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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9196

Mr PALMER (Fairfax) (17:17): The Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, is an organisation that is helping Australia become a leader in the renewable energy sector. It is a sector that is set to expand rapidly across the globe. ARENA is investing in renewable energy projects, supporting research and development activities and supporting activities to capture a share of knowledge. To date, it has funded 192 projects by allocating $938 million to their funding. This has produced projects that are worth $2.6 billion, and the fund has $2.5 billion to spend on projects.

After extensive discussions with former US Vice-President Al Gore, the Palmer United Party is determined to vote in the Senate against this bill that will wipe out ARENA. By doing so, the Palmer United Party will also be preventing the Abbott government from breaking yet another election promise. Renewable energy is a growth industry and renewable energy is a rapidly expanding industry that is investing billions of dollars at a time when investment in other areas of the economy is waiting. It has created $20 billion of investment already and could generate another $14.5 billion out to 2020, simply if the government kept its election promises. But the government wants to kill ARENA and has commissioned its hand-picked friend Dick Warburton to try to kill the renewables industry via an assault on the renewable energy target. Mr Warburton's report is dead on arrival.

In its promises before the election the government made itself very clear that there would be no changes to the renewable energy target. The Prime Minister said in 2011: 'We have no plans to change the renewable energy target.' The Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, and the then energy spokesman, Ian Macfarlane, said before the election:

The coalition is not proposing and has not proposed any changes to the target…

Senator Simon Birmingham, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, said:

Can I make clear, the Coalition supports the current [RET] system, including the 41,000 GWh target.

Palmer United is ready to hold the government to account and to vote down any changes along the lines recommended by Mr Warburton. That is why his report is dead on arrival.

I note Mr Warburton has chosen to personally attack me in the Financial Review, saying that I was engaged in 'crazy' and 'dumb' politics because the Palmer United Party was opposing 75 per cent of the government's agenda. I will not return the personal insult to Mr Warburton, but I will say we are proud to oppose many of the government's proposals—especially and particularly those like Mr Warburton is proposing that would harm Australian families and business.

On the price effects of the RET, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Dick Warburton and his team in taking six months, spending $6 million and reading 23,000 submissions to reveal what we already knew: the RET brings new companies with cheaper prices into the market. It looks like the only winners from this proposal will be the big energy companies. Why would we reward the same companies that have been ripping off Aussies for decades? The Prime Minister is not just breaking his promise to retain the Renewable Energy Target he is breaking his promise to try to maintain cheaper electricity prices in Australia. He is thinking in the short term, despite the fact that in the long term the RET pushes down our electricity bills because we are generating a big chunk of our power with free fuel.

By Palmer United ensuring the savings from the abolition of the carbon tax were passed on, we reduced electricity prices. Origin Energy in Queensland has announced an eight per cent reduction in electricity prices. That is why the Palmer United Party will not be supporting any RET change or reduction in the Senate. We will be voting for lower prices and greater competition for Australian consumers.

When the review of the RET was announced, the Prime Minister said that the RET was causing 'pretty significant price pressure in the system.' Will the Prime Minister now admit that he was mistaken and agree with his review of the RET that said impacts on retail electricity prices appear to be small? If the government is truly concerned about the cost-of-living pressure on Australian families, as it has repeatedly claimed, then it would be announcing today that it has no intention of making any changes to the RET.

Putting solar panels on your roof is a great way to protect your family from higher electricity prices. Millions of households have done it and many more millions want to. The changes to the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme proposed by the Warburton RET review threaten ordinary Australians from being able to significantly reduce their electricity bills. The review proposed changing the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, which helps working Australians put solar PVs and solar hot water on their roofs. If this government is really concerned about cost-of-living pressures on ordinary Australians, it should announce that it is rejecting these changes to the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme.

Before the election, the Prime Minister promised to cut the cost of living for everyday Australians. Installing solar is one guaranteed way people have to slash their power bills. On average, a household will slash its power bill by 65 per cent when it installs solar. There are two million households that prove this point, and there are millions more that want to get solar. People on low incomes, self-funded retirees, pensioners and community groups have all invested their own money to slash their power bills.

Moving to the issue of industry uncertainty, when the government was elected it claimed that Australia was open for business. This stands in stark contrast to the instability that the government has created in the renewable energy sector. The uncertainty that the RET review has created is causing billions of dollars of investment to be put at risk. The government needs to bring this uncertainty to a swift end by standing by its election promise that there will be no changes to the RET.

The RET was responsible for creating 24,000 new jobs and if left unchanged will create an additional 18,400 jobs by 2020. Ninety per cent of additional renewable energy generation in the period since its inception is attributable to the RET. It doubled Australia's renewable energy capacity in the period between 2001 and 2012. If the Prime Minister wants a prosperous and wealthy Australian economy, then we should be using every resource that we can to support this country. If we have a huge amount of untapped resources above our heads, such as sunlight and wind, we should capture it and use it to power our economy.

In relation to other industry reaction, the sugar industry used to burn sugar cane waste as fast as they could to get rid of it. With $600 million of investment under the RET, they now burn it a lot more efficiently and export renewable electricity to the grid. The RET review recommendations are pretty disastrous for them. They have a further $1 billion or more of potential projects at existing sugar mills in Queensland—projects that bring jobs into regional Australia, help grow the industry and generate renewable electricity in the regions close to population centres where the energy is needed. Putting 8,500 gigawatt hours of renewable energy into the Queensland electricity market will bring more competition and drive down electricity prices for Queenslanders, but it will not happen without the RET.

The RET is not just good for big cities it also brings valuable jobs and investment to regional Australia. ARENA is also supporting the sugar industry by supporting projects to help convert waste into energy. This sees millions of dollars flowing into an industry that the LNP has abandoned. The National Party is kicking sugar farmers in the guts. The renewable energy target and ARENA are driving investment in this industry, yet Dick Warburton, the Prime Minister and the National Party want to end this support. The Palmer United Party will not be part of that. On the other hand, Mr Warburton is proposing a range of unsupportable measures to weaken the renewable energy scheme, such as allowing woodchips from native forests to be burnt and counted as renewable energy. That would be crazy; only plantation timber is fit for such a purpose. The measure proposed by Mr Warburton to allow native forest wood waste into the RET would not only be bad for the environment but wreck consumer confidence in the scheme.

Queensland and the Sunshine Coast, to most Australians, have plenty of sunshine. Using the power of the sun to generate energy makes sense, and this is nowhere more the case than in my home state, the sunshine state of Queensland, where solar has been enthusiastically embraced. Queensland now leads the world in the uptake of household solar, with nearly 400,000 solar homes together generating 1.1 gigawatts of power. This makes Queensland rooftops the fourth-largest power station in the state. In my own electorate of Fairfax, nearly 14,000 homes are powered by the sun—that is, nearly one in four homes. Helped by policies like the renewable energy target, my constituents have invested $104 million of their own hard-earned money into putting solar panels on their roofs. These people have been motivated to take control over ever-increasing power bills and to do their bit for the environment, but they have also been angered by ongoing attacks from politicians like the Premier of Queensland and the Treasurer of Queensland, who recently likened these homes owners to 'champagne sippers and the latte set.' The reality is quite different. Many of the people who have gone solar are from lower- and middle-income households. They are young families, retirees, people without a decent roof space but worried about their electricity bills and people like Fay, an 81-year-old pensioner living in a retirement village in Currimundi. Fay estimates that at least half of her fellow villagers have also gone solar and invested their own savings in a 1.5 kilowatt solar system, helped with a rebate from RET. Fay says that her solar provides a huge relief every time she gets an electricity bill, but she has been frustrated by the chopping and changing of government programs. Fay said to me: 'It is not fair or reasonable for one government to promote solar and the next government to take it away.'

The renewable energy target has also helped drive jobs and investment on the Sunshine Coast. There are over 100 small and medium solar businesses and installers on the Sunshine Coast. There are also bigger manufacturing operations like Latronics, an inverter company based in Caloundra, which is providing its product to 30 countries and selling it around the world. The Sunshine Coast Regional Council has plans for a 10 megawatt large-scale solar farm near Coolum incorporating 50,000 solar panels. This will provide 50 per cent of the council's electricity needs, save ratepayers millions of dollars and help create a clean-tech hub on the coast. It would be the first large scale solar farm built by a council in Australia. All this is at risk if the RET and ARENA are axed.

In the few weeks since the Palmer United Party announced it would not support the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014, my office has been inundated with handwritten letters from people in my area in Queensland and from around the country who have been calling on the Palmer Party to ensure that the future of solar stays strong in Australia. I can tell those people today we have heard you. The Palmer United Party will do the right thing by the people of Australia, the industries of the future and the jobs they are generating. We will save the renewable energy target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We will not be voting for this bill, so that will save Australia's Renewable Energy Agency as well.