Senate debates

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Bills

Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; In Committee

10:28 am

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The Greens oppose schedule 5 in the following terms:

(7) Schedule 5, page 104 (line 1) to page 105 (line 4), to be opposed.

I am moving the same amendment, because it is critically important that we keep the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. For the benefit of people thinking about this, we set up the Australian Renewable Energy Agency as part of the deliberations of the Clean Energy Package. At the time, renewable energy projects, grants, the Solar Flagships and so on were all across the government. It was a complete mess, and so we pulled together all of the renewable energy programs and we set up a new statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and it was linked to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation so that you had the whole spectrum from early research and development, pilot stage to the commercialisation of these projects.

It was a very good piece of architecture in terms of legislation. It meant that, as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation project started to make money, the profits would be cycled back through to ARENA to fund early research and development so it would become a self-sustaining system of money going back in. The government has a schedule to abolish the clean energy bills and to take a vast amount of money out of ARENA. As the government has proposed, over the next three years, if the government's schedule stands, ARENA's funding would drop from just over a billion dollars down to $341 million. In other words, if you vote for the bill as it stands, you are voting to take $717 million out of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. What does that mean? It means ARENA will not be able to fund new projects. Effectively, what they do need is $150 million a year to keep the high-quality research and development moving. If you end up with only $89 million in 2014-15 and $59 million the following year, you end up with no new projects. ARENA has 152 projects in their pipeline worth $5.6 billion in investment that will just disappear. This is our reality.

We already have companies out today—for example, GE, a US multinational and one of Australia's largest foreign investors, saying its $3.5 billion pipeline of investment in green energy in this country is at risk because of possible changes to the RET. That is a separate issue, I agree. But it demonstrates how much interest there is in rolling out these technologies across the country. So it is a very bad mistake for the government to be taking $717 million out. I have heard some crossbench senators say that they want to save ARENA. You do not save a renewable energy agency by taking $717 million out of it over the next three years and leaving it with no ability to fund new projects.

Secondly, the ARENA board have all now had their positions ceased because their contracts have all run out and as of the 17th, I think it is, there are none of them with an ongoing contract. Yesterday in the Senate, as a result of the motion that I moved, the Senate asked the government to reappoint people to the ARENA board. If this motion is unsuccessful and they lose $717 million, and they have no board anymore—the secretary of the department is effectively heading ARENA, overseeing their existing projects—frankly, by the time the bill comes in later this year to save ARENA, it will be a shell of its former self. You either vote to keep ARENA as it is with the ability to fund the projects in its pipeline and you get people reappointed to the board, because it is an independent statutory authority, or you accept that if you are going to wrench this money out of it and let it lapse with no board, then effectively you are killing ARENA through the back door. That is what is going on here.

I urge the Senate: if you are serious about saving the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and if you like the kinds of programs that it is supporting, then support my amendment. ARENA is supporting programs right around the country; there are fantastic projects. Out in communities people are excited by this investment in renewable energy and by the innovation and jobs that are coming with it. The point that I just make very seriously is that there is a funding schedule here to take the money out of ARENA. The Greens are standing firm saying do not take that $717 million out of it and please reappoint people to the board, as the Senate asked yesterday, so we are not left with a shell of a former organisation with the departmental secretary overseeing the projects for which the money has already been allocated and that is virtually it. So I urge the Senate: if you are serious about supporting and saving ARENA, it is not enough to leave it to three months down the track to vote against the abolition bill. The fact is that you will be voting for its abolition if you take this money out and the board is gone—it is just a shell. I really urge people to support my amendment.

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