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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5716

Senator PARRY (5:55 PM) —I thank Senator Wortley for giving me an opportunity to speak in the last remaining four minutes of this debate on the Save Our Solar (Solar Rebate Protection) Bill 2008 [No. 2]. I too was a member of the inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology into this matter. I want to say from the outset that I was disappointed at the announcement by Prime Minister Rudd and Mr Garrett that the rebate threshold was to be placed on this particular great rebate initiated by the Howard government. What that did, instantly, was remove confidence from the industry. It removed confidence from households that would possibly purchase solar panels for their roofs in order to save money, to assist with the environment and to potentially, as time moved on, be able to actually supply additional power back into grids in their locations.

We were very disappointed that, prior to the election in 2007, the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Rudd, gave no indication whatsoever that a means-tested threshold would be applying. We gave great indications that we would be continuing our scheme if we retained government. Mr Rudd led the population of Australia to believe that this rebate would continue and that there would be no means testing to the rebate. Then, out of the blue on budget eve, we found that a rebate was to be placed on it. It made it basically unaffordable for anyone who was eligible under the $100,000 family income threshold. It sent out a message to the solar panel industry, and to people within alternative energy areas, not to trust the Rudd government, because the Rudd government were not going to stand by any energy production that was not mainstream. Solar panels and the rebate were moving in such a direction that people were going to take up this challenge. We opposed that.

One of the other groups that surprised me—and I would have thought that they would have been very supportive of the Rudd Labor government—was none other than the Electrical Trades Union. This is a union that is heavily entrenched within the Labor movement. Under questioning at a Melbourne hearing, they indicated that they did not support this threshold. They indicated that it was ruining the livelihoods of their members. If that is not an indictment of a Labor government policy, I do not know what is. Further, when I heard about the particular union’s not wishing to support the Rudd Labor government’s position, I asked them if they had approached the minister or the Prime Minister on this particular issue. Their response was: ‘Yes, we have. We have written to the Prime Minister and the minister.’ I asked what the response had been, and a very embarrassed executive member from the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria said, ‘We have not received one.’ They had not received a response in about three months. I thought that was a very poor way to treat a union that would have had viable and valuable input into the Prime Minister’s and minister’s decision.

I think Australians have now started to indicate that they are very disappointed with this by their not taking up the challenge of solar panels. Those people that are taking up solar panels are taking up ones with a low kilowatt input. They cannot afford to take up higher kilowatt units because of the rebate, and the rebate just will not cover the higher units. They are buying smaller units, which is not as cost-effective. The installation costs are the same for a small unit, which has less ability to assist a family home and a family budget. I know my time to speak in this debate is coming to a close. I just wish that the Prime Minister would change his mind.

Debate interrupted.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mark Bishop)—Order! It being 6 pm, the Senate will proceed to the consideration of government documents.