Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012

It is wonderful to see people talking about the issues around solar energy in any debate, and I am really keen to discuss moving forward with this process today.

When this Solar Hot Water Rebate Bill 2012 was introduced, the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme was clearly defined as an interim scheme, one that was being introduced to encourage people to look at changing their practices and to making decisions around how they could best have solar energy in their homes. There was a clear understanding that it was going through until June 2012. There is no doubt that it was not going to have an end date. There now seems to be this amazing focus in this debate that the only way that people in Australia were going to look at changing the way they had solar hot water was if this bill was in place. That was never the intent. The intent was as an incentive, as a bonus to get people to change their ways of thinking, and that has worked. I applaud the way that this bill has been operating in that time frame.

We can see by the figures that have already been mentioned in the debate today that far more people than the original proponents of the bill in 2007 had expected-many more than had originally been planned for-made the decision and looked at using solar power, worked with producers in the field and made the change. That is a great thing. No-one can deny that. But if this debate hinges on the fact that the only way that Australians will look at taking up solar energy will be if they get an immediate rebate then that undersells the population. In many ways this interim bill has succeeded in its intent to make people think about the need for change. In fact, we know that in many areas of construction in new homes the only option is looking at alternate forms of energy for internal heating. We were trying to tell people the costs of old forms of heating, which were the focus of this bill, and to look at different arrangements and encourage them to ask questions, and to encourage businesses to introduce a range of options in their marketing that were not available up until the early 2000s. There was only the one product available and that was what we were locked into because we were comfortable with that process of energy and that was what our market was producing.

In the early 2000s, people across the community began to say, 'Hey, we can do better than this', and a number of companies grabbed hold of that incentive and thought they could get more profit through a market they could serve. We can see that it did work. The Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme had its purpose and its time has passed. We are now moving into the formal period of the carbon pricing process, with the range of initiatives that are linked with that. Senator Faulkner went through some of those in his contribution and I share his view about the acronyms habit into which we are falling. We have had much discussion in this place around the various programs and schemes that are coming through from 1 July this year. The Clean Technology Investment Program is focused on the very industries about which Senator McKenzie was speaking, working with those industries to look at their innovation and good business practice and to have them involved in working with the Australian market to ensure that we, as a whole community, address and embrace issues around renewable energy.

That process, which is a large expenditure of $800 million, will be working to ensure that things like solar hot water systems-but not only solar hot water systems-will continue to be developed. They will bring down the cost of those because we all know that the market-driven forces ensure that, the larger the market, the cheaper the product will be and the greater the incentive for research and development. Australia has a good record in that area. We expect that when the processes around this Clean Technology Investment Program get going, we will, as always, have clever Australian industries working in this area to make sure that they are the best that they can be and to bring with them the market that can be created around that, a market which in some way has been educated and developed through the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme. But that scheme is not the only driver of change. To hear some of the contributions from the other side, you would think that the only way we will be able to move effectively to clean energy in the future is to retain such a narrowly-based scheme for one single purpose. That is just not true. In looking around at the wider debate about how we can appropriately engage in looking at alternative energy, it seems to me to be an over-exaggerated excuse for not taking further action.

One of the other programs coming through with the price on carbon will be the renewable energy target-the RET scheme. This again is looking at a means of incentive for people in the community, and again they will be able to have a choice. People wishing to use the RET scheme can use it in a number of ways to look at different forms of energy in their home. It is not so narrowly prescribed around just heating; it is looking at other things. We believe very strongly that the debate has moved on, that an interim program from 2007 was there for a purpose, and I think it has worked. I think that more people are looking at alternative forms of energy and that producers are looking at offering a greater choice. But we need to go further than that. We have had the extensive debate in the parliament about the whole area of the price on carbon and moving into a clean energy future. That program has been agreed and the processes will be in place from 1 July.

Certainly the debate has been wide ranging, and I will not have to keep saying 'and we return to the point', because I think the focus of this debate is actually the Renewable Energy Bonus scheme process. I note that there are two bills-one in the lower house and the one we have before us here-but they are both trying to take the debate away from the real purpose. I think they are trying to focus on this particular issue and not the wider areas around what we have to have in this country, which is a complete acceptance that we are moving into an area of carbon pricing, which will involve every citizen. The opposition continue with their opposition to that, and one aspect of their opposition will be focusing on such a narrow bill as the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme.

I do think that one of the things that does need to happen is continuing work with the industry, and I take Senator McKenzie's point that there has got to be continuing information, sharing and working with industry. That is occurring. There is no doubt there will and must be discussion between government and industry. I think that, as always, when industry is fearful-which people were when this announcement was made-they tend to overstate the issue, go to the media and call for support. That is a natural reaction. I know that there is continuing discussion with ministers about moving into the future. That is exactly how government works with the community.

I do not think that there is major uncertainty, as has been stated by some of the opposition in this debate. I think that this particular scheme, the subject of this debate, is understood. What we need is greater engagement and clarity from all parties who are moving into such schemes as the clean energy investment program and the renewable energy target. We need industry to understand exactly what their role is going to be and to do the kind of research and development work that I have mentioned which will make them very effective players into the future.

We are also working with the Low Carbon Communities Program, which is taking the discussion to councils and communities so that people can work at the community level to see how they can change the amount of carbon used, how they can support, particularly, low-income families in their community to minimise their energy costs, and look at the kinds of support that the government is providing and also make that very important community decision about how they are going to operate in a clean energy future. That is a great opportunity for people to look at the use of alternative energies at the local level.

The kinds of programs that will be available through the RET and the development processes will be best understood and taken up by people working together and sharing knowledge. Already there are examples across Australia of communities that are doing that. They have looked at sharing energy costs and at what works best for them. That is the way Australia will be able to achieve the kinds of targets we must achieve and how we will be able to learn from our own experiences and get people involved. Through that process, the information that has been available for the last few years through the Renewable Energy Bonus scheme has been valuable. So many thousands of people in Australia have taken up the scheme and are working with it and will have clear evidence about what their costs of heating have been as opposed to what they would have been if they were still reliant on the old technology and the old models.

In this environment we have the opportunity to be positive and to engage, or we have-as has been seen in the debate today-the ongoing opportunity to keep on opposing and to keep on saying no. In that process I do not think there is any real choice. I think that there will be the understanding from the Australian community that there have been changes. The process will operate differently from 1 July. People will have the chance to make their own decisions around what they are going to do and how they are going to own and control their own involvement with energy costs-with their transport and with the way that they are going to operate their own businesses. That will be, I think, a process where there will be support by government.

Today's bill is, I think, a diversion. Whilst we will go through with the debate, we will hear some common ground. I think that people will actually applaud how good the Renewable Energy Bonus scheme has been and understand why it has been so successful. As I have said, I agree with many of those comments. What I do not agree with is some pretence that it is the only mechanism for which people will take any opportunity to make their own choices around how they are going to take part in a clean energy future. I do not think incentive bonuses are the only way to reward people or to have people engaged. I think that industry have done a great job over the last few years in marketing in their own way the advantages of the products they have. From my own experience-and from both the newspaper ads and the TV ads-I have seen that people have celebrated the economic value on an ongoing basis of changing to an alternate form of energy rather than sticking with the old forms of energy. People have been able to work out that they will have over time great personal incentive to actually make the changes. They do not need to rely on a scheme-that was developed in 2007 to be an interim scheme-to make them make the choice as to what is going to be best for them, for their families and for their homes.