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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12598


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:55): These bills and the agency that they create, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or ARENA, are a direct result of the negotiations between the Australian Greens, rural Independents and the government on the clean energy plan. The Greens proposed this body as a way of overcoming the many problems, not least of all the industry's perceived lack of enthusiasm for the minister, in the existing renewable energy programs supported by the government.

It has been obvious for years to many in the industry that renewable energy programs in Australia had been a mess of badly designed schemes often run as photo opportunities rather than helping build the industry. Worst of all, government funding programs were announced with a big public splash, innovators and entrepreneurs started to gear up to deliver them and after months or years of delay the programs were rebadged, reallocated, scrapped or so badly designed that nobody was able to take advantage of them.

A classic example was the Solar Flagships program which the Greens helped save from being abandoned earlier this year and for which we secured a roundtable in Canberra. Another example is in my electorate of Melbourne. We had a Solar Systems factory that was helping to build solar receivers for a demonstration project in Mildura and other parts of Victoria. The company was developing apace and the efficiency of the receivers was going great guns, so the company was making great gains. Then the company was placed into administration. This company was due to receive Commonwealth funding at some later stage, but because it was not able to access that funding early, the company was placed in administration and a number of people lost their jobs. For a period of time until a new buyer was found, we had a country-leading technology development going on in the heart of Melbourne, but because they were unable to secure government funding in a timely manner that would have allowed them to see through the trading difficulties they were in, the whole thing was wound down and had to be started again.

I do commend the government for agreeing to establish this body and for following that commitment through. This body will make a big difference. Australia's renewable energy technologists and entrepreneurs have up to now been forced to go through a boom-bust cycle so many times that many of them give up and go overseas. But ARENA will take the short-term politics out of renewable energy and deliver strong, consistent support to the industry so it can be confident of a long-term flourishing future.

Currently government provides some grant based support for renewable energy across a number of programs. The management of these programs will be reformed by these bills which will create a new independent statutory body. This will provide a more independent, efficient and streamlined administration of existing funding. ARENA will provide early stage grants and financing assistance for projects that strengthen renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, and make them more cost competitive. It will administer the $3.2 billion in existing government support for research and development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies.

ARENA will oversee existing government support for programs currently delivered by the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy; the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism; the Australian Solar Institute; and the Australian Biofuels Research Institute. ARENA's independent board will manage $1.5 billion in committed funding and $1.7 billion in uncommitted funds to disburse. ARENA will also receive future funding from discretional dividends paid by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and a share of future revenue from the price on pollution as compensation is wound down. ARENA will have an independent board comprising seven members. The membership of the board will reflect the technologies likely to be considered by ARENA. The board will also include expertise in commercialisation of new technologies more broadly, and business and investment skills. Together with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the price on pollution that will increase over time, ARENA will make a big contribution to the Australian Greens' goal of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy. This is an example of the kinds of technologies that stand to benefit from this legislation.

Since being elected to this job, I have had the privilege of meeting a number of people, and one of them was the climate adviser to the G8 and to the German government. They said: 'We'—Europe—'can't understand why you Australians are not leading the world in renewable energy technology. Look at your natural resources, look at your manufacturing expertise, look at your intellectual resources in your universities and collaborative research centres. Why aren't you leading the world?' In my electorate of Melbourne, Melbourne University, Monash University and CSIRO are at the point now where they have developed a system that allows you to print solar cells onto any surface.

Madam Deputy Speaker, if you just think about such a cell for moment and its transformative potential, you could print a solar cell onto the top of your computer and have that powered from lights like the ones we currently have in this chamber. BlueScope Steel is, I think, one of the partners in that project. They are interested in it because, if they can print these solar cells onto corrugated iron or any other kind of roofing surface, the surface of every roof becomes a power source. You could plug your roof into your house and power your house with it. We are on the verge of commercialising these world-leading technologies right here, in Australia. Up until now, too many companies have decided to pull the pin and not go ahead with such projects because of ad hoc and inconsistent government support. It is projects like that and Solar Systems, which was in my electorate of Melbourne, which are now on a track with consistent, planned development and expansion in this country. This will assist, in particular, other countries in our region and also elsewhere in the world in moving towards renewable energy technology. It is a role that Australia should be playing as a world leader in the export of renewable energy technology. ARENA, as the Greens proposed and as it has been agreed to, will help us take the important step to get there.

Another step that is going to help us get to this goal of 100 per cent renewable energy is planning for and investment in our electricity grid. That will be crucial. In essence, at the moment, the electricity grid in Australia is often a series of wires going from distribution centres down to coalmines. It is not necessarily structured in the best way to allow renewable energy to come on board. That is why the commitment that we were able to secure as part of the clean energy agreement on the role of the Australian Energy Market Operator is so important. AEMO will expand its planning scenarios to prepare for greater use of renewable energy, including planning for the scenario of a shift to 100 per cent renewable energy. It is something that we know from work done by Melbourne University is achievable and it is something that, once we get the proper plans in place, will allow development from both the private and public sectors to come on board and help us get to that goal.

I want to congratulate the many people who have brought us to this place. I also want to remind everyone that if the people of Melbourne had not voted Green we would not be here today, making great progress in the transition to a clean energy economy. We would also not be here without the tireless efforts of hundreds of thousands of Australians who have taken action to support renewable energy. Yesterday, my office was visited by Lindsay Soutar. Lindsay Soutar is a dynamic young woman from New South Wales who just this week was awarded the title of Young Environmentalist of the Year by the environment minister. She won the award for her fantastic work as National Coordinator of the 100% Renewable campaign.

In early 2010 Lindsay quit her job to establish a national campaign on renewable energy—100% Renewable. Throughout 2010 and 2011 the campaign worked with local community groups across Australia to build a groundswell of public support for a renewable energy future. Through establishing a national network of regional and local organisers, a mentoring program, and a series of workshops and a range of public engagement activities that included surveying, doorknocking, local media and the engagement of politicians, the campaign has built new leadership and worked with local community groups to shift elected members of parliament behind the vision of a 100 per cent renewable energy future. Through Lindsay's passion, persistence and commitment to empowering others, the campaign has grown from strength to strength, making a substantial contribution to the energy debate and influencing national decisions on renewable energy policy. The passage of this bill is a win for people like Lindsay and the thousands of supporters of the renewables campaign. I am also pleased and pleasantly surprised to hear that the opposition will not oppose this bill. It shows that the Greens' prediction is becoming a reality—and that is that, when the climate package becomes law and people see that the sky has not fallen in, there will be little left of the Leader of the Opposition's political raison d'etre. Before the blood on the paper has dried, Tony Abbott's blood oath is already fading. After declaring the blood oath that he would repeal every last one of the clean energy future bills, the Leader of the Opposition has now added the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill to the Carbon Farming Initiative as elements of the package he will not oppose or repeal.

The opposition energy spokesperson, Mr Macfarlane, told the House of Representatives yesterday that the coalition will not oppose the ARENA Bill and supports its aim of centralising research and development funding for renewable energy. This comes after extensive attacks on renewable energy and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as well as explicit attacks on ARENA after it was first announced in July. The key reason for establishing ARENA is to avoid the appalling political interference that characterised energy policy under successive governments. The opposition spokesperson, of all people, knows the extent to which renewable energy funding programs were politicised and undermined.

I welcome the coalition's support for ARENA as an independent statutory authority that will be run by independent experts beyond the experience of people in this chamber. This is especially important given that one side went to the election promising no price on pollution and the other side is still not sure that climate change is happening. The opposition have spent the past few months sidelining the constructive negotiations of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to whip up a fear campaign against this climate package, and what they will find is that that opposition will soon subside as people realise the sky has not fallen in and that in fact the sky is becoming cleaner and the economy is transforming to provide new jobs in new industries.

At the last election I announced a plan to shift Melbourne to 100 per cent clean renewable energy, including a price on pollution. I asked people to imagine an MCG covered in solar panels and community solar farms on the roofs of factories and schools. I talked about how we could expand public transport and maintain our mobility with electric vehicles. I found that people understood that to get there we needed to be willing to face up to the risks of climate change and lead. With the passage of this bill and the other clean energy bills I will be making good on that commitment to the people of Melbourne, and Australia will be on the way to a clean energy future.