House debates

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015; Consideration in Detail

8:17 pm

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

by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4), as circulated in my name, together:

(1) Title, page 1 (lines 2 and 3), omit "and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations 2001".

(2) Clause 3, page 2 (line 11), omit "(1)".

(3) Clause 3, page 2 (lines 15 to 17), omit subclause (2).

(4) Schedule 1, Part 4, page 13 (line 1) to page 15 (line 2), omit the Part, substitute:

Part 4—Wood waste

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

1 At the end of section 17


      Wood waste

  (6) Despite anything in regulations made under subsection (3), wood waste does not include waste, or a product or bi-product, that is or is derived from biomass from a native forest.

I will not detain the House. I spoke to them in my contribution to the debate on those amendments.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

8:18 pm

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be brief also. The amendments that have been moved by the opposition do deserve some consideration in detail. I presume they are in relation to biomass from native forests being excluded from the renewable energy target. That is not the opinion of the government.

Honourable Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Lyons, just one moment. Could those members who are still carrying on a conversation please return to their places in this chamber or leave the chamber quietly and allow the member who is on his feet to be heard in silence.

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate that; thank you indeed, Deputy Speaker. Biomass is, indeed, a very important part of the renewable energy target, particularly in my state of Tasmania. This was a federal Labor policy from 2007 until as recently as November 2011. The former member for Lyons, Mr Adams, at the time was the chair of a committee which, even as recently as October 2011, voted in support of the very measures which the Labor Party are now trying to remove from the renewable energy target. It is gross hypocrisy.

The support comes from an astounding array of quarters. I remember very well 19 June 2013. Why do I remember it very well? It was my birthday, and I took the time out to drive all the way down to Hobart to listen to a fellow by the name of Professor Andreas Rothe, who had been doing some work. He is from the German University of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-Triesdorf in Freising, Bavaria. Professor Rothe estimates that as much as 3.3 million tonnes of biomass could be sourced for bio-energy from sustainable forestry in Tasmania. He gave an excellent presentation. There were a number of people there, including Peg Putt. And there were others there eagerly listening to what he had to say. And what he said made sense.

I also might draw to the attention of those who have remained in the chamber a publication put out by the World Wildlife Fund, the WWF: 'Biopowerswitch! A biomass blueprint to meet 15% of OECD electricity demand by 2020'. If I may be indulged to quote from this, it refers to the threat of climate change. It says:

If we really want to prevent catastrophic climate change, we will have to make radical alterations to the ways in which we generate energy. One major solution lies in the contemporary, cutting-edge use of the oldest fuel known to man—wood.

Woody biomass—also known as biomass from forestry and farming—has the potential to become a major source for future electricity and heat production. By utilizing modern and efficient technologies, biomass offers a source of clean energy that can gradually replace coal and other fossil fuels, bringing environmental benefits, supporting rural development and creating new employment opportunities.

If it pleased the opposition, I would be very happy to table the research paper entitled Current and potential use of forest biomass for energy in Tasmania, published by Professor Andreas Rothe, Martin Moroni, Mark Neyland and Matthias Wilnhammer, and also the document entitled Biopowerswitch!—a biomass blueprint to meet 15% of OECD electricity demand by 2020.

Leave not granted.

The other point I would like to make in conclusion is that this is supported by the ALP in Tasmania. This is supported rightly by the ALP in Tasmania. They are in absolute conflict with their federal colleagues. I call on the member for Franklin in particular to stand up for her state, because this is important for Tasmania. The science on climate change is in. It is documented here before us. This is a no-brainer. I call on the Labor Party to examine their conscience. This was their policy between 2007 and 2013. I call on them to reconsider the position on which they are advocating now.

8:23 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I must start my contribution by expressing my disappointment at the fact that this debate has been truncated. It is a very important issue. There has been a lot of negotiation going on for a very long period of time. I would particularly like to congratulate the shadow minister. He has been vigilant in ensuring the best possible outcome can be achieved. Labor have been long-time supporters of renewable energy. Renewable energy is the energy of the future. Renewable energy is about jobs of the future. Renewable energy is about the 21st century. I welcome the fact that we finally have reached an agreement, because the indecision and the uncertainty that has surrounded the RET for such a long period of time has led to loss of confidence in the industry and loss of jobs. Australia was ranked fourth in the most attractive places to invest in renewable energy and is now ranked 10th. It is disappointing that it has taken so long to reach the point we are at night, but it is important to note that we have now and it is important that we move forward.

I support the amendment that is before the House. I disagree strongly with the previous speaker. I do not believe that it is the right way to go to include the burning of native woods. We need to have the renewable energy target without that. Just to give you an idea of how popular renewable energy is, I heard the member for Parkes speaking earlier, saying that the reason that people are using less electricity is that they are turning off their power. I disagree strongly with that. The Shortland electorate has embraced renewable energy, but not as much as other electorates have. It is the 107th out of 150 electorates. In the Shortland electorate alone, there are around 5,000 homes that have solar. I was speaking to people in a business in my electorate—a large not-for-profit organisation—and they told me that they are about to install rooftop panels and it will cost them $100,000. Going forward, they will recoup that within two years because it will reduce the cost of their electricity and any excess will go back into the grid.

Renewable energy is something that as a nation we should embrace. Australia is one of the countries in the world that is in the best position to take advantage of renewable energy. It is jobs for the future. It is a smart approach to energy and it solves a number of the problems that this parliament has grappled with over the years. I commend the amendment to the House. I support the fact that we now have finally agreed on a RET target. I look forward to it passing through both houses of parliament and look forward to the amendment being successful.

8:27 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not have the time to add cane fibre to the wood waste, which is a very similar argument. But I commend the government on protecting the principle, which was laid down by the Prime Minister, that, if the government has agreed and people have changed the goalposts, then it is very unfair. The goalposts should not be changed when someone has outlaid serious amounts of money. So I commend the government on what they are doing from that point of view.

As an ex-energy minister in Queensland, when I handed over to the socialists in 1990, we had the cheapest electricity in the world. I find now that I am the socialist in Queensland, not the ALP. The price for electricity was then $670 a megawatt and it stayed at that price until 2001, until deregulation. All the wonders of the free market came in and, under the wonders of the free market, we are now paying $2,460. It is a furphy for the government to say that that comes from renewables and all those things. The hypocrisy of the Labor Party, talking about the poor people! Heavens to Betsy! You have taken the cost of generating power from $30 a megawatt hour to $140 a megawatt hour. And I was on the committee of this parliament that had those figures put before it again, again and again. So they most certainly have contributed to that, but it is a very small contribution. It might account for $60 or $70, but it does not account for $2,400. It is the free marketeers, with their dock system, who can take all the credit for that.

If I had the time to move this, I would—and it should be in this amendment—bagasse from sugarcane fibre. You squeeze the sugar out, you turn the sugar into ethanol. The proposed power station, which is a huge ethanol plant south of Charters Towers and on the Burdekin River, the Upper Burdekin Irrigation Scheme, will reduce Australia's electricity emissions by one per cent. Just one single project will pick up half of the entire northern grid. Half of the power for the one million people who live in North Queensland will be picked up one single renewable power station, which does not put any pollution into the atmosphere at all. I represent the Barrier Reef, but I do not go along with global warming. However, there is a problem that arises in the oceans and that needs to be addressed.

Brazil now uses ethanol for 66 per cent of transport and if it is done the modern way that reduces carbon emissions by 72 per cent. So the answers are there. Yet the decision of the left-hand side and the right-hand side of this parliament is to send $25,000 million a year to Middle Eastern oil producers, instead of sending it into rural Queensland to enjoy petrol prices. America is now, by a long way, the biggest ethanol producer in the world. Americans are paying 62c at the bowser. We are paying 142c at the bowser. The Brazilians, last time I looked, were paying 67c at the bowser, not 142c.

So why aren't we doing it? Why are we having this huge argument here about RETs, which are absolutely ridiculous. The amount of reduction is negligible. And I speak with great authority, because I won a science prize for putting in the first stand-alone solar system in the world. It was in the middle of nowhere and solar energy is relevant in the middle of nowhere. It is most certainly not relevant when you put it on a roof in the middle of a big city. It takes your costs up straight through the roof! I applaud the government from that point of view, but I most certainly do not applaud them for the free-market policies which they and their political opponents enjoy and which has skyrocketed the electricity charges, from $670 to $2,460, in Queensland in the space of one decade, when they were static for the 10 years before that.

Again, I finish by saying the RETs and the agreements that were entered into by Mackay Sugar(Time expired)

8:32 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to make a brief contribution to the debate on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015. I support the amendments and therefore support the bill in its amended form. I would like to pay tribute to the great work that has been done by the member for Port Adelaide and the member for Brand in working with the Minister for the Environment to ensure that we actually reached this point. Because for the last 18 months there has been a capital strike in the renewables industry. Australia has moved from being in a position where we were one of the most favourable places on earth to invest in renewable energy, to being in a position where next to no investment has gone into large-scale renewables.

It matters to an area like mine, which is going through a massive transformation and investment in renewables. Investment in jobs of the future and in the manufacturing that will support them is absolutely critical. In New South Wales there are over 4,500 jobs in this sector. BlueScope Steelworks are investing heavily in combining their world-beating Colorbond product with solar-energy-capturing technology to ensure that the one panel can both cover the roof and collect the energy that can be converted into electricity. It is this sort of investment which the former Labor government was supporting, together with the great work being done at Wollongong university, which will ensure that manufacturing has a future not only in my region but in this country. The program is actually working. We cannot stick our heads in a bucket of sand, as many would like us to do. I support the bill, I support the amendments and I think if we are able to get over these road bumps that we currently have, large-scale renewable energy in this country has a very bright future indeed.

8:34 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

So there is no misunderstanding, I want to make it clear that I oppose the substantive bill, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015, because lowering the renewable energy target is a bad decision. It is not in the best interests of the environment and it is not in the public interest. We should be aiming for a much-increased renewable energy target. We should be doing everything we can in our power to put this country on a pathway to a much greater reliance on renewable energy. That is in the public interest and it is in the best interests of the community.

I will support amendment (4). On the face of it, burning forest waste is a good idea if it can be done in high-technology, modern furnaces to create power. That makes sense. But there is a problem. And my position is heavily informed by the experience in Tasmania where somewhere once had a bright idea that we would chip forest waste and sell those chips for cash and that would be a helpful supplement for cash flow for the forest industry. But of course, before we knew it, woodchips became the reason for forestry. Before we knew it, they were clear-felling vast swathes of some of Australia's most precious forests, chipping it and sending it overseas to make paper. So, in other words, I have no confidence in the regulatory environment. I have no confidence that a move to burning forest waste for energy production will not very quickly become the reason for forestry operations. So, on the face of it, burning forest waste makes sense. But when you live in a place like Tasmania where a succession of governments over many years have abused the use of forest waste and have turned it into the reason for cutting down some of our most precious forests—given my experience in my home state I will support this amendment and for the foreseeable future I do not think that burning forest waste for energy is something we can put our trust in.

8:36 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

It is great to be able to put a few things on the record in relation to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 and its impact on my home state of Tasmania. I thank people for allowing me to have that opportunity. As people would be aware, Tasmania has approximately 86 per cent of renewable energy at any time. We have approximately 1,500 to 2000 people employed in renewable energy jobs in Tasmania. So it is already a very significant industry in Tasmania. We have several possible wind farm projects—Cattle Hill, Robbins Island, King Island and Granville Harbour—and I would hope that at least one of these projects will now be able to go ahead because of the Renewable Energy Target being agreed to.

Approximately 50 per cent of Tasmania's electricity is used by just four big companies—Bell Bay Aluminium, TEMCO, Nyrstar and Norske Skog. These industries are emissions-intensive and trade-exposed industries, so I am particularly pleased that both sides of politics have agreed to exempt these businesses, ensuring the workers at Bell Bay and other major industries in Tasmania are safe. I want to thank in particular the shadow minister for environment, the member for Port Adelaide, and the shadow minister for industry for their support for these jobs in my home state of Tasmania.

We have also seen the government suddenly raise with Labor at the last minute the issue of including biomass in the Renewable Energy Target. This is a real furphy. Labor does not support biomass—that is, the burning of native forest residue—in the RET. But let me be very clear that that does not mean we do not support the future of the forest industry in Tasmania and the possibility of biomass in that future. As I have said publicly and as I say to my constituents, I have not been lobbied by anyone in the lead-up to, or since, the last election on the need for biomass to be included in the RET. I have not seen a viable project for biomass in Tasmania. I am not aware of any biomass projects that would see employment in this sector in Tasmania.

I will work with our shadow minister for forestry on the future of the forest industry in Tasmania, the role biomass might play, what support it would require and what supports for industry Labor may be able to provide. This issue has been a smokescreen in Tasmania to disguise the fact that the state Liberal government is currently sacking forestry workers after it said it would save the industry in Tasmania. It has recently told more than 50 forestry workers they would be sacked, and also the head of Forestry Tasmania has confirmed that it may need to sell off things to keep the industry afloat in the state because it is in big trouble. The Liberal government said they could save the industry, and they have not.

8:39 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

For the reasons indicated in my previous speech, for the reasons outlined in our election policy, the government will not be supporting the opposition's motion. The reinstatement of native forest wood waste as an eligible fuel source for the Renewable Energy Target will be on exactly the same basis as was there under the Labor Party until November 2011. The stringent conditions which were in place under the ALP will be replicated in exactly the same form. Having said that, I wish to thank all of the speakers in this debate. I particularly wish to thank the opposition spokesperson on the environment, the member for Port Adelaide, for his cooperation during the course of the negotiations. I commend all the people who have worked towards this deal, whom I outlined previously, and I thank all parties.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendments be agreed to.