You are here

Transcript and Video: Renewable Energy Bill Libs and Labor collaborate against forests against Greens and Xenophon

Last night I watched Larissa Waters and Nick Xenophon doggedly try to curb sinister bi-partisan legislation that burns down our native forests and calls this clean energy. In a final attempt to salvage some public control over this legislated attack on our native forests, they argued that the general public be ensured 'standing' to bring about complaints when they perceived breaches of these new laws. I found it nauseating to watch the arrogant demeanor of Senator Birmingham, the Minister for Education, Liberal Party, as he blocked the rights of ordinary citizens to bring about complaints under the law and as he disparaged Senator Water's attempts to bring attention to crucial matters, such as the preservation of soil fertility when forest is depleted of its biomass. Greens Senator Milne summed up the situation when she said: "You are creating an industry to drive and prop up native forest logging. You are destroying habitat, you are destroying carbon stores and you are behaving in a manner that is contrary to all of the science on what we should be doing about global warming, and you are calling it renewable when it is not renewable. It is driving the destruction of forests. That is the point. It is not about the trees being 'cut down anyway'. They are not being cut down now, because it is not economic to do so. What you are doing here is trying to put a dollar value back into logging to prop up native forest logging because it is an ideological obsession of the Prime Minister. Isn't that exactly what is going on here?"

Editor Candobetter.net: Note that the transcript here is from http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/chamber/hansards/a3a8dfe1-27c9-4c71-a8ec-1fe1cc2461a0/toc_unixml/Senate_2015_06_23_3540_Part.xml;fileType=text%2Fxml This means that, until/if I get round to changing the links, all the links to speakers' names will take you to a dead end, however, if you go to the original site, you can find the active links.

Renewable Energy Bill

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015
81

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015

In Committee
81

In Committee

Debate resumed.


81CHAIRMAN, The10000

The CHAIRMAN (19:30): The committee is considering the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015, and amendment (1) on sheet 7707 moved by Senator Waters. The question is that part 4 of schedule 1 stand as printed.


81Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:30): In speaking to our amendment regarding the removal of the ability to burn wood from native forests to be eligible for renewable energy certificates, the issue of what is classified as waste is pertinent and is behind our amendment.

Minister Hunt has claimed repeatedly the biomass that is going to be burnt in forest furnaces is just waste, so we are interested in knowing exactly what is the government's definition of 'waste' or 'residue' in relation to the burning of native forest biomass for electricity. As far as we can see, nothing about this proposal to be burning wood from native forests for energy is about waste. Rather, it is about maintaining, entrenching and expanding industrial scale clear-fell logging that would not otherwise have occurred. It is not about branches, bark and treetops, as we have been misled to believe over the last months. If it were it would be restricted to this and would not include whole logs. In contrast, this legislation is all about allowing the burning of whole logs from native forests for electricity—it is so far from being renewable it is not funny.

The statistics on logging in native forests show that in Victoria and New South Wales 70 to 80 per cent of the logs that are coming out of our clear-felled native forests are ending up as pulp logs; they are not being used as sawn timber. In Tasmania, 80 to 90 per cent of the logs are being classed as residual or pulp logs, not as saw logs. Under this legislation all of these logs will be able to be classified as waste. The higher values test would not stop this occurring as you would only have to get a very small amount of revenue from the use of the sawn timber. You could have a massive amount of wood being produced for biomass and that would be acceptable. But we know that in forest operations that are operating for the export woodchipping markets that sometimes the price that has been achieved for woodchips has been down to as low as 7c per tonne. We have discovered that in East Gippsland at times, in sending woodchips to the Eden woodchip mill, that is the price that has been achieved. So you do not have to have a very high-value sawn timber product for the rest of the wood to be considered as waste under this legislation, and hence be eligible to be burnt.

We have been told that we also do not need to worry about this because the last time wood from native forest was eligible to have renewable energy certificates very little of it occurred. We have been told: 'Don't worry about it. There's only going to be a very small amount. It's only about small amounts of timber.' But the big thing that has changed, compared to the 10 years between 2001 and 2011, when we last had wood from native forests being eligible for renewable energy certificates, is the crash in the export woodchipping market. Between 2001 and 2011 we had very healthy markets for woodchips from Australia, but, in the intervening period since 2011, the export woodchipping market for woodchips from Australian native forests has collapsed. That is because there has been a growth in wood from plantation eucalypts, particularly across South-East Asia, that are not only cheaper but also provide better quality woodchips, so there is very little interest now in woodchips from Australian native forests for paper production. The push behind this, and the push behind defining so much of this wood—the 90 per cent of wood that would be coming from our forest—as waste is to find an alternative market for this bulk of the timber that is coming from our native forests.

The other critical factor as to why there is this push to define this as waste and allowing it to be burnt and generating extra subsidies through the production of renewable energy certificates is that we know that native forestry operations across the country run at massive losses. In the last financial year Forestry Tasmania lost $43 million. We have learnt in the last month that in East Gippsland, in Victoria, the logging operations there ran at a loss of $5 million. We are in a situation where we have got no market for the woodchips and logging operations are running at a massive loss. So what do we do? The obvious answer is not to keep on logging those forest given the value of these forests for so many other purposes; the answer is to open them up for recreation and tourism, to protect them for wildlife, and to continue the push and to continue the transition that has been occurring over the last 20 years to move out of native forests and into plantations.

The wood products statistics for Australia for the last two quarters were released just today, and they showed that the shift away from native forest logging and the shift to plantations are continuing apace. We are now in a situation where 85 per cent of the wood products being produced in Australia are coming from plantations—native forest logging is at its end for large-scale production of low-value products—so you can see where this push is coming from, you can see the reason the pressure is on is to prop up an industry that otherwise would be disappearing into history. We are in a situation in which we should be able to resolve the controversy over forests once and for all, to accept that sustainable logging—with good jobs and providing good quality timber products—from plantations is a reality in Australia and to accelerate that transition to plantation-based wood products. But, no, instead of that the pressure is on to continue the incredibly damaging logging of our forests and continue the destruction and devastation of habitat for endangered species—destroying all that for the sake of producing what is a so-called renewable energy source.

We are at a crossroads in Australia. We could be going down the track of acknowledging that and saying, 'No, we do not need to continue to get low-value products from our native forests;' we could be winding down the amount of logging of our native forests and increasingly produce sawn timber from hardwood plantations as well, or we can continue with this incredibly damaging industry that is going to end up destroying the native forests that should be protected, that should be allowed to grow old and preserved for their other values: their values for wildlife, their values for carbon stores, their values for tourism and their values for recreation.

Coming back to the question that I began with, Minister: what is the government's definition of 'waste' and are whole logs going to be included in that definition?


82Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:38): Anybody who was following the debate that we had last week on this would have heard me provide ad nauseam the definitions applied in this legislation to make sure that we do have extremely tight safeguards in place. As this is the second attempt to try to amend out of the legislation by one means or another the provisions around native forest wood waste, I will speak very quickly to indicate the government do not support the proposal of the Australian Greens. We are simply seeking to reinstate the effective regulations that were in place pre November 2011 that had been in place for a period of 10 years, that provided good safeguards to ensure that native forest wood waste would in fact be able to be used for renewable energy purposes without having any detrimental impact on the operation of native forests.

To be very brief, the conditions that are in place ensure that the biomass must arise from a harvesting activity where the primary purpose is not energy production. The biomass must be either a by-product or waste product of a harvesting operation approved under relevant planning and approval processes and that meets a high-value test or a by-product of a harvesting operation carried out in accordance with ecologically sustainable forest management principles. The biomass must meet ecologically sustainable forest management principles in a regional forest agreement or, if no such agreement is in place, meet equivalent principles to the satisfaction of the minister.

The Clean Energy Regulator is tasked to undertake a rigorous assessment of applications for power-station accreditation. When it comes to using such waste in determining eligibility for native forest wood waste as a renewable energy source, the regulator will verify that, if a forest management framework under which the harvesting operation is conducted is a regional forest agreement, the harvesting is being carried out in accordance with the ecologically sustainable management principles in that agreement; and if the harvesting operation is not conducted under an RFA, that the harvesting is carried out in accordance with ecologically sustainable forest management principles equivalent to those of an RFA to the satisfaction of the minister.

The power-stations provision of the ecologically sustainable forest management principles statement must be made related to the wood waste. The use of wood waste for energy production is not the primary purpose of the harvesting operation. The regulator will verify the existence of the sawmill and its operating licence and, where applicable, that the high-value test is satisfied and that there is an auditable trail of documentation in place from the source of the wood waste to the power station.

The regulator will be empowered to undertake sample checks, including on the registration number of wood waste trucks and the weighbridge documents for supply of wood waste, and can also conduct spot audits of power stations that use wood waste for energy production. Once the power station is accredited then and only then will they be able to create large-scale generation certificates.

Quite simply, there is a robust framework in place. The robust framework that is in place mirrors what operated successfully for more than a decade which was defended time and time again by the Australian Labor Party, including Senator Wong, during that decade which we are simply seeking to restore such that wood waste is not otherwise potentially left to rot rather than being used for a good purpose such as energy generation.


83Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:42): Can I clarify then, Minister, that clear-fell logging operations such as those currently occurring in Victoria and Tasmania, where you have 70, 80 and 90 per cent of the timber that is removed from the forests not classified as sawn timber, as saw logs, but would be eligible to be considered as waste and eligible to be burnt as biomass.


83Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:42): No, it would not. The primary purpose of it must be for some purpose other than for energy generation.


83Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:43): Minister, currently under those operations that are being produced for sawn timber and for woodchipping, sawn timber is considered the primary product. So the scenario that I am outlining would be that, instead of those 80 or 90 per cent of logs going to be chipped to be exported—say, in the case of the east Gippsland forests—they would go off to be burnt as biomass.


83Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:43): I do not believe that in relation to the conditions that are imposed in this regard for the renewable energy target that you could have a primary product definition that saw a scale of wood being used for energy purposes of the volume to which you have suggested.


83Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (19:44): The opposition will be supporting this amendment. This amendment is effectively the same as the amendment that we moved last week in this place. It removes the native wood waste element from the bill. We made our arguments very clear at that time, that our amendment removed the provision in this bill that seeks to reinsert native wood waste into the renewable energy scheme. As well, it amended the act to prevent any future regulation by the government to reinsert native wood waste into the scheme. Obviously, I was disappointed that that amendment did not pass in this place. Having said that, I note that the Greens amendment is pretty much in line with our amendment, and therefore we will be supporting it.

I do want to highlight, though, that when we were in this place last week and we came back to debating this particular legislation, deliberate filibustering took place on the side of the government. This is their legislation and we have waited for it for some 12 months through a very long process of their creating a lot of uncertainty in the renewable energy industry. There has been so much uncertainty that there has been a massive reduction in investment in this country—investment that we have lost to other parts of the world. In good faith, Labor has tried to bring certainty back to the industry, hence our providing that certainty through support of this legislation that is before us now with, of course, removal of the caveat that was inserted at the 11th hour as a red herring, which was the insertion of native wood waste into the renewable energy scheme.

Last week, at the time this legislation was being debated—and in fact we were then debating Labor's amendment—there was continual filibustering. You would think that on finally reaching a bipartisan agreement after 12 months—an agreement that had been in place since 2001, but had then been lost directly after the last election when the Prime Minister reneged on that bipartisan agreement that had been in place since the Howard years—the government would do the right thing, that it would act in good faith and progress this legislation through the Senate. But now we know what was going on at that time. I think even Senator Birmingham did not know what was going on that time. We knew that a meeting was going on, Senator Birmingham. While you and I were in this place debating this legislation, a meeting with the minister, Greg Hunt, with Senator Leyonhjelm, with Senator Xenophon and with the crossbench, to appease their request for the creation of a whole new amount of red tape around the creation of a wind farm commissioner.

We have debated that in this place this week. We have seen the draft letter—it has been all over the media and all over social media. It is basically a letter. It may be lacking a signature, but it is pretty much done and dusted as far as being on letterhead. It has got Greg Hunt's name all over it. It just needs a—

Senator Birmingham: It has got a signature now—I will table it for you in a minute.

Senator SINGH: Oh, it has got a signature too, now? So it is a done deal. You have lost out, Senator Birmingham. Last week you told me you were hoping that we were going to progress this legislation through as per the arrangement that had been put in place to provide the certainty in the industry that Labor had provided. But, no, another red herring was created to appease the crossbench. Despite Senator Brandis leading the government in the Senate today and yesterday and saying that he did not know a deal had been done with the crossbench; he did not know a wind farm commissioner was going to be put in place; he had no idea about it. He was just the leader of the government in the Senate, yet he had no idea. In fact, it had been done whilst you and I were debating this legislation in this place last week—while you were filibustering with your Senate colleagues so the deal could be done. Unbelievable!

At the same time, we know it was not very long ago that millions of dollars were ripped out of the Human Rights Commission in this country, that a full-time disability discrimination commissioner was axed in this country by the same current acting leader of the Senate, Senator Brandis. And now, to appease a couple of crossbenchers, we have the creation of a whole new commissioner, a commissioner for wind farms, to tack on to a renewable energy target scheme. This was never part of what we were debating in this place last week. The way this government operates is absolutely shameful. It shows very clearly its distaste and dislike—as the Prime Minister has said on Alan Jones' program, and as Joe Hockey has said a number of times—for wind energy, despite wind energy providing an incredible boost to renewable energy jobs, to renewable energy investment, to a clean energy future. In fact, my home state of Tasmania provides 40 per cent of Australia's renewable energy.

Senator Canavan: Hydro!

Senator SINGH: A lot of that comes from wind, Senator Canavan. You are not allowed to speak unless you are sitting in your seat, so you might want to withdraw that comment. The ignorance is unbelievable! You might want to come to Musselroe or to Woolnorth and visit, and then you might know what you are talking about. Wind energy is a huge part of Tasmania's contribution to Australia's renewable energy. The fact that this government continues to attack it and attack it, so much that it is going to set up an entire wind farm commissioner to appease a couple of crossbenchers to get a couple of votes in this place, shows that it does not care about a clean energy future. It does not care about renewable energy in this country. It does not care about jobs and investment. It cares about protecting probably a few fossil fuel mates and a few crossbenchers to ensure that it gets votes in other areas. Labor will always stand by science. We will stand by jobs, we will stand by investment and we will stand by a clean energy future—unlike those in government, who, unfortunately at the moment, continue to put their heads in the sand and try to ruin this country for the future. It will certainly be an interesting position that Australia finds itself in at the Paris conference this year. I hope it will not be as embarrassing as it has been for Senator Birmingham in this place and will continue to be as this night progresses. The Labor Party will support this amendment as it currently stands.


84Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP


84Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP


84Canavan, Sen Matthew245212
Nats


84Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP


84Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:52): I, too, hope that the Paris conference will not be as embarrassing as the Copenhagen conference, and—who knows?—it might even get another run on ABC in 40-odd minutes time. In any event, to assist Senator Singh, a copy has been provided to all parties and to the whips while she was on her feet. I am more than happy to table a signed copy of the letter dated today, 23 June, from Minister Hunt to Senators Day, Lambie, Leyonhjelm and Madigan.


85Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:53): Senator Birmingham, I am interested in continuing to explore the primary purpose of harvesting. In the scenario that I outlined before of a clear-felling operation where you have got seven, eight or nine out of 10 logs currently, as part of that clear-felling operation, going off as residual logs and being woodchipped, forestry operations in both Victoria and Tasmania have assured people over many years that that is a sawlog driven operation. Can you confirm that that sort of sawlog driven operation that still has 70, 80 or 90 per cent of the timber that comes out of the forest going off to woodchips would not be the same as having a primary purpose of sawn timber under your definition?


85Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:53): I am not entirely sure if Senator Rice is asking me there whether woodchips are a high-value product. You are not? You are asking me if woodchips were substituted.


85Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:54): Yes. In a situation where we have the collapse of the export woodchipping markets from both East Gippsland and Tasmania, the logs that have been, over the last decades, exported as woodchips instead end up being burnt as biomass.


85Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:54): The primary purpose of harvesting must be for a defined high-value process. High-value processes, as I understand it, must have higher financial value than other products in the harvesting operation. Clearly, we are talking about products where the maximum financial incentive to harvest is in relation to something other than energy generation, and that energy generation is purely for the residual product at the end of that high-value harvesting exercise.


85Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:55): I have two questions about that higher value process. The first question is that, under that scenario where you have got 90 per cent of the wood going for woodchips, given that woodchips have been sold in the market for as low as $7 a tonne, that sawlog component of the operation in the past—the 10 per cent of the logs coming out—would, under your definition, still fit a high-value process and, as I read it, would still fit your definition of being the primary product. Is that, indeed, not the case under this situation? I could certainly see that, given that woodchips have been sold at as low as $7 a tonne, you could be selling these residual logs for a very small amount to feed them into a biomass generator. The second question is about the high-value process. Over what area of land do you intend to apply that higher values test?


85Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (19:56): It is, as I understand it, very clearly the financial value of the harvested material. I have been trying to follow your example in relation to woodchips here, Senator Rice. But you seem to be saying that, as the price of woodchips gets cheaper, the price of woodchips becomes irrelevant if you are talking about whether it is substituted. It would not be allowable for income from wood waste, were the income generated from that as a result of it being used for energy generation, to exceed the income from the primary purpose. That would not be allowable, because then it would be failing in terms of the high-value test. So the high-value test is about ensuring that you do have a primary purpose that drives the decision for harvesting in accordance with all of the other safeguards around the regional forest agreements and otherwise. That is the primary purpose up front for a given area of forestry activity, and that energy must be a secondary income source that is very clearly secondary to that higher value outcome.


85Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (19:58): I understand that, in the course of doing this dodgy deal to burn native forests and try to claim that that somehow will not incentivise native forest logging when all the evidence is to the contrary, Minister Hunt on ABC's PM program on the day that this toxic deal was announced said:

Essentially, the advice I had from the CEO of the Australian Forest Products Association today is, to the extent that it has any impact at all, it will mean that we are only using wood waste that would have otherwise have sat on the floor of the forest, and either rotted and produced methane or sat on the floor of the forest and burned and produced CO2.

Clearly, the minister has been seeking advice from the Australian Forest Products Association. Did the minister ask anyone else at all what exactly would be burnt under this crazy scheme?

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that part 4 of schedule 1 remain in the bill. Senator Waters?


85CHAIRMAN, The10000


85Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (19:59): I have asked the minister a question. Is he able to provide a response, given that we are in the committee stage of this bill?

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that part 4 of schedule 1 remain in the bill. Senator Waters, I cannot give you the call again. Senator Rice?


85CHAIRMAN, The10000


85Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (19:59): Minister, in my last question I actually asked you two questions and I want to return to both of them. In answer to the first question, you said that the higher value test would apply because the level of revenue from the wood being sold for energy could not exceed the level of revenue from the sawn timber or the higher value purpose. Of course, this depends on the price that is achieved for that wood that is sold for energy. As I have said, in the past we have seen woodchips being sold at the rock bottom price of 7c to 9c a tonne. So even if you are only getting $100 from the sawn timber it would meet the higher value test because of the tiny amount that has been achieved for those woodchips. What is to stop that from occurring in this situation where we are selling the wood for biomass?


86Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:00): In relation to Senator Waters' rather ridiculous question, the minister consults widely and with many people all of the time. To be frank, I did not really think the question deserved the time of the Senate. In relation to Senate Rice's question, we are not talking about a defined geographic area; the test is in the value of a particular parcel of products. That is why the process chain tests are in place that are so tied around what the Clean Energy Regulator is able to audit and able to monitor exactly the location it has come from. Senate Rice seems to be asking: if the price of energy were to be as low as the price of woodchips relative to the other purpose, would that possibly meet the higher value test? Senator Rice, that is a hypothetical. The test is around the value so, yes, the principal purpose of the harvesting activity needs to be of a demonstrably higher value, needs to meet the higher value, compared with any other purpose—in particular, energy generation—in this regard.


86Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:01): Given that forestry operations in Tasmania ran at a $43 million loss last year and operations in East Gippsland ran at a $5 billion loss last year, the idea of selling off wood for energy at less than the cost of producing it is not unknown to our state forest agencies. So I think what you are telling me then is that the higher value test could indeed mean that you would have 10 per cent of the logs going off for sawn timber and 90 per cent of the logs going off to be burnt as biomass. Would you agree with that?


86Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:02): No, I do not agree with that hypothetical situation. Ultimately what we are trying to do here is deal with what is genuinely a waste product. There are a number of safeguards that are very clearly put in place here. I think the nature of the questioning and the hypothetical that is being put here is, as I said in the debate the other night, a demonstration that this debate around the use of native forest wood waste is generally used by the Greens—and sadly nowadays it seems by the Labor Party, who back-flipped on where they were a couple of years ago and had consistently been for a decade—as a proxy war over forest activities in general. The government thinks that safe, sustainable and well regulated forestry activities have a place. We also think that waste should be used in the best and most economic manner and that it is very appropriate in this case, with the safeguards that existed successfully for a decade, to encompass the reintroduction of native title wood waste. I do not intend to answer every possible hypothetical pricing scenario during the committee stage tonight.


86Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:03): I want to take up with the minister the issue of the economic viability of logging a coupe if you do not have the dollars flowing in from the use of the 90 per cent of the coupe that will be used for this particular purpose. Has the minister actually had a look at the fact that, without an export woodchip industry in Tasmania, there is no viability for native forest logging? Without it, there is no market and no logging. This, however, will return viability to the industry by actually creating a subsidy for the logging of native forests. Have you had a look at the modelling and can you now verify that the reason the logging stopped in Tasmania is that there is no market for the woodchips from the 90 per cent of the forest that comes out as so-called residual waste?


86Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:05): To be clear, the legislation states that 'the primary purpose of a harvesting operation is taken to be a high value process only if the total financial value of the products of the high value process is higher than the financial value of other products of the harvesting operation'. The legislation defines 'high value process' as 'the production of sawlogs, veneer, poles, piles, girders, wood for carpentry or craft uses, or oil products'. Senator Milne is inviting me to speculate or comment on the financial viability of forest operations. As I commented before, I appreciate that the Australian Greens and nowadays the Australian Labor Party have a fundamental objection to native forestry activities. The government does not. The government believes that this is an appropriate mechanism that will provide an opportunity for what may otherwise be used as waste or for lower value purposes to be used for the higher value purpose of energy generation—so long as the primary purpose is of a higher value than the actual energy generation revenue that is recorded as a result of the activity.


86Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:06): I invite the minister to comment with regard to the contract that Brickworks, in Victoria, has signed with VicForests. The wood or pellets that go into the furnace—or, more particularly, the kiln—for Brickworks comes from Victorian native forests. The kiln has been converted from gas to burning wood from native forests as a result of a grant that was made by the Abbott government after the 2013 election when the Clean Energy Grants Scheme was abolished by the Prime Minister. Subsequent to the abolition, a grant was made to Brickworks—a pure subsidy to Brickworks—to convert their kiln from gas to native forest. I ask the minister: what is the higher value of the operation in Victoria that has generated the wood that is going to the kiln at Brickworks at the Australian taxpayers' expense, as a gift to one of the biggest donors and supporters of the Liberal Party in the 2013 election?


87Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:07): That is a pretty grubby question. Senator Milne, I am sure, would have had or may have used the opportunity of Senate estimates or elsewhere to pursue issues of any grants or the like. I am not aware of the grant in question and it is not germane or relevant to the legislation before the chamber.

What I would simply note is that the legislation before the chamber has clear safeguards in place. More than that, it also has proper processes in place for the Clean Energy Regulator to be able to enforce those safeguards, to be able to audit what occurs such that any company that is using native forest wood waste as part of their energy generation activities will have to be able to demonstrate the proper audit trail of where that wood waste has come from and the proper audit trail of the other purposes of use for that native forest wood, and in doing so demonstrate that the higher value purpose test has been met.


87Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:08): Far from 'grubby', I have pursued this matter at length and in detail. I tried to get an answer from the government as to why Brickworks got a grant after the clean technology grants process was closed down. The document that I got under FOI was redacted. Every page was redacted—so much for any truth and transparency. I have pursued this up hill and down dale. The fact of the matter is that a contract was signed with VicForests to provide native forest wood to Brickworks, which now advertise their bricks as eco-friendly, having been generated from the burning of native forests. There was a contract with VicForests and nobody can establish at exactly what price the wood from VicForests goes to Brickworks. This is after a campaign of some months when the Prime Minister went to every Brickworks facility in the country, dressed in his high visibility vest and hat, talking about the marvellousness of getting rid of the carbon price. Then, immediately after the election, the person who was so insistent on abandoning a carbon price got the benefit of a grant from the Prime Minister after a grants process was closed, and it was redacted. So far from 'grubby', I am seeking the truth about what operations VicForests is engaged in to provide the wood to Brickworks.


87Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:10): Fortunately, some of the officials here seem to have some recollection of the grant in question and the operations in question. To prove the irrelevance of it to the debate we are having, I am advised that the operation in question is not generating electricity, but rather is internal energy production and therefore will be ineligible under the RET for large-scale certificates. So it is certainly not germane to this debate, but for Senator Milne's further interest, I am advised that in fact the grant was made under the former government's clean technology program, so if she has further questions perhaps she can ask them.


87Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:11): The grant was made post the 2013 election. That is why I am very interested in the basis on which it was made. I would be very interested, since the officials have the details, to know how much was actually allocated to Brickworks and what was the basis for the grant?


87Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:11): I am interested in what generation capacity the government is expecting this native forest logging and burning will provide and in what region does the government consider that large-scale wood burning to create so-called renewable energy would occur?


87Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:12): Of a very limited capacity, I think is the best way to surmise that, Senator Waters.


87Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:12): So does the government agree or disagree with the Australian Forest Products Association, whom the minister himself quoted in a question that I asked earlier, which he chose not to respond to, except in the most casual of manners. The Australian Forest Products Association say that native forest logging could supply 3,000 gigawatt hours by 2020 and up to 5,000 by 2050. Does the government agree with that or not?


87Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:12): I understand that there is some modelling or some suggestion of levels in the Warburton review. That, of course, is a public document, but my understanding is that that indication and analysis suggests that it would be rather negligible in terms of its level.


87Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:13): So is that no, you are not accepting the Australian Forest Products Association's estimation of the 2020 and 2050 amounts of native forest logging taking up from the RET?


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:13): No. The government has its own sources of advice. The government, of course, consults widely, but ultimately has its own sources of advice and analysis.


88Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:13): On that last point, I am interested in what your evidence base is for claiming that it will be just a very minor part. You have mentioned the Warburton review and you mentioned that you have other sources of advice. What are they?


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:14): ACIL consulting group did the modelling that supported the Warburton review, which I am sure the Australian Greens would have had a look at. If they have not, I would commend it to them. It certainly indicates that it is a negligible component of the RET.


88Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:14): We have spoken a bit tonight about the fact that we strongly believe, as do many of the experts, that this inclusion of native forest burning in the renewable energy target will throw a lifeline to the native forest logging industry, which was sustainably transitioning away from native forest logging and to plantation logging, with all of the attendant habitat benefits of that. That is precisely why we are so concerned about the inclusion of this in the RET. We have heard that usage of the waste is not economic and that logging itself is not economic without the waste. I would like to know whether the government will rule out providing any further subsidies to the native forest logging industry to incentivise the continuation of native forest logging.


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:15): The government has no intentions nor plans nor policies for any further activity in that area.


88Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:15): Okay, no intentions or plans—I am pleased to hear you say that, Minister. I hope that that remains the case beyond the next five minutes. Has the minister had any discussions with the big three retailers on whether they will purchase power or renewable energy certificates from native forest furnaces?


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:15): That really is a matter for them.


88Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (20:16): No, my question was whether you had had any discussions with them about that issue.


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:16): Even if we had, I am not sure I would be revealing the subject of such commercial discussions.


88Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:16): I want to return to the high-values issue again and to the question of the area of land that the high-values test will be applied to. In the period between 2001 and 2011, I understand it was applied on a coupe by coupe basis, and I am wondering whether that is the intention again or whether some other geographic area will be used.


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:16): I think I outlined before the processes that will be applied, the fact that the operation will be well regulated by the Clean Energy Regulator and that the regulator, of course, has the opportunity to audit specific areas in relation to the operation of the regulations relating to native forest wood waste. But I think most important to emphasise is that we are reinstalling the regulations that were in place previously. If that is the senator's understanding of how those regulations operated previously, that is what will be the case in the future.


88Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:17): I would like to ask the minister on what basis he would argue that burning native forests in a furnace is renewable energy and, therefore, able to be included in a renewable energy target when the scientists indicate quite clearly that the forests are much better carbon stores left standing rather than logged. That is clear in the CO2 equation. You are much better saving and protecting your native forests rather than logging them and burning them and suggesting it is a net benefit to renewable energy. I ask the minister: why do you believe, or why do you say, that burning native forest—logging a native forest and putting it in a furnace—can be classified as renewable energy?


88Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:18): Because the point here is that we are talking about waste from native forest operations and it makes sense to make the best possible use of waste products.


88Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:18): Using waste products is one thing; claiming it is renewable energy is another. On what basis are you arguing that logging a native forest and burning it is renewable energy when the CO2 equation is such that the level of CO2 to atmosphere is increased rather than reduced?


89Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:19): We are not burning trees; we are burning waste and burning waste products for the generation of electricity—waste products that sometimes are otherwise burnt at present without getting such benefits as generating electricity. So it is clearly of net benefit compared with what the alternatives frequently are for such waste products.


89Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:19): You state that we are not burning trees, but a scenario which is quite consistent with your high-values test could have seven out of the 10 logs coming out of that area of forest ending up being burnt. Surely the emissions from the logging and then the burning of that forest have to be attributable. Even if it is only at 70 per cent, you should be attributing that to the logging of that forest.


89Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:20): I assume the minister was not going to stand up and answer that question, unfortunately—I would have liked him to, but anyway. Has the government looked at the impacts of soil fertility and the ongoing capacity of the logged forest to regenerate if the logging debris is removed from the forest for biomass burning?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: The question is that part 4—

Senator WATERS: Are we in the committee stage not? We are asking these questions because we would like answers.


89TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN, The10000


89Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG


89Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:20): Senator Waters need not get so indignant, especially when really she is starting to stretch her questions into what we all know is sitting behind this, and that is the desire of the Greens to have a debate about native forest activity in general. That is perfectly fine; the Greens are entitled to debate the forestry activities in native forests if they like. There are many opportunities in the Senate to debate that. I am attempting to answer the questions of the Greens where I think they clearly relate to the amendments that are before us and the legislation that is before us. I am not going to waste the time of the Senate and of senators by going into broad-ranging assessments of the implications of native forestry activities. This legislation, firstly, is about ensuring that the RET operates successfully into the future and achieves 23 per cent of renewable energy generation by 2020 and, secondly, provides for the reinstatement of native forest wood waste as an eligible source with the safeguards that were in place and operated for more than a decade. I think that has been well debated in the chamber, over many hours, with the previous amendment and now this one. Whilst I will endeavour to help senators where their questions go to the operation of the legislation, I am not going to take up endless time just because the Greens are playing a tag team with questions on a far broader issue that they could raise through other avenues.


89Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:22): I want to quote Professor Gell, the professor of environmental science at Federation University Australia. He said:

It’s a falsehood to claim this type of electricity production as ‘renewable’. You can’t ‘renew’ or replace the burnt carbon stored in a 100-600 year old forest in the turnaround time needed to address climate change.

I would like to ask the minister if he disagrees with Professor Gell.


89Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:23): I would make the point—yet again—in the simplest possible language: the tree has already been cut down for a primary purpose. We are now talking about how waste—after that primary purpose—of that timber is utilised in the most efficient way. That is the question here. Do trees provide a valuable carbon storage? Yes, they do, Senator Milne. In this instance, we are not talking about how regional forest agreements are struck, we are not talking about native forest management policies, overall, we are talking about waste products.


89Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:23): We are talking about regional forest agreements and we are talking about logging forests. The primary purpose would not be possible if you did not provide a place for 90 per cent of what you cut down to go. That is the fact of the matter. That is why the woodchip industry has collapsed. There is no market for woodchips. Therefore, there is no viability in logging native forests for sawlog. That is the whole point here.

You are creating an industry to drive and prop up native forest logging. You are destroying habitat, you are destroying carbon stores and you are behaving in a manner that is contrary to all of the science on what we should be doing about global warming, and you are calling it renewable when it is not renewable. It is driving the destruction of forests. That is the point. It is not about the trees being 'cut down anyway'. They are not being cut down now, because it is not economic to do so. What you are doing here is trying to put a dollar value back into logging to prop up native forest logging because it is an ideological obsession of the Prime Minister. Isn't that exactly what is going on here?


89Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:25): Continuing on with that theme, I want to draw the minister's attention to a paper, last year, by Heather Keith and others. It estimated that continued logging in the central highlands region of Australia, under current plans, would represent a loss in carbon stocks of 5.56 megatons over five years or over one megaton of carbon a year. This takes into account the stored carbon from the wood products produced, which is not much. Only four per cent of the forest was converted to sawn-timber products, yet under this legislation that would be a primary purpose, a higher-value product. Over two-thirds of the forest was made into paper products, which only had a short lifetime of less than three years. Under this scenario, instead of those residual waste woodchips going off to biomass the emissions from burning those trees would be immediate, so the ledger would be even more negative.

I repeat Senator Milne's question: what evidence do you have that by considering the burning of wood from native forests for energy would, by any means, be considered renewable? What will be used as a benchmark to verify that no extra logging will take place as a result of using native forest biomass eligible for renewable energy certificates? Will the benchmark be current 2014-15 logging volumes or is there some other measure that will be used?


90Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:27): There is a rich array of data in this space. You asked what would be used as the benchmark. I imagine people would usually look to the time changes occur as a benchmark, but there is quite a bit of historical data as well. People will choose in their debates—as they often do in this place—whatever benchmark data source they wish at the time of debate. I have no doubt you will do this yourself, Senator Rice.


90Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:27): Given the claim has been made that this will not result in any extra logging, does the government have any intention of establishing a benchmark to measure that claim against?


90Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:28): It is all monitored.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Williams): The question is that part 4 of schedule 1 stand as printed.


90Williams, Sen John (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
Nats



The Senate divided. [20:32]
(The Deputy President—Senator Marshall)

33AYESBernardi, CBirmingham, SJBushby, DCCanavan, M.J.Cash, MCColbeck, RDay, R.J.Edwards, SFawcett, DJ (teller)Fierravanti-Wells, CFifield, MPHeffernan, WJohnston, DLambie, JLeyonhjelm, DELindgren, JMMacdonald, IDMadigan, JJMcGrath, JMcKenzie, BMuir, RNash, FO'Sullivan, BParry, SPayne, MARonaldson, MRuston, ARyan, SMSeselja, ZSinodinos, AWang, ZWilliams, JRXenophon, N29NOESBrown, CLBullock, J.W.Conroy, SMDastyari, SDi Natale, RGallacher, AMGallagher, KRHanson-Young, SCKetter, CRLazarus, GPLines, SLudlam, SMarshall, GMMcAllister, JMcEwen, A (teller)McLucas, JMilne, CMoore, CMPeris, NPolley, HRhiannon, LRice, JSiewert, RSingh, LMSterle, GUrquhart, AEWaters, LJWhish-Wilson, PSWright, PL
7PAIRSAbetz, ECollins, JMABack, CJCarr, KJBrandis, GHWong, PCormann, MO'Neill, DMReynolds, LBilyk, CLScullion, NGCameron, DNSmith, DLudwig, J

Question agreed to.


91Lazarus, Sen Glenn108616
Ind.

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (20:36): I move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 7721:

(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (lines 7 to 9), to be opposed.

(2) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 9), after item 2, insert:

2A
After subsection
40(1)

Insert:

(1AA) For the purposes of subsection (1), the required GWh specified in the table for the year 2020 and each later year must include at least 8000 GWh of renewable source electricity generated using a solar energy source by an accredited power station.

I stand today to oppose item 2 of schedule 1. I am putting forward a few amendments today. I make no apologies for being one of the few senators in this place to stand up for the future of this country. The rest of the world is moving towards renewable energy and so should we. You are quite welcome to leave, Senator Macdonald. I have, on number of occasions, stood up in this chamber and talked about the types of renewable energy targets which have been put in place by countries across the world. In fact, only last week I also spoke about the G7's recent commitment to eliminate the use of fossil fuel by the year 2100. Australia currently has a renewable energy target of 41,000 kilowatts by 2020. This target is in sync with the types of targets which are in place across the world.

Our target of 41,000 gigawatts is not a stretched target. It is actually a very feasible target which our country could have easily reached had our government rolled up its sleeves and put in place support and the necessary mechanisms to reach it. Anything is possible in this world if you put your mind to it. But, as we all know, the Abbott government decided to ignore the realities of climate change and instead opted to demonise the renewable energy sector. This, combined with the Abbott government's decision not to publicly support the RET, resulted in a sharp decline in investment in the renewable energy sector. So here we are today facing the likelihood of our country becoming the first country in the world to reduce a renewable energy target. The United States of America put the first man on the moon. Soon Wikipedia will show Australia as the first nation to reduce a RET. A great leap forward for mankind compliments of the US; a great leap backwards for mankind compliments of Australia.

I am annoyed that Labor and the coalition have done a dirty deal to reduce the RET from 41,000 to 33,000. I believe the people of Australia will never forgive the coalition and Labor for allowing Australia to become the first country in the world to cut a renewable energy target. I certainly will not. My amendments today do several things. Firstly, they retain the 41,000 gigawatts, committing our country to the critical job of growing the renewable energy sector. There should be no excuses. We should just get on with the job of delivering forward-thinking, positive and responsible government. Retaining the RET at 41,000 will do this. I do acknowledge that there is much work to do in light of the damage caused by the Abbott government, but I do believe we can do it. We must do it.

I should also add that the majority of Australians support me in this. The people of Australia want our country to move towards cleaner, greener energy. Everyone knows that dirty coal is bad. Everyone knows renewable energy is not only good for the planet but also good business sense—full stop. Secondly, my amendments carve out a commitment of 8,000 gigawatts to large-scale solar to support the development and the growth of this form of renewable energy. We have an unlimited supply of sunlight. Why wouldn't we support the growth of this sector and put in place measures to enable its advancement and expansion? Thirdly, my amendments also put in place protection measures to save Australia's native forests from abusive and rogue destruction. I am seeking to ensure minimum protections are put in place by requiring all eligible forests carry a FSC certification—the international benchmark for forest management worldwide, which takes into account the social impact of forest management. Importantly, the FSC is also one of the schemes currently recognised by the Australian Department of Agriculture as an eligible form of third-party certification.

I would also like to put on record that I am not party to the other dirty deal done between the Abbott government and the crossbench which reduces support for the wind industry, puts in place additional layers of compliance and installs a national wind farm commissioner. Why, when wind is considered the most efficient source of renewable energy, would the Abbott government want to stall this important source of renewable energy? It is simple: because wind is cutting into the energy sector, currently dominated by coal. I think we all understand this. In short, political donations are impacting on decision making and policy development in this country. I urge all Australians not to tolerate it. Why would the Abbott government want to put in place a wind commissioner when Australia desperately needs a commissioner for CSG mining and a resources ombudsman to provide people currently affected by the resources sector with an advocate and source of independent government support, guidance and advice?

CSG mining is known to cause harmful impacts on the earth and on the health of people, and to cause irreversibly damage on our most valuable resource—water. The Abbott government wants to get rid of the wind because there is an issue with audible noise. And yet no scientific evidence exists anywhere across the world regarding this concern. I will take the chamber back to a movie released many years ago—Jerry Maguire. In that movie, Cuba Gooding Junior plays an up-and-coming NFL star who has a player agent. That player agent is played by Tom Cruise. One of the lines in that movie is, 'Show we the money!' Well, I am saying to the crossbench, 'Show me the evidence!' Show me the evidence where this so-called noise is supposed to be harming humans.

If we turn to Europe, much of Europe is powered by the wind. If Europe were to take the same approach as Australia, Europe would just close down. In Europe, the hills are alive with the sound of music, but not turbine noise because there is none. Our Prime Minister is prepared to kill off the wind industry in Australia because of apparent audible noise and set up a national wind farm commissioner. Yet, across Australia, people living in rural and regional areas are screaming out for help because their lives are being destroyed by CSG mining, and the government is doing nothing. CSG mining depletes the earth of underground water. Farmers and land holders across Australia are losing their water. What water is left is being contaminated. Their land is being poisoned by the highly toxic chemicals being used in the intrusive coal seam gas extraction process. Their animals are dying. Their land is being devalued by the hour. Their farming businesses are being annihilated.

Extremely poisonous process water used in CSG extraction is being disposed of across the countryside in a non-safe manner. And yet, in light of all of this, the Prime Minister wants to put in place a wind farm commissioner. What do the people of rural and regional Australia whose lives are being destroyed by CSG mining have to do to get some type of action or response from the government?

I also should point out that CSG mining also creates noise—clear, loud, constant audible noise—in in addition to all the other well-documented and scientifically proven serious life-threatening health impacts and issues. I do not think any of us need to be Einstein to work out the absolute stupidity in all of this. I am an old forward from way back, and even I get it. So I do hope that the Senate, representing the people of Australia, will support my amendments. The RET needs to be retained at 41,000. It must be retained to enable appropriate support for wind, solar and other emerging renewable energy sectors, including geothermal, tidal and improved hydro. I note that while the government has in response to community outcry today made some fluffy motherhood statements around support for solar, R&D and other take-up incentives. This does little to fix the real damage being caused to the RET, the renewable energy sector and our country's reputation internationally.

I would also like to add that there are sceptics who feel that renewable energy is too costly. Well, I disagree. Many studies conclude that renewable energy is cost neutral. The benefits to our future and sustainability as a race of people are immeasurable. Investment and support in industry creates efficiencies, refinements, cost savings and technological advancements. The first computer ever launched was the size of a house and cost a lot of money. Investment in ICT has delivered us hand-held devices which have changed our way of life. No doubt continuing investment and innovation will continue to change our lives.

There will be casualties along the way. There always are. Typewriters became redundant and, as a result, typewriter manufacturers went out of business. But other businesses emerged that were smart enough to invest in new technology. The renewable energy sector is no different. Putting in place the framework and the necessary support measures for the sector will help it to succeed. Success will harvest clean green energy solutions which are both sustainable and continue to decline in cost. This is the future for energy, and this is where the government needs to be going.

We also need to start taking advantage of the gains being made overseas in the renewable sector and applying these innovative approaches right here in Australia. We need to increase our investment in the sector as well as power storage. I should also note that not only is renewable energy common sense; it is also good public health policy. We know that fossil fuel is bad for human health. Coal mines and CSG mining harm the environment and harm human health. People living near coalmines and coal-fired power stations register higher rates of mortality from lung cancer, chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases. They also suffer from increased rates of lung disease, heart attack and stroke.

Transitioning from dirty energy to clean energy reduces the harmful impact on human life and reduces the cost and burden of health related issues on the public health system and the economy in general.

Australia needs to embrace renewable energy for the sake of our planet, our future and the long-term sustainability of our people. I implore you to support my amendments, not only because I would like you to but because the people of Australia want you to—and the planet needs you to as well.


93Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (20:48): Tempting though it might be to respond to the very wide-ranging contribution Senator Lazarus made just then, much of which was addressed in various forms during the second reading debate, I will stick to the question before the chair. The government does not accept or support the proposition of Senator Lazarus in relation to removing item 2 of schedule 1. That of course would basically negate the primary purpose of the bill before the Senate, which is to ensure that the renewable energy target is successful, that it meets the intention—and indeed exceeds the intention—of having 20 per cent of energy generation from renewable sources by 2020. In fact, we will have around 23 per cent as a result of that with the revised 33,000-gigawatt-hour target, without having the risks of the RET failing or the additional cost implications being passed through to Australian consumers or businesses.


93Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (20:49): A lot of what Senator Lazarus just spoke about to the Senate the opposition would agree with, in relation to the importance of renewable energy as part of our future—for our planet, for our children and the like. But as for the amendment that is before us, on item 2 of schedule 1, the opposition will not be supporting this amendment. I do want to just point out to Senator Lazarus, though, that there was a bit of condemning there at the beginning. But it is not Labor that has walked away from a bipartisan agreement of 41,000 gigawatt hours; that has been the government. When we went to the last election we thought we were in the position we had been in since 2001: bipartisanship when it came to a renewable energy target. It was the government that walked away from that, so I do not think the opposition can take any blame in this at all. In fact, the opposition has tried to ensure that there is a future for renewable energy in this country. That is why we are in the position of debating the legislation before us. Throughout this entire negotiation we have been guided by advice from the industry on what is best for them. We have reached an agreement with government that will see around 20 to 25 per cent of Australia's energy generation from renewable resources by 2020. In fact, the Clean Energy Council predicts that the revised target of 33,000 gigawatt hours will drive around $40 billion in investment and create more than 15,000 jobs. That is a far better position than we were in when the Abbott government ripped up the bipartisan agreement and created the uncertainty over the last 12 months. What we have before us now will see projects start to be built again, and that is exactly what we need: businesses enjoying certainty that will allow them to assure their staff of job security.

So, Labor is on the record as saying that we will use this reduced target of 33,000 gigawatt hours by 2020 as a base to build on into the future. We will take advice on that from the industry, from business and from economists when considering a strengthened target. Because we will need a strengthened target that is beyond 2020. I agree with Senator Lazarus on 'show me the money' or the evidence in relation to our crossbenches and the deal that has been done by government and the crossbench to create this wind farm commissioner, and the 'sound of music' in Europe and the way so much of the world is moving towards supporting wind energy, solar energy and renewable energy.

It is for some of those reasons that the opposition will not support this amendment. This amendment specifically tries to put a cap on wind energy. We do not want to see that. We want to see all forms of renewable energy grow and be part of this new target. I do commend him on his advocacy in this area, though, and also his own advocacy in his own region on coal-seam gas. I know that he has a lot of concern for the environment, especially in the renewable energy space, but the opposition will not be supporting this particular amendment.


93Lazarus, Sen Glenn108616
Ind.

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (20:53): The mere fact that we are standing here tonight is a result—and correct me if I am wrong—of Labor and the government doing a deal. So for Senator Singh to say that they are not a part of the reason why we are standing here today is utter nonsense. Before the government was elected we were at 41,000 gigawatt hours. They have made their decision because their mates in the mining companies who donate millions of dollars to them have decided that that is a threat to them. They stalled and stalled.

Senator Birmingham: You were elected by a mining magnate.

Senator LAZARUS: There has been no certainty since you have been in government, Senator Birmingham. Now Labor has jumped into bed with you, and now it is 33,000 gigawatt hours. So to say that Labor has no part in this dirty deal is absolute nonsense.


94Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP


94Lazarus, Sen Glenn108616
Ind.


94Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (20:54): I just want to add to what has been said. The fact of the matter is everybody was happy with 41,000 gigawatt hours until 2020—everybody. There was no uncertainty. There was absolute certainty that that had occurred.

The people who destroyed the renewable energy target were the government. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister and the energy minister, Mr Macfarlane, set about saying that they wanted to destroy the 41,000 gigawatt hours target, and they started down this track. I have said previously, and I will say it again: the Clean Energy Council gave cover to the cave-in and it came when the AWU had their annual meeting and decided to exempt the aluminium sector. Then the Clean Energy Council said, 'Why stop at the aluminium sector? Why not just exempt the whole damn lot of them—all of the energy-intensive trade-exposed?' And so it went. And down and down it went, until they got down to their 33,000.

There was no need to remove anything from the 41,000 gigawatt hours. Everybody agreed that that was the target and they were building for it. The only reason the government moved to reduce the renewable energy target was that with a reduction in demand renewable energy was bringing down the wholesale price of power and undermining the business case of the coal-fired generators. That is as simple and straightforward as it is. There were 9,000 megawatt hours too much of electricity in the system. They needed to take it out. They could easily have taken it out if they had closed down some coal-fired generators, but there was no way that the Abbott government was going to close down coal-fired generators. We could have closed down Hazelwood. It could have happened. It would have been fantastic for our greenhouse gas emission target. It would have closed down Hazelwood. It would have led to ongoing construction of renewables around the country and lower wholesale prices of power. That is all good. What is not to love about that? It would have led to jobs and the rollout of renewables—the whole lot. But the one thing the Abbott government did not want was that it undermined coal. It is a simple as that.

That is why we are here tonight, and any nonsense about 33,000 gigawatt hours now providing certainty is nonsense. I say that because the Prime Minister went on radio as recently as two weeks ago to say that 33,000 was the figure not because it delivered certainty but because it was as low as he could get the Senate to go. If he could have got lower he would have. And what is more, his aim was to r-e-d-u-c-e, reduce, renewable energy—particularly wind energy. That is his ambition. How could you possibly imagine that delivers certainty? All that does is deliver another year of uncertainty, because who in their right mind would invest knowing full well the Prime Minister intends, as soon as he can stitch up the numbers in the Senate, to reduce it even further?

So let us just stop the nonsense. Labor were sucked into this process and has been wedged and done over by a crossbench and, once they woke up to the fact that taking 41,000 down to 33,000 advanced wind at the expense of large-scale solar, they are now into a game of trying to catch up. And now we have this completely nonsensical document, and guess who is being done over here? It is the crossbench. They do not know it yet, but I want to point out that this is classic. The government will write to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to ensure it adheres to its original purpose, by changing the investment mandate to focus investment in emerging and innovative renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency. This will in turn increase the uptake of emerging technologies such as large-scale solar and energy efficiency, but because this crossbench does not follow this carefully enough, the government has recently given the Clean Energy Finance Corporation a different investment mandate. It has been told it has to increase the return on the money that it invests. This document says, 'No, go and invest in riskier, more expensive technology.' That is completely the reverse of the government's investment mandate to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Does this now mean—and I would like clarity from you, Minister—that you have now decided to dump your legislation to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation? Have you agreed to abolish them, or are you dumping the legislation to abolish them as part of this deal with the crossbench? Or are you just playing with them like a cat with a mouse, not letting on that you have sent out this investment mandate that makes this agreement with them impossible to fulfil? That is question number one.

Secondly, if you have now agreed not to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because of your deal, are you now going to write to them and change the investment mandate back again, that says, 'You don't have to make that amount of money because we are agreed with the crossbench that we want you to now invest in riskier and therefore more expensive technology?'

Let us stop this con job, this absolute nonsense that has gone on here, where you are backing a deal that is equivalent to witchcraft. Actually, you are back in the days of dunking witches—that is where you have dumped the science. You are going around trying to have this inquiry and wind farm commissioners. You are investigating something that is not real at the same time as people are presenting with respiratory illnesses as a result of small particulate matter pollution from coal fired power stations. You do not give a damn about human health; what you are playing here essentially goes back to the Middle Ages. It is sad.


95Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:00): Firstly, it was all driven, according to Senator Lazarus, by political donations, which is interesting coming from a senator who was elected by a party that was funded largely by mining interests, and, secondly, it is apparently akin to witchcraft. Chair, we are debating a particular piece of legislation and a particular amendment to that piece of legislation. None of the questions Senator Milne asked are relevant to that. She can pursue them in estimates or other fora.


95Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (21:01): They are absolutely relevant because this is the deal the government has done to secure the vote of the crossbench to burn native forests for the renewable energy target. This is the letter that covers Senator Bob Day, Senator Jacqui Lambie, Senator David Leyonhjelm, Senator John Madigan. They are in agreement: they will now pass this legislation that will enable the burning of native forest in order that this happens.

One of the things they are promising is in relation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and changing the investment mandate. I am asking a direct question to the minister: are you now dropping your legislation to abolish the CEFC and ARENA, and are you going to change the investment mandate back again? Yes or no? It is entirely relevant, and it is the actual deal you have done that I am exposing here for the people who have been foolish enough to enter into it because they do not actually understand it.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Whish-Wilson): The question is that item 2 of schedule 1 stand as printed.


95Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
AG



The Senate divided. [21:06]
(The Chairman—Senator Marshall)

35AYESBirmingham, SJBrown, CLBullock, J.W.Bushby, DC (teller)Canavan, M.J.Colbeck, RDay, R.J.Edwards, SFawcett, DJGallagher, KRJohnston, DKetter, CRLambie, JLeyonhjelm, DELindgren, JMLines, SMadigan, JJMarshall, GMMcAllister, JMcEwen, AMcGrath, JMcKenzie, BMcLucas, JMoore, CMMuir, RO'Sullivan, BPeris, NPolley, HRuston, ASingh, LMSinodinos, AUrquhart, AEWang, ZWilliams, JRXenophon, N11NOESDi Natale, RHanson-Young, SCLazarus, GPLudlam, SMilne, CRhiannon, LRice, JSiewert, R (teller)Waters, LJWhish-Wilson, PSWright, PL
0PAIRS

Question agreed to.


96CHAIRMAN, The10000

The CHAIRMAN (21:08): Senator Lazarus, given that the schedule stands as printed, there is not a requirement for you to move your next amendment. It is redundant. Thank you.


96Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:08): I move Australian Greens amendment (1) on sheet 7705:

(1) Schedule 1, Part 1, page 3 (line 2) to page 4 (line 3), to be opposed.

This is similar to the last amendment but drafted slightly differently and more broadly. But it achieves the same outcome of stopping this gutting of our renewable energy target from a very sound 41,000 gigawatt hour target down to a paltry 33,000 gigawatt hour target.

As we have just seen from the vote on the last similar amendment, it looks as though we have very few friends. We can clearly see that both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have ganged up to slash the renewable energy target, right at this point in human history when the vast majority of climate scientists are begging us to make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Right at this point in history in 2015, both of the big parties in this chamber have just voted to slash the RET from 41 to 33. Here is another chance. I am moving a similar amendment that would achieve the same outcome and I would love it if you could reconsider your positions. I severely doubt that that will be the case, but I would urge you to listen to the clear community sentiment on this one.

Last week, we saw the Lowy poll, which canvasses community sentiment across a whole range of issues which found that 63 per cent of Australians want serious action taken on climate change and want us to be global leaders. If that is not a clear statement and if that is not certainly a clear turnaround from recent years then I do not know what is. It is perfectly clear that people can see the danger that climate change is posing to our very way of life, to our economies and to our environment. We have seen more and more extreme weather events buffet our coast, slam our good quality, food-producing land and damage people's homes. The science tells us that those sorts of extreme weather events will become more frequent and more severe. Yet this government is now cutting the renewable energy target and the Labor Party are letting them do it. In fact, they are both voting together on this.

I think it is an incredibly sad day for renewable energy. What I take heart from is the fact that the global momentum towards clean energy is reaching such a pitch that it is unstoppable. I just want Australia to catch up with that. We have such fantastic economic opportunities here out of protecting our environment and protecting our existing industries that need a healthy climate, like tourism and agriculture. We have such great potential to generate the jobs of the future, to generate jobs-rich clean energy. Yet this government is so stuck in the past that it is intent on propping up coal—not just propping up; it wants to double the coal export industry out of Queensland, out through the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage icon. The World Heritage Committee has been so concerned about its future and scientists say the No. 1 threat to the reef is climate change. This government is in complete denial on the science. It has already abolished the carbon price. It already got rid of the mining tax rather than fixing it up.

Government senators interjecting

Senator WATERS: I hear the cheers from the government benches. How absolutely pathetic. History will look back on this moment and hang its head in shame. When did science become such a pariah? When did this government decide that science itself was toxic and that they would fire most of the people in the CSIRO, ignore anyone who mentioned climate that had science credentials and decide instead to just listen to the fossil fuel sector? When did the Australian community let that happen? When did we sell our democracy to the big fossil fuel corporates?

Senator Edwards: When they voted for us.

Senator WATERS: I did not vote for that. I do not know any Australian that did. I think it is a criminal shame that tonight we are standing here trying to defend our clean energy target and we have very little company. I note that Senator Lazarus voted with the Greens on that last amendment and I expect his support on this next amendment. Nobody else supported it. So much for a representative democracy.

We have seen a really dirty deal done with the crossbench and now the government have finally coughed up the final letter, which is the proof of the price that they extracted out of the crossbench to support native forest logging and burning. We see quite a lot of inconsistencies in that letter. I think, belatedly, the crossbench have realised: 'Gee, cutting the renewable energy target might actually prioritise wind. It might actually encourage wind.' We know wind has less of a lead time than solar. They suddenly realised: 'Whoops, that's right. We hate wind. We're about to do something that will reduce wind. We'd better do a second dodgy deal to try to fix it up.' So here they are putting a whole lot of extra regulatory infrastructure on wind, an industry which is clean which generates jobs and which does absolutely no damage to human health, while they ignore the health impacts of coal.

We have a wind farm commissioner now. We have an independent scientific committee on wind when all the other independent scientific committees and independent scientists have been sacked and defunded, in the majority. And now we see that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which this government wants to abolish—there is a bill on the Notice Paper to abolish the CEFC—are suddenly charged with additional responsibilities. This is a body that this government wished did not exist.

I find it very hard to swallow that the crossbench think they have any sort of good deal out of this. There is no saving grace out of this. We have just voted that this parliament will let native forests be burnt. We have just voted that the clean energy target will be slashed. Now the crossbenches have got a deal to charge an independent body to invest in solar in conflict with their investment mandate that this government changed—a body that this government want to abolish. It will not even answer a question that Senator Milne asked about whether they are going to change their mind and keep that body or abolish it. I am going to come back to that question because we deserve an answer, and it is very germane to this debate.

Instead, we see a program of climate denial and, of course, massive plans to expand the coal industry. But the Prime Minister really belled the cat on this last week when he said, in agreement with the Treasurer, that wind farms are ugly. He does not like them. He thinks they are aesthetically displeasing, like that is some measure of scientific effectiveness—the Prime Minister's perception of what is attractive or not. We know he has 1950s views on women; clearly he has 1950s views on science as well. The Prime Minister thinks wind farms are ugly, and we hear that he wished that John Howard, when he was Prime Minister, had not introduced a renewable energy target at all. How very interesting that the Prime Minister, who had been gallivanting around the countryside trying to claim that all he wanted was certainty for the renewable energy industry, belled the cat. He wants to get rid of the clean energy target altogether. He wishes there was no RET at all.

I am very disappointed that the Labor Party even entered into negotiations with this government, knowing full well that this government has an agenda to completely throw its lot in with the coal industry and not invest in clean energy at all. The Labor Party allowed the government to open the door, they have done a dirty deal with the government and now the crossbench have kicked the door even further in. They are undermining wind power and setting solar up to fail by charging a body which this government wants to abolish with unachievable obligations. This is an absolutely rotten deal, no matter which perspective you look at it from.

As I said, so much for the certainty. Where is the investment certainty? This deal is not going to fix it. The Prime Minister has said that he does not want wind energy. He wants to R-E-D-U-C-E wind power. We always knew that, but he has completely undermined the wind energy industry. We will be moving this amendment tonight, which would stop the cut to the renewable energy target from 41,000 gigawatt hours down to 33,000. What a crying shame that all of the experts acknowledge that we had too much power in the system, and that here was our opportunity to retire some of those oldest, dirtiest and most polluting coal-fired power stations. Instead of taking that opportunity the government wants to kneecap the renewable energy industry because it thinks wind farms are ugly, and because maybe the solar industry does not donate enough to this government's re-election coffers. This is an atrocious bill, and we will be moving that amendment in a moment.

I do have some questions for the minister. Minister, we deserve an answer about whether or not this government is going to change its mind and retain the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA. It is currently on the Notice Paper to abolish them. Given your deal with the crossbench, which charges those bodies with additional obligations, will you now revoke those bills from the Notice Paper?


96Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG


96Edwards, Sen Sean225307
LP


96Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG


97Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:17): There are no changes to government policy.

Senator WATERS: Thanks, Minister. I am interested in your discussions with the crossbench. Did you highlight to them that you were actually intending to abolish these bodies that you were happy to give additional responsibility to?


97Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG


98Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:18): I will not be revealing the nature of private discussions had with the crossbenchers.


98Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (21:18): I think it is really important that we get more than a smart alec response from the minister saying the government policy has not changed. The government policy is to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. That is the policy that has been reiterated by Minister Cormann on several occasions in the estimates most recently. The deal says specifically:

Subject to the passage of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 and reinstatement of native forest wood waste as eligible source of renewable energy, I will commit to the following measures in attachments A and B to this letter.

That has been signed by Minister Greg Hunt. It is pretty clear that the deal was that, in order to get the crossbench to agree to burning native forests for energy, he will agree to this particular deal. And there in the deal, in attachment B, it says:

The government will write to the CEFC to ensure it adheres to its original purpose, by changing the investment mandate to focus investment in emerging and innovative renewable technologies and energy efficiency.

And so on. Either the government has lied to the crossbench and intends to abolish the CEFC and ARENA, having got them to agree to support burning native forests, or the government does not intend to abolish them, in which case they should say so and explain to the chamber how they are going to get the CEFC under the existing investment mandate, which the government changed to require them to return a higher rate of return. This is a very important question—no doubt the Clean Energy Finance Corporation would like to know, and so would the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It is not good enough to say that there is no change to government policy. If there is no change to government policy, then the crossbenchers have been absolutely dudded front and centre and made complete fools of, because they have signed up to something where they will tonight deliver logging native forests for the government and they will have got zilch—nothing—in return. In fact, the government will then dud them by abolishing the very institutions that they said were going to deliver these changes.

Frankly, it is no different from the way that the government dudded Mr Palmer, from the Palmer United Party, when he abolished the carbon price in exchange for the Climate Change Authority doing some work on an emissions trading scheme, and the government intends to abolish the Climate Change Authority as well.

This government does not keep its word. Let me tell you, people on the crossbench—it does not keep its word. It will say and do whatever it takes, and then the minute it bags whatever it has got out of the deal it will welch on its part of the deal. That is precisely what is going on here tonight, and anyone who does not believe that just needs to look at their history. I would ask Minister Birmingham again, straight up and down: is the government policy still to abolish the CEFC and ARENA?

If so, why have you lied to the crossbench to con them into supporting the logging and burning of native forests?


98Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:22): As I said before, the government policy has not changed. The government is not changing its policy and the government stands by its policy. Equally, the government stands by what it has said to the senators in the letter that is being tabled in the Senate. I am sure that Senator Milne, who has been in this place a long time, can do the arithmetic and can appreciate that, given the numbers in the Senate in relation to some of the government's stated policies, the two issues can, it seems, happily co-exist.


98Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (21:23): The opposition will not be supporting this amendment. This amendment, basically, is very similar to the last amendment we just voted on. But I want to make it very clear that, if it were not for the opposition, there would be no certainty for the future of renewable energy in this country. It has only been Labor that has provided that certainty. That has been the foremost principle in our minds in ensuring that we reach the point where we are in this chamber. It is not a point that we initially set out to be part of, as the Greens try to paint. We were not ganging up. There was none of that, and Senator Waters knows very well the history of what has occurred here: the bipartisanship that was walked away from by Tony Abbott and by the government at the last election.

It is only Labor that has provided certainty for the renewable energy industry going forward. I know the Greens have their outlandish views on some of these issues. That is why, to this day, we still are in a position where we could have had a CPRS many years ago and we never did. That is not the position of Labor, because we know that we are an alternative government and we want to ensure there are jobs, there is investment and there is a strong clean energy future for this country. That cannot exist without a strong renewable energy industry, and that is why we have negotiated with the government to provide that certainty. After this has passed this place, there will be jobs created, there will be more wind farms built and there will be more solar projects built because of Labor and because of what Labor has done to ensure that we have certainty back in this industry.

I do not walk away from the fact that the government created this whole mess to start with. But I will make it very clear that it is only the Labor Party that has fixed it, that has ensured that we are in a position where we have reached an agreement with government to see that around 20 to 25 per cent of Australia's energy generation will be from renewable sources by 2020. I know that the government reneged on their bipartisanship, and Senator Birmingham knows it very well. I am sure he is feeling very uncomfortable about where he finds himself right now, because still labelled there all over his website is his commitment to 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy by 2020. I went to it recently to see a speech that you gave, Senator Birmingham, only a couple of years ago, where you said very clearly:

It has been interesting to note the claims being made about what the Coalition will or won't do. All of it is simply conjecture. The Coalition supports the current system, including the 41,000 giga-watt hours target.

That is the speech that Senator Birmingham gave to the Clean Energy Week Conference in July 2013 in the lead-up to federal election. The bipartisanship commitment that he gave he thought, just like some of his colleagues, they were taking to the election. Little did he know that his leader had other ideas in mind—and some of his now ministers had other ideas in mind—to completely walk away from that after years of certainty and after building such a strong and robust renewable energy industry in this country.

Senator Birmingham, you may want to think about taking that speech down from your website now because it is something that you have completely walked away from. You know it. You have made it very clear in your contributions to this legislation and in your contributions to the Senate on renewable energy and on the environment. I think you are pretty much, at this point in time, in the same boot as Greg Hunt, who has also done a similar thing, when, once upon a time, he supported a price on carbon and, in fact, wrote a thesis on such a thing. He has now completely walked away from that.

That is what you get from this Abbott government: broken promises and a government that continues to walk away from its position and does not know what it stands for, does not believe the science, does not believe economists and certainly does not want to support jobs and investment. Labor does. Labor will always stand by science. We will always stand by jobs and investment. That is why we have entered negotiations to provide that certainty back into the renewable energy industry. That is what the industry wanted, and that is what they will have, and all of our states will benefit from it after this has passed. So I think it is a little bit rich for the Greens to say we have somehow conjured this up or ganged up to create this. We had no play in that. What we have done is the complete opposite. We have ensured there is certainty back in this industry to get jobs and investment and a clean energy future back into this country.


99Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:28): Amongst all that Senator Waters had to say earlier, I had not realised before that the amendment had been moved. For the sake of clarity, I thought I would indicate that the opposition does not support the amendment from the Greens for all of the reasons outlined in the second reading speech, the introduction of the bill, the concluding speech and the earlier remarks in relation to Senator Lazarus's near-identical amendment, all of which canvassed the same topic. Lest anybody listening to this debate be confused, without me wasting or taking up the time of the chamber any further and despite all that Senator Singh just had to say, Labor is supporting the government's position on this.


99Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (21:29): Yes, and I am very interested. Senator Singh says there will now be certainty as a result of this 33,000 gigawatt hour deal. Minister, how much new wind energy investment do you expect is going to roll out as a result of this deal given that the government, to satisfy the crossbench in their opposition to wind, has agreed to set up a national wind farm commissioner to resolve complaints? The government wants to seek agreement from the states to update and implement national wind farm guidelines. It wants to obtain the agreement of the state and territory environment ministers. It wants more transparency on wind farms, including the location and the renewable energy certificates received by them. It wants data on wind farm operators, including operating times, wind speed, power output and sound monitoring. As well, it wants more research published. All of these things are direct attacks on the wind industry and direct attacks on undermining investment in wind. So I specifically ask the minister: do you expect that the certainty that the Labor Party think they are delivering will result in new wind farm investment? If so, what is your modelling or projection for the amount of that new renewable wind energy in the foreseeable future? It will be fascinating because you are telling the crossbenchers there will be no new wind and Senator Singh is telling us this is going to guarantee wind investment. Which bank or financial institution would front up to support wind in Australia with the hostile behaviour of a government that is, as I said before, absolutely anti science and anti any sort of rational behaviour and is setting up a commissioner to look into wind farms?

I want to point out to the minister—and this is extraordinary—that Denmark wants to go to 50 per cent wind in its energy mix by 2020. According to you and the crossbench, that would make Denmark one of the sickest countries in Europe—'sick'. And what an extraordinary thing it is that wind farm sickness only affects people who speak English. I find this quite fascinating. There is no wind farm sickness in Denmark, there is no wind farm sickness in Germany and there is no wind farm sickness in Spain. In fact, you can go all over Europe and not find wind farm sickness. But where does wind farm sickness occur? In Australia, America and the UK. Why? Because the anti wind farm lobby is driven by the fossil fuel industry. The Waubra Foundation started it here, and they shared a post office box with the resource based industries. The fact of the matter is that this is another anti-renewables campaign, run by the fossil fuel industry, designed to suck people into stopping wind while not asking a single question about the proven health impacts of coal, particulate matter et cetera. Minister, exactly how much new wind do you expect as a result of your so-called certainty deal which is directed at killing wind at every opportunity?


100Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:33): Of the 33,000 gigawatt hour total—which, according to the modelling, will see 23 per cent of renewable energy generated in Australia by 2020, comfortably exceeding the 20 per cent target,—the modelling undertaken by ACIL as part of the Warburton review suggests that 750 megawatt hours of new large scale solar capacity would be generated and 4,910 megawatt hours of new wind capacity would be generated. We do note that, elsewhere, there are other estimates. Bloomberg, for example, have suggested that at least one-third of the target may be met by solar, which, of course, would potentially reduce the extent of wind. We know that the modelling in this area is not perfect. We know that because we are here debating this tonight because, when the 41,000 gigawatt hour target was set, that was expected to be 20 per cent of Australia's energy demand. Of course, we have since learnt that it was going to far overshoot the 20 per cent figure and hence we are back here debating a lower target that will still exceed the 20 per cent target but without some of the pressures that would otherwise have occurred.


100Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (21:35): Thank you, Minister. You quote the ACIL modelling for the Warburton review. That was done way before you entered into this agreement with the crossbench to set up your wind farm commissioner and all your new restrictions on wind energy. Do you still stand by that figure? That modelling was done well in advance of this new rear-guard attack from the crossbench undermining wind energy. Will you confirm that that modelling was done a long time ago—well before this discussion that we are having and well before the deal that you stitched up to give the crossbench their wind farm commissioner to investigate a sickness that does not exist?


100Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:35): I confirm that the modelling was done well before today. I confirm that the government believes the modelling remains credible nonetheless. I would emphasise to anybody who wants to have a look at the documents tabled tonight in relation to the commitments given to the crossbench that, overwhelmingly, those commitments are about making sure that there is appropriate scientific information provided to governments and to the community in relation to wind farms, that there is an appropriate mechanism to resolve concerns or complaints from communities in relation to wind farms, that there is appropriate transparency in relation to all of those measures and that there is encouragement in relation to support for large-scale solar or solar technologies in general. I do not think any of those matters, generally speaking, would be of concern. While I appreciate that the Greens in particular and Senator Lazarus are eager to fly every furphy they possibly can in relation to the impact of this bill, or this deal, we believe this bill will deliver 33,000 megawatt hours. I outlined before the ACIL figures in relation to the anticipated new wind capacity and the anticipated new large-scale solar capacity, and I have just summarised that the deal will largely provide, hopefully, greater community confidence in relation to how wind farms are regulated and managed and will hopefully provide a little extra assistance, incentive and support in relation to solar.


100Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:37): Minister, you have just referred extensively to the Warburton review. Even that review, despite being led by your hand-picked climate sceptic, found that having a strong renewable energy target actually reduces the wholesale price of power for everyone. Yet your figures in the explanatory memorandum leave out the higher costs that will be imposed on households and customers because big polluters will now get a free ride. Can you clarify whether you have in fact even quantified the lost savings to consumers which will be caused by slashing the target?


100Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:38): We are confident that the 33,000 gigawatt hour target is achievable and that in being achieved it will avoid the risk of failure for the RET and the possible cost factors that would flow through were failure to occur. We are also confident that in doing so we are ensuring that households and businesses do not have to wear higher electricity prices than are necessary, but that we can stand by, deliver and exceed the 20 per cent target that the RET has been intended to deliver since it was last amended.


101Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:39): With respect, Minister, that did not really answer my question. I am interested in whether you have quantified the forgone savings to households from cutting the RET?


101Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:39): We do not agree with the premise of the question. We believe that this action is prudent and sensible and, indeed, will deliver savings to households compared with what could have occurred had the RET failed.


101Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:39): Minister, just on free rides to the big end of town: this bill also expands the exemptions for emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries—the EITEIs, as they are known. It gives them a 100 per cent exemption from liability under the RET—as if they needed any more perks, but you have found one and you are giving it to them anyway. I would like to know whether the Clean Energy Regulator will continue to publish the dollar value of that exemption. We know that AGL just received $8.3 million under the existing scheme. Will you continue to track the financial quantity of that exemption?


101Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:40): If some clarity on that matter can be brought back to you, Senator Waters, during the course of the debate, I will ensure that it is. Otherwise, we will let you know later on.


101Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (21:42): Could the minister clarify that, by giving a 100 per cent exemption to the energy-intensive trade-exposed industries, he is actually increasing the cost to everybody else, to every other consumer whom the Prime Minister told he intended to bring power prices down; that by letting his big end of town polluters off the hook, everybody else will pay more?


101Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:42): The reduction from 41,000 to 33,000 gigawatt hours for the total target more than offsets that.


101Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (21:42): But nevertheless I can confirm, I think, from the minister's answer, that the decision to let off the aluminium smelters and the big end of town means that everybody else pays more to meet the 33,000 gigawatt hour target.


101Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:42): What we are ensuring here is that all Australian households and all Australian businesses have the certainty that the RET will operate effectively, that it will not go into default and that, as a result of that, energy prices will be lower over the next few years than would otherwise have been the case, particularly if a default had occurred. In relation to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries, we are providing certainty that they will be able to continue to trade and compete with their international competitors on a footing that does not risk jobs, economic activity and the viability of those businesses in Australia.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Whish-Wilson): The question is that part 1 of schedule 1 stand as printed.


101Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
AG



The Senate divided. [21:48]
(The Temporary Chairman—Senator Whish-Wilson)

32AYESBirmingham, SJBullock, J.W.Bushby, DCCash, MCColbeck, RDay, R.J.Edwards, SFawcett, DJGallacher, AMGallagher, KRKetter, CRLambie, JLeyonhjelm, DELindgren, JMLines, SMadigan, JJMcAllister, JMcEwen, AMcGrath, JMcKenzie, BMcLucas, JMoore, CMMuir, RO'Sullivan, BPeris, NRuston, ASingh, LMSterle, GUrquhart, AE (teller)Wang, ZWilliams, JRXenophon, N11NOESDi Natale, RHanson-Young, SCLazarus, GPLudlam, SMilne, CRhiannon, LRice, JSiewert, R (teller)Waters, LJWhish-Wilson, PSWright, PL
0PAIRS

Question agreed to.


102Lazarus, Sen Glenn108616
Ind.

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (21:50): I move amendment (1) on sheet 7726:

(1) Schedule 1, Division 1, page 13 (line 2) to page 14 (line 29), omit the Division, substitute:

Division
1—Amendments

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

47
Subsection
5(1)

Insert:

biomass means organic matter other than fossilised biomass.

Note: Examples of fossilised biomass include coal and lignite.

wood waste has the meaning given by section 5A.

48
After section
5

Insert:

5A
Wood waste

(1) For the purposes of this Act, wood waste means:

(a) biomass:

(i) produced from non?native environmental weed species; and

(ii) harvested for the control or eradication of the species, from a harvesting operation that is approved under relevant Commonwealth, State or Territory planning and approval processes; and

(b) a manufactured wood by?product from a manufacturing process; and

(c) waste products from the construction of buildings or furniture, including timber off?cuts and timber from demolished buildings; and

(d) sawmill residue; and

(e) biomass from a native forest that meets all the requirements in subsection (2).

(2) Biomass from a native forest must be:

(a) harvested primarily for a purpose other than biomass for energy production; and

(b) harvested from a forest that has been certified, or becomes certified before 30 June 2016, by the Forest Stewardship Council to a forest management standard; and

(c) either:

(i) a by?product or waste product of a harvesting operation, approved under relevant Commonwealth, State or Territory planning and approval processes, for which a high?value process is the primary purpose of the harvesting; or

(ii) a by?product (including thinnings and coppicing) of a harvesting operation that is carried out in accordance with ecologically sustainable forest management principles; and

(d) either:

(i) if it is from an area where a regional forest agreement is in force—produced in accordance with any ecologically sustainable forest management principles required by the agreement; or

(ii) if it is from an area where no regional forest agreement is in force—produced from harvesting that is carried out in accordance with ecologically sustainable forest management principles that the Minister is satisfied are consistent with those required by a regional forest agreement.

(3) For subparagraph (2)(c)(i), the primary purpose of a harvesting operation is taken to be a high?value process only if the total financial value of the products of the high?value process is higher than the financial value of other products of the harvesting operation.

(4) In this section:

ecologically sustainable forest management principles means the following principles that meet the requirements of ecologically sustainable development for forests:

(a) maintenance of the ecological processes within forests, including the formation of soil, energy flows, and the carbon, nutrient and water cycles;

(b) maintenance of the biological diversity of forests;

(c) optimisation of the benefits to the community from all uses of forests within ecological constraints.

high?value process means the production of sawlogs, veneer, poles, piles, girders, wood for carpentry or craft uses, or oil products.

native forest means a local indigenous plant community:

(a) the dominant species of which are trees; and

(b) containing throughout its growth the complement of native species and habitats normally associated with that forest type or having the potential to develop those characteristics; and

(c) including a forest with those characteristics that has been regenerated with human assistance following disturbance; and

(d) excluding a plantation of native species or previously logged native forest that has been regenerated with non?endemic native species.

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations
2001

49
Subregulation
3(1) (definition of native forest)

Repeal the definition.

50
Regulation
8

Repeal the regulation.

I touched on this amendment earlier, but I will go over what it involves. The amendment incorporates the requirements that any biomass from a native forest must come from a forest that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This amendment states that a forest must have FSC accreditation or become certified by 30 June 2016.

I am taking the stance that we do not want to see trees cut for energy production; however, if there is leftover wood which has come from wood which was used for other primary purposes—namely, manufacturing furniture—then this leftover wood should be eligible. The FSC is recognised by the Australian government as an international standard for the sustainable and responsible management of forests. This is a compromise position to take into account the needs of the industry. We are not preventing the sawmill industry from using the offcuts for energy production. It also puts in place protection mechanisms to ensure we take care of our precious forests and do not encourage the cutting down of trees for the primary purpose of burning them for credits.


103Lazarus, Sen Glenn108616
Ind.

Senator LAZARUS (Queensland) (21:51): Very briefly, the government does not support this amendment. Legislating the need for certification specifically by the Forest Stewardship Council would require those forests currently accredited to other schemes to be additionally accredited to the Forest Stewardship Council at significant cost to forest owners. The Australian government supports all internationally creditable timber-certification schemes. There are two international creditable certifications currently operating in Australia: the Australian Forest Certification Scheme and the Forest Stewardship Council scheme.


103Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (21:52): The opposition will not be supporting this amendment. Labor is committed to a strong and robust forestry industry. In that sense, ideas about the industry need to be debated and decided with the industry. Therefore, what we are legislating now is to implement a bipartisan agreement, which is specific in its nature and it would be wrong to change that negotiated outcome and conclusion at this time. In that context, Labor will not be supporting this redefinition inclusion of this amendment into the bill.


103Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (21:53): The Greens will not be supporting this amendment, because there is no current FSC set standard in Australia, as the FSC is only an interim phase here. For example, in Tasmania all the time lines for final certification have passed without any action. Therefore, agreeing to any amendments that include FSC is signing up to something that is not finalised. It just adds to the uncertainty, because the FSC is very much a shifting concern.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Whish-Wilson): The question is that amendment (1) by Senator Lazarus on sheet 7726 be agreed to.

Question negatived.


103Whish-Wilson, Sen Peter (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
AG


104Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:54): I move amendment (2) on sheet 7705:

(1) Schedule 1, Part 1, page 3 (line 2) to page 4 (line 3), to be opposed.

(2) Schedule 1, Part 4, page 13 (line 1), to page 15 (line 2), omit the Part, substitute:

Part
4—Wood waste

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

47
Subsection
5(1)

Insert:

biomass means organic matter other than fossilised biomass.

Note: Examples of fossilised biomass include coal and lignite.

native forest means an indigenous plant community that:

(a) is dominated by trees that are located within their natural range; and

(b) contains throughout its growth a complement of native species and habitats normally associated with those trees, or has the potential to develop those characteristics; and

(c) is not:

(i) a plantation of native species; or

(ii) a previously logged native forest that has been regenerated with non?endemic native species.

It is immaterial whether any of the trees or native species have been re?established or regenerated with human assistance following:

(d) flood;

(e) bushfire;

(f) drought;

(g) pest attack;

(h) disease.

wood waste means:

(a) biomass:

(i) produced from non?native environmental weed species; and

(ii) harvested for the control or eradication of the species, from a harvesting operation that is approved under relevant Commonwealth, State or Territory planning and approval processes; and

(b) a manufactured wood product or a by?product from a manufacturing process, other than a product or a by?product that is derived from biomass from a native forest; and

(c) waste products from the construction of buildings or furniture, including timber off?cuts and timber from demolished buildings; and

(d) sawmill residue, other than sawmill residue derived from biomass from a native forest.

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations
2001

48
Subregulation
3(1) (definition of native forest)

Repeal the definition.

49
Regulation
8

Repeal the regulation.

(3) Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 2), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part
5—Concurrent operation of State or Territory laws

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

53
Section
7C

Repeal the section, substitute:

7C
Concurrent operation intended

(1) This Act is not intended to exclude or limit the concurrent operation of any law of a State or Territory.

(2) This section does not apply to a law of a State or Territory if there is direct inconsistency between that law and this Act.

This similarly relates to the burning of native-forest logging and would move the prohibition on native-forest logging and burning for RET out of the regulations and into the act. The minister has infinitely more power to wantonly change these sorts of rules. What we would have liked to have been a prohibition—but we lost that fight—belongs in the act rather than the regulations. I do not need to speak at length on this. It is a procedural amendment but an important one and it goes to the importance and significance of the fact that we should not be burning native forests and throwing a lifeline to the native-forest logging industry.


105Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:55): The government does not support this amendment. We regard the amendment as unnecessary. There is no need to change any of the provisions and arrangements at that were previously in place, for a decade, in relation to biomass from native forests wood waste, which worked quite effectively and clearly, previously.

I would add information in relation to a previous question regarding entities. In accordance with section 38C of the act, the following information must be published on the Clean Energy Regulator website before 1 October each year: the name of each liable entity; the value in dollars estimated by the regulator of the entity's partial exemption for that year. This provision will continue to be in operation.


105Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (21:55): The opposition will be supporting this amendment. This amendment is effectively the same as the amendment moved by the opposition. Labor has been opposed to the burning of native forests for energy, because we see it as neither clean nor renewable. We opposed this in government and we oppose it in opposition. The definition of waste is not what those opposite would have you believe, and that needs to be made very clear. We are not just talking about the bits that are left on the ground after logging. Waste can be large parts of trees and, in some cases, entire trees that are not up to scratch for other uses. We simply do not see a case for its inclusion in the renewable energy target and we will oppose it. We have highlighted that this was never part of the negotiated outcome with the opposition and the government. This is a red herring that has been raised at the eleventh hour by the government, and Labor will not support its inclusion. Therefore, we will support the current amendment being moved.


105Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (21:56): As part of this regulation is the higher-values test, which I want to return to for a bit more clarification. In particular, the higher-value's test would apply to a clear-felled forest where, as we have already been discussing, you have perhaps 20 to 30 per cent of the logs being used for sawn timber. Up until now, the other 70 or so per cent—being so-called residual logs—have been sold as pulp logs. Minister, do you have any estimate of the price you would expect the wood, currently being sold as a pulp log, would yield being sold for biomass? How would that compare with the price of selling that log as a pulp log?


105Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:57): Essentially, the senator is asking me to draw estimates of what the price of certificates under the RET would be and then extrapolate that back to what the value of the wood waste would be, where it is used to generate electricity that could generate certificates. There are a few too many assumptions built into that. I would simply reiterate— as we have done numerous times during this debate—that there is a primary-purpose test, as such, in place, as there was for a decade previously. That primary purpose test has, at its core, the requirement that there is a higher-value use that is the primary purpose for the logging activities to be undertaken.


105Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (21:58): To clarify that, minister, would you agree that if it meets your primary-purpose test of the higher-value use coming from sawn timber that the logs currently being sold for pulp logs could be sold for biomass?


105Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (21:59): If it is consistent with the regulations, consistent with the safeguards put in place, and found to be consistent by the Clean Energy Regulator, then actions would be within the law.


105Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (21:59): I would like to share some statistics with you that I have obtained about revenue from sawlog sales compared with pulp log sales in the East Gippsland region. The revenue from sawlog sales in 2013-14 was $5.2 million; the revenue from pulp log sales was $12.5 million. In terms of volume, we had 2½ times as much pulp log being removed from this forest as sawlog, which is part of the reason why you have more value coming from pulp log sales than sawlog sales. In fact, the price achieved for a metre cube of sawlog compared to a metre cube of pulp log in East Gippsland was the same. It was $67 per cubic metre, whether it was for sawlog or whether it was for pulp log. So what I want to know is: would this meet your higher values test? If not, can you give an unequivocal guarantee that forestry operations with revenue ratios like this would in fact fail the higher values test and so-called waste wood from these operations would not be eligible for renewable energy certificates?


105Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:01): I said before at an earlier stage in the debate when Senator Rice was attempting to outline various hypothetical scenarios that I was not going to attempt to deal with every possible hypothetical scenario. Ultimately, we are putting in place laws that provide a framework with clear tests that the Clean Energy Regulator will, I have no doubt—and I have complete confidence—enforce appropriately.


106Rice, Sen Janet155410
AG

Senator RICE (Victoria) (22:01): I ask again. This scenario is not a hypothetical scenario. These are the figures for VicForests revenue from East Gippsland in 2013-14, where $5.2 million was generated from sawlogs and $12.5 million was generated from pulp logs. I am asking you to give an unequivocal guarantee that this would fail the higher value test and therefore, in a logging operation that had a similar revenue stream, the residual logs or waste logs would not be eligible for renewable energy certificates.


106Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (22:02): It is important that the minister answer that question because this goes to the heart of the con job that is going on here. We have said all along that this is a way of propping up native forest logging. The figures that Senator Rice has just given the Senate are the actual figures from logging in Victoria. There was $5 million from sawlogs and $12 million from pulp logs, which are, under the definition the government wants to use, waste logs. On that basis, if the minister is to be taken at his word on this legislation, then he would have no problem standing up and saying that, on that basis, that would not qualify for renewable energy certificates because of the primary purpose et cetera. So let's hear it from the minister that they would not qualify for renewable energy certificates given that primary purpose sawlog was $5 million and pulp wood was $12 million.


106Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:03): Is $5 million less than $12 million? Yes, it is. As I have emphasised on numerous occasions during the debate, it is a higher value test. It requires the principal purpose to be of higher value, that the total financial value of the products of the high-value process is higher than the financial value of other products in the harvesting operation—in particular, the generation of renewable energy. But, if it helps the Senate, $5 million is less than $12 million.


106Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (22:04): Five million dollars is less than $12 million. Five million dollars is for the primary purpose for logging the forests—that is, sawlog. Five million dollars is less than $12 million and the minister has said that, if the so-called waste exceeds the value of the primary purpose, it would not qualify to generate renewable energy. So, on that basis, Minister, will you rule out any logging operation in East Gippsland getting renewable energy certificates from its logging operations?

Senator Colbeck: Just say no.


106Colbeck, Sen Richard00AOL
LP


106Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:04): No, because I do not know how much a logging operation in East Gippsland in future might, for the primary purpose of their operations, actually sell the logs for. It is a test that is supplied at a point in time. This is why I said I am not dealing with hypothetical situations.


106Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (22:05): This is not hypothetical. These are the actual figures and this goes to the heart of what Senator Rice said earlier in terms of: what area are we talking about that is covered by your assessment of high-value versus the rest? Are we going coupe by coupe or are we going district by district? How are we actually going here? We have had Senator Colbeck interjecting from the back of the chamber saying to Minister Birmingham, 'Just say no' to the question 'Will you rule out this getting renewable energy certificates?' Senator Colbeck is saying no because he knows as well as I do that the whole purpose of renewable energy certificates for logging native forests is to put value back into logging native forests. There is no way that this is viable unless you create some value from the 90 per cent of the coupe that is left after you have taken the 10 per cent for sawlog. That is the whole point here. This is about propping up native forest logging, it is about undermining wind in the deal with the crossbench and it is about propping up the big polluters by exempting the energy-intensive trade exposed. This is a disaster and it is also a disaster for nature because, if you are serious about renewable energy, if you are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and if you are serious about the extinction crisis we are now facing, the best thing you can possibly do is protect native forests. Stop the logging of native forests, maintain the carbon stores and maintain the biodiversity. The best thing you can do to upgrade your economy is to require your industries to become efficient—that means energy efficient—not to give them more exemptions to be able to carry on with less-efficient practices and subsidise them from the state, because that is what leads to inefficiency and industries being forced to close down.

We all know that the energy-intensive trade-exposed have had the biggest windfall gain from the change in the exchange rate in recent times. That has been a massive gain for them. This is just the icing on the cake to prop up those jobs in the aluminium smelters at the cost of new jobs in renewable energy. If you are serious about innovation, if you are serious about science, if you are serious about upgrading the economy to a low-carbon economy then you would be investing in new jobs, new innovation and new industries, not subsidising the efficiency of the old economy. That is exactly what is going on and why this is so bad and out of step entirely with the rest of the world.

I think this Senate does not actually realise how far behind the eight ball Australia is becoming. You just step out of the country and you find that everyone else is gearing up for the major climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Australia is pretending that we can act as if we are living on another planet. Well, we are not. And this is going to cost us dearly in the future because the slower we take it now the more disruptive it is going to be when we have to accelerate the transition. What is going on here in this Senate tonight is absolutely stupid—that we would even consider slashing the renewable energy target, propping up coal, exempting the inefficiency of the trade-exposed and creating a witch-hunt after wind energy. It is unbelievable and people in other countries must be watching and wondering what on earth has gone wrong in Australia.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Lines): The question is that the amendment be agreed to.


107Lines, Sen Susan (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
ALP



The committee divided. [10:13]
(Temporary Chairman—Senator Lines)

30AYESBrown, CLBullock, J.W.Cameron, DNCarr, KJConroy, SMDastyari, SDi Natale, RGallacher, AMGallagher, KRHanson-Young, SCKetter, CRLazarus, GPLines, SLudlam, SMcAllister, JMcEwen, AMcLucas, JMilne, CMoore, CMPeris, NPolley, HRhiannon, LRice, JSiewert, RSingh, LMSterle, GUrquhart, AE (teller)Waters, LJWhish-Wilson, PSWright, PL34NOESBack, CJBernardi, CBirmingham, SJBushby, DCCanavan, M.J.Cash, MCColbeck, RDay, R.J.Edwards, SFawcett, DJFierravanti-Wells, CFifield, MPHeffernan, WJohnston, DLambie, JLeyonhjelm, DELindgren, JMMacdonald, IDMadigan, JJMcGrath, JMcKenzie, BMuir, RNash, FO'Sullivan, BParry, SPayne, MARonaldson, MRuston, A (teller)Ryan, SMSeselja, ZSinodinos, AWang, ZWilliams, JRXenophon, N
6PAIRSBilyk, CLReynolds, LCollins, JMAAbetz, ELudwig, JWSmith, DMarshall, GMScullion, NGO'Neill, DMCormann, MWong, PBrandis, G

Question negatived.


108Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (22:16): I move Australian Greens amendment (3) on sheet 7705:

(3) Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 2), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part
5—Concurrent operation of State or Territory laws

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

53
Section
7C

Repeal the section, substitute:

7C
Concurrent operation intended

(1) This Act is not intended to exclude or limit the concurrent operation of any law of a State or Territory.

(2) This section does not apply to a law of a State or Territory if there is direct inconsistency between that law and this Act.

This is the amendment that would delete section 7C from the renewable energy target act, which would allow state governments to have their own renewable energy targets within their own state borders. We know that the Prime Minister has absolutely no ambition for clean energy. We know he wishes there was never a renewable energy target in the first place. And we know this chamber has just voted to slash the RET from 41,000 gigawatt hours down to 33,000.

Yet there are state governments that want higher clean energy ambition. In Queensland, the incoming state government has said that it wants its own renewable energy target. In Victoria, Premier Andrews has written to Victorian Senators begging them to support this amendment and to repeal 7C. At the moment the dead hand of Prime Minister Abbott is stopping the states from investing in clean energy over and above the pathetically weak RET that this parliament just slashed it down to. I just want to quote from that letter: 'The Victorian government is calling on all Victorian senators to support the repeal of section 7C when the RET legislation comes before the Senate. If it is repealed, we have committed to reinstating the Victorian renewable energy target, VRET, to top up the national RET.'

So, here we have a Labor premier urging his colleagues in this place to support this amendment and allow states to have clean energy ambition and to try to undo the dirty work of Prime Minister Abbott and this government in cutting the federal RET. I urge Labor senators in particular to support this amendment and not let Prime Minister Tony Abbott kill clean energy across the whole nation just because he is trying to tell the states what to do.


108Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:18): The government does not support this amendment. We maintain that a federal scheme is more efficient and reduces the regulatory burden on participants.


108Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (22:18): The opposition does not support this amendment. The purpose of 7C is to ensure that a national approach is taken to driving investment in renewable energy in this country, and that is why we will continue to support a national approach, not this amendment.


108Milne, Sen Christineka5
AG

Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (22:19): I will just note that the minister has said that he does not want to allow state governments to have their own renewable energy targets after the federal government has demonstrated that they want to smash renewable energy because of the regulatory burden. And the deal with the crossbench loads up regulation—unbelievable regulation. Talk about more regulation from a government that says it wants to get rid of it—except when it wants to kill an industry; then they are full of enthusiasm. This whole deal—two pages of attachments of new regulation for the wind industry—demonstrates what utter hypocrites the government are: this nonsense of saying you are against regulation. You are for regulation if you think you can tie up and destroy an industry in cahoots with the crossbench. That is precisely what you are doing on wind. I think we should be supporting state governments having more renewable energy, not less.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Debate interrupted.

Progress reported.


108TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN, The10000



The committee divided. [10:24]
(Temporary Chairman—Senator Lines)

11AYESDi Natale, RHanson-Young, SCLazarus, GPLudlam, SMilne, CRhiannon, LRice, JSiewert, R (teller)Waters, LJWhish-Wilson, PSWright, PL40NOESBack, CJBernardi, CBirmingham, SJBrown, CLBullock, J.W.Bushby, DCCanavan, M.J.Carr, KJCash, MCColbeck, RDay, R.J.Edwards, SFawcett, DJFierravanti-Wells, CFifield, MPHeffernan, WJohnston, DKetter, CRLambie, JLeyonhjelm, DELindgren, JMLines, SMacdonald, IDMadigan, JJMcGrath, JMcKenzie, BMoore, CMMuir, RO'Sullivan, BParry, SPayne, MARuston, ARyan, SMSeselja, ZSingh, LMSinodinos, AUrquhart, AE (teller)Wang, ZWilliams, JRXenophon, N
0PAIRS

Question negatived

BUSINESS
109BUSINESS

BUSINESS

Rearrangement
109

Rearrangement


109Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:27): I move:

That the Senate shall continue to sit until it has finally considered the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015, or a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister, whichever is the earlier.

Question agreed.

BILLS
109BILLS

BILLS

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015
109

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015

In Committee
109

In Committee

Debate resumed.


109Wang, Sen Zhenya250045
PUP

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (22:29): I move Palmer United Party amendment (1) on sheet 7719 revised:

(1) Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 2), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part 5—Self?generation

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

53 Subparagraph 31(2)(b)(ii)

Omit "used solely", substitute "used predominantly".

54 After subsection 31(2)

Insert:

(2A) For the purposes of subparagraph (2)(b)(ii), electricity that is transmitted or distributed is used predominantly for the transmission or distribution of electricity if:

(a) the primary purpose of generating the electricity is for the use of the end user who generated the electricity; and

(b) an amount of that electricity, no greater than the threshold amount determined under subsection (2B), is made available for use in relation to one or more services in the public interest.

(2B) For the purposes of paragraph (2A)(b), the Minister must, by legislative instrument, determine a threshold amount of electricity which can be made available for use in relation to one or more services in the public interest.

(2C) The Minister must:

(a) make a determination under subsection (2B) within 3 months of the commencement of this subsection; and

(b) as far as is practicable, ensure that a determination under that subsection is in force at all times after that determination comes into force.

I am concerned that the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 does not include provisions to overcome a potentially serious flaw in the RET legislation. The problem arises due to the consequences of incidental uses of electricity under the existing legislation, and has potentially serious impacts in my home state of Western Australia. And I note that comments made by shadow minister Gray in the House debate also asked the government to address this matter.

The issue arises because the concessions available to self-generators of electricity from RET liability only apply where such self-generated electricity is used solely by that person. That said, the law must make provisions for the situation where a small amount of electricity is used by third parties to provide vital community services. The Alcoa facilities in Western Australia provide this incidental power for police communication services, telephone services and for the local government. It is ludicrous that Alcoa should face a substantial penalty for making the electricity available to enable these public services.

The Warburton review also recommended that the issue be addressed. It said:

… the Panel recommends that self-generators should be permitted to supply incidental amounts of electricity to third parties for community services on an otherwise dedicated line while still being eligible for the exemption.

My amendment simply asks the minister that within three months, by a legislative instrument, he must determine a threshold amount of electricity that can be made available for use in relation to one or more services in the public interest.


110Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:31): I thank Senator Wang. The government appreciate the intent of Senator Wang's amendment, but we do not agree with the amendment. We believe that implementing full exemptions for emissions-intensive trade-exposed entities addresses, through alternative means, most of the concerns raised about the self-generator provisions and that there is a risk the amendment could lead to some unintended consequences for some businesses. It is the government's view that the entities that generate and use their own electricity can seek exemption from RET liability under strict eligibility conditions to target genuine self-generation. To be exempted, electricity must currently be used within one kilometre of the point of generation or supplied via a dedicated line. The proposed amendment seeks to extend these exemptions by diluting the dedicated line test to allow third parties to be supplied under certain circumstances without voiding the self-generation exemption.

The issue this amendment attempts to deal with tends to be confined to large development projects on remote grids where the self-generator is undertaking an ET activity. Increasing the partial exemptions under the scheme for ET activities to a 100 per cent exemption, as proposed in the government's bill, will provide significant additional relief to these ET businesses. Expanding the self-generator exemption provides little additional benefit to the businesses.


110Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (22:32): I thank Senator Wang for his contribution and for putting forward his amendment on the concept of reviewing obligations under the current self-generator exemption arrangements of the RET scheme. While it does have some merit to it, this is really neither the time nor the place to throw new and undebated changes into the RET as it currently has been negotiated and agreed upon. I do take on board the contribution he has made with his amendment, specifically in relation to the self-generator exemption arrangements, but at this point in time, with what we are debating right now, the opposition will not be supporting the amendment.


110Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (22:33): I am just rising to note that the Australian Greens will not be supporting this amendment either. We do not support further exemptions from the renewable energy target and, as the minister has just explained, most of these operators are being exempted by the government expanding the emissions-intensive trade-exposed exemptions anyway because, hey, they love fossil fuels.

Question negatived.


111Xenophon, Sen Nick8IV
Ind.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (22:34): I move amendment (1) standing in my name on sheet 7728:

(1) Schedule 1, page 15 (after line 2), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part
5—Injunctions

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

53
Subsections
154S(1), (2) and (3)

Repeal the subsections, substitute:

(1) If a person (the first person) has engaged, is engaging, or is about to engage in any conduct that is or would be:

(a) an offence against this Act or the regulations; or

(b) a contravention of a civil penalty provision;

the Federal Court may, on the application of the Regulator or any other person, grant an injunction restraining the first person from engaging in the conduct.

(2) If:

(a) a person (the first person) has refused or failed, is refusing or failing, or is about to refuse or fail, to do a thing; and

(b) the refusal or failure is, or would be:

(i) an offence against this Act or the regulations; or

(ii) a contravention of a civil penalty provision;

the Federal Court may, on the application of the Regulator or any other person, grant an injunction requiring the first person to do the thing.

(3) The power of the Federal Court to grant an injunction may be exercised:

(a) whether or not it appears to the Court that the first person intends to engage, or to continue to engage, in conduct of that kind; and

(b) whether or not the first person has previously engaged in conduct of that kind.

The aim of this amendment is to allow the Clean Energy Regulator or any other person to seek an injunction in certain circumstances—that is, if the person, and that includes the Clean Energy Regulator, believes that someone is about to engage in or is engaging in any conduct that would be an offence against this act or the regulations or a contravention of the civil penalty provisions. It allows an application to be made to the Federal Court, on the application of the regulator or any other person, to grant an injunction restraining the first person from engaging in the conduct.

The purpose of this is to ensure that the regulator has that injunctive power to seek an injunction, and, indeed, any other persons, in the event that it appears that a breach is about to be committed. In order to seek an injunction, you need to be able to give an undertaking as to damages. This is not something that will be used lightly. Giving an undertaking as to damages is a very serious undertaking in order to obtain an injunction. Significant damages can flow if you get it wrong, if the injunction is subsequently lifted and there is economic loss to the party that had the injunction lifted against them. But if there is a strong case, if the regulator thinks it is appropriate—or, indeed, any other person who may have an interest in this or who has a concern about an activity that appears, on the face of it, to be a strong prima facie case that there is going to be an offence against the act or the regulations—then there can be action taken. These circumstances also apply where a person has refused or failed or is refusing or failing to do a thing and that thing would be a breach of the act or regulations or a contravention of the civil penalty provision.

In essence, this amendment allows the regulator or a third party to take action where a civil penalty provision has been contravened or there has been a breach of regulations of the act. If we look at other regulatory regimes such as the ACCC with our competition consumer law, the ACCC does have the power to seek an injunction. As I understand it, ASIC has the power to seek an injunction. Why shouldn't the Clean Energy Regulator, at the very least, have the power to seek an injunction? This is not whether you agree or disagree with what is being proposed on biomass. Under the rules that are being proposed that are likely to pass tonight, if there is a likely breach of those rules, what is wrong with giving the Clean Energy Regulator, or indeed any other person, the right to pursue an injunction, to pursue a remedy? To me, this is a fundamental issue of the rule of law. To emasculate the Clean Energy Regulator, to prevent community groups, individuals or indeed any person to seek an injunction is, to me, quite inadequate.

If all the Clean Energy Regulator can do after the event, when it appears as though there could well have been a serious breach, under the rules proposed by the government if there has been a serious breach the only remedy is to suspend the issuing of the renewable energy certificates. I do not think that is an appropriate remedy and I think this is a fundamental issue in respect of ensuring that the legislation will be enforced. It is another layer of protection if a state regulator—if a state EPA, for instance—does not do so. That is why I would urge my colleagues to seriously consider this amendment.


112Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:38): As with Senator Wong before, I thank Senator Xenophon for the amendment. The government appreciates the intent behind the amendment but does not agree with it. The RET already has a robust enforcement framework with a very wide range of tools for the Clean Energy Regulator to bring entities into compliance with the act and regulations. There are robust market entry criteria, including the fit-and-proper person test. There are powers to suspend registration of participants. There are powers to have enforceable undertakings made. There are civil and criminal penalties.

The framework already includes an injunction power in the form proposed both for the Clean Energy Regulator and another person aggrieved by conduct in breach of the act to enable the Federal Court to grant injunctions, either restraining a person from committing an offence against the RET act or contravening a civil penalty provision, and requiring a person who refuses or fails to do something required by a civil or criminal offence provision of the act or regulations to do whatever they were required to do.

This amendment would expand the range of persons who can seek these injunctions under section 154S to include any person not just aggrieved persons. The term 'aggrieved persons' is not defined by the act. It is used in a range of contexts in legislation. Its purpose is to provide a filter. It is meant to require that someone who brings an action has a grievance beyond that experienced by an ordinary member of the public. I am advised that it is also interpreted rather broadly by the courts.

Generally speaking, this standing requirement is designed to ensure that people seeking injunctions have some connection with the conduct complained of. For example, in relation to administrative law, it concerns people affected by a decision. In the context of the RET, it would include people affected by the conduct alleged to be or likely to be in contravention of the renewable energy act.

The amendment's purpose would be to enable anyone to take action. It would require the courts to consider the standing of people bringing actions. The obligations currently in the renewable energy act and regulations have not been designed with the idea of enforcement by unrelated third parties in mind. It would also mean that people with no connection with the conduct could take action. It could encourage speculative, strategic or mischievous litigation by people with no connection with or who are not affected by a renewable energy project. This change could add regulatory risk to renewable energy projects and ultimately increase the cost of the RET to consumers.

I would also point out to Senator Xenophon that obviously we have had some discussion tonight in relation to the undertakings that Minister Hunt has made with some of the crossbench colleagues. These include establishing a wind farm commissioner, who would be able to help communities to resolve complaints and deal with certain issues and work with relevant state authorities where complaints need to be addressed, which I suspect would provide further assistance in relation to all the existing protections with regard to some of the issues or incidences that you are probably seeking to target through this amendment.


112Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (22:42): I rise to support this amendment. This amendment effectively would allow public interest enforcement of our laws, which is a principle the Greens and, prior to tonight, this parliament have championed for about 30 years. Given that we have these spurious rules around native forest logging that depend on interpretations of high value, that depend on interpretations of primary purpose and that depend on compliance with RFAs, all of which are very subject to debate, it is crucial that we allow members of the public to apply those tests and hold the government to account in applying those tests. The existing drafting merely allows aggrieved persons to take action. That is an affront to open standing, as I say, a principle I thought we had fought for for 30 years—certainly the Greens have.

In relation to your contention that there would be frivolous litigation, it is the Federal Court which is a cost jurisdiction. No-one in their right mind takes on that level of risk, as the last 30 years of court transcripts will show. There are no flood gates. There are very rarely frivolous actions taken, certainly not in the public interest to protect the environment. People have better things to do with their time and money, like protect the environment. We will be supporting this amendment and look forward to its passing.


112Singh, Sen LisaM0R
ALP

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (22:43): I thank Senator Xenophon for contributing to this legislation in moving his amendment and I acknowledge the contributions made by other senators to this particular amendment and this debate. But based on the agreement that has been reached between the government and the opposition, the opposition will not be supporting this amendment.


112Xenophon, Sen Nick8IV
Ind.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (22:43): Could I just get some clarification from the minister in respect of this? Is the minister saying that the Clean Energy Regulator has the power to seek an injunction already and that what I am proposing in this amendment is superfluous?


113Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:43): I draw Senator Xenophon's attention to section 154S and division 2 of the act headed 'Injunctions', which provides for certain powers for the regulator and indeed for other aggrieved persons. It is defined as, 'On the application of the regulator or any other aggrieved person, the Federal Court may grant an injunction restraining the person from engaging in certain conduct or requiring the person to undertake certain action.' As I outlined before, there are clear provisions there for the regulator to seek injunctions or aggrieved persons to seek injunctions. Certainly, the government believes that these provisions are appropriate and sufficient at this time, and that there are risks with broadening that definition in the manner in which your amendments would do.


113Xenophon, Sen Nick8IV
Ind.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (22:45): I am digging up that section of the act now. My understanding is that in the circumstances that are prescribed in this amendment—for instance, if there were about to be logging of a particular coupe and there was a concern that, under the rules set by this parliament, there would be a breach, can there be an injunction in the circumstances anticipated by this particular amendment? My understanding is that that section 154—subsections (1) and (2)—does not allow for that. Could the minister clarify that?


113Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:46): To quote from the existing act:

(1) If a person has engaged, is engaging, or is about to engage in any conduct that is or would be:

(a) an offence against this Act or the regulations; or

(b) a contravention of a civil penalty provision;

the Federal Court may, on the application of the Regulator or any other aggrieved person, grant an injunction restraining the person from engaging in the conduct.

So, if it were the belief of a party that a logging activity were in some way going to be in breach of the regulations, then either the regulator or an aggrieved person—which, as I identified before, I understand is interpreted relatively widely by the courts—would be able to seek an injunction against an activity that they believe to be in breach of the regulations or the act.


113Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (22:47): Minister, I beg to differ on your interpretation of what the courts have found 'aggrieved' to mean. Usually it means a direct proprietary or financial interest, which I am sure a forest logging campaigner would not have. This amendment would ensure that, for example, those who are trying to protect forests would have the ability to enforce the rules that you have been assuring us all night are going to mean that native forest logging is going to be just fine. If you are so confident in that assertion, then let people enforce those rules. Given that you also say, 'Leave it to the regulator,' because unfortunately you seem to believe there is a good track record of enforcing environmental law, where the Auditor-General says there is not, my question for you is: how many enforcement officers does the Clean Energy Regulator have?


113Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:48): If officials can turn up that exact figure, I will happily provide it. I am surprised that Senator Waters has such low regard for the Clean Energy Regulator, as seems to be apparent from her question. I think the Clean Energy—

Senator Waters: Do not verbal me. Just answer the question!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Waters, your question seemed to be suggesting that they were incapable of upholding this environmental law, like many other regulators are incapable of upholding environmental laws, according to you.

Senator Waters interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Back): We will just have one conversation at a time, if we can.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Through you, Chair, I hear the interjections, and I know that there is virtually no area where the Australian Greens would not like to see more public servants in place. But, ultimately, it is about providing effective regulation, and the Clean Energy Regulator does provide effective regulation. The capacity is there, Senator Waters, for a party who may not believe they have standing before the court to petition the Clean Energy Regulator to seek an injunction to bring the matter forward in many other ways that would likely see such action taken, if indeed there were potentially going to be a breach of the regulations or the act.

Senator XENOPHON: I do not think it is at all fair for the minister to characterise Senator Waters' statements as having low regard for the regulator. She did not say that at all. What she said was that there is a distinct lack of resources on the part of the regulator, and that the regulator cannot be everywhere at all times. It is just a resources issue. I will stand corrected, and I am embarrassed that I have to do this, but I think it is fair to say that the regulator does have the power to seek an injunction. It is the question in this amendment to broaden it to allow someone other than an aggrieved person, as narrowly defined in the case law, to seek an injunction. I apologise for that—I think that puts it in context—and I want to correct that and put it on the record. It is just that this amendment was rolled up with the existing provisions but expanded it, hence the confusion on my part. I want to clear that up and to be accurate in respect of that.

Really, the nub of this amendment is: do you restrict this to the regulator or a narrowly-defined group of persons with a direct commercial interest? Or if a citizen believes that the law is about to be broken then they take the very serious step of seeking an injunction with undertaking as to damages, which can be very, very significant, as well as being hit with a massive costs order, because justice is not cheap in this country. We have a legal system, not a justice system. So there are very significant disincentives. There will not be floodgates of litigation opened, but this enshrines the principle that if, as a citizen, you believe there is going to be a breach of the law, you should be able to enforce it. This would also cut to the issue of any breaches with respect to wind turbines. So it cuts both ways—it is not just about waste, about biomass, but it would also go to the issue of wind farms. So if a citizen believes that there has been a breach, they make an undertaking against the damages—and I would imagine in wind turbines it would be a very significant undertaking against the damages—and if they are sure of their case, then they should not be constrained from taking a case on. I cannot take it any higher than that. But, to me, there is an important principle here of the power of the individual to bring a matter to court to ensure that the law is enforced.


113Waters, Sen Larissa192970
AG


113Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP


113Back, Sen Chris (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
LP


113Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP


113Xenophon, Sen Nick8IV
Ind.


114Birmingham, Sen SimonH6X
LP

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (22:52): To address, at least in part, Senator Waters's question before, I understand there are 330 staff employed by the Clean Energy Regulator. If Senator Waters wants to know the exact breakdown of the roles of those staff, that is something that can be pursued at estimates or elsewhere. But it is a significant statutory body, with a significant resource allocation, able to ensure that it undertakes its functions and upholds the act and regulations that it is charged to uphold.

In relation to Senator Xenophon's points, I suspect we will have to agree to disagree this evening. The government does not believe that, in the context of this legislation, it would be appropriate to open it up for any person or any party who did not necessarily have some connection or some grievance beyond that of an ordinary member of the public to pursue injunctions in this regard. We have a well-funded, well-staffed, well-resourced, well-intentioned and well-legislated regulator in place that is able to take that action. Of course, aggrieved persons are also able to take that action. We think that is the appropriate balance to ensure that, if there a risk of the law being broken or if the law is being broken or has been broken, appropriate action is taken by the appropriate parties.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Back): The question is that the amendment on sheet 7728 be agreed to.


114Back, Sen Chris (The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN)10000
LP



The committee divided. [22:58]
(Temporary Chairman—Senator Back)

15AYESDay, R.J.Di Natale, RHanson-Young, SCLazarus, GPLeyonhjelm, DELudlam, SMadigan, JJMilne, CRhiannon, LRice, JSiewert, R (teller)Waters, LJWhish-Wilson, PSWright, PLXenophon, N39NOESBack, CJBernardi, CBilyk, CL (teller)Birmingham, SJBullock, J.W.Bushby, DCCanavan, M.J.Carr, KJColbeck, REdwards, SFawcett, DJFierravanti-Wells, CFifield, MPGallacher, AMGallagher, KRHeffernan, WKetter, CRLambie, JLindgren, JMLines, SMacdonald, IDMcAllister, JMcEwen, AMcGrath, JMcKenzie, BMcLucas, JMoore, CMMuir, RNash, FO'Sullivan, BPeris, NPolley, HRuston, ARyan, SMSingh, LMSinodinos, ASterle, GWang, ZWilliams, JR
0PAIRS

Question negatived.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendments; report adopted.

Comments

Burning forests down to "clean" or "renewable" energy is absurd, contradictory and flies in the face of any resemblance to what we know of "conservation". We are being ruled by fools, who think they can call things what they aren't. They can't see the forests for all the trees, and they are inanimate collections of wood?

"In politics, stupidity is not a handicap." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Forests are cradles of life, of living ecosystems that functions so we can benefit from them. They provide services for a myriad of species, from the roots of the trees to the high canopies. If burnt, these services and the lives in them would be destroyed. Why kill off the Golden Goose for short term benefits? These people so ignorant of the natural world, they simply live in a plastic environment.

Australia’s native forests contain around 13,067 million tonnes of carbon, close to 24 times our annual national emissions profile (535.9 Mt). Leaving these forests standing contributes much more to the effort to tackle climate change than chopping them down and burning them. The carbon they hold, if burned, will simply add to greenhouse emissions and undermine other renewable energy sources. Who is really going to buy electricity from forest-burning companies? It's pure and destructive madness.