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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9178

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (16:02): I rise today to support the amendments moved by the member for Port Adelaide on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014. When it comes to the environment, climate change and the renewable energy sector more broadly, this government is building quite a reputation. Regretfully, this reputation is nothing short of abysmal. Through this government's actions last month, Australia now has the unenviable record of being the first country to be going backwards on climate change.

This week in the Senate, the government are attempting to divest themselves of responsibility for environmental protection and, instead, hand delegations of environmental approval powers to state and local governments. That is right: they want to hand over decision-making power for nationally significant environmental sites to the premiers and chief ministers of Australia. Leaders like Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, the man who oversaw the controversial WA shark culling earlier this year, will now have carriage of decisions made for the Ningaloo Reef. Will Hodgman, with his axe and saw in hand and bulldozers at the ready, will make decisions about Tasmania's iconic World Heritage listed forests. And Campbell Newman, Premier of Queensland, will be waving in the ships to dredge and dump on our precious Great Barrier Reef. Next in the government's sights are the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, and the renewable energy target, both of which carried bipartisan election support but are now ready to be thrown onto the scrapheap by this government that says one thing before an election and does the exact opposite after.

The previous Labor government established ARENA in 2012. It is 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. ARENA works to reduce the cost of renewable energy technology development and increase its use in Australia. Effectively, ARENA does three things: firstly, it provides financial assistance for the research, development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies; secondly, it develops skills in the renewable energy industry; and, thirdly, it promotes renewable energy projects and innovation both nationally and internationally.

ARENA currently supports more than 190 renewable energy projects, drawing more than $1.5 billion in private sector investment. There are currently 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—areas like my electorate of Newcastle, a regional city in transformation. The Abbott Liberal government's axing of ARENA puts these projects and jobs in jeopardy. It puts the future prosperity of regional areas like Newcastle under a cloud. This bill risks the investment arrangements that are already in place for existing projects and puts a complete freeze on future investment arrangements.

As mentioned, ARENA has seen significant investment into the local economy of Newcastle, with projects continuing to have considerable impact. No fewer than 17 ARENA projects have been either completed or are in progress in my electorate. They are led ably by Newcastle researchers from the public and private sector, with a range of local, national and international partners contributing through collaborative research and/or direct financing. ARENA funding into Newcastle totals almost $60 million, with the total investment figure into the local economy more than doubling when you include the funds invested by partner organisations. At a time when Newcastle is seeing job loss after job loss, the renewable energy sector has been a saviour, a beacon of hope for now and the future. Newcastle has a long history of excellence in the energy sector, positioning us perfectly to become the home of renewable energy generation and future technology.

The lead agency for the majority of the ARENA projects in Newcastle is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the CSIRO. As our nation's premier research agency the CSIRO has by itself made scientific breakthroughs that change the way we live and how others around the world live. Its breakthroughs and new technologies have enriched and saved lives: wi-fi, extended wear contact lenses, Aerogard and the first influenza vaccine—the CSIRO is behind all of them. The list is impressive and goes on and on.

Breakthroughs in the clean energy sector are now being seen as well. Earlier this year, in Newcastle, the CSIRO announced a breakthrough in solar energy generation. For the first time, solar energy was used to generate the hottest supercritical steam ever achieved outside of fossil fuel sources. This breakthrough has been described as the equivalent of breaking the sound barrier and confirms the potential of solar energy to be used to drive power station turbines now fuelled by coal or gas. It is a truly remarkable feat and an important breakthrough for our planet's future. It is but one of the many projects in Newcastle that have benefited from the creation of ARENA.

But actions by this government are putting future breakthroughs in the clean energy sector in danger. The incredible researchers behind this solar energy breakthrough work every day with a cloud hanging over their future. They are in danger of losing their jobs through this government's $115 million attack on their organisation—with more than 700 job cuts at CSIRO already announced. And that is before ARENA is abolished, as this bill attempts to do, and the government's continued attack on the renewable energy sector through their loaded report and actions on the renewable energy target. As we see this government make decision after decision to put the renewables industry under threat, I want to make sure that the Newcastle based ARENA projects are not forgotten. It is important that they are acknowledged and put on the record in this place. Who knows how long they will continue under this promise-breaking government.

As I mentioned, the CSIRO are the lead agency on most of the Newcastle based ARENA projects. Current or completed ARENA projects lead by CSIRO in Newcastle include:

the optimisation of central receivers for the advanced power cycles project that is investigating a new family of solar components which can provide a higher temperature range;

the plug and play solar power project that is addressing barriers to solar hybrid power system growth;

the development of combined cycle using solar reformed gas project that aims to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of a combined cycle power plant fuelled with natural gas that has been 'upgraded' using solar thermal energy;

the formation of ASTRI, the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative, a consortium of leading Australian research institutions collaborating on 'over the horizon' projects on concentrated solar power research projects in close partnership with US research organisations and leading CSP companies;

a project to improve translation models for predicting the energy of PV power systems, to reduce the investment risk for large scale PV power plants, by investigating the relationship between the manufacturer's power rating for solar panels and the energy the panels generate over time;

the solar driven supercritical CO2 Brayton Cycle project that is examining ways to reduce the cost of solar energy to less than 10c per kilowatt hour;

the hybridisation of concentrated solar thermal with carbon capture and storage project that is investigating the feasibility of using concentrated solar thermal energy in a post combustion carbon dioxide capture process at coal fired and gas powered stations;

the solar air turbine systems project, led by a partnership between CSIRO and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, that is developing and testing the components of the world's most powerful solar air turbines to increase efficiency while decreasing manufacturing, installation and operation costs;

the Virtual Power Station 2 project that is creating the next version of a virtual power station that can undertake pilot-scale testing of load, generation and energy storage coordination;

the advanced steam generating receivers for high concentration solar collectors project that demonstrates that significant reductions in the levelised cost of electricity can be achieved by moving operation of concentrating solar;

the solar hybrid fuels project that sees CSIRO partnering with Chevron, Orica and the Colorado School of Mines to make synthesis gas from natural gas at temperatures compatible with conventional solar thermal storage;

the recently completed solar thermal research hub project that constructed Australia's largest solar thermal research hub at the CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle—a fantastic facility, I might add, that houses most of the researchers working on many of these ARENA projects;

and the CSIRO's last but definitely not insignificant ARENA project in Newcastle, the thermoelectric generator for concentrated solar thermal systems project that is developing and applying high performance thermoelectric materials and technologies to concentrated solar thermal systems.

Also in Newcastle, ARENA is supporting the Australian Photovoltaic Institute on a number of projects. The institute is developing an interactive live solar map of Australia that tracks the uptake and impact of PV across Australia. They have also completed a project that assessed a range of ways in which customers and electricity utilities might participate in a distributed energy market. And then there is Granite Power Limited, who are working on a solar supercritical organic Rankine Cycle for power and industrial heat that will demonstrate an innovative CST system's ability to provide 24/7 electricity using integrated solar thermal storage and operating as an automated pilot plant in conjunction with a gas heater. And, finally, there is the University of Newcastle, project partner on many of the listed projects, who took the lead on the completed fabrication of thermionic device using advanced ceramics project that created a working prototype of a thermionic energy converter which directly converts into electricity the heat generated by concentrated sunlight. The contribution of ARENA funding and organisations like the CSIRO and the University of Newcastle have added enormous value to Newcastle, and their research is making advances across the world.

All of these projects make it clear that Labor's renewable energy policies are a success story. But they are now under attack from the Abbott Liberal government. In addition to this bill to abolish the ARENA, the Abbott government also had legislation before the parliament to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and, as we have read in the newspapers over the past few weeks, the Prime Minister wants to scrap the RET altogether. His loaded RET review, prepared by hand-picked climate change deniers, is no doubt the precursor to government actions to destroy the renewable energy sector in Australia by abolishing the RET.

The RET is doing exactly what it was designed to do, and no-one really knows why the Abbott government wants to put an end to such a successful policy, which delivers savings to Australian households, creates Australian jobs, drives investment in Australian industries and is good for Australia's environment. The RET, I might add, is a policy that has enjoyed bipartisan support and was introduced by the Prime Minister's own mentor, former Prime Minister Howard. It has had, as we have heard, bipartisan support over many elections. Even the current Prime Minister, in 2011, made that clear, when he said:

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.

In February last year, the now Minister for the Environment said:

We will be keeping the renewable energy target. We’ve made that commitment. We have no plans or proposals to change it. We have no plans or intention for change and we've offered bipartisan support to that.

On that basis, I would have thought that both the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment would have been stepping up, after the Warburton review was released last week, to reaffirm their commitment to the existing RET, or perhaps even that the Minister for Industry would have stood up to fight for the renewable energy sector. Sadly, for our economy and for our planet, we have not seen any positive action for the environment or the renewable energy industry from the relevant ministers or the Prime Minister, in either the week since the report was handed down or the year since they were elected. I suggest that the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Industry need to change their tune and join the overwhelming majority of Australians in their support for renewable energy in Australia, by keeping ARENA and by letting the RET continue to do what it was designed to do. It is the very least they could do. (Time expired)