Standing up for Canberra

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015

I rise today to join my colleagues in supporting this legislation, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015. Labor has been working tirelessly over the last 18 months to secure the renewable energy target to give Australia's $20 billion renewables industry the certainty that it needs. This bill amends the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations 2001 and makes consequential amendments to the Climate Change Authority Act 2011.

The bill adjusts the large-scale renewable energy target to 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. This will reflect a commitment to achieve approximately 23.5 per cent of electricity from all renewable sources by 2020. The bill also repeals the requirement for periodic reviews of the RET, including consequential amendments to the Climate Change Authority Act 2011, something which Labor did not support.

Throughout the entirety of the negotiation, Labor has been guided by advice from the industry on what is best for them. The Clean Energy Council predicts the revised target of 33,000 gigawatt hours will drive around $40.4 billion in investment and create more than 15,000 jobs. That is welcome news. This agreement will see projects start to be built again and businesses enjoy the certainty that they have not enjoyed recently. It will allow them to ensure job security.

Labor's negotiation principles throughout did not change, which is why it is so pleasing to achieve the following outcomes: no change to the small-scale solar scheme, which includes rooftop solar and solar panels for small businesses, such as nursing homes; full exemption for emissions-intensive trade industries, which relieves some pressure on those industries that are enduring downturns and job cuts; and the removal of two-yearly reviews, which provides the long-term certainty the industry so desperately needs to survive and to thrive. These amendments in this bill will provide much-needed certainty to the renewable energy industry and enable sustainable growth in renewable electricity generation.

However, this bill also amends the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations to reinstate native wood waste as an eligible renewable energy resource. Labor have said on numerous occasions that we will move an amendment to the government's legislation to exclude this provision. There is no case for introducing native wood waste burning into the renewable energy industry, and Labor will not be accepting this proposal from the government. Labor do not support burning native forests as a renewable energy source. We opposed it in government and we oppose it now.

Labor have been a longstanding supporter of renewable energy in Australia. We have had a longstanding commitment to it. As a country with abundant solar, wind and wave resources, and the world-class skills and expertise to turn those resources into reliable energy, Australia was a world leader in renewable energy until the election of the Abbott government. Labor's renewable energy target has been a resounding policy success story. Under Labor, homes with rooftop solar grew from just 7,000 to more than 1.2 million. Wind power in Australia tripled. Jobs in the renewable energy sector tripled. There was more than $18 billion invested in wind and solar farms, hydro plants and renewable energy technology development. On top of these major economic benefits, the explosion in renewable energy in Australia saw carbon pollution from the electricity sector come down. Between June 2012 and June 2013, emissions from the electricity sector fell by more than seven per cent.

This is a critically important industry in Australia. It employs more than 21,000 people, it attracts billions of dollars in investment, which creates jobs, and, importantly, it contributes to Australia's carbon pollution reduction. Labor firmly believes renewable energy is the way of the future. The rest of the world is marching towards a clean energy future. Around the world, investment in renewable energy grew by 16 per cent in 2014. In China, which is one of our biggest trading partners, investment in renewables soared by 33 per cent. That is why renewable energy featured so heavily in Labor's clean energy package and why Labor has fought so hard against the government's attacks on renewable energy over the past 18 months.

Renewable energy in Australia is a no-brainer. It's a no-brainer around the capital region too. It is a burgeoning industry that creates jobs, attracts investment, drives down household energy prices, offers alternative job opportunities to replace those being lost in the traditional manufacturing sectors and reduces our carbon pollution.

We have seen broken promise after broken promise from this government—and the RET is just another example. As we all know, the RET was introduced by the Howard government in 2001 as part of its climate change strategy and sought to increase renewable electricity generation by an additional two per cent by 2010 on top of existing generation. Until just after the election, it enjoyed bipartisan support. It is quite extraordinary that it enjoyed bipartisan support for such a very long time.

The target was subsequently expanded in 2009, by the Rudd government, to 20 per cent of all electricity generation by 2020. Before the election the Prime Minister promised not to change the RET, saying, 'We have no plans to change the renewable energy target,' but shortly afterwards he backflipped on that promise. There are no surprises there. It is just another broken promise from the Abbott government.

There were many more renewable energy related broken promises from this Prime Minister. There was the $600 million commitment for solar roofs. The towns and schools commitment was cut to just $2 million in the 2014 budget. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency had its funding severely cut in the 2013 MYEFO, and then the agency was added to the abolition list in the 2014 budget. The biggest of all renewable energy broken promises came after the Prime Minister appointed a known climate sceptic to review the renewable energy target, a move that completely undermined the whole industry.

Over the past 18 months this government has taken the renewable energy industry right to the edge of the cliff. Australia has plummeted from the fourth most attractive country in the world to invest in renewable energy to the tenth. Over the past year investment in renewables has dropped by a—staggeringly—massive 88 per cent. That decline has been felt very strongly, here, in the Capital Region. There are at least 14 announced large-scale projects surrounding Canberra. Only a few of those are in construction, with the rest having been placed on hold since this government set its sights on the renewable sector. Our renewable industry has completely stalled over the last 18 months in the Capital Region, and there is no way around it. That means a loss in local jobs, job skills and innovation. Most importantly, the stalling of the Capital Region's renewable sector has ultimately stalled our ability to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the electricity sector.

Labor has a proud track record when it comes to renewables, and we mean business. We said that if elected in 2016 we would use 33,000 gigawatt hours as a floor to build on. It will be a minimum. And we will top up the 2020 RET. We are currently consulting with the industry and finance sector to develop an ambitious renewable energy policy, past that point, beyond 2020. We have plans for the future to 2020 and are consulting on what is next, after 2020. Labor knows renewable energy is the way of the future. We know Australia needs to transition to a clean-energy economy and Labor is the only party with the will and ambition to see that happen.

In closing, I support the majority of this legislation because it will provide much needed certainty to the renewable energy industry and enable sustainable growth in renewable electricity generation. However, Labor opposes the inclusion of native wood-waste biomass, and we will fight it.

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