Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013


Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

6:23 pm

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak against the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013. I do so in my capacity, not as a climate scientist or an economist, but as a senator who has been fortunate enough to be a member of the Standing Committee on Economics and to be involved in the hearings of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme inquiry. I was equally fortunate to be involved in the Select Committee on Climate Policy. As result of hearing the evidence in those inquiries, I speak here this evening with some degree of experience and knowledge and with a grasp and understanding of the science and the effects on the economy and, most importantly, the environment.

Initially, I will use some examples of what the impact will be if we find ourselves in a situation where we have done away with the CEFC. In my home state of Queensland—forgive me if you are unfamiliar with some of the areas—I was fortunate enough, particularly in the lead-up to the election, to have the opportunity to have employers show me with some pride the outcomes that they have received as a result of some of the funding. I will use the example of a company in the seat of Forde, which is around the southern side of Brisbane, heading down to the Gold Coast. There is a large industrial area there called Yatala. Luis Laing, the Managing Director of a company called Pacific Food Industries Pty Ltd, with pride showed me around his factory where they had installed 125-kilowatt solar panels across the three buildings of their manufacturing plant and warehouse distribution area. That company produces and manufacturers sauce in that plant in Yatala in Queensland.

The project, as was explained to me by Mr Laing, is expected to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of the site's electricity usage by 31 per cent which will result in a saving in energy costs of $19,000 per year. The grant amount that was provided to the company at the time was $109,213. You can quickly do your sums and realise that, within a matter of approximately five years, that investment would have paid for itself. We realise that the revenue from the carbon price was being used by the previous Labor government to help businesses across Queensland and Australia cut energy, reduce emissions and become more competitive. In fact, the $1 billion Clean Technology Investment Program that the government provided has worked for manufacturers and food processors by providing investment in energy efficiency, clean energy and renewable energy. In Forde alone, there was $2.9 million invested at that point in time to assist those businesses. So, once again, we are able to understand that this is a remarkable investment that businesses are receiving, or have received, from the previous Labor government.

A bit further south is an area that I used to work in in one of my many previous careers. When I used to drive semitrailers, I carted meat containers out of A J Bush and Sons, a business in Beaudesert. David Kassulke, manager of A J Bush and Sons, was previously a sceptic. This may have been the result of some of the mistruths or propaganda that was provided to him by the then opposition. In fact, in July last year, then senator Barnaby Joyce and the local member, Scott Buchholz, toured the business and pledged that they were going to repeal the carbon tax if the coalition won the next election. We know the result of that, and it is still a position that the current government supports. We know that they went to the election on that basis, but Mr Kassulke has turned his view around. I must point out that he was one of Australia's top 500 polluters and was expected to pay a carbon tax bill of approximately $1.2 million. As a result of the investment of the previous Labor government, he has been able to achieve a dollar-for-dollar $6.2 million grant from the government's Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program. That has put A J Bush well ahead in slashing emissions, and, apparently, the company is reasonably confident of meeting their targets. It would be one of those companies that would have been removed from the top 500 polluters list.

The way Mr Kassulke has gone about achieving that is with the construction of new biogas plant—hopefully it has started by now; I have not had the chance to follow up on it. The company expects to cut its carbon emissions from 82,000 to 25,000 tonnes per year. That is a significant cut in emissions with the assistance of the government and the commitment by the company to match the grant dollar for dollar. The company's expectations were to cut coal usage by 50 per cent and to produce 50 per cent of the company's electricity requirements on site, which I am sure have been achieved. The end result is the introduction of new biogas technology which will save millions of dollars in energy and carbon cost and is also an opportunity for the company to be positioned in cutting-edge renewable energy technologies in the rendering industry.

Sitting suspended from 18 : 30 to 19 : 30

Before the break I was referring to examples of what companies have done, certainly in my duty seats, with regard to improving efficiencies and reducing the carbon footprint. I was discussing the company AJ Bush & Sons, which is in Beaudesert in the south-east corner of the seat of Wright. I was relating of a Mr Kassulke and explaining how he was a sceptic of climate change but is now converted after seeing the benefits of the tax. Relying on the Beaudesert Times, he indicated that he has now changed his view and he refers to the tax as a positive thing, so much so that he is confident that there will be a more competitive position in the marketplace as a direct result of the carbon tax. He commented:

We have always been focussed on energy efficiency because we use one million kilowatt hours of electricity per month and use around 2000 tonne of coal per month.

The (biogas technology) investment is a good way to modernise and will dramatically reduce our emissions.

It will mean that we will reduce our emissions to the point where we will no longer be a big polluter any more.

That is just a typical example of how someone in business can see the benefits of what you can do with providing efficiencies and programs to improve the carbon footprint in our country.

Another area I want to concentrate on is directly a result of what the Queensland Liberal National Party has done up there with regard to an amazing opportunity for solar powered energy. It was called the Solar Dawn and the previous Labor government in Queensland was going to provide $75 million towards a $1.2 billion Solar Dawn solar research power plant at Chinchilla, which is out there west of Toowoomba. It was to be one of the biggest solar energy plants throughout the world.

Since then there has been a change of government in Queensland of course and the Liberal National Party has mothballed or actually withdrawn that particular investment. It is a real shame because not only would we have seen investment in renewable energy and investment in solar powered energy up there; it would have seen the creation of literally hundreds and hundreds of jobs in the regional centres—those centres that the National Party purports to represent and assist. Here you go in a place in regional Queensland, Chinchilla, where we will see no jobs created as a result of the Liberal-National Party government in that state shutting that investment down.

Had it been approved, we would have seen a 250-megawatt solar thermal project using the sun to heat water in tubes to produce steam-driven energy. It did have the backing of the federal government at the time, and it is a shame that these initiatives have at times been jeopardised by the result of those sceptics, not only in the then opposition, now federal government, but also in state Liberal-National party governments where they do not accept or are not prepared to assist in clean energy and do something about our emissions in this country.

I also want to move onto some statistics that the ABS have been kind enough to provide me with, about where we not only lose valuable resources and the effects of that on the economy but also the effects on lives. In many circumstances through the history of Queensland it seems to be an increasing theme up there: natural disasters. Certainly in recent times, from November 2010 to February 2011, we did see the most significant natural disaster effects in Queensland, where 99 per cent of the state was declared a natural disaster area. Unfortunately, it is the sad case that we lost 37 lives in those natural disasters of flooding and extreme weather conditions in my home state. I recall going around to a number of people and explaining the assistance that we provided to residents in that particular time of need through the flood levy assistance, providing assistance to those who needed it.

Queensland received at that particular time $2.256 billion under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. History can show that the then opposition—the Liberal-National Party in this place—opposed that flood levy, and I am yet to understand why. It was a time of need where people required assistance and here you had it at that particular time that the then coalition opposition opposed reasonable and good assistance to people who needed it when they were in dire straits.

I want to go to some stats about the past history of the disaster relief payments through the Insurance Council of Australia. It develops an interesting theme of the increase in price and gives you a good reason for why we need some form of abatement—some form of clean energy assistance and also some climate change legislation to deal with these natural disasters. When you go back in history, particularly in Queensland, you can see a growing trend of not only an increase in prices but also an increase in the effects of climate change.

I must stress in giving figures of costs that they are purely the costs associated with insurance claims for policy holders entitled to receive them because of the effects on their residences. They exclude those who were did not have entitlements as a result of policies and also exclude the costs incurred by emergency services, the local, state or territory and Commonwealth governments and non-government organisations and the costs for local governments during the clean-up times, which are cut out of the results. The remedial and environmental damage costs, including pollution of foreshores and riverbanks and beach erosion, are excluded. They exclude the costs associated with community dislocation. They exclude the costs associated with job losses and those associated with rehabilitation and recovery. They also exclude the medical and funeral costs associated with injuries and deaths.

I decided to go back to a period when I was quite familiar with natural disasters in Queensland. That dated back to 1970, when Cyclone Ada came down the Queensland coast and hit Bowen and Mackay. The estimated costs in claims to the insurance industry were $1.1 billion. In 1974 I was personally involved after the flooding in Brisbane resulting from a cyclone called Wanda, which came down the coast and had a huge effect on Brisbane. The claims from that flooding totalled $2.6 billion. I can remember assisting people to vacate their houses which were inundated by the flooding around Brisbane. Since that time there has been assistance to make sure that to some extent those homes will not be affected, although in the last couple of years we have seen the effect of extreme weather conditions that still cause major flooding. It is a recurring feature but it is happening on a more regular basis. In 2006 Cyclone Larry hit the coast in North Queensland, with the costs totalled $609 million. We are getting to figures that demonstrate how costly it will be if we do not do something about climate change which will result in increasing insurance costs. These costs have a flow-on effect to everyone because they affect everyone in society who has insurance for their homes. After Cyclone Yasi, the figure from February to July 2011 was $1.4 billion. So there is a theme of increasing costs involved from the effect of climate change and natural disasters, and it affects not only my state of Queensland. People in this chamber have spoken about the effects of fires and extreme weather.

I mentioned in my opening comments that I was on the select committee on climate policy. Time will not permit me to go into extensive detail, but there was no disputing what the professionals explained to the committee about the climate science. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has accepted that the best peer reviewed reports on the topic from the world's leading academics in a range of relevant disciplines have accepted and endorsed the science. So we are not coming here saying something different from the specialists and professionals in this area about what is affecting the environment. In fact they indicated in their evidence that warming of the climate system is unequivocal. I think that identifies what is happening to our climate and our environment. For the reasons I spoke about earlier and also demonstrated with the figures on insurance costs, we need to address this issue not only for the sake of our environment but also for the sake of our economy.

With regard to my personal experiences, I have seen what the effects could be if we do not address climate change. In February I was up in the beautiful Whitsunday islands for a week and went over to Long Island with my son and daughter-in-law and saw copious numbers of tourists spending quality time on the outer reef. If we do not address climate change we are going to have issues associated with a reduction in tourism. People are not going to be willing to come to the Sunshine State, as it is known, or anywhere else in this country to enjoy such opportunities. It would be a great shame if my granddaughter and others of her generation were to miss out on the opportunity to see and enjoy the Great Barrier Reef as it currently exists.


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