Senate debates

Monday, 18 October 2021

Regulations and Determinations

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

4:25 pm

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

I rise to speak on this motion to disallow a regulation by this government to try to force the Renewable Energy Agency to give money to fossil fuels. Honestly, if it weren't so serious, it would be hilarious. This isn't the first time they've tried to do this. It's like Groundhog Day. We were here in June and we got the numbers to knock off this dodgy attempt to force ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to fund carbon capture and storage and gas.

The reason we, thankfully, managed to knock off that dodgy attempt was the support of One Nation at the time. They, rightly, formed the view that, when these big gas companies aren't actually paying the tax that they're meant to pay, they shouldn't be getting extra public handouts. That situation hasn't changed. These big gas companies are still renowned for avoiding their tax obligations, yet they still have their hands out for public funds. So I'm hopeful, and I expect, that we will again say to the government, 'No, you can't force the Renewable Energy Agency to fund gas and so-called carbon capture and storage so that you can keep polluting in line with business as usual.' But we'll see how we go on the vote shortly to come.

It's also very interesting timing, isn't it? We're on the eve of Glasgow, and we have the whole world—many, many nations—talking about increasing their 2030 targets. The Australian government is completely out of touch with the community, with the science and with many in the business community, all of whom are calling for strong 2030 targets. This mob, the Liberal Party, is having a little spat with its coalition partner about a date that's almost 30 years in the future, when none of the current members will still be in parliament, while avoiding talking about the real issue of 2030.

What's worse is that the first piece of legislation that they brought into this chamber today, after a six-week break, was legislation to allow Export Finance Australia to give more public money to fossil fuels. You might be sensing a theme here. This is what they do. Either they want to use taxpayer dollars to fund their own re-election by rorting all of these community funds or they want to simply give them to fossil fuel companies, with no strings attached and without making sure that those companies pay their fair share of tax.

So I'm very hopeful that the Senate will again disallow this dodgy attempt by this dodgy government to force the Renewable Energy Agency to give money to carbon capture and storage and to gas. The clue is in the name: Renewable Energy Agency. It's an important point, because most people might realise, when you have a piece of legislation that says, 'This is a body to fund renewable energy,' you can't actually have a piece of delegated legislation like the one we're seeking to disallow today that goes beyond the powers of the head act. So, in fact, it's arguable that this attempt by government is ultra vires, or beyond power.

It's not just we who think that; it's many lawyers, and it's also the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation. I sat here and heard the chair of that committee, one of the government's own senators, speak on this piece of delegated legislation and say that the committee had significant concerns that it was against the law for the government to seek to do this, because the parameters of the legislation are about renewable energy and not about gas or carbon capture and storage. So here is a committee chaired by one of the government's own senators saying, 'You're potentially breaking the law here, folks.' It's very telling, isn't it, that this government is so desperate to give more public money to fossil fuels that it will break the law to do it.

So I hope that the chamber makes the same decision today as it did last time and sees the wisdom of stopping this government giving more handouts to big polluting companies that don't even pay their tax. Honestly, you just couldn't make this stuff up. I've already mentioned that the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee chair has said that this is beyond power. The Parliamentary Library have also agreed that they could see no way that this regulation can be lawfully made. A barrister, Fiona McLeod, has provided some legal advice saying that on multiple fronts this piece of delegated legislation was unlawful. So not only is this bad policy; it is unlawful policy.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time the government has sought to give public money to fossil fuels. The Beetaloo fund announced several months ago was an attempt to give $50 million to gas companies to open up the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory against the wishes of First Nations owners of that land, against the wishes of the farming community in that area who are desperately worried about their groundwater—and have very good reason to be worried—and against the wishes of all the climate scientists, including the International Energy Agency, which says you can't open up new coal or gas or we're going to blow any chance of keeping our climate targets. Against all of that advice, this government is giving $50 million to open up the Beetaloo basin for gas fracking. That's yet another example of the fossil fuel cosy relationship that this government has sewn up. We've seen today's piece of legislation to do the same, and now we have a further regulation by this coal-and-gas addicted government to tip in yet more taxpayer money—good money after bad.

We were in the room negotiating the Renewable Energy Agency legislation 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 lobby. But we weren't going to give him an inch, so we ensured that this legislation was drafted tightly. That's exactly why this legislation today is beyond power. It is unlawful. I think in future it will be used as a textbook example of an attempted use of unlawful executive power. If you want to waste money on a lawyer's picnic, this regulation, if it's not disallowed today—and I hope that it will be, because I hope those same arguments still apply—will go to court. There are many people who've said they would challenge this. What a waste of money and time it would be to spend more time arguing about this in court when we could just stop it today. We could just say to the government once again, like we did in June: 'You can't make the Renewable Energy Agency give money to coal and gas. Find another community fund to rort. Don't use this one.' Sadly they probably will find another fund, because it's how they roll—sports rorts 1 and 2, the Urban Congestion Fund, Building Better Regions. I've got a piece of paper that goes to two sides with the number of community electorate funds that are being rorted by this government. I'm sure they will have other ways of tipping money into the fossil fuel sector, but they shouldn't be using the agency to do.

I make one final plea to this chamber to stand firm, just like we did in June. We shouldn't be letting big gas companies get more public money when they're not even paying their own tax obligations. I hope that that argument remains persuasive and we can stop this government from attempting to prop up the fossil fuel sector while taking generous donations with the other hand. There's a pretty good return on investment there! I haven't done the figures on the grants and handouts the sector gets versus how much this government receives in donations, but it was looking like a pretty healthy return on investment when I last looked about two years ago. We can stop this here today. I urge those in the chamber, whose vote will be crucial in determining this outcome, to make sure we get the same outcome as we got last time and knock off this dodgy ultra vires delegated legislation that would tip more tax money into the pockets of big corporates that don't even pay their tax.


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