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 Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to order agreed on 2 September, the Senate will now proceed to the consideration of two disallowance motions.

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.

4:24 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

If successful, this motion will stall funding for critical projects that will implement the government's technology investment road map. Expanding ARENA's mandate will reduce emissions while creating jobs in projects including healthier soils, hydrogen, low-emissions aluminium and steel production, and carbon capture and storage. Developing these technologies is critical to any serious attempt to reduce emissions while supporting our traditional industries. ARENA has welcomed the expanded mandate, and there is also extensive support from industry and climate organisations. The Business Council of Australia reiterated their support for the expanded mandate just last week. The continued opposition to this regulation is bad for jobs, bad for emissions reduction and bad policy.

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.

4:34 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The core issue here is integrity. We see the National Party and the Liberal Party tying themselves in knots. The coalition is unravelling, according to some. The coalition is all over the place, according to others. It depends who we listen to. But the core issue is a complete lack of integrity from the Labor Party and the Greens. According to Senator McAllister, this parliament has seen 'all manner of scrutiny'. Oh really? I can remember Senator Ian Macdonald standing here saying this parliament has never debated the climate science—never. So this is all being done on nonsense. In fact, the science that says that we need to cut carbon dioxide from human activity and that we need to go to renewables has never even been brought into this chamber—never. The parliament always tends to go to the second question, which is, 'How do we do it?' rather than going to, 'Should we do it?' The core question, if we're really being faithful to and serving the people of this country—the taxpayers and the energy users, who are being bled dry—is, 'Should we do this madness?' not, 'How do we do it?' The question of how we do it comes second. The parliament too often in this country goes to the second question.

No-one in this parliament—either house—has ever presented the empirical scientific evidence that says carbon dioxide from human activity needs to be cut. It is now day 770 since I asked Senator Richard Di Natale and Senator Larissa Waters this fundamental question: where is your empirical scientific evidence that shows that carbon dioxide from human activity needs to be cut? That's it. They dodged it. They have never come back with the evidence. They refuse to debate me. I asked Senator Waters this almost 11 years ago—in fact, it is 11 years ago this month—and she refused debate me then. Then, Senator Waters talked about a waste of money. Oh, really?

We're spending $19 billion a year on this rubbish. We're destroying our energy sector, destroying manufacturing jobs and exporting them to China. We send them our coal, they generate electricity using our coal after we've shipped it thousands of kilometres, and they sell it for 8c a kilowatt hour. We use the same coal here in this country—some of the best coal in the world—and we sell that electricity for 25c a kilowatt hour. Why the difference? Why is it three times as much here? It's because of all the renewable regulations, subsidies and climate rubbish. That's why. Not only do we export our coal, but we export our manufacturing jobs, because the No. 1 cost of manufacturing these days is electricity. It's not labour anymore; it's electricity. We're gutting jobs and throwing people on the scrap heap—with no livelihoods—for nothing, because no-one has ever presented the science that says we need to do this. They run from it.

In One Nation we welcome the debate. We welcome a debate on the science. We will welcome putting both coalitions, the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor-Greens coalition, under scrutiny. The policies of the Liberal-National coalition are so close to the policies of the Labor-Greens coalition. Where's the difference, other than slightly in degree? What we're doing to this country—what this parliament is doing to this country, to the taxpayer and to the jobs of real people—is an absolute disgrace. The jobs of everyday Australians are getting gutted, and it's based on a lie. Al Gore's making like a bandit, because the crook has made hundreds of millions of dollars out of this scam, along with several other people, including academics and politicians, and government agencies. It just goes on and on and on. This has got to stop.

4:38 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

RICE (—) (): We seem to be living in a parallel universe here. We've got a government that wants to put more money into fossil fuels, more money into polluting our atmosphere, more money into destroying our climate and more money into helping to exacerbate the climate crisis. The planet is on fire. The climate crisis is the most existential problem facing humanity and facing the planet. When I arrived in Canberra this morning, it was great to be back here, and no more so than to meet the brave climate protesters out the front of Parliament House—particularly Frances, who was in her yellow onesie, as she has been, rain, hail or shine, every parliamentary sitting day this year. She was joined this morning by a whole troupe of people in yellow onesies—Extinction Rebellion and other protesters—because they know this matters. Our future is at stake.

Last Friday we had young people all around the country protesting and rallying, both in person and online, about their future—about our future. We are in an absolutely existential dilemma as a world. We need to take urgent action to reduce our carbon pollution now, urgently. 2050 is too late. Delay is the new denial. 2030—this is the decade. This is the decade when we can take action to save the Great Barrier Reef and save ourselves from a future of more intense and more frequent fires and floods, of sea level rise and of being unable to grow food in our current food areas. The climate where we grow most of our wheat today, under three degrees of warming, would be more like the climate of the central deserts. You cannot grow wheat in a desert.

So it's pretty clear. This is the crisis that we're in. What we need to do is to stop the mining, burning and export of fossil fuels. Yet this government actually wants to put in more money and to change regulations, as my colleague Senator Waters said, in a way that is probably unlawful so as to actually support more mining, burning and export of fossil fuels, just at the time when the government really need to be seriously saying—as governments all around the world, including conservative governments, are saying—'Okay, maybe it's going to be a bit tricky, but we've got to work out how to get out of fossil fuels, safely transition away from the mining, burning and export of fossil fuels, and transition our economy to protect jobs as well as protecting our environment.'

There are so many ways forward. If we had a government that was actually willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and play a role as part of the global community, we could do it. We could make those massive investments and supercharge our investments in renewable energy, in encouraging more forest cover and in doing everything across all of our economy and our society to shift to a zero-carbon economy. But what have we got? We've got a government that wants to introduce regulations that have already been knocked off by this Senate—regulations that actually make it easier to keep on burning, mining and exporting coal, gas and oil.

As I said in the beginning, we seem to be in a parallel universe where the world—Australian society and global society as a whole—knows that we need to be determined, resolute and focused. On every bit of legislation that goes through this place, we should look at it and say, 'Does this mean that we are going to have less carbon pollution or more carbon pollution?' There is no doubt that, if these regulations aren't disallowed today, it would result in more carbon pollution, the exact opposite of what we need to be doing.

I call upon this government: please think of your children, your grandchildren and even yourselves. There is action that we can take here. We can take action. It is not too late now. We've already got massive losses. Our society and our environment are already being damaged, but we can take a stop. We can say, 'Now is the time that we are going to move in another direction.' That means taking serious action. It means leadership. It means leadership here in Australia and joining with other countries around the world. It is possible to do it, but not by going in the direction that this government is taking us in.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that, pursuant to order, the two disallowance motions as moved be agreed.

4:52 pm

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

I briefly seek the call pertaining to the vote that was just taken—


Are you seeking leave to make a short statement?

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

I'm seeking to potentially recommit the vote. I seek leave to make a 30-second statement to explain why.

Leave granted.

Folk will remember that, last time, the vote on this first disallowance had to be recommitted, and Senators Hanson and Roberts voted differently on that last occasion. I note that Senator Hanson has logged in remotely, but her vote has been recorded as with the government this time around. Given that this was such a close vote, I'm simply seeking clarity from Senator Hanson that she has, in fact, changed her position from the previous vote, when she abstained, and now wishes to make it a positive vote. Given that it's a tied vote, that will make the difference as to whether this regulation passes or not.

4:53 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm seeking some clarification in regard to Senator Waters' last comment. I wonder whether she is asserting that the government has, in some way, been inappropriately behaving in relation to a vote. My understanding is that the whip has appropriate instructions, which are provided, so I'm seeking to understand whether you are making an assumption or an assertion that we have somehow put—

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, this is not an opportunity to debate. Senator McGrath, you were seeking the call?

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—As explained, this morning Senator Roberts said that he was the whip for One Nation and gave clear instructions to me in the chamber just then that he and Senator Hanson are voting to oppose this disallowance. I did explain that to you and also to Senator McKim in relation to Senator Roberts's advice.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Waters, I am prepared to rule. It's up to a senator who believes their vote has been recorded inaccurately to raise a matter such as this. Pairing arrangements are matters between the whips. I don't hear either the government or the opposition whips raising this matter. My opinion is that the division stands as recorded.

4:54 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm seeking leave to contribute to this.

Leave granted.

I want to put on the tables that the pairing arrangements are blind to the crossbench. So I think the question wasn't being unfair and it wasn't actually making an allegation against the government; it's just that we are blind to it.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Patrick, I appreciate the point—Senator Waters, I'll get to you—but if a senator believes their vote has been recorded inaccurately then they have the right to bring that to the attention of the chair. That has not happened in this case. Senator Waters, I think we should move on. Are you seeking leave, Senator Waters?

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

Very briefly—30 seconds.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is leave granted?

A government senator interjecting

No, leave is not granted.

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

I was going to apologise to you, but, fine, if you haven't given me leave you miss out.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I did not deny you leave, Senator Waters. We will move on to the MPI. For those who are not participating, I would ask you to clear the chamber rather than discuss things here.