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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8011

Ms GRIERSON (5:36 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009. I have to say that I marvel at hearing the new experts, the weekend experts, in the opposition telling us what we need to do now about climate change and renewable energy. That tourism slogan ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ certainly applies. Where were they for 12 years? I am incredulous. It is just amazing. It is also amazing to me that there would still be the suggestion from them that we are all over the shop, that we are swapping and changing. Yet we see no clear message from the other side at all. We see no certainty for business in their arrangements, just some suggestion that they are the holders of all knowledge on climate change. I do not think the public agree with that. The public agree—and I think there is absolute consensus in this country—that there must be action on climate change, there must be a CPRS or an emissions trading scheme and there certainly must be legislation and initiatives from government to boost the renewables sector. When you hear the opposition say we have not been consistent, and you look at $15 billion in the last budget alone to support clean energy and renewable initiatives, you have to wonder where their attention has been. We know it has been on leadership instead of doing the work that they need to do to impress us or the public of Australia.

We know that renewable energy is vital in the fight to reduce greenhouse emissions, and we have already agreed to meet certain targets in the Kyoto protocol and beyond that. We have to get on with this legislation. This bill gives effect to the government’s commitment to replace the existing mandatory renewable energy target scheme, the MRET, with a national renewable energy target scheme. It aims to see an annual 45,000 gigawatts per hour of electricity produced in Australia from renewable energy sources by 2020, in comparison to the existing MRET scheme, which had a much lower target of only 9,500 gigawatt hours. The 45,000 target is expected to ensure that the equivalent of at least 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply is generated from renewable sources. That is something that can only come about through leadership and inspiration and it can only happen if we give the certainty to business that this legislation provides.

In this decoupled legislation—of course, dependent on the actions of the opposition—there is assistance; it does provide extra help for business sectors. I heard the member for Paterson, speaking before me, claiming that not supporting the aluminium industry in my electorate and in the Hunter electorate was some sort of ‘social treason’. Mr Baldwin will be very pleased to know that the four Labor members of the Hunter are absolutely united in their support for the aluminium industry and for our other trade-exposed industries—the steel, cement and coal industries. We are blessed in our area not only with outstanding industry but also with outstanding opportunities for energy generation and energy production. And we do not just have the blessing of resources; we also have the blessing of innovation, intellect and initiative, which have been very well supported by the Rudd government. I draw attention to the national Australian Solar Institute, the headquarters of which is in my electorate, and the national Clean Energy Innovation Centre, which is also in my electorate. We are leading the way. We have a carbon footprint that is not to be envied but we are leading the way in finding the solutions for the future. Whilst it is sad to see that there have been attempts to block initiatives such as this today, last week’s announcement by the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong, of interim industry assistance arrangements under the RET is a safeguard against the opposition failing to pass the CPRS later this year. We know that there is a move to pass the legislation and we hope that can be achieved. It will take very strong leadership from the opposition and, of course, that is still the missing factor.

The arrangements will set aside the link between the RET and the CPRS legislation until the CPRS has passed through the Senate. If it is not passed then these interim measures will be provided to key electricity-intensive trade-exposed industries like the aluminium industry in my electorate. I think most people would agree that this is a less than perfect way of taking up the dual aims of tackling climate change and providing assistance to industry. But, as the minister said last week, this is a necessary course of action given the opposition’s irresponsibility and its very muddle-headed approach to the climate change debate. It is up to the government to provide the certainty to the renewables sector in the face of the opposition’s failure to do the responsible thing and to pass both the CPRS and the renewable energy target legislation. This legislation will deliver more than a fourfold increase in renewable energy targets by 2020. If passed, it will lead to the largest increase in renewable energy in the country’s history. There is a potential $19 billion to $20 billion of investment out there, and that is the sort of investment we need to drive change. It is the sort of investment that will only come with certainty. The people who met with me in my office today, who will be at the Australian Industry Group dinner tonight, are looking for more guidance and more support from government to make sure they can take advantage. They want to be on the front foot in terms of renewable energy, not waiting for us to make some legislative change to suit the opposition.

Even with the renewable energy target in place, without the CPRS it will be very difficult to give that certainty and to show the leadership that this country is quite capable of. Leadership for Copenhagen is particularly important. I can never believe it when I hear the opposition say we should be followers. We have never been followers. We have always punched above our weight. We have always led on the big issues that face this nation and the globe and that is what we intend to do. We are a government committed to positive forward thinking and we will provide the leadership that has been so sorely lacking for over 12 years. I support this bill and commend it to the House. I certainly know that the support of the public has been vocal and strong and I hope that the opposition will remember that when they face the CPRS debate.