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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26337

Senator HARRADINE (2:39 PM) —My question is also to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell. Is the minister aware that in Tasmania up to 2,000 new jobs, and investment in manufacturing and regional development, depend upon improved mandatory renewable energy targets? Investment in areas such as the Vesta plant in north-west Tasmania and by Hydro Tasmania is made uncertain by the government's new policy. What is the government going to do to improve investment in renewable energy in Tasmania, a state that already gets the large majority of its power from renewable sources and that is an example to the rest of Australia?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —Thank you to Senator Harradine for a very important question about Australia's energy future. As Senator Harradine would know, because he is Tasmanian and because Tasmania is in fact a world leader in the use of renewable fuel, the Howard government was in fact responsible for bringing in the mandatory renewable energy target policy. Not only is that a world-leading policy; it is a policy that has in fact delivered a significant boost, as Senator Harradine recognises in his question, to the renewable energy industry in Australia. This government brought that policy in because we believe deeply and strongly that climate change is an issue that confronts Australia probably more than any other country. It is probably—and you could have long arguments about this—the single environmental issue that is most important and most challenging to Australia. Because of our unique geography, because of our climate and because of where we are placed on the globe, climate change is a massive challenge to this country that we have to get right.

It is why this government has brought in a whole range of greenhouse gas policies—such as greenhouse gas reduction and the greenhouse gas abatement policy. It is why the white paper focuses so heavily on trying to reduce emissions from all of our different sources, but particularly stationary sources. That is why it focuses very heavily on investment where you can get the biggest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at the very best value. It matches that with a very significant investment in renewable energy technologies. For example, Senator Harradine will probably be aware that we are going to invest $75 million in the solar cities program, which will ensure that Australia is recognised around the world for integrating solar energy technology into everyday communities right across the country.

Senator Harradine, in his question, made the point about there being some uncertainty as to investment within the renewable energy sector. I have deep respect for the fact that the wind power generation industry would have preferred an increase to the mandatory renewable energy target. I have met with them, I have discussed their concerns with them and I do understand that in Tasmania, the home state of Senator Harradine, the industry is particularly concerned because of the perception of the investment impact in that state. I am going to work very hard with that industry to, firstly, understand those concerns.

The bigger issue is uncertainty about the investment future. The policy is certain; it is quite clear. The mandatory renewable energy target policy in the white paper seeks to improve that program. It does not seek to increase the mandatory renewable energy target, but it seeks to increase the efficiency of that process. What this government wants to achieve is world leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What that takes is a focus on all of the different options that we need to invest in from both the public point of view and the private point of view. We do need to ensure that renewable energy plays a large part in that. We need to ensure that emerging technologies, such as the hydrogen economy and hydrogen fuel cell technology, are advanced. We need to ensure that existing power stations convert to far more efficient generation with a much lower greenhouse signature. We do need to invest in all of those areas. (Time expired)

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In view of what you have said, Minister, why did the white paper only increase the MRET to one per cent of what it was in 1997?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —It did not seek to do that. The reason that the mandatory renewable energy target was not increased is that we made a decision as a government to invest the greatest amount of public resources and to encourage the greatest private investment in the best outcomes for greenhouse gas reductions. Australia will in fact be one of the few parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which will meet its Kyoto targets. We are, in fact, on target as a nation to reduce emissions by something like 67 million tonnes by the end of 2009. To put that into context, that is the equivalent of taking every single vehicle, every truck, every bus and every car off the road before the end of this decade, so we are making big strides. But we will only continue to do that if we make sure that government investors, private sector investors and the household sector make decisions to get the best greenhouse gas reductions at the best price—and we believe that renewable energy has a huge role to play there. (Time expired)