House debates

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-2021 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021; Disallowance

4:47 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-2021 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011 and presented to the House on 24 May 2021, be disallowed.

This government is so desperate to deliver public funds to coal and gas corporations that it's prepared to break the law. It's prepared to break the law. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has as one of its functions and its main function the promotion of renewable energy. The key is in its title. It's the Renewable Energy Agency. Its job is to support the growth of renewable energy in this country. With this regulation, despite what is in the very clear words of the legislation that sets up this very important agency, the government is saying, 'Let's make public money available through ARENA go to coal and gas corporations.'

This isn't something that you have to sift through or pass several public speeches to discern or where you have to follow the money trail back to the corporate donations that they have received from the big coal and gas corporations. It is there in the words of the explanatory memorandum and in the regulation itself. The government, so desperate to prop up coal and gas, now has two programs in mind that it wants to fund with public money. Public money, which could be going to schools, hospitals or renewables, will instead, through this government—if this regulation is not disallowed—be allowed to go to unproven carbon-capture and storage technology and to using dirty, toxic gas to produce hydrogen. The government's fig leaf is that they're calling both of those things 'clean' and 'renewable'.

Let's go through both of those one by one. The first one is the unicorn technology of carbon capture and storage. It basically says that, if you are producing emissions from burning coal or gas, then somehow some technology will exist at some point in the future that might allow you to capture some of those emissions, stick them in a big hole underground and hope for the best—hope there are no dangerous leaks in the future, hope you actually capture all of the emissions, hope it doesn't leak into the atmosphere and blow our carbon budget. By any definition, that is not a renewable technology. That is not renewable. That is predicated on the burning of coal and gas.

The second technology that the government has in mind comes under clean hydrogen. 'Clean hydrogen,' you might say, 'that sounds great! Who wouldn't want to get behind clean hydrogen?' Hydrogen can be produced by splitting water, H2O, and converting it into hydrogen fuel. Then, when you burn it at the other end, it turns back into water. What a terrific idea! It is a terrific idea if you use renewably generated electricity to create that hydrogen. What this government wants to do is use the burning of gas and coal to create hydrogen and then, under the black-is-white approach of this government and this regulation, say that that is somehow clean. Again, you don't have to take our word, the Greens' word, for it. It is there in black and white, in the explanatory memorandum and in the minister's speech, that the government wants to say burning coal and gas in the hope that you might create hydrogen at the end of it is a renewable technology. Coal and gas, when burnt, are not renewable. You get to do it once, and it comes at a massive cost to the planet. It is not renewable.

This regulation—which says, 'We are going to redefine the word "renewable" in a way that no other country in the world has done to include coal and gas'—is not only wrong; it is illegal. It is against the very specific provisions of the act. Section 3 and section 4 define 'renewable energy technology', and, as someone who was there when the Renewable Energy Agency was established, I can tell the House that we very clearly and tightly defined the legislation so that it could not include fossil fuels.

ARENA is a success story. It has helped Australia generate and fast-track renewable energy technologies, whether it's assisting with the rollout of electric vehicles, something that this government has done everything in its power to slow down; whether it's grid management, to ensure that we can bring renewables into Australia's electricity grid in a way that ensures stability of supply; whether it's turning heavy industry green; whether it's green hydrogen or bioenergy; or whether it's crucial areas like demand management, which basically says, 'The cheapest electricity to save is the electricity you don't use in the first place, which is also the cheapest emissions reduction as well, so let's find ways of assisting big energy users to not use energy in the first place.' All of these technologies are technologies that ARENA, through its grant programs, has helped fast track. We know this because ARENA is a product of a shared-power parliament. We had a parliament back in 2010 where no-one had the numbers—not the Greens, not the member for Denison, as he then was, and not the Labor Party. What we did was work across the aisle to drive down pollution in this country and to fast-track the take-up of renewable energy. ARENA was one of the key organisations. ARENA was set up as a grant organisation to provide grants to beginning renewable-energy organisations. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation could come along afterwards, take the concepts that had been proved up and expand them commercially.

From day one this government and the Liberals have opposed the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and they have used opportunity after opportunity to try and abolish it. This is the same agency, by the way, which the Prime Minister, as he's searching desperately for a fig leaf at the G7, sings from the rooftops about the government's uptake of renewable energy in Australia. It is because of entities like ARENA and the CEFC, which the Greens helped secure in a shared-power parliament. That is what has driven the uptake of renewables in this country, and the Liberals have done everything they can to try and abolish it. They were not successful in abolishing it, so they tried to cut its budget. They had some success with that but they're coming back with a new idea, having been unsuccessful in abolishing it. It's still on its feet, so what do they do now? They say, 'We're going to redefine renewable energy.' They say black is white and that renewable energy includes coal and gas.

Not only is this wrong because it will increase climate pollution if you start using public money, giving it to coal and gas and taking it away from renewables, taking it away from schools and hospitals but there are plenty of other reasons, even if you're not with the Greens on driving down emissions, to support the disallowance of this regulation. We have challenged the government to come up with one piece of legal advice that suggests that this regulation is within power, and they have not been able to come up with one. That is because it squarely is not. It breaks the law. This is the Renewable Energy Agency. The legislation says you can make regulations to promote renewable energy. Carbon capture and storage, and burning gas and coal to create hydrogen, is, clearly, not renewable.

The government knows it doesn't have the numbers in the Senate to pass a piece of legislation to give money to coal and gas. So what has it done? It has decided, instead, to come up with a regulation in the hope that the numbers in a vote on regulation might be more favourable. But if you support this regulation, which is manifestly illegal, if you allow this regulation to continue, whatever you think about renewable energy, you are opening up a legal minefield. You are putting the public on the hook for legal bill after legal bill and challenge after challenge to every grant that is made under this program, including grants that might be made elsewhere, because it is so manifestly unlawful to say that coal and gas are now renewable.

If the government had a piece of legal advice that said there is some new way of defining coal and gas as renewable, I would have expected them to have tabled it. They haven't, because they know that this is unlawful. So the regulation must be disallowed, whatever you think about renewable energy, just out of a straight responsible use of public money. Allowing this to continue, and allowing grants to be made to coal and gas under the guise of it being called renewable, is inviting lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit, which the public will be on the hook for. I say to other members of this parliament on the crossbench, even on the government's backbench: don't write a blank cheque for litigation for something that is so manifestly unlawful when your own minister can't even table a piece of legal advice that says that this is within power. They can't even table a piece of legal advice that says that this is within power.

The big corporations that are going to be lining up to get some of this money are not only donors to the Liberal Party—and, in instances, to the Labor Party—but also are some of the biggest corporations that bring in some of the biggest amounts of money to this country, and they pay no tax! The biggest gas corporations in this country brought in $55 billion in one year, in income, and paid zero dollars income tax. It is criminal that a midwife from Melbourne pays more income tax than a multinational, but that is the situation we have under this government, because those opposite are doing the bidding of their mates. But what could be the possible justification for saying to a corporation that pays no tax but brings in billions of dollars of income, 'You also deserve a public handout'? Again, even if you're not with us on renewables, why are we taking public money and asking people in this country who already pay their fair share of tax to also give a handout to multinational gas and coal corporations that pay zero tax? If you are a multinational goal or gas corporation that pays zero tax in this country, you can pay for your own damn carbon-capture and storage research, frankly. You can pay for your own gas-funded hydrogen if you want to do it, but don't line up and expect a handout from the public purse for it. We should not be giving handouts to billionaire corporations that pay no tax, but that is what this regulation is designed to do.

So there's the renewables argument, there's the legislation argument, there's the responsible-use-of-public-money argument and there's the question of why you would give handouts to big corporations that are paying no tax. Lastly, the G7 have just met. The G7 have realised that countries around the world need to work together to tackle the climate crisis, and one of the things that they have said—and they said this last night—is that by 2025 we need to stop giving public subsidies to fossil fuels; they can stand on their own two feet if they're going to stand. In the face of that communique, the government is right now trying to say, 'We are closing our eyes and ears to the rest of the world and we are lining up to give even more public money, money that wasn't in the kitty beforehand, to fossil fuels.' This regulation gives the middle finger to the G7 and says, 'We know that you are taking action to combat the climate crisis, but we are going to go in the opposite direction.'

There are a multitude of reasons to oppose this regulation. It is going to fast-track our climate crisis, it's going to give money to big corporations that already pay no tax and it's going to put the public on the— (Time expired)

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

5:02 pm

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

I second the motion moved by the member for Melbourne and reserve my right to speak.

5:03 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-21 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011 on 18 May 2021 and presented to the House on 24 May 2021, be disallowed.

Creating ARENA and the CEFC was one of the proudest achievements of the previous Labor government. It was opposed at every turn by the Liberal and National parties—and some of us were here. Even worse, before they even formed office, the then Leader of the Opposition was writing letters to the CEFC and ARENA, warning them that if he was elected Prime Minister he would be seeking to abolish them and they should not enter into any contracts or investments, on the basis that he was quite confident of winning that election. Since even before they took office they've been trying to destroy ARENA and the CEFC. Luckily this parliament, particularly the other chamber, stopped them. It stopped them from abolishing ARENA and the CEFC, but they haven't given up. They will find any potential mechanism to water down ARENA and the CEFC, and here we are again this evening.

The minister had the opportunity, as the member for Melbourne pointed out, to bring down legislation to achieve this aim in relation to ARENA. The honourable member for Melbourne put a thesis as to why he hasn't done that. He may be right about that. I have a different thesis. Perhaps they're not mutually exclusive. The minister tried similar on the CEFC in legislation. He introduced it into this House, said it was a milestone—something to celebrate—and we're still waiting for it to come back. It's disappeared! We seek it here, we seek it there, we seek it everywhere! The government hasn't brought it back for a vote, because honourable members opposite are moving amendments and crossing the floor. They're not going to run that risk on ARENA. No: they seek to do it by stealth, more sneakily—by regulation.

But I do agree with the member for Melbourne that there is a very real chance that this regulation is illegal. The giveaway is in the name: the R in ARENA stands for 'renewable'. It's in the act, as the objective of the act. And it's a pretty clear principle, under other legislation, that a regulation cannot conflict with the legislated act. I think that even if this regulation passes, if this disallowance motion fails in this House or the other house, there is a real chance that this will come under legal challenge, and those honourable members opposite will have to explain why they voted for a regulation that was illegal. They can't say they weren't warned, because the member for Melbourne and I have both warned them that this regulation is, very distinctly, possibly illegal.

We know from Senate estimates a couple of weeks ago that the government was looking at legislation—had drafted legislation—but didn't introduce legislation. They decided to go down the regulatory route. The fact of the matter is that we still have the right to disallow this regulation, and voting for either of these motions before the House will enable it to be. Now, the government says this regulation is about expanding the remit of ARENA because the cost of solar and wind has come down so much that now they can extend to other areas. That's completely disingenuous. Anybody would think that the only thing that ARENA has invested in is solar and wind. Of course the cost of solar and wind have come down, particularly solar—in no small part because of the investments ARENA has made since it was created nine years ago. But it is wrong to say that it's remit needs to be expanded because you can only invest in solar and wind.

Looking at ARENA's own documents, since they were established they've invested $1.7 billion on 586 projects: $131 million into bio-energy, $42 million into geothermal, $270 million for grid integration, $110 million on hybrid projects, $60 million on hydrogen, $44 million on ocean related projects, $725 million on solar PV, $178 million on solar thermal and $143 million on storage and batteries. So, the idea that somehow they are restricted to solar and wind is just not true. The government should fess up that they have other reasons for seeking to expand ARENA's agenda and ARENA's remit. ARENA has been involved in some wonderful projects. I've met with the operators of mines who've received ARENA funding to help them transfer to completely renewable energy generation, so the mine becomes close to net zero. They're the sorts of projects ARENA has been investing in and doing good work in.

The fact of the matter is that renewable energy continues to deserve the support of the government of the day, through ARENA and the CEFC. That's what it was designed for, and its work is not yet done. If the government really feels that they want to invest in some of these other projects, I have a slightly different view, a slightly different perspective, to the one the member for Melbourne just put. I think there is the potential to discuss support for other initiatives, but not at the expense of ARENA, not at the expense of renewable energy. If you want to get ARENA's remit extended then put more money into it. At least then we can have a conversation. But any money that now gets spent on these other things is at the expense of renewable energy investments.

There is a final point. Even if you are convinced of the government's case on the expansion of the remit, which we're not, and if they put more money into it, which they haven't, there's a particularly alarming element of this regulation. The government wants to give the minister broad-ranging powers to declare certain technologies as low-emission. This minister—

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable member says, 'I trust him.' Well, good for you, sport. I don't. I would be very reluctant to trust any minister over there with expanding the remit of ARENA to a technology regarded as low emissions. But this minister, I have to say, I particularly don't trust. Why would we give the minister the power to just declare a certain technology has low emissions—just because he doesn't want it or because he likes it? This is a minister who stood at rallies against wind farms. He actually should be the 'minister against renewable energy'. This is a minister who—

Honourable members interjecting

There's a City of Sydney council election coming up, comrade. What's your role been in that, with the City of Sydney council travel costs? Are you telling us we should trust you with ARENA's remit? No thank you.

Honourable members interjecting

I'm happy to debate with you about tax. Why don't you take the tax off electric vehicles, like we will? Why don't you believe in lower taxes when it comes to electric vehicles in Australia? You have an appalling track record on electric vehicles. We want to reduce the tax on electric vehicles. We want to give Australians more choice to buy affordable electric vehicles. Honourable members opposite stand against that choice. They stand for higher taxes on electric vehicles. Yet they come in here and say we need to expand the remit of ARENA to invest in electric vehicles. You have no credibility when it comes to electric vehicles. You have less than zero credibility.

Honourable members interjecting

How's the weekend going? All those Australians who are towing their boats on the weekend and are lamenting the loss of their weekends at the hands of those terrible, evil electric vehicles are really regretting their choices.

Honourable members interjecting

Honourable members opposite think because they sit on that side of the chamber they have the right to undo ARENA's remit by regulation and give this bloke the opportunity to designate technologies as low emissions. Well, we have a different view. We put the view to the House that this regulation should be disallowed. If it is not disallowed, as I said before, I suspect it will end up in court and the honourable member for Hume will have to justify his actions in promulgating a regulation which is, in a very real sense, highly likely to be illegal.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

5:12 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion by my good friend the member for McMahon. I am pleased that there are a few modern Liberals in the building today, but they should change their name from modern Liberals to compliant Liberals, or even silent Liberals, because under this government we have seen a systematic attack on the institutions that were designed and brought in by this country and by the previous Labor government to bring down the amount of emissions and to bring down the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by bringing in renewable technology.

I'm pleased the minister's also joined us, because it means he's taken a bit of time away from the City of Sydney website and he's stopped downloading documents to actually join us here for this motion. This is the latest in a series of systematic attacks on the proud Labor institutions of this place and of this country to invest in renewable energy. Of course, we had the story of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, where they wanted to take the clean energy out of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They also wanted to take the finance out of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, by putting in amendments that were going to mean that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation didn't have to invest in clean energy. If you're going to design amendments for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, that would be the thing you couldn't do, because that's why it's called the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Of course, there's nothing from the compliant Liberals and nothing from the silent Liberals over there. I know the member for Goldstein wants to do nuclear technology and wants to build a Brighton Beach nuclear reactor, right next to the huts. He wants a big Brighton Beach nuclear reactor next to the huts. Then you've also got the member for Wentworth who wants the Bondi nuclear reactor. He wants that one as well.

We on this side of the House are proud of the institutions that we set up in government for investing in renewable energy and bringing down the amount of greenhouse gases that we emit as a country. Of course, that's not the end of the story with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They didn't want to just take out the clean energy bit. They didn't want to just make the Clean Energy Finance Corporation able to invest in projects that didn't stack up financially. They had other plans. The member for New England had other plans. I'm not sure if the member for New England gave the member for Hume a bit of a heads up on his amendments. I'm not sure if he knocked on the minister's door and said, 'Minister, I've got a few amendments for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation bill. I'm just going to put them into the House. It should be fine, nothing to see here.' Obviously, if the minister really was there alongside the member for New England, he would still have a bill, but we haven't seen a bill in months. Where is the bill, Minister? I can't see the bill. The bill has gone and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, thanks to the member for New England, ironically, is going to stay as it is.

Now we have ARENA. They wanted to take the clean energy part out of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and now they want to take the renewable part out of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The legacy of this government is to disband and attack the very institutions that are meant to drive up renewable energy investment in this country so as to make Australia more renewable, be powered by renewables and bring in cheaper and cleaner energy. Instead, this government wants to systematically undermine the efforts of the previous Labor government.

It's not just those two institutions: there was also the incident with the NAIF where the minister was presented with a project by the department. The department said: 'This wind farm stacks up. It makes sense. This should be invested in by the public. It's going to create jobs and it's going to bring down power prices.' But, as with everything else, this government and these Liberals are ideologically opposed to renewable energy. They are ideologically opposed to investing in cleaner and cheaper energy. They are ideologically opposed to investing in cheaper and cleaner energy.

Government Members:

Government members interjecting

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear a little bit from the quiet Liberals over there, the quiet, compliant Liberals happily going along with the attacks on the Renewable Energy Agency, happily going along with the attacks on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. What did the minister do? What actions did the minister take?

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

All I can hear is that the member for Goldstein has the designs of the big Brighton beach nuclear reactor—the huge nuclear reactor right there on Brighton beach—

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The level of interjections is way too high.

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm looking forward to seeing the plans of the huge Brighton beach nuclear reactor from the member for Goldstein. The minister, when he had the opportunity to invest in renewable energy—in wind farms, in wind technology—absolutely denied it and refused to allow the NAIF to invest in it.

A government member interjecting

There's plenty of hot air coming from over there. We are becoming an international embarrassment. Like-minded countries are investing in clean energy. They are investing in renewable technology. Led by America and the United Kingdom, these countries are urging Australia to do the absolute bare minimum, to lift our weight as part of the international community efforts. What does this government do in response to the international community moving and progressing? They attack the very institutions that are going to help us get there. They attack the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and they attack the Renewable Energy Agency because this government and this minister are ideologically opposed to investing in renewable energy, and they are looking for each and every single way to attack the institutions that are going to help to bring us into line with international efforts to get towards, hopefully, 1.5 degrees global warming and to get towards net zero by 2050, if not earlier.

Each and every state in this country are on board. Each and every state and territory, the Business Council and the vast majority of Australians want to see this country invest in renewable energy. One thing that the member for McMahon says repeatedly, and he is 100 per cent right, is that if we do this, if we invest in the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, then we are going to create jobs. We are going to create jobs in cleaner and cheaper electricity and in cleaner and cheaper technology. But this government doesn't want to create clean jobs. They don't want to create a cleaner and lower-greenhouse-gas future. They just want to systematically attack the institutions that were set up by the previous Labor government, because this minister and these compliant Liberals are ideologically opposed to investing in renewable energy.

5:20 pm

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

I am very pleased to rise in support of this disallowance motion. It seeks to disallow this government's regulatory changes to the Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA. These regulatory changes serve a few key purposes for this climate-damaging government. First, they expand the remit of ARENA beyond investment in renewable energy into projects which will help extend the life of fossil fuels in Australia—a strange departure for an agency with the word 'renewable' in its name. Second, they direct ARENA to invest in a number of projects which form part of this government's budget. This is an agency with a board that is independent from government, but the government wants it to be directed by the minister to fund projects unrelated to renewable energy. Thirdly, they open the door to future interventions by the government as to how ARENA spends its money.

ARENA was set up to be independent, to determine its investments independently of government. Labor did this on purpose because we do not want interference from a minister that is climate denying or from a government that is climate denying. Not only do these changes undermine the spirit in which ARENA was created, they undermine the act within which ARENA functions and within which the minister must hand down his regulations. These regulations aren't as problematic for Australia's action on climate or for our future as a renewable super power; they're actually quite problematic for the minister and for this House. Whilst we know that the minister has form when it comes to fudged documents or other spurious activities well documented in this House, writing regulations which are in breach of the act under which his functions are defined isn't something we are going to let him get away with.

Protecting ARENA is absolutely vital if Australia is to properly act on climate change. It is one of the few sources of funding for renewables under this climate-denying Morrison government. It is a terrific legacy of Labor. Since its creation in 2012, ARENA has invested more than $1½ billion in over 579 renewable energy projects. Its purpose, its objective under the act, is to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia; it's very clear.

In the absence of any real action from this government, ARENA is actually getting on with the job. Its investments have today unlocked over $6.8 billion worth of investment in renewables in Australia. That is a huge achievement and it's only happened because a Labor government enshrined the independence of ARENA and protected it from any climate-denying minister's interference. Think of the jobs it has created, the scale of emissions reduction work this organisation has been able to facilitate. Think of the potential this is unlocking for Australia's future as a renewables super power. It's an agency we can all be very proud of. It should be able to continue its terrific work independently from political interference.

You can only imagine where the $1.5 billion the government have invested would have ended up had those opposite been able to get their hands on it. Now, make no mistake: these regulations are seeking to undermine the independence of ARENA and allow this government to direct its funds wherever they want, and that's certainly not to renewables. Remember what they thought of a recent investment in a wind farm that would have created 250 jobs? They didn't think that was a very good idea, did they? Imagine what they could do with ARENA.

Minister Angus Taylor's track record speaks for itself. Under his watch and the watch of the Morrison government, Australia has become the laughing-stock of the world when it comes to climate action. This is a minister who does everything in his power, and apparently outside of his power with these regulations, to undermine climate action and squander our future in renewables. As has been mentioned here by previous speakers, we have seen the minister's failed bill to wreck the CEFC and now we are seeing identical interference with ARENA. Thousands of Australians, including members of his own government, spoke up urging us all to protect the CEFC and withdraw the bill.

Rather than face the embarrassment of the same thing happening with a bill on ARENA, the minister decided to do what he does best—fudge the paperwork, dodge the proper process and avoid the accountability of this House, this parliament and the Australian people. So he didn't present these changes—these substantive, extensive changes—through a bill. He made these changes through what experts are telling us are regulatory changes which he does not have the power to make. So we're seeking to disallow these regulations and we're seeking a referral to have these changes scrutinised by the appropriate committee, because undermining ARENA is one thing, but to do so in a manner which avoids the accountability of this House and the Australian people is a whole other game.

It's extraordinary, really, the lengths this government will go to to avoid investments in renewables. We've seen for too long the rumblings of climate denial go unchecked within the Liberal Party. It's become a core element of the coalition's ideology, and so they refuse to commit any real funding to deal with the climate emergency we are presented with. The Australian people know what's going on. They know climate change is having an impact. They're starting to see it in front of their very eyes and literally on their doorsteps. The polls tell us Australians want climate action.

I was recently presented with a paper called 'People's climate strategy', a new paper, written in consultation with people right across Victoria, from the regions to the city. It made clear how well the Australian public understand the failures of this government on climate action. I urge the people on that side to get a copy of it and actually read what Australians are saying about them when it comes to climate action. They are abject failures on this, and we are seeing the consequences of that failure play out in Cornwall at the G7 conference, as the member for Melbourne reminded us. If we need any further reminding of international pressures, we just have to look at President Biden's refusal to take a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister. It's a national embarrassment. We are left out of the conversation. We are being dressed down by countries we have close alliances with.

But of course this isn't just about being embarrassed; it's about protecting our national interests and promoting Australia to the world. As time goes on, we face greater risks of sanctions, tariffs and other concrete consequences for the government's failure to take action on climate change. We have to contribute our fair share to the global fight. This isn't just about foreign relations, of course, or about fear of political ramifications; this is about taking real action to combat the climate emergency. The possibilities for this country's future in doing that are expansive. We have to become a renewable superpower. We are blessed with the resources to do so. We have a history of powering the world. It's a proud history, and I thank the men and women who've worked, and still work, so hard to power this country, and the unions that care for them. Why should we not continue to do this in a renewables-led world? It's time the minister and the Morrison government stopped their meddling and actually started to do their job.

5:27 pm

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to rise and speak against this disallowance motion. This is the latest illustration of Labor's hypocrisy when it comes to energy and emissions policy. Labor has walked away from blue-collar jobs. Labor is now walking away from jobs in energy efficiency, in hydrogen and in electric vehicles. By moving to disallow the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-21 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021, those opposite have chosen to threaten $192 million going to ARENA, which would create 1,400 jobs.

This new funding will include nearly $72 million to support electric vehicle and hydrogen vehicle charging infrastructure; more than $52 million for microgrids in regional Australia—they're against that; and over $20 million to make heavy vehicles more fuel-efficient and adopt new technologies. This is one of the difficult areas in which to reduce emissions, we know, but that's what we want ARENA investing in. The new funding will also include $47 million to help heavy industry become more competitive and reduce their energy consumption. That's all on top of the $1.4 billion of re-funded resources for ARENA over the coming years. It's on top of that. It's additional funding we are talking about here. Any member that votes to disallow this is voting for higher emissions, fewer jobs and less funding for ARENA. That's what they're voting for. Make no mistake: if this motion were allowed to succeed, ARENA would deliver—

Ms Kearney interjecting

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Cooper is warned!

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's be clear about this. If this disallowance were to succeed, there would be less electric vehicle charging than would otherwise be the case. Those opposite, on energy and emissions, are divided and scrambling. It's true. The member for McMahon is trying to endear himself to the left of the party. We know that. While they're divided and trying to work out what their policies are, we are getting on with the real and practical action of delivering outcomes, because, at the end of the day, it's that atmospheric concentration of CO2 equivalent that counts. That's what counts. It's the outcomes that count. And ARENA has an important role to play in it.

Our policies and approach are driven by technology, not taxes. We know the member for McMahon loves a good tax; he's never seen a tax he didn't like. But our approach is working. Emissions are now at the lowest levels they've been since 1990. They're down 20.1 per cent since 2005. That means we're well on track to meet and beat our Paris targets as we meet and beat our 2020 targets. The member for McMahon talked about renewables. I'll tell you about investment in renewables: 7,000 megawatts of investment in renewables in the last 12 months. Did you know that in the whole time Labor was in power between 2007 and 2013 there was 5.3 gigawatts? We did that in less than a year. In the year before that it was 6.9 gigawatts, against the 5.3 gigawatts they did the whole time they were in government. We are the party that delivers. We are the government that delivers. To keep this going, we've committed to $20 billion of additional investment through to 2030 in technology solutions for clean energy and lower emissions, which will leverage up into $80 billion of economy-wide public and private sector investment over that time period—160,000 jobs. It's being delivered by a range of agencies like ARENA, the CEFC and the Clean Energy Regulator. The CSIRO is playing a crucial role. And we see them all playing a role. We need every horse in this race—every technology and every agency.

The members here on this side understand that things like electric vehicle charging and healthy soils all have a role to play in this. When we announced the Technology Investment Roadmap in September 2020, we committed to enabling ARENA to play a technology-neutral role. That's the role they want to play. Let me tell you what the support was across the industry when we announced this—and the support, by the way, for this change in front of the House right here today. First of all, ARENA welcomed the investment. The National Farmers Federation said the announcement was 'good news for farmers', but those opposite don't like it because it's good news for farmers. The Business Council—we heard one of the members opposite talk about the Business Council—said that expanding the scope of ARENA will encourage new low-, zero- and negative-emissions technology in sectors like agriculture, transport and manufacturing. The Australian Industry Greenhouse Network said:

… removing constraints on ARENA and CEFC to enable them to utilise the full range of low, zero and negative emission technologies is a sensible approach.

The Investor Group on Climate Change said:

Expanding the functions of the ARENA and the CEFC to open up opportunities for this technology [CCUS] in other sectors can be valuable for creating opportunities for zero and negative emission technologies in harder to abate industries,

And ClimateWorks—those opposite like to quote ClimateWorks—said:

… we support the broader mandate for ARENA and CEFC to work across an increased number of sectors, as well as energy.

They all supported it, but those opposite said no.

In the nine years since ARENA has been established there have been significant changes in energy markets. We've seen phenomenal investment in solar and wind in this country. We have the highest level of household solar in the world: one in four houses. Not a country in the world can boast that level. It is time for ARENA to be able to expand out into other areas. Now, those other areas will include energy efficiency, low-emissions transport and electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage technologies including carbon capture and use, negative-emissions technologies, all forms of clean hydrogen, technologies that reduce emissions from aluminium and steel, and soil carbon to make our soils healthier—all of that.

And of course the IEA and others know that you have to have all of these horses in the race. They've all got to be involved if we're going to get to net zero. It is absolutely crucial. If you look at soil carbon alone, the University of Melbourne, which is doing a great deal of research in this area, has estimated that over the period from 2025 to 2030 it will create more than 1,600 new jobs, deliver $150 million per annum in economic benefits to Australia on average across the five-year period and reduce emissions by 16 million tonnes per year by the year 2030. We know healthier soils will benefit Australian farmers and graziers, but those opposite are against it. If Labor's motion to disallow succeeds, it will prevent ARENA from being able to invest in exactly these sorts of proposals.

The IEA, as I said, and the IPCC have said that these sorts of technologies are an imperative, but the member for McMahon thinks he knows better than them. He's got an ideological agenda to prevent opportunities to reduce emissions from being deployed. Ironically enough, if you take a technology like carbon capture and storage, I note that on page 39, paragraph 21 of the 2021 Labor Party national platform—it's tough to read it, but I did—it says, 'Labor recognises the role that carbon capture and storage will play in abating carbon pollution,' but the moment they're given the opportunity to vote on it they vote against it.

Whether this is short-sightedness or sleepwalking, I'm not sure which. The Labor Party doesn't know where it's going. It doesn't know where it stands on technology. It doesn't focus on that breadth of technologies that will allow us to bring down emissions whilst creating jobs, strengthening the economy, and making this a greater country than we already are.

Make no mistake: if this motion succeeds, it will mean fewer jobs and higher emissions, and the member for McMahon will have been behind it. We know the member for McMahon was dumped for being 'as useless as a vegan in a butcher shop', but we're seeing the same old Labor with the member for McMahon. We're getting on with the job. Those opposite should join us.

5:38 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very proud to speak in support of this disallowance motion moved by the member for McMahon to stop government from destroying the important role of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA. The government are claiming that they are expanding the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, but they're not expanding the funding and they're also trying to erode its independence by giving the minister these god powers that they so love to just decide what can be a low-emissions project. Well, I wouldn't trust the honourable member for Hume. I wouldn't trust any of those opposite. This is just another attack on ARENA, which was created by Labor in 2012. This government has tried to destroy it all along because they are ideologically opposed to renewable energy. It's just another one of their attacks.

Now, the purpose of ARENA is, in the act, 'to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy' in Australia. This change that the government is making seeks to broaden the remit to things that are not renewable energy. While some of them may have some merit, they are not renewable energy and, by drawing them into the remit of ARENA, they are robbing renewable energy of that incredibly important source of funding. It is incredibly important that we should be investing in renewable energy at this time. The planet is warming. We know that. It's not up for discussion; we know it. But the people opposite in the government do not seem to know that. I find it extraordinary that the minister—a Rhodes scholar, an Oxford graduate—can ignore the science on climate change. It's because it's ideological.

In December 2015 the world joined together to adopt the Paris Agreement, which commits us to limiting global warming to between 1.5 and two degrees above pre-industrial levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human activities have already caused one degree of warming and we will reach 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052 if we don't do anything. If we get to two degrees, our Pacific island neighbours will no longer have homes; their lands will be underwater.

These are decisions that are being made by this government; they are happy to accept that. I have read these facts into the Hansard in this parliament, but you have to keep doing it because they are not listening, they are not taking this seriously. We are becoming an absolute embarrassment on the world stage, more and more so, including right now at the G7. The Prime Minister took to the G7 the slogan 'technology, not taxes' when everyone else was committing to net zero by 2050 at a bare minimum. Every G7 nation increased their 2030 goal. Japan has committed to overwhelmingly decarbonise their power system in the 2030s. What does this mean for Australia's gas and coal exports to Japan? It means demand will decrease. The G7 moved a resolution to introduce carbon border tariffs. This puts every export industry in Australia at risk as other countries move to put taxes on high carbon goods. How does this fit with the Prime Minister's mantra of 'technology, not taxes'?

And the G7 committed to cease government funding to coal plants except where they include carbon capture and storage—and I'll talk more about CCS shortly. Not a single coal-fired power plant currently successfully utilises CCS, something the government wanted to bring into the remit of ARENA. The next climate summit is in Glasgow in November. Will the Prime Minister embarrass us there again? Sadly, I expect that he probably will. This government has had 22 energy policies in eight years—eight years of inaction on climate change. This is incredibly frustrating for people who understand how critical this is. This is our world, this is the planet we live on. It is not some little game of debating; it's something that needs to happen. We are increasingly becoming an embarrassment internationally. The cost will come to those most vulnerable, including our Pacific neighbours, as I've mentioned.

Businesses want to invest in renewable energy, and don't have the certainty they need because this government is in chaos on this issue. We need an energy policy because we have a huge challenge ahead of us to get to net zero emissions by 2050, which this government is not even committed to. The language around it is very vague. They say they want to get there but they are not committed to it. Worse still, they have no plan to get there. Labor is doing the work. We are in opposition and we are doing the work to work out how we would get there. We have committed to net zero by 2050. We are the only party of government that has done that. Labor will have an excellent climate policy at the next election and we will have more to say on that. We have already made some incredibly important and impressive announcements, including $20 billion to rewire the nation so that renewable energy can feed into the grid. This is the kind of certainty business needs to invest in renewables. They need support from the government, not chaos.

Let's look at some of the things the government wanted to bring into ARENA's remit. Carbon capture and storage is the great hope of the Morrison government. They have been all over the place on that too. Initially, they scrapped the CCS Flagships program and cut half a billion dollars in funding for CCS. According to the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, carbon capture and storage is currently in operation at 26 locations around the world. But more than 2,000 facilities will be required by 2050, according to the global institute. So it's not really an effective thing.

We should actually be investing in things that work—things like the Australian Centre for Photovoltaics at UNSW in the electorate of the member for Kingsford Smith. This institute has been involved in every major advance in solar power, and it relies on ARENA for funding. This government wants to rob ARENA of its funding by spreading it around on things that have nothing to do with renewable energy. It's not good enough, and it's time to kick this mob out. We need people who believe science and who have a vision for the future that begins with a planet that is going to survive.

5:45 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to speak against this disallowance motion because I believe in ARENA and I believe in supporting its work into the future. Since its creation ARENA has committed $1.58 billion of funding towards 543 different renewable energy projects. In doing so, it has helped accelerate the shift towards renewable energy that is both affordable and reliable. The Clean Energy Regulator estimates that last year, 2020, we had seven gigawatts of renewable energy capacity installed. That beat by 11 per cent the figure of 6.3 gigawatts in 2019, which itself was a record. One in four Australian households now have solar, one of the highest uptakes in the world, and Australia's deployment of wind and solar is happening 10 times faster than the global average.

In the first weeks of 2020 Australia ticked past 25 gigawatts of wind and solar generation, making us one of only three countries in the world to have more than one kilowatt of renewable energy generation capacity per capita. Forty per cent of this new capacity has been installed in the past two years. It shows that progress here isn't linear, it's exponential. We've seen this in the continued fall in our emissions. In the year to December 2020 our emissions were 499 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent That was five per cent—or 26.1 million tonnes—lower than in 2019, the equivalent of taking half of our national fleet of light vehicles off the road entirely. We are now 20 per cent lower than our 2005 levels of baseline for our 2030 Paris Agreement target.

I noticed that some of those opposite were saying, 'We're taking this to the G7 and we'll be ashamed of our record.' Let's look at what the G7 countries have done. The OECD average, over the same period, for a reduction in emissions from 2005 is nine per cent. New Zealand is one per cent. Canada is less than one per cent. The United States is 10 per cent. Here we are, in Australia, with a 20 per cent reduction in emissions since 2005. We've got further to go but we are well on the way.

Whilst we've made great gains in reducing our emissions from the electricity generation sector; as many here would know, this accounts for only one-third of our emissions. If we are to continue to play our part and do our share in reducing CO2 emissions, if we are in concert with the rest of the world to get to net zero by 2050 or preferably earlier, then reducing emissions from our electricity generation is necessary but it's not sufficient. Our greenhouse gas inventory of December 2020 makes this clear: electricity generation is 33 per cent of our emissions, stationary energy is 20 per cent of our emissions, transport is 18 per cent, fugitive emissions in industrial processes is 16 per cent and agriculture is 15 per cent. So decarbonising our electricity sector alone will not get us to net zero. We also need to find ways to decarbonise industrial processes, to electrify transport, to create clean fuels, to find carbon savings—things such as soil carbon and carbon capture and storage—and to find offsets for emissions from processes that would be hard to decarbonise, like agriculture.

This is exactly what these regulations will allow us to do, and exactly what these regulations will allow ARENA to do. It will use government investment to bring a portfolio of technologies to commercial parity so we can reduce our emissions across every sector of the economy. This is the next frontier for our journey to net zero. In our December 2020 greenhouse gas inventory we found that the Gorgon CCS project—people on the other side were knocking carbon capture and storage—now that it has come online, has contributed to the reduction of our fugitive emissions by 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

These regulations that we're debating today will allow ARENA to invest in a wider range of clean energy technologies and, by and large, these changes have been welcomed. As the BCA said, expanding the scope of ARENA will 'encourage new low, zero and negative emissions technology in sectors like agriculture, transport and manufacturing'. The Australian Industry Greenhouse Network said, 'Removing constraints on ARENA and the CEFC to enable them to utilise the full range of low, zero and negative emission technologies is a sensible approach.' The Investor Group on Climate Change said this is 'valuable for creating opportunities for negative and zero emissions technologies in harder to abate industries'.

These regulations will allow ARENA to focus on the next generation of technologies. Since ARENA was first established, in 2011, there have been significant changes in technology and energy markets. Renewable technologies like solar and wind are already commercial and being deployed at a rapid rate. What these regulations will allow ARENA to focus on are things like energy efficiency, support for low-emissions transport and electric vehicles, all forms of clean hydrogen, soil carbon, technologies that reduce emissions from aluminium and steel, and carbon capture technologies, including CCS. The goal here is to get to net zero, not absolute zero.

Why is Labor opposed to these regulations? The member for McMahon argued this morning that we wanted to water down ARENA's mandate. He's got it all wrong. What we are doing is modernising ARENA's mandate, not watering it down. We're doing exactly what people like Bill Gates and the International Energy Agency have urged us to do. Lower-emissions technology, beyond just renewable electricity, will be critical to our pathway to net zero. To believe otherwise is a classic case of putting ideological zealotry ahead of practical outcomes, of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is someone who pretends to care about climate change but is in fact opposed to doing anything practical about it. You cannot talk about a crisis and then, in the same breath, disavow all the measures you can use to address that crisis.

I know the member for McMahon has a track record of impractical policy and ignoring the advice of experts. He led his own party over the precipice at the last election when he took $387 billion in new tax proposals to the electorate and told those who questioned his policy not to vote for Labor. Unsurprisingly, many took his advice. This was also the minister for immigration, from 2010 to 2013, who oversaw 50,000 unlawful arrivals, 1,200 deaths at sea and 8½ thousand children in immigration detention. I fear for those opposite that the member for McMahon is doing the same this time around. As the member for Hunter recently said:

… after 14 years of trying, the Labor Party has made not one contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in this country.

I urge those opposite to break this drought. Give ARENA the tools and the mandate it needs to drive reduced emissions across all sectors of the economy. Vote against this act of self-harm. Vote against this disallowance motion.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by the member for Melbourne be disagreed to.

5:16 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the motion moved by the member for McMahon be disagreed to.