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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2546

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (10:50): As senators would be aware, late last month the government announced it would wind up the solar hot water rebate scheme on 30 June this year. The Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme, which everyone seems to call REBS, the assistance for solar hot water systems, was introduced in 2007 under the Howard government. It was introduced by the then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, as an interim or bridging program that would wind up at the introduction of a comprehensive carbon pricing scheme. It was never intended to be an ongoing program. The Labor government expanded the program in 2009 and indicated that it intended to close the scheme on 30 June 2012.

The Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme guidelines since early 2011 have clearly indicated that customers have a four-month period in which they can make a claim for a rebate. The final four-month period to claim a rebate was from 28 February to 30 June and, of course, that period is now underway. People are eligible for the rebate through to 30 June for a system that has been installed, ordered or purchased before 28 February. It is expected that some claims lodged in this final four-month period will be processed after 30 June this year. The government, of course, will honour those rebates. Accusations that the scheme was being scrapped, ended abruptly or ended prematurĀ­ely are simply not correct. These accusations are typical of the sort of overblown rhetoric and inaccurate claims that have become a hallmark of the current opposition.

A suite of support programs begin on 1 July this year under the government's Clean Energy Future plan, replacing interim measures such as REBS. These are more cost-effective and properly integrated programs designed around the carbon price. When the carbon price scheme starts on 1 July, the solar hot water industry will be receiving support in four ways. First, the carbon price itself will create a stable, long-term market for solar hot water. Second, the Low Carbon Communities program will provide $330 million to councils, communities and low-income families to improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings. Third, the $800 million Clean Technology Investment Program will give the solar hot water industry an incentive to retool and modernise the manufacture of these units. Fourth is the support the industry will receive through the renewable energy target. Essentially, consumers can be offered up to a $1,000 discount via the STC scheme. I do note in this area that there seems to be nearly as many acronyms as there are in Defence. I have just talked about the renewable energy target. That is very old fashioned; you call that RET these days. The old-fashioned way of describing the STC scheme might be the small technologies certificate scheme. Be that as it may, the scheme has been in place since 2009 and will continue to provide support to the industry.

The solar hot water industry has received substantial assistance from the government and will continue to be well supported in recognition of the important role it is playing in creating a cleaner, more energy efficient economy. Support for solar and heat pump systems will continue through state and territory programs and under the government's renewable energy target and Low Carbon Communities program. Manufacturers can also seek assistance under the Clean Technology Innovation Program that supports further innovation and product improvement. The government has provided over $320 million under the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme since its introduction to help more than a quarter of a million Australian households replace older, more carbon-polluting hot water systems with renewable, climate-friendly alternatives. I think it has been a real success; this is genuinely a real credit to the government. We have heard quite a lot of unnecessary bluster from the opposition on this issue, which of course is their normal modus operandi on such matters. But I have got to say that I find it a bit rich for the coalition to lecture the government or the Senate or, frankly, anybody on its response to climate change—a lecture from a party whose leader believes that climate change is 'absolute crap'. Even more concerning is the knowledge that Mr Abbott's very backward and recalcitrant and negative view about climate change is quite mild in comparison to the views of some of his coalition colleagues in this chamber.

In conclusion to my contribution in the second reading debate on the Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012, I would say that really the opposition has been very reckless when it comes to economic considerations around this issue. The Solar Hot Water Rebate scheme is a demand-driven program. Any extension to the program would have very significant budget implications, leading to a substantial—and I would believe—unquantifiable impact on the budget bottom line. So, apart from anything else, we have fiscally irresponsible and opportunistic grandstanding on this matter from the opposition—and of course this is the opposition that senators know have been authors of a $70 billion budget black hole. I really do think that when it comes to the economy and when it comes to the environment, the best the opposition can do is leave it to the experts on this side of the chamber.