Senate debates

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Bills

Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading

7:06 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak against Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016. It is, sadly, very telling that the first substantive piece of legislation that this Senate has dealt with is legislation to cut clean energy. Originally, it was planned that this legislation would cut kids dental services and cut Newstart. It is still going to cut the carer allowance and it is going to cut education and student support. The next bill, which the House has just dealt with and which is shortly coming to us in the Senate, gives a tax cut to people on over $80,000. And we know that shortly after that bill there will be one with $50 billion of tax cuts for big multinational corporations. How sad is it that we have a government that is happy to dole out largesse to those that are already very wealthy and do not need help and is now forcing cuts on the most vulnerable and on our clean energy sector! I think it is a revolting statement of the priorities and the values of the present government.

We are told that we need some budget savings, and we Greens agree. In fact, we have been putting many revenue-raising proposals to the government, to the opposition and to the public for the last few years, so we certainly do not oppose the need for budget repair. But what we do oppose is the continuation of the $15 billion that has been spent in the last few years locking up men, women and children offshore, the $21 billion of subsidies to the fossil fuel sector that will be doled out over the forward estimates in the coming few years and the continued largesse, as I said, going to tax cuts for big corporations when this government is seemingly blind to the impact of these cuts on vulnerable people and on the clean energy sector. The priorities are very clear. Perhaps it is not surprising, though, that we see massive cuts to clean energy from this government, because it is pretty clear that the backbench is in charge these days, and that is full of climate sceptics and climate change deniers, people who do not understand that we are damaging not only our very way of life but also our economic profitability and our potential for job creation and growth.

The government went to the election with the slogan of 'jobs and growth'. So it is ironic, really, that this bill now cuts money from an institution that is one of the main drivers of jobs and growth in a growing global sector that Australia could really be going to town on. Instead, we see the government hampering jobs and growth with cuts to clean energy. But perhaps that is no surprise, given we have seen this government cutting the carbon price and installing a wind farm commissioner so that people who are very worried about the impacts of wind farms could have somewhere to vent their, thankfully, baseless concerns. Never mind the health impacts of coalmines and other dirty energy! The government was not interested in looking at those. We have seen the massive handouts to polluters so that they can continue to pollute, as opposed to the revenue raising and the tax that they used to have to pay on the pollution that they created.

We have seen cuts to the Renewable Energy Target by this government. Of course, the tragedy there is those cuts were fully supported by the opposition. So perhaps we should not be surprised that we again see a bipartisan approach to cutting clean energy. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or ARENA as it is known, will now, as a result of the deal done between these two big parties, have half a billion dollars cut out of its budget, and those cuts have been frontended. The vast majority of them are in the first three years. They are on the books, and ARENA will feel those cuts immediately and for the coming few years.

What an absolute tragedy it is that, yes, we have a terrible government with an awful agenda! But we had the chance here to block those cuts entirely; we have the numbers on the crossbench. But, instead of doing that, the Labor opposition reached an agreement to cut half a billion dollars out of ARENA, and now they have the audacity to want praise for that. They are going around claiming that they have saved ARENA. Well, sorry, you had the chance to not pass any of those cuts. The government wanted to cut $1.3 billion. You could have stood with the Greens and the crossbench—there were enough of us; we all know that—to have stopped all of that $1.3 billion cut from clean energy.

It is an absolute tragedy that the two big parties agreed to cut half a billion dollars when Labor need not have made that agreement. There were other revenue-raising measures. They have found some already. I am pleased they have taken a stand and said they will block the cuts to kids dental and some of the cuts to Newstart and other social support. I welcome that and praise them for that. Why did they not find those same alternative revenue measures and stand up for clean energy, rather than wreaking a half a billion dollar cut on ARENA?

People who are listening might not know what ARENA does. It is a fantastic organisation that was set up to support with grant funding those very early stage renewable energy innovation projects—really exciting things like the printing of solar panels onto, say, corrugated iron roofs and things like speeding up the efficiency, availability and affordability of batteries. Instead of expensive pressure on our grid, with maintenance required for old infrastructure, we can actually look to these new storage methods to not only solve many of the problems of the grid but empower households to manage their own energy demands. It is that sort of really exciting cutting-edge technology that this institution has been investing in.

You want jobs and growth? Well, clean energy is the sector that is taking off globally. Many of the inventions in the renewable energy sector are homegrown, but some of them will not have the ability to proceed because that organisation now has half a billion dollars less. There is half a billion dollars now not going into that innovation to create jobs in clean energy to help us tackle climate change and save the reef. I think it is truly outrageous.

Of course, there is irony in cutting funding from ARENA: how on earth are we going to meet our Renewable Energy Target? How on earth are we going to meet our Paris emissions reduction targets? Many of the experts agree—and, certainly, the scientists agree—that, as it is, those Paris targets are too weak and the Renewable Energy Target is too small. We are on track to overshoot it. Sadly, these guys ganged up and cut it. How are we going to meet either of those targets when we do not have genuine investment in clean energy and innovation? And, of course, we are in a climate emergency, folks.

Of course we need to repair the budget, but let's get things in perspective. There are many ways that we could repair the budget. There are not so many ways that we can help the transition from dirty fuels to clean fuels in a way that safeguards our way of life and our planet and also creates jobs. There are no downsides with clean energy—except if you are a fossil fuel company, of course.

That brings me to the sad revelation that in the last three years there have been $3.7 million of donations made to the Labor, Liberal and National parties by the fossil fuel sector. So of course they are very powerful political influences, and that money talks. It is no wonder that they get their $21 billion of cheap fuel and accelerated depreciation over the forward estimates. Yet we are told that we need to make budget savings. Of course, they do not want to touch that $21 billion, because their donations might dry up. What a sorry situation! It is another reason why we are pushing to reform donations, end corporate donations completely—and, of course, cap donations from individuals as well—and clean up our system.

I would like to make one further point. We were very distressed this week when, after the Labor Party caved in and agreed to cut half a billion dollars out of clean energy, it was let slip in the other place that that $800 million that had been apparently saved from ARENA was going to be cut out of other clean energy sources. It was called either the Clean Energy Finance Corporation or the Clean Energy Innovation Fund—the government was very slippery about using these terms interchangeably, even though they are different pots of money. The government is implying that in fact there have not been any savings at all and that clean energy will still be short a total of $1.3 billion. Either they pulled the wool over Labor's eyes to placate their own climate sceptic backbench or Labor was happy with that arrangement. We do not know, and I will be asking questions in the committee stage to try to get to the bottom of this. We tried to do that in the House, and the minister was not very responsive—that is the nicest way of describing the responses that the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, got. What we need to discover tonight is: is that $1.3 billion still being cut out of clean energy, some of it from ARENA and now some of it from those other pots? Did the government make a huge stuff-up or have they been misleading the house? We will find out tonight.

What I will also be asking in the committee stage is: what projects are going to be jeopardised by the loss of that half a billion dollars? We have just seen a fantastic large-scale solar grant fund by ARENA, which has led to many projects right around the country—particularly in regional areas—huge job creation and great renewable energy input into the grid. That sort of exciting job creation is what we need, and it tackles climate change at the same time. I am worried about what ARENA will not be able to do if they are half a billion dollars poorer. I hope that we will get some answers out of the government as to what the implications of this cut will be and I hope Labor sought to ask those questions when it agreed to cut that amount of money.

I foreshadow tonight that during the second reading stage I will be moving to condemn the government and the opposition for cutting half a billion dollars out of clean energy funding at this point in history, when the climate emergency is real and when the rest of the world is already making the transition to clean energy and benefiting from that not only environmentally but economically. I will be moving to condemn the actions of both of the big parties in this place, who are so held hostage by those fossil fuel donors that they are clearly making terrible decisions when we have alternative revenue raising measures that could repair the budget without buggering up the planet.

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