Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading
Three years ago, Australia was riding high in the transition to a cleaner energy system. Over the period of the last Labor government, wind power tripled in this country. The number of jobs in the renewable energy industry tripled during a period that included the global financial crisis. The number of households with rooftop solar soared from just 7,400 when we came to government to over 1.2 million when we left government in 2013. In our last year of government, we approved the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere and the largest PV solar farm in the Southern Hemisphere. Unsurprisingly, the leading global business index in renewables, the Ernst & Young renewable energy country attractiveness index, rated Australia in 2013 as the fourth most attractive destination for renewables investment in the world, up there with China, the United States and Germany.
Over the past three years, though, this industry has endured attack after attack, and each of those attacks has been seen off by the Labor Party. In 2014 and 2015, the then Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, went after the renewable energy target, in spite of promising at the 2010 and 2013 elections to keep the RET in place. The Labor Party saw off that attack. The then Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation on a number of occasions, and again the Labor Party saw off those attacks. In the latest attack, we have seen this government seek to abolish the entire budget of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, a move that would see it remain as nothing more than a shell, and with this bill, the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016, Labor has seen off that attack as well.
This bill saves ARENA; thank you to the strong advocacy of the Labor Party and many other stakeholders and other members in this place as well. As the shadow minister for social services has done, I want to acknowledge particularly the leadership of the Labor leader and the Labor deputy leader but also the sheer hard work of the shadow Treasurer and the shadow finance minister, who is new to his role but is a person who has a strong commitment to climate change and energy policy. This work reflects our unshakeable commitment to ensure that, through this period of a government which, it would appear, does not support a transition to clean energy, the renewable energy industry is able to survive and do whatever it can so that, when a government returns that does have strong clean energy policies, it can get back to the position it was in in 2013.
This bill secures an additional $800 million over five years in grants. This is additional to the more than 200 existing projects that ARENA is already auspicing and additional to the 12 large PV solar projects that were announced by ARENA last week but are not yet contracted. ARENA has stated that this sum, $800 million over five years, will provide it with a budget that allows it to continue a strong work program into the future. As part of the agreement underlying this bill, the government has agreed to sit down with the opposition to ensure that our priorities are satisfied—those priorities being, first of all, to ensure that the ARENA budget preserves Australia's world-class, leading research and innovation capability, particularly seen in our universities and CSIRO, and also to ensure that there is a budget for demonstrational proof-of-concept stage developments in the industry.
The protection of our research budget in this industry is Labor's first priority and I want to particularly mark out a couple of major contributions by members of the Labor caucus. The member for Kingsford Smith is lucky enough to represent an electorate which includes the University of New South Wales. At that university the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics for years now has been the world-leading research institution in solar PV. This bill secures ACAP's ability to continue their world-leading work. The member for Fenner has strongly advocated for the interests of the Australian National University, which partners with UNSW and a number of other universities around Australia, making sure that Australia leads the transition around the world to solar PV. The member for Newcastle has been strongly advocating for the work that CSIRO's Energy Centre in Newcastle does as a leading institution in the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative, an initiative that includes universities and a number of other institutions not just here in Australia but in the US as well.
In addition to securing our research capability, this agreement between the opposition and the government will also allow ARENA to support demonstration and proof-of-concept stage developments in this industry that ensure that the findings by those universities and by CSIRO scientists are able to be shown to be commercially viable and are then able to be presented to lending and equity investors and become a reality across the Australian landscape. It is also important to point out that there is no change—no reduction at all—to the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation Fund that is overseen by that very expert board at the CEFC.
The final matter I quickly want to allude to is that there was also a commitment made by this government as part of this agreement to sit down with the opposition and explore opportunities for bipartisan agreement around policies that would accelerate the transition for Australia to a modern clean energy system and to ensure that that transition is, to use the words of the Paris agreement, 'a just transition for workers and impacted communities'.
We know through experience that there really is no democracy across the world that has a serious, enduring climate policy framework that is not underpinned by a strong level of bipartisan agreement. For three parliaments now, we have not been able to find that bipartisan agreement in this policy area. I point out that the Australian Climate Roundtable has been strongly advocating for this approach that we have achieved through this agreement. The roundtable includes organisations as diverse as the Australian Aluminium Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Climate Institute, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Business Council of Australia, WWF Australia, ACOSS, the Energy Supply Association, the ACTU and the Investor Group on Climate Change. It will not be an easy discussion between the government and the opposition, but the opposition will come to the table on those discussions with constructive goodwill.
I commend the bill to the House.