Senate debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Matters of Public Importance

Renewable Energy

4:58 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | Hansard source

All right. I want to remind Senator McKim—I know he was not in the chamber at the time—that in 2009 the Greens stood shoulder to shoulder with the climate change sceptics over there and voted down the emissions trading scheme that we put before the Senate. Let me tell you, the voting down of that scheme at that time pushed back the momentum on the introduction of renewable energies. It pushed back the investment in renewable energies in this country, and many job opportunities at that time were lost, because you stood shoulder to shoulder with the sceptics over there and voted that scheme down.

Senator Back, who I have enormous respect for, made the point that coal is going to be part of the energy mix, not only in Australia but in the rest of the world, for a while yet. That is absolutely true; we cannot simply say we are going to close all our coal-fired power stations tomorrow. We cannot do that, because this government does not have any energy plan for what would come after that. Senator Back is also right: coal will remain in our energy mix. But it will not be forever; eventually coal will be gone from the energy mix. In the interim, on the journey to not using coal at all, if we can use more high-intensity, less-polluting coal, that would be a good thing, and we should do that. In that respect, Senator Back is absolutely right.

Let us look at where we are now. The emissions trading schemes that most countries have put in place and that we had in place in two forms for a while were letting the market determine the energy mix for us—given the goals that we had to set to reduce our emissions. In the first instance, with new technologies, if you are going to intervene in that marketplace you intervene to give someone who is at a disadvantage more of an advantage so that they can compete. Naturally, in renewable energies there were subsidies, and I think that was quite right. Those subsidies have driven changes in technology and improvements that we could not dream about only a decade ago. A decade ago, we could not dream about the advances in solar technology and battery storage power. It has been one of the most extraordinary technological advances that we have seen, and that has come as a result of worldwide targets, subsidies and investments made on the back of those subsidies to generate the development of those technologies.

Those technologies are increasing exponentially, and they are already now at the stage where investors will not invest in coal-fired power, because renewable energies are cheaper. Renewable energy power is now cheaper than coal power. Any new coal power station built now will require enormous government subsidies—we are already subsidising coal. Very soon, renewables will not need any subsidies at all. Investors are ready making these commercial decisions. If we actually had a government that had a proper energy plan, we would not be relying on other people—companies—to make decisions about when our coal-powered power stations and generators will close. We would be making those decisions ourselves. Over the next couple of decades, three-quarters of our coal-fired power stations will be reaching their use-by dates. At that time, we will be free from coal generation in this country. We will still have a mix of gas and other energy sources, but that is where we are going. So, instead of having a proper energy plan and a government courageous enough to say, 'This is where we, as a country, are going to be'—a low carbon emissions country doing our bit to reduce our global emissions—we are allowing other people to decide when our coal-powered power stations will close.

This is a terrible indictment of this government, because every time they squander the opportunity to have a plan, to have a long-term policy, they squander the opportunity for investment in this country, they squander the opportunity for R&D development of new technologies in this country and they squander opportunities for job development by these new technologies in this country. The government's failure to have a policy to enable those things to happen is a disgrace. Australia is well placed to be one of the leaders in the development of these technologies, and again, coming back to the point I made earlier, I am are so bitterly disappointed because back in 2009 we were at the leading edge with our proposed emissions trading scheme. We would have seen a lot of that investment in R&D activity go on in this country and we would have seen significant jobs growth in this country as a result of that. This was squandered in the first instance by the Greens standing shoulder to shoulder with the climate change sceptics and voting it down and then ultimately by this government voting down the second iteration of that cost-on-pollution scheme that we had in place.

This has been an enormous tragedy for this country, and another enormous tragedy is the people who say the sorts of things that come out of Senator Roberts's mouth. I hope we never have to hear it again—there is this alternative world where apparently we have not been debating climate change in this chamber until their presence this year.


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