TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
The Domain, Sydney
17 January 2006
Subject: Renewable Energy and the Award-Winning SunBall Solar appliance
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am here today to talk about the failure of the Federal Government when it comes to renewable energy. The Howard Government is all hot air when it comes to supporting renewable energy.
Last year, 2005, the SunBall, designed by Mr Greg Watson of Adelaide, won the People’s Choice award on the ABC’s popular New Inventors program. What that showed was the amount of public support that is there for innovation which addresses climate change and which saves energy.
Australia historically was the world leader in solar energy research and innovation. In 1980 we were the largest provider in the world. Today it is less than 1% and we can see why when we look at the SunBall experience. Here we have an Australian invention which would save energy and reduce costs over a short period of time. The pay back for this particular invention is estimated to be six years, from that point on it provides completely emissions free technology. And yet the Australian Greenhouse Office has refused to provide funding for it and access to its rebate program.
Of course we know that on January 1 this rebate program was wound back, by half when it comes to community organisations, and it will end in the middle of next year. We know that due to the failure of the government to increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, that what we are seeing is a flight of innovation and capital investment away from Australia. We saw Pacific Solar move from Sydney to Germany. We see this award-winning design completely abandoned by the government. And yet last week the Howard Government had the hide when hosting the Asia Pacific Pact meeting to suggest that it was serious about these issues. We know that arising out of that meeting some $20 million in funding a year was allocated. Some $5 million of that was reserved for renewable energy or 25 cents per Australian per year. That is a pathetic amount and if you compare it with the actions of the Republican Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger who last week announced the US$3.2 billion program, the California Solar Initiative which will provide rebates on a sliding scale to encourage the investment sooner rather than later, to homes and businesses to take up solar technology. The Howard government simply is not serious about addressing climate change. It is not serious about supporting good Australian innovation and industry.
JOURNALIST: Does last week’s commitment towards renewable energy suggest to the industry that there isn’t a future for solar and wind power in Australia?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what the industry is saying is that for both solar and wind energy, are talking about packing up and leaving our shores. That would be a tragedy. What we need is more renewable energy. This comes a time when our neighbours such as China have announced a 15% renewable energy target. Most of the European countries have a 20% renewable energy target. And that is why Labor supports increasing the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target which is a pathetic 2%. Once that level is hit, which will happen this year, all the support for industry will go. That means in the longer term a great cost to Australia. We know that renewables are the future and we should be in a position of investing now so that that adjustment down the track is at least cost.
JOURNALIST: How much money is needed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: With the rebate program, it provides support for people to take up solar energy in their homes. What we need is a substantial increase in the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. In the long run it has got to be recognised that it saves money because if you have a viable renewable energy industry which is actually contributing extra energy to the grid, then you save money in terms of the capital that is required for increased projections in energy use down the track. So I think it has got to be viewed in terms not as a cost but as an investment and as a long term saving. And that’s why I think the Howard Government’s approach is extraordinarily short sighted and flies in the face of their alleged concern for climate change.
JOURNALIST: What would you expand MRET to and [inaudible]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are going to be making announcements closer to the election about what our target would be. At the last election campaign we said we would have a 5% target by 2010. That is obviously the sort of promise you make in 2004. You can’t make 3 year promise in terms of time frame so I should imagine it will be a substantially higher target but it will also be at a different time frame because this investment takes time to come online. And what people want in the renewable energy industry is a signal that the investment will be secure and that it is worthwhile undertaking it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Ferguson was quite supportive of the AP6 and did not talk I think at all about renewables. How do you explain the difference in your strong comments today and his comments which were extremely supportive of the Howard Government?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well my job is to actually provide a critique of the Howard Government but to also provide Labor’s alternative and Labor’s alternative is very clear. We believe that the Asia Pacific Climate Pact meeting was positive but extremely limited.
Everyone supports new technology. The difference is how do you achieve it and without economic instruments such as emissions trading, to encourage the uptake of that new technology, and the clean development mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, which provides for that investment to be made in developing countries. Under the Clean Development Mechanism there are already 60 projects registered and some 500 online. What we are talking about is billions of dollars of investment, unlike the $20 million dollars provided for by the Climate Pact meeting, with only $5 million reserved for renewable energy.
Labor’s position is clear. We would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, we would introduce an Emissions Trading Scheme and we would substantially increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target.
JOURNALIST: So does Mr Ferguson stand out on a limb or is there a split in the party?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look my job is to comment on the environment policy of the Labor Party. That policy we have adopted at National Conference and at caucus. Those positions have been adopted unanimously so I take it from that that all caucus members agree with it.
JOURNALIST: 5 percent is for the MRET isn’t as high as other countries like Japan and Germany which are up to 10 and 12 percent. Would you push it higher?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think over the long term certainly that is an option that needs to be considered. But today is not the day for announcing the figure. We will do that through the proper processes of the party and through consultation with the renewable energy industry. Most of Europe has adopted a 20% by 2020 target. Of course the problem that we have got is that we are working off such a low beginning and unfortunately that is becoming more and more difficult due to the low figure of the current MRET. Quite clearly what we need in the long term is a substantially increased target.
JOURNALIST: Do you know of any projects in particular that are saying they may leave, be they solar or wind?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly there are wind companies that are invested in Australia. Many of them were recorded just on the weekend suggesting that projects that have been approved for wind energy in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria will not proceed as a result of the government’s failure to increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target. Certainly companies that I have met with, including BP Solar, have said that they would like to see the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target increased. It is quite clear that when you look at successful operations such as BP based at Homebush, I have visited that site, they can’t keep up with the demand but the demand is by and large from overseas because the inadequate support for the Australian industry is inhibiting the development of that domestic industry.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, the Newspoll result. The government is back in front on a two party preferred basis. What is your reaction?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: My reaction is the election’s in 2007 and I believe that Labor is doing extremely well. We finished the parliamentary year very strongly. We had clear policies of differentiation out there – a clearly different on industrial relations primarily. We now have cracks in the government when it comes to childcare. On issue of the environment, Labor has a very different position to the Howard government when it comes to addressing climate change and I think that Australians have experienced the hottest year on record in 2005 and they know they need a government which is prepared to actually take fair dinkum action to address these issues.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried though that Labor has lost some of the ground that it gained towards the end of last year on the IR issue?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look it is traditional the governments increase their standing in January when everyone is on holidays and not focusing on political issues. I believe that this year is going to be a very difficult one for the government. The big issue they have to resolve is Howard verses Costello. Will he stay or will he go? That tension is now coming through in each and every policy debate that is going on. What is Jackie Kelly’s position on childcare? How does that relate to the leadership issue? That is the prism in which I think we are seeing all government issues debated. It is a huge distraction for them and perhaps it explains why they are not taking seriously issues such as climate change.