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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4842

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (21:11): I rise to support the Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 [No. 2], introduced into this House by the honourable member for Flinders. The bill has as its premise the following. On 28 February, as trade was shutting down for the day, the government suddenly scrapped the $1,000 solar hot water rebate. Businesses and homeowners were given no prior notice of the closure of the program and homeowners only had a few short hours to submit their application in order to remain eligible. The result of this rash behaviour was to inject uncertainty into the lives of many workers, contractors and businesses. As my colleagues have mentioned throughout this debate, the Clean Energy Council predicted 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,000 installation, sales and administration jobs would be at risk because of the Gillard government's incompetence.

These types of actions by the government, however, seem very familiar, as the axing of this rebate is a repeat of the damaging sudden closure of the Solar Homes and Communities Plan in 2009 by the then minister, Peter Garrett. And we all remember the bungled Home Insulation Program which, unfortunately, led to the compromising of workers' safety, houses being burnt down and the wasting of many, many millions of taxpayers' money to fix the mess. And in my electorate of Brisbane we are still fixing the mess.

This private member's bill by the shadow minister seeks to ensure certainty in the industry by requiring that the government spend the entire amount originally budgeted for the solar hot water rebate. This proactive action seeks to ensure that businesses could continue to operate as they had originally planned and that homeowners have a fairer chance to access the rebate.

This demonstrates a marked contrast between an opposition concerned about the effects of government policy on business and a government which seems to lurch from one crisis to another. True to form, they voted against bringing the private member's bill forward for a vote in March prior to the 2012 budget. The government originally claimed that it had terminated the solar hot water rebate early because the program was oversubscribed—and we have heard a number of their speakers talk about that—and they anticipated that the funding would be fully expended before its scheduled conclusion. The government and their coalition partners the Greens then promised that the full funding originally allocated for the solar hot water rebate would be retained. And, as referred to by my colleagues, the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mark Dreyfus, gave a written assurance to the Greens, to Senator Milne, on 21 March 2012, and it states: 'As discussed with you, the government never intended to make any savings from the closure of this program and remains committed to supporting the transition to a clean energy future which includes the solar hot water industry. The funding allocated for this program remains in the forward estimates.' Well, that was a good promise! But, as this year's budget papers clearly show, this is simply untrue. It is a broken promise, and these figures directly contradict the government's supposed justification for scrapping the scheme because it had run out of money. Either there has been complete incompetence in the management of the scheme, or the government is not being honest with the Australian people and has been willing to sacrifice the solar hot water industry to prop up its own budget.

The government's own program guidelines did not mention a closure date for the rebate, contrary to the government's claim that it always intended to shut this scheme on 30 June this year. What is even more galling about this decision is that the government is introducing the world's biggest carbon tax on the Australian economy which, as we all know, is going to flow through to and hurt every single Australian. So the government cuts a worthwhile program, at five minutes to midnight, that actually had the effect of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, yet introduces an economy-wide carbon tax that will destroy jobs, will destroy growth and will drive emissions overseas. Nothing better demonstrates this government's delusion and lack of priority than these decisions. This is a very proactive, responsible and considerate bill by the member for Flinders, and it is designed to repair the damage and restore the confidence that this government has shattered. I commend the bill to the House.