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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5350

Senator ABETZ (10:55 AM) —The Senate is currently discussing the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009. My mind was set to think, ‘Well, if this is an amendment bill, there must in fact already be a piece of legislation in existence that this bill is seeking to amend.’ And in fact it is seeking to amend the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. I was wondering, ‘Who on earth would have introduced this renewable energy legislation in the year 2000?’ Because, if you listen to those opposite you would believe that the Howard government did nothing in relation to renewable energy and trying to reduce our carbon dependent economy. But, yes, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 was in fact introduced by the Howard government. Its long title is ‘An Act for the establishment and administration of a scheme to encourage additional electricity generation from renewable energy sources’. The Howard government established this scheme for renewable energy in Australia. It is about time those opposite, and certain people in the media commentariat, acknowledged that fact.

The amendment bill we are discussing today is in fact building on that legacy of the Howard government—a legacy, I might say, which was very good and very strong in the environmental area. Let us not forget that the Liberal-National Party coalition was the first government in Australia that established a minister for the environment. So we can see that the coalition has a very proud history in this area. It showed vision and a genuine concern for the environment, dealing with it in a steady, sensible, secure way; bringing the Australian people, and most importantly Australian jobs and the Australian economy, with it. That is vitally important to consider.

Let us have a look at what we say in relation to this bill and what we have done in the space of renewable energy. It was the coalition that introduced the $8,000 solar rebate, and Labor then broke their election promise and means-tested it. It was the coalition that introduced the solar rebate, which the Rudd government then completely abolished without notice on 9 June. So, on budget night 2008, they means tested the solar rebate and on 9 June 2009 they completely abolished it.

Then have a look at the LPG rebate, a rebate that the Howard government introduced to help people with gas guzzlers to convert their vehicles from petrol to LPG, which allowed them to buy cheaper fuel and leave less of a carbon footprint. That was a good, practical environmental measure. What has Labor done to it? Slashed the rebate. Who can forget the completely dishonest and unprincipled campaign that the Labor Party ran against the introduction of biofuels? Remember that? Mr McMullan, for the Labor Party, said that it would wreck engines and that car warranties would be thrown out and completely shattered community confidence in biofuels, something which we as a coalition government were seeking to foster and encourage within the community.

Those opposite, those in the government, who seek to somehow suggest that they tread the moral high ground in relation to the environment should ask themselves the following fundamental questions. Who introduced the first greenhouse gas office in the world? Which government did that? It was the Howard government. Which is one of the very few governments that will be able to stand and say that they have met the Kyoto targets? It is Australia. Why? Because of the legacy of the Howard government. Who introduced solar rebates? The Howard government. Who abolished them? The Rudd government. Who introduced the LPG rebate for motor vehicles?

Senator Brandis —Who?

Senator ABETZ —The Howard government, Senator Brandis. Who is now reducing those rebates? The Rudd government. Which was the party that ran that dishonest campaign against the introduction of biofuels for our motor vehicles? It was the Labor Party. Let us get some of these facts on the record before we debate this issue further. As Labor recognise, they are amending and building on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, which the Howard government introduced and which for the first time in the Australian context established a scheme to encourage additional electricity generation from renewable resources.

We come to this debate as a coalition with a very proud record and we in fact support the overall intent of this legislation, which is to put in place a target for 20 per cent of the Australian community’s electricity to be generated by renewable energy by 2020. We say to the Australian people and to the government that our credentials are in place in this area. They are enshrined in tangible and effective actions, which the current government is now unfortunately desperate to deny but on which they are in fact building. May I add that they are building on them in the way that we too would have done, in general terms—and I will get to the details later—had we been re-elected.

But our approach to these things has been to deal with them in a stepped and stagged manner so that we can achieve a number of things. We believe that we need to assist in the transition to a lower carbon economy without mugging our economy and without mugging jobs. Seeing Australian jobs and Australian wealth being exported by too rapidly expanding renewable energy targets within Australia would have had a perverse environmental impact. What would have happened was that our major electricity users—such as the aluminium sector, the food processing sector, the pulp and paper sector, the concrete sector, and the list goes on and on—would have simply moved all their processing plants offshore to countries that did not have renewable energy targets. As a result the pollution put into the world environment would have in fact been exacerbated. The way to do these things is to move in a sensible, staged way to ensure that you do not have the loss of jobs and wealth along with an extra carbon footprint courtesy of us exporting our jobs. That is why we have always approached these things in a sensible, steady, staged and safe manner.

In principle, this legislation has our support. Those from Tasmania, such as you, Acting Deputy President Carol Brown, would be very well aware that Tasmania has a very proud record of renewable energy through the hydro-electric schemes. I say to my friends in the Greens—and I am not sure that there are that many of them, just quietly, but nevertheless I am speaking to those who might exist—that those who champion renewable energy should be mindful of the fact that it was in fact the renewable energy source of the hydro-electric commission that enticed my family to Tasmania. So renewable energy has a lot of answer for, in fact, because but for it I would not be in this place today. It goes to show that renewable energy does have its benefits. Senator Wong might be changing her mind and wanting to withdraw the legislation, but I am sure that we can negotiate our way out of that.

I point out that while we agree in principle with the legislation there are some matters that have exercised our minds and about which we have expressed genuine concerns. Those concerns are, in brief, that there needs to be a full decoupling of the renewable energy target from the flawed emissions trading scheme that the Senate wisely voted down. We also believe that more coverage of the aluminium sector, for both its existing renewable energy targets and its expanded target liabilities, than the 90 per cent already offered by the government for the latter is required. We also believe that food processing should be categorised for assistance under the renewable energy target. The coalition also seeks to eliminate a loophole in relation to the multiplication of RETs for industrial heat pumps. We believe that heat pumps should remain included but what could be considered to be somewhat of a multiplication of the RETs should be dealt with and rectified.

We also believe that a proportion of the RET should be banded and reserved for emerging renewable technologies such as baseload solar, geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass. This would allow for about 25 per cent of the additional 35,500 gigawatt hours of renewable energy being reserved for emerging technologies.

We also believe that renewable gas, or waste coalmine gas, should be recognised as a zero emissions source of energy, as it is in the United States and Germany. We as a coalition and my colleagues, in particular the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, our spokesman on energy and resources matters, and the Hon. Greg Hunt, our shadow minister for the environment, have been in detailed negotiations with the government and I understand that the government has made a number of concessions in relation to the areas that I have just outlined.

We look forward to what those negotiations have meant, because we have engaged in this debate—as we have in relation to the emissions trading scheme, might I add—on the basis that we want to do what is best for Australian jobs, for Australian wealth and for the world’s environment. Unfortunately we hear from others in this chamber, especially from the Greens, that somehow those objectives are mutually exclusive—that somehow you cannot have all three. But, as I have sought to point out on a number of occasions, you can in fact have all three.

We need to look after Australian jobs and Australian wealth. If these manufacturing plants, be they cement, food processing, aluminium production, zinc production in my own home state of Tasmania—the Rio Tinto plant at Bell Bay—and all the others that I have mentioned, were to move offshore because they were no longer competitive in the world market due to higher electricity prices, that would mean that those materials would be processed in countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam which do not have the environmental standards that we do in Australia. As a result the world environment would be worse off. That is something that the Greens, unfortunately, have not been able to grapple with in some of these debates. They have not been able to come to an understanding that, if we simply price industries out of the world market, it will in fact add to the totality of the world’s, or human, carbon production and, as a result, be of detriment to the world’s environment.

So we can have protection of Australian jobs, protection of Australian wealth and protection of the world environment if we go down the track of a sensible, staged and safe process. We in the coalition started such a process way back in 1998 when we established the first greenhouse office of any government in the world—a very proud record. We then established the first renewable energy target for Australia, a first for our country, but we did it on a modest basis because we knew that industry and the community had to follow. To do it with a big bang would have literally meant a big bang for our economy, for jobs and for the world environment.

We have entered our discussions with Senator Wong and Labor in relation to this renewable energy bill with good faith and, as I have said, have been negotiating with her, those negotiations being undertaken by the Hon. Ian Macfarlane and the Hon. Greg Hunt—

Senator Wong interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —and the Hon. Andrew Robb. I thank Senator Wong for reminding me of that most important person, because he actually has responsibility for the emissions trading scheme and I of course represent him in this place on behalf of the coalition. We look forward to the outcomes. We believe those discussions are still taking place.

We look forward to the committee stages of this legislation, hoping that we will be able to come to a sensible conclusion for the benefit of Australian jobs, Australian industry and our environment. When I say ‘our environment’, it is not only Australia’s production of carbon that we have to be concerned about; it is also the world’s that we have to be concerned about, to ensure that we do not simply pass our pollution offshore. So we look forward to the committee stages because we believe that there is a sensible way forward with this legislation which will build on those very solid blocks and foundation first laid by the Howard government in 2000. In principle we support the bill, but we do have many reservations which, we trust, will be able to be resolved by amendment through the committee stages.