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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5250

Senator BARNETT (6:24 PM) —I stand tonight to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the related bill and place on the record my strong support for the renewable energy target, in particular the 20 per cent target by 2020, and, as a proud Tasmanian senator, note the important contribution that this will make to our home state of Tasmania. If this legislation passes with the appropriate amendments—and I will come to the amendments and the importance of them shortly—this could be the catalyst for significant development in hydro and, specifically, wind power.

I would like to address right up front the importance of wind power. We have seen at Woolnorth wind power developments already in Tasmania. We know that Tasmania is a renewable energy state. In fact, well over 95 per cent of our power is renewable energy. We also know that Hydro Tasmania is in fact the largest generator of renewable energy in Australia. It is a proud fact. Most Tasmanians are not proud of that fact. Hydro actually own and operate in Tasmania some 29 hydro power stations worth $4.8 billion based on the last estimates that I have been briefed on. They have a number of renewable energy projects, primarily in wind, through their joint-venture partner, China Light and Power. They own what is called Roaring 40s, a very forward-thinking and progressive company. They are doing a lot of good work, including looking at a development at Waterloo wind farm in South Australia and specifically the Musselroe Bay wind farm in north-east Tasmania. I want to place on the record my thanks for the recent briefings I have had from Matthew Groom from Roaring 40s and also Alex Beckett from Hydro Tasmania. I thank both of them for their professional assistance and briefings.

There is no doubt about the fact that Tasmania is a state that is proud of its renewable energy history and its culture. Indeed, when my father finished university back in the 1950s he looked at a job in the hydro sector but instead pursued other options and ended up being a farmer and a small-business operator in Northern Tasmania. It is very important for Tasmania.

The prospects for the Musselroe Bay wind farm development have advanced markedly as a result of the passing of the renewable energy target legislation, certainly by the House of Representatives. If we can pass it through the Senate with the appropriate amendments, conditional upon those appropriate amendments, then it will be a tremendous boost and it will send a signal certainly to Roaring 40s and to the industry generally of the prospects for that Musselroe Bay wind farm and renewable energy developments more generally.

The Clean Energy Council in its statement of 16 August indicated that if this legislation were passed it would unleash $28 billion worth of new investment and 28,000 new, clean jobs over the next decade. They also say:

The CEC will continue to push for amendments to ensure the government’s promised target of 45,000 GWh of clean energy by 2020 is reached ..

There is a fair chance of that, depending upon what happens in the committee stage here in the Senate with respect to the amendments and if the government does the right thing and ensures that they are considered and passed.

The Musselroe Bay wind farm is a $350 million investment in Tasmania and in north-eastern Tasmania more specifically. It will create 150 jobs during the construction phase and it will meet the electricity needs of up to 55,000 homes. It will have a 140 megawatt capacity. Already the development application has been approved. They are really ready to go. Obviously finance will need to be arranged and locked in, but if this legislation is passed it will send a signal to the developers and to financiers that this is a very live prospect. It will be the given the green light if this RET legislation is passed with the appropriate amendments.

Last week, as I have indicated, I was briefed by Hydro and Roaring 40s and they were both eager for the federal government to fulfil its promise of renewable energy targets. A number of significant projects in the pipeline have been left on hold, because you have to remember that the government has been sitting on this legislation for over 12 months. That is a great disappointment for those in the renewable energy sector, including in Tasmania. Of course, the Howard government introduced Australia’s first renewable energy legislation, and the legislation before the parliament this week only builds on that. The Liberals strongly support a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. If this is legislated, it will be a huge boost for wind farm developments generally, not just at Musselroe Bay in north-east Tasmania.

Last week, the Rudd Labor government refused to separate the renewable energy legislation from their failed emissions trading scheme legislation. Now they have done the right thing. They have seen the light and taken on board the requests and the urging of the coalition, specifically Malcolm Turnbull, Greg Hunt and Ian Macfarlane. I commend those spokesmen for the coalition and thank them for their lobbying to make this happen. It is looking positive. I am very pleased that the Labor government has backed down and agreed to the coalition request to decouple the renewable energy legislation from the overall ETS package. It is, however, critical that the government agrees to our amendments—and appropriate amendments put by whomever in this place—to protect the aluminium, cement and food-processing industries in particular.

About one hour west of the Musselroe Bay wind farm is the Rio Tinto-Comalco smelter at Bell Bay. Together with members of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team I had a tour there some months ago. It is a fine establishment and a significant contributor to the Tasmanian economy, particularly the Northern Tasmania region. It employs around 600 people plus an additional 60 full-time equivalent contractors. The business directly contributes to the local economy through payment of $50 million in salaries per year as well as an annual spend of around $175 million on goods and services from more than 300 Tasmanian suppliers. They are very community oriented too, which is well known in and around George Town and the Bell Bay area. They certainly provide significant investment in social programs and partnerships. It is Australia’s only aluminium smelter using predominantly renewable energy. It is the only smelter of its kind and produces around 180,000 tonnes per annum of aluminium.

We know for sure that, under the government’s failed and flawed ETS scheme put to parliament last week, which has now been rejected, the smelter at Bell Bay would have copped it in the neck and big time. We know that and we also know that under this legislation it is very important that we get the amendments right to protect their interests because there will be higher power charges. They need proper protection and a level playing field. Why would we wish to export jobs in emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries? Yes, it is important that they be properly protected and that we do not export jobs unnecessarily to China, India or elsewhere.

About another hour west of Bell Bay is Railton, which is the home base for Cement Australia. Cement Australia make a tremendous contribution to their local industry and, again, an amendment needs to pass through this Senate chamber to protect their interests. Cement Australia provide about 130 direct jobs, but, of course, those jobs support about another 500 jobs in their local community. It was some time ago that I toured Cement Australia, and I know other members of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team have toured that facility. We have a high regard for the management and the workers at Railton. We also know that they are doing it tough at the moment. In the transition period of any future ETS and any future arrangements, they need to be taken very seriously. They do not want to take on undue costs, whether from power prices or elsewhere.

I put on record my thanks to Todd and Robyn Loydell for their recent briefings and information that they have provided. They have been very professional and forthright in their views. Likewise, I put on record my thanks to Jenny Jarvis and her team and to John Lemberg, the general manager of operations, at Rio Tinto at Bell Bay. I also want to mention the need for an appropriate amendment to protect the interests of the food-manufacturing sector. Tasmania has a lot to gain from this legislation. I believe it could be the catalyst for a major multimillion dollar development in north-east Tasmania. We can really make a difference in Tasmania if this legislation is passed with the appropriate and correct amendments.

Some years ago I visited Denmark as part of a parliamentary delegation. I visited the Vestas factory there and noted that a very high proportion of their energy comes from wind. That was an excellent visit. I learnt a great deal about the importance of wind energy to the Danish community. Of course, it is also the home of Tasmania’s own Crown Princess Mary. Being a proud Tasmanian, it was great for me to be in Denmark at that time. We can learn a lot from interstate and overseas, but the options and opportunities now are very significant indeed.

Finally, on a different approach to renewable energy, I commend the work of KUTh Energy and the hot rocks approach to renewable energy. They are doing quite a bit of work in Tasmania, which should be commended and supported. We hope that their progress continues. It will be energised if this legislation passes with those appropriate amendments. Having made those points, I conclude my comments and express hope for the future as it relates to this legislation.