Thursday, 28 August 2014
Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise to talk on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014. The purpose of this bill is to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. This bill gives effect to the government's budget decision to close ARENA as soon as practical by repealing the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. I listened to the member for Melbourne, the only Green represented in this House, referring to a guru from Germany who had spoken to him on renewable energy and how he should be urging our Australian government to go headlong into renewable energy projects. I point out to the House that Germany has looked at their renewable energy and their energy requirements overall and now gone back to coal fired power stations. This is a point he must not be aware of, because Germany has in the past used nuclear energy from neighbouring countries, but this is the decision of the German government to return to coal fired power stations.
I do have a conflict of interest here: I have three coal fired power stations in my electorate at Stanwell, Callide and Gladstone. These coal fired power stations are going along at a fine rate and producing energy when renewable energies do not stack up in peak demand and for those industries that are large consumers of electricity. I refer to industries like the aluminium smelter at Boyne Island or the Cement Australia project at Yarwun, who are big users of electricity and pay through the nose for their electricity to the point where they are becoming uncompetitive on the world stage. Cement Australia can already import clinker cheaper from China than they can produce it themselves—and keep in mind that Cement Australia bring in their cement and clay from a site about 30 kilometres from their main station. They also have coal at the back door, and thermal coal prices are the cheapest they have been for many, many years. So why should they be uncompetitive with the rest of the world? And why can they import clinker from China cheaper than they can make at Gladstone? These are the questions that I ask.
The member for Melbourne hit on a little point that I would like to make: he talked about bushfires and how they are on the increase in Australia. We all know that fire is caused by a spark, fuel and oxygen. The reason bushfires are on the increase is that we are locking up our forest and timber to the point where the fuel in the undergrowth builds up, and then all it takes is a spark of some sort—it could be lightning or whatever, but mainly lightning—to set it off and that is when the damage is done. The loss of our wildlife in the forest is because the fires move so fast that they cannot be controlled by man. In days gone by, the fuel and the fodder was eaten down by animals or people moving throughout the national parks and keeping the growth down. This does not happen anymore, and that is why we have increased bushfires.
The government acknowledged that renewable energies still have a major part to play in the Australian energy mix. We are listening, watching and building hybrid projects, hydro-powered projects, ocean energy projects, renewable energy projects and solar energy projects. They are all still on the agenda. The coalition has supported the establishment of ARENA in the past, when it was introduced in 2012. But things change, and we must change with them. It was first established to manage the myriad of environmental programs that were launched under Labor. The reason ARENA came in was to control those projects. Sadly, some of those projects went way off-line: pink batts, solar home programs, green projects—green funding projects cost this country a lot of money. We built kitchens to display the advantages of the renewable energy program. There were model kitchens set up. I do not know what has happened to those model kitchens. They are out there somewhere but, as far as I know, not put to any good use. Cash for clunkers was just another episode of a project gone badly wrong.
ARENA was established, as I said, in 2012 to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and to increase the supply of renewable energies in Australia. The government continues to support these renewable energies. The Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund is committed to $100 million invested in innovative Australian companies. The government has made significant investments into the development of Australian renewable energy technology. In addition to the $1 billion supporting ARENA projects, the government has committed a further $2.55 billion to establish an Emissions Reduction Fund from 1 July 2014. The renewable energy industry has received billions of dollars of support in recent years: for example, the renewable energy target, the RET; other federal and state schemes such as financing for the renewable energy projects through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the CEFC; state-based feed-in tariffs; and various grants programs to provide the community support to install renewable energy technology.
The government is providing $1 billion worth of ARENA funding, which contributes to around 200 ARENA projects. Each state has benefited from ARENA funding: $28 million in 16 projects in the ACT; $526 million in 63 projects in New South Wales; $36 million in three projects in the Northern Territory; $12 million in two projects in Tasmania; $86 million in eight projects in South Australia; $54 million in 13 projects in Victoria; $106 million in 11 projects in WA; and in Queensland 11 projects at $63 million. Some of these projects have finished and some are continuing, and our government will support those projects.
ARENA has played an important role in the past. However, the majority of projects that ARENA has been managing were inherited from precursor programs. Many of the larger inherited projects have been or are in the process of being terminated or rescoped to ensure expectations are met and that the Australian government interests are protected. That means we are protecting the interests of the taxpayer—it is all based on taxpayers' dollars.
Australian businesses need to be able to grow and compete in a global market. I have already mentioned the two big industries in my electorate of Flynn, the Boyne smelter and Cement Australia, that continue to face high costs and an uncertain future, and that means uncertainty for the thousands of jobs involved in these two projects. Collectively, they provide thousands of jobs directly and many more indirectly. These jobs are under the microscope. These industries in my electorate and industries across Australia need our support.
I do not see many of the renewable energy jobs that the opposition talk about when I move around my electorate or around Queensland. I do not see many people working on windmills. I do not see many people working on solar projects, apart from the installers of solar. These jobs are overseas. The solar panels are mainly produced in places like China. The windmills come from Scandinavian countries or Scotland. These jobs have already gone offshore and are being supplied by overseas companies, so we are missing out on Australian jobs.
Industry and business generally need to be able to compete on a level playing field and that is what we have not got at the moment. We need business to have confidence and that is why we want to set the future energy requirements of Australia on a clear path. Our industries and our people who have jobs in these industries need a clear direction about where we are heading and what we are doing. We are facing a budget stand-off. The age of entitlement is over. We need more bang for our buck, now and in the future.
It is time that action was taken by members and senators on all sides of this House to bring the books back into balance. This is what the opposition seems to forget. Do we hear any suggestions from them as to how we can balance our books? We cannot go on forever and a day operating in the red. It will all catch up. We talk about catching up with the rest of the world; we will catch up with Europe, England, Ireland, Scotland, Greece and Italy in a hurry and their financial situation if we do not do something about it here.
Abolishing ARENA will return $1.3 billion in uncommitted funds to the budget, and the projects will still exist. Any existing projects will be moved to the Department of Industry so that they can be managed effectively and more efficiently. I urge the House to accept this bill.