House debates

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bills

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014; Second Reading

11:07 am

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Port Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in opposition to this bill and move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading the House notes:

(1) the Government’s plan to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is contrary to the advice of experts;

(2) the ARENA adds a great deal of value to efforts to tackle climate change in Australia and around the world by supporting new commercial models and new technology developments to reduce carbon pollution;

(3) the ARENA has invested $940 million and mobilised over $1.8 billion in private investment, totalling $2.75 billion in total value since 2012;

(4) the ARENA is a critical part of a suite of policies implemented to address dangerous climate change and to accelerate renewable energy infrastructure;

(5) the role of the ARENA along with the Renewable Energy Target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are vital to a clean energy future; and

(6) the ARENA has been a clear success in driving investment, reducing carbon pollution and boosting the Government bottom-line.”

This is part of a suite of policies being pursued at the present time by the government. It is right that this parliament consider the ARENA abolition bill in the context of those different policies, as indeed the previous member, the member for Hinkler, did in his contribution to this debate.

ARENA—the Australian Renewable Energy Agency—was established by an act of this parliament in 2011 and started operation on 1 July 2012. It is important to note that the passage of that legislation was supported by the then opposition—the now government. It was not supported by the opposition in the bad old days when it was being led by that climate-friendly member for Wentworth; it was supported by the opposition when it was led by the current Prime Minister.

This was a very sensible reform by the last government that consolidated the work of three different government agencies that had all been working on different aspects of the development of new renewable energy technology. It consolidated the work, firstly, of the then Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, which is now the Department of Industry, in a range of programs that had been operating under that department, including, notably, the Solar Flagships program. It also brought in the work of the then Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, which had been established to focus particularly on commercialisation opportunities for renewable energy, as well as the development of cutting edge technologies in this very fast-moving area of industry. A bit later, in December 2012, ARENA also took over the work of the then Australian Solar Institute. So it was the consolidation of a range of existing programs that had been started at different times by different governments in the renewable energy space.

ARENA was established by the government—and by this parliament, as I said, with bipartisan support—with a view to giving the government of the day but also the parliament a single lens to channel finance for a range of functions; firstly, for research into renewable energy technologies; for development, demonstration, commercialisation and deployment of that technology; and knowledge acquisition in an area that is moving very fast and developing very fast and also the sharing of that knowledge. This was a critical part of the suite of policies concerning renewable energy that had been initiated by the government and almost invariably supported by the Liberal Party in opposition—a suite of policies that were intended to transform Australia's domestic energy supply and position Australia as a world leader in clean energy technology. I will talk a little bit about that later.

Another aspect of the establishment of ARENA was to ensure that the operations of this new single entity, bringing together some very complex challenging programs, was overseen by an independent export board. The board has been chaired by Greg Bourne, who, frankly, has a blend of quite unique qualifications in this area. He has had a long and very senior career in the energy and resources sector, including as the regional president for BP Australasia, as well as then a career as the chief executive officer of WWF-Australia. It is quite unique blend of perspectives in this area. ARENA has also been blessed by a range of other very highly qualified board members and staff members, and remains blessed by very highly qualified and dedicated staff members, as I think was acknowledged by the minister in his second reading speech.

The establishment of an independent expert board to oversee the work of this agency reflected the view of the parliament at the time about the importance of strong, independent advice in this area. Not just advice channelled through a department or through a minister's political advisers, but strong, fearless, independent and expert advice in a very complex, challenging and fast moving area. As I said, that was a position supported only a few years ago by the then opposition led at the time not by the member for Wentworth but by the member for Warringah that reflected general support for a range of renewable energy policies that had been put in place previously by the Howard government and then by the Rudd and Gillard governments that were the subject of bipartisan support—a position that is changing quite rapidly at the moment, as observers of this policy area would know.

Indeed, only weeks before the 2013 election, the Minister for Industry confirmed his support for ARENA. The Financial Review on 14 June 2013 noted:

The Coalition has dispelled concerns that it would abolish the new national renewable energy agency, but said it could face a cut in funding.

That is ARENA—

Ian Macfarlane said the Coalition remained committed to the Australian renewable energy agency, known as ARENA.

…   …   …   

…Mr Macfarlane told The Australian Financial ReviewtheCoalition was not seeking to make any changes to ARENA. "We are happy with its structure and happy with its personnel and we are not expecting to make any changes," he said.

"Of course, we will have to look at it in the context of the budget situation.

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