Mr HOWARTH (Petrie) (19:28): I rise to speak on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015, and I do so with pleasure.
My electorate of Petrie is home to almost 40,000 families and 3,000 small businesses. In relation to renewable energy, it will mainly affect my electorate of Petrie with solar, but it may also affect people if targets are not achieved and there is a price to pay and then bills are pushed up. That is the main gist of how it will affect Petrie. More than 20 per cent of homes in the Petrie electorate use solar power. I put my electorate in the top 25 out of the 150 federal seats in the country who use renewable energy. As I said in my maiden speech, I support solar and renewable energy as a way to sustain our beautiful Australian environment and also to harness the resources that we have, particularly the sun.
I want to stress to the households and businesses in my electorate using solar power that this bill makes no change to household solar—the small-scale renewable energy scheme. And in relation to small-scale renewable energy and solar power in particular: the government is a great friend to small businesses, and small solar companies within the electorate of Petrie should be glad about the recent instant tax write-off that we announced in the budget. It is a real opportunity for every solar provider within the Petrie electorate to get out there and to talk to businesses in the area, to say to them, ‘Look, you need a new solar system on your building. Now is the time to install it.’ A five-kilowatt solar system may cost $5,000 or $6,000 for a good system. Or they may want to get a 10-kilowatt system, because businesses are the ones that can take advantage of solar—particularly in Queensland up in my seat of Petrie.
Most businesses work in daylight hours—pretty well between eight and five—so if they have a solar system on top of their roof then as they are creating the energy they can use it. We know that businesses have lights, air conditioners, computers, power tools or whatever it may be running. This is a great opportunity for every solar installer in the Petrie electorate right now—with this certainty around the RET and also with the $20,000 instant tax write-off—to get out, approach local businesses and say, ‘Have I got a deal for you! Let’s go.’ It is a great opportunity.
We, the coalition government, are committed to a renewable energy target that will encourage sustainable growth in both small-and large-scale renewable energy in Australia. This bill makes changes to the RET to better reflect market conditions. It amends the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 to adjust the large-scale renewable energy target to 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020; it increases the pastoral exemptions for all emissions-intensive trade-exposed activities to full exemptions; and it reinstates biomass from native forest wood waste as an eligible source of renewable energy—and I note that those opposite want to exclude that and add amendments. This will mainly come into place down in Tasmania, but if there is wood waste on the ground that is going to be burnt up in a fire or sit there and rot I cannot see why it should not be used. I am sure that the members on this side of the House and the three fellows from Tasmania here would be particularly supportive of this if it helps to create jobs in Tasmania as well. The bill also removes the requirement for Labor’s legislated biennial reviews of the RET.
The bill represents a balanced approach and solar will be the winner, with significant new investment in small-and large-scale solar expected. We have made an agreement with the opposition to legislate a large-scale renewable energy target of 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020. This will see more than 23½ per cent of Australia’s electricity derived from renewable resources by 2020. That is a great achievement. I think we went to the last election promising 20 per cent. Due to the drop in electricity usage, the previous scale was going to come out a lot higher than that. But 23½ per cent is a fantastic place, isn’t it? It is a great place to start. Well done to everyone involved.
As highlighted in our energy white paper, Australia has an oversupply of generation capacity, and some of that is aged. From 2009-10 to 2013-14, electricity demand has fallen by about 1.7 per cent per year on average. This is due to many factors: declining activity in the industrial sector, which is not always good news; increasing energy efficiency, which is good news; and strong growth in rooftop solar PV systems, which I have experienced in Petrie—a lot of people are taking that up there, which is fantastic. All of this has reduced demand for electricity sourced from the grid.
While the government welcomes a diverse energy mix in Australia, we also understand that circumstances have changed since that original target was set. The new target represents a much better balance, because it has to be achievable. It covers the need to continue diversifying Australia’s electricity generation assets; the need to encourage investment in renewables, while also responding to market conditions; the need to reduce emissions in the electricity sector in a cost-effective way; and the need to keep electricity prices down for consumers. That is really important. I heard the member for Hinkler before, talking about the pensioners in his electorate who are screaming because of high electricity bills. He has a really good point—he has a great point—because if we do not achieve the targets that we have set then there will be penalties. What will those do to the pensioners in the Petrie electorate? Or to the people who cannot afford to put solar on their roof? This is an important question. We all have to work together to make sure the target is achieved, because we do not want those penalties kicking in.
The bill is about protecting jobs in the emissions-intensive trade-exposed sectors by reducing their costs. It will take the common sense action of reinstating native forest wood waste as an eligible fuel source as well. I do want to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane. I heard him speak today. He was a key negotiator on this and he speaks a lot of common sense, so well done to him. Thanks go to him for his contribution and, of course, to the Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt, who has been doing a fantastic job as well with this and with everything he does in the environment. This week we saw what he achieved with the Great Barrier Reef. He also exposed Greenpeace for the lies that they were telling about the Great Barrier Reef—trying to pass off some Asian reef destroyed by a cyclone as our Great Barrier Reef. I do not know where theses Greenpeace people and the Greens get their ideas from—they are dangerous! People should not support them.
But thanks to him for what he is doing, and also for what he is doing with the Green Army. I have two projects that have been rolled out in my electorate. The Minister for the Environment has been doing a great job there as well. We thank him and the Minister for Science and Industry for what they have both been doing. It is so important that we protect the environment we live in, now and into the future. I am proud to be part of a government that is delivering in this space.
I want to particularly acknowledge both the ministers in writing into this bill that there will be no review of the Renewable Energy Target until 2020. I still remember all the commotion last year during the RET review that was legislated by the previous Labor government that led to uncertainty. At the time, I had the shadow minister, the member for Port Adelaide, running up around in Petrie and going to forums trying to get some political points. In his speech today he spoke about the uncertainty of the time and that we would have achieved the 41,000 if it were not for us. He was not playing a really good positive contribution, running around the country trying to scare the hell out of people. I think that this will bring certainty to the industry.
By legislating that there will be no RET review until 2020, we will be able to give the renewable energy industry the certainty it needs to grow. Instead of a review, the Clean Energy Regulator will provide an annual statement to parliament on how the scheme is tracking towards the 2020 target, and any impact the RET is having on electricity prices. This bill will give the renewable energy sector the assurance it needs to innovate and develop and it cements our commitment to the Renewable Energy Target that will encourage sustainable growth. This is a good deal for the sector and for Australia and it should be supported.