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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2554

Senator FISHER (South Australia) (11:30): What is so wrong with business and the Australian people expecting certainty? What is so wrong with expecting certainty from a government? What is so wrong about expecting certainty at the moment is that we have a Gillard Labor government—a Gillard Labor government hand in hand with the Greens which, despite their protestations, would seem to be more intent on touting its green credentials but destroying as many green jobs as they can?

What is so wrong with business expecting certainty from its government? Unfortunately, the only certainty that business and the Australian community can now expect from this Labor government is that whatever they touch in terms of programs they will stuff up. We have had botched, bungled and mismanaged program after program after program. This govern­ment can change their ministers as many times as they like but they cannot change their stuff-ups.

In terms of this stuff-up, on 28 February this year Minister Dreyfus prematurely announced—despite what members opposite try to say, there is no way around it, he prematurely announced—the cessation of the $1,000 solar hot water rebate. And he said at the time: 'It's good practice. It's good practice to close this kind of program this way.' Really? What is good practice about in February announcing the closure of a scheme which business and stakeholders rightly had expectations around—because of the govern­ment's own announcements and because of what was on government websites. Senator Milne went through some of the website details that industry are entitled to rely upon—if they actually go to the bother of looking at—which clearly showed that, until Minister Dreyfus made his announcement on 28 February, the govern­ment and the government's departments expected that this scheme would continue until the end of June. But, oh, no, Minister Dreyfus says, 'It's good practice to close this kind of program in this kind of way'—just before 5 pm; just before the solar shops close on a Tuesday night. It was deliberately announced that way to make sure that the shops were closed and could not do anything about the announcement by the time they heard about it.

This government has caused as many as 60,000 homeowners to miss out on significant savings if they install a hot water system. Senator Moore can talk about what she thinks was supposed to be the intent of a scheme such as this but, irrespective of whether it was the intent of a scheme such as this to help change community attitudes rather than rely upon, as suggested by Senator Moore, the mentality of the community that, 'I will only do this because I can get a rebate for it,' the fact remains that the community, stakeholders and business should be able to rely upon the policy underpinnings and the program predictions of this government. But they simply cannot—and there is example after example after example of those spectacular failures.

In terms of this one, again, irrespective of whether solar hot water companies, including Rheem—who has said that it has $10 million worth of stock left to move—and consumers were going to be doing this anyway, a program like this is like a beacon to which moths will gather, and the moths in terms of the stakeholders and industry probably stocked up or manufactured, as in the case of Rheem and a couple of our local manufacturers. They are the very sorts of producers and jobs that this government would have us believe that they are trying to protect. But the government are far more intent, it would appear, on corporate welfare with our car companies rather than sticking to their promises to businesses that are trying their best to hold their own and, for example, manufacture products in this country. Rheem is one of those left with some $10 million worth of stock on hand as a result of the overnight premature cessation of this program—by the stroke of a ministerial pen. Why wouldn't the industry operate on the basis that this scheme would continue until at least 30 June?

Senator Boyce: They should have known; it was a Labor government.

Senator FISHER: Indeed, Senator Boyce; the only certainty with this Labor government is that they can rely on nought other than stuff-up after stuff-up after stuff-up. The Clean Energy Council says that there are about 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 6,000 installation, administration and sales jobs that are now at risk since Minister Dreyfus's axing of the program prematurely.

The government's own budget shows that some $63 million worth of funding was allocated to this program in 2011-12 and $24½ million was set aside for it in 2012-13, which makes a complete mockery of Minister Dreyfus's words when he announced the axing on 28 February, saying: 'It's good practice to close this kind program in this way.' Really? Who is he trying to kid? He cannot even kid himself, it would seem, because, if it is such good practice, the government should have planned it in advance, and they clearly had not because they provided $24½ million for the program in 2012-13. That can only be to pay for applications in the door before 30 June, because at the time they formulated the budget they clearly intended to keep the thing running, as they had promised, until 30 June. They knew they would have some overhang for which to cater. Unless of course they learnt from earlier stuff-ups; unless of course they thought, 'We'll probably stuff this up, so we should provide some $24½ million to mop up our mess.' That is a thought, but I think it is the former rather than the latter, because this government does not seem to have learnt from its stuff-ups of earlier programs.

Remember—because the Australian community does—that there was the sudden closure of the solar panel rebate scheme, under the Solar Homes Plan, by then Minister Garrett in 2009, and the botched, bungled and then axed Green Loans program. That left hundreds of people thousands of dollars out of pocket. There was the cash-for-clunkers program. What about that? What a clunker. It did not even make a start before it clunked. Minister Kim Carr stopped it before it started.

Senator Siewert interjecting

Senator FISHER: There was another supposedly fantastic and spectacular program, with not a lot of dollars attached to it, Senator Siewert, so one might suggest: 'What does it matter?' There was not a lot of attention attracted to it either, but there was this thing announced by then Minister Garrett in 2008 called the Renewable Energy Atlas. He announced this thing with much fanfare—it was a website based thing—and said it 'would be a fantastic and invaluable tool for industry, governments and the community as Australia explored solutions to climate change.' He went on to say:

It is an important step in making renewable energy a more viable and practical choice for the future.

So it was launched with much fanfare and much fantastic promise by the then minister in 2008 and then, under the darkness of the night, not even two years later, in October 2010, from memory, all of a sudden the Renewable Energy Atlas totally vanished off the face of the earth. Instead, what was left on the website was a link to some other place, saying:

The data on which the Renewable Energy Atlas was based is now available directly from the originating organisations ...

Big deal. If this Renewable Energy Atlas was such a fantastic thing when it was launched by the minister fewer than two years earlier, what had changed in the intervening fewer than two years to make it 'unfantastic'? What about the taxpayers' money that was wasted in the intervening period?

When we tried to ask the various departments about this at estimates, we started off unhappily with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, which said, 'It's nothing to do with us. In fact, it never was anything to do with us. You'll have to ask the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities instead.' So, later that day, when the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities got in front of us, I asked them, 'What about the Renewable Energy Atlas?' They replied, 'It's nothing to do with us, and it doesn't exist anymore.' The only certainty there seems to be with this government is that they reckon that they can somehow change ministers and that might change their stuff-ups or they can somehow change departments and that will somehow change the history of stuff-ups. We wait to hear the fate of the Renewable Energy Atlas.

There was the Home Insulation Program. That has many millions of dollars attached to it—many more zeros. Then Minister Peter Garrett axed the Home Insulation Program in February 2010. There must be something about February as the month to axe prematurely. Minister Dreyfus axed the solar rebate in February. Two years prior to that, Minister Garrett axed the Home Insulation Program in February—again, overnight, by the stroke of a ministerial pen. That was a program which attracted companies to supply, companies to install, and workers to the industry, because of a government program. There is no denying it. Whether it was right or wrong, that is what happened and, overnight, this government, with the stroke of a pen, destroyed not only the jobs of many workers in the home insulation industry but also the reputation of many decent and long-standing businesses who had been operating in the installation sector. They found their reputations trashed overnight by the fly-by-nighters who had been attracted to the industry by the government's 'Come hither; this is a program which will help save the environment. It'll save us from climate change. It'll create jobs and it'll stimulate the economy.' Instead, you had botches, bungles and an axed program which cost jobs and cost the environment, because that which was put in then had to be checked for safety. There are plenty of carbon miles in going back up to the roof; plenty of carbon miles in flying inspectors from one city to another to inspect a roof in another state when, apparently, there are not enough accredited people to do it in the state in which the home requiring the inspection is situated; plenty of carbon miles in the disposing of home insulation which is taken out and put somewhere for disposal; and plenty of carbon miles and plenty of cost to the environment with installation products that will not degrade. That program did not create jobs; it cost jobs. That program did not do one thing for the environment; it cost the environment. How can a program which has cost taxpayers at the end of the day—because we are still cleaning up that mess—ever stimulate the economy?

Kevin Rudd, of course, was Prime Minister at the time—ho, ho!—and again, with much fanfare, rolled himself down the lawns of Parliament House to meet with insulation installers protesting Minister Garrett's sudden and overnight closure of the scheme. Then Prime Minister Rudd said to the industry—there are plenty of visuals of him saying it—'I get it, I get it, I get it.'

What did he get? He said, 'I get it,' and he said, 'We will create a replacement program to be in operation by June.' Well, what happened then? Another change of minister, and Minister Combet stopped that scheme before it even got off the ground! He said that the replacement scheme in June 2010 would not happen. So what did Prime Minister Rudd get? What did he mean when he said to the home insulators on the lawns, 'I get it'?

It is very clear now from subsequent events that the only thing then Prime Minister Rudd was focused on was keeping his prime ministerial job. That is all he ever 'got'. He never 'got' the fate facing the home insulation industry, and he never 'got' what was being faced by the workers in the industry whose jobs had been trashed overnight. But he certainly would have got a message during the leadership spat when rolls and rolls of home insulation were left outside his door, apparently by someone who lost around $300,000 in home insulation stock.

These people have not forgotten. They have not recovered and, sadly, some of them probably never will. And yet this government continues to slug families. They are slugging families with a carbon tax from 1 July and they are sacrificing this solar program in the scramble to get back to budget surplus. In my home state of South Australia they are doing so to a program that supposedly helps save on electricity at the end of the day.

In my home state of South Australia we learned this week not only that our electricity prices have risen and not only that they are kind of expensive but that South Australians are paying the third-highest electricity prices in the world—the third-highest electricity prices in the world! There is no way that this rebate cut does anything other than disadvantage South Australian families who otherwise might have qualified for it. It is simply not good news for families in Adelaide.

Yet, just last April, the member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, was extolling the virtues of green energy and lauding what she called the 'Adelaide Central Market iconic solar installation,' saying:

South Australians understand we need to protect our environment and move the nation to a clean energy future, …

With or without this government, South Australians may well understand that. But they are now learning that they cannot have any confidence in this government and that they cannot have any certainty that this government will help them move to that clean energy future of which the member for Adelaide so vacuously spoke. I just do not get how axing this solar program rebate moves us to the member for Adelaide's clean energy future.

The bill before us seeks to reinstate the rebate for the period this Labor government promised it would be in place. It is pretty simple; it does not need any more money. The money has already been allocated by the government in the budget, because this very government expected that this program would continue until 30 June. It does not matter what members opposite say, despite Parliamentary Secretary Dreyfus saying that this is the right way to axe the scheme and that this is good practice to close this program in this way. It would be good practice, Parliamentary Secretary Dreyfus and Prime Minister Gillard, to give the Australian people some certainty. Thank you.