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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3368

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (12:02): This is a wonderful opportunity to expand on the comments I did not have time to make because this bill has been so outrageously gagged by a government that seems far more interested in extending and meandering through the address-in-reply process than allowing a focused debate on such an important area of policy. It is clearly the case that this bill was cognately debated as one of 11 bills proposed by the government to dismantle the clean energy package introduced by the former government. As a result of that, there was no opportunity at all to allow members of this place to talk about the merits of the suite of renewable energy policies that had been put in place by the former government.

These policies expanded on a bipartisan commitment initiated—to their credit—by the Howard government in 2001 with the introduction of the mandatory renewable energy target. So with all of the froth and the bubble around the so-called carbon tax over the last three years, there was never a peep from the then opposition—now the government—that the bipartisan commitment between the major parties, which had endured over four elections, to start to drive a transformation in our electricity sector would no longer be abided by by the new government.

As I said earlier, the then shadow parliamentary secretary for the environment, Senator Birmingham, made a very clear statement to the clean energy conference only a week or two before the election that the Abbott opposition, now the Abbott government, remained committed not only to the aspiration of a 20 per cent renewable energy contribution to electricity by 2020 but to the precise generation figure of 41,850 gigawatt hours by 2020. It is clear from all of the advice that we received when in in government, and all the advice that anyone can receive if they talk to this sector or to an authority like the Climate Change Authority, that with the existing suite of policies remaining in place—with the work that ARENA does with its $3 billion budget to support emerging technologies like solar thermal and geothermal, which previously had bipartisan support from the two major parties; and with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in place—Australia would comfortably reach the target of 41,000 gigawatt hours by 2020 and reach the broader aspiration known as 20 per cent by 2020.

There was never any indication from the Abbott opposition that they were going to move away from a policy area initiated by John Howard—not initiated by us, but by John Howard—but I must say that it was very much built on by us. Again, this is something which starts to move Australia away from the global mainstream. We are seeing it broadly in climate change policy. The Abbott government is trying to take Australia backwards while the rest of the world is moving forwards. They are stuck in the atmospherics of the Copenhagen conference in 2009, when it was quite clear that there was not any global consensus to start to move forward. The world has moved on since 2009; the world has significantly moved on.

The United States and China concluded a memorandum of understanding only in the last couple of weeks committing them to drive momentum towards a global agreement in Paris next year. We have had the, frankly, quite embarrassing situation of the US quite publicly trying to prod this government into taking seriously the statements that the Prime Minister and the minister made that the G20 would be a forum in which they could encourage constructive debate around climate change, yet there is no commitment by this government as chair of the G20 this year to include climate change as a topic of discussion in the pre-eminent economic forum of the world's leading economies.

This bill is but one detail of a broader problem that this government presents to the country. The country has an opportunity to move to a clean energy future and to finally be a part of some global momentum for an agreement next year that will start to deal with the very serious threat of climate change to Australia and every other nation. Instead, the government is playing politics; it is stuck in the atmospherics of 2009. For that reason, we will be opposing this bill.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the member for Ryan, I will ask the Clerk to formally read the second reading title. I think that there was general shock that there was no vote on the second reading but there was only one voice in the chamber, so we will now move on to the member for Ryan.