Wednesday, 18 June 2014
Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013 [No. 2]; Second Reading
Not a single person on the panel that has been tasked with reviewing the Renewable Energy Target has the faintest amount of experience in the renewable energy sector. In fact, the government has installed a climate change denier to lead that review.
The other elements of the policy obviously include the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the bill to abolish which we are debating today, which makes a positive return for every tonne of carbon that it abates. It creates jobs and it returns a positive benefit of $2.40 a tonne to taxpayer. The surplus it has generated is then folded back into the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, which does the research and development, the commercialisation, the early work, some of the risk capital in bringing the next generation of renewable energy technology to market. This is precisely what this government, led by someone who thinks climate change is absolute crap, is proposing to bowl over.
It is going to cost the taxpayers money. And you are screaming all over the landscape about a budget emergency, yet you are proposing to knock the Clean Energy Finance Corporation over. In case you have not noticed, it generates a positive return for the taxpayer while creating Australian jobs and bringing forward the next generation of renewable energy plants for deployment in Australia. It is absolutely unbelievable. No wonder none of you can make eye contact in here this morning. I note also a significant lack of coalition—Liberal or National—speakers on this bill. That is because you know it is indefensible.
In the pipeline, up for grabs by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, is $10.7 billion in total project value, two-thirds of it private sector capital. There is $3.7 billion of investment by the CEFC in the pipeline. What that looks like in my home state of WA is $460 million invested by the CEFC, which has a positive return to the taxpayer, leveraging just over $1 billion in private sector finance. What on earth is wrong with that? I am a little sick of being accused of being the socialist by these so-called capitalists on the other side of the chamber. They somehow think that bringing about a market mechanism that takes $6 billion or $7 billion a year from the heaviest polluters, the heaviest and most carbon-intensive quarters of industry, and transfers it into clean energy at a positive return to the taxpayer is part of some gargantuan left-wing conspiracy.
Senator Johnston interjecting—
Speak up if you like, Senator Johnston. Why don't you put yourself on the speakers list and defend this obscene policy you are bringing forward. I do not think you will. I would also like to add my commendation of the CEFC Chair, Jillian Broadbent, and the CEO, Oliver Yates, for standing up to the absurd bullying that has been levelled at them over the last 12 months. It started when this government was in opposition and said, 'At some point we're going to bowl you over, so we want you to stop investing.' Thank goodness Ms Broadbent and Mr Yates had the common sense to say, 'Our legislation says we invest $2 billion a year, and that's exactly what we're going to do.'
In Western Australia there are direct benefits to companies like Carnegie Wave Energy. This is exactly the kind of innovative technology we are talking about. It is based in my home town of North Fremantle. It is a plant that operates 24/7 on wave energy. It can generate clean electricity from the limitless power of the oceans, or it can be switched across to desalinate water. Their first commercial client is the Australian Navy—something I would have thought Senator Johnston would be a bit interested in. That is precisely the kind of industry and investment we should be encouraging here in Australia. Instead we are getting precisely the opposite: you are trying to cut those people off at the knees.
This is the tipping point that I referred to, and this is why I think what is about to happen in the Senate today is so powerful. The tipping point in climate politics is that you have lost the argument. We saw that in Western Australia, where Liberal and National senators could barely show their face in public. They are still feebly murmuring the same tired talking points about abolishing the carbon tax. Senator Back, I notice your furrowed brow. You are the one honourable exception—ironically enough, not somebody who was up for re-election. Senator Back did front an energy panel at the Perth Town Hall. But at virtually every other public meeting I attended the Liberals were completely invisible—because what you are up to is indefensible. Your vote fell by another five per cent. The Australian Greens, campaigning almost solely on a clean energy platform of saving the CEFC, recorded our highest ever vote. So now let's talk about just how confident you are that 'Whyalla is about to be wiped off the map' and 'climate change is absolute crap'!
I think what we have seen is a very powerful sea change in the Australian community. Maybe people believed what they were told about the so-called toxic carbon tax over the last couple of years and it has worn increasingly hollow as people realise that your Prime Minister was simply making it up. In Western Australia, because the state government, similar to its federal colleagues, has basically abandoned the policy space and is simply locked in behind the coal and gas industry, the Australian Greens engaged an independent consultant, Sustainable Energy Now, to conduct a study on what 100 per cent renewable energy for the south-west grid would look like. We called it Energy 2029. Since we released it at the end of last year, we have had to revise the figures because the operating costs of large-scale renewable energy have come down so rapidly. What it shows is that the cost of 'business as usual' is more expensive than the cost of transitioning to renewable energy.
It might sound a little unusual that that would be the case; but, when you think about it, by the end of that transition to renewable energy, you have eliminated your fuel bill for all time. It is capital intensive upfront, it is vastly more labour-intensive than old fossil fuel fired power stations; but, once that transition is completed, you have eliminated the coal and gas bill, you have eliminated your fuel bill for all time, and there are only operating and maintenance expenses from there on. In one year, the average cost of electricity generation for onshore wind power fell by 18 per cent. The cost of tracking solar PV fell by 20 to 30 per cent depending on the energy market. The cost of concentrating solar power—that is, solar thermal, the next generation of better than base load large scale solar plants—fell by anywhere between eight and 27 per cent depending on the technology type and the energy market. Renewables overall saw levelised cost of electricity reductions of about 20 per cent.
And that, I think, is the key to this debate. People like me are scratching their heads wondering why a party of so-called economic rationalists would bowl over an entity like the CEFC, which is making a positive return and contributing more than its fair share to the cost of driving greenhouse gas emissions down. It is not because renewable energy cannot do the job, it is not because the clean energy sector is not effective enough. It is because it is succeeding a little too well—and it has deeply rattled your financial backers in the Liberal and National parties, who receive so much money every year. You scoff, Senator Johnston. Why don't you read into Hansard what the coal and gas industry spend propping up the Liberal and National parties every year—and then the position and the picture becomes much more clear. The renewable energy industry is doing a little bit too well, and it is in the process of stranding the assets of your coal and gas backers. That is what is actually going on here. You are doing everything you can, using your position of political incumbency, to nobble a competitor. It is no more simple or complex than that.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are standing in the wheelhouse of the Titanic. A dirty grey iceberg has come looming out of the fog and the ship's navigators and engineers are screaming at those on the bridge to turn the wheel before impact. Imagine how it would feel to elect a captain who would confidently declare the iceberg to be absolute crap, sack the navigators, smear the reputations of the engineers and order that the ship immediately increase speed. In the fog of statistical uncertainty and the unpredictability of the weather at the best of times, we do not know how far ahead the iceberg is. Some in the climate science community think we might have hit it already. We do not have the luxury of knowing; we just have to turn the ship, if it is still possible, or, at the very least, open our eyes and brace for impact.
This is the political tipping point that I am referring to. Prime Minister Abbott, if you really believe that this is absolute crap and that the Clean Energy Act is going to wipe Whyalla off the map, how is that working out? If you really believe that renewable energy cannot deliver, then here is the double dissolution election trigger you have been waiting for. The world is starting to move—in fact, parts of the world are well ahead of Australia. We are lagging and the hour is late. So, if it is an election you want, then bring it on.