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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2863

Solar Energy

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:43): My question is to Senator Wong, the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Just wait a minute, Senator Xenophon. You are entitled to be heard in silence. It has nothing to do with your capacity or ability to ask a question, let me assure you. There was an interjection that was completely disorderly. Senator Xenophon, proceed.

Senator XENOPHON: I draw the minister's attention to a detailed report by journalist Frank Pangallo that aired on the South Australian version of Today Tonight last week. The story was followed on the national program last night. The reports detailed allegations of fraud and the dangerous installation of rooftop solar power systems that were sold by True Value Solar and installed by a separate company called Solar Installation Australia. The systems installed attracted federal government rebates under the government's renewable energy certificates scheme. Specifically, the report contained allegations from former staff of these businesses that paperwork sent to the government contained forged sig­natures and fraudulent information. Today Tonight obtained copies of the fraudulent documents. My question to the minister is: how can there be public confidence in the validity and accuracy of documentation forwarded to the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator by solar companies claiming solar credits? Has the government inquired further into these serious allegations concerning the rorting of a federal government scheme?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:44): I thank Senator Xenophon for the question. There are two aspects, the first in relation to broader compliance and probity systems and the second in relation to the particular firm True Value Solar. On the second issue what I can indicate, and I understand this is on the ORER website, is that the business True Value Solar has agreed to an enforceable undertaking. This correlates with the regulator's compliance and enforcement policy. It is an undertaking which I understand has been made public and the details of it are on the website.

In relation to the broader issue of compliance and probity regimes under the renewable energy target it is the case over the last 12 months that the government has significantly strengthened requirements for government assistance for solar installations under the federal scheme—that is, the renewable energy target—to further protect consumers and also to assist states and territories in the enforcement of laws and to support industry accreditation through the Clean Energy Council. There is a requirement for CEC accredited installers and in addition there is a range of standards and requirements which need to be signed off for certificates to be created. An additional inspection regime, I am advised, has been established to identify breaches of standards and to properly pass this information to state and territory enforce­ment agencies responsible for electrical safety.

These changes have significantly strength­ened requirements originally put in place by the Howard government and address limitations in enforcement powers to give the regulator a wide range of measures to take action where systems do not comply. There are a number of matters that the regulator engages in to minimise the creation of non-compliant renewable energy scheme certificates. For example, all applications for certificates undergo electronic eligibility checking and validation before they are traded or surrendered. (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:46): My supplementary question to the minister is: since June 2009 there have been 63,000 rooftop solar power systems installed in South Australia. In that period the South Australian Office of the Technical Regulator has carried out its inspections on just 50 of those systems. Given the allegations of shoddy workmanship and dangerous wiring of households and the fact that Commonwealth money is supporting the scheme, does the minister believe this level of inspection is adequate?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:47): Obviously, the responsibility for matters such as workplace health and electrical safety standards generally and in relation to solar PV systems is the respon­sibility of state and territory governments. We as a government recognise this respon­sibility and safety matters are reported to the relevant state and territory agencies for appropriate action. To be eligible to receive support under the RET all systems must comply with relevant Australian standards and all relevant Commonwealth, state, territory and local government laws and regulations.

As I was saying, there have been a range of measures introduced over the last 12 months to strengthen compliance regimes. The number of audits which a state should conduct is obviously a matter that should best be determined by the relevant state body. However, the federal government has moved to implement an additional inspection regime for solar panels installed under the renewable energy target and the regulator is now required to inspect a statistically significant number of installations each year and can also conduct targeted inspections of persons of interest. (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:48): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I understand that since last night's story the Today Tonight program is now investigating a complaint from a former installer in Victoria that he witnessed more than 2,000 forms being forged to meet deadlines involving claim credits of $16 million. What steps will be Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator take to urgently investigate these and related allegations at a national level?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:49): I can indicate generally in relation to inspections and non-compliance that a committee of industry and state regulators has been established to input into the renewable energy target inspection regime. Where there are issues of non-compliance with standards that have been identified, the regulations require that information be passed on to both the Clean Energy Council as well as the relevant state and territory regulators so that enforcement actions can be taken.

I do not have any further information that I can provide at this stage on the specific complaints to which you refer. Obviously, the regulator is committed to investigating suspected instances of fraud and if there is any additional information the senator would like to provide I am sure the minister will ensure that that is passed on to the office of the renewable energy regulator.