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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8076

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (2:53 AM) —Let me indicate again that the government will not be supporting the amendment, and for the reasons which I have indicated previously. Senator Allison uses the argument that I would use to oppose this: that there is a need for a thorough analysis of what the projected targets are. The need for that analysis has been really demonstrated by the divergent projections.

Senator Allison —It's still only 0.9 per cent compared to two per cent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am agreeing with you. I am not sure if that is the figure, but you are in the ballpark. This really does need to be looked at very thoroughly. Altering the level of the target represents a fundamental change to the whole policy underpinning the legislation, and it is really beyond the scope of this particular administrative amendment bill. The act requires that the issue of the size of the target be considered as part of the formal statutory review, which is to be commenced in a couple of weeks. We decided that in the previous act. You could almost say, nicely, `Why are you jumping the gun?' We decided, two years ago, that in a couple of weeks time we would start looking at that.

It really should be noted that the increase in the target to five or 10 per cent will not have the desired effect of increasing renewable energy generation without the consequential amendment to the size of the penalty under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Act 2000. This is because, as I have mentioned before, it would be cheaper to pay the penalty than it would be to buy renewable energy certificates. For example, under a five per cent target it will become cheaper to pay the penalty from around 2009, and under a 10 per cent target it will become cheaper around 2005. This means that the majority of times the measure operates the liable parties will simply pay the penalty. This perverse impact indicates the importance of thoroughly analysing how the market trading system operates before making fundamental policy changes. The statutory review provides the appropriate means of undertaking this analysis.

Again, I say to Senator Allison and Senator O'Brien that the government will not be accepting this because it will not work without the amendment to that other act. It really needs to be looked at thoroughly, with all the best support and policies. So, for the right reasons, we will not be accepting it. The RECs are acquitted on 14 February, so we need to do this administrative work today. If we do not, even the system we have, with all its alleged imperfections, will crumble away. Senator Brown suggested I was trying to blackmail or threaten people. I am just stating a fact: we will not support this because it will not work without the other amendment. If we do not deal with it by 14 February— and we will not be back in this place until then—the current system, even with its alleged imperfections, is going to go as well. We will be left with nothing. The review is there—the means and the facility for dealing with these things are there. We can start in a couple of weeks. It is going to be a long process. I am sorry about that, but it has to be done thoroughly. The whole procedure is there.

I plead with the senators to at least keep the current system with what you say are its imperfections—it is better than nothing. Let us keep it and look into this fully. I do not think anyone argues about the goal we are all trying to achieve. We all want renewable energy, but we have to do it in a balanced way. I plead with you. Senator O'Brien, it is your amendment. I am assuming, from what Senator Allison has said, that the Democrats are going to join with us in opposing it in this case—but we will be looking at something else later. Senator O'Brien, I understood that your shadow minister and his officers were briefed on this. The need to get this administrative bill through was explained. Even when it went through the House of Representatives, Mr Thomson did not raise this as an issue. He said the Labor Party will be supporting it. I am really at a loss to understand why there has been a change. I think Senator Barnett indicated he was on the committee where the Labor Party senators looked into this very thoroughly. I am not sure if there were Democrats senators there as well.

Senator Barnett —Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Yes; the Democrats were there. You wrote the dissenting report, although I understand that it was not on this measure.

Senator Barnett —Yes, it was.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It was on this measure—okay. Well—and I say this in a friendly way as comic light relief—they were wrong and they are still wrong. Senator O'Brien, your senators obviously looked into this very carefully. Much as we might say things about them in question time, they are not dills; they are intelligent people. They went through and looked into this carefully. They had the benefit of the best advice and of the evidence that had been given, and they did not see a need for this sort of amendment. Mr Thomson himself did not see a need for this amendment. Again, we would very rarely agree with Mr Thomson but he is an able person and he went through this fully. He is the shadow minister and he has looked at it very carefully. Why has he changed his mind in the space of a few days? You are trying to tell me that Mr Thomson made a mistake in the House of Representatives. I do not accept that. I do not think Mr Thomson is the sort of person who would make a mistake.

It is very important that we all follow the advice given to us by the majority of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee—by our senators and your senators who have looked into this carefully. Mr Thomson obviously considered this very thoroughly before he made his speech on the bill. I have quoted part of that speech and I could quote all of it. He said quite categorically in the House of Representatives, `We will be supporting this because we understand the importance of getting this administrative bill through.' Sure, a lot of things have to be looked at, but the bill that this parliament passed two years ago provided the wherewithal to look at those things properly. We are going to do that. We are going to start in a few weeks time, and Mr Thomson knew and understood that. His speech to the House of Representatives clearly shows that he understood that.

The current system might not be the most perfect but it is better than nothing. So can we please deal with these administrative things, make right the system we have and then all get together after 18 January, with input and goodwill from everyone. We are all heading towards the same end. Everyone agrees that we need more renewable power; there is no argument about that. So let us all work together to achieve that. I urge all parties not to support this amendment or the other amendments, so that we can get the administrative bill through this chamber tonight.