Thursday, 15 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; In Committee
While Labor is sympathetic to the intention of Senator Hinch's amendments, we are not able to support them on this occasion. We certainly welcome both Senator Hinch's interest in safeguarding ARENA and his enthusiasm for contributing to how this parliament can achieve real progress in tackling climate change while further developing our domestic renewable sector. We look forward to working constructively with you, Senator Hinch, and all willing crossbench and government senators in the future on this vitally important issue.
Our approach to budget savings is one guided by fairness but also an acute appreciation of the important work that programs like ARENA do. This agreement, we believe, represents that balance in action. We can achieve a significant budget saving while we maintain ARENA as a pillar of our support for a growing renewable energy industry. Labor is understandably protective of ARENA. Its establishment is a proud achievement of our previous term in government, and we will always support it. We have, over the course of the Abbott-Turnbull government, fought against its abolition, and now, through this bill, contrary to the initial intentions of this government, we have managed to obtain ongoing certainty of funding and purpose.
This bill secures additional funding of $800 million for ARENA over five years. This is in addition to the more than 200 existing projects that ARENA is already auspicing and in addition to the 12 large PV solar projects that were announced by ARENA last week but are not yet contracted. ARENA has stated that this sum—$800 million over five years—will provide it with a budget that allows it to continue a strong work program into the future. This agreement places ARENA's funding on a sound footing. Importantly, it provides researchers, entrepreneurs and industry with the certainty they need to continue turning renewable energy opportunities into new technologies, new projects and new jobs.
As part of the agreement underlying this bill, the government has also agreed to sit down with the opposition to ensure that our priorities are satisfied. These priorities are, first of all, to ensure that ARENA's budget preserves Australia's world-class leading research and innovation capability, particularly seen in our universities and CSIRO, and also to ensure that there is a budget for demonstrational, proof-of-concept stage developments in the industry.
In addition to securing our research capability, the agreement between the opposition and the government will also allow ARENA to support demonstration and proof-of-concept stage developments in the industry that ensure that the findings by those universities and by CSIRO scientists are able to be shown to be commercially viable and then able to be presented to lending and equity investors and become a reality across the Australian landscape. It is important to point out that there is no change and no reduction at all to the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation fund that is overseen by the expert board at the CEFC.
The final matter I quickly want to allude to is: there was also a commitment made by the government, as part of this agreement, to sit down with the opposition and explore opportunities for bipartisan agreement around policies that would accelerate the transition for Australia to a modern clean energy system and to ensure that this transition is, to use the words of the Paris agreement, a just transition for workers and impacted communities. So, whilst the opposition will not be supporting this amendment, I thank Senator Hinch for his concern and for the contribution. We do welcome the considered contributions to this vital policy area, and I am sure we will have cause and opportunity to work together on this issue going forward.