Senate debates

Monday, 18 October 2021

Regulations and Determinations

Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Implementing the Technology Investment Roadmap) Regulations 2021; Disallowance

4:13 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | Hansard source

At the request of Senators McKim and Brown, respectively, I move:

That section 7 of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Implementing the Technology Investment Roadmap) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011, be disallowed [F2021L01043].

That section 7 of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Implementing the Technology Investment Roadmap) Regulations 2021, made under the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act 2011, be disallowed [F2021L01043].

Labor is proud to have created the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, in 2012. We did that to support the technologies that are building our future energy system and creating jobs for the future. We invested $2½ billion in ARENA in 2012, and those opposite have consistently, every day since, tried to gut it and tried to abolish it. They've tried to undermine the integrity of ARENA every single day for eight years.

Now it's the lead-up to COP. There's a little bit of pressure. The royal family is not so happy about the behaviour of Mr Morrison and his climate-denying government. So now, to make up for all of this—the compete failure to have any kind of energy policy and any kind of climate policy of any meaning for eight years—we have those opposite parroting the achievements made by this same agency, ARENA. This is the agency they tried to abolish and undermine. Now they're trying to make all the right sounds. They talk about their climate ambition in the lead-up to the COP meeting, but let's pay attention to their actions, because nowhere are their intentions clearer than in their attempts to use our renewable energy agencies to fund pet fossil fuel projects and in their willingness to circumvent the law to do so.

It's important to note how we got here. The government, desperate to again undermine our clean energy agencies, introduced a bill in February to make the Clean Energy Finance Corporation invest in fossil fuels. The government deserted this legislation because their coalition partner, Mr Joyce, went up to them, ambushing the government with his own amendment for the CEFC to fund not only gas but coal. And then his colleagues in the Senate added nuclear to their list of desires. We haven't seen that legislation since. It has disappeared, chucked into the ever-growing pile of failed policies on climate and energy under this government.

That's where this ARENA regulation comes in, because, not content to undermine the integrity of our clean energy funding bodies, the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor also wanted to do it without the scrutiny of parliament, without debate. So they attempted to change the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency so as to fund non-renewable technologies, without even passing the necessary legislation. After having the first set of dubious ARENA regulations disallowed by the Senate in June this year, the government remade the regulations in another attempt to avoid scrutiny and undermine ARENA.

These concerns weren't held just by Labor, the crossbench and numerous stakeholders. The government-led Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation raised its concerns about whether these regulations were lawful. It raised those concerns with Minister Taylor. After the minister provided further information to the committee, the committee—chaired, I remind senators, by Minister Taylor's own Liberal party colleague—has recommended that the regulation be disallowed. In fact, the committee itself intends to give notice of motion to disallow. That's right. So we have a Liberal led committee notifying its intention to disallow the government's own regulation. The committee says it retains 'significant concerns regarding the instrument'. It said it was 'unable to resolve these technical scrutiny concerns with the minister'. The committee takes issue with the similarities between this regulation and the earlier regulation that this Senate has already disallowed, and it highlights that, while not identical, 'both instruments permit ARENA to invest in non-renewable technologies'. It goes on to say, 'This issue is ultimately a matter that could only be resolved by judicial consideration.' Most significantly, though, the committee finds that the regulation 'expands the remit of ARENA beyond what was envisaged by parliament when the act was passed'. To quote directly: 'The purpose of the ARENA Act is made clear in the title of the act itself'—that is, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Act. The committee said this:

… the interpretation that would best achieve the purpose or object of the Act … is one that limits the functions of the ARENA to investing in renewable energy technologies.

It's not rocket science, is it? The Renewable Energy Agency is there to invest in renewable energy. It is not a slush fund for the Prime Minister or for Minister Taylor.

This parliament has seen all manner of scrutiny, transparency and due process eroded under the current Prime Minister. As we debate this today, I call on senators to think about this and stand up for the chamber that we sit in and the people we represent in heeding the committee's recommendation to disallow. The Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee is a critical committee for the Senate, helping provide much-needed checks and balances on a government, as an upper house in a democracy should.

The findings of the committee vindicate the Senate in its disallowance of the first iteration of this regulation in June. The Senate has never rejected a recommendation from this committee that an instrument should be disallowed. In fact, this matter is so serious and the regulation so egregious that it is very rare for a committee to make this recommendation. But it's very clear what we're being advised: if you seek to expand the remit of ARENA's functions, you must do it through legislation. You can't circumvent that. That's the reason we have a parliament; that's the reason we elect representatives to a parliament—to vote on legislation.

A little trip down memory lane reminds us of why those opposite are trying to circumvent the parliament and their own party room on energy legislation. We had a National Energy Guarantee. It was possibly the first bipartisan policy on energy in a long time. But Minister Taylor was critical in killing that off, along with its champion, then Prime Minister Turnbull, just a couple of years ago. More recently, we had the CEFC fiasco. That was crowed about for all the important new investment and grid reliability it would deliver, and that's disappeared from the House of Representatives entirely. Instead of debating all this on the floor of the parliament and trying to settle an energy policy here in the place where we should settle it, the government decided that its own internal divisions were difficult to manage and should take priority over the proper democratic process of decision-making. It's just more sneaky tricks. It is a sneaky government that, instead of developing a climate policy ahead of COP26, develops an advertising campaign.

Those opposite like to say that this is about the cost of solar going down, so ARENA needs to broaden its remit. Well, absolutely. The cost of solar in Australia has gone down, in no small part thanks to the commercialisation and innovation work that ARENA has done. We want to see ARENA keep doing this work across a number of other clean technologies to hasten emissions reduction and create jobs. But ARENA already does much more than solar and wind, and it is dishonest of those opposite to characterise it otherwise. ARENA is already working to accelerate the adoption of hydrogen, creating opportunities for hydrogen export to lock in Australia's rightful place as an energy exporter well into the future. ARENA has been critical in backing mines in regional Australia to increase their use of renewables and, in turn, cut down their running costs. ARENA invests in bioenergy, getting gas out of landfills to create power for tens of thousands of homes. They invest heavily in the grid, including transmission, storage and batteries, ensuring stability as the uptake of renewables increases and the household and industry sectors cut the cost of their power bills. There are many other technologies that ARENA can and does invest in. Any suggestion otherwise is dishonest and more sneaky tricks from the government trying to get our renewable agencies to fund fossil fuels.

Labor created ARENA in 2012. We will always protect it. Because it has maintained its integrity, it's been able to provide jobs for Australians and deliver returns on investment for taxpayers. We don't need sneaky tricks in this place to fiddle with it. I urge senators to support the disallowance.


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