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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6236

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (11:09): It is always a thrill to follow the member for Work Choices, because it reminds you just exactly how much—

Mr Tony Smith: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In accordance with your strict traffic-cop ruling, I suggest you call the member for Melbourne into line.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): Member for Casey, please do not reflect on the chair.

Mr BANDT: It is always a thrill to follow this member because you realise just how much those on that side of the House are completely out of touch with what is happening in the rest of the world, even in the conservative side of politics. If one were to ask the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, what they are doing to tackle climate change and what steps they are taking to support a renewable energy industry in their country, one would learn that, even though they participate in the European emissions trading scheme, they are looking at increasing their carbon tax—and it is a tax in that country—because they have been worried that the level of the price imposed on carbon was not high enough to allow them to develop offshore wind to the point necessary to give confidence to investors to make the substantial amounts of investment that they would need to deliver long-term offshore winds. These are expensive projects that are being done for the first time and that need the kind of government support that the government gave dirty energy when it was built for the first time. If you were to go to the United Kingdom you would hear them there saying, 'Yes, we want offshore wind, and we will do what we need to do to sustain it.'

If one were to go to Germany—an economy that is a shining light at the moment in the European crisis—and ask the conservative chancellor of Germany and the conservative government what they are doing there, they would say, 'By 2050 we are going to get 80 per cent of our electricity produced from renewable energy, and we are phasing out nuclear power.' What you would also find, if you went and asked the conservatives in Germany about progress there, is that last year they produced 20 per cent of their electricity from renewables. They are ahead of their target.

During the recent cold snap in France, France, with all its nuclear power, got energy imported into the grid from renewable-energy-rich Germany because they ran out. In Germany they got 20 per cent of their electricity last year from renewables. How did it happen? It happened because the government got behind it when there were Greens in government, a long time ago, who helped set these settings that have been continued by the conservatives. There are now 382,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector in Germany. That is around 102,000 jobs in Australian numbers, or more than twice as much as in coalmining, oil and gas put together. That is the kind of future we can have in Australia if we as parliamentarians and we as a government get behind the clean energy industry and give it the kind of support that governments previously did and still continue to give to polluting energy. And that is something that you never hear the modest members talk about: the enormous $15 billion subsidies per year that are given to coal and dirty, polluting industries.

Mr Briggs: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On your ruling as to relevance to the bill before the House: this is far outside that. He is attacking other members of the parliament. He should be—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I listened very carefully.

Mr Briggs: brought back to the provisions of the bill and explain—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you, member for Mayo; please resume your seat. I am listening carefully to the Deputy Leader of the Greens, and he may continue.

Mr BANDT: The fact that the member interjects and suggests that subsidies that are given to dirty, polluting industries is not relevant shows just how out of touch the conservatives here are with the conservatives in the rest of the world.

We know two things. Firstly, industries, when they begin—especially in Australia, where we do not do enough to support innovation and commercialisation—can go through, and often fail in, the valley of death. That is especially the case for these industries that are new in Australia but are increasingly entrenched in the rest of the world, and we risk being left behind in this clean energy race if we do not give our nascent clean and renewable energy industries the kind of support that is being given elsewhere around the world. That is why I commend the government for introducing this legislation, because one of the things that it is going to do is to give those clean and renewable energy industries the support they need to get to a viable commercial stage. Secondly, it is suggested that that is an aberration but, as I have said, we continue to give up to $15 billion a year in subsidies to fossil fuel industries. Why is it that when someone goes to the petrol pump in Melbourne or Sydney they pay 38c a litre in excise, but when a wealthy mining company does it they pay zero? Why are they entitled to that subsidy? This is the unlevel playing field that renewable energies and the new industries are competing against. And that is why it is absolutely appropriate that we here give whatever support we can to these industries to allow them to become commercially viable in their own right. It has got to the point now in Germany that, because their renewable energy subsidies—including a green bank, a green finance corporation—have been in force for so long and have worked so well, they are able to start winding back some of those subsidies because their firms are so commercially successful and viable in their own right. That is the point we will get to in Australia in a very short period of time because of our incredible intellectual and natural resources, but we will only do it if government is the midwife of the renewable energy industry in this country.

That is why I commend the government for the introduction of this bill, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Bill 2012, and I note just how well the consultation and preparation phase has been done and how professional it has been. The fact that previous speakers in this debate have said it is outrageous that we are going to have industry experts who might have skills comparable to their peers in the private sector coming to work in this corporation does not show that there is anything wrong with this bill. It shows exactly what is right, because those experts will be making the decisions about how to allocate the substantial sums of money they will have at their disposal based on sound business propositions that come to them and they will be able to tailor the kind of support for a particular business based on what that business actually needs. It might be some form of loan guarantee; it might be underwriting some continuous purchase arrangement. That is exactly the kind of flexibility that this finance corporation will have and it will be run professionally.

This package of legislation happened because of the constitution of the parliament that we have at the moment and because it was something that we as the Greens pushed for very hard during the course of negotiations. That is why I am disappointed that the member for Fraser is not here. I respect the member for Fraser, but in a previous debate he said: 'Why are we even debating this now? The Greens should have supported this many years ago.' When that came from someone I respect, I was very disappointed to hear the most intellectually dishonest contribution to this debate that I have heard for some time. How can one get up here as we are debating this package and this Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has never been on the table before and is only on the table now because the Greens are here, and say that the previous package should have been passed? If you were to say that that would have been better, then you would have to take into account, as the member for Fraser did not, the emissions savings we are going to get from this Clean Energy Finance Corporation. You would have to take into account the fact that we now have an 80 per cent by 2050 reduction target. You would also have to take into account the fact that we have a significant amount of money going into a biodiversity fund, that we have a floor price, that we have a climate change authority that will look over the targets we have set and recommend them downwards and that we have a tapering-off of the compensation that is going to be paid.

None of those were in the original proposal cooked up between Labor and the coalition that the member for Fraser urgently wanted us to pass, and yet he has the gall to come into this chamber and say that somehow that would have resulted in a better outcome for the planet. It is folly, and I hope he gets the chance to come back in here during this debate and respond to it. As someone who prioritises evidence, he should have been more careful about what he said and he should have been more intellectually honest about calculating the emissions reductions that will come from this package, instead of using this as an opportunity to suggest that there is some political mileage that might be made.

This package is in fact a reflection of what happens when people from differing political positions work together, and it will stand as a testament to this parliament that we have achieved such significant reform. Just think about this for a moment. In this parliament we have managed to get conservative country Independents, the Labor Party and the Greens together on the same page to pass one of the most significant reform packages that this parliament has seen. It is completely unlike any package previously before the parliament. It will set Australia up for a clean and renewable energy future. It will deliver more for rural Australia than any other package that has ever come before this parliament. And it will fast-track the development of renewable energy technologies in a way that no other package that has ever come before this parliament would have done.

This is not an opportunity for division and point-scoring. This is an opportunity for recognising what can happen when people of goodwill, coming from different points of view, are prepared to work together for the benefit of the planet. This is going to stand the Australian economy in good stead. It will only be a matter of years before we have those 102,000 jobs in renewable energy in this country. I am extraordinarily pleased that we are able now to assist those renewable energy industries to develop and flourish. And I do hope we get to the point where, in five, 10 or 15 years time, we can say, 'Perhaps we do not need to give them the support anymore because they stand on their own two feet.'

The University of Melbourne predicts that it will be somewhere around 2022 before solar becomes cost competitive with coal, absent any other subsidies. It may not be that long before we are able to talk about Australian inventions like the one that is being researched in my electorate where they are now printing solar cells onto almost any surface, working together with the note printers of Australian currency. BlueScope Steel is part of that project because it hopes it will be able to print directly onto surfaces so that your rooftop or your wall becomes a power source in and of itself. Newcastle university are looking at ways of getting microscopic solar cells into paint so you can paint the side of your house and use that as a power source. These are exactly the kinds of innovations and developments that this bill is going to fast-track. So I look forward to the day in 10 or 15 years time when we can come back here and say, 'This corporation is no longer needed,' because, like Germany, we will be getting the majority of our energy from renewable energy.

I commend the government for the introduction of this bill. I commend the people of Melbourne for the role that they played in getting this on the table, getting it into the House of Representatives and getting it passed by the parliament. I commend the bill to the House.