Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011

It is once again my great pleasure to rise to speak about another reform of this great Labor government, the Gillard government—a reform that will transfer our economy to a cleaner and more efficient future. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill will establish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, otherwise known as ARENA, an independent body reporting to the Minister for Resources and Energy to allocate funding to renewable energy and related projects.

The establishment of this new agency was part of the agreement between members of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. This agency will combine a number of existing programs and agencies, including the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the Australian Solar Institute. In all it will oversee some $3.2 billion worth of government investments to support renewable energy technologies and their implementation.

The legislation before us today will also allow this new body to determine a strategy for how to develop and manage around $1.7 billion in unallocated funds, money that will be used for the research, development and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies, and for the development of skills and knowledge in that industry. ARENA will also promote collaboration with state and territory governments to support renewable energy technology innovation.

This bill is another in a suite of legislation from this government that tackles climate change and takes Australia into a carbon constrained future. There can be no doubt that a change to our economy is coming. The only difference between us and those opposite is that they want to play politics with the national interest. We are a government that recognises the need to make difficult and challenging decisions true to the reforming tradition of Labor since our inception 120 years ago.

We as a government have decided to take leadership on this issue and have developed a comprehensive and well-evidenced approach to reducing Australia's carbon emissions. Obviously the central component of this plan has been the introduction of a price on carbon pollution, but it also includes support for Australian working families, investments in modernising our industries, developing new and sustainable technologies and supporting the use of the land sector for the storage of carbon. Our package will drive investment in cleaner industries not just through the measures in the bill before us today but also through the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program—a program that will improve energy efficiency in manufacturing industries and support research and development in low pollution technologies. Our package, which is, as I said before, incredibly comprehensive and well evidenced, will also ensure that builders, tradespeople, engineers and apprentices get the specialised green skills that will increasingly be in demand in Australia, and they will get that through the $32 million Clean Energy Skills program.

I was recently out at a building site in my electorate in Barton, where the Attorney-General's Department used to be—a department I used today work for. The company and the union that are working on that site have gone into an agreement whereby they are training in a whole range of ways to improve the energy efficiency of that work site. It is on these basic levels that changes are already happening. People are realising that they need to enhance their skills in this area, and the $32 million Clean Energy Skills Program will give that a further significant boost.

Our Clean Energy Future package is a comprehensive and visionary package and it is well supported by experts in the field. It is a plan that is well supported in my electorate as well, as evidenced by the dozens and dozens of letters and emails that I receive each day telling me to ignore the scepticism and nay-saying of those opposite and to stay true to this ideal, to stay true to trying to reduce carbon pollution in Australia and to take us into the new phase of a cleaner, greener economic future.

This package presents new opportunities for businesses in my electorate of Canberra. Only last week I was briefed by a local Canberra business, Wizard Technologies, about its plans in my region for solar power and how it was looking to the Australian Solar Institute to help it refine and commercialise its product. There is also Windlab, another local Canberra company, which has developed technology to better model atmospheric conditions for wind farms. They have grown significantly since 2003 and now own subsidiaries around the world. Apart from the people that these companies directly employ, they also invest significantly in other local businesses—it has a knockon effect. You get a company and they subcontract and then that subcontractor subcontracts and buys things from around town. This has a significant footprint on the economy of Canberra. We are also seeing significant development in green technology and green energy, which I think will be an important area of growth in Canberra for years to come. These two examples highlight the capacity of local industry and local people to develop new ideas and technologies and to take those technologies to the world. They just need the incentive to engage in innovation and then go off and do it. It is a very Australian way of doing things and it is a very Canberra way of doing things as well.

Overall, Labor's plan for a Clean Energy Future package, of which this bill is a part, will see Australia's carbon pollution reduced by some 160 million tonnes, or the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road, by 2020. I know that when I mention that figure to people in my electorate they actually get to visualise what that means. It will have a significant impact on the environment and on making Australia a cleaner, greener nation. The package will also see jobs growth. This gives me great satisfaction because Labor is all about jobs. It will see new green industries develop, and I have already mentioned two examples of that today in my own electorate. In fact, some 1.6 million jobs are projected to be created by 2020 and the gross national income per person will increase from today's levels, which are about $56,000, by around $9,000 per person to 2019-20. By 2050 the increase is expected to be more than $30,000 per person in today's dollars.

This is a reform as bold and as necessary as the reforms undertaken by the Hawke and Keating governments in the 1980s. I have just come from listening to the Assistant Treasurer introducing the minerals resource rent tax legislation—again, an enormous package of legislation that is going to have a significant impact on Australia's future. It will ensure that the wealth being generated from the resources boom will be evenly spread across the nation. But, most significantly, what I was reminded of in that speech was the fact that Labor is a party of reform, as I have mentioned. We have had 120 years of reform. We have a tradition of reform. It is in our DNA. The reforms that we introduced today, which will hopefully pass, build on what the Hawke and Keating governments introduced in the 1980s, particularly on the superannuation front. We now celebrate 20 years of superannuation in this country, and that is thanks to Labor governments of the 1980s. The bill that was introduced this morning by my colleague the Assistant Treasurer will build on that, enhance that and hopefully build even stronger retirement futures for Australia.

I was also reminded recently of another set of reforms that, again, Labor was involved in in the 1980s. It underscores the visionary nature of Labor and the fact that it is part of our DNA. Last week I was at the Master Builders Association annual dinner in Anzac Hall at the War Memorial. Robert Gottliebsen was the guest speaker at that event and he gave a terrific speech. He spoke about the fact that China was at the centre of the economic universe in the 1830s and that the centre then shifted out to the edges—I suppose, if you are looking at it on a flat map from the perspective of Australia, to the US in the west and to Europe in the east. He noted that the centre of the economic universe has now come back to the Asia-Pacific region, to our region, and underscored the fact that we are so well placed in this region at this time in history. He was suggesting that the Asia-Pacific region is the centre of the economic universe today, it will be for the next 20 years and Australia is incredibly well placed in every way—geographically but also economically. We are deeply engaged in the region and we can thank the Hawke and Keating governments for that because of the range of reforms and the range of programs that they introduced in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Clean Energy Future package reform is necessary to ensure that future generations of Australians benefit from a prosperous and thriving economy. Again, it is reform building on the foundations and the Labor tradition of reform. To reflect on that, if we had not made those reforms to superannuation, if we had not made reforms to the Asia-Pacific relationship and engagement, where would we be today? We would not be entering a liberalised and open world, we would not be engaging with Asia and we would not be sharing the prosperity and the amazing growth of the Asian economy. We face a similar choice today as a nation: to hide from the inevitable or to face our future and seize the opportunities it creates. We have the knowledge, skills and resources to make a thriving green energy sector. We have always been great innovators and adapters. Australians are great innovators and adapters, as are Canberrans, and I have no doubt we always will be. We as a nation are well placed not to simply tolerate the changes to our economy but to thrive on them, to embrace them, to capitalise on them and to seize every opportunity from them.

I recently had the opportunity to see some of this innovation at an electric vehicle festival held in Barton in my electorate a few weekends ago. I had the opportunity to ride in one of the muscle cars as well as one of the cars that had been retrofitted—it had the shell of a normal car but it had been converted into an electric car. I remember people talking about electric car technology many years ago and thinking that it was something in the very far future. But now I have ridden around in these cars and seen them. The Tesla Roadster, which is a muscle car, is amazing. It costs quite a lot of money. I understand that George Clooney, Brad Pitt and others have one. It is a fantastic car. It runs quietly. When you are sitting in the car, the only noise that you can hear is the gravel coming up from the road. There is no engine noise. It is quite extraordinary to do these amazing speeds—all legal, of course—going from nought to 130 in a very small amount of time in this car.

You can see how much technology has changed in a small amount of time. I also saw the more basic runaround little cars that we are all used to that have also been converted to electric. We have seen that change in electric vehicle technology happen in a very short amount of time. There are now boats, tractors, motorbikes and scooters being run on electric power. There are many vehicles using this technology. It is going to be amazing to see what happens in that area in the future.

Innovation very much underscores the clean energy package. This legislation is designed to achieve innovation and to encourage investment in renewable energy. This government will support government and enterprise to not just adapt but to innovate and to become world leaders in green energy technologies. I support the bills before us today, as I supported the measures that came before the House a few weeks ago as part of this Clean Energy Future package. I understand that we must be bold and courageous in tackling the challenge of climate change. We must be forward looking and embrace new opportunities. As I have said before, I want to be able to look my nieces, nephews and godchildren in the eyes 20 years from now and say: 'I made a choice to shape our economy for the future. I made a choice to build a cleaner and more prosperous economy,' and that it was all for them and for Australia. I support this legislation.

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