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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5238

Senator BERNARDI (5:28 PM) —In rising to make a contribution to this debate, I will flag that it should be relatively brief, for the benefit of the next speaker, Senator Xenophon. I begin by expressing my disappointment that it has taken two years for the government to introduce a bill that is clearly flawed. Is it irredeemable? That is a question that we are trying to negotiate with the government because we think that it can be improved. There are a number of areas where we have flagged amendments, which not only Senator Birmingham alluded to before but were also discussed in the other place. It has taken the government nearly two years to bring a flawed bill to this chamber. Originally they tried to do it by linking it to an even more flawed series of bills which they named the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It was an attempt at political extortion, for want of a better term. It was an attempt at extortion that clearly failed. It has been rejected not only by the coalition but by the minor parties. I am pleased that the government have seen at least a modicum of sense by bringing in the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 as a stand-alone issue.

Renewable energy is an issue that is high on the priority list of many Australians. Many Australians think ‘what’s not to love?’ about renewable energy. It is clean, it is green and it is sustainable—all the things we like to think that we will support as a nation. But there are of course prices attached to this love of green energy. The question that will confront the Senate and that should confront every Australian is: is the price worth the results? Quite frankly, as these bills stand now, the answer is no, it is not. The consequences attached to these bills—pursuing a mandatory renewable energy target that is linked in some way to a flawed and ridiculous CPRS that grants exemptions for some industries but not for other vital industries and that will force every Australian consumer and every Australian business to pay more for their electricity—are pretty hefty price tags.

Clearly, not many people are willing to pay the personal cost of going into green energy themselves. I say that because I understand only around 10 per cent of people—it may be a few per cent more—actually opt in to green energy in their power bill. I have a confession to make: I am one of those 10 per cent. That surprises a lot of people, but I assure you it was a mistake; I ticked the wrong box on the electricity form. You are paying more for electricity to be generated that, I was assured, is saving the planet. But recently the ACCC have come out and said that you are not actually saving the planet. There are no additional emissions being reduced because you are opting in to green energy right now. They have forced the electricity companies to change their marketing methods. That is a concern because good-natured and well-minded people who are seeking to do the right thing by the planet have been wholly unable to rely on the marketing claims attached to green energy power producers. I think that is cause for some concern. Is what we are told now actually going to be an accurate reflection of the consequences and impact attached to these bills?

The coalition are serious about trying to get these bills through parliament because we think that there is ultimately a net benefit if we can get the amendments through that we really need to have. We also want to satisfy ourselves that there will be real benefits for the environment. There are, as I said, a number of questionable marketing campaigns that have been run. We also have no idea what the price of the electricity increases is actually going to be, not only for businesses but for individual households. Senator Hurley, in her contribution, said that there would be around a three per cent electricity price increase between 2010 and 2020. From where I stand, that beggars belief. I have not seen a three per cent annual price rise in electricity for as long as I can remember. The most recent price rise that I recall seeing on my bill was in the region of 15 or 16 per cent, and yet Senator Hurley gives us an assurance, thanks to some modelling. She made a bit of fun of modelling and how it can produce anything you want—and then relied on it. It seems quite absurd, really. But she said there is going to be a three per cent increase in electricity costs. That beggars belief. I do not think anyone in this place or in Australia should take that at face value.

It is disappointing that, in concocting these bills and the mandatory renewable energy target, the government has decided to ignore or leave out the consequences for a number of key industries, such as the food production industry. It has chosen to disregard the important contribution to sustainable energy that other forms of energy outside wind and solar can make, including, as Senator Hurley said, the geothermal projects in South Australia. South Australia is really quite a leader in renewable energy. I believe we have over 50 per cent of the wind power that is generated in Australia. I say that with a degree of pride because I think it is a good thing for us, but having such a high reliance on wind power in our state actually poses a threat to our state and our peak power supplies. We know that wind and solar cannot provide baseload power. Wind can be good for the peaks and troughs in the system. It can provide general smoothing of electricity generation, but when it comes to baseload power it is not going to be there. Quite frankly, I cannot see it being there for decades and decades and decades to come, if at all. In fact, I have some question marks about renewable energy outside of geothermal, which is really just a new way of producing a steam turbine, or going to a nuclear energy process to provide for Australia’s future energy needs, if we are insistent on moving away from coal.

Going back to the substance of this bill, the other part of it that causes me some philosophical internal debate is, I have to say, the fact that we are mandating that people have to pursue a particular course of action, whether or not it is actually going to be good for them personally, for their businesses or for our country. I remain unconvinced about whether this is the right approach or whether a market led approach, where people would recognise the benefits for themselves and be able to opt into it, is the right approach. Are we, at some particular level, disadvantaging our nation, our states, our households or our families by having to support this bill? That question will remain with me until the final outcome of this bill is determined, quite frankly—and we will have to determine whether we are doing the exactly the right thing.

How this is going to end up is now in the government’s hands. The coalition will be moving amendments. I understand that other parties and independent senators will also be moving amendments. We will be doing so with the intention of improving the bill. We will be doing so with the intention of making it workable. And we will be allowing the second reading to proceed, in the hope that the bill can be salvaged in the committee stage. Accordingly, I join with other coalition senators in reserving my right to make a final decision about whether to support this bill based on whether it can be fixed—because right now it is horribly flawed. It is another ill-considered piece of legislation from a government that is more concerned with spin than substance.