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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9175

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (15:47): The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014 is another shameful part of the government's attack on the renewable energy industry and on the renewable energy policies of the former Labor government. ARENA, which is the subject of this bill, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, was established by the former Labor government in 2012. It was established as an independent agency, designed to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies in Australia and to increase the supply of renewable energy to Australia's electricity market. It was a part of a comprehensive set of policies designed to reduce Australia's carbon emissions, to reduce Australia's reliance on fossil fuels and to make sure that Australia can play its part with the community of nations in tackling what is, of course, a global problem—that being the global problem of reducing carbon emissions so as to reduce the effects of dangerous climate change, the effects which we are already experiencing here in Australia.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency works to reduce the cost of renewable energy technology development and increase its use in Australia. It is an agency that provides financial assistance for the research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies, which develop skills in the renewable energy industry and which promotes renewable energy projects and innovation both nationally and internationally. In that sense, ARENA is like agencies that have been created across the developed world, many of them in nations with which we trade which are designed to the same end—to ensure that we will increase the use of renewable energy in our economy.

As with other of the former Labor government's comprehensive set of policies designed to deal with climate change, to take real action on climate change, ARENA has proved to be a success. It currently supports more than 190 renewable energy projects, drawing more than $1.5 billion in private sector investment. There are a further 190 renewable energy projects in the pipeline which have the potential to draw more than $5 billion in private sector funding. Seventy per cent of ARENA funding has gone to projects in rural and regional Australia, creating jobs for the future in these areas. The axing of ARENA, as with the attacks that we have seen on the renewable energy target by the Abbott government, puts all of those projects in jeopardy—the 190 renewable energy projects already being supported and the potential further 190 renewable energy projects in the pipeline.

The bill risks the investment arrangements already in place for existing projects and would put a complete freeze on future investment arrangements, most notably in New South Wales, the state which has the largest number of projects presently funded by ARENA and some $582 billion of ARENA funding; or the ACT, with some 27 projects and $24 million of ARENA funding; or Victoria with some 24 projects and $89 billion of ARENA funding—all of them having leveraged many hundreds of millions of dollars of private funding.

The attack on ARENA is part of an attack that we have seen now across the board on renewable energy policies and on climate change policies of the former Labor government. It is worth noting that renewable energy policy under our government was a success story, but the facts have never been allowed by the Abbott government to stand in the way of a blind ideological obsession with destroying all real action on climate change and apparently a blind ideological hatred of all things to do with renewable energy.

It needs to be borne in mind that in addition to this bill, which would abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Abbott government has also had legislation before the parliament to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. And of course we have been reading in the media for months that the Prime Minister wanted his renewable energy target review panel to recommend scrapping the renewable energy target altogether.

Nobody could know why the Abbott government wants to put an end to such successful policies that have delivered savings to Australian households, created Australian jobs that drive investment in Australian industries and that are good for Australia's environment. No-one could tell why a set of renewable energy policies that have been resoundingly successful should now be the target of this destructive activity of the Abbott government.

It is worth stating just a few facts about where Australia got to with the policies of the former Labor government supporting renewable energy. During Labor's time in government wind power tripled, jobs in the renewable energy industry also tripled to more than 24,000 and Australian households with solar panels on their roofs increased from around 7,000 to more than a million. In that million are some nearly 6,000 households—5,951 on the latest statistics—in my own electorate of Isaacs. I can now say, proudly, that some nine per cent of households in Isaacs are now running on the sun. That support, putting their money where their mouth is, is something that we have seen right across Australia not just in my electorate but in every electorate. People have been moving to put solar panels on their roofs, supporting what they understand, rightly, to be the correct future direction for the Australian economy, which is towards renewable energy—not to have less renewable energy but to have more of it.

Some of the wind and solar farms in Australia in the large-scale projects are the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Investment in most of these projects was driven by the renewable energy target, driven by the set of policies that the former government put in place.

When Labor was in government Australia ranked in the top four most attractive places in the world to invest in renewable energy projects. Since the election of the Abbott government and since the Prime Minister began his latest scare campaign against renewable energy, Australia has fallen to ninth on the global index and, in all likelihood, will fall further. We saw, even before the government makes a decision on the renewable energy target, from the rhetoric that has been employed by the government and from the kinds of attacks that have been made by the Prime Minister and his ministers on renewable energy and on the renewable energy target a collapse in the investment pipeline and a collapse in confidence in the industry. It is extraordinary to think that a Liberal government, formed by a party that once prided itself on its support for business, should be engaged in what is nothing more than an attack on a successful Australian industry. No-one should be in any doubt about the effect of all of the things that have been said by the Prime Minister since coming to office, all of the encouragement that has been given by the Prime Minister and his ministers towards the destruction of the renewable energy target. They are utterly contrary to the things that they said before the election. It is worth bearing in mind what the Prime Minister, as then Leader of the Opposition, said back in September 2011:

Look, we originated a renewable energy target. That was one of the policies of the Howard government, and yes, we remain committed to a renewable energy target … we have no plans to change the renewable energy target.

Going forward a year, The Australian reported that the then opposition leader had told the party room that people saw generating renewable energy as an important issue and the coalition had to commit to it. The present Minister for the Environment said from opposition in February last year:

We will be keeping the renewable energy target. We’ve made that commitment. We have no plans or proposals to change it.

And further:

We have no plans or intention for change and we’ve offered bipartisan support to that.

Just to complete the set, the present parliamentary secretary, Senator Birmingham, said at the Clean Energy Week conference in July last year:

It has been interesting to note the claims being made about what the Coalition will or won’t do. All of it is simply conjecture. The Coalition supports the current system, including the 41,000 giga-watt hours target.

Come government, all of that has been ripped up and all of that has been forgotten. And what we have got, as in so many other areas of policy, is a government that have no intention of keeping the promises they made before the election, that have no intention of keeping faith with the Australian people and that were at all times, it would appear from the way they have been talking since the election, setting out to destroy the renewable energy target. I say again that in renewable energy we have an industry which is serving Australia very well

In that quotation of the then opposition leader, now Prime Minister, in September 2011, he reminded us then that the renewable energy target was commenced by the Howard government. What is perhaps distressing is that the coalition was committed to the renewable energy target at the 2004 election, the 2007 election, the 2010 election and the 2013 election. The coalition has supported the renewable energy target and renewable energy at four elections and, because of the bipartisan support for the renewable energy industry, billions of dollars have been invested in Australia's clean energy industry. What we are now seeing is the Prime Minister walking away from the table and leaving a large prospering Australian industry stranded.

Since 2001, the statistics show that the renewable energy target has delivered the deployment of over 7,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity. In 2013, renewable energy contributed to around 15 per cent of all electricity generated across Australia. The renewable energy target has delivered more than $20 billion in investment in renewable energy technologies. It has delivered wholesale energy prices as much as $10 per megawatt hour lower than they would be without the renewable energy target. And it has delivered over 15,000 jobs. As currently designed, if left alone by this mob of wreckers who are now the government of Australia, the renewable energy target would create a further 18,000 jobs between 2014 and 2020. That would include some 9,700 jobs that are going to be created in large-scale renewables and 8,700 jobs in small-scale renewables, if the renewable energy target scheme is simply allowed to do its work and is left alone by the government. Total additional investment in large-scale renewables would be nearly $15 billion in today's dollars between now and 2020. Finally—and, of course, this was the great scare that was tempted to be erected with a whole range of false reports, false analysis and false statements that were made by the government bout prices—the renewable energy target scheme, if left to do its work, can deliver both lower wholesale and lower retail power prices.

What is probably disappointing to this government is that the renewable energy target panel did not deliver what they hoped it would, which was to say that there was some dramatic improvement that might be caused to retail prices if the renewable energy target were abolished. Far from it. We have a report that bizarrely says that the renewable energy target scheme was attracting too much investment and was creating too many jobs. As the shadow minister, Mr Butler, has said, what warped world is Tony Abbott living in where too many jobs is something to be critical of? I say again: this is not a government that actually understands business. It is certainly not a government that favours business in any way. If it were, it would be supporting the renewable energy target. (Time expired)