BILLS (Second Reading): Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020

16 February 2021

I rise to speak on this bill, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Amendment (Grid Reliability Fund) Bill 2020. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a terrific legacy of the Gillard Labor government. The CEFC is known globally as one of the most successful and well-designed clean energy banks and as a world standard in renewable energy investment. The CEFC was established by Labor in 2012 with an initial investment of $10 billion to support renewable technologies and energy efficiency investments. This investment has shown to be sound, and the returns on investments in renewable energy are ever increasing as time goes on. Since this establishment, the CEFC has supported over 18,000 projects, leveraging more than $27 billion in private investment and deploying $6 billion of their own funds into clean energy. This is paying dividends already not only returning $718 million to taxpayers, showing the strong investment model of the CEFC, but also accounting for one million tonnes of CO2 abatement annually. The CEFC has been a resounding success. Their work shows that when a government invests in renewables it sees significant returns, sound economic returns, as well as a reduction in emissions. It is a vital piece of climate change infrastructure necessary to reach our global emissions targets.

But, wait. Of course the Morrison government won't commit to proper targets beyond their pathetic 2030 goal and they're a little bit shifty on the net zero by 2050. Who could be surprised with climate change deniers lining their ranks and an energies and emissions minister who hasn't really overseen proper emissions reduction and who seems more interested in attacking mayors with fraudulent documents than in his own portfolio? Who could be surprised that we now find the CEFC and its great work being put under threat by the Morrison government? This is the same coalition government that introduced legislation to abolish the CEFC once in 2013 and then again in 2014. This is the same coalition government who, under the leadership of Tony Abbott, sought to prevent the CEFC from investing in wind and rooftop solar for Pete's sake! Oh yes, this government has good form in attacking the CEFC and today it's continuing its attacks.

This legislation effectively changes the remit of the CEFC from investing in financially-viable, clean sources of energy to a slush fund for the minister's pet projects. The whole point of the CEFC is to fund emerging technologies that will help reduce emissions and not to fund existing modes of energy production that are not renewable, that are high emitting and that quite frankly don't need taxpayer dollars being diverted to them from clean energy funds. It undermines the integrity of the investment remit of the CEFC, allowing investments in projects which don't stack up economically and don't stack up environmentally, and it allows the scandal-ridden minister Angus Taylor to oversee the investments of the CEFC. Needless to say, we won't be supporting this bill in its current form.

We have, in good faith, proposed amendments, but if the government refuses to accept these amendments, which I note are entirely sensible, we will vote against this bill. Our amendments do what we on this side have always done: they safeguard the CEFC against the attacks of the coalition. The CEFC should not be beholden to a minister known for putting fossil fuels on the taxpayer expense account and who has a litany of scandals involving his business and other dealings, and the CEFC should not have its independence and the integrity of its investments compromised by a government which simply doesn't believe in the value of clean, renewable energy.

The CEFC's role has never been more vital than it is now. We, on this side of the House, understand we are living in a climate emergency. We know that time is running out. To properly address climate change and to avoid the worst of its impacts, we need rapid investment in clean energy. We need to rewire our energy grid to one that can easily distribute maximum levels of renewable-driven power and we need a policy work that encourages private investment. This is what the CEFC does best—it seeks out the projects which will provide the best bang for buck with respect to our emissions and sound economic returns, and it gets on with the job.

The CEFC, of course, has the ability to invest in projects itself and, importantly, it acts on expert advice with science at front of mind. As we find time and time again, when it comes to renewables and energy production more broadly, when you follow the expert advice and when you follow the science, the economic benefits follow. We, on this side of the House, know that investment in renewable energy means job creation and a massive economic boost. We know that Australia, blessed with an abundance of sun and wind and technological know-how, has the potential to become a renewable energy superpower. But, without the political will from successive coalition governments, Australia is running out of time.

We've now seen the election of the Biden administration in the US. President Biden approached the election with a clear plan to shift the American economy to a renewable energy footing. He approached the election with a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 and to recommit America to the Paris Agreement, both of which have now been enshrined in executive orders. Not only is his win in the US a sign that public will is firmly behind climate action but it is also a clear sign that the Morrison government is allowing Australia to fall behind globally. Governments around the world have committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Even big business in Australia have committed to net zero by 2050, because they know it's in everyone's interests and it's in their profitability's interests. Even Woolworths have committed to being carbon positive, and their CEO said categorically that their customers expected it. They have a lot of customers. He also said that goals matter; targets matter.

They on that side scream that Labor has not set a 2030 target. I love how they think that they are somehow the opposition, that they are not actually in government. They are obsessed with Labor and our policies as if we were in government. If it weren't so serious, it would be hilarious. We will have our targets ready to go when we've seen the actual details of the mess they're going to leave behind when we are closer to an election. We know and, more importantly, they know that the public is behind renewable energy, just like those hundreds of thousands of Woolworths customers who undoubtedly influenced that company's decision to go carbon neutral and even aim to be carbon negative.

Australians know that climate change is real, that it is an existential threat and that we need to act now. But this government refuses to accept the science, because of a few dinosaurs sitting on its back benches who, quite frankly, are prepared to throw the workers in threatened industries under a bus, without a plan for diversifying those communities and guaranteeing good, decent, solid jobs. This is because their beloved market forces, affected by the likes of Woolies and BHP are—let's face it—doing the heavy lifting of climate change but have no responsibility to look after any affected workers. This is the government's responsibility, because increasingly, as countries like the US commit to ambitious targets and climate action, agreements and trade will be conducted between countries with like-minded climate ambitions. Countries that are doing their bit to tackle climate change and reduce emissions won't want to trade with countries who aren't pulling their weight, or will apply hefty penalties when they do trade. As the rest of the world commits to this kind of action, the spotlight is slowly being turned directly towards Australia. The Morrison government's failure to commit to real, genuine climate action has become an embarrassment for our country on the world stage.

So I find myself asking the question my community have asked me a million times: what else does the Morrison government need to hear to understand the value of good climate action? We know that investments in renewables are paying dividends to the CEFC, the government and the economy, and that they're creating thousands of good blue collar, white-collar and multicoloured jobs. We know that our country isn't doing our fair share globally and that the election of the Biden administration means Australia is increasingly isolated in refusing to act on climate change. We know that the longer we wait to invest in renewables, the greater the risks with respect to our global standing and trade relations and the greater the risk will be to our health, our economy, our environment, our communities and our jobs. The writing's on the wall, and it has been for years. And still the Morrison government want to take a wrecking ball to the CEFC and the little funding there is, stripping it away from renewables and handing it over to fossil fuel companies. They can't see the writing on the wall about where the future is heading, written there by their buddies in big business and even big global economies.

This government is derelict in its duties, because it will leave workers stranded and communities with little future. The CEFC has a proven track record of sound, reliable investment in renewables, and I don't think anyone can argue that the same can be said for the minister. We need a strong, properly funded, independent CEFC, led by the experts, to invest in the clean energy technologies of the future, ensuring jobs and stability for workers and their communities and setting Australia up to be a world leader, not a deadbeat follower.