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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7996

Mrs MOYLAN (4:33 PM) —I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate regarding the role of renewable energy in Australia’s environmental future. The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009, together with the related bill, is the next step for Australia as we strive to find the solution to long-term environmental sustainability.

The reality of our society is that we have become highly dependent on energy. Traditionally we have met our energy needs by using non-renewable forms of energy that not only have contributed to the global greenhouse gas problem but leave us vulnerably dependent upon the world’s contracting resources. Common sense dictates that as Australia and the world have ever-growing appetites for energy we should look to use and promote energy sources that have minimal impact on the environment, both in how they are generated and in the by-products of their use. Australia is indeed blessed with a plethora of renewable energy options that meet these criteria.

The journey of mandatory renewable energy targets internationally started right here, back in 2000. Australia was the first country in the world to introduce a national target and to create a framework, which is still in use today. The fundamental progress being made by the legislation currently before us is that this renewable energy target is being increased so that, by 2020, 20 per cent of Australia’s energy will come from renewable sources. In real terms this will progressively increase the uptake of renewable energy from 9,500 gigawatt hours annually in 2010 to 45,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. And this has been demonstrated in other parts of the world to be achievable.

The operation of this scheme is based on the requirement that wholesale purchasers of electricity meet a share of the renewable energy target in proportion to their share of national wholesale electricity markets. Liable parties can purchase renewable energy certificates from households and businesses that install solar hot-water heaters, small rooftop solar PVs or small wind turbines and surrender them to demonstrate compliance with this requirement.

While this is an extremely positive step forward, it is still far from perfect. One of my key concerns is that this scheme has the propensity to massively favour currently viable technology. Whilst it is vital that we have a scheme that can kick into action as quickly as possible, we must not allow short-sightedness to eclipse future opportunities. In particular, there has been a lot of focus on wind power, which has huge potential to supply our energy needs but is only a small part of the diverse range of technologies that must be supported. In Western Australia we do have tidal power, and I know we also have people working on geothermal. A target of 8,875 gigawatt hours, or 25 per cent of the additional target, should be set for emerging renewable technologies, to give full encouragement to upcoming innovation.

The diversity of renewable energy poses significant potential for Australia. Not only is it a key for a reduction in future reliance on traditional sources of energy but it is also a huge growth opportunity for Australian industry, both at home and abroad. With adequate government support, we are well placed to capitalise on a global hunger for renewable energy technology. Unfortunately, in recent months many in the renewable energy sector have not had the stability they need to get on and grow their enterprises. The solar industry, much of which is small business specialising in household installation, has been particularly hard hit by ill-thought-out government policies. What would it take to dismantle the solar industry in our sun-drenched country? It turns out that all it takes is some bad decision making and the prioritising of politics over good policy by the government.

Last year the solar panel rebate scheme became means tested, then it was scrapped altogether and then the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program was axed. The Clean Energy Council’s Matthew Warren has said:

Hardly a solar panel has been sold since the [rebate] scheme was wound up. We need clarity and certainty—

But it is precisely certainty and clarity that to date has been denied by this government. Time and time again when I am out in the electorate, people tell me that they do not want to see the environment turned into a political game, but unfortunately this legislation has come to epitomise the political games of the government. At the eleventh hour there was a triumph of common sense, and the government finally bowed to universal pressure to decouple this bill from the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. As I heard the Leader of the Opposition say, this is a victory for common sense. There was simply never any other reason but political stuntsmanship to tie these bills. The Australian summed up the sentiment of Australia in describing this as a ‘ridiculous tactic’ that made ‘the government look cynical’. When so much has already been done by this government to create an atmosphere of uncertainty, one would think that they would have done everything possible to ensure the smooth passage of legislation that has bipartisan support.

All sides of politics would like to see this legislation pass through the parliament, to have the new targets up and running and give some stability to a sector which has been rattled by recent government actions. I urge the government to do all that they can to support the potential that the renewable energy sector offers. The opposition is supportive of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill. I have heard the shadow minister for the environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt, say on many occasions that Australia can become a solar nation and, as I mentioned, there are other renewable sources of energy that Australia is very rich in.

This is important legislation. Probably rarely have we debated such important legislation in this House. I certainly support the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the related bill.