Victorian Greens Senator, Dr Richard Di Natale spoke in the Senate about the impacts on Victoria of the Abbott Government's sham review into the renewable energy target (RET).
Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (19:52): I rise today to talk about the review of the Renewable Energy Target and in particular the impact that review will have on my home state of Victoria. You have got to hand it to this government—the nerve, the chutzpah to be able to appoint a climate sceptic, an oil executive, to review the Renewable Energy Target. If you ever needed more proof that this was a sham review, the appointment of Dick Warburton to head that review is that proof. What a surprise to have an outcome that says that we should wind back the Renewable Energy Target! When you appoint somebody who does not believe in climate change, which is the point of having a target for renewable energy—and you appoint somebody who sees wind turbines as everything that is wrong with the world—there can only be one outcome, and we have got it.
Despite the review confirming that the Renewable Energy Target did achieve its goals of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector, of encouraging the additional generation of renewable energy through incentives, of meeting the 20 per cent target—despite it achieving its goal and despite a promise during the election campaign to keep the target—we have got a recommendation from that climate sceptic that we should ditch it.
The premise, of course, is that it is too expensive. It uses coal as its reference point, completely ignoring the fact, of course, that coal has become a major contributor to our power supply precisely because it has been subsidised from its very inception and continues to be subsidised to this very day. There is a great irony that I am talking about this issue here today, because we have just seen an inquiry handed down into the Morwell coalmine fire. It is an inquiry that discusses the serious impact that that fire in that coalmine had on the community of Morwell—enormous costs as a result of the health impacts and social dislocation caused by that fire that will not appear in any balance sheet and reflect the true price of coal, because it is the taxpayer that will be footing the bill for that clean-up.
In winding back the Renewable Energy Target we now take the gold medal in climate change obstructionism. We are the first country to have wound back a price on carbon, and we will now be the first country to wind back a target for renewable energy. Some honesty would have been nice here. If we had a government, which is clearly a government that governs for its mates in big business in the coal industry, that was prepared to say: 'We are not going to support renewable energy. We don't believe in climate change. We don't believe it's real. We think climate change is crap and we think we should wind back the production of renewable energy.'—that would have at least been honest. Instead, we have this sham process designed to produce a predetermined outcome, and what we are going to see is a huge impact on my home state of Victoria.
The irony, of course, is that on a day when we repeal the mining tax on the premise that it is jeopardising investment from mining interests in this country we also continue our assault on the Renewable Energy Target, killing an industry of today and tomorrow with the potential and now realised potential to create jobs for communities right across Victoria, particularly in regional Victoria. Victoria is facing a jobs crisis. Nationally the unemployment rate has jumped to a 12-year high of 6.4 per cent, and Victoria is one of the worst performing states in the country. In the Premier's own electorate in the south-west Victoria, we have youth unemployment at a 15-year high, averaging 18 per cent over the year to July 2014, well above the state average and well above the youth unemployment rate for the previous year. Yet in the face of all that we see a government, both at a federal and a state level, continuing to wage their war on the renewable energy industry.
This is what they are giving up. The Clean Energy Council modelling showed that the that if the Renewable Energy Target was retained Victoria would gain 6½ thousand jobs, with 750 in the Premier's own electorate. We have seen the shelving of the enormous solar farm in Mildura. Eighteen new wind farms have been put on hold. We have almost 1,000 wind farms in operation in Victoria with more than 2,000 approved but not yet built, and they are all in jeopardy. Every 50 megawatts in capacity—say 10, five-megawatt turbines—produces a value of $50 million to the state, and that is a very small development. Many of the developments in Victoria are bigger than that. But even if we take that as our benchmark, that would provide direct of employment of up to 50 construction workers with each worker spending approximately $25,000 in the local area in shops, the Chinese restaurant, the takeaway shop, on hotels and a whole range of other services—for a total of up to $1.2 million. There is direct employment in the operation of the wind farm and indirect employment during the construction phase of approximately 160 people locally for a small development. That means 500 new jobs across the state and 800 nationwide. And it means a lot to farmers. Up to $250,000 per year for a farmer in land rental income and then the money on community projects—the local football club, the CWA and so on. Local goods—the gravel, the cement and sand from the local quarry.
It is the RET that ensures that local communities get the benefit of the renewable energy boom. That is why we have seen the Mayor of Ararat, the Mayor of the Northern Grampians and the Mayor of the Pyrenees shire writing to the government, calling on them to retain the RET.
We know individuals at the coalface have benefited from the RET. Bob Menzel, who is a partner at R&M Menzel Electrical, says:
Over the course of seven years we have been able to grow to the point where we employ up to 35 people, not just in Portland but across the country and sometimes overseas … This would simply not have been possible without clear policies to support the growth …
Mike Noske, the special project manager from Keppel Prince Engineering, says:
The price of solar has dropped so far that our business division can now employ another 10 people across the state. You need the framework there while the industry and the technology develops, and then you can kick it away.
That is what he says. But it is not just those people. The former Leader of the Opposition, John Hewson, who attended a forum in Portland, made clear what he thought of this government:
This is a government that wants to be seen as open for business but open for what sort of business? We're making a transition from a resource based economy to what?
To what indeed? So, you see, we are very much at the crossroads.
Victoria is a national priority in ensuring that we make progress here in cleaning up our energy system because it relies on brown coal, the dirtiest electricity source of them all. I was really privileged earlier on in the year when I joined the Friends of the Earth on their renewable energy road trip. We visited a range of communities. We went from Anglesea to Morwell and we heard from communities that have suffered the worst impact of fossil fuel pollution. For them, the renewable energy target was a source of hope.
While the Abbott government is threatening to axe or at least weaken the RET, I know in Victoria my state Greens colleagues are doing their best to retain it. They are doing it in the face of a recalcitrant state government, a state government that believes—and it made its position very clear in its submission to the renewable energy target review—that gas is a renewable energy and that woodchips from native forests are a source of renewable energy. Well, they are not, and my state Greens colleagues are leading the charge in ensuring that, in Victoria, we get a Victorian renewable energy target so that we can act while this federal government is in retreat.
This transition is inevitable. The question of whether we are going to have our agenda set by the vested interests who represent the industries of the last century or by the community, who support the industries of today and tomorrow, is the issue—and we should not be dragged into it kicking and screaming.