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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12602

Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (11:07): I also rise to speak in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011. The federal government accepts the consensus among climate scientists that climate change is real and that renewable energy is a vital part of ensuring a clean energy future. I am proud to be a part of a government that has tackled the challenge of climate change by implementing a price on carbon and introducing a scheme where we can trade carbon emissions. Also, the package is looking at everything to do with that. It is not just the price mechanism that will lead to change in our environment.

I looked through my speech from the previous parliament when both sides, until well into the political debate, were going to support an emissions trading scheme. One of the interesting parts of the debate was about what voluntary action individuals were going to be taking themselves. A big part of the debate was what individuals in their own homes, businesses and communities were going to do. We were looking at the concerns that people had that their voluntary actions were not going to be built into the ETS at that stage. It is really interesting that in just a short space of time that whole issue of what individuals, businesses, companies and, indeed, the energy sector are doing has gone and has shifted just to this notion of a price.

The bills before us today—and the clean energy package passed through the House in our last sitting week—are not just about the price. It is about the whole package. It is looking at putting money into research, jobs, communities and businesses so that we as a nation will move towards this change. I am very proud to be part of this government and I am fully supportive of these additional bills that will be passed today. I want to pay tribute to the opposition for finally seeing some sense and not opposing what will be a good outcome for everybody. In addition to introducing a price on carbon, the federal government is committed to the development and use of renewable energy. It recognises that significant and affordable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can only be achieved through commercially viable low or zero emission energy technologies. The energy sector is a primary source of Australia's emissions and Australia's current level of energy use is expected to double by 2050. Clean energy technologies are vital in moving to a low emissions future while meeting this increasing energy demand. We as a government are aware that the world has seen the value of and is increasingly embracing renewable energies and are determined to ensure that Australia is not left behind.

The government has already acted in this area by establishing the renewable energy target. The renewable energy target means that the equivalent of 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. One of the interesting things in this space is that most of us get an electricity bill that asks, 'Do you want to pay extra for green energy?' The majority of households in my electorate tick that box and say yes. They are happy to pay the higher price for the benefits that it is providing to the environment and the whole community. There has been a very big take-up rate of that. The energy companies have already embraced that. This is just expanding upon that.

The expanded target of 20 per cent by 2020 makes renewable energy technologies an increasingly important commercial consideration. With the implementation of a price on carbon, the renewable energy target is expected to stimulate private sector investment of around $20 billion in today's dollars. The sector has been looking for this certainty. They have been looking at this space and asking what is happening. There is still uncertainty because of the opposition continuing to state that they will repeal the Clean Energy Bill package but the RET and the bills that we are passing today will give certainty to this sector and we will see development, growth and jobs in that sector. The target supports both large-scale renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and solar plants, and small-scale installation for households, small businesses and community groups.

More than this, we as a government realise that innovation is essential to helping drive down the cost of renewable energy and reducing the carbon intensity of the energy sector, which is why we have made it a key plank in our Clean Energy Plan. The member for Melbourne was talking about things that he had seen. Some of those things are taking place in my electorate of Chisholm. The CSIRO centre in Clayton is in my electorate. It is right next door to Monash University. That centre is where a lot of this innovation is taking place. I have had the pleasure of meeting the scientists who are at the cutting edge of developing printed solar cells. It is an amazing technology that will be rolled out in the near future. It is getting to the stage of being commercially viable. Solar cells will be able to be printed onto film. As the member for Melbourne said, one of the other groups is BlueScope Steel, who are looking at putting it into Colorbond roofs. You will not have to buy a whole cell in the future; it will be ingrained in the Colorbond that you are putting on your roof. Within my electorate, I am proud to have many research centres. There is Monash University and Deakin University. The Monash Sustainability Institute is doing phenomenal work in this space, looking at things for now and for the future.

On a recent visit to the CSIRO, I had the pleasure of meeting with some scientists who are looking at packaging. We all use too much packaging. They are looking at the pallets that we use when exporting and importing goods. Every wood pallet can only be used once. About the only thing that it is good for is burning it to stay warm while having a good demonstration. I must admit that I burnt a few pallets during a good demo or two to stay warm at night. It is wood. It is not biodegradable. So they are now looking at a biodegradable pallet. They are also looking at creating biodegradable polystyrene, which is the wonderful stuff that we all pour into packaging so that our goods do not get damaged on shipment. These things are happening now. While those examples are not from the energy space, a lot of energy is used in creating some of these manufactured goods that we use in our society every day and just take for granted. These bills will be providing certainty and money to this space and the great work that is already happening in my electorate will be able to continue. Under the clean energy future plan, a new $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation will invest in the commercialisation and use of renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technologies. Complementing this corporation is a new Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, which will streamline and centralise the administration of $3.2 billion in existing support for renewable energy. This bill effectively provides the legislative framework to enable ARENA to operate. It establishes ARENA, its seven-member board, its chief executive officer and chief financial officer, and sets out how ARENA will operate and will be funded.

Under the bill, ARENA will commence operation from 1 July 2012. It will operate as an independent statutory authority, with the government consolidating all of its renewable energy programs and projects to fall under ARENA's responsibility. The appointment of ARENA's board will seek to draw upon the considerable collective knowledge and expertise currently existing in Australian business and in the area of renewable energy industries. Around $3.2 billion in existing renewable grants will now be overseen by ARENA. Currently, this funding is managed by the federal government and federal government funded renewable energy bodies such as the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the Australian Solar Institute. Approximately $1.7 billion of this funding is currently not committed and will be available for ARENA to provide financial assistance in the following ways: to research, develop, demonstrate and commercialise renewable energy and related technologies; to develop skills in the renewable energy industry; and to share non-confidential knowledge and information from the projects it funds. This is really important.

The Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation, which I had the pleasure and horror of chairing, received submissions and evidence in respect of these bills. Even though they did not form part of the legislation that the committee was inquiring into, they are inexorably linked. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union stated during the committee inquiry that clean energy has potential in Australia and:

Because of the science, we know we have to reduce emissions. We know the need to reduce high-emissions activities is already creating global demand for low-emissions technology. We see the potential of clean technology jobs. We see the $6 trillion global clean technology industry, so we know the future of Australia's manufacturing industry is tied to the extent to which we invest in and are successful in clean energy generation and energy efficient technology development. We have approached the challenge of carbon emissions reduction with our eyes wide open so we can take advantage of the opportunities that the move to low-carbon economies will bring for Australian industry and Australian manufacturing in particular.

Contrary to the dissenting report from the coalition members of the inquiry, the trade union movement are fully engaged in this debate, their members are fully engaged in this debate and they understand that jobs and growth are in these technologies and they will be welcoming these ARENA bills.

The committee also had evidence from Vestas, a large international wind technology company that produces wind turbines, and it is looking for certainty. Vestas stated:

Vestas has previously tried its hand at establishing manufacturing of wind turbine components in Australia, but that venture did not succeed because we simply did not have the scale here to make sure that those jobs were sustainable and that market was large enough. Instead, in recent years we have added a lot of manufacturing jobs in the US and a lot in China and still plenty more in Europe as well. We go where our markets are and where our markets are the biggest so we cut out transport costs. That is the thing that Australia has missed out on in recent times—we have not got to that scale. You can model this and you can model that and everyone turns up with their own set of independent modelling, but you are never going to know until you actually get to that scale. If you look at what other countries have done elsewhere, beyond our shores, those that have gone for renewable energy, and have gone big and gone early, are the ones that have the jobs now.

Again, constantly during the debate here we get, 'The US is doing nothing,' and, 'China is doing nothing.' This is not the evidence from companies in this space—companies who are welcoming these bills today because it will provide certainty.

In further evidence, the committee asked wind generators whether the window was still open in Australia and they said:

I think it is still open, as long as the clean energy bill goes forward in its strength and as long as we see relatively soon—probably in the next three to four years—a policy of what is going to happen beyond the current large-scale renewable target, because we are all sitting here. We know we are building projects to 2020, which will not be 2020. It will be 2018 or something like that when it is contracted out, and then the market is finished. All we know is that we have legislation and a Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but we do not know what either of them are going to do. So it is very difficult at the moment.

These are people who are looking to invest big money and looking to invest to create jobs, and these bills will give them that certainty. Initially, the board will be required to develop its funding strategies which will determine how it will allocate its uncommitted funds across the various renewable energy and related technology types. In considering its allocation of financial assistance, ARENA is expected to develop programs, with program guidelines to be based on merit based assessment processes and, in consultation with the Minister for Resources and Energy, will be obliged to develop a work plan.

The bill defines 'renewable energy technologies' to include hybrid technologies. This definition will enable ARENA to support a broader range of renewable energy projects. It also supports ARENA in its aim of improving the competitiveness of and supply of renewable energy targets, giving its work a clear economic imperative as well. Cost-of-living pressures are very real concerns for many households and we must ensure that renewable energy is supplied in the most cost-effective manner to consumers.

In addition, it is intended that, under the bill, ARENA will collaborate with state and territory governments in supporting renewable energy technology innovation. The government has always acknowledged that community consensus is vital to achieving real and lasting impact on climate change and, to this end, it is firmly committed to working with governments at all levels. ARENA will also be empowered to form committees. ARENA will be able to arrange consultation to provide technical and specialist advice. The scope also exists for ARENA to establish technology specific advisory committees to assist it in fulfilling its duties.

The current debate surrounding climate change has featured business calls for certainty. The government has responded to these calls by implementing a price on carbon, fixed for the first couple of years, giving the business the certainty it needs in making investment decisions.

Significantly, the government is also providing certainty in the area of renewable energy by prescribing ARENA's funding until 2020, providing long-term funding certainty for the renewable energy industry. To ensure that funding is used most efficiently, funding allocated annually to ARENA will be held by the government and used to earn interest until it is required by ARENA.

In addition, numerous safeguards have been put in place to ensure appropriate additional accountability and management of what is a significant quantity of public funds. These measures, amongst others, include:

(i) ARENA'S funding strategy is required to be endorsed by the Minister;

(ii) The Minister will endorse any grant where the amount exceeds $50 million and program guidelines permit grants in excess of $15 million to an individual project …

The government is committed to taking action on climate change and recognises the importance of keeping momentum in the renewable energy industry. The government's renewable energy bill provides the avenue through which renewable energy can play its vital role in ensuring a clean energy future for this country. That is why we are taking these actions for future generations. I commend this legislation to the House.