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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5272

Senator WORTLEY (8:04 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on renewable energy, such a crucial part of Australia’s energy future. This sector is a vital cog in the Rudd government’s comprehensive plan to reduce Australia’s emissions, stopping their growth and actually reducing them for the first time. It is high time to act. The issue of our environment’s health and welfare is urgent. Australians know full well that climate change is the biggest single threat to our prosperity and way of life in this great country. We are one of the most vulnerable nations when it comes to the ravages of climate change. Renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal, must play key roles in the climate change solution. Australia has huge potential across these areas.

The arguments for significant investment in renewable energy industries are compelling. Expanding Australia’s role in renewable energy generation is a great opportunity to reduce Australia’s energy industry emissions. Also, it would power billions of dollars in investment and ensure that we create and access the green jobs of the future. Modelling by Treasury predicts that by 2050 the renewable electricity sector will be 30 times larger than it is today, creating jobs relating to renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal technologies. This would mean that more than 48 per cent of the electricity generated in Australia would be from a renewable source by 2050. Enshrining investment in renewable energies into law is a critically overdue step in the fight against dangerous climate change.

This is a sector that should have been given much higher status, much greater support, by government years ago. And, failing that, as terribly wishful thinking, those opposite could have guaranteed the future of these industries here, just last week, with a vote in the Senate. A renewable energy target will not by itself halt our contribution to climate change but, as part of a gamut of measures, will have an effect by helping to break our fatal addiction to fast-fading fossil fuels.

While some of those opposite do not want us to succeed, this government is committed to making a difference for our environment—locally, regionally and globally. That is why we ratified the Kyoto protocol, when our predecessors would not. That is why we are implementing our Water for the Future plan, when those opposite neglected to improve our ailing rivers. That is why we are working towards creating a nation of energy efficient homes, schools and industries. We are committed to slashing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050, and committed to a 25 per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2020, as part of global actions sufficient to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at 450 parts per million or lower—or, if global action falls short of 450 parts per million, reducing Australia’s emissions by five to 15 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020.

We are also committed to playing our part in global efforts after 2020. Unfortunately for our nation, our environment, our economy, our global community and our planet, the dinosaurs among their numbers ensured that those opposite failed to act on climate change when they had the chance to do so. It was not just last week but over 11½ long years that they neglected to address the issue. Of course, it is difficult to address a problem if you do not even accept that there is a problem. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull, and the Liberal and National parties are hopelessly divided on this crucial front. They are, in fact, as we have heard in this place before, still debating whether climate change even exists—or, if it does, whether there is any human impact on its extent.

It shames Australia that under the former coalition government the progress of renewable energies development not only stalled but actually went backwards. In stark contrast, the Rudd government has an election commitment to have 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity derived from renewable energy sources by 2020. The opposition has no such commitment to a renewable energy target. After collaboration with the states and territories, this government has come up with a plan to amend the foundation on which the current Mandatory Renewable Energy Target scheme stands. Our plan will back a boost in various technologies such as geothermal, solar, wind and biomass. Many of these facilities will be built in regional areas, thereby benefiting the communities in those areas.

Already we have committed significant direct support to the renewable energy sector through a variety of initiatives. As part of the 2009-10 budget the government committed $15 billion to climate change related initiatives. This includes the $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative, which will fire up a range of low-emissions energy technologies in the marketplace through the commitment of $1.5 billion for the Solar Flagship Program, which will aim to create an extra 1,000 megawatts of solar generation capacity—this would be three times the size of the largest solar energy project currently operating anywhere in the world; $100 million for the Australian Solar Institute, which supports research into solar energy technologies, including thermals and photovoltaics; and $465 million to establish Renewables Australia, to support cutting-edge technology research and bring it to the market. On top of those measures, the government’s $480 million National Solar Schools Program is giving our schools a boost in their efforts to tackle climate change and conserve water. More than 4,000 schools have signed up and more than $10 million in grants have already been approved.

Renewable energy investment is not only the right thing to do from the point of view of easing the pressure on—and the pain of—our environment; it is the prudent thing to do for our economy and our employment prospects. And renewable energy targets are the way to give the transitional help needed by industries. The Senate Economics Legislation Committee, having looked into renewable energy legislation, reports that it would like to see a range of renewable energy technologies develop. It states:

Renewable Energy Targets have been adopted internationally to provide transitional assistance to renewable energy technologies, where a purely market based approach would not result in sufficient investment and take up in the short term.

And the committee:

… welcomes the support for diverse renewable technologies contained in the programmes under the Clean Energy Initiative.

As the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong, said in this place just last week:

It has been more than a hundred years since the first realisation that the earth’s climate might be sensitive to atmospheric concentrations of gasses, creating a greenhouse effect. The IPCC’s fourth assessment report, the largest assessment of climate science ever undertaken, concluded that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and it is 90 per cent likely that this warming is caused by human activity.

So, as we have been part of a problem that has become increasingly evident over more than a century, it is about time we became part of the solution through renewable energies and other measures. The Rudd Labor government is determined to address the challenges of climate change for this and future generations.