Renewable energy never stood a chance with this Government

solar_power_australia.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES
(Throsby) (16:17): The legislation before the House today, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014, is part of the government's dogged campaign to destroy and dismantle the policies and the programs that were put in place by the former government to implement a clean energy future. We have seen it with the legislation to dismantle the price on carbon—something that I will return to during my address; the attempts to kill the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an organisation to set up and fund on a commercial basis those commercial projects which are very bankable but which, for reasons best known to the banking sector, are not attracting the finance that they should otherwise deserve; and, of course, the bill before the House today, the bill to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

We knew that we were in a bit of strife with this package of reforms when we heard that devastating admission by the Treasurer himself, who told us that he breaks out in a sweat every time he drives past a wind farm. It must be a terrible trip from North Sydney down to Canberra, as he has to avert his eyes as he drives past the wind farms on Lake George. But never mind; like some latter-day Don Quixote riding his wooden horse, he comes in here waving his wooden sword and says, 'I'm going to do away with all of that'—not tilting at windmills but destroying them. That is what this legislation is designed to do. This legislation—and the whole approach of this government since they were elected—is to dismantle the package of reforms that were put in place to give us a clean energy future.

I want to say a few things about the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It is an independent agency set up in July 2012 by the Labor government as part of a package of reforms. It was provided with approximately $2.5 billion worth of funding, and it has got two objectives. To improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies is its first objective. The second objective is to increase the supply of renewable energy in this country. One of the things that it was focusing on doing was directing funding towards those bodies which had ideas which were beyond the brainwave stage but had fallen a lot short of commercialisation—so organisations with a track record of being able to turn an idea, an invention, into something that is able to be commercialised and then attract finance from the private market.

ARENA are doing pretty well, I have got to say. Every dollar of ARENA support is leveraging around 1.8 times that amount from the private sector. They have the runs on the board. Let us not forget that they have only been up and running for a little over two years—two years and two months. They have already set a world record by funding a program that has set the highest temperature stream ever produced using energy from the sun. ARENA has funded the Perth Wave Energy Project, which is set to be the world's first commercial-scale wave energy array that is connected to the grid and able to produce, in addition to the energy, desalinated water. They are building Australia's first off-grid solar farm, to power Rio Tinto Alcan's bauxite mine and the Weipa township in North Queensland. And they are constructing the largest PV power station in the Southern Hemisphere, 15 times the size of Australia's largest existing solar farm. AGL has estimated that the station will create over 450 jobs for rural and regional New South Wales in the construction phase, with more local jobs created to support the construction workforces. Once the plants are operational, there will be about five permanent jobs in each of the locations where they have been put in place.

One of the most important things about the work of ARENA, Deputy Speaker Scott—and I know you will be interested in this, being a member, as I am, who represents a regional electorate—is that over 70 per cent of ARENA funding has gone into regional and rural Australia. You know, as I do, the devastating effect that lay-offs have on regional employment. Given the fact that they are struggling with drought and a whole heap of the impacts that are facing primary producers at the moment, when you see projects like this with the capacity to produce good, long-term jobs in regional Australia, you would think any sensible government would be grabbing those opportunities with both hands.

In my own electorate, ARENA funded a $2.2 million investment under the previous Labor government through the Emerging Renewables Program. In 2012, they funded BlueScope to produce an integrated, and I might say aesthetically pleasingly, solar rooftop system that integrates what we all know as the Colorbond rooftop system—an Australian invention that has now been commercialised and is one of the best corrugated iron roofing systems in the world. You can imagine the capacity if that proud local Australian company, BlueScope, is able to integrate solar technology in the coating and therefore into the product of Colorbond. It will take that flat metal product to a whole new level.

ARENA is working with BlueScope to fund that program, which is providing three important benefits to the steelworks in my electorate. Firstly, it is helping to maintain BlueScope's operation on the south coast. Secondly, it is creating new markets in Australia and overseas for new and innovative products. Thirdly, it will reduce the cost of rolling out clean energy solar power. It will do this by ensuring that the solar system and the roofing can be installed at the very same time, whether it is at the time the roof is being replaced or at the time the house is being built. You can imagine the benefits that that will have in the housing and construction sector.

The parliamentary secretary, the member for Paterson, Mr Bob Baldwin, was so impressed with the project that was funded by ARENA he even came out in June this year to take credit. Obviously, he could not take credit for the idea, because it was an idea that was funded under a Labor government, but he was out there to cut the ribbon—in that time-honoured fashion. He came out there to take the credit and to congratulate BlueScope—and in the process pat himself on the back for such an innovative and important project. I have got to say that, if it is good enough to go to my electorate and cut the ribbon and announce the importance of this project, it has to be good enough to come in here and back the agency that made it possible.

It is often said that Australia has boundless natural resources. In fact, we sing about it in our national anthem. The Climate Institute estimates that Australia has enough clean energy to potentially power over 14 million homes—well over half the housing stock within this country—and remove pollution equivalent to taking 11 million cars off the road. There is strong growth in Australia's alternative electricity sector, with an additional 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity projected to be installed by 2030. This includes the renewable energy sector including wind, solar, bioenergy and geothermal—as well as gas, which is not so renewable. It is also estimated that, in net terms, close to 34,000 new jobs will be created in Australia's electricity sector by 2030. That includes over 7½ thousand permanent ongoing jobs and close to 21,000 construction jobs. Something that interests me as a representative of an electorate with a strong manufacturing sector is that it is expected to create over 5½ thousand jobs in the manufacturing sector. The vast majority of these jobs are going to be in the renewable energy sector, because that is where the main game is. Initiatives such as the legislation before the House today put all of that at risk.

I want to say a few things about the renewable energy target, because it has been in the news. As I said at the outset, it is a part of this government's dogged determination to dismantle and destroy the package of reforms that was doing something about giving Australia a clean energy future. The renewable energy target was supposed to be bipartisan policy. The now Prime Minister and the so-called environment minister said in the lead-up to the 2013 election, hand on heart, that they were committed to the renewable energy target. In fact, Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, said, 'We originated a renewable energy target'—that is right; he took credit for it. 'That was one of the policies of the Howard government. Yes, we remain committed to a renewable energy target, and we have no plans to change the renewable energy target.'

There have been a few people who have been reminding the Prime Minister of that over the last few weeks—and that is because we have just seen a report which has sent a shudder down the spine of the 20,000 people who earn their livelihood directly in the renewable energy industry. What we have seen since the announcement of the Warburton review has been a capital strike. We have seen an absolute capital strike. We have seen the fact that the renewable energy sector at the moment is unbankable because of the uncertainty. They talk about sovereign risk. There is no greater sovereign risk going on in Australia at the moment than that which has been inflicted by this government on the renewable energy industry.

But we should have known—the writing was on the wall—when the Prime Minister decided to appoint Dick Warburton, who I do not cavil with. He is a distinguished Australian and a very successful businessman. You can only imagine the conversation that went on between the Prime Minister and Mr Warburton when he approached him to head this review—Prime Minister: 'G'day, Dick; its Tony here.' Mr Warburton: 'Prime Minister, how are you? It has been a few days—how are you?' Prime Minister: 'Dick, I want to appoint you. We are scouting around and we need to appoint a few people to some government boards.' Mr Warburton: 'I am very interested Prime Minister. I am always willing to serve my country.' Prime Minister: 'We had you pencilled down for the renewable energy target, the RET review.' Long silence. 'Prime Minister, there's a problem with that. You that I'm a climate change sceptic. You know that I'm on the record as opposing this.' 'You're just the man for the job,' says the Prime Minister. 'We had you picked out as just the bloke to do this review.'

I do not criticise Dick Warburton, a distinguished Australian, but frankly, when you appoint a climate change sceptic, at best, somebody who has a hostile objection to the renewable energy industry, you are hobbling any perception that this could be anything other than a fit-up job. Indeed, that is what the rest of the community is seeing it as. Is there any reason there has been a capital strike on this industry? It is a capital strike with devastating impacts. We have seen tremendous growth in the renewable energy sector, tremendous employment growth. We have seen over 20,000 jobs not just in the capital cities but particularly throughout regional Australia. In many instances, we have seen the renewable energy sector taking the pressure off electricity prices for ordinary households.

Never has that been more obvious than during the recent heatwaves we have experienced in eastern Australia, particularly in south-eastern Australia over the last two summers. We saw temperatures soar into the 40s and, as you would know, people then switch on their air-conditioning units. Had there not been a renewable energy target, therefore creating a renewable energy sector, the old coal and gas power companies would have been doing what they have always done—charging exorbitant rents, because they do not make much money during the normal period but they make their big profits when it is peak pricing, charging enormous prices to the retailers, passing them on to the households. But for the renewable energy target and the renewable energy sector, we saw prices coming down, particularly during peak times. That is why I and many on this side of the House say, 'If you want to put downward pressure on electricity prices, you will keep the RET, you will put in place the package of market based reforms, which have a chance of reducing carbon emissions, and you will keep your hands off the only package which is going to give us a clean energy future.'