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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12595

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (10:41): It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Consequential Amendments and Transitional-Provisions) Bill 2011. These bills are a very important step in Australia's renewable energy and changing the way that we use and provide energy in Australia. I support these bills because they create the statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, known as ARENA, under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997.

These bills are an important part of the whole package of renewable energy and changing the direction in which we are heading in this world. We have been consuming energy at such great rates that it is causing damage to our atmosphere and the way we live. One of the things that all of us should be upholding as members of parliament is ensuring that when we leave this place we leave Australia in a better place. It would be detrimental to Australia if we did not act on climate change, and this package is part of that action.

The bills also establish the positions of the members of the ARENA Board and the ARENA Chief Executive Officer, and set out ARENA's governance, financial and operational arrangements. The purpose of establishing ARENA will be to provide for independent administration of Australian government funding to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy and related technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy.

We have already done many good things in the supply of renewable energy around the country. Last week I was listening to a speech that the Premier of South Australia—Australia's newest premier, the Hon. Jay Weatherill—was making at a conference. He said that, with the facts and the figures that were on the table at the time of his speech, if South Australia was a nation on its own, it would be second in the world in renewable energy.

Over the last 10 years we have seen, under the South Australian Labor government and with the assistance of the federal Labor government, renewable energy initiatives taking place across the state through windmills and solar with assistance and packages to a number of companies that are developing these new energy products.

ARENA will be responsible for providing financial assistance for important research in this area. Assistance is needed for the development and the commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies. We need to develop skills in the renewable energy industry. These bills will assist that. They will also assist in the sharing of non-confidential knowledge of the projects amongst the industry and will promote collaboration on renewable energy technology and innovation among the state and territory governments and among other institutions including foreign governments and institutions. When it comes to renewable energy and turning around climate change we have to work in a collaborative manner not just across states in Australia, but across the international stage and across the world. That is so important. These bills give powers to ARENA to independently administer existing Australian government projects around the nation and programs supporting renewable energy technology innovation funded by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and by the Australian Solar Institute. They also give ARENA the ability to make binding funding decisions regarding the expenditure of its uncommitted funds.

These bills are very important because Australia has some of the best renewable resources in the world. A few years ago while in Spain I visited Seville, which has approximately 800,000 people. Just out of Seville is a massive solar farm that powers up to 70 per cent of Seville at some times during the day. It was really interesting that their technology and science facilities were Australian staffed. People that had the knowledge in this area had come from Australia to set it up. Spain was extremely impressed by these people. We do have the technology. We do have the people that can do these things. We know that enough sunshine falls on Australia and New Zealand and across the Pacific on an average day to power both countries for the next 25 years. We should harness all of this. With just one per cent of our geothermal resources, we could power Australia for 26,000 years. We can do these innovative things. It just takes initiative and action. This government is acting on this particular issue.

The bill will also support further renewable energy initiatives which will build on Labor's record to date. I will talk about some of those achievements. One of the greatest achievements of Labor in the area renewable energy—and we have a good record on this issue—and one of its first acts in 2007 when it came this House was the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. That was so important. It was a message to the world that we really want to have some sort of action on climate change, unlike the previous government, which refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol for I don't know what reason. When you hear their leaders talking about climate change and saying that it is crap, one has to wonder. If we do not act on this issue now it is going to affect the next generation of Australians and the coming generations. It is one of our duties as members of parliament to ensure that we act on this issue.

The Labor government is also supporting green jobs and modernising our economy by investing $5.1 billion in the clean energy initiative, including support for ground-breaking clean coal technologies and investment in the production of renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels right here in this nation. The National Solar Schools Program is amazing. It has helped over 2,500 schools across Australia take practical action to tackle climate change by installing solar panels on their roofs and by installing water tanks. It is always interesting when I visit schools to see the solar panels on schools that have taken up this program. Each school on its own might not make a big difference but when you add them together—2,500 schools across the country have taken up this program—you can see the amount of renewable energy we are creating through solar panels and through the other solar energy initiatives that these schools are taking on board. It is also a very good message to future generations of Australians. Those students see the solar panels and see the fruition of how they are powering their schools. It is so important. We have also expanded the Renewable Energy Target Scheme, which will ensure 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2020. These are not just choices that we make; these are things that have to be done. If we want a clean, sustainable future and we want to turn around global warming and climate change, these are things that have to be done. We do not have a choice. We must do these things.

We have implemented the Water for the Future plan, including the first ever purchase of water entitlements by the federal government. It is one of many important initiatives to restore the health of the Murray-Darling system. For 200 years the Murray-Darling system has been operating on the basis that we just take what we need for our industries and for agriculture. Of course we need to grow food, but for years and years we have just been taking out what we need and expecting the river to survive on its own, whereas what we should have been doing—and what many countries around the world are doing—is ensuring what is required for a healthy, flowing river and then allocating what is left over to industry and agriculture. We have to change the whole way we think in this area. I think we are at a breaking point where, unless we change our ways and turn it around now, we will have a very dim future when it comes to water in Australia. I am pleased to see that the water buyback plans are working. There are many areas—for example, in and around Murray Bridge in South Australia—where dairy farmers have taken up this opportunity. They have sold some of their water entitlements to the government and you can see all these wetlands being created now. We are restoring those areas to their natural state.

It is also very important to secure our urban water supply. We are providing funding for new initiatives for recycling stormwater. In my electorate of Hindmarsh, for example, we have the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant, which for many years would treat the effluent and then just pump it out into the sea. Under this government, I am very pleased—this is something I was pushing for for a long, long time—that the effluent will be pumped back into the city through a pipeline from Glenelg to Adelaide. It is cleaned and it is now watering all our parkland in Glenelg. The second stage is that local governments are now buying water from that pipeline, which goes from Glenelg right into the centre of the city. It is not only for local governments to water their ovals, parks et cetera; industry is now showing an interest as well. That water is helping secure our urban water supply. It is being recycled and cleaned and it is certainly not destroying the Gulf St Vincent in South Australia, which borders the western part of my electorate, which is what was happening for many, many years.

This particular project is something that the local government started working on more than 10 years ago. They started working on a plan, but no-one was interested in it. We were hitting our heads against a brick wall when we were putting it to state governments and to the former federal government. So I am very pleased that one of the first acts of this Labor government was to provide over $31 million in partnership with the state government, which put in another $31 million, making a total of close to $62 million of funding for this pipeline from Glenelg. The contaminants are no longer going out into the sea, contaminating the Gulf St Vincent and killing off the seagrass, which is a breeding ground for a lot of fish.

We have also invested funds to transform the automotive industry with the rollout of the hybrid Camry, the first Australian built hybrid car. That is very important. I heard one of the other members talking earlier about electric cars. We have been talking about them for many years in this nation, and here they are, coming to fruition. We have now produced an electric car. To be able to sit in one when you are being driven home by Comcar is amazing. They are burning far less energy than petrol cars.

We are creating a user-friendly one-stop green shop website that links families, schools and businesses to all government energy and water efficiency programs. It is very important for all of us to do what we can to use solar and a whole range of other renewable energies in our own households. As I said earlier, I hope the opposition do support these bills, but I do not hold a lot of hope having heard the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, talking about climate change and referring to it as 'crap'. That does not give you much hope, but we have an absolute duty in this place. The utmost duty we have as members of parliament is to ensure that we hand over this country in a better position than we found it. We should all aspire to do that. These bills, as I said, are not a choice. They are a must if we want Australia and the world to survive. We have to look at renewable energy. I commend these bills to the House.