Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4373

Mr OAKESHOTT (10:06 AM) —Whilst I am a massive supporter of seeing greater engagement in alternative energy options to both secure and make more affordable our energy supply for the future, I do have some significant reservations about the implications of this move for small schemes and the development of a small renewable energy scheme. There are implications of that on households and on the culture of ownership in both supply and demand management in regard to our future energy, environmental and economic needs of this country. Whilst I fully recognise that the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2010 and cognate bills will proceed through the parliament there are many aspects that are to be supported and lauded. Increasing investment security in large-scale investment is something to be endorsed. I have enough reservations at this time not to support this legislation because of the increased exposure that small households will have as a consequence. And there is the contextual question on what is the full package from government for these economic and environmental questions of our time.

I am uncomfortable supporting just one part of a package which 12 months ago I was being told had to be linked to a CPRS scheme from government. They were intimately entwined and there was no way possible that they could be broken. Yet now the proponents of that message, who only 12 months ago were saying this was all part of the one package, now say to me, ‘Oh no, it is fine to split them. We will push through the renewable energy certificates; the splitting of the large and the small. It is nothing to do with CPRS; nothing to do with emissions trading schemes. Don’t you worry about that.’ I am therefore uncomfortable sitting on this very wild train ride through environmental and economic policy when it comes to how we build the best, most sustainable, most secure and most affordable energy supply for the future of this country.

I am flagging that I will be voting against this and I am sure both major parties have already indicated they are fully supporting this. It will not create too much of a ripple, but I will outline the reasons why I continue to express my concerns. I live in a country—I hope I live in a country—where we do not leave people behind in policy. In regard to the development of a small scheme with a fixed price, I think the very reason behind the development of a scheme that is split between large and small is to increase investment security for large investors, but it is a zero sum game in my view. We are also, as a direct consequence, increasing the exposure of the householder and the small-scale technology that does want to contribute and does have a want to participate and does have a desire to own this issue. If we are going to start with the broad philosophical, it is this clash of ideals that I am feeling with the two major parties now jumping into bed and saying that large investment is the way forward in policy for energy security and renewable energies at the expense of the small-scale systems and households.

I take a counterview and I do think there are alternative policy options in the marketplace that have been rejected by government and opposition that say we choose a much smarter path by looking towards the ownership culture of both the problem and the solution and of both the demand and supply side. Those options are there. A national feed-in tariff scheme has been brought into this parliament by several people—and has been rejected by government—to get some consistency in the way this country deals with one of its greatest energy supplies, and that is the sun above us. Households can engage in a national electricity market, both on a supply and demand side, and manage their own issues of energy supply and use. Yet that has been rejected by government, because the ‘suits’ in Canberra go into the offices of the various players and win an argument that the culture of investment in large-scale infrastructure is the best and only way forward for this country in regard to clean, green energy supplies and affordable and secure energy supplies for the future.

By no means is this to deny the role that large-scale investment plays, but I do not think that in a policy sense we are being as creative as we can be and as responsible as we can be in chasing large-scale investment at the expense of households and small-scale technology. If anything, we have an obligation as policymakers to embrace and encourage the ownership culture. I make that point for several reasons. One is that we will fail if every single household is not engaged on this. If people are not very aware on a daily basis of their electricity use in their own households and take some ownership of that and are supported in owning that through financial means, then we will fail. It will not matter what level of investment—large or small—we want to see committed. As well, I would hope policymakers consider on a broader scale the difference and the contrast between having several large investment sites, with the poles and wires and everything that has to go with that in getting it to the retail market, compared to the contrast in a policy sense of a large number of sites with a smaller investment needed to get it to the market.

Every household potentially has the ability to be the mini generator that we all desire. The beauty in a policy sense is that it is demand side and supply side at the one point of contact. There is no need for the double handling of getting supply to market. That should be considered an advantage when establishing policy frameworks and therefore is an alternative option which is worthy of greater consideration. There are some ironies in this legislative package. I will begin by identifying the irony that this is a mini CPRS. This is a cap-and-trade scheme which is already in operation in the marketplace and already accepted by many operators. It is having minimal impact. The figures have been released today in estimates that it is about $2 a year in regard to RET schemes into the future, having minimal impact on the electricity supply at every household.

There are some political ironies here in that we have had some of the most unholy of punch-ons in regard to putting a price on carbon and whether we as a nation are comfortable with a market based response to these natural resource questions. And at the same time, over the last five years we have been doing it because we have a scheme in place. This is the Mini-Me of CPRS schemes which has the full endorsement and support of the coalition. It will be voted on and supported today by the coalition. So the great big tax of the last six months is no good but the quiet little new tax is okay within a RET scheme—some political irony. The figures out today in estimates show that it will lead to some increases in household electricity prices but minimal increases with benefits attached. All of this has to be a contextual debate.

I do not have a problem with the scheme itself. I think there are huge ironies in the fact that both the government and the opposition do not have problems with the scheme, considering their broader positions on market based responses on climate and energy questions, but in the detail of how this has been designed we are leaving people behind. We are increasing the exposure of households who want to participate, and ownership and the culture of ownership is a critical opportunity which will be lost if we go down this path of focusing purely on how many large investments, wind farms, we can get operating in this country. That is one that might sit well in political mythology when ministers are standing on the campaign box and saying, ‘My scheme will deliver $19 billion worth of investment by 2020 and we are 22 per cent rather than 20 per cent ahead of where we want to be.’ Unless we engage the Australian population on this and on the range of packages available, we are going to fail.

While I have the chance, I throw into this basket the green loans scheme and the insulation scheme, and I throw them in from an angle which is different from everyone in this place. I am a fan. I think they are sensible, conceptual schemes for exactly the reasons I have been talking about for the last 10 minutes. They engage households in both the problem and the solution. Home sustainability is an option for dealing with the moral challenges of our times and is an eminently sensible policy approach. Yes there were delivery questions but they, over time, can and should be resolved. It disappoints me and I know many in the community. You only have to look at the polling: at the moment the disappointment is reflected at the ballot box.

The government seem to have walked away from engaging the home in a sustainable and affordable future. I would hope the green loans scheme survives. At a cost to government it is minimal in the overall budget and the return on the demand side, in growth areas particularly like the one I represent, is significant. It means Country Energy, for example, does not have to increase electricity prices by 40 per cent as their recent New South Wales report said, and largely that increase is due to lack of investment in poles and wires. If we can get the demand side under control through engaging households we will minimise the overall cost to all in rising electricity prices and therefore home sustainability. Any programs from government that engage households in the problem and the solution are very welcome initiatives for the majority of taxpayers.

Likewise, for all the wrongs of dodgy insulators—and there are stories that will be revealed to all and the naming and shaming will continue—the underlying concept of the program was and is a good one. I think allowing people to take ownership and engage is an eminently sensible policy approach.

In the development of this and in the context of all that has gone on in this place in the last six months where we have seen the 180-degree turn from the coalition and the Malcolm to Tony move, when we have seen the 180-degree turn from government, from ‘Sensible Kevin’ to ‘Nervous Kevin’, we need—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member Lyne ought to refer to other honourable members by their position and not by their name.

Mr OAKESHOTT —The ‘sensible’ Prime Minister; the ‘nervous’ Prime Minister, the change from the member for Wentworth to the member for Warringah—these are the 180-degree flips that have occurred within the last six months that have the community confused. There is currently a sense in the community of a policy void in government. It will take an enormous amount of work from government in a particularly wired election environment to recover the moment and to put in place a policy strategy that the community believes in, that is deliverable and that engages the community and government in working together, rather than one that creates the current policy void and confusion.

I take this opportunity to raise the issue of the smoking guns that I have seen over the last six months. I smelt a rat in the shift that I saw and what looked to be—to their credit—a very well organised and very well-funded campaign from the likes of JoNova and Viv Forbes. There is more going on in those stories than meet the eye and they have seen the two major parties scat on the issue of action on climate change and on an affordable and secure energy supply for our future. The shifts that we have seen from both sides have created an unstable energy market and are a great disappointment. Again, I think there are a whole range of interests other than the national interest at play in the political process in this place that point to further smoking guns.

Another point I want to make and one that I hope Minister Garrett and Minister Combet, who are at the table, will consider is my concern about the contrast between government policy and the people who I see in my community, either as a household or as a small business, who want to embrace many of the issues around renewable energy and broader energy security. They are doing it; they are basically getting on with it. However, the policy development and advice from the energy and environmental departments looks to be given ‘with fear’ and ‘with favour’; it is found wanting. In my view, those departments show an inability to contribute without fear or favour to robust policy development in this country. Further, the delivery of those outcomes looks to be a bit of a smoking gun. I think these two departments have been found wanting. This has been captured more by some of the old school culture of the energy department rather than some of the vibrant new minds that we might find in the public sector. I hope I am wrong but there have been too many policy misfires for me to think otherwise. That is one for the ministers at the table to consider.

Whilst I will be voting against the legalisation, I think there is a way forward. We do need the question of a price on carbon answered—and quickly. It is creating an unstable environment. There are a range of doables now, and I would encourage the ministers at the table to look at what ClimateWorks Australia have been doing. They gave some excellent presentations in this place this week. There are some really positive steps that can be taken now to set us up well for the future.

The small-scale energy security is a question that has me really baulking today. This legislative package increases the insecurity around small-scale business and household engagement. There is still a policy void regarding the question of home energy sustainability; it is one we need some direction and answers on quickly.