House debates

Thursday, 28 August 2014


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

1:19 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Repeal) Bill 2014. So many bills in this area have been guillotined before many on my side of the House have had the opportunity to speak on them. This bill seeks to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. For the benefit of the previous speaker, I am from a regional area, Bendigo, and I disagree that there are no jobs in renewable energy with the wind turbines—not windmills, as the previous member referred to them.

Hofmann Engineering is in the Bendigo electorate and on my two previous site visits there, I found their team working on refurbishing and rebuilding wind turbines. Some of these wind turbines were built in Australia and some were built overseas, but the maintenance of these wind turbines is happening in the Bendigo electorate. Once they have been refurbished, a team from Hofmann Engineering go with the wind turbines back to their home. The Hofmann team, Bendigo employees, then reinstall these wind turbines.

There are lots of jobs in regional Australia involved in renewable energy and it is those jobs that are at risk because of the action of this government. So I speak today not just of the frustration of people in my electorate but of the frustration of people across regional Australia who have their hands up in the air, saying, 'What is this government doing to our renewable energy industries?' Tomorrow morning when I return to my electorate, the first thing I will be doing is having breakfast with the Bendigo networking group, which is a collection of small businesses from my electorate, including a number of businesses involved in installing solar panels or other forms of clean energy technology. Every month they say to me: 'What's our future? What is this government's plan? Do they have any vision whatsoever for renewable energy?' This bill is a demonstration of their lack of vision.

ARENA has been a success story. It has worked to reduce the cost of renewable energy technology development in this country and increase the uptake of renewable energy. ARENA has provided financial assistance for research, development and demonstration as well as the commercialisation of the renewable energy industry and related technology. It has helped develop the skills in the renewable energy industry and has promoted renewable energy projects and innovation both nationally and internationally.

I mentioned earlier about Hoffman Engineering. They have a great project on the books waiting to see what this government will do. What they are looking for is a partner in industry. Yet, because of the roadblocks by this government, and by the coalition government at the state level, this project remains in draft and not happening. These are jobs that could be created in my electorate by an engineering firm in the renewable energy sector but remain in the planning phase because this government is backwards when it comes to investing in renewable energy.

Currently ARENA is supporting over 190 renewable energy projects, including many in my electorate. In fact, 70 per cent of ARENA funding is going towards projects in rural and regional Australia, creating jobs. This is a government that said it would create a million jobs, yet they are axing agencies and funding that would seek to achieve that goal. In my electorate of Bendigo we often say, 'We have green energy jobs.' The future jobs in energy in my electorate are renewable energy jobs, whether it be the wind in Woodend—because it is quite windy there and the development of a community wind farm Park—or whether it be through the solar programs to the north of the electorate, what we have in central and northern Victoria is sun and wind. That is how we create energy security in my electorate and in regional Victoria. That is how we create energy jobs in our part of the world. Many of these projects are now in jeopardy because of the axing of ARENA. It is the responsibility of government to play a role in partnering with industry to create an industry that is viable. This bill risks not just domestic investment but international investment.

Renewable energy has been a great Labor success story—partnering with industry, partnering with community to create not only energy security but to ensure that we have jobs continuing in our energy industry. I will give just a few examples of what we have had go on locally when it comes to renewable energy. Before ARENA there was another program that has also been axed by this government, and that was the $1 billion that was set aside for the Clean Technology Investment Program. Manufactures in my electorate have tapped into this program, and I will give a few examples. MSD Animal Health Australia, a veterinary revaccination manufacturer, through the Clean Technology Investment Program was awarded a grant—it was a joint contribution; they paid part and the former government paid part—to invest in solar. This saw them reduce their carbon emissions by 22 per cent, a saving of about $44,000 on their electricity bill every year. The government's contribution was just under $336,000, which was matched by the company. The solar PV system they introduced cut the costs of manufacturing. It is the largest solar project in the City of Greater Bendigo. It occurred because a company and the government had the foresight to work together to build this new facility.

This is not the only one in my electorate. There was the Victoria Carpet Company which, through the assistance of the Clean Technology Investment Program, were able to buy a new dryer. This project will save the company $79,000 a year on their electricity bill. When I said to them, 'If you had the choice of not paying the carbon tax or this grant, what would be better?' They said, 'By far, moving to a renewable energy dryer and the government grant—that is what would help our business.' This has helped secure jobs going into the future. The new technology that they were able to buy has reduced their carbon emissions by 86 per cent. So not only are they saving money on their electricity bills; they are also using less power, which is better for our environment. That is the vision that this government lacks. It lacks the need for action on climate change. Moving to a cleaner, greener environment also means moving to a greener, cleaner economy.

When you talk to people in regional Victoria, they get it. To them it just makes sense. If there is sun and you put solar panels on your roof, that just makes sense, because it means your electricity bills will go down and you are using a natural resource that already exists. Without the Clean Technology Investment Program these two projects for these two manufacturers would not have occurred, putting the jobs in these facilities at risk. By helping companies invest in clean energy capital, lowering their emissions, has helped not only improve the prospects of that company but has also been good for the community and good for the environment. Axing these programs, as this government has done, means that other manufacturers in my electorate will miss out. That includes the manufacturer Keech Castings Australia. They are a foundry and casting firm involved in the innovation. They are frustrated and disappointed that they were one of the projects that will miss out and cannot apply for this clean energy grant under the Clean Technology Investment Program.

Another example of how my electorate tapped into ARENA and Low Carbon Australia and other programs of the former Labor government is the Castlemaine School of Mines refurbishment. It is one of the oldest buildings in the Castlemaine and therefore one of the oldest buildings in Australia. It was transformed into an energy-efficient community hub with a $2.6 million low-cost grant through Low Carbon Australia. The refurb that they were able to do was going to slash their electricity bill—


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