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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2889


Senator BIRMINGHAM (3:24 PM) —If anyone is steroid fuelled today, it is clearly Senator Sterle. He is very much steroid fuelled today. I wish to draw the chamber back to answers by Senator Wong today. The government’s handling of the solar rebates program demonstrates the total abject confusion of this government on its environmental policies and environmental record. It has its environmental objectives totally confused with social policy objectives, because that is what it has done by bringing in a means test. It has totally confused a means test that can be used for social policy outcomes with a means test that should not be applied to environmental outcomes.

The coalition recognised that the solar rebates program was all about the environment. It was about the environment first, second, third and beyond. It was about creating a surge in uptake in the use of this technology. It was about growing that industry strongly and it was about achieving real environmental outcomes. It succeeded and it excelled on all fronts, and we expanded the program accordingly and we are very proud of our track record there. But then the government’s razor gang comes stumbling on into this and decides that it is going to make sure that it limits this program and, in doing so, it applies a means test that is going to rip the guts out of the solar industry across this country. We have solar operators right across this country already saying how it has ripped the guts out of their business—that they are laying off staff, that they are losing money and that they have to close their doors.

One has to wonder where the wonderful Mr Garrett, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, was through all of this. Where was he during this? He got done over, done like a dinner, on solar rebates by the government’s razor gang. He could not stand up for the solar industry, and the government has failed it terribly. We come into this place and Senator Wong, representing him, dodges questions on this issue. She dodged questions today and even today has dodged yesterday’s question that she dodged yesterday, yet again. Yesterday, Senator Wong made a statement about millionaires receiving this rebate. But she refused to back up that statement today when asked very directly for evidence on that front. She refused to back it up because no doubt the evidence does not exist. This was just part of Labor’s class envy, and it was part of Labor demonstrating they have no idea about the value of this program—its environmental benefits. It is an insult to the many families earning just over $100,000. Many families with a working mum and a working dad, each earning about $50,000, are getting slugged and having the opportunity to be environmentally responsible and put solar panels on their homes taken from them. Senator Wong could not justify her own statement of yesterday here in the chamber today.

Much more disturbing, however, was the way Senator Wong handled Senator Milne’s very good question from yesterday. Yesterday, when Senator Milne very directly asked:

... can the minister tell the Senate how many applications have been received since the means test was introduced in the budget?

Senator Wong went on at length, soaking up all of the time, but not able to give one skerrick of data about the number of applications—not one skerrick. I draw your attention very closely to the word ‘applications’ here, because today Senator Wong stood in this place and referred Senator Milne to a website. She snidely referred to the fact that the data was uploaded at 2.15 pm yesterday, as though Senator Milne should have been watching the website live here in the Senate chamber so as to change her question some 10 minutes later. It was a very snide and unfair remark directed at Senator Milne by Senator Wong. But that is not the point. Senator Wong directed Senator Milne to the website, but the website does not contain application numbers. The website contains installation numbers. This is quite a different thing from that which Senator Milne asked about yesterday. Senator Wong has tried to misdirect Senator Milne in answering her question not just yesterday but again today. This data is available. It was given to us in Senate estimates.

In Senate estimates they could tell us in the weeks leading up to the budget and the week after the budget how many applications there were. Why can’t Senator Wong come in here, answer Senator Milne’s question and tell us how many applications there have been every week in the five weeks since the budget? It should not be that hard. If they could do it two weeks after the budget, why can they not do it five weeks after the budget? Why does Senator Wong have to try to cover under installation numbers on a website rather than give us the real answers? (Time expired)