Tuesday, 15 June 2021
Regulations and Determinations
Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-2021 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021; Disallowance
That the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-21 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011 on 18 May 2021 and presented to the House on 24 May 2021, be disallowed.
Creating ARENA and the CEFC was one of the proudest achievements of the previous Labor government. It was opposed at every turn by the Liberal and National parties—and some of us were here. Even worse, before they even formed office, the then Leader of the Opposition was writing letters to the CEFC and ARENA, warning them that if he was elected Prime Minister he would be seeking to abolish them and they should not enter into any contracts or investments, on the basis that he was quite confident of winning that election. Since even before they took office they've been trying to destroy ARENA and the CEFC. Luckily this parliament, particularly the other chamber, stopped them. It stopped them from abolishing ARENA and the CEFC, but they haven't given up. They will find any potential mechanism to water down ARENA and the CEFC, and here we are again this evening.
The minister had the opportunity, as the member for Melbourne pointed out, to bring down legislation to achieve this aim in relation to ARENA. The honourable member for Melbourne put a thesis as to why he hasn't done that. He may be right about that. I have a different thesis. Perhaps they're not mutually exclusive. The minister tried similar on the CEFC in legislation. He introduced it into this House, said it was a milestone—something to celebrate—and we're still waiting for it to come back. It's disappeared! We seek it here, we seek it there, we seek it everywhere! The government hasn't brought it back for a vote, because honourable members opposite are moving amendments and crossing the floor. They're not going to run that risk on ARENA. No: they seek to do it by stealth, more sneakily—by regulation.
But I do agree with the member for Melbourne that there is a very real chance that this regulation is illegal. The giveaway is in the name: the R in ARENA stands for 'renewable'. It's in the act, as the objective of the act. And it's a pretty clear principle, under other legislation, that a regulation cannot conflict with the legislated act. I think that even if this regulation passes, if this disallowance motion fails in this House or the other house, there is a real chance that this will come under legal challenge, and those honourable members opposite will have to explain why they voted for a regulation that was illegal. They can't say they weren't warned, because the member for Melbourne and I have both warned them that this regulation is, very distinctly, possibly illegal.
We know from Senate estimates a couple of weeks ago that the government was looking at legislation—had drafted legislation—but didn't introduce legislation. They decided to go down the regulatory route. The fact of the matter is that we still have the right to disallow this regulation, and voting for either of these motions before the House will enable it to be. Now, the government says this regulation is about expanding the remit of ARENA because the cost of solar and wind has come down so much that now they can extend to other areas. That's completely disingenuous. Anybody would think that the only thing that ARENA has invested in is solar and wind. Of course the cost of solar and wind have come down, particularly solar—in no small part because of the investments ARENA has made since it was created nine years ago. But it is wrong to say that it's remit needs to be expanded because you can only invest in solar and wind.
Looking at ARENA's own documents, since they were established they've invested $1.7 billion on 586 projects: $131 million into bio-energy, $42 million into geothermal, $270 million for grid integration, $110 million on hybrid projects, $60 million on hydrogen, $44 million on ocean related projects, $725 million on solar PV, $178 million on solar thermal and $143 million on storage and batteries. So, the idea that somehow they are restricted to solar and wind is just not true. The government should fess up that they have other reasons for seeking to expand ARENA's agenda and ARENA's remit. ARENA has been involved in some wonderful projects. I've met with the operators of mines who've received ARENA funding to help them transfer to completely renewable energy generation, so the mine becomes close to net zero. They're the sorts of projects ARENA has been investing in and doing good work in.
The fact of the matter is that renewable energy continues to deserve the support of the government of the day, through ARENA and the CEFC. That's what it was designed for, and its work is not yet done. If the government really feels that they want to invest in some of these other projects, I have a slightly different view, a slightly different perspective, to the one the member for Melbourne just put. I think there is the potential to discuss support for other initiatives, but not at the expense of ARENA, not at the expense of renewable energy. If you want to get ARENA's remit extended then put more money into it. At least then we can have a conversation. But any money that now gets spent on these other things is at the expense of renewable energy investments.
There is a final point. Even if you are convinced of the government's case on the expansion of the remit, which we're not, and if they put more money into it, which they haven't, there's a particularly alarming element of this regulation. The government wants to give the minister broad-ranging powers to declare certain technologies as low-emission. This minister—