House debates

Tuesday, 16 February 2021


Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020; Second Reading

12:03 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this bill, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a terrific legacy of the Gillard Labor government. The CEFC is known globally as one of the most successful and well-designed clean energy banks and as a world standard in renewable energy investment. The CEFC was established by Labor in 2012 with an initial investment of $10 billion to support renewable technologies and energy efficiency investments. This investment has shown to be sound, and the returns on investments in renewable energy are ever increasing as time goes on. Since this establishment, the CEFC has supported over 18,000 projects, leveraging more than $27 billion in private investment and deploying $6 billion of their own funds into clean energy. This is paying dividends already not only returning $718 million to taxpayers, showing the strong investment model of the CEFC, but also accounting for one million tonnes of CO2 abatement annually. The CEFC has been a resounding success. Their work shows that when a government invests in renewables it sees significant returns, sound economic returns, as well as a reduction in emissions. It is a vital piece of climate change infrastructure necessary to reach our global emissions targets.

But, wait. Of course the Morrison government won't commit to proper targets beyond their pathetic 2030 goal and they're a little bit shifty on the net zero by 2050. Who could be surprised with climate change deniers lining their ranks and an energies and emissions minister who hasn't really overseen proper emissions reduction and who seems more interested in attacking mayors with fraudulent documents than in his own portfolio? Who could be surprised that we now find the CEFC and its great work being put under threat by the Morrison government? This is the same coalition government that introduced legislation to abolish the CEFC once in 2013 and then again in 2014. This is the same coalition government who, under the leadership of Tony Abbott, sought to prevent the CEFC from investing in wind and rooftop solar for Pete's sake! Oh yes, this government has good form in attacking the CEFC and today it's continuing its attacks.

This legislation effectively changes the remit of the CEFC from investing in financially-viable, clean sources of energy to a slush fund for the minister's pet projects. The whole point of the CEFC is to fund emerging technologies that will help reduce emissions and not to fund existing modes of energy production that are not renewable, that are high emitting and that quite frankly don't need taxpayer dollars being diverted to them from clean energy funds. It undermines the integrity of the investment remit of the CEFC, allowing investments in projects which don't stack up economically and don't stack up environmentally, and it allows the scandal-ridden minister Angus Taylor to oversee the investments of the CEFC. Needless to say, we won't be supporting this bill in its current form.

We have, in good faith, proposed amendments, but if the government refuses to accept these amendments, which I note are entirely sensible, we will vote against this bill. Our amendments do what we on this side have always done: they safeguard the CEFC against the attacks of the coalition. The CEFC should not be beholden to a minister known for putting fossil fuels on the taxpayer expense account and who has a litany of scandals involving his business and other dealings, and the CEFC should not have its independence and the integrity of its investments compromised by a government which simply doesn't believe in the value of clean, renewable energy.

The CEFC's role has never been more vital than it is now. We, on this side of the House, understand we are living in a climate emergency. We know that time is running out. To properly address climate change and to avoid the worst of its impacts, we need rapid investment in clean energy. We need to rewire our energy grid to one that can easily distribute maximum levels of renewable-driven power and we need a policy work that encourages private investment. This is what the CEFC does best—it seeks out the projects which will provide the best bang for buck with respect to our emissions and sound economic returns, and it gets on with the job.

The CEFC, of course, has the ability to invest in projects itself and, importantly, it acts on expert advice with science at front of mind. As we find time and time again, when it comes to renewables and energy production more broadly, when you follow the expert advice and when you follow the science, the economic benefits follow. We, on this side of the House, know that investment in renewable energy means job creation and a massive economic boost. We know that Australia, blessed with an abundance of sun and wind and technological know-how, has the potential to become a renewable energy superpower. But, without the political will from successive coalition governments, Australia is running out of time.

We've now seen the election of the Biden administration in the US. President Biden approached the election with a clear plan to shift the American economy to a renewable energy footing. He approached the election with a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and to recommit America to the Paris Agreement, both of which have now been enshrined in executive orders. Not only is his win in the US a sign that public will is firmly behind climate action but it is also a clear sign that the Morrison government is allowing Australia to fall behind globally. Governments around the world have committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Even big business in Australia have committed to net zero by 2050, because they know it's in everyone's interests and it's in their profitability's interests. Even Woolworths have committed to being carbon positive, and their CEO said categorically that their customers expected it. They have a lot of customers. He also said that goals matter; targets matter.

They on that side scream that Labor has not set a 2030 target. I love how they think that they are somehow the opposition, that they are not actually in government. They are obsessed with Labor and our policies as if we were in government. If it weren't so serious, it would be hilarious. We will have our targets ready to go when we've seen the actual details of the mess they're going to leave behind when we are closer to an election. We know and, more importantly, they know that the public is behind renewable energy, just like those hundreds of thousands of Woolworths customers who undoubtedly influenced that company's decision to go carbon neutral and even aim to be carbon negative.

Australians know that climate change is real, that it is an existential threat and that we need to act now. But this government refuses to accept the science, because of a few dinosaurs sitting on its back benches who, quite frankly, are prepared to throw the workers in threatened industries under a bus, without a plan for diversifying those communities and guaranteeing good, decent, solid jobs. This is because their beloved market forces, affected by the likes of Woolies and BHP are—let's face it—doing the heavy lifting of climate change but have no responsibility to look after any affected workers. This is the government's responsibility, because increasingly, as countries like the US commit to ambitious targets and climate action, agreements and trade will be conducted between countries with like-minded climate ambitions. Countries that are doing their bit to tackle climate change and reduce emissions won't want to trade with countries who aren't pulling their weight, or will apply hefty penalties when they do trade. As the rest of the world commits to this kind of action, the spotlight is slowly being turned directly towards Australia. The Morrison government's failure to commit to real, genuine climate action has become an embarrassment for our country on the world stage.

So I find myself asking the question my community have asked me a million times: what else does the Morrison government need to hear to understand the value of good climate action? We know that investments in renewables are paying dividends to the CEFC, the government and the economy, and that they're creating thousands of good blue collar, white-collar and multicoloured jobs. We know that our country isn't doing our fair share globally and that the election of the Biden administration means Australia is increasingly isolated in refusing to act on climate change. We know that the longer we wait to invest in renewables, the greater the risks with respect to our global standing and trade relations and the greater the risk will be to our health, our economy, our environment, our communities and our jobs. The writing's on the wall, and it has been for years. And still the Morrison government want to take a wrecking ball to the CEFC and the little funding there is, stripping it away from renewables and handing it over to fossil fuel companies. They can't see the writing on the wall about where the future is heading, written there by their buddies in big business and even big global economies.

This government is derelict in its duties, because it will leave workers stranded and communities with little future. The CEFC has a proven track record of sound, reliable investment in renewables, and I don't think anyone can argue that the same can be said for the minister. We need a strong, properly funded, independent CEFC, led by the experts, to invest in the clean energy technologies of the future, ensuring jobs and stability for workers and their communities and setting Australia up to be a world leader, not a deadbeat follower.

12:14 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to talk in support of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020. This bill amends the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act 2012 to establish the Grid Reliability Fund, which will be a $1 billion fund to expand the role of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and adjust its investment mandate to include, most importantly, the ability to make investments in loss-making infrastructure. It will focus on investing in new electricity storage vehicles, reliable new generation of electricity—including gas and hydro projects—new transmission and distribution systems, and also grid stabilisation infrastructure. It expands the 'low-emission technology' definition, which means that things have to be 50 per cent more efficient than existing energy generation. It will also deliver a fund that will be able to be deployed to deliver the Underwriting New Generation Investments program, or UNGI, that was announced before the last election.

So far, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has $8.2 billion invested in projects totalling $27.8 billion, and these investments have delivered an abatement of 220 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent gases. So that listeners can understand what I'm talking about, I just want to mention a few definitions. First of all, the 'energy grid' is the term which makes up the transmission and distribution networks; they are the poles and wires, from the giant-looking massive transmission grids that you see in paddocks, which look like huge robots out in the middle of a paddock, through to the distribution networks, which are the poles and wires going down your street. The transmission networks send things at an incredibly high voltage, above 300,000 volts of alternating current. There are 13 distribution networks fed by five transmission networks in Australia; most of them are in Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. That cluster of networks is the National Electricity Market. There are cross-border interconnectors like giant extension cords. In the Northern Territory they have three separate grids that are not connected: the Darwin to Katherine, the Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. Western Australia has two grids, the South West Interconnected System and the North West Interconnected System.

There has been huge investment in renewable energy generators. It's mind boggling, in fact. Last year, 6.3 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity was added to the grid, and in 2018 it was 5.1 gigawatts of energy—$30 billion in all since 2017. This is 10 times faster than Europe, China, Japan or the US, yet we get criticised because we're not investing enough. It is an absolute fallacy that is repeated ad nauseam by the members on the other side. We are doing more than Europe, China, or the US, at a 10-times-faster rate. It sounds great, I agree. People want us to invest in renewable energy, but it's installed capacity that you are quoting when you mention these figures. The grid and the electricity system that comes out of your power points isn't necessarily the installed capacity. What is available for the grid is the installed capacity multiplied by what is called the capacity factor—that is, what the actual generator, on average, can supply over a year.

In Australia we have some of the best renewable assets, namely wind and plenty of sun. We have hot, long summers. But, even allowing for that, renewable generators are still limited by nature: by night and day, twilight, dusk, overcast days and rainy days. Between December and January, in my neck of the woods, on the North Coast of New South Wales, we had about 500 millimetres of rain. It rained day after day after day. There's the wet season in the tropics. There are months of the year when the wind doesn't blow nearly as much. Often during hot summer periods there is very little wind. So the wind energy generators might have installed capacities that sound absolutely massive, but it's the capacity factor that defines what is available. As a rough measure, the capacity factor for wind is 30 per cent. For solar it is 20 to 22 per cent because we have such good sunny periods. When you have a power station—whether it is nuclear, gas or coal fired—you get 95 per cent capacity. So when you say that we have 5.1 or 6.3 gigawatts of renewable capacity, we don't necessarily get that day in, day out. Renewables investment, by its very nature, is variable and intermittent. It requires expensive investments to integrate with the existing system the variable surges of electricity that are generated.

Any electricity system, including Australia's, has to run at a very finely tuned voltage and frequency. And because that's coming from synchronous generators in the power stations, that establishes what's called inertia. When you have power running in on a sunny day or a windy day, and all the turbines fire up, the voltage in the frequency can break the system; you can blow a fuse. Take what happened in the South Australian blackout. The electricity generated in that storm was so great that basically the fuse blew and they had a blackout. And they had no black-start capability or any underlying baseload energy generator. The interconnector was down. Other areas of the distribution network also blew down, it was such a big storm. That is something we need to remind ourselves of with all these investments.

The Grid Reliability Fund will allow us to invest in grid-scale batteries and other expensive bits of equipment called synchronous condensers, which try to mimic that inertia and that synchronous signal that is coming through when you have electricity coming out from the central generating source. It also looks to support investment in new transmission grids. There is one between New South Wales and South Australia, the Hume link. There is the Queensland-New South Wales interconnector. It also looks to invest in new pumped hydro facilities, at Baroota in South Australia, at Armidale in New South Wales and at similar sites in Queensland.

Where the Underwriting New Generation Investments program identified baseload generators, it recommended a couple of gas-fired power stations because the benefit of gas-fired power stations is that they can be ramped up quickly. There was also underwriting of the Vales Point upgrade, which is an old generator that was getting additional efficiencies added. But unfortunately, due to announcements from the New South Wales government, that's no longer feasible. I would just like to explain in a bit more detail the issue of installed capacity versus what actually becomes available to consumers, whether it is industry or individuals. In the last couple of years four gigawatts of baseload power, or power coming from power stations, has been retired from the grid. We've heard of those massive new installations—5.1 and 6.3 gigawatts—but that doesn't mean we're in net positive territory; if you multiply those capacity factors, you come up way short. One has to understand that, in periods when the weather is not favourable, the renewable generators might only produce four per cent or even less.

So there is a glaring deficiency in the way people are thinking about this transition. I have great concerns that people think that an investment in a wind farm or a massive solar farm is going to be exactly the same; it's just that it's coming from a clean source. Unless we have a replacement for our retiring baseload power stations, it won't just be when there's not enough at the peak that we get the shortages and the blackouts or brownouts that we've had over hot summers; we'll be getting them every day, because there won't be the stuff at the bottom. That's the really important take-home message. Even our Snowy 2.0, which will deliver 2,000 megawatt hours of dispatchable electricity, will only do so for 175 hours. It can store the equivalent of 3½ gigawatt hours of storage, but, given the capacity factor is only 17 per cent, it isn't going to deliver everything that we think it will. In fact, the gas power plants that are mooted to be built would be peaking power plants that come on when there's a shortage at the end. But we need to have the baseload. If you make the cake analogy, in New South Wales we have a cake of energy that is never less than about 7,000 megawatts of power pumping through the wires. We have peaks above that that go up to 12,000 or maybe 13,000 megawatt hours when demand is high. But, if you don't have that baseload energy available and ready to fire, you will have a major deficiency.

We have had great trouble building dams in Australia. A lot of these plans revolve around building new dams and using pumped hydro. But, when you look at the physics of it, the amount of energy generated from the water running down is less than the amount of energy required to pump the water back up so it can run down. With gas peaking plants and Snowy Hydro, there is an arbitrage in their economic model. They can turn a profit because they provide energy when there's a shortage. They play in that market when they might be getting $216 for their unit of energy, as opposed to the $30, $40 or $50 that is frequently the case.

Because we're in the situation we are in, where we've had these energy market rules, there has been a transition happening and we do need to put new things in place; otherwise we will have shortages more quickly than expected. But I just caution everyone: do not think that the transition is going to be an equivalent transition. It will be much more expensive and much more unreliable—hence the need to invest in all these extra grid integration technologies. I might add that the big inverters that convert the direct current electricity that comes out of a solar generator, either on your house or on a mega solar farm, consume energy, and then inverting it at the other end also consumes energy.

We have this fund to invest in batteries. There are massive grid-size batteries which are essentially like the Hornsdale one in South Australia. I have looked on the net, and it's the biggest grid style battery that I can find in the world. It's been upgraded above its initial 200 megawatts to something like 240 megawatts, and it has a critical role to play when you're switching from a solar farm or a wind farm to a gas- or coal-fired power station to keep that frequency and voltage at a very fine level so that the fuses don't blow and the whole system doesn't black out. But people shouldn't think that it will be able to supply energy overnight when there is no solar power and wind blowing, because in South Australia, if they had another blackout, the new Hornsdale bank of batteries could run the grid in South Australia for only four minutes. In my electorate, I have hundreds of people who work at the Tomago aluminium smelter. If that same battery at Hornsdale were hooked up to Tomago, it would run it for 12 minutes. So we need to keep it in perspective. (Time expired)

12:30 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's pretty clear that sensible debate in this chamber, outside this chamber, in the US and around the rest of the world has moved beyond whether or not we should be increasing investment in renewable energy. It's moved on to how we best support the continuing evolution of low-emissions technologies for energy generation. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020 could have been a real opportunity to finesse what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is already doing really well, but it isn't an opportunity to do that. Unless there are amendments to this bill, we will not be supporting it.

I want to take you back about a decade, when the shockingly sensible idea of finding a way to reduce the cost of capital for important investments that benefit the country led to Labor establishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in 2012. The CEFC provided $10 billion of funding to support new and emerging renewable technologies and projects designed to reduce emissions. The projects it invested in have also, over those years, created jobs. It wasn't done with true bipartisanship then or now, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been attacked on multiple occasions by this government. Along with attempts to abolish it, there have been continued attacks to undermine its role and dilute its purpose. We will not support legislation that continues to do that. We established the CEFC, and on this side we have consistently protected the integrity of it as a renewable energy financing body.

The CEFC has a proven track record of leveraging private investment. It isn't just doling out taxpayer funds; it works together with private funds and has helped drive more than $27 billion in additional private sector investments and return more than $718 million to taxpayers since its creation. By that measure, it's been an enormous success. Even the Prime Minister, in 2019, was quoted in The Australian as saying the CEFC is 'the world's most successful green bank'. I don't think there's any dispute about that. However, government has consistently tried to take the CEFC away from its original purpose. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in 2015, said it was no secret he wanted the finance corporation to be abolished. There was the attempt to stop the corporation from investing in wind or rooftop solar. Now they're trying to expand it into areas that it shouldn't be investing in. Those opposite have also tried to limit the ability of the CEFC to support new technology deployment.

This bill continues the attempt to weaken the brief for the corporation. That's been criticised by energy experts who say it needs to be an independent body, it needs to have a low-emissions remit, it needs to be able to support economically viable projects and it needs to avoid investing in fossil fuels. We support those principles. They make sense. Our amendments make sure that those principles are maintained. Whether this bill will pass with our support is in the government's hands. They can accept our amendments or not.

There are some things we do support in this legislation, and one of those is giving the CEFC an expanded role to upgrade the electricity network so it better copes with renewables. In fact, anyone listening to opposition leader Anthony Albanese's budget reply last year will recall our 'rewiring the nation' policy to drag the electricity grid into the 21st century with greater connectivity for renewably sourced energy. We agree with the need to invest in transmission, storage and reliability assets of the network. These are small steps contained in this bill towards our own policy to invest $20 billion to rebuild and modernise the antiquated electricity transmission system.

Before I move to the concerns we have with this bill, I want to share the findings of a UK study, released this week, that highlights the importance of continuing and encouraging investment in wind and solar projects. The study shows what one of Australia's best bets is, when it comes to reducing emissions, and is from research by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It shows that the UK has seen a massive 66 per cent drop in emissions between 1990 and 2019 but an eight per cent drop in emissions between 2018 and 19. This was just from the energy sector. It shows that with our existing technologies and the sensible rollout of them you can make a significant difference. Those time periods directly correlate with the uptake of solar and renewable wind projects in the UK, and the volume of emissions is set to fall even further as they move forward. I think what's so significant for us is the bounty we have in wind and solar, and those sorts of renewable projects continue to provide us with huge opportunities. They are some of the many things, in terms of renewable energy, that we would like to continue to see the CEFC invest in.

I move now to the things we object to in this bill. It is an attempt to make some of the biggest changes to the CEFC since its establishment. One of the key ones is to undermine the independence of the corporation, and this legislation gives unprecedented powers to the minister. We designed a body that had independence from government in its decision-making, to be at arm's length, so it didn't make short-term, politically motivated decisions about where investments went. I am stunned that those opposite wouldn't support that principle of good investments based on the best advice and from an investment perspective rather than a political perspective. It staggers me that they want to see additional political interference in something like this fund. The changes being put forward today allow the minister to determine whether an investment is eligible for Clean Energy Finance Corporation support or not. The change doesn't appear to be driven by a problem; it creates a problem. I want to say, very clearly, I would have a problem with this change to the legislation no matter who was in government, no matter who the minister of the day was. It's a completely unnecessary change. But I have an even greater issue with this government and this particular minister giving himself these additional powers.

This government has not committed to zero emissions by 2050. This minister has stated he has a lack of enthusiasm for wind and solar and renewables. More than that, as a direct result of the Morrison government's chaotic and continuing energy policy failures under this minister, investment in new large-scale renewable energy has collapsed. Yet here's a minister who wants us to give him more power to control where investments are made. New figures from the Clean Energy Council show that just three new projects have reached financial close in the last quarter. That's the lowest quarterly investment, in dollar terms, since the index was started in 2017. Investment's more than 50 per cent below the quarterly average for the 2019 calendar year. Investment and jobs in renewable energy should be soaring in Australia, not only to bring power prices down but to grow the jobs in energy intensive manufacturing and other sectors. We have an opportunity there. Instead, UTS and the Clean Energy Council project 11,000 renewable energy jobs will be lost in the next two years under this government's energy policy vacuum. That's just when our focus should be on creating jobs.

So, no, I don't trust the minister with powers to override the CEFC decisions, and that's not even touching on the Clover Moore letter and subsequent investigation nor grasslands nor watergate affairs that the minister's failed to be accountable for. There are senior business people on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation board, and they don't need ministerial direction from any minister. We will try and amend that change that government wants to make.

The second issue we have is around the attempt to define 'low-emissions technology' to include gas. Right now there is no prohibition on the corporation funding projects related to gas, but gas simply doesn't meet the emissions standards that are required. You cannot call gas a low-emissions technology. That doesn't mean it isn't important to the Australian economy, as part of the mix. It will have a role for years to come in firming up the grid, particularly the small, quick, fire-up units that help stabilise supply in times of high demand. These are the so-called peaking plants, which are quick to fire up and quick to turn off. There is no question that gas has a really important role, but the question is: should the CEFC be providing a public subsidy for it? We say no. We say that, if gas were a low-emissions technology, the government wouldn't need to put this amendment in and gas would pass the existing test for CEFC investments. It doesn't meet the test of being low-emissions technology, just because it isn't. We think the CEFC should remain as it was intended to be: a renewables and decarbonisation funding tool. That's its purpose.

The third concern that we have about this bill is around the removal of the requirement that the investments made by the corporation make, or set out to make, a positive return. This is another one I'm just staggered by. Those opposite pride themselves on being the good economic managers—and hasn't that come into question!—and all the things they claim they stand for, yet they're happy to change legislation so that an investment using taxpayer money does not need to deliver a return. I'm just staggered that that is being considered. You wonder why they would do that. As I said earlier, the Prime Minister himself has referred to the CEFC as the world's most successful green bank. That is due not only to the jobs it's created and the investments it's leveraged from the private sector but also to its return to government. The returns it's made to government help make it one of the best decisions that this parliament has made. The question that has not been answered by anyone opposite is whether they want the CEFC to make investments that don't provide a positive return. Is that the purpose of this—to specifically set out to do that? If so, my question to them is: why would that be a purpose?

As I have said, there is no question that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has played a really big role already. In spite of the attacks by Liberal governments to abolish it, undermine it and divert it from its course, it has still helped this country with investment in renewables. It needs to be allowed to continue to help Australia, and it needs to be there so that we can leverage investment from the private sector and make the most of the opportunity we are given—the opportunity of sun, wind and open spaces. We have an opportunity to be a world leader in renewable energy, rather than just sitting back, watching the rest of the world gallop on ahead of us and going, 'Maybe we should have done that.' Our opportunity is now. We are fast running out of time, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation provides a terrific vehicle for us to invest. Rather than the bill we have before us today, it would have been good to see those opposite amending a piece of legislation that is already creating jobs, allowing it to create even more jobs, jobs that will last into the future.

12:44 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I start my comments on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020, I'd like to comment on some of the member for Macquarie's comparisons with the UK. And it is good that the member for Macquarie considers what is happening in other countries and compares herself with them. However, if you want to compare us with the UK, they are a nation that get 20 per cent of their electricity from nuclear power. If the member for Macquarie wants to stand up and praise the UK's electricity policy, is she in favour of nuclear power? Is she in favour, and are those on the other side of the chamber in favour, of having something like 20 per cent of our electricity in this nation generated from nuclear power like it is in the UK? Unless you are going to stand up and say that is what you want, any comparison with the United Kingdom is irrelevant.

You also need to understand that the United Kingdom have an undersea cable across the channel to France's nuclear power. So when the sun doesn't shine, the wind doesn't blow and the Thames freezes over, as it did last week for the first time in 60 years, you have no intermittent generation from those renewable sources. England has an extension cord to the French nuclear power stations—something that we don't have.

Getting back to my comments on this particular bill, it's called the grid reliability fund bill. The problem: why do we need extra dollars for grid reliability? Over a decade ago we had one of the lowest cost and most reliable grids of anywhere in the world. We used that beautiful black coal seam that runs down our eastern seaboard, close to our population centres, to generate the majority of our electricity. We had the Snowy Hydro project to come in during peak periods with hydroelectricity. We had our gas peakers. That gave our eastern seaboard the most efficient, most reliable and some of the lowest cost electricity anywhere in the world, but then people knew better. All the experts knew better. We could bring in all this intermittent generation, and it wouldn't cause any problem they told us.

We see the confusion in this policy debate by a recent statement by the member for McMahon who, I understand, has been punted from the health portfolio after being punted as the shadow Treasurer before the last election. Now, after failing in all those other portfolios, he's been given the energy portfolio. He recently said, 'Renewable energy can create thousands of jobs.' He's partly correct, because we're creating thousands of jobs in China. Our subsidies for the year ending June 2019—and Dr Alan Moran has detailed them—are: the large-scale renewable energy target was $1.4 billion; the small-scale energy target, which is the rooftop scheme, was $1.68 billion; $951 million for state regulatory support; federal fiscal support was another $2.4 billion as well as state fiscal support. The total of subsidies for the year ending June 2019 was $6.913 billion.

Who has been the biggest beneficiary of this job creation? It has been the workers of China. If we go through the data, we have something like imports from China in solar panels alone approaching $2 billion a year. So we pack up shipping containers of cash and send them off to China which we exchange for solar panels. The data from 2019: 80 per cent of the imported solar panels into this country came from China. Over the last six years, it is something like $10 billion that has been sent out of this country to buy solar panels from China. These people talk about creating jobs. I'm sure, in Guangzhou province, they are very happy about all the jobs that we're creating for them because of these policies.

Also there is great confusion on the other side of this chamber. Our electricity sector, our electricity generation, is not a job creation scheme. The entire purpose of our electricity generation is to do it as efficiently and at the lowest cost as you possibly can, so industry can take that low-cost electricity and have a competitive advantage to actually produce real wealth for this nation.

That is how you create jobs. You create jobs by lowering the cost of electricity to consumers so they have more money to spend in other sectors of the economy.

The idea that you would use your electricity sector as a job creation scheme would head us towards an economic disaster in this country. We've got to have real jobs that are internationally competitive, and that is where industries need low-cost energy. I hear from some that, 'Wind and solar are cheaper than coal, so the more wind and solar we put into the grid the cheaper electricity becomes.' They will argue that. But to make a comment comparing the cost of intermittent generation with base-load generation is like comparing apples with oranges. You are not comparing like-for-like products. They are not 100 per cent being substituted one for the other. If you are going to do that, you've got to build in the costs of your intermittent generation, your wind and solar. Firstly, there are the additional transmission costs. Billions of dollars in additional transmission lines need to be built and you've got to include that cost. Secondly, you've got to include the cost to back it up, and that's not just for five minutes or 10 minutes. You've got to include the cost to back up your intermittent, weather-dependent generation in the worst possible circumstances and the worst possible weather events that you can have. You may have several days in a row of overcast weather where your solar panels are working at very low capacity and, of course, with nothing at night. You may have several days where your wind gets very low capacity, in the single digits. That is what you have to back it up for.

I'll give you some idea of what sorts of numbers you would need. It was good to hear Dr Gillespie, the member for Lyne, talk about the need for big batteries. If we just replaced the Liddell coal-fired power station with some intermittent stuff and some big batteries, let's just do some numbers on that. We have the world's largest big battery over there in South Australia. It's about 120 megawatt hours. So it dribbles—and 'dribbles' is the right word—about 30 megawatts into the grid per hour. But it can only do that for four hours and then it goes flat. Then you have to have excess generation of electricity to recharge it again. How many of these world's biggest batteries would you need to replace the Liddell coal-fired power station for just one 24-hour period? Let's do the sums. Liddell's actually a 2,000-megawatt power station, but with its age it is rated down to 1,680 megawatts. Over a day, running at full steam for 24 hours, that is 40,320-megawatt hours. Again I ask members on the other side to try and learn the difference between megawatts and megawatt hours so they're not confusing and misleading the Australian public. We know the world's largest battery can do 30 megawatts for four hours, so it would need 56 of the world's largest batteries just to replace Liddell for four hours only. To replace it for 24 hours, you would need 336 of the world's largest batteries that they have over there in South Australia. That's just for 24 hours. That is not enough for the worst circumstances of weather. Anyone that stands up in any parliament and says we can replace our coal-fired generators with big batteries should go and do the maths, because they have no idea what they are talking about.

The other issue that we have when we come to this debate is that every single thing we seem to do in this policy space gives an advantage to the Communist Party of China. I said that about $10 billion of wealth has been transferred out of this country to import solar panels from China over the last five to six years. You've even got what I consider to be misleading and deceptive conduct. There's a group out there called Canadian Solar. If I went and bought solar panels from a company called Canadian Solar I think it would be fair enough to expect that they might just be made in Canada. But, on their own website, this company says, 'Canadian Solar is a producer of tier 1 panels.' Despite their name, any panels you may buy from them in Australia will not be made in Canada. Canadian Solar panels, those from outside North America, will most likely be made in—you guessed it—China. With everything we do in this space, we're transferring billions of dollars of our wealth to China. We are putting our own Australian industries at a competitive disadvantage compared to China. When we talk about going down the track of net zero emissions, of making the cost of air travel greater, who are we harming? Our Pacific neighbours. We are damaging the economies of our Pacific neighbours by making the cost of air travel higher when we go down this net zero track. Again, who gets the advantage out of that? If our Pacific regional neighbours are weaker economically, they are more exposed to influence from China.

We go to see what's happening in China today. Here we have it. A report from Reuters, only two weeks ago, says, 'China put 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020.' Hang on a minute. Liddell, at full capacity, is two megawatts. The new capacity that China has added in 2020 alone is 38.4 gigawatts of electricity. People say, 'Oh, yes, but they're closing other power stations down.' The net increase last year in China's coal-fired power stations was 29.8 gigawatts. That's more coal-fired power stations than we have almost in our entire nation. And that's their increase in just one year!

The article goes on. It says, 'China approved the construction of a further 36.9 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity last year, three times more than a year earlier, bringing the total under construction to 88.1 gigawatts.' That's the equivalent of 40 new replacement Liddells. It goes on: 'It now has 247 gigawatts of coal power under development.' Two hundred and forty-seven! That's more than 100 Liddell power stations at their full capacity. And here we are wanting to close down our coal-fired power stations! We want to ship our own Australian coal off to China for the Chinese to use to create wealth and prosperity and jobs in that country. Yet we have so many members of parliament here who are prepared to sell our nation out, to sell our nation's sovereignty out, and say, 'We can't use that same coal.' It's okay to ship it to China and let China use it, but we can't use it here. That is a betrayal of our nation. That is a betrayal of your constituents. It is going to destroy jobs and transfer wealth out of this nation to the Communist Party of China. I for one am not going to sit here in this parliament and just allow that to happen without using my voice to say how absurd and how ridiculous and how anti-Australian this policy is—just to chase a few green votes. Shame on you all! Shame on the lot of you! We need to put our nation's interests first.

When it comes to these nonsense net zero emissions policies, are we going to exempt our military from them? We heard talk in the paper the other day about wanting to develop solar-panelled tanks. Battle tanks are there to protect the nation, to protect the Western alliance. They are not there as part of some green scheme to try and reach net zero. I will leave my comments there, but I call on all members of this parliament to put the interests of this nation first. Don't sell out to the interests of the Greens and the Communist Party of China.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will just remind the member for Hughes that when he says 'you' he is directing his comments to the chair.

12:59 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an important and overdue piece of legislation. The Grid Reliability Fund is a $1 billion investment in new energy generation, storage and transmission infrastructure, designed to improve the reliability of the electricity grid. I believe it's important that we pass this legislation, because this government has, for too long, presided over a deterioration of our electricity grid—the poles and wires that bring electrons from where they're generated to where they're used.

Chronic underinvestment in critical infrastructure in regional Australia is holding up investment in new electricity projects, costing regional jobs and driving up power prices. Few Australians will have heard of the West Murray Zone, but this triangle of land in the Riverina, bordered by Ballarat, Broken Hill and Dederang in my electorate of Indi, is ground zero of the government's failure to secure our electricity supply. The West Murray Zone is a region that has attracted significant investment in renewables, but it has not had the corresponding investment in the electricity grid to support those renewables. As a result, last year the Australian Energy Market Operator declared that the region's grid was so unstable that it forced five new renewable power stations across regional Victoria and New South Wales to cut their production by 50 per cent. This was done simply to stabilise the grid, not because renewables are the problem but because the government failed to plan for their integration. For those five regional communities, that means half the revenue and half the profits, and it went on for seven months. Just imagine you set up a cafe—you made all the investments, hired the staff, brought in the food and set up refrigerators—and then the day you were going to open the government told you that you couldn't because the footpath out the front hadn't been fixed yet. It's this kind of thing that regional communities face.

The crisis in the electricity grid is directly affecting my electorate of Indi, because there are several renewable power stations in Indi that have been delayed for years because of weaknesses in the grid. For instance, the new Goorambat East Solar Farm, which would power 105,000 homes once it's built, is shovel-ready but can't proceed because the grid issues need to be fixed. It's one of several projects that would create hundreds of jobs in construction and dozens in ongoing maintenance and operations and would generate new income for the local people, but it can't proceed because the government has spent years failing to fix the issues in the grid.

It's well overdue now that the government looks Australia right in the eye, is honest about the fundamental transition that we're facing in our energy system and plans properly to ensure that it happens smoothly. I'm sorry to say that the National Party's big vision to solve our energy problems in regional Australia at present is to build more coal-fired power stations. We know that the National Party has been around for 101 years, and I really wish they'd get some new ideas on this. The places where renewables will boom are places like the Mallee, New England, the Riverina and my electorate. They're all held by regional MPs and, with the exception of Indi, those on that list are all held by the National Party. Instead of fighting back the tide, I encourage my colleagues in the National Party to make this renewable energy boom really deliver for their constituents. I think they should be the biggest advocates of renewables in the country, because it's their constituents who stand to gain the most, if we plan this transition properly. This legislation is one way of helping to plan this transition.

Standing up for the regions means putting money into the transmission network, which is actually costing regional jobs and supporting regional communities to tap into this unstoppable renewable energy boom. But these facts are not my views; they're straight from the government's own engineers who run the electricity system. A report from AEMO in September into the five-year forecast of electricity reliability said that delays in the commissioning of over 1,900 megawatts of variable renewable energy is reducing reliability in Victoria—that is, we would have more reliability if we could bring those renewables online faster. It is the engineers running the grid saying this. The reason I'm going into these technical details is simply to make the point that this bill is so important precisely because it is a rare example of the government dealing with the actual problems in the energy system. Rather than mucking around or playing with the politics of climate, we need to get right back to the issues at hand.

But there's another component of this bill that I want to comment on. The Grid Reliability Fund is finally putting into action the government's Underwriting New Generation Investment scheme. The UNGI scheme was announced over two years ago. At the time, the government said we were facing an urgent lack of dispatchable power—that is, energy that can be generated whenever we want, like hydro or batteries. The UNGI scheme was designed to incentivise new investment in dispatchable energy by underwriting new private investments. The government would partner with private companies to take on part of the risk of these new projects.

This idea, in principle, could make sense. If there is a market failure, if private companies aren't building certain types of energy projects that benefit our society, then there is a clear rationale for government stepping in. But I've got some real concerns about the way the government has undertaken the UNGI scheme. To start with, it's been incredibly slow. It was first announced in 2018. They took expressions of interest in January 2019, over two years ago, and shortlisted 12 projects in March of that year. In the two years since, the only thing that has happened is that they've shortlisted two gas projects for consideration. No projects have been funded and nothing has actually been done.

As the grid has fallen under increased strain and jobs have been lost to renewables in regional Australia, what real action has been done? It was just last week that one of the shortlisted companies from two years ago pulled its project from the list, saying this has gone on for too long and their project was no longer viable. Secondly, a scheme that was framed as being about dispatchable energy seems that it could indeed turn out to be a mechanism to drive taxpayer money into fossil fuels.

The bill before us expands the rules to allow the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to more easily invest in gas projects; and because these projects are unlikely to be economic without this investment, it also changes the rules to allow the CEFC to invest in loss-making projects. Just think about that for a minute. The CEFC is a bank owned by the taxpayer that so far has invested billions of our dollars into clean energy projects that have made money. And the government is trying to change the rules to allow investments in fossil fuels that lose money—that lose all our money.

The government says 'there's nothing to see here' because the CEFC can already invest in gas. But this is a red herring. Let me explain why. Right now, the CEFC is able to invest in gas power under extremely restrictive circumstances—specifically, if the gas station would have less than 50 per cent of the emissions of the grid as a whole. And the CEFC has to make sure that, at any time, at least half of their investments are directly in renewables. This fund has none of those safeguards. According to the rules, all of this $1 billion could be invested in gas power—even if it was emissions intensive, as all gas power is. The government is quite literally changing the definition of 'low emissions' to mean 'any emissions'. It's right there in the explanatory memorandum written by the government to explain the bill. It says in black and white that item 33 expands the scope of low-emission technology and that certain types of gas-fired electricity generation will now fall under this new definition.

Again, if you ask AEMO what Australia needs to achieve to get cheap, clean and reliable power, they are crystal clear: it's more renewables, more storage and more transmission, not new gas. AEMO's analysis shows that the optimum pathway to meet our energy needs over the next two decades would be to build the equivalent of 16,000 new wind turbines and five new Snowy Hydro schemes and put rooftop solar on another 10 million households. This is the pathway we're on, and we in this place need to be clear. If we plan this right, this will be fantastic news for regional Australia. Indi is one of several dozen regions identified across Australia as the best places to build renewables. We have enough hydro power potential in the hills and mountains of the Victorian high country to meet Australia's total energy storage needs 13 times over. Let's invest here. The member for Mallee's electorate is another one with huge solar potential around Mildura and the west. Let's invest there. The electorates of Parkes, Calare and New England sit on top of massive new renewable energy zones in New South Wales. Let's invest there. Let's make sure that this massive investment actually creates lasting prosperity in the regions by creating well-paying, long-lasting local jobs and by creating new sources of income that actually flow back into regional Australia. If the government is willing to underwrite new energy investments, let's make them locally owned investments that are driven by the local community so, instead of profits going elsewhere, the profits stay right where they are made.

Last year, I had the pleasure of opening Australia's largest community owned solar farm right here in the ACT. The Majura Community Solar Farm was built from small investments by 600 members of the local community who now collectively own it and will earn dividends from their investment. Every regional community in Australia could be developing these projects. If the government were willing to come in and underwrite a wave of investment in these projects, we could unlock billions in private capital, building a string of these renewable power stations right across the regions, lowering power bills and building energy security.

Despite my serious reservations, this bill makes long-overdue investments in the grid that will unlock new investments in the regions and new jobs in Indi. But it needs to be amended. I will support the amendments from the members for Warringah and Melbourne which would maintain the ban on the government investing in uneconomic gas projects, projects that won't deliver benefits to Indi or benefits to regional Australia, and I'll be moving my own amendment to make sure that the Grid Reliability Fund can only invest in projects that demonstrate they are delivering significant benefits to the local community through local jobs, procurement and decision-making, because $1 billion of new investment in regional Australia should be done with and for us, not to us.

Next week, I'll be tabling a bill to establish a new sister agency to the CEFC. My proposed agency, the Australian Local Power Agency, would drive investment in community owned renewables and would make sure that renewable energy is benefited from in the local communities where the investments are being made. These regional communities need to see the profits that are available to them. I'm all for renewables. That's pretty clear. But it has to be done in a way that actually benefits regional Australia: local jobs, local procurement, local investment and local benefits. That's what's missing from the government's policy agenda, and that's what I'll be bringing to parliament next week.

1:12 pm

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Not only will the $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund ensure that our nation's world-leading deployment of renewables is integrated and backed up, but this legislation, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020, is a vote for jobs, for Australian workers, for lower emissions, for a more reliable and secure energy market, and for lower prices for consumers. Tasmania is, of course, no stranger to reliable renewable power, and the Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation renewable pumped hydro projects are perfect examples of what the $1 billion GRF could support while providing an opportunity for the rest of Australia.

Marinus Link will provide a second Bass interconnector between Tasmania and Victoria that will increase energy exchange throughout the National Electricity Market as Australia continues to transition to cleaner energy. The project has also been assessed to be commercially viable and could deliver a $1 billion boost to Tasmania's economy through construction and operation. What an incredible opportunity for our state as we look to invest in technologies to create a cleaner, sustainable energy market which will also benefit mainland energy users!

Battery of the Nation is a Hydro Tasmania project that's investing in and building our island's capacity as a hydro battery. It's about making better use of existing hydro power and power stations while enhancing our ability to support the National Electricity Market with new infrastructure like pumped hydro power stations. This will ensure a safe, reliable, low-cost energy supply for all Tasmanians and thousands of megawatts of clean power to the mainland for a sustainable future we can all enjoy.

In December, I was thrilled to welcome the Prime Minister and the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, to Launceston at the site of the Trevallyn Power Station to sign a memorandum of understanding between the state and federal governments for these projects. Under the signing of this bilateral energy and emissions reduction agreement, both governments have committed to further support to progress Battery of the Nation and Marinus.

The MOU also delivered a jointly owned special purpose vehicle being established by 1 July 2021 to deliver the remainder of the design and approvals phase for project Marinus. The SPV will provide the governance and oversight to guide the project to a final investment decision in 2023-24. As TasNetworks CEO, Lance Balcombe, said on the day:

The MOU announcement further confirms the value of Project Marinus as critical to supporting a rapidly transforming National Electricity Market … by delivering low-cost, reliable and clean energy to electricity customers.

Indeed, as Australia recovers from COVID-19, affordable, reliable power will be critical to growing the economy and creating new jobs, and it's important to note that, when new technologies become economically competitive, households and businesses will readily adopt them, which is what we're seeing firsthand with renewables currently.

Some facts that are worth considering: on an energy-only basis, costs have fallen rapidly, and we've seen $30 billion invested in renewable energy since 2017. Australia is now deploying new wind and solar 10 times faster per person than the global average and four times faster per person than Europe, China, Japan or the US. About two million, or nearly one in four, Australian households now have solar power. In 2019, the share of wind and solar in Australia's electricity grids was more than double the global average and projected to rise rapidly in coming years. Of course, with these positive changes come new challenges, and, while there is no shortage of investment in clean energy, the government has identified a lack of investment in the dispatchable generation needed to support the increase of intermittent generation. We need more flexible back-up generation and storage, gas, pumped hydro and batteries to balance and integrate high shares of renewable energy, which is why our technology focused approach and the GRF are so practical. Importantly, our practical approach won't undermine energy affordability or reliability as we recover from COVID-19.

Beyond the GRF, the government has also been laying down the groundwork to develop a leading hydrogen industry in Australia. Part of this commitment to hydrogen includes the establishment of a regional hydrogen export hub supported by $70 million in Commonwealth funding. I'm extremely pleased that Bell Bay, just 20 minutes from my home, has been identified as a possible hub. Additionally, four major energy companies are currently investigating the region for large-scale green hydrogen production facilities, a step which has been significantly helped due to federal and state government funding for research into making the Australian production process more cost competitive.

The investment and focus on green hydrogen are also widely supported by our region's business community, which I saw firsthand when I attended an event hosted by the Launceston Chamber of Commerce towards the end of last year. This sold-out event was attended by a significant number of industry and business leaders who overwhelmingly support the proposal to establish Bell Bay as a regional hydrogen hub. The process for selection as a hub is very competitive, but I have no doubt our region will have what it takes.

I was also thrilled to learn recently that the Bell Bay Advanced Manufacturing Zone, a local industry group committed to ensuring that the region, as Tasmania's premier centre of manufacturing and export, can remain globally competitive, received a $100,000 grant from the national Energy Resources of Australia for research into the latest green hydrogen technology. This funding was matched by the Tasmanian government, who also recognised the importance of investing in this emergent industry. BBAMZ was one of 13 clusters to share in this funding as part of the National Hydrogen Strategy and the only one in Tasmania. As CEO, Susie Bower, said: 'At the moment it's $7 per kilogram for hydrogen, but, if we want to be competitive, we have to get it around $1 to $2 a kilo. The only way to do that is through improved technology, so getting this funding and starting a technology cluster is the first step in bringing all of our smart people together to look at what advances in technology there are to bring that cost of production down.' The government is committed to paving the way for a stronger, cheaper, cleaner and more competitive energy market, a plan which should be supported by all sides.

1:19 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, haven't this government made a meal of developing a mechanism to reduce carbon emissions in our economy? There's no plan at all to transition our economy away from polluting fossil fuels towards more renewable energy and create jobs in the process, to provide investment certainty for the private sector. They have this Luddite view of new technology, and it's a handbrake on Australia's economic development.

In other developed nations, they view the challenge of climate change as an economic opportunity, a chance to catch the wave of technological change and create new industries, new businesses and new jobs in clean energy; in modern farming techniques; in new mining of new resources around rare earths; in research and development of new projects and new technology; in education, around driving that research and development; in the financing of projects and in the accounting and legal aspects of new projects; and, of course, in skills development for workers throughout our country.

The Morrison government view the challenge of climate change in ideological terms purely. They see it as a political weapon, an opportunity to hang on to power—and to hell with the rest of Australia, our economic future and the creation of jobs. They see this issue, and issues such as this, purely as a wedge opportunity, an opportunity to try and drive a wedge between certain sections of the population and the Australian Labor Party on this particular issue—and to hell with the consequences for our environment or job development in the future.

This is no more evident than in the way that they've handled the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and what they are attempting to do to it with this bill, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020. The CEFC was established by Labor in 2013 to support the creation of job-generating clean energy products. The CEFC was established as a government corporate entity with an independent board, and it makes investment decisions based on rigorous commercial assessments and an investment mandate that's based on helping to mobilise investments in renewable energy, in lower emissions technology and energy efficiency products, and in manufacturing businesses that promote and produce the inputs into achieving those aims I mentioned earlier.

The CEFC was established on 1 July in 2013, and it's been extremely successful. It's helped drive $27.3 billion worth of private sector investment in renewables projects and technology to reduce carbon emissions in our economy. It's returned $718 million to the Australian taxpayer during its life. And, importantly, it's driven 20 million tonnes of abatement or reduction in carbon pollution in Australia. So it's been a wonderful success story, in generating a return to the Australian taxpayer and driving down emissions in our economy. Despite that, have a guess who wants to close it. Have a guess who's tried to shut it down. None other than the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. What other country in the world would try and shut down a body that's been successful in reducing carbon emissions and returning $718 million to taxpayers in Australia? Only one political party would do that, and that's the LNP. And they've been at it since they got to government.

Thankfully, the Australian people have seen through their charade and—through the parliament, through their elected representatives—have been able to stop this government shutting down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They've all been doing this. The Liberals have been wanting to shut this body down because you've got a small number of Liberal and National MPs who—let's face it—do not believe in climate change, who think that it's all a hoax, who are climate sceptics and who are holding this government to ransom and trying to shut down bodies like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because they don't fit with their ideological obsession with not reducing carbon emissions in our economy. They've tried to shut down this body that's been very successful, but, thankfully, the parliament stopped them. Thankfully, on the numerous occasions that they've tried to shut it down, the Senate has been successful in stopping that legislation.

So the government said: 'Well, if we can't shut it down, then we'll simply try and change it. We'll neuter it. We'll change its investment mandate so it can invest in projects that—guess what—actually increase carbon pollution in Australia.' Yes, that's right. They want to change the investment mandate of a body that's been successful in reducing carbon pollution and returning dollars to the taxpayer, so that it can now invest in projects that will increase carbon pollution in Australia. And get this: those projects don't produce a positive return to the Australian taxpayer. Can you believe it? It is unbelievable, but that is what this mob are trying to argue with this particular bill. Once again, it's almost like we're in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Let's make the Clean Energy Finance Corporation the 'Anti Clean Energy Finance Corporation' under the Morrison government; that's exactly what they're trying to do through this bill.

The explanatory memorandum for this bill says that this bill's aim is to expand the Clean Energy Finance Corporation's remit to better support the modernisation of the electricity grid through investment in transmission, storage and other firming and reliability assets, and to support the implementation of the government's Underwriting New Generation Investment program. On the face of it, that looks pretty positive, but when you read the fine print with a lot of these things—again going back to this Orwellian language that they use—there's a much more sinister plan by this government. It's about undermining the investment mandate to invest in projects that reduce carbon emissions and are involved in ensuring that we're promoting technology that reduces those emissions. They want to shut down a body that's working. They want to shut down a body that's making a return to taxpayers and making the environment cleaner for our kids by changing the investment mandate so that it can invest in projects that actually increase carbon emissions in our economy and not return a positive return to the Australian taxpayer. That is unbelievable. That is why Labor is opposed to many aspects of this bill, and if the opposition's amendments aren't accepted, we'll vote against the bill.

What they'll do through this bill will be the most significant change in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation since it was established. It makes it the 'Anti Clean Energy Finance Corporation'. In that part of the bill about the Underwriting New Generation Investment program, when you read what some of those programs are, you see what this government is all about. Some of them are gas projects in Victoria and South Australia and Port Kembla. One of them is an upgrade to a coal-fired power station in New South Wales. They're projects that will increase carbon pollution. That's right. They want the Clean Energy Finance Corporation's investment mandate to be changed so they can increase carbon pollution in our economy and make it harder to meet the international commitments, which Australia has signed up to, to reduce carbon emissions—not to mention destroying our kids' future by increasing carbon emissions. Yes, that's what they want the CEFC to be able to do. They want the parliament to say that the CEFC should be able to invest in projects that increase carbon pollution in our economy, sneakily trying to undermine the investment mandate for which this body was established. Why? To placate a small rump of mainly backbench MPs on that side of the parliament that don't believe in climate change: 'Let's hold our kids' future to ransom for the sake of five or six MPs in the Liberal Party and the National Party in Australia that don't believe in climate change.' It is unbelievable.

The CEFC is supposed to invest in emerging technology, in technology that's on the margin about whether or not it would be able to gain capital and access to finance in investment markets. We all know that gas is a well-established technology that doesn't face the barriers to entry that other emerging technologies—like some solar, wind or battery projects and carbon farming initiatives—face at the moment. The only barrier that gas projects face in capital markets, not only in Australia but throughout the world at the moment, is that capital is moving away from projects like that because they increase carbon pollution. That is the only barrier they face.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.