Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Matters of Public Importance

Renewable Energy

5:14 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, can I firstly, as an aside, indicate that it will be a pleasure next time I manage to make it to the Apple Isle to have you, Senator Bushby, Senator Singh or somebody else lead us in the wonderful delights of Nichols chickens, which Senator Singh has just waxed lyrical about. But this is a serious matter of public importance that it is being discussed by the Senate today. It is important that we talk about good policies to encourage the uptake of renewable energy, good policies to reduce emissions in Australia, good policies that may facilitate the use of larger solar plants, as against bad policies. In the end there are policies that work and policies that do not work towards effecting appropriate change in the Australian economy and making sure that we meet our obligations as a country when it comes to reducing emissions.

The coalition has a good record of encouraging progress when it comes to the uptake of renewable energy. It should never be forgotten that it was the coalition government that introduced the first mandatory renewable energy target in Australia. It was a coalition government that set that target down to provide the incentive and encouragement for emerging technologies to be taken up and developed as part of our energy mix. That is why the coalition stands so committed today to maintaining our support for the renewable energy target now at the 20 per cent level while, equally, we have expressed our concerns along the way about whether that target is achieving the right type of incentivation for different technologies rather than just providing a great big incentive for the advancement of wind. There is a place for wind but it is important that we make sure that this key policy mechanism encourages technologies that can provide the type of secure baseload power that Australia needs as well at a renewable level into the future.

We support good policies on this side of the chamber that can deliver for Australia's growth and the uptake of renewable energy. That is why we oppose the carbon tax. The carbon tax is a policy that simply sees Australia's emissions continue to increase. They will increase from the baseline of 560 million tonnes to some 637 million tonnes, a significant increase in emissions even with the carbon tax in place. Dig deeper and look at some of the analysis that has been undertaken as to which of the two major policies in this area will effect the greatest change in our energy mix between now and 2020—the carbon tax or the renewable energy target—and you will find that overwhelmingly in that timeframe the renewable energy target is more likely to be driving change in terms of energy mix. Why? Because it is mandating change in terms of energy mix. It sets down exactly the level of megawatt hours that are required to be delivered by renewable energies between now and 2020. The carbon tax just taxes things and hopes that the market will respond, and in many ways it would have to be far, far higher than it already is to see the closing down of major coal fired power stations.

Senator Ludlam interjecting—

It is happening in a handful of isolated cases, Senator Ludlam. There is still an awful lot, firstly, of coal fired power but, secondly, it does not negate the fact that much of the reason it is happening—and many of the economists will cite the fact that this is the reason it is happening—is that it is being driven by the renewable energy target rather than by the carbon tax.

The coalition support the maintenance of the renewable energy target. We want to make sure that it works effectively to deliver emissions reductions and of course renewable energy at the lowest cost as well. We have concerns with projects and oppose throwing taxpayer money at projects like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as Senator Joyce highlighted, because it is simply a case of ploughing $10 billion of borrowed taxpayers' money into projects that the private sector have already deemed too risky.

We know that a government like this one, a government that has already failed when it comes to projects like pink batts or green loans—a project that has got its incentives for solar credits so terribly, terribly wrong it has had to keep changing them or has had to cancel or has been seen to cancel various solar flagship projects—cannot possibly be trusted to choose the right investments for such a vast sum of public money. That is why we think there are better ways to make sure that we can deliver growth in renewable energy or emissions reductions through the types of policies that we have released and outlined and stand by rather than the types of risky investments or the high-tax approach that the government today undertakes.


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