Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-21 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021; Disallowance

5:53 pm

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

I, and on behalf of Senator McAllister, move business of the Senate notices of motion Nos 1 and 2 together:

That the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-21 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011, be disallowed [F2021L00590].

That the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Amendment (2020-21 Budget Programs) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011, be disallowed [F2021L00590].

For anyone who may be listening outside of this godforsaken building, the government is seeking to spend yet more public money to prop up fossil fuels. Sadly, we're sensing a bit of a theme with this government, which loves to splash around taxpayer money to its big donors who make those generous contributions and exact policy outcomes that suit their corporate bottom lines and now exact yet more public support. So tonight we're seeking to disallow the government from giving yet more money to the fossil fuel sector.

It gets more laughable because the vehicle through which the government is seeking to dish out yet more taxpayer money to their big corporate mates in the oil and gas sectors is the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. They want it to fund this new dirty energy. The clue is in the name, guys: Australian Renewable Energy Agency. But, no, this government doesn't mind so much about renewable energy; it wants to allow the Renewable Energy Agency to instead fund what it calls low-emissions technology but, when you look at the fine print, is carbon capture and storage and hydrogen powered not by clean energy, which the Greens support, but by dirty energy. It's yet more support for the fossil fuel sector.

This government has already spent about $1 billion trying to make carbon capture and storage a thing. It hasn't gotten anywhere yet. The private sector have been trying to make carbon capture and storage work somewhere for more than a decade. They haven't succeeded yet, either. This mythical creature of carbon capture and storage has not yet been shown to work anywhere. It is a unicorn. It is a myth. Yet this government wants to spend precious taxpayer dollars on it and has the hide to want the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to dish out those dollars to big oil, big gas and big coal for this carbon capture and storage and dirty hydrogen. What an absolute affront this is to anyone who wants a safe climate and all those tens of thousands of renewable energy jobs and investment. The hide of this government never ceases to amaze me. They are so desperate to give public money to their gas donors that they're even willing to break the law to do it.

That's why we are moving to disallow this instrument today. It's because the government want to hand over the money of the Australian people to their coal and gas donors through a renewable energy agency which, by legal definition, cannot fund coal or gas projects. The Greens were in the room when the original legislation to set up ARENA was first discussed and negotiated back in 2011. Martin Ferguson was the responsible minister at the time. That was before he left parliament to become the chair of the gas industry lobby. The Greens weren't going to give him an inch, so we made sure that the legislation was tightly drafted. That's why the government are back here today, and that's why this regulation that they're seeking to put through, and that we are seeking to disallow, is a textbook example of what's known as ultra vires—beyond power. They're trying to make a renewable energy agency set up by a renewable energy act invest in dirty energy. It's not going to fly. A regulation, as the procedure nerds would know, can't operate on a subject matter that's beyond the scope of its parent act. You learn that in the first year of law school. I would think that people intuitively understand that the Renewable Energy Agency probably should just be funding renewable energy. Spoiler alert: this government wants it to do all of those dirty projects and fund the nonsense that is carbon capture and storage and dirty hydrogen.

Sections 3 and 8 of ARENA's act list the objects and functions of ARENA. As I said before, it's confined to supporting renewable energy technologies. Only in the coalition's alternate reality can carbon capture and storage and hydrogen made from gas or coal be considered renewable. This is why the regulation stretches the bounds of legality and, frankly, stretches the bounds of credulity. The government's own scrutiny of delegated legislation committee has said that this regulation appears beyond power. The Parliamentary Library can also not see any way in which this regulation is within power. If this disallowance fails, this regulation will be taken to court, because you cannot fund dirty energy through a piece of legislation that limits your money to renewable energy. It's a pretty straightforward concept, and the lawyers think it will be a slam dunk. Barristers are briefed and the litigation is ready to go to strike down this regulation.

If our disallowance is not successful—and we will wait to see whether One Nation will once again vote with the government, as they so often do—and One Nation do the government's bidding and facilitate this public money going to dirty energy rather than renewable energy then perhaps they will be held responsible for the needless legal costs of the government, who will seek to argue the indefensible in court. So this vote on the disallowance really determines whether further taxpayer money will be wasted on lawyers' bills.

ARENA is an absolute success story; the Renewable Energy Agency has worked. This is what happens when the Greens are in shared power. ARENA has driven down the cost of renewables in this country—in particular, through its solar auctions. It has funded the research and the jobs for how Australia is going to succeed in this world where there is no place for coal or oil or gas. It has worked hand in glove with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to drive investment in renewables and innovation that has led to emissions coming down despite the awful and non-existent policies of this government, who will do everything they can to boost their fossil fuel donors. So perhaps the greatest example and the greatest indicator of ARENA's importance and success is the unrelenting attacks that this government keeps throwing at it. This government has cut the ARENA budget twice—first with the help of Mr Clive Palmer and then, sadly, with the help of the Labor Party, who, to their eternal shame, voted to cut ARENA's funding in half.

We welcome that Labor appear to be standing firm on backing in the remit of the Renewable Energy Agency just to renewables; that's a very welcome stance by them. But it comes down to the fact that this government will just do everything it can to hand out public money to the fossil fuel sector. They're fiscal conservatives when it comes to funding Medicare, when it comes to making sure that people can get dental health treatment. They're absolutely stingy people when it comes to increasing JobSeeker. They're suddenly broke when it comes to funding social housing so we can end homelessness in this nation. But when it comes to fossil fuels, they are awash with taxpayers' dollars to dole out to the very same folk who both donate to their political election campaigns and very often give them jobs when they leave this place. It's a very cosy arrangement by big oil, big coal and big gas. They once again have their hand out for yet more public money to spend on carbon capture and storage—which is totally unproven and which has not been shown to work anywhere—despite $1 billion of public money already being pumped into it and probably many dollars by the private sector, who are so desperate to make this work in fear of a possible carbon policy from this government. I imagine they're not so keen to move on that one—and nor will The Nationals let them now that the new guy is in charge.

So the government now want to retrofit the Renewable Energy Agency to fund their fossil fuel donors, with dirty hydrogen, not clean hydrogen, which would be great, and carbon capture and storage. I'm pleased that on this issue we have the Labor Party's support. It remains to be seen what One Nation's position will be on whether workers deserve support and transition out of fossil fuel sectors—retraining where that's required and new long-term sustainable jobs that will last, where they won't be replaced by a robot, as our coalminers are if they are injured at work, as so many of them are. I note that there have been so many unacceptable deaths on coalmine sites in Queensland already.

So the government won't be spending that money on transitioning those workers out of fossil fuels and won't be spending public money on bolstering Medicare and extending it to dental and mental health like the Greens will do. If we hold the balance of power after the next election we will push the next government to go further and faster on protecting Medicare, on delivering housing for people, on investing in renewable energy. No, this government doesn't want to fix the level of poverty in this nation. It doesn't want to fix homelessness. It doesn't want to boost Medicare. It doesn't want to invest in renewables; it wants to invest in dirty coal, oil and gas. The Greens are seeking to disallow the government from using the Renewable Energy Agency to do that tonight. Whether we have the numbers remains to be seen.

The balance of power is really important in the Senate. It's not just on this issue that One Nation has had the deciding vote; it has been on so many other issues that affect so many people's lives. They inevitably back in the government and vote to boost the big corporations and the billionaires. Never mind what ordinary Australians need or deserve. So much for backing in the battlers! Well, they're just backing in the billionaires and their mates in the government. Budgets are about choices. This government is spending money on coal, oil and gas rather than on ordinary Australians. The Greens are seeking to disallow them. If One Nation again votes with the government, we'll see you in court—and I think we're going to win.


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