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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4034


Senator MILNE (4:15 PM) —Hypocrisy on renewable energy oozes off the seats in both sides of this parliament. I have heard a lot about a comprehensive strategy on climate change but there is not one in this parliament from this government; nor was there one when the Howard government was in power. What we actually have is a strategy to destroy solar and renewable energy. That is a more appropriate description of what has gone on in relation to renewable energy since the Rudd government was elected. The reason for that is simple and it is why hypocrisy oozes off these seats when it comes to renewable energy and solar: coal. Neither side of this parliament is prepared to do anything to get solar and renewables to a scale that could challenge coal. It is why day in, day out we see billions of dollars going to the coal industry and the large emitters. It is why we see billions going to carbon capture and storage and why we constantly see that being given priority while what we see for renewables is exactly as the previous speaker said—ad hoc, uncoordinated, not strategic and designed to destroy.

The way the government have behaved in relation to renewable energy is like a cat playing with a mouse. They let it get just a little bit of confidence and then back it to one side. It gets up and starts again and—wham—it is hit by something else. Let me give you the box and dice on what has happened here. First of all, the Photovoltaic Rebate Program was so successful that the minister said it was too successful—so in this country we can be too successful at reducing emissions from coal fired power by getting photovoltaic renewable energy into the market. We were too successful, so Minister Garrett introduced a means test to try to slow things down. But the community were not to be slowed down, because the community, unlike the government and the coalition, actually want to move to renewables and away from coal. When the means test failed to slow things down, overnight and without consultation the minister ended the rebate. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people across the country were left in a position where they had filled out the forms, rung up, expressed interest and planned on getting a system before 30 June but then found that, no, the program was gone.

Then we had the renewable energy target discussed—it still has not been introduced into the Senate, I might say. Here, the responsibility for the complete mess with renewable energy lies with both the government and the coalition, because the legislation for the renewable energy target would have been passed—had the government got around to introducing it into the Senate—except that the government decided to protect the old sectors, the big emitters, by exempting those polluters from the renewable energy target but saying that the exemption would apply only if the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was passed. And the coalition was not prepared to pass the renewable energy target legislation without the exemption for the big emitters. So who was being given security here? The big emitters. Who has been hung out to dry? The renewable energy industry.

Right on the back of that complete failure we now have an end to the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program and with it the demise of Bushlight. In Indigenous communities in particular this has been an extremely successful program. Not only has it been successful in terms of the quality of life in those Indigenous communities; it has been extremely successful in building capacity for Australia to sell its expertise and intellectual property in remote power generation, in particular in the Pacific.


Senator Ian Macdonald —And who introduced the scheme? John Howard.


Senator MILNE —I congratulate those behind the Bushlight program, because it has been a great success. Now that it has gone, what are those communities who have not yet taken advantage of it going to do? They will go back to diesel. With diesel they will get the diesel fuel rebate, so they are going to be subsidised for using diesel to generate greenhouse gas emissions when they should have been given the money upfront by way of the subsidy to put the solar programs in place.

Years ago the Greens introduced a solar fund into this place to try to remove all of these diesel generators and replace them with solar systems, but it has not happened. I have had several emails about this in the last few weeks. One in particular—and I told the author I would quote the case study but not his name—said:

… our rural location means that connecting to the grid is expensive (more than $30,000), and given our limited income we were really relying on the RRPGP …

… they told me that as far as they knew the programme was going to carry on.

This was on budget night, when he rang the department. It went on:

Nothing was said to me about the limited budget or that it might end soon. So I was really shocked to hear that the programme ended …

It’s unlikely we’ll be able to afford to put in a solar system now: we need a reasonably powerful system—

and so on. So people right across the country are being denied this.

The answer to this is clear—that is, a national gross feed-in tariff. Who has resisted this to the very last? The government. Minister Wong is totally opposed to a gross feed-in tariff. How did both the coalition and the government kill off a gross feed-in tariff? By referring it to COAG, knowing that it would get the lowest common denominator. Now state after state is going to a net feed-in tariff, which is no use at all in driving the investment that is necessary to go into renewables. The more successful a subsidy is, the more likely that it is going to be axed, changed, limited or destroyed because it is a cost to the government. The more successful a feed-in tariff is, the better it is all round. It encourages greater investment. So you have to ask yourself: why, when Europe has benefited so amazingly from a gross feed-in tariff, when Spain’s renewable energy has expanded and when right across Europe we are seeing this work, is there such trenchant opposition to it from both the government and the coalition in Australia? The only answer is: they cannot afford to give renewable energy a go because it will leapfrog so-called clean coal. Renewables will be online, cheaper and more cost effective, and the coal industry will be at risk. That is why we end up with this ridiculous situation of ad hoc, stop-start arrangements for renewables.

The Minister for Climate Change and Water herself says industry need certainty. They certainly do. Can you point to any venture capitalist or any superannuation fund that would think there was any certainty at all about investment in renewables in Australia—in solar in particular—when we have witnessed this disgraceful litany of, first of all, the means test, then the abolition without consultation and then the messing about with renewable energy technologies to give certainty to the big polluters? Then we get what we have now: the abolition of our remote scheme. Of course, the answer is always, ‘But we are giving you $1.3 billion for up to four systems for solar thermal around the country.’ Yes, that is true. But where is the pathway after the four? If you had a gross feed-in tariff, there would be an investment pathway to roll out renewables on a grand scale. Talk about hypocrisy. We see it here on these red seats—oozing out from both the government and the coalition. I wish they would have the honesty to stand up here and say that they will never see the renewables get ahead of coal and that they will do everything in their power to not allow the renewables to take over. As long as they sit on these red seats, Australia will be a coal exporter and Australia will generate coal fired power.

In the UK they have moved to say, ‘No coal fired power stations without CCS by 2020’—and it will not happen—but we do not have that here in this country. Every time a renewables proposal comes forward, they check to see what the big emitters think, and the big emitters say, ‘Just give it a photo opportunity.’ My final question to the Senate is: how many ministers have taken their photo opportunity with their leaflets on the one-off solar panel? It is a disgrace. People who see those pictures need to see that behind that smirk there is a great big coalmine and that the great big coalmine will prevent any kind of coordinated or systemic effort. If the government were serious, we would have a gross feed-in tariff. I welcome a change of heart from either the government or the coalition in supporting a strategy to give us real renewables in this country.