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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8037

Mr LAMING (7:30 PM) —What a refreshing debate we have enjoyed today by effectively decoupling the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 and cognate bill from the ETS. To my National Party colleague from Maranoa, it is wonderful to hear the support that we have from Queensland’s largest seat for this legislation. Coming from a relatively tiny outer metropolitan seat, I would wish to echo his views. Some have said that Bowman is the only seat in Australia that doubles in size at low tide. You are quite right: we have a deep and abiding passion for the potential for tidal and also ocean current technology. That is all ahead of us, and it is an exciting future. I congratulate the government for finally taking that important step of decoupling this legislation. The government has also effectively revealed the enthusiasm for renewable energy on both sides of this House. Our country can only benefit from that.

I do not think that now is the appropriate time to go through the history of the struggles we have had with the ETS legislation, except to say it is probably also a good time now to move on from the 2007 notion that you are either a denier or a believer, that either you are a sceptic that needs to be shunned or you are evangelical about some sort of greater issue than any on the planet, that of emissions trading. It is a part of planning for the future of Australia and we are far better to be pulling together the diverse and disparate views in Australia. We know they exist all around the world, and I would be concerned about a political party that did not have those diverse views within it. We are effectively debating the key issues that will determine the success of our tradeable goods, the success of Australia as an economy and our ability as Australians to preserve the quality of life we enjoy now. The emissions trading system can potentially impact that.

This small piece of legislation that has been decoupled today is very important because industry have been telling us that this is where they want to go. They need such a target to have the certainty to invest, and I think that is why you have seen the support from both sides of the House being so strong. So often in the Westminster parliamentary system you try to protect the government from its own pigheadedness. We have seen a little bit of that today where there was a reluctance to consider very constructive amendments that were put forward by our shadow minister. I am pleased to say that there has been some ground given and, particularly and certainly for the member for Maranoa who may or may not have realised it, that the waste coalmine gas issue being recognised as a zero emission source of power really had to be included in this legislation. I am very glad that that has occurred.

What has been potentially a bridge too far has been the issue of banding. In a recent shadow policy discussion of renewable energy producers the clear message was that is an important move forward to ensure the future of renewable technology. This bill needs to recognise that banding can play a very important role in protecting about a quarter of those gigawatt hours for emerging technologies that are not yet ready to take advantage of this legislation. There is a range of those, from geothermal right across to large solar plants, that may not be quite ready yet to take advantage of this legislation.

What we have, though, right now is a very murky and somewhat unhappy triad of stumbles by this government around solar energy that prefaces the debate that we are having tonight. We do not need to trawl through the history of budget night when there were decisions and announcements made that effectively betrayed industry. On 9 June, it effectively summarily cut off the opportunity for those renewable incentives for solar providers. Then we saw it again with the remote renewable program on 22 June. These three hits to the sector, I think it is worth mentioning, have somewhat shaken the solar sector’s confidence in the government to be able to make the long-term decisions that provide some certainty. I am not going to stand here and convince everyone that the old economic incentives stacked up, nor that it was necessarily something that could have been ignored but what we really needed to do was give business more certainty than the government provided.

All I can say to the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change is that he should take some lesson from the economic stability that was provided by this side of the House when in government and learn from that that by giving business certainty we can allow them to plan ahead, they can look forward and they can make the decisions that in the end are going to be right for the consumer. Please do not use small business—in fact, do not use business in general—as something that can be kicked around when rules change and the carpet pulled from under them simply because you can. We know the government can, but try to find a way to give as much certainty as possible to some of these very, very small providers who have faith and who have placed their trust in government that the decisions they make will be there for some time. If government does have to change policy—obviously decisions do and policies have to change—give small business some chance to react rather than what occurred in my electorate and in many others on this side of the House. We had people who had effectively placed deposits and ordered solar equipment ready for installation but had not necessarily got to the point where they could be guaranteed of getting the rebate. That was tragic. Families were running around trying to contact the father who was off at work and who could not sign on the dotted line with solar companies which had all of these bonds and deposits collected yet were unable to fulfil contracts. That was an ugly piece of federal government undermining of the work of small businesses right around this country—businesses which in the end were only responding to government incentives to implement renewable energy. That was an act of faith that I think was somewhat betrayed by this government.

I am glad to see that there has been some concession, again following the decoupling, with the waste coalmine gas, but I would urge the government once again to consider this very important banding issue so a quarter of those gigawatt hours can be protected for the renewable technologies we know are only years away but cannot yet benefit. I would urge the government to give this issue further consideration.

But, nonetheless, let us not forget that today has been, after months and months of somewhat disappointing polarisation around the issue of the ETS, a small moment where there has been relative agreement on this vital transition. We are seeing the move where technology may well find us the solutions to this very important area of global emissions. Australia is playing its role—in fact, more than that. Australia is gifted geopolitically, with our location, our weather, our coastline, our tides and our rivers, not only to make a massive contribution but to be able to provide and deliver renewable and clean power at potentially a fraction of the cost at which other continents can do so. That can set Australia up, but what we will need to get there is not only this legislation but, I think, a full consideration of emissions trading, not a dogmatic, pig-headed approach that no idea can be improved. We need a government that will be responsive and that can work cooperatively not only with the whole country but particularly with those who are working in the sector who are coming forward with great technology—to name one, the Better Place initiative, which has just recently signed the electric car agreement with the ACT government, the third jurisdiction that will be considering plug-in options for electric vehicles worldwide.

An organisation and an initiative like Better Place relies on certainty, stability and predictability, not a policy that shifts and changes with political fortunes or the immediacies of daily political life, where suddenly a program is changed and business has to pay the price. We need to be encouraging the world to see Australia as a stable platform for renewable technology. The first step, I believe, will be taken tonight. It is great to see support on both sides of the chamber, and I look forward to the next step: finding a solution to global emissions that also has the support of both sides of this chamber, that works to protect Australian interests, that prevents the export of jobs and the leakage of carbon—a solution that finds Australia as a member of the lead pack of global economies which crafts and delivers a solution to this most pressing of global challenges.