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Senator Waters' speech to the Senate in opposition of slashing the RET

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Larissa Waters 15 Jun 2015

I rise to oppose in the strongest terms the slashing of the renewable energy target through the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill that is before the Senate and that has, sadly, already passed the House of Representatives. Let us be in no doubt: today we have before us a bill to cut our renewable energy target from 41,000 gigawatt hours down to 33,000 gigawatt hours.

At this very point in history—right when the clean energy sector is absolutely booming in this nation and booming globally, when it is clearly part of the solution to the climate challenge that we all face as global citizens—right at this minute, this government and, sadly, the opposition have decided to cut that target by reducing clean energy production in this country. They are cutting it even though we were on track to overshoot that target and on track to create a burgeoning industry of the future that we know is more job intensive than fossil fuel energy production and that we know will safeguard our existing industries that need the climate to stay healthy, like agriculture and tourism on the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is already being slammed by climate change and stands to be gone, sadly, by the end of the century if we continue on the emissions trajectory that we are on. So it is an incredibly sad day for this parliament that we are standing here debating the slashing of the clean energy target.

We have already, unfortunately, seen the carbon price cut during this parliament; we have lost the mining tax in this term of government; and we are now seeing the renewable energy target slashed. This absolute lack of foresight and the denial of the science boggles the mind.

Perhaps we should expect no less from a Prime Minister who has as his chief business adviser somebody who thinks that climate change is a UN hoax, that coal is good for humanity and that wind farms are ugly, noisy and, 'Gee, the health impacts should be investigated.' No, no, no—or, as the Prime Minister says, 'Nope, nope, nope.' Wind energy is perfectly fine for people's health. The NHMRC has found that time and time again. Coal is not good for humanity, for goodness sake. If you stopped sacking scientists and started listening to them, you would know that it is damaging the global climate and jeopardising our economy, which you profess to care about. Of course, the fossil fuel sector, which bankrolls, sadly, both the major parties in this place but particularly the government, keep kicking in with the dollars for their back pockets to help them get re-elected: 'You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' Money talks in this place, and the climate continues to cook. Our Reef will continue to be trashed.

It is the future of the generations to come, like the kids up in the galleries today from some of our schools, that we are affecting with these sorts of decisions today. It is they who are going to have to clean up the mess and bring the country back to a low-carbon economy, in track with the rest of the world. It is not like Australia is going it alone here, folks. We are in fact the only country in the world that is now heading backwards in climate change action. Everybody else has realised that we need to take strong action on climate change and introduce policies and market mechanisms to reduce carbon pollution and set ourselves up for the future.

Australia has the most to gain. We have wonderful renewable energy resources. We have some of the best sunshine in the world, we have some pretty good wind deposits, we have some fairly solid geothermal deposits and, of course, we have marvellous wave and tidal options. We have a plethora of renewable energy options that can power our cities and homes, and we can export that technology and energy. This is the way of the future, and the rest of the world knows that. Why is it that, right when we most need to be slashing emissions and tackling climate change, we are going backwards and reducing our ambitions for clean energy, and stymieing the job creation and the transition that our economy so desperately needs—otherwise, we will be left behind by the rest of the world? We stand to sacrifice our agricultural sector, our biodiversity, our Reef, our very way of life.

The government would have us believe that the reason they want to cut the renewable energy target is to give certainty to the industry. I cannot believe that anyone has actually swallowed these argument: we are going to give you certainty by cutting the obligation of industries to create renewable energy; and we are going to give you certainty by not just cutting that obligation, but by then saying, 'Gee, we actually wanted to go further. We don't like wind. It is ugly. We wish we had never introduced a renewable energy target under Prime Minister John Howard back then.' So much for certainty. What is being delivered is a massive axe to renewable energy, and now we hear the government has belled the cat and revealed that they actually want to go even further. This is a real travesty for an industry that has suffered under 18 months of this government's attack, with review after review looking for any premise to cut the renewable energy target. Now they have unfortunately found some support amongst the opposition ranks to do so. It is an incredibly sad day for the climate.

Not content with just cutting the clean energy target, this government now wants to see native forests burnt— and to call the clean energy—in a way that will squeeze out the production of genuine clean renewable energy like solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and wave power. They want to see native forest habitat burnt and want to void genuine renewable energy creation. I welcome the fact that the opposition will move amendments to stop that. The Greens will do that as well. The difference is that we will not vote for the bill when those amendments fail. Let us hope they do not fail, but unfortunately it seems like the government has stitched up the numbers. God knows what deals they have proposed. But it seems like we will not be able to stop native forests being burnt in a way that will throw a lifeline to the native forest logging industry, which has been in decline, given that the rest of the world has said, 'We don't want your woodchips, because you are woodchipping habitat for precious iconic species.' Not content with that, this government needs to find a way to breathe life back into that industry, and they have found it with native forest burning. What an absolute travesty that we have an opportunity to stop that, but it seems that the votes will be there for it to sail through. For us to be burning native forest habitat in this day and age, I think Australians are going to be absolutely horrified when they realise that that is what the parliament has done today.

One wonders whether this government is perhaps so set against the renewable energy target because it has said it does not like subsidies. What an absolute joke. We know that the fossil fuel sector gets billions and billions of dollars of subsidies from this government with taxpayers' money. If you really want to look at subsidies, let us look at that litany of billions of dollars that you give to the coal industry because you scratch their back and they will scratch yours.

We have seen some movement from some of the state governments who want to do better with renewable energy and who would like to have strong, state-based renewable energy targets. We welcome that, particularly since it looks like this parliament is going to fail Australians and allow our national renewable energy target to be slashed. We would welcome the states being allowed to still have higher clean energy ambitions, so I am flagging

that we will be moving an amendment to remove a particular provision of the act that stops states having a stronger renewable energy target. I am seeking support from all parties for that amendment, because just because this particular government does not understand climate science and hates clean energy does not mean that it should be able to stop the states from listening to the science and doing what is necessary to foster new industries that can actually help to protect the climate. Let us hope that we will see some good sense prevail and that the states will still be allowed to have their own strong renewable energy targets.

Instead, we see from this government an absolute obsession with fossil fuels. We know that they are in bed with the coal sector. We know that they would love to see coal-seam gas wells rolled out across the landscape. Even some of their own, in other states, are realising how damaging coal seam gas is. In northern NSW we finally see some recognition from one of the big parties that, actually, coal seam gas really is damaging to land and water and the climate and we know, in Queensland, to the reef as well, because of all of the coal and gas ports that are being deepened and expanded for its export. So even amongst your own ranks, finally, there are people realising how damaging coal seam gas is. Yet this government is steamrolling ahead—rolling out the red carpet for the fossil fuel industry.

Not content with just those two provisions, this bill also gives even more exemptions to emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries. It says it is not enough that you have a 50 to 75 per cent exemption; we want to give you a complete exemption because here in the Abbott government we love big business. We love the big end of town. We love propping up the fossil fuel sector, and we do not like these new clean energy guys. We want to make sure that these emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries can just keep on polluting for free and do not need to lift a finger in the transition to clean energy, and we want to leave Australia as the rust bucket of the world when it comes to clean energy ambition.

Given the time, I will conclude by saying this is a revolting bill that slashes clean energy generation. It is the worst possible time in history to be taking a backward step. We know what fantastic opportunities there are economically, employment-wise and environmentally from actually having strong clean energy production targets, and from making that transition along with the rest of the world, who are already, sadly, much more advanced than we are in this nation.

Today the parliament has that tough decision to make. Does it slash the renewable energy target and throw its lot in with old coal—the coal that we are told is good for humanity, like we are told that global warming is just a UN hoax and wind farms are ugly. Is that really what this government and this parliament is going to choose? We will find out later in the day, but, from the smirks that I can already see from the government side of the chamber, they are laughing all the way to the bank with their coal mining mates and the rest of the community is left to suffer.

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