Thursday, 28 May 2009
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Will the minister outline how the government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan is supporting green-collar jobs and reducing cost of living pressures for households?
I thank the member for Chifley for that question and note that already some 140 households in his electorate have applied for either the insulation rebate or the solar hot water rebate under the Rudd government’s plans. The member’s constituents join over 50,000 Australian households who have already accessed the Energy Efficient Homes plan, which is part of the $42 billion Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. I also note that the member for Chifley’s electorate is home to the Fletcher Insulation plant in Rooty Hill where the insulation production is going through the roof.
That is what the economic stimulus package is about. It is about making sure that we have jobs—jobs that are created in the local community and, at the same time, rolling out the largest ever energy efficiency program that Australia has ever seen. This package from this government will deliver energy efficiency to around three million Australian households over the next three years. This is an ambition well beyond any previous energy efficiency program in this country. It is a mark of the Rudd government’s commitment to getting on with the business of supporting jobs that we are seeing this program deliver so quickly right across the nation.
I saw some comments earlier this week from US Secretary of Energy, Dr Stephen Chu, who said: ‘The quickest and easiest way to reduce our carbon footprint is through energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is just not low-hanging fruit. It is fruit that is lying on the ground.’ The government could not agree more. It is well overdue that we begin to harvest that low-hanging fruit because the previous government were asleep at the wheel for too long on this issue. I can report to the House that the Energy Efficient Homes call centre has already received more than 83,000 calls since February—27,000 Australians looking to install ceiling insulation and 23,000 Australians looking to install solar hot water. This is all before the rollout of components. The full rollout starts on 1 July.
The Bradford Insulation Group have informed my office that they are adding employees on the manufacturing side alone by some 55 people. That does not include additional jobs in call centres and warehousing. Just last week as well Fletcher Insulation announced an $8 million upgrade to its Victorian manufacturing plant and the extension of its Dandenong and Rooty Hill plants to 24/7 production. That is the Rooty Hill plant in the electorate of Chifley where I understand that, prior to the Energy Efficient Homes package, there was some consideration of rationalising operations. Now they are going 24/7. Fletcher Insulation has also announced the creation of 50 jobs as a result of this increased demand.
What are these jobs about? With Fletcher Insulation these jobs are about pink batts. It is not just about pink batts of course—it is about green batts, it is about polyester, it is about glass wool, it is about rock wool, it is about cellulose, it is about natural wool and it is about foil. If it meets the standards, you can install it under the Energy Efficient Homes plan. But of course pink batts is the product that is so often maligned by the member for North Sydney, the shadow Treasurer, who takes every opportunity to ridicule an investment that is already supporting Australian jobs and saving Australians’ energy bills. ‘We would not have had the pink batts,’ the member for North Sydney says, and he goes out of his way to run down the most cost effective energy efficient improvement that Australians can actually apply at this time, and it is one that produces jobs.
The opposition leader is fond of getting up in the House and saying that it is all about jobs, jobs, jobs, but I saw a weekend report in the Sydney Morning Herald pointing out that when he was environment minister he actually wanted to roll out a program of ceiling insulation around Australia, as this government is doing, but he was blocked by the member for Higgins just as he is being blocked by the Nationals on an emissions trading scheme. I think this says a lot about where the opposition is at because they are voting against and publicly ridiculing measures, and some of these were the same measures that the Leader of the Opposition wanted to introduce when they were in government, but he was not able to.
The government is delivering. It is providing leadership on an issue that produces green-collar jobs, which produces the largest ever energy efficiency program that has been rolled out in this country. It supports and assists Australians in reducing their energy bills; it is taking care of cost-of-living pressures and providing real leadership in the infrastructure of this country; and it is helping people to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
My question is, again, to the Treasurer. I refer the Treasurer to his last answer in which he referred to the budget papers. I ask him: has the government received additional and separate advice from the Treasury detailing scenarios in which government debt could blow out further than what the Treasurer has forecast?
What we have here is another smokescreen from those opposite to try and camouflage the fact that they do not have an alternative fiscal policy. The member well knows that net debt is projected to fall to 3.7 per cent of GDP by 2019-20. But what this is all about is to cover up their embarrassment for not having an alternative fiscal policy and for not being able to articulate anything about it either in this House or outside.
On the doors yesterday we got a real insight into the predicament of those opposite. We had the member for Bowman doing an interview and this is what he said in answer to this question from a journalist: ‘What level of debt is not too high?’ Laming: ‘There is no level of debt that is too high or not too high.’ Journalist: ‘What do you regard as an acceptable level of debt?’
I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under the standing orders relevance is required and the Treasurer was asked a specific question about advice. If he does not wish to answer the question—
I was asked about debt and I am talking about debt, absolutely. This is what the member for Bowman had to say this morning when asked by a journalist, ‘What do you regard as an acceptable level of debt?’
Member for Bowman: I won’t name a number.
Journalist: Give us a number.
Member for Bowman: No numbers, no numbers.
Opposition members interjecting—
Mr Speaker, I am talking about debt and about the Leader of the Opposition this morning when he was asked, ‘What does the coalition regard as an acceptable level of debt?’
Leader of the Opposition: Well, the level of debt should be no more than is absolutely necessary.
Journalist: What then?
Leader of the Opposition: Well, it is not a question of a number.