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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5333

Senator IAN MACDONALD (9:31 AM) —As my colleagues in this debate have indicated, the coalition supports a sensible renewable energy target and supports legislation which will establish the rules surrounding a renewable energy target. We do this, however, subject to the government negotiating with us to allow for the amendments that we have proposed and that we believe need to be addressed to make the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 appropriate for Australia. I want to come to that later.

For a long time—in government and in opposition—the coalition have supported renewable energy. One reason for that is for the new generation of electricity generators out there. I want to alert the Senate to the work that Mackay Sugar is doing with renewable energy. Mackay Sugar effectively controls all of the sugar mills in the Mackay district. Mackay is one of the biggest sugar-growing districts in Australia and, indeed, the world. Mackay Sugar is a public company but is principally owned by the people of Mackay and the cane farmers of Mackay. They have a cogeneration project that I was pleased to go and have a look at when I went to Mackay with Senator Cormann’s Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy, looking into the ETS and renewable energy. Whilst in Mackay we had a look over Mackay Sugar and had a talk to the chairman of directors, the chief executive and other executives of the company. Mackay Sugar is proposing through a cogeneration project to put some 206,000 megawatts of renewable electricity into the Mackay grid every year. Some 33 per cent of Mackay’s power will be generated by the sugar industry in Mackay. They will, in doing this, save some 200,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. This is a $100 million project, which will employ 270 workers during construction. It will have year-round operation, providing a reliable baseload power supply.

Many of proposals for renewable energy are about wind, about solar or about other areas where there is discussion about the reliability—24/7, so to speak—of the power supply. The Mackay Sugar cogeneration project will provide a reliable baseload power supply to that city. The renewable energy platform established will provide for further diversification into ethanol production. That can only be good. The whole business plan of Mackay Sugar ensures a cane payment structure to return projected profits to the cane grower shareholders in that area. So it is an exciting project. The project needs these bills to be passed to give it the impetus. Engineering design and specifications have been completed. Construction tenders are ready to be called. The Queensland Renewable Energy Fund has awarded Mackay Sugar a grant. Finance term sheets are well advanced, a grid interconnection agreement is well advanced and development and environmental approvals are in place. But it is important for the project to secure an acceptable power purchase agreement for electricity and for the renewable energy certificates produced each year. Negotiations with the short-listed electricity retailers have been suspended in recent times because of the recent downturn in the REC price.

The 20 per cent RET legislation, which the coalition supports in amended form, is critical for recovery in the renewable energy market, and this particular project in Mackay in Northern Queensland does depend for its immediate progress on the passage of the legislation. This is why it is so essential that the government is prepared to negotiate, unlike the attitude it adopted in relation to emissions trading schemes. It is essential that the government gets off its political high horse, stops playing politics with these things and negotiates sensibly with the coalition and other parties who have a view on the matter.

Media reports tell us that those negotiations have been going on now for a couple of days. On the radio this morning I heard Mr Hunt, the coalition’s environment spokesman, saying that negotiations are not finished yet, but they are going well. I urge the government to continue with that approach. Had the government adopted this approach in relation to the emissions trading scheme, it would not have ended in the disaster that it did for the government last week in this chamber, when there was a forlorn sight—it was a happy sight, as far as I was concerned—from government members. We saw Labor members looking very forlorn as they could not get one other senator to agree with them on that stupid, rushed and politically motivated emissions trading scheme.

If we are sensible in this country about good environmental management, good renewable energy, we have to work together to get the best of everyone’s ideas. It is very clear that all wisdom does not lie in the government. In fact, the fiasco of the emissions trading scheme shows that little of the wisdom resides in the government. It is fairly clear to most commentators—it is certainly clear to most people in this chamber—that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme put forward by Senator Wong and Mr Rudd was all about politics; it was nothing to do with the environment, nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions and nothing to do with saving the Barrier Reef, as they keep telling us. It was all about politics. Four separate Senate committees looked into this and the evidence was conclusive: there would be massive job losses in Queensland, there would be massive job losses right throughout Australia. I cannot yet understand how Labor members—who claim to be supported by and supporters of the union movement and the working families we heard so much about before the last election—could possibly be corralled into supporting the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposed by Senator Wong and Mr Rudd. I know that several Labor members were very uncomfortable about it. I think they, more than we, were delighted when the legislation was knocked off last week. Any Labor member who has any interest in the jobs of working families and unionists could not help but be concerned by the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It was all about politics.

I remind the Senate that Australia produces less than 1.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Had the CPRS gone ahead, perhaps that 1.4 per cent would have been cut a couple of points. It would not have made any difference. Yet Labor senators were running around this country saying, ‘Unless we pass this bill, the Barrier Reef is doomed.’ What absolute poppycock. I am more concerned about the Barrier Reef because I live up there. I know the people who make a living from the reef; I know what a fabulous natural resource it is and how important it is to the marine ecosystem. I know all that, but passing that legislation last week would not have made one iota of difference to the Great Barrier Reef. To make a difference to the Great Barrier Reef you need the United States, China, India, Russia, Indonesia, South Africa, Columbia and Argentina to cut their emissions. By Australia making this Don Quixote approach, tilting at windmills, if we had gone to Copenhagen and said, ‘Look at us; we’ve passed legislation and because we’ve done it, China, Russia, India and the United States, you will all follow suit,’ how would we have looked? Ridiculous. Yet Senator Wong seemed to think that her great expertise, her worldwide recognition, would have been enough, with this legislation in her pocket, to get the rest of the world to agree. How egotistical can you get?

I suggested before that Senator Wong made a complete hash of this. That is quite clear when you understand that Mr Rudd brought Mr Greg Combet in to sort out the mess. I am aware that Mr Combet was dealing with the coal companies and with other resource entities to get a solution that did something meaningful in the emissions area but, at the same time, that did not cost Australians the tens of thousands of jobs that everybody, including the Labor Party, knew would be lost. I predict that Mr Combet will take a much greater role in future negotiations of an emissions trading scheme. I think Senator Wong has been irretrievably damaged by the mess she created in the emissions trading legislation. She recognises, I am pleased to hear, and I congratulate her therefore, her errors with the ETS and is now negotiating sensibly on this renewable energy legislation. I am pleased about that. I congratulate her and Mr Combet on talking to people and getting the best ideas from everyone.

What also concerns me both with the RET and with the ETS is that Labor members up and down the coast of my state of Queensland—and I assume this happens elsewhere as well but I want to talk about Queensland and Northern Australia—whose constituents are also vitally impacted by things like emissions trading and renewable energy, have been missing in action. They have been absolutely silent. Not a word has been raised.

There is Mr Trevor in the electorate of Flynn, based around Gladstone. Gladstone is a powerhouse of a city. It has a huge aluminium and alumina plant there, one of the most efficient and energy-efficient in the world. But, aluminium being what it is, it requires a lot of energy. What did Mr Trevor do to protect jobs in his city? He voted for a CPRS which would have destroyed that city. Also in that city is a very substantial power station, a power plant whose officials were biting their nails over the possible passage of the CPRS. Because it is a power station principally powered by black coal, they knew that they would be in all sorts of trouble if that CPRS legislation had gone through. And what did Mr Trevor do? Absolutely nothing.

Also in Gladstone is one of the world’s most efficient cement industry plants, a plant that I have looked at and I know that a lot of my colleagues have looked at. I think that Mr Turnbull has had a look at it too. It is a very substantial plant in Gladstone. They had proposals for a new section of that plant. It would have been an investment, if I remember correctly—and I do not have these details—of something like three-quarters of a billion dollars in Gladstone. Hundreds of jobs would have been created during construction, and in general operation there would have been new employment created. What did Mr Trevor do about that? He voted to shut that down. The cement company of course, looking to the future and understanding the Labor Party, cancelled that new investment. They put it on a long hold and they will not really look at it again until they can get some sense out of this government, until they know where this government is going. These real jobs in the city of Gladstone were destroyed because Mr Trevor would not stand up for his constituents.

And what about the next, northern seat of Capricornia, just adjoining Flynn? In the city of Rockhampton there is a cement plant. What did Ms Livermore do to protect the jobs of workers in that cement plant? What did Ms Livermore do to protect the 400 jobs that would have gone from Teys Bros abattoirs in the city of Rockhampton? We had evidence at the Senate inquiries that 400 people in Rockhampton would lose their jobs at the abattoir if this went through. What did Ms Livermore do? She voted for a piece of legislation that would have destroyed the jobs of 400 workers in that meat factory and workers’ jobs in other industrial plants in the Rockhampton area.

Let us go a bit further north, into the seat of Dawson. What did Mr Bidgood do to save the jobs of all of those working families, many of whom live in Mackay but work in the Bowen Basin coalfield? Had this legislation gone through, it would have decimated the Bowen Basin coalmining operations. We had evidence from any number of people about that—and I cannot go through them all; there are too many to list in a 20-minute speech—and company after company came to us and demonstrated to us the issues they had with the legislation. Labor members on the committee, I might say, asked questions and then went silent when they understood that these were not rent seekers out there seeking a bit more profit. They understood that the CPRS would have made those coalmines unprofitable and that coalmine investors are not in it just for the fun of it; they are in it to make money. If the mines became unprofitable they would shut them down and tens of thousands of fellow Queenslanders would be without a job. Yet not one Queensland Labor senator stood up for those people in the vote before this chamber.

I plead with my colleagues in the Labor Party who are from Queensland not to do the same thing when it comes to the renewable energy bill. Make sure that the very sensible amendments that the coalition are seeking are in fact adopted. My colleagues in this debate have indicated, perhaps at greater length than I am going to have time to do, that to get our support and pass this bill there must be a full decoupling of this RET bill from the flawed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We have been successful in securing the principle of decoupling but, as I understand it, the government’s proposals as I hear them in the news have not quite been achieved. But let us hope that Queensland Labor senators will ensure that. We need to make sure that the aluminium sector, which is so very important to Queensland, is also included in the framework for compensation, unlike what happened in the ETS, and I beg my Queensland colleagues to support that.

We also have to ensure that food processing is categorised for assistance under the RET. We are going to be seeking to eliminate loopholes in relation to the multiplication of RETs for industrial heat pumps and we are going to move that a portion of the RETs be banded and reserved for emerging rural renewable technologies such as baseload solar, geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass. There are a couple of other things we need, and I urge the government to get involved so that we can get this all passed this week. (Time expired)