Jun 2, 2015

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:02): The glaciers are retreating, and so is the Abbott government when it comes to supporting renewable energy. Just as the dinosaurs were wiped out by the ice age, by rejecting renewables this government risks wiping itself out politically. Until the election of this government Australia was emerging once again as a world leader in renewable energy, but this Prime Minister is frozen in time while the world warms around him. It is having real consequences already. Jobs are being lost and investment is plummeting, with a decline in investment in renewables of 88 per cent since this government came to office.

What is the context of this? Renewable energy in Australia is a no-brainer: we have abundant solar, wind and wave resources and the world-class skills and expertise to turn those resources into reliable energy. Renewable energy creates jobs, including jobs in manufacturing; it attracts investment; it drives down household energy prices and it reduces Australia’s carbon pollution. But uncertainty has been killing jobs and investment.

In spite of the fact that the Abbott opposition campaigned saying that the renewable energy target was a bipartisan target, they sought to undermine it when they came into office. There are more than 20,000 renewable energy jobs—with some already lost—around Australia, including more than 4,000 in my home state of New South Wales; there are jobs in wind, solar, hydro and bio energy. It is not just the technical jobs; it is the manufacturing and the retail, maintenance and administration staff. There is a multiplier effect. But, since the election of this government, investors have been abandoning us. In 2013 Australia was ranked alongside Germany, China and the United States in the top four most attractive places to invest in renewable energy. Under this government we have plummeted to 10th place and we have seen that extraordinary drop-off of 88 per cent in investment in the renewable energy sector since the change of government.

The fight against climate change, of course, is not just economic. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it best. He said this:

Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth … these are one and the same fight.

We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.

On this side of the House we do see the big picture. We aim to connect the dots. We are not in this just for ourselves, but for the future. We believe in appropriately charging polluters for their emissions—not paying them more using taxpayer funds. We take a whole-of-government approach; this government refuses to.

We know the Australian community gets it as well—more than one million Australian homes now have solar panels; when we came into office in 2007, only 7,000 did. That is a remarkable transformation. Latest research shows that Australians back renewables. Some new research, conducted by IPSOS on behalf of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, has come out in the last week or so. The report shows strong community support for solar across Australia: 87 per cent of Australians are in favour of home solar panels; more than three-quarters of people are in favour of large-scale solar facilities, and there is also strong support for hydro energy and wind farms—72 per cent—even if we have a Treasurer now who finds wind farms somehow offensive.

Labor has been doing the hard policy yards on climate change for a long time. As shadow environment minister in 2006 I attended the Walk Against Warming with then Labor leader Kim Beazley. I said that day:

We can’t afford to wait any longer.

The only way we will tackle climate change in Australia is with a change of government.

…   …   …

Australia needs a whole of Government approach to avoid dangerous climate change.

Labor’s systematic climate change plan offers Australia a way to avoid dangerous climate change.

We must take action not just to protect the environment, but to protect jobs and the economy.

On that day, Labor committed to a comprehensive policy: pursuing a target of a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050, joining the global community and ratifying the Kyoto protocol, which we went on to do. It was the first action of the Rudd Labor government on the day that we were sworn in. We committed to giving a price signal by having a national emissions trading scheme. Of course, that would have come into place in 2009 if more than the two Liberals who crossed the floor had voted for it in the Senate. Most significantly, I think, if the Greens political party had voted for a price on carbon in 2009, it would still be in place today. We committed at that time to support renewables, including the ’20 by 2020′ target, and to introduce a climate change trigger in Commonwealth environmental legislation. We supported effective action on climate change once we came into government. In government, we have a record that I am certainly proud of, in spite of opposition from those opposite and, of course, from time to time, from the Greens political party in the Senate, who lost the opportunity that they had back in 2009.

The fact is that Labor’s renewable energy target has been a success. I have mentioned before solar panels—with numbers going from 7,000 up to 1.2 million—but wind power in Australia tripled. The number of jobs in the renewable energy sector tripled. There was more than $18 billion invested in wind and solar farms, hydro plants and renewable energy technology development. On top of these major economic benefits, the explosion in renewable energy in Australia saw carbon pollution from the electricity sector come down. Between June 2012 and June 2013, emissions from the electricity sector fell by more than seven per cent. Renewables are an essential component of cities policy—for making them more productive, sustainable and liveable. Labor’s cities agenda has a strong energy and environmental focus. New housing developments are using tri-generation technology to power water, heating and cooling. An example is in my electorate, where I went along to the opening at Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL of a system, funded by the former Labor government, that will save the club $800,000 a year. That is a good investment supporting a community based organisation, making an enormous difference. The whole-of-government approach comes through when it comes to our policy of being prepared to support public transport as well as roads, which is one of the distinctions between the two sides of politics.

Of course, when the Abbott government came to office, in spite of the promise that it made—that it would not make the renewable energy target an issue of partisan politics—we saw the opposite occur. We had the review conducted by Dick Warburton into the renewable energy target. What was remarkable about that was that the review found that the RET that then existed would put downward pressure on household power prices. It found that it was creating jobs in Australia. It found that it was reducing Australia’s carbon pollution. It found that it was driving investment in Australia’s renewable energy industry. So what did the government do with that report? It said, ‘The renewable energy target is too successful, so we need to undermine it.’ From that point on, it attempted to drive down the target as low as possible, or possibly to make it disappear altogether.

That is why Labor was in a position of having to compromise its preferred position in order to save the renewable energy target, at the urging of the Clean Energy Council. The Clean Energy Council predicts that the revised target of 33,000 gigawatts will drive around $40.4 billion in investment and create more than 15,000 jobs. The agreement will see projects start to be built again and businesses enjoy certainty that will allow them to assure their staff’s job security. Despite the government’s best efforts, we are proud to have achieved the following outcomes: no change to the small-scale solar scheme, full exemption for emissions intensive trade industries and removal of the two-yearly reviews that they attempted to put back on the table at the end of this process. Again, that measure would have created absolute uncertainty and ensured that that investment would not occur.

They also proposed another last-minute change, which was to insert into the proposal the idea that native wood waste should be included in the scheme. We do not support this last-minute thought bubble based upon ideology rather than common sense. This proposal was never raised during negotiations of more than 12 months; it was only put on the table at the last minute. Native wood waste is neither clean nor renewable. The way the government have worded it makes it sound like it would just be the little offcuts which would be burnt, but the fact is that nothing is further from the truth. The definition of native wood waste under their proposal is the whole of any tree that is harvested and not ultimately saw-lopped. So, if you cut down a whole lot of trees but decide not to saw-lop them or to saw-lop only some of them, you can still burn the whole tree. That is the proposition before us today, and we are simply not willing to see the renewable energy scheme used to provide an alternative to the hard work being done by all those who have negotiated the Tasmanian forestry agreement, which focuses on employment, value adding and making sure that that resource contributes the maximum benefit to the economy, rather than this opportunistic, last-minute inclusion that the government have attempted. We will be supporting this legislation, with the exception of the element that we will seek to amend in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We do so from a position of principle, but one that recognises that if we were the government of the day we would have a different approach. We believe the renewable energy target is too important, in terms of its practical survival, to not listen to the Clean Energy Council and others in the environmental movement who have urged us to have a pragmatic approach to ensure that the industry can continue, whilst committing to further change to improve the scheme, should we come into government. So I commend the amendment to the House, and I suggest that the last two amendments have been put on the table by the government as an attempt to distract from the real position, which seems to be that they simply do not support renewables. They have dropped off one of them; they should drop off the second as well.