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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9213

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (18:37): I rise to argue against this bill, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014, which represents another serious blow to Australia's ambitions and achievements when it comes to renewable energy. Abolishing the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, known as ARENA, will jeopardise Australia's renewable energy future. It will mean a serious delay in our progress towards a decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. It will mean falling behind in a fast-growing and competitive global industry generating 21st century jobs and it constitutes a further retreat in Australia's contribution to combatting climate change.

ARENA supports growth in Australian renewable energy production and supply right across the innovation chain, from research and development to demonstration projects and to the deployment of new technology. Since its creation in 2012, ARENA has invested $940 million and has mobilised $1.8 billion in private capital in support of more than 190 projects—70 per cent of which are in rural and regional Australia. There are another 190 projects with a combined value of nearly $8 billion currently under consideration. On average, the ARENA funding model has leveraged 2.2 times the quantum of public investment in private capital contributions to approved projects.

It should be a matter of pride to all Australians that, within the set of innovative projects made by possible by ARENA funding, including some which constitute Australian firsts, this critical Labor government program has actually supported two world-first projects. The CSIRO's advanced steam generation project has set a world record for producing the highest temperature steam ever created using energy from the sun. The Carnegie Wave Energy project, in my electorate of Fremantle, is on track to be the world's first commercial-scale wave energy array, delivering both renewable energy and emission-free desalinated water.

As the representative of a community that has consistently urged governments at every level to provide leadership in renewable energy and sustainability, I am pleased to have supported Carnegie Wave Energy since its earliest efforts to design, test, and apply its very exciting wave energy technology. Indeed, I spoke about it in my first speech to parliament. I am glad that through ARENA funding, in addition to support provided by the WA government, the Fremantle Carnegie Wave Energy technology will soon be making a contribution to the delivery of renewable energy in Australia, and no doubt overseas as well. Another project supported by ARENA in WA has been a feasibility study for the Perenjori 20MW Dispatchable Solar Tower Project.

Without ARENA as an important part of the Labor government's suite of policies and programs in this space, which also included the renewable energy target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the carbon price, Australia would still be lagging the rest of the world in terms of new energy sources and energy-efficiency technology. For those who say that such technology should find its own way in the market without government assistance, it has to be remembered that our existing stationary hydrocarbon power infrastructure was created with very significant public investment and ongoing subsidies. Indeed, in today's West Australian, it is noted that, while household electricity prices in WA have risen 86 per cent since the Barnett government was elected in 2008, the state government subsidy for the provision of electricity still amounts to $600 million each year.

Last week in this parliament we were honoured to have the opportunity to hear from former Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan. He discussed the social, political, economic and environmental impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster three years on and what can be learned from this devastating incident. Mr Kan is a strong advocate in Japan for the transition from nuclear energy to renewable energy and urges Australia to continue to look to renewables rather than nuclear energy or fossil fuels in confronting the challenge of global warming. Mr Kan described how he looked out of the window as he flew over Australia's vast, beautiful and expressive landscape and realised the extent to which the Australian continent has the greatest opportunity of any country to utilise its natural renewable energy potential, whether in the form of solar, wind, wave or geothermal energy. In fact, to illustrate his point, Mr Kan noted that he had visited Fremantle's Carnegie Wave Energy project when in WA earlier last week.

I am grateful to one of my constituents, Gordon Payne, whose submission to the Senate inquiry, notes:

Many leading specialists in the world in the area of energy economics are predicting a major shift around the world to renewable technologies. Solar panel costs have fallen dramatically, and battery storage cost are also trending sharply downward. The same specialists look with envy at Australia’s resources in renewable energy. But they are amazed and concerned that we have not developed these resources to any great degree, and that we not doing enough in-depth research into our renewable energy potential. ARENA was set up to address these concerns in 2012. It is short-sighted to withdraw this agency so soon. It seems that a political decision has been made which ignores Australia’s long-term interests, and which is aligned to the interests of the non-renewable energy sector. Renewable energy projects are great employers and with the mining boom winding down, we have an opportunity to make a transition to a future economic model that includes lots of renewable energy. Agencies like ARENA are vital to this transition.

Another of my constituents has noted in an email to Minister Hunt, which was copied to me, that, 'We have capability and we have capacity but we have neither dreams nor commitment.' Subsuming ARENA within the Department of Industry and providing a ridiculously small $15 million by way of an annual allocation shows the government's short-sighted, visionless approach and its predilection for favouring the established, yet unsustainable energy producers.

When ARENA was created by the former Labor government, I argued in favour of its legislative foundation and its policy logic by making reference to the global progress on renewable energy investment. At that stage, in late 2011, I was pleased to be able to make reference to a report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme and undertaken as a cooperative endeavour between the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report noted that in 2010 new investment in renewable energy in the developing world outstripped the quantum of investment from developed countries for the first time—$72 billion as against $70 billion; whereas in 2004, the ratio was four to one in favour of developed nations.

Globally, the investment in renewable power and fuels grew 32 per cent from 2009 to 2010 and constituted 5.5 times the investment in 2004. That was the global environment into which ARENA arrived. Since that time, Australia has begun to find its rightful place in the burgeoning worldwide renewable energy industry through appropriate government assessment and facilitation. As part of a comprehensive and carefully linked suite of programs and policies designed to put Australia on the path to a clean energy future, ARENA has assisted in developing the next generation of affordable renewables by working to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies.

Since 2012, ARENA has proved the logic and value of this approach. Any government of good sense would allow it to continue its vital work in assessing and supporting worthy projects in the name of Australia's clean energy and green job future. Current and future ARENA projects should play a leading role in maintaining Australia's place at the forefront of research and innovation. This R&D would of course lead to the further discoveries we need to help our nation achieve a properly diverse energy profile and to make our contribution to tackling climate change.

Now, sadly, that incredible and necessary surge, which has already proven its value, and which has so much more economic, social and environmental value in prospect, is being cut off at the knees by a government whose chief obsession is to undo the progress and leadership that the Australian people wanted to see from their elected representatives and that the former Labor government worked hard and collaboratively to deliver. It is hard to imagine a government with a less positive agenda: no to renewable energy, no to universal public health care, no to support for single parents and to age and disability pensioners and carers, no to equality in education, no to unemployed young people, no to the global poor and dispossessed, no to environmental protection. That is no way to govern any nation, let alone a country with a strong, progressive culture and tradition like Australia.