Monday, 17 August 2009
Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009; Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009
Debate resumed from 17 June, on motion by Mr Combet:
That this bill be now read a second time.
In rising to address the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 I begin with a very simple statement: our vision is of a clean energy economy. We strongly support the concept of a 20 per cent renewable energy target. We believe in the potential of the great mirror fields of California, Nevada and Spain; in the potential of geothermal energy; and in the potential of wave, tidal and algal energy to contribute to Australia’s and, indeed, the globe’s clean energy future. Clean energy is, with green carbon, one of the two most fundamental steps to dramatically reducing Australia’s net emissions. It is also about broadening the base of our energy security. Clean energy is also about creating jobs in rural Australia. I am glad that the government have backed down on negotiating these bills. Now they need to provide the details, but we will enter into negotiations today, immediately after this speech, and I am pleased that the government have agreed to do that. We have important issues with which to deal.
I want to deal firstly with the coalition and renewable and clean energy. It was the coalition which introduced Australia’s first mandatory renewable energy target. At that time, the 9,500 gigawatt hours represented an effective target of almost 10 per cent when combined with existing renewables. The coalition strongly supports the 20 per cent renewable energy target and we accordingly offer provisional support for the legislation, subject to key amendments that we will move in the House and once it gets to the Senate.
We are also committed to a 25 per cent reduction in national emissions if there is a comprehensive global agreement. We were the party that introduced the $8,000 solar rebate, which the government means tested in a broken promise on budget night 2008. We are the party which introduced the same $8,000 solar rebate which the government then completely abolished without notice as of 8.30 am on 9 June 2009. And we introduced the Renewable Remote Power Generation Program, which the ALP abolished without notice on 22 June.
I compare what we have done with the Labor Party and its own attack on the renewable sector and see five things. Firstly, there was the means testing of the solar rebate. This took the price of solar panels out of the hands of mums and dads who earn $50,000 each. That was an extraordinary impact on mums and dads from middle Australia, be they a teacher and a policeman or some other combination as a couple. For them, solar power was taken out of their reach.
The second thing that the government did was to scrap the solar panel rebate entirely, as they did without warning on 9 June. The third thing they did was to scrap the remote solar program, to which I referred earlier by its more formal title. This was done with no notice on 22 June, and this took remote solar out of the hands of people in rural and regional Australia who were off grid. It had profound effects as a consequence: the solar industry suffered and people in rural and regional Australia were denied access to solar energy. So we have seen quite an impact.
The fourth thing we saw from the government—and this relates directly to this particular legislation—was to delay action on the renewable energy target by a year and a half. We are well over a year and a half into the life of this current government, and this legislation is only now being brought forward after we saw the collapse in the solar sector because of the combination of abolishing the rebate and the delay in this legislation. It is simply unacceptable. This very legislation has sat on the Notice Paper for two months, and now—finally—it is being brought on for debate.
The fifth thing the government did was to couple this legislation to the emissions trading scheme. One is good legislation and the other is bad. I will talk more about the backdown over the weekend and what we want to do in response. To the extent that there has been a backdown by the government on holding renewable energy legislation hostage, that is a good thing; but we have significant and substantive amendments which we believe can improve this bill and can protect key and critical sectors of the Australian economy.
What about the legislation itself? Firstly, the primary bill aims to set in place a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. It would also enable the government to introduce the solar rebate scheme based on renewable energy certificates that come with small energy units such as solar photovoltaic systems. The legislation progressively increases the coalition’s 9,500-gigawatt-hour annual mandatory renewable energy target to 45,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. We support this objective of a 20 per cent renewable energy target for Australia. The bill also replaces the coalition’s solar rebate of $8,000 with the solar credit scheme. But I should be absolutely clear that the market value of these credits will be somewhere between $4,000 and $4,500, plus or minus, for a common one-kilowatt solar panel system.
Those are some of the key elements within this legislation. What the government has done, though, is undermine its own renewable energy target in critical ways. Firstly, as we have seen, as the legislation now stands on the table before this House the government has taken its own renewable energy target hostage. It not only delayed that legislation for a year and half but also made it entirely contingent upon the emissions trading scheme. Over the weekend we have seen a backdown on that position and a willingness to decouple. We will meet with the government today and we will talk about those details. We want to know: what is the reality of those details? It was unnecessary and it was of great damage to solar employees and solar employers around Australia, and I am glad that the government has indicated a willingness to back down—but we have many things to discuss today.
Let me now move to our amendments to the legislation before us. The coalition will seek the following amendments in the House and in the Senate. Firstly, we will seek a full decoupling of the renewable energy target from the flawed ETS to which it was tied and which was voted down by the Senate last week. Let me say that we believe that a full decoupling is desirable. We believe that it is an important thing. But we will talk and we will discuss it. We do not want to see this legislation held hostage. We want to see the renewable energy legislation passed. We want to see real renewable energy legislation for Australia—this week if possible.
The second amendment which we will seek, which I will introduce in this House and which I believe is being circulated during the course of this speech, is the inclusion of renewable gas, or waste coalmine gas, as a recognised zero-emissions source of energy as it is in the New South Wales system, in the United States and in Germany. The reason why is very simple: it is about hundreds of rural jobs. These are jobs which exist. These are jobs which companies such as Envirogen and Energy Developments currently put in place. They do this for two important reasons: (1) it is good for rural economies to create these jobs and (2) this process will save 90 million tonnes of CO2 between now and 2020. Ninety million tonnes is almost twice as much as the government has promised from $3.9 billion being spent on pink batts. If you were to do this through pink batts, it would be the best part of an $8 billion program. Instead, by simply including renewable gas, or waste coalmine gas, in the system in such a way that it is credited as a zero-emissions energy source, which would then attract renewable energy credits, we could save 90 million tonnes. I will make the distinction for the record that we are not talking here about coal seam methane gas but waste coalmine gas or, as it will progressively become known, renewable gas.
The third of our amendments is that the coverage of the aluminium sector for both its existing MRET and the expanded RET liabilities should be at the 90 per cent which the government has given over the weekend. We want to see that and we welcome the fact that that 90 per cent has been extended for all future liabilities. We would also seek that the 90 per cent coverage be in place for the existing mandatory renewable energy target liabilities.
The fourth amendment—and this is very important to rural communities—is that we want to ensure that food processing is categorised for assistance under the RET. We are seeking a 90 per cent coverage of the food processing sector, we are seeking the broadest possible definition of the food processing sector and, in particular, we are mindful that dairy must be seen as a critical element here, as must also be food cannery works. These are important things for protecting our viability, our food security and our rural jobs.
The coalition will also seek to eliminate a loophole in relation to the multiplication of renewable energy credits for industrial or commercial heat pumps. We support domestic heat pumps. We support commercial heat pumps. But we will seek to place a 700-litre cap and we will seek to make sure that multiple systems do not receive an effective bonus which was never intended.
The final thing that we want to do is help build this vision of a renewable Australia with the great mirror fields and with tidal, geothermal and wave energies. Therefore, we will move that a portion of the renewable energy target be banded and reserved for emerging renewable technologies. These are, as I said, industrial-scale solar—or the great mirror fields—geothermal, wave, tidal and biomass. This figure would be 8,875 gigawatt hours, or 25 per cent of the additional 35,500 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020, and we have set in place in the amendments a scale which will bring this into being between 2015 and 2020.
If the government does not accept the principles of these amendments today as we enter into negotiations then we will show good faith by allowing the legislation to pass the House, but we will reserve our position in the Senate subject to completion of negotiations there. We will reserve our final Senate position subject to resolution of these issues, but we will negotiate in good faith. We believe our amendments are critical. At the same time I say that we want to see this legislation pass. It is now up to the government to come to the table and to respond over today, tomorrow and the course of this week, because we have acted in good faith.
Our message to the government is very simple. We want this legislation to pass. We want to be constructive. We have laid our amendments on the table. We want to get the renewable energy legislation through the parliament. It is time that the government stopped using renewables and the solar sector as political hostages. We are happy, once we have debated and concluded on our amendments, to let this legislation through the House, subject to reserving our position in the Senate on the basis of the final outcome there. Ultimately, if the government is willing to consider our amendments then this legislation will pass. I commend our amendments to the House. I implore the government to engage in serious negotiations which will improve this legislation and protect jobs in rural and regional sectors across Australia.
I am very pleased to speak in support of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and cognate bill. I remind the member for Flinders as he leaves the House that in 2004 John Howard, contrary to the recommendations of his own committee, failed to expand the mandatory renewable energy target scheme. That saw the end of a major renewable energy manufacturing business in my region in Tasmania and of the expansion of that industry in Tasmania and elsewhere. So I find it a bit rich that the member for Flinders and others on the other side come here hand-wringing about this government’s so-called inaction on introducing the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009, which can and must be seen as part of the wider Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
This legislation is part of our government’s comprehensive plan of action to reduce Australia’s national emissions. The key is to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity is supplied from renewable energy sources by 2020. The legislation has the agreement of the states through COAG, which can see just how important and beneficial it will be to rural and regional Australia and also to the future of our nation as a whole.
Under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act wholesale purchasers of electricity, or liable parties, will be required to meet a share of the renewable energy target in proportion to their share of the national wholesale electricity market. Generators of renewable energy can then create renewable energy certificates, or RECs, with one REC representing one megawatt hour of electricity from eligible renewable energy sources. These RECs can then be traded and sold to liable parties, which may surrender them to the Renewable Energy Regulator to demonstrate their compliance under the scheme and avoid paying a shortfall charge. This charge will be increased by the amendments in this legislation from $40 per megawatt hour to $65 per megawatt hour, but it is also aimed at encouraging compliance with the REC scheme.
The target is expected to drive around $19 billion in investment in renewable energy in the period to 2020, importantly accelerating the introduction of a broad range of renewable energy technologies—and I note in particular wind energy in my home state of Tasmania. I am very pleased that there is a project on the books in my region that could be worth up to $800 million. That project has been anxiously awaiting this legislation going through. With the support of those opposite I hope that it will be announced that this project will get underway soon.
We as a government have acted and will act to stimulate the industry with significant direct support through a range of initiatives. Indeed, in the 2009-10 budget the government committed $15 billion to climate change related initiatives, including $4.5 billion for the Clean Energy Initiative, which will kick-start a range of critical low-emission energy technologies in the marketplace. These include $1.5 billion for the Solar Flagships Program, which will aim to create an additional 1,000 megawatts of solar generation capacity. This ambitious target is three times the size of the largest solar energy project currently operating anywhere in the world. Another $100 million will go to the Australian Solar Institute, which supports research into solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and other solar energy technologies. Renewables Australia will be established with $465 million to support leading-edge technology research and to bring it to market.
On top of this is the $480 million National Solar Schools Program, which is giving Australian schools a head start in tackling climate change and conserving our precious water supplies. Already over 4,000 schools have registered to participate and more than $10 million in grants has already been approved. Expansion of renewable energy generation represents a significant opportunity to reduce Australia’s energy sector emissions while driving $19 billion of investment and creating the green jobs of the future as part of an estimated 30-fold increase in the renewable electricity sector by 2050. Let me repeat that for those across the way, who may have been a little stuck in their rut of denial: a 30-fold increase in green jobs in the renewable sector. These are jobs that regions like mine desperately need.
I congratulate the government on finally introducing this legislation. I look forward to those opposite supporting it and to a very positive future for the industries that will benefit from it and, particularly, for our environment.
There will be many people feeling much more comfortable now that the government has given up on playing politics with one of the biggest issues that will ever confront Australia and is at least addressing the components of reform that might deliver some positive outcomes for the Australian people with the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and cognate bill. Today when we open up one of our leading newspapers, the Australian, what does it tell us? ‘Food prices to surge under emissions trading scheme’. The story is by one of the paper’s leading journalists, Glenn Milne, who writes:
SHOPPERS face a jump in grocery prices of up to 7 per cent under Labor’s scheme to reduce carbon emissions …
We have all sorts of deniers in this situation, but there are people sitting over there who think they know better than the grocery giants and everybody else quoted in this article. The article is very lengthy and I recommend that people read it. You will note it refers to the program, what is more, as the ‘emissions trading scheme’, not this smart alec rebadging called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. In fact, the scheme that was defeated in the Senate the other day is a process whereby the government sells permits to pollute. In its Treasury modelling, Australian businesses are encouraged to buy certificates to pollute from China, Bulgaria and, most possibly, the Russian mafia. That is what it tells people to do. The originators of the emissions trading scheme were quoted in the Wall Street Journal the other day as saying that they could not see that scheme working on the scale proposed on an international basis, and one of their major criticisms was integrity.
He might want to bet me a year’s salary that there will not be corruption within international trade. We see the carpetbaggers of the Business Council now being criticised by the producers of the Business Council—and I will repeat that word for you if you like, carpetbaggers—over the fact that the people that are going to see themselves making the biggest amount of money out of an emissions trading scheme are the hedge funds, the financial factor and, of course, the screen jockeys. Every time they drive a Porsche down the road, who pays for that? The electors of Braddon, because there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Nevertheless, the government is now being given time to consider whether food prices will rise. The article makes reference to where the government would be, considering its position in opposition, if someone were standing up now saying, ‘Let’s put seven per cent GST on food.’ I well remember the debates in this place on roll-back. A leading economics writer said that ETS should have an extra ‘t’ in it—the emissions trading tax scheme. Prior to getting on to this other measure, which is worthy of consideration, the reality is that an emissions trading scheme will put up prices. The government says it will put up the price of electricity and will therefore give people in the lower income sector compensation. What does that prove? It proves that the electricity generator is going to buy the certificates and not reduce the pollution. I watch a member opposite, so inconsequential I do not even know the name of her electorate, shaking her head.
the member for Bonner does not understand that if the price of electricity goes up it is because the generator has purchased certificates to pollute and the pollution does not come down at all. Admittedly, and with some cost to the community, if they go into various renewable energy options the opportunities are much greater. I think it was the Leader of the House who referred to me as a dinosaur the other day, and even the member for Braddon, who has had a bit of a come-and-go experience in this place, will remember that I was talking up renewables when he was the member before he got beaten and re-elected. I was talking up hydrogen and all of the decent options that might deliver the Australian people cleaner, more efficient, cheaper energy then. You do not have to subsidise people from the public purse if the price of electricity is going down.
The member for Braddon is very keen on wind energy and, considering the benefits in employment that that might bring to his electorate, he is right to say so. Being a Tasmanian, he can say so because Tasmania has extensive hydro resources which can be used to back up the vagaries of the wind. Hydro has a virtually instant responsiveness. On the mainland, where the foundation for the electricity system, the base power, is coal, coal is not responsive. You cannot just put another shovelful of coal on the boiler at the moment when there is a variation in wind activity. Consequently, if any of the people in the government ever go and talk to middle managers of baseload, coal fired operations, they will tell them that they have not reduced coal consumption significantly as a result of the existing wind generators on the mainland. Why? Because they have to burn the coal in anticipation of wind variation.
What do you do in the circumstances headlined by the power regulator in South Australia, who pointed out that this rush to wind generation in South Australia—to 30 per cent of total supply—will be very dangerous in days of very high temperatures because they have to be shut down? That is not necessarily a problem for Tasmania either, but that made headlines in the Advertiser. It was not some carbon sceptic or someone else; it was the bloke who regulates their power industry saying, ‘Be careful.’ One must therefore look at where the greatest benefits arise.
The first speaker today on this legislation, our shadow minister for climate change, Mr Hunt, identified to the parliament some amendments we think are most important, and one of them relates to emerging technologies. There is a grave fear amongst those people that, in an overall sense, have better ideas than wind; I have made my case there. The coalition had a full-day seminar last Monday with 10 separate presenters on renewables. All of them said, ‘Be very careful that wind does not rush in, knock off all the renewable energy certificates and leave better renewable energy options outside.’ Therefore, money should be reserved for those emerging technologies.
As I have already mentioned, one of those is tidal power. When one gets to tidal power in the Kimberleys of Western Australia, just in one inlet—according to the World Energy Council—there is the potential to generate 4.2 gigawatts of electricity. That is a very large amount of electricity; in fact, it represents 120 per cent of the existing generating capacity of WA.
The point I want to make that is missing from this legislation—and, in fact, from our policy at this point in time—is the need to sell certificates to people who implement major energy savings in the electrical transmission system. The Chinese are doing this and they will be able to sell Australians renewable energy certificates, because they are putting in high-voltage DC transmission lines. I give an example: to pump gas from the Pilbara to Perth uses 225 megawatts of electricity energy equivalent. That is 700,000 tonnes a year of emissions. The gas does not get there on its own; it has got to be pumped. They are the figures. When we get it to Perth, we turn 30 per cent of that gas into electricity. Yet, if that electricity were being generated up in the Pilbara and brought to the point of consumption by way of a high-voltage DC line, the emissions would be reduced by 200,000 tonnes a year.
If you are going to be able to receive certificates for putting a renewable energy generator in, then why not be able to receive certificates for a HV DC transmission line? And, by the way, there is one of those HV DC lines—as the member for Braddon probably knows—crossing Bass Strait. The Europeans are talking of putting one all the way to Iceland. They operate under water and underground and they transmit energy with practically no line losses at all. Every other form of transmission wastes a lot of electricity in the process of getting it from A to B. Maybe the member for Braddon, considering the way his state benefits from an HV DC line, might get up in his caucus and say, ‘Listen, fellas: why can’t someone who invests $1 million a kilometre for a terrestrial HV DC line—you can bury them for the same price as having them up in the sky—also receive certificates?’
A fact of life is that people can choose to invest in that. It opens up the opportunity for many better renewables—for instance, anything to do with solar. The further you get out in the desert, the hotter it gets and the better. The Europeans are going into the Sahara Desert for that purpose. What do we need to get that power to someone who wants to use it? High-voltage DC transmission lines. Really, through this renewable energy legislation, we should be giving people who invest in that type of technology, be they a state energy operator or anyone else, the same access as someone who builds a wind farm or a tidal generation farm or a solar facility. I draw that to the attention of the House. I will be prosecuting it in our party room tomorrow. I make the point that that is a very significant reform that could be included in this legislation. It is sort of—there is a word for this—the wool that brings the whole thing together. It is the interconnection of a lot of opportunities with renewables that are not viable because the source of the renewable energy—hot rocks, you name it—is too far away from where people use it.
I am aware that there are time constraints. I am pleased to say the member for Braddon did not use all of his time, so I have used the extra bit up and will now cease my arguments. I am in favour of this legislation, with the amendments that the coalition has foreshadowed. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the government saw that there are opportunities in all of this? Their attitude to a perceived problem is to put a tax on it. I say that there should be an investment of government moneys in the HV DC systems and others, and much of this other stuff will come on board. The $24 billion of $900 cheques, if invested in the electricity generation and transmission system, would have delivered a 20 per cent reduction without increasing the price of food or electricity or the price of doing business.
After that contribution from the member for O’Connor, one is almost tempted to talk about a ‘VPRS’, which would be a ‘verbal pollution reduction scheme’. It would be of benefit to some members in this House as well.
I am very pleased, as the member for Bonner, to rise and support this very important legislation that we have before the House, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and cognate bill.
This legislation is very important. It is very important not just to the broader Australian community but also to residents of the electorate of Bonner. As it is one of those seats based on a coastal area—we border the magnificent Moreton Bay, which is one of the most beautiful parts of South-East Queensland, and the bay islands—the issue of rising sea levels as a result of climate change and emissions pollution is one that is very dear to the hearts of many residents of my electorate. It is also an electorate that boasts a very important network of creek systems based around the Brisbane River. It is not just rising sea levels but, indeed, the rise of salinity within our freshwater creek systems that has a real impact on the many important ecosystems that depend on fresh water to survive.
I know that there are many environmental groups in my electorate—including the Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee, the Norman Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee, the Hemmant and Tingalpa Wetlands Conservation Group and many others—who are all very concerned that this government should act to deal with the very real and immediate pressure that rising sea levels are putting on our coastal areas.
This legislation is also important because it honours the view and the belief of the Australian people that we need to act quickly on climate change through a range of mechanisms, including increasing our use of renewable energy sources. By introducing this legislation and a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020, we are creating a very important framework which will see this vibrant industry emerge as a viable force in the Australian business community. So this legislation is good not just for our environment but for our economy as well. Indeed, this legislation provides certainty for business and individual consumers, which will see a real and measurable take-up of renewable energy in the Australian community. It also ensures that the take-up will increase significantly through the introduction of a range of measures: solar credits, renewable energy certificates, an increase in shortfall charges and a whole range of ways through which individuals, businesses and indeed the whole community can look to renewable energy as an alternative energy source.
It is important to remember that Australia is an energy-rich country. We have relied significantly on the abundance of fossil fuels that exist within Australia, but Australia has an abundance of renewable energy sources as well. As a result of this legislation, we will see investment in alternative energy sources such as biomass, solar, wind power, geothermal and many others. That is significant not just for our natural environment and the reduction of pollution but also in terms of the commercial and job opportunities which will arise from that. I have previously said in the House that the debate around climate change and alternatives to fossil fuel based energy provides so many opportunities which, unfortunately, the sceptics just cannot see. Mind you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I think even the sceptics would support investment in solar and wind technologies. Even if they do not believe in man-made climate change, I am sure they would not oppose investment in those very interesting and viable industries.
I have previously likened this debate to the debate which occurred particularly in the last 40 to 50 years when computers were seen to be replacing jobs. There was much fear that the new technology would see our community changed, jobs lost, people put out of work and old skills lost without any alternatives. We all know that the rise of the computer industry has not only provided us with many new and more efficient ways of communicating and interacting with each other but also led to the burgeoning of many new industries, including the internet, computer maintenance and software programming. A whole range of job opportunities and commercial industries have emerged from the development of the personal computer and computer technologies. It is now one of the biggest industries in the world and an industry on which we fundamentally depend. I believe that, with the initiative and leadership of this government and the potential $19 billion investment in renewable energies, this emerging industry sector will become as fundamental to our lives as computers are to the way we work and play and will provide as many employment and business opportunities as computers have done.
I am very pleased that the government has put this legislation before the House. I see many opportunities coming out of it. I see significant benefit for the planet and for many generations to come in terms of new job opportunities. My children will probably benefit from the emergence of this area of business as much as I benefited from the emergence of computers. In conclusion, I feel it is unfortunate that, whilst this legislation has the support of the House, we cannot see a commitment to the very long-term and substantial initiatives that are required through support for a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The measures introduced in this legislation are necessarily complementary to the longer term initiative of that scheme. I can only urge members opposite and members of the Senate not just to support this legislation but also to continue to support the government’s other initiatives which will see climate change dealt with in a much more significant way. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to indicate my support for the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and cognate bill and for the position put so eloquently by the shadow minister for the environment and water at the beginning of the debate today—albeit a little earlier than I thought I would have the opportunity to do so. This legislation aims to set in place a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. What we have seen in the last few weeks is that, sadly, those on the other side have used this bill for political leverage against those of us on this side. Yesterday, that all came to a crashing halt with the backflip by the Minister for Climate Change and Water on this matter. Thankfully, common sense has prevailed. The minister has decoupled this bill, as she had been urged to do by those of us on this side and by others including the Greens and, last week, the Clean Energy Forum—not well-known supporters of this side of the parliament. Thankfully, the government did decouple the bill. It was part of a political ploy. There was no need to couple this bill and the ETS legislation that the government had before the parliament. As with so much of what this government does, it was purely about politics and not about genuine outcomes.
On that point—and I make it again in this place, as I did in the debate on the CPRS legislation—I support moves by our country, where we can, to reduce the amount of carbon that we emit into the atmosphere without getting ourselves into the situation where we are damaging our own economy ahead of the rest of the world for very little environmental benefit, arguably damaging our economy and also damaging the environment at the same time by emissions being pushed offshore, where they will still be emitted but with the loss of Australian jobs.
This legislation is important legislation, legislation which I and the opposition support. We have foreshadowed some amendments. As I understand it, the shadow minister for climate change has foreshadowed some amendments, which he is now seeking to negotiate with the government. I am pleased that, with the recent developments, the government is now negotiating on this. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, who is at the table, to encourage his senior colleagues to sit down and negotiate on the ETS legislation so that we can get the outcome that people out in the broader community expect us to get.
Unfortunately, again today we have seen some more politics being played by those opposite. We have heard claims that this side is celebrating and champagne corks are popping. I noticed this morning the member for Solomon at the doors, out there on instructions—I am sure—from those higher. The member for Solomon is not usually that sort of person but he was out there this morning hoeing into the Leader of the Opposition for a backflip of the government’s own making—and the backflip came because the government was playing politics with this important issue. It is legislation that we support and, now that it has been decoupled, this week we will be able to deal with it through the parliament.
Our vision is for a clean energy economy, and we have said that before. We strongly support the concept of the 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020. We believe in the great potential of the renewable sector to become a key factor in our energy supply needs going forward into the future, growing along with a strong economy. We want to see that young Australians have the best opportunity to get high-quality, highly paid jobs—not chucking the baby out with the bathwater, while addressing the important issue of climate change. That is what we have said in this debate and that is what we will continue to say on the ETS debate. We believe it is important that we get the balance right, and that is what we have been doing.
Clean energy is, with green carbon, one of the most fundamental steps to dramatically reducing Australia’s net emissions. It is also about broadening the base of our energy security, and clean energy is about creating jobs in rural Australia. We are glad that the government has seen fit to negotiate on this issue.
One of the important, developing industries in South Australia is the uranium industry, and in recent times we have seen strong development in the uranium market, particularly with those countries such as China and India that are increasingly using nuclear power to fulfil their needs. Australia has made the decision and this government has ruled out the use of nuclear power. However, we sell uranium for the rest of the world to use for its power needs, and China and India are two of those countries which are using substantial amounts. The United States has indicated that, although it will not build a new power plant for some years, it now intends to build quite a number of others—I think it is in the range of about 30—in the next while. For a member of this place from South Australia, uranium is a vital part of the energy mix.
We were pleased to see that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts—who does not have responsibility for the portfolio of climate change, strange as it may sound—was able to put aside his long-held beliefs on the issue of uranium mining and the exporting of uranium and to approve an additional uranium mine in South Australia in recent times. Obviously it was a difficult decision for the minister but one that we are pleased with, because it is part of the answer to reducing emissions around the world. We cannot solve climate change ourselves in Australia but we can certainly take action, and we are doing that through this legislation but also by contributing to developing countries through uranium and different types of energy mixes.
We in South Australia also have great potential through hot rocks technologies. In my electorate of Mayo we have a wind farm down at Cape Jervis, and there are plans for others in South Australia as well. In South Australia we have great potential for wind generation. In my electorate we also have quite a number of people who want to take action personally and who are interested in installing things like solar hot water systems and solar panels for their homes to contribute back into the grid. I remember visiting about this time last year a property in the Inman Valley—which is down near Victor Harbor, for those who are not so familiar with my electorate. It is a beautiful part of the world. A gentleman in the Inman Valley had hooked up his home to the solar grid and it was contributing back in, because he had invested through government assistance and so forth.
That is why I was a little surprised in June when the government scrapped the second renewable energy incentives scheme, and we have had quite a bit of correspondence in my office from people who are very disappointed with that decision. The answer the government gave was that that scheme had to come to an end and there is a new scheme as part of this legislation. However, I think the way it was handled was suboptimal and less than should be desired by those of us here. We want to encourage people to invest in their own means of power generation, if they can, to reduce pressure on the grid.
But the major issue with energy supply is industry, and the importance of this legislation is that it will mandate the uptake of clean energy and will reduce the impact and the amount of carbon emissions that go into the atmosphere. Therefore, we have supported this legislation. We have been disappointed with the political trickery from those on the other side, who have tried to couple this with another bill, all for the purposes of obtaining a double dissolution trigger to avoid going to an election after next May, when they will have to outline another budget.
Last Friday we heard Glenn Stevens, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, talk about how interest rates are likely to go up by a couple of per cent in the next little while, all because of decisions made by this government—whether it be reregulation of the labour market, instigating massive debt or putting pressure on Australian families. Over recent times we have seen the government undermine their own renewable energy target and hold their own legislation hostage. Firstly they delayed this legislation for at least a year. They promised it back in 2007 but now, in August 2009, it has just been brought on for debate. The government themselves have delayed this legislation. Secondly, they have held the entire renewable energy sector hostage by tying the ETS bill to these bills. It was certainly unnecessary and no-one supported it. The Clean Energy Council said that the government’s holding up the legislation was a politically tricky manoeuvre and would simply end in being a remarkable own goal.
The political trickery of this government has meant that they have backed themselves into a corner, and yesterday we saw the outcome of that with the Minister for Climate Change and Water having to do one of those embarrassing press conferences that you see from time to time in this place and announce a backdown by trying to allege that the opposition would be put under pressure because of it. The truth of it is that this was a backdown of the government’s own making, through political activity which has held this legislation up.
The coalition is seeking to make amendments to this legislation. As I understand it, discussions between the shadow minister and Minister for Climate Change and Water are underway and we will seek to have those amendments agreed to and get this legislation passed. Our message is simple: we want to be constructive, we want a clean energy economy and we want to be a constructive participant in this debate. We do not want to be held hostage to the political activity by the government; we do not want the Australian economy to be held hostage to the political activity by the government; and we do not want young Australians, in both this sector and other sectors, to be held hostage by political trickery on the part of this government. We are supportive of the 20 per cent renewable energy target and we are working with the government on the amendments that we propose.
We are amazed that the government has delayed its own legislation by two years, and we are amazed that the government used this as a political tactic in the last six or so weeks. It is a disappointing move from a group of people who believe that this issue needs to be dealt with quickly. We heard from the member for Bonner, just prior to my opportunity to speak, talk about how important this issue is, yet we saw the government tie this legislation together for its own political purposes. We hope that the government is willing to sit down quite seriously and take our amendments on board so that this legislation can pass and we can have a genuine renewable energy target in place in the near future.
I rise today to extend my support to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009. The passage of this legislation is sought in order to tackle climate change.
This is an area which was clearly neglected during the past 12 years of the previous government. Today, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party are still divided and continue to debate whether climate change even exists. We have a responsibility to Australians and we have a responsibility to future generations to act on climate change now. We on this side of the House have a comprehensive plan of action to reduce Australia’s national emissions, halt their growth and turn them around for the first time in this country’s history. This legislation will bring Australia into line with the rest of the modern energy economies of the world in terms of promoting green, renewable energy.
This legislation provides not only a modern market mechanism to facilitate the application of renewable energy technology but also a platform on which to inspire developers and innovators of green technology to do their bit. It is most important to have regard for the fact that, under this scheme, in generating certainty for those developers and innovators the scheme generates jobs—enabling employment across a broad spectrum, including various areas of finance, manufacturing, operations and trade. It fact, it is predicted that by 2050 the renewable energy sector will be approximately 30 times larger than it is today. The government’s target of having 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supplied by renewable sources by 2020 underscores that development. In financial terms, the RET will provide a much needed economic boost, leading to $19 billion in investments in the renewable energy sector between now and 2020. The legislation before the House will provide the certainty sought by the various innovators, developers and operators of technologies in the renewable energy sector.
The legislation provides for a review of the RET scheme to be undertaken by 2014, coinciding with the review of the CPRS, and this will ensure that both schemes are operating efficiently and effectively and that they are delivering on the commitments that are being made in terms of our targets for renewable energy into the future. The passage of this legislation will also, for the first time, bring into line the various state and national objectives in a single national scheme.
Some of us might recall the enthusiasm when Senator Robert Hill introduced the MRET scheme in 2000. By the way, that measure was designed to complement Australia’s commitment to the Kyoto protocol. Regrettably, that commitment never eventuated, and it took the election of the Rudd government to commit to Kyoto. Had the former government acted on Senator Hill’s advice, it would have made for a much easier transition now, but those things just did not occur under the former administration, the Howard government. This not only damaged our international reputation but also took away opportunities for us to create new, green employment and to develop a workforce with the skills necessary to compete internationally in this emerging area of industry.
Prior to coming to this place, I worked for many years in the clean energy sector, principally with Energy Developments Limited, EDL, which continues to lead the way as one of the world’s pioneers in renewable and clean energy technology, having delivered approximately two million megawatt hours of green energy to the Australian power grid in the year ended 30 June 2009. EDL is one of Australia’s largest waste coalmine gas generators and operates projects such as our largest and leading waste coalmine gas plant at Appin, just outside my electorate, where they generate 97 megawatts of continuous power for the Australian power grid. Importantly, that power station abates over two million tonnes of CO2 equivalent gases every year. I also worked on the German Creek power station in Queensland, which generates 32 megawatts of power and abates over 800,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases per year. In Australia currently, EDL employs 250 direct employees, many of them in regional and rural areas, and supports another 150 indirect jobs. That is not counting the many hundreds of construction jobs which are undertaken by this company on a regular basis as it develops and deploys its technologies.
Finally, I would like to put on record my support for consideration of proposals put forward by various companies, including EDL, to include waste coalmine methane as part of the renewable energy target. We need to ensure that those companies who are our innovators and developers of renewable energy technology have the necessary incentive to undertake their activities with a degree of certainty so that they can help achieve our objectives.
It is with some pleasure that I take the opportunity to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the related bill, and particularly to speak in support of the increase in the renewable energy target to 20 per cent. Those who have followed the renewable energy debate would be aware that it was the Howard government who introduced the original MRET of some 9½ thousand gigawatt hours. That was introduced with the specific goal of lowering Australia’s emissions and introducing and supporting new technologies in relation to renewable energy. There is absolutely no doubt that that legislation was an outstanding success. That legislation saw a growth in renewable energy in Australia unlike any we have seen since the introduction of the Snowy Mountains scheme. Of course, there were concerns towards the end of that scheme—which is still running—that the renewable energy credits were being taken up. So successful was that scheme that it was likely that there would not be enough renewable energy credits within the MRET. So this legislation was proposed and comes on the back of an election commitment that the Howard government made to introduce a 15 per cent clean energy target.
We saw then, as we do now, that clean coal in particular is part of the long-term solution to Australia’s energy needs. When you have an electricity industry of which 80 per cent is coal, to ignore the technology to take clean coal forward is a reckless step indeed. Our target during the election campaign was then increased to 20 per cent. Even though this legislation does not include clean energy sources other than renewables, give or take a few minor technicalities, we still support this legislation. Unfortunately, though, we have seen a political process attached to this, which has done no-one any favours, least of all the renewable energy industry. We have seen the legislation delayed. This debate in this House should have taken place six months ago. It should have taken place on the basis that there was ample time to debate the issue, which is one of the more important issues if we are going to lower greenhouse gas emissions. There should have been time during the last sitting period, even the one prior to that in the autumn session, to debate this legislation and to ensure that industry was not left hanging, as is the case with the photovoltaic industry. That is part of the politicisation that this government inevitably embarks on every time it brings forward legislation. We have also seen the legislation not only delayed but also tied to the passage of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation. That legislation was defeated last week, and we would assume will be debated again some time in the future. But in the meantime it is imperative that this legislation gains passage.
There are, despite our support for this legislation, a number of failings within it. In particular, the introduction of an emissions trading scheme—a pricing of carbon—combined with a renewable energy target increase to 20 per cent, or 45,000 gigawatt hours, has an enormous cost impost on the aluminium industry. In accepting that there would be a price on carbon, the aluminium industry has to also ensure that Australian smelters remain competitive against other smelters around the world, even those owned by the same company. So, if you have a situation where a company owns a smelter in, say, Canada, one in Australia, perhaps one in Europe and perhaps smelters in some of the places where it has access to electricity at a reasonable price and our smelter is the most expensive to run of those four smelters, our smelter will be the one that is switched off. We need to see what the member for Flynn is going to say in this debate. We need to see what the member for Bass is going to say in this debate. We need to see what the member for Hunter is going to say in this debate. We need to see what the member for Corangamite is going to say in this debate. All of those members have smelters in their electorates which are threatened by this legislation in its current form. Provision needs to be made within this legislation that, in the event of an emissions trading scheme and a RET, added compensation is made available to the aluminium sector. The coalition will be moving amendments to that effect.
The food industry will also have to compete in the event of an ETS and a RET against a New Zealand food industry which has a complete exemption on the basis of what is euphemistically known as the Fonterra bill. A large dairy processor in New Zealand can gain complete exemption from New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme for its export products. We do not need to see food-processing plants in Australia closed as a result of this legislation combined with the ETS. Again, we will be moving amendments in that regard.
Though it pains me to say it, the last government allowed a loophole to develop within the MRET legislation that has seen nothing short of rorting go on in the installation of heat pumps. Heat pumps are an extraordinarily efficient but electric way of heating water. They draw the sun’s energy, which has been transformed into ambient temperature in the air—that is, the energy is now in the air—into the unit through what is basically a reverse cycle air-conditioner and turn that heat into hot water. It is very efficient but not as efficient as gas. It certainly emits CO2 in the production of electricity to drive that compressor. As an alternative to an element hot water system, it is a much better option. Where you do not have mains gas or you do not have a large use of LPG and are able to buy at good rates, a heat pump is definitely a better option.
We made provision for heat pumps to receive RECs, but what we have seen is the manifolding or the connecting together of a whole series of these heat pumps which multiplies the RECs so you can actually get a set of heat pumps for absolutely nothing. Even in a residential situation, because of the added assistance from state schemes, you can get a heat pump instead of a more efficient gas hot water system in a city like Toowoomba or Canberra for $395—a quarter of the price of any competition—and it has completely put out of business gas boosted solar power, which is far and away the most efficient way to make hot water without emitting CO2. That anomaly needs to be fixed, and heat pumps need to be restricted to one unit where it is producing hot water for households or for commercial installations. The taxpayer should not be subsidising large-scale commercial operations to install heat pumps instead of other, less emissions intensive methods of heating water. Again, we will be moving legislation in that regard.
There are some other areas which I know the shadow minister before me has already outlined. We are keen to see this legislation pass the House as soon as possible. We are keen to see all sectors of the industry that are affected by this legislation dealt with fairly. There is one other sector which has been generating electricity at zero net emissions, and that has been the electricity industry which uses waste coalmine gas to drive generators. Again, as the shadow minister for the environment has mentioned, we will be ensuring that that industry does not hit the wall as result of this legislation.
This legislation is crucial to the future of the renewable energy industry in Australia. As a previous minister responsible for energy, I got a great deal of satisfaction from working with the industry to ensure that we developed other options. Other options are not just bringing European technology, sticking it on top of a tower and adding some blades to it and saying that this is the answer for renewable energy in Australia. The wind energy industry has done well from the MRET and will do very well from the RET—or the NRET, as it is referred to—but we do not want to put all our eggs in one basket. We need to see renewable energy developed right across the spectrum. We need to see wave energy, we need to see tidal energy, we need to see obviously both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy and we need to see geothermal energy, which probably holds the most promise to ensure that we have baseload renewable energy, because that Holy Grail of renewable energy remains 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We must have renewable energy sources that ensure that the electricity comes out regardless of whether the sun is shining or whether the wind is blowing. We need to develop those alternative technologies. There is promise in those technologies. We are seeing them make progress. It will be difficult for them in the next five years to take a large slice of the RECs that are on offer. But we do see it as important that these technologies are advanced. We do see it as important that we generate 20 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources. We do see it as very important that we lower our emissions per megawatt hour and therefore lower our emissions overall as a country.
I was rather surprised by the contribution from the member for Groom, as last week we had the Leader of the Opposition saying that the Labor government must decouple the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme from the renewable energy legislation and ensure that the renewable energy legislation is passed so that renewable energy projects are able to proceed. The member for Groom is foreshadowing amendments to the renewable energy legislation now that it is here. People in the renewable energy sector and people in the community, who are interested in these things, will be very troubled by this. If it is the case that the opposition proposes to insist on these amendments in the Senate, we have the risk that the renewable energy legislation will be delayed and those renewable energy projects, which we would like to see get up and running as soon as possible, will also be postponed.
The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 implement a key climate change election commitment from the Labor government. We said that if a Labor government were elected we would lift the share of renewable energy in this country to 20 per cent by the year 2020 from around 10 per cent where it languished during the period of the Howard government. It is regrettable that Australia, going back 20 years and more, had a very promising renewable energy industry but, during the course of the last couple of decades, that renewable energy industry has languished. Implementing our election commitment is going to drive the renewable energy industry in this country and make it the part of Australia’s future that it needs to be.
Our legislation will bring the mandatory renewable energy target and the state and territory schemes into the one national scheme. That of course avoids the inefficiencies and the administration and compliance costs of having multiple schemes operate around the nation. Most importantly, it helps answer the question: how are we going to tackle climate change while maintaining our standard of living and maintaining economic prosperity? There are a number of answers to this question, but a critical answer is moving to renewable energy. We need to meet our energy needs with technologies such as solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy, which meet our energy needs without putting the carbon, which is heating up the planet, into the atmosphere. I have long advocated an increase in the renewable energy target and I am delighted to see this legislation being debated in the House today.
People who claim that action on climate change will cost jobs keep forgetting that renewable energy will create jobs, especially in regional Australia. I point out to the House that there are a number of renewable energy projects in each state just waiting for this legislation to be carried. For example, there is the Collgar wind farm in Western Australia, the Waterloo wind farm in South Australia, the Musselroe wind farm in Tasmania, the Macarthur wind farm in Victoria and also the Solar Systems north-east Victoria project. In New South Wales there are the Crookwell and Silverton wind farms, and many other renewable energy projects around Australia are just waiting for this legislation to pass.
In the absence of this legislation we have seen renewable energy investments going elsewhere. California has 250 megawatts of PV panels being installed on six million square metres of industrial roof space in a billion dollar initiative announced in March 2008. I note that in May this year Pacific Hydro announced a deal for construction of 111 megawatts of hydropower in Chile, essentially using Australian superannuation fund money through industry funds management. I hope with this legislation passing that that kind of investment will be going on and driving an increase in renewable energy in this country.
I understand that this target will drive around $19 billion in renewable energy investment in the period to 2020, accelerating the deployment of a broad range of renewable energy technologies. It will facilitate industry development, create green-collar jobs and build the kinds of industries that we need for a faster more appropriate response to climate change. It will create the low-pollution jobs of the future in solar energy and wind farms and jobs using new technologies like geothermal energy.
Treasury modelling released last year shows that the renewable energy target along with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will see the renewable energy sector grow to 30 times its current size by 2050, creating thousands of new jobs. If we do not act, Australia’s economy will be left behind and we will not create the low-pollution jobs of the future. We do have strong natural advantages in areas like solar power and wind power; we have great opportunities for growth in green industries. I strongly support this legislation and I commend the bills to the House.
I stand to support the renewable energy target legislation package. The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 represent the government’s strong commitment to action on climate change. These bills introduced in the House certainly deliver on the government’s election commitment to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity is supplied from renewable sources by 2020. These bills do that by amending the legislation to expand the mandatory renewable energy target scheme. Since the Rudd government came to office, more than 80,000 solar systems are set to be installed on Australia’s rooftops as part of the solar rebate scheme. As we know, the renewable energy target bills are going to be replacing that with solar credits.
What I want to talk about specifically today is Tasmania. For a small state Tasmania really punches above its weight when it comes to generating renewable energy. We are a world leader when it comes to renewable energy. Tasmania currently generates nearly half of Australia’s renewable energy. Most of that is of course through our hydro-electric scheme. Hydro has been the predominant source of electricity in Tasmania since the first power stations were built in the early 1900s. There are currently 29 hydro-electricity power plants in seven different catchment areas throughout Tasmania.
In the 2007-08 year approximately 70 per cent of Tasmania’s electricity was generated from renewable sources. Tasmania also has world-class resources for wind generation. There are two operating wind farms in the state, Woolnorth wind farm in the state’s north-west and the Huxley Hill wind farm on King Island. As the science and technology expands across renewable energy in Tasmania, we are also seeing huge potential in geothermal and with the ocean resources of wave and tidal movement. Tasmania has been doing a lot when it comes to renewable energy. These expanded targets will also mean a great deal to Tasmania. The state’s unique environment affords Tasmania an opportunity to create further renewable energy solutions through this RET scheme—for example, Roaring 40s Renewable Energy, which currently has 500 megawatts of new wind energy already in the developmental phase. This project alone is a $1.5 billion investment for the renewable energy industry in Tasmania. Initial work, as people have heard today, has begun on the Musselroe wind farm in the north-east of Tasmania. Completion of this project is dependent on the successful passage of this legislation.
With the concern of reduced rainfall in Tasmania, the prolonged drought has required Hydro Tasmania to look at other feasible options to recover energy loss—although in recent months our rainfall has increased substantially and the hydro dams are filling up again. These are all new projects being considered; however, they can only progress with the RET scheme. This RET scheme will provide support for Tasmanian jobs and the Tasmanian economy, but it is also an investment in rural and regional Tasmania. A recent study undertaken for the Climate Institute by McLennan Magasanik Associates found that the RET would deliver around 500 permanent jobs and around 1,300 construction jobs at the peak of activity throughout Tasmania. This is extremely positive for Tasmania because it supports the growing green-collar workforce. Of course, there will be numerous indirect jobs also.
This RET scheme is about more than just investments and jobs; it is about ensuring we slow down Australia’s emission of greenhouse gases. And it is just one of the Rudd government’s measures to tackle climate change. In the last few weeks, we have heard in this place about the CPRS, which those on the other side of the House obviously decided not to support. I am pleased that, hopefully, they will be supporting the RET when we learn of and negotiate on their amendments. This legislation is really important for places like Tasmania and for the Tasmanian economy. I am pleased to be able to stand and support these bills today.
The previous speaker really cannot come into this House to represent the ALP and stand up with a straight face—Dick Adams most certainly would not attempt to do it—when she represents a party that stopped the Franklin Dam from going ahead. The member for Franklin is making faces. Tell the House: did the ALP federal government—the party that you represent in this place—stop the Franklin Dam? You stand up here and tell us that you are doing a wonderful job. I have news for you: if you pick up the latest edition of National GeographicI will help you out to save you a little bit of time with your research—you will see that it has Australia at 31 or 51 and America at 506. If you divide the population of America by that of Australia you will realise we are not doing very well in the renewables stakes at all. In fact, if you have a quick look at the two pages in National Geographic you will realise we are dragging the chain very badly indeed. I felt so sorry for poor little Tasmania over the Franklin Dam decision, which was made by a few people who will probably be kindly thought of as very peculiar and on the very margins of the belief systems of the rest of Australia. I do not know; the people in this place just do not seem to be able to get the message.
Mr Latham went down to Tasmania to tell us all that he was going to save the trees—at the expense of some jobs, of course. I rang my campaign director and said to change all the advertising. He said, ‘I’ve already changed it.’ We were advertising on the basis that we would have the balance of power. Once Latham said that, there was not going to be any balance of power; there was going to be a slaughter. And that was exactly what happened. People like Dick Adams, who represent their electorate and their people rather than their party, took a very strong stand and were handsomely rewarded by the voters down there. But he did not do it to be rewarded by the voters.
The member for Banks, if he continues to interject, will not remain in this House. The member for Kennedy has the call. The member for Banks will desist from interjection; otherwise, he will find himself out of this place.
Naturally, it hurts a bit, I suppose. Of course, the Leader of the Nationals at the time and John Howard, smelling blood in the water, raced down there to look after the jobs of the workers. People in this country are much more conscious of jobs now than they were then. If you think you are going to the polls on the basis of carbon, good luck, son. I will be very nice to the opposition. I will be working very hard to ingratiate myself with them.
Recently we had an illness in the family and I had to spend a few days in Sydney. I met a number of taxi drivers there. They seemed to be local blokes. I asked them what people were talking about in their taxis. They said, ‘Jobs, mate; people are just scared.’ They did not know I was a member of parliament. ‘They are just scared for their jobs. Blokes in business have businesses going broke. They are really worried.’ I said, ‘What about carbon?’ Two of the eight asked me what carbon was and the other six said that no-one was worried about that. As I have said many times in this House, I am not a sceptic; I am an anti. If you are going to argue with me that a few specs up here are going to stop the illumination from coming through, you are having a piece of me. Where I come from, if you try that on then someone will laugh at you. What I am saying is that even a person like me, who is anti, still says that we should pull on the reins here. There will be some problems that will arise if we keep increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. And there are some serious ramifications in the ocean. I refer to the work of Katharina Fabricius and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, an internationally renowned institute in this respect.
If you are going to pull on the reins then look at doing something practical and real. Do not create another security which will be traded by Goldman Sachs, the share brokers, or Macquarie Bank and those sorts of people. All you are doing is setting up another security. As I have said in this place on a number of occasions, it is just a glorified MIS. It is a glorified way of diminishing your tax. That is all that is going to happen here. Do something practical and something real. I know the government is not comprised of people who can change a tyre on their car—nor is the opposition comprised of people who would know how to change a tyre on their car—but, surely, it can be practical enough to figure out that if you put a solar hot-water system on your roof you will diminish your energy needs. I will give you the figures on this by Steve Szokolay in his solar house book. Szokolay is probably the leading world authority in this area—though since deceased, I think. In that book, he delineates that 40 per cent of all domestic energy requirements are for the heating of water. I am not going to say you are going to remove all the heating of water, but you most certainly would remove 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the demand inside every house in Australia with solar hot water. If you cannot deliver it to every house in Australia, you most certainly can deliver to the government houses. I do not know what the figures are now, but at one stage when the Queensland government had responsibility for government housing about 25 per cent of the houses in Queensland were government housing, either state or federal. With a huge bulk contract of that size, you could deliver solar hot-water systems very cheaply. As I have said before in this House, when I was the Minister for Mines and Energy in the Queensland government this sort of thing would have postponed the necessity to build an 8,000 megawatt power station for another 10 years. That would have been the enormous saving from that one simple action.
I rise today to say that we are desperate for energy in north-west Queensland. Please do not put the cost of our mining operations up. There are probably four or five major mines operating at a loss. If you put another four, five or six per cent cost burden on them, they will simply not continue to operate. I did not allow all the foreign companies to buy our great mining companies, but this parliament did. It allowed our six great mining companies to be foreign owned. It may come as a shock and a surprise to some people in this place, but those foreign companies do not own those mines to be Santa Claus to Australians; they own those companies to make money. If they cannot make money out of a mine then they will close it. They might carry losses for two or three years—and they probably have done that now for two years—but they are not going to do it indefinitely.
Some of the Labor government members of this place were at the talk the other day by the man from Peabody. He said that not he nor any of the miners should be deceitful and say that mines were going to close. I observe that he would have been deceitful if he said they were not. If you dump a five per cent cost burden on the gross income of every mine in Australia and think they are going to stay open, obviously you have had no experience in business. I most certainly have had experience, and I can tell you they will not stay open. I represent 2½ thousand people who I think will be out of work if the government’s program as it now stands comes in. I urge the government to consider this.
I pay great tribute to Minister Ferguson, the Minister for Resources and Energy, for the excellent work he has done in developing a national energy corridor and for providing the open doors for our clean energy corridor. Before I sit down, let me say this to the House: yes, if you are going to subsidise the solar energy project, the sun can be used to boil water during the day, but it cannot boil water during the night. But if we have a biofuels project with that, which produces ethanol, then the sugarcane fibre that is left over can be burnt using the same boilers to produce electricity during the night. We would have a fully renewable system. You would have energy—petrol for motor cars and energy to switch on electric lights—for hundreds of years to come. The water that flows down that giant river, the third biggest river in Australia, will have a little bit diverted to grow the sugarcane and the sun will power our solar thermal power station. We can provide 450 megawatts. The other renewable projects in that clean energy corridor that stretches from south of Ingham all the way out to Mount Isa and through Pentland will provide 850 megawatts of renewable power as well as four per cent of Australia’s ethanol requirements. Two per cent of Australia’s power and four per cent of Australia’s petrol can be provided by this project.
We must sincerely thank Minister Ferguson, who has just entered the chamber, for the excellent work he has done in opening these doors of opportunity. But we plead with the government: if you proceed with the current policy then, as we read in the paper today, food prices will go up between four and seven per cent. Since most of our food is imported from overseas, I think that that is a very conservative estimate of the increase in the price of food. The price of electricity, according to the government’s own documentation, will go up somewhere between 22 and 46 per cent, if we are looking at a CPRS of 15. So the mother with two or three kids trying to make ends meet would be looking at a six per cent increase in her food prices and a 15 to 40 per cent increase in her electricity charges. We do not have to go down this path. There are other options available to the government that are realistic, that are practical and that will produce results. The clean energy corridor will provide the government—and we thank the government very much for their initiatives in this area—and the people of Australia with the possibility of supplying two per cent of their electricity needs and four per cent of their petrol needs. I must also add that the very excellent minister, Minister Ferguson, has brought to the attention of this House that we are running out of petrol in this country, that we have moved from 90 down to 30 per cent self-sufficiency over a five-year period.