15 June 2021

 

I am very pleased to rise in support of this disallowance motion. It seeks to disallow this government's regulatory changes to the Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA. These regulatory changes serve a few key purposes for this climate-damaging government. First, they expand the remit of ARENA beyond investment in renewable energy into projects which will help extend the life of fossil fuels in Australia—a strange departure for an agency with the word 'renewable' in its name. Second, they direct ARENA to invest in a number of projects which form part of this government's budget. This is an agency with a board that is independent from government, but the government wants it to be directed by the minister to fund projects unrelated to renewable energy. Thirdly, they open the door to future interventions by the government as to how ARENA spends its money.

 

ARENA was set up to be independent, to determine its investments independently of government. Labor did this on purpose because we do not want interference from a minister that is climate denying or from a government that is climate denying. Not only do these changes undermine the spirit in which ARENA was created, they undermine the act within which ARENA functions and within which the minister must hand down his regulations. These regulations aren't as problematic for Australia's action on climate or for our future as a renewable super power; they're actually quite problematic for the minister and for this House. Whilst we know that the minister has form when it comes to fudged documents or other spurious activities well documented in this House, writing regulations which are in breach of the act under which his functions are defined isn't something we are going to let him get away with.

 

Protecting ARENA is absolutely vital if Australia is to properly act on climate change. It is one of the few sources of funding for renewables under this climate-denying Morrison government. It is a terrific legacy of Labor. Since its creation in 2012, ARENA has invested more than $1½ billion in over 579 renewable energy projects. Its purpose, its objective under the act, is to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia; it's very clear.

 

In the absence of any real action from this government, ARENA is actually getting on with the job. Its investments have today unlocked over $6.8 billion worth of investment in renewables in Australia. That is a huge achievement and it's only happened because a Labor government enshrined the independence of ARENA and protected it from any climate-denying minister's interference. Think of the jobs it has created, the scale of emissions reduction work this organisation has been able to facilitate. Think of the potential this is unlocking for Australia's future as a renewables super power. It's an agency we can all be very proud of. It should be able to continue its terrific work independently from political interference.

 

You can only imagine where the $1.5 billion the government have invested would have ended up had those opposite been able to get their hands on it. Now, make no mistake: these regulations are seeking to undermine the independence of ARENA and allow this government to direct its funds wherever they want, and that's certainly not to renewables. Remember what they thought of a recent investment in a wind farm that would have created 250 jobs? They didn't think that was a very good idea, did they? Imagine what they could do with ARENA.

 

Minister Angus Taylor's track record speaks for itself. Under his watch and the watch of the Morrison government, Australia has become the laughing-stock of the world when it comes to climate action. This is a minister who does everything in his power, and apparently outside of his power with these regulations, to undermine climate action and squander our future in renewables. As has been mentioned here by previous speakers, we have seen the minister's failed bill to wreck the CEFC and now we are seeing identical interference with ARENA. Thousands of Australians, including members of his own government, spoke up urging us all to protect the CEFC and withdraw the bill.

 

Rather than face the embarrassment of the same thing happening with a bill on ARENA, the minister decided to do what he does best—fudge the paperwork, dodge the proper process and avoid the accountability of this House, this parliament and the Australian people. So he didn't present these changes—these substantive, extensive changes—through a bill. He made these changes through what experts are telling us are regulatory changes which he does not have the power to make. So we're seeking to disallow these regulations and we're seeking a referral to have these changes scrutinised by the appropriate committee, because undermining ARENA is one thing, but to do so in a manner which avoids the accountability of this House and the Australian people is a whole other game.

 

It's extraordinary, really, the lengths this government will go to to avoid investments in renewables. We've seen for too long the rumblings of climate denial go unchecked within the Liberal Party. It's become a core element of the coalition's ideology, and so they refuse to commit any real funding to deal with the climate emergency we are presented with. The Australian people know what's going on. They know climate change is having an impact. They're starting to see it in front of their very eyes and literally on their doorsteps. The polls tell us Australians want climate action.

 

I was recently presented with a paper called 'People's climate strategy', a new paper, written in consultation with people right across Victoria, from the regions to the city. It made clear how well the Australian public understand the failures of this government on climate action. I urge the people on that side to get a copy of it and actually read what Australians are saying about them when it comes to climate action. They are abject failures on this, and we are seeing the consequences of that failure play out in Cornwall at the G7 conference, as the member for Melbourne reminded us. If we need any further reminding of international pressures, we just have to look at President Biden's refusal to take a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister. It's a national embarrassment. We are left out of the conversation. We are being dressed down by countries we have close alliances with.

 

But of course this isn't just about being embarrassed; it's about protecting our national interests and promoting Australia to the world. As time goes on, we face greater risks of sanctions, tariffs and other concrete consequences for the government's failure to take action on climate change. We have to contribute our fair share to the global fight. This isn't just about foreign relations, of course, or about fear of political ramifications; this is about taking real action to combat the climate emergency. The possibilities for this country's future in doing that are expansive. We have to become a renewable superpower. We are blessed with the resources to do so. We have a history of powering the world. It's a proud history, and I thank the men and women who've worked, and still work, so hard to power this country, and the unions that care for them. Why should we not continue to do this in a renewables-led world? It's time the minister and the Morrison government stopped their meddling and actually started to do their job.