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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9192


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (17:02): Deputy Speaker, we on this side of the House understand the importance of research and development. With R and D comes the medication that saves you an expensive and risky operation; the social networks that allow millions around the world to connect with a swipe of the finger; and the technology that allows cars to drive themselves. And when we look to solve our complex environmental problems, research and development must play a key role in reducing our carbon emissions and in addressing climate change. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of energy development. We are blessed in this country with unlimited wave, wind and solar power. What is limited is our ability to harness this power through our existing renewable energy technologies. It is essential to invest in research and development so that we can improve this capacity. If we can more effectively harvest energy from our renewable sources, we will be able to power the homes of Australian families far more effectively, while protecting Australia's environment. We will be able to create thousands of jobs within the renewable energy sector at the same time. We will be able to move into a future where our energy capacity is determined not by what we dig out of the ground, but by how we harvest the energy found all around us.

However, investment in research and development can come at a high cost for the organisations that undertake it. Quite often, the companies undertaking the research cannot absorb high R and D costs into their product budgets—so new, innovative solutions occur at a slower pace and at a higher price than in the national—and the current global—interest. In these areas, effective government investment in research and development can do wonders for the industry in question. This is particularly true in the case of renewable energy, where investments in research and development can pay off in vastly improved storage capacities. They can create wind farms far more effective at capturing wind power, and solar panels far more effective at saving sunlight. These investments can create a renewable energy sector that generates cheaper and more environmentally friendly energy—keeping the costs of energy down for Australian families, and addressing climate change at the same time. These investments put Australia at the forefront of renewable energy development around the world, adding to our export of green technology, and creating more jobs at home in Australia.

Government investment must always be managed effectively so that there is as little waste as possible. We must ensure that taxpayer funds are spent on the research that will have the most value for the Australian people. We must make sure funds are allocated for their commercial, not political, value. It is important to have an independent agency that can effectively manage this task. This is the crucial role that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, plays. It ensures that our renewable energy sector continues to grow and to develop. It does so not only by investing in renewable energy projects—and by doing so, encouraging private sector investment so that our renewable energy sector grows—but also by investing in research and development, so that we can discover the technology that will make our renewable energy industry even more effective in the future. In this way, government investment takes our renewable energy industry into a new and exciting future. ARENA uses these two tools to work towards a broader goal: to create a larger, more competitive, renewable energy industry in this country.

ARENA has had significant success in reaching this goal in recent times. Since its creation by the Gillard Labor government in 2012, it has invested $940 million into renewable energy development. This in turn has encouraged over $1.8 billion of investment from other sources for new projects. Every $1 of investment from ARENA has leveraged at least $1.80 from industry and other groups. In particular, ARENA is investing much of this money in research and development for renewable energy. We have seen investments of $462 million in early-stage research and development; $1 billion into transforming pilot-stage programs into large-scale development; and $1.1 billion into deployment of these projects so that they can become competitive.

The efforts of ARENA have led to investment in over 190 renewable energy projects across this country. They have led to significant technology breakthroughs, creating a renewable energy industry with world-class technology. Thanks to ARENA investment, we have seen the highest-ever temperature of steam produced using energy from the sun recorded by researchers from the CSIRO. We have seen the creation of the world's first commercial-scale wave-energy array in Perth, which produces both electricity and desalinated water. We have seen investment in the largest solar power station in New South Wales and Australia's first off-grid solar farm in remote Queensland. ARENA is helping to create a renewable energy industry that creates cheaper and more efficient power for the Australian people. It is also creating more jobs for Australian workers, particularly in regional Australia. Over 70 per cent of ARENA funding has gone to regional and rural areas in Australia.

It is clear that ARENA's efforts are working—and they are working well. Combined with the work of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the renewable energy target, we saw the renewable energy industry under the previous Labor government become a resounding success. Under the previous Labor government we saw the production of wind power triple and we saw solar panels on Australian households increase from approximately 7000 households across the nation to over one million—making a significant impact on the energy bills of these households. We also saw jobs in the renewable energy sector triple to an industry that now employs 24,000 people across the country.

These policies have created a positive impact on Australia's households, Australia's job market and, of course, Australia's plan to address climate change. Deputy Speaker, it is clear that if you truly believe in the future of our renewable energy industry, you must believe in developing that industry for the future. And targeted government investment through independent agencies, such as ARENA, as well as the work of the RET and the CEFC, are crucial to achieving that goal. Unfortunately, the Abbott government has made it clear that science and technology are at the very bottom of their agenda. Right off the bat, they have shown their disdain for scientists by abolishing the minister for science and excluding the position from the Abbott Cabinet. They followed this by slashing scientific funding in May's budget, cutting more than $1 billion out of scientific research and, through the deregulation of university fees, stopping the dreams of aspiring scientists in their tracks by doubling the price of a science degree and putting an extra penalty on students who pursue research studies after the completion of their undergraduate degree.

The Abbott government have saved their most poisonous venom, however, for the science of climate change. When you start this policy area with the viewpoint that the science of climate change is 'crap', as our Prime Minister does, any action you take on the issue is likely to be half-hearted at best. This lacklustre approach can be seen through the Abbott government's ruthless dismantling of the carbon price in this country. It can be seen in their Direct Action policy—a policy so full of political hot air it might add a couple of degrees to the world's temperature by itself. It can also be seen in the political weight given to the opinions of the honourable Member for Flinders by the cabinet. Those on the other side of the House have been known to joke and mock that carbon dioxide emissions are a weightless and invisible gas. The same could well be said of the reputation of the environment minister after 12 months of the Abbott government—a man of so little weight political weight that he has been rolled on every major climate change decision by the Abbott government. If only we could harness the energy from the environment minister being rolled by the Abbott government, Australia's renewable energy industry would have a rosy future, indeed! Despite writing his thesis on the importance of putting a price on carbon, his view is given little credit in the cabinet. We are talking about a minister who asserts the government is 'working on' the Million Solar Roofs program, despite the government defunding the program in the mid-year economic forecast. This is a minister who goes around claiming that the government is committed to the renewable energy target at the same time his Prime Minister undermines the RET completely by appointing a climate sceptic to review the success of the scheme and make recommendations for its future. This is a minister who was considered such a lightweight he was removed from the renewable energy target review process, even though it was already populated with climate-denying cranks and Abbott government cronies.

Such blatant undermining of the most senior voice for the environment in the Abbott government shows just how little the Prime Minister cares about climate change policy. It is an approach also a cabinet who seem not to be able to make head or tail of coalition climate policy. As recently as last Tuesday, the Parliamentary Secretary for Industry announced $21.5 million for solar research funding under the ARENA banner. And yet last week we saw the minister in this chamber arguing to abolish ARENA, the very body best equipped to allocate that funding. What all this adds up to is an attack by the Abbott government on the renewable energy sector for reasons of pure ideology. This ideological extremism is writ large all over their threats to cut the renewable energy target, their attacks on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the abolition of ARENA seen in the bill under consideration today.

This bill not only freezes future investment in the industry, it risks the investment arrangements that have already been implemented by ARENA. It risks investment in the 24 projects in my home state of Victoria, which, while receiving only $89 million of ARENA funding, have attracted $198 million of private investment. It risks investment in another 178 projects around the country, which have a total value of less than $10 million. This is investment in the small projects, research grants and scholarships, where the dice are being rolled and new, innovative technology is being developed. It is bad enough that the Abbott government is willing to ignore the development of science and technology in our country, particularly in relation to the renewable energy industry, but that they are also willing to ignore the economic benefits that flow from the development of this industry is extraordinary.

When Labor was in power, Australia was in the top four of the most attractive countries in the world for renewable energy investment. Since the election of the Abbott government, we have fallen to ninth place. The Abbott government is actively discouraging foreign investment in an industry which contains what President Obama of the United States has called 'the jobs of the future'. Indeed, I recently had a stakeholder in the renewable energy industry remark to me that, if the Prime Minister really believed we were 'open for business', why was he closing the door on one of the most important industries for Australia's economic future? Other energy companies have spoken out more publicly about the impact that the Abbott government's plans for renewable energy—in particular their plans to gut the renewable energy target—will have on their companies. The managing director of Infigen Energy recently remarked that 'financial devastation' awaits the 24,000 people who work in the industry. So the Abbott government—in pursuing their anti-science, anti-climate-change agenda—have hurt Australia's environment and Australia's economic future and they are doing so in the face of overwhelming opposition from the Australian people. In an opinion poll published in the Australian as recently as 20 August, 95 per cent of Australians said they supported renewable energy. Only two per cent of the Australian population—only two per cent!—agreed with the coalition's regressive world view. That is less than the 6.1 per cent of Australians who think we should abolish the federal government!

There is hardly an issue upon which Australians are more united, yet the Abbott government seems content to fly in the face of environmental benefits, economic benefits and overwhelming public support in scrapping ARENA in the bill before the House today.

Investing in science and technology is investing in our nation's future and it is investing in our children's future. For our future to remain clean, green and economically prosperous, we must ensure the technology that powers our renewable energy industry is the best that it can be. Targeted government investment—which spurs the growth of this industry and creates innovative new ways of producing energy—should be encouraged by government, not axed and undermined as is the case under the Abbott government.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has worked wonders in encouraging the development of our renewable energy industry. It has invested in hundreds of projects around Australia and created thousands of new jobs. It has invested in an industry that is supported by 98 per cent of the Australian people. Yet the Abbott government is willing to sacrifice this great agency that is doing great work on the altar of an out-of-touch ideology. It is an ideology that does not believe in climate change, despite the overwhelming evidence of scientists around the globe, and an ideology that prefers to put ribbons and bows on puffed-up farming schemes rather than to take any real action on climate change.

The abolition of ARENA, along with threats to the CEFC and the RET, threatens to take our renewable energy industry back to an era when sunlight was only for sundials and windmills were only for Don Quixote. Labor will never stand for such reckless disregard for Australia's environmental and economic future. We oppose this bill and all efforts by the Abbott government to torpedo Australia's renewable energy industry and our environmental future. This bill is a prime example of the extreme and out-of-touch agenda that the Abbott government has introduced since its took government.

This is a policy that may play well over a sherry and a cigar after an IPA symposium, but it will cause the Australian public to run screaming in horror when it reaches the real world. Labor will not allow Australia's climate policy to be hijacked by an undergraduate culture war. We will fight this extreme, out-of-touch agenda in this chamber, we will fight it in the Australian community and we will fight it until we return to this place a government that believes in fighting climate change and believes in investing in the renewable energy industry for the benefit of both the Australia economy and our environment.