Standing Committee on the Economy and Infrastructure


Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — I move:

That pursuant to sessional order 6 this house requires the economy and infrastructure committee to inquire into, consider and report, no later than 24 November 2015, on options for a Victorian renewable energy target that is not invalidated or limited by section 7C of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 (Cth) and that creates renewable energy additional to the federal renewable energy target.

Just the other day the Labor and Liberal parties at the federal level got together to tear apart the federal renewable energy target. Some 41 000 gigawatt hours of green power that was to be created under that target is now to be reduced down to the low 30s, and the direct result of that decision by the Labor and Liberal parties is many more millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. That is a matter for the federal parties, but down here in Victoria the Labor Party purports to have an interest in a Victorian renewable energy target. In fact at the same time as it was doing that dirty, polluting deed with Tony Abbott, it was launching some sort of hokey online campaign that lasted about 5 minutes, asking people to join Labor in lobbying Tony Abbott for a Victorian renewable energy target. It is that fraudulent piece of political spin that needs to be addressed, and it is for that reason that the Greens are calling for this inquiry.

The government's excuse down here in Victoria is that section 7C of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 — the commonwealth act — prevents it from having a light target here in Victoria. I have not got the time to go into the constitutional niceties of that. I am not even, for today's purposes, arguing about that. I am simply saying that if the Victorian government is committed to adding extra renewables into the grid — having just stripped them out of the federal target, and the legislation hit the federal Parliament today — then it ought to have a look at all the other options that would not in any way, under any stretch of the imagination, compete with the federal provisions.

The Greens-Labor government of the ACT has already worked out a way to do it. It is requiring that a certain amount of its electricity supply is to come from renewable sources. It ran an auction to obtain that power, and who is the beneficiary of that renewable energy target in the ACT? The Ararat Wind Farm is now going to get the nod. In Mr Ramsay's electorate, in the Ararat area, there will be more jobs. Believe it or not, the state Minister for Energy and Resources put out a press release congratulating that wind farm on getting the green light, which it got only because the ACT Greens-Labor government decided to get off its backside and introduce its own renewable energy target.

[Speech was interrupted.]

Mr BARBER — Mr Ramsay is champing at the bit, Acting President, to discuss the subject of the renewable energy target, although I have a funny feeling that Mr Drum is in line first — I do not know if it is due to seniority or some negotiation.

Amazingly enough, the Andrews Labor government went to the election with no position and no plan on renewable energy. Its position was that, if elected, it would develop a plan for renewable energy — a classic example of, 'Trust me now, and I will tell you what my promise is after you have elected me', which seems to be some sort of postmodern method of governing. The government got away with doing a bit of a soft-shoe shuffle — a look over there and 'Isn't that interesting?' — but its promise added up to nothing. Along the way, and even recently, the government has mouthed the right words about a Victorian renewable energy target, but it will not come good.

Not to pre-empt the outcome of any inquiry, but there are a half-a-dozen ways that a Victorian government could immediately boost the amount of renewables produced and used in Victoria. The government itself could start purchasing a higher proportion of its electricity from green sources. It could put a requirement on generator licences. It could put a requirement on retail licences under the Electricity Industry Act 2000. It could use funds it currently collects and pays over to subsidise a couple of aluminium smelters to subsidise the construction of more green power in the grid. It could certainly get out of the road of those who are trying to do it themselves, and it could stop power companies from blocking renewable development at the household farm or business level. That would be for the inquiry itself to consider.

Unfortunately we have also seen a move to burn native forests in furnaces to produce electricity and label it green. The deal the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has put into the federal Parliament today, now that he has had the green light from the federal Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, is certainly going to provide for that. What could be less green than taking Victorian forests — which are some of the most carbon-dense ecosystems on earth, that are ready to grow older and older into their old growth state, absorbing carbon all the while — and actually burning them? It is pure desperation on behalf of VicForests, which is trying to create a reason for its existence now that it cannot sell its product anymore.

It is an absolutely shocking irony that Japanese woodchip companies now have a much stronger environmental consciousness than the Labor and Liberal parties in the Australian Parliament. They are turning up their noses at Australian woodchips and growing their own in plantations, so what is left for VicForests to do but try to find someone who will burn up forests and put emissions into the atmosphere to sell electricity. In fact under the deal that Bill Shorten has just facilitated, it could be that all the increase in renewables from here on in falls into this category of burning up forests, which should in fact be developed into carbon banks.

The Victorian Labor government is flip-flopping all over the joint when it should be lobbying Bill Shorten to refuse the deal, to reject burning woodchips from native forests and to start talking about setting a post-2020 target for renewables. Even if it fails in all that, it has the power in its hands within Victorian legislation to start boosting renewables. It is for that reason that we have asked the Labor government, if it is sincere, to support this reference so that some of these issues which have been bounced around in the political sphere can be addressed with the engagement of the renewable energy sector and farmers, householders and businesses — all those who will benefit when they become electricity producers.

We need to get all that information out on the table and deal with it in a parliamentary committee process which, despite what members might have heard here today, is often much less political than the debates we have in this chamber. In committees the facts, the evidence and the experts have to be tested, and politicians have to sit and listen while the community talks. Why is it that Labor wants to keep shuffling around on this issue when it has the chance to have a parliamentary inquiry into it?

We know the coalition is unrelentingly hostile to renewable energy. It has all but destroyed the industry for large-scale renewables in Australia, firstly, just by campaigning relentlessly in public and, secondly, by setting up a review by a notorious climate change denier with a clearly predetermined outcome. By the way, though, even that inquiry had to acknowledge that the effect of keeping the renewable energy target would be that power prices would in fact fall in the future, because we would avoid having to use very expensive gas to meet our future energy needs, but nonetheless, it was a predetermined outcome designed to get rid of the target, and now there is this macabre dance between Labor and Liberal in Canberra until finally Labor caves and slashes the target. I am not confident that the coalition is willing to support the sorts of measures that the community is crying out for.

We know the vast majority of people want development in renewable energy ahead of any new coal or fossil fuels, but they just seem to find themselves on the wrong side of the debate every time, and opposition members should be willing to support an inquiry into the issue, unless their minds are completely and utterly closed for all time. We have just voted to support a reference motion that the opposition moved for some of these committees to look at a whole range of important public projects in the area of infrastructure. On the same rationale, why would it not be willing to support an inquiry? Why would it be scared of an inquiry into renewable energy when energy is so clearly an important part of our public infrastructure?

I thank the chamber for the time that has been made available to debate this motion. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other members.