billion in funding for this new body so it can be at the forefront of the shift in Australia's economy—a gentle shift but a shift nevertheless. It will ensure our scientists and developers are not left behind but instead will have the funding and resources they need to make the scientific discoveries that will power our country right through to the end of this century and beyond. It will also secure certainty for the sector by prescribing in stone—well, legislation, anyway—the funding to be provided each year until 2020. For the first time, the renewable energy industry will know they have long-term funding certainty. ARENA will be responsible for investing significant public funds in renewables. It is therefore appropriate that this bill includes stringent accountability provisions and common public sector safeguards, including merit based assessment and funding guidelines and procedures. It is important that ARENA maintains independence from government, rather than the executive trying to pick winners—we need that buffer. It is also essential that we have confidence in the accountability measures put in place. This bill strikes the right balance.

Since the industrial revolution, Australia has totally underutilised its abundant access to renewable energies. Apart from the Snowy River scheme, we have yet to realise the full potential of our renewable energy. This bill and the clean energy reforms which have preceded it put Australia on a new course to realise that potential. The possibilities are endless and I am sure that all members, even those opposite who are silent today, are eager to see what the future holds for renewable energy in Australia. I am sure our children and our grandchildren will be too. I commend the legislation to the House.