The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, uses senate estimates to ask about the future of the Climate Change Authority under the Abbott government.
CHAIR: I welcome officers of the Climate Change Authority. Mr Fraser, would you like to make an opening statement?
Mr Fraser : No, we have no opening statement.
Senator MILNE: I want to start with funding. The 2014-15 budget did not provide any new funding for the authority. How much money do you have left over from previous years to carry out your statutory functions?
Mr Fraser : That is a pretty complicated question. I will readily delegate to Anthea and to Michael for the answer.
Ms Harris : We have about $3.4 million of unspent funding from previous appropriations. There was also an amount provided to the environment department to carry on the functions of the authority in the event that we were abolished. That is funding we are currently drawing on as well.
Senator MILNE: What is that allocation?
Ms Harris : That was $3.5 million.
Senator MILNE: So you have $3.4 million that was unspent previously and $3.5 million that was to have been used in the event that you were abolished?
Ms Harris : Yes.
Senator MILNE: How much of that were you allocating for the review of the Carbon Farming Initiative that was recently announced?
Ms Harris : I do not have an exact proportion, but we estimate that those two amounts of money would see us through until the end of this financial year. That said, our estimates are-with the very large caveat that we are not quite sure what our ongoing statutory or other responsibilities might be, so these things might change-that this would cover off on meeting our current statutory obligations, which are to provide a Carbon Farming Initiative review by the end of this calendar year. It is due on 31 December. We are in mid-October already, so I do not have an exact proportion. But we anticipate that all of that funding will last until the end of the financial year, subject to whatever it is that we may or may not be asked to do.
Senator MILNE: The first review I would like to go to is the RET review. There are only 10 weeks remaining until the official RET review has to be completed by law. Has this process begun, and will you be able to complete the RET review in the time?
Mr Fraser : I might lead off. The answer is, yes, we will complete the obligation and we will have a RET review. It will be a limited review, in a sense, because of the time constraints. As well as that, we do have a fair bit of knowledge and experience about the RET arrangements from our initial report, which was finished a couple of years ago. We will also have access to the public submissions that were made to the recent Warburton review and the report, and the analysis and modelling that was done for that review. All of that will be part of the grist to our mill that we are working on for now.
Senator MILNE: In relation to the Warburton RET review, there has been a great deal of criticism of the modelling and the assumptions that went into that modelling. Will you be critiquing that modelling. Surely you will not be just accepting it on face value?
Mr Fraser : No. Of course we will be making our own judgments about the modelling results. As you know there is quite an array of modelling results out there. We will be weighing them all up and making judgments as to what we think is consistent with what the RET is intended to do to help decarbonise the electricity generating sector and contribute to reductions in emissions and all those kinds of things. But we will have the benefit of the submissions that have been made to the Warburton review, and a lot of the analysis that is in the report, which is worth considering and weighing up, and we will be doing that, as well as making our own independent judgments about all those things in that report.
Ms Harris : We have had a look at the modelling that was done for the Warburton review and it is largely consistent with the modelling that was done for our own 2012 review. So there is an updating of general assumptions, and things like that, but it is not miles aware from where we were in our 2012 modelling.
Senator MILNE: But some of the assumptions are quite interesting.
Ms Harris : They are more consistent than not.
Senator MILNE: Mr Fraser, in terms of your decision to come out with a proposition for the government for a compromise on the current renewable energy target, why did you do that, when you own review had said that the RET was appropriate as it is?
Mr Fraser : That was a couple of years ago. Things move on. One has to have regard to developments as they occur. It was a comment that was made in the hope of contributing to some resolution of the wide gap in views about the RET arrangements-abolishing it on the one hand, but keeping it in place with some modifications. If it came down to a choice of that kind, clearly, in my view anyhow, the latter choice was the preferred one, subject to the extent of the modifications that might be made. I take it you are referring to the suggestion I made that maybe you can keep the existing objective of the large-scale RET scheme but extend the target date out a couple of years. Is that what you had in mind?
Senator MILNE: That is right.
Mr Fraser : Yes.
Senator MILNE: I was just interested why, at the same time the minister had said there was 9,000 megawatts too much energy in the system, you might not have considered that closing down some coal might have been more appropriate than cutting back on the RET?
Mr Fraser : I think I actually made that suggestion as well in the course of those throwaway comments I made in response to a question. The reality was that things had changed-and things always change-from the report that we had prepared a couple of years ago, partly because of the uncertainties surrounding the RET itself. There was doubt anyhow-at least in some of our minds-that we would see enough investment to deliver that 41,000 gigawatts. That was one important change compared to the earlier review. The other important change was that the projections of electricity demand were being revised down all the time-and one could not ignore that.
Senator MILNE: No, which is why I am saying there are the options either to limit the RET or to close down some coal, which is equally or, I think, more valid than to wind back the renewable energy target. Turning to the actual review that you have just talked about-namely, that you will complete your statutory obligation to have a review of the RET within the 10-week time frame, and it will be a limited review. What status will your proposition for cutting back on the renewable energy target have in the light of that review, or are they just personal comments and do not necessarily reflect the view of the review?
Mr Fraser : They certainly do not reflect the view of the review at this stage, because we are still in the early stages of making some progress on that review. The thoughts have been picked up, in some quarters, and they will be part of the overall assessment of the situation as we see it at this time.
Senator MILNE: I understand you will do the review of the Carbon Farming Initiative by the end of December. Do you have any figures yet on the total number of people who are currently employed in the projects that have been approved under the Carbon Farming Initiative?
Ms Harris : No. We do not have those figures at the moment.
Senator MILNE: What sort of things will you be looking at under the Carbon Farming Initiative review?
Ms Harris : We released an issues paper on Friday that set out the areas of focus for this review. I am not sure if you have had a chance to look at that. We do have a copy here that we are happy to table, if that helps.
Senator MILNE: That would be good if you could table that.
Ms Harris : We propose to look at a broad range of issues in this review, including how it has travelled to date. We will be looking at the CFI as it currently stands, but taking into account the proposed changes to those arrangements; thinking about expansions of scope; and thinking about interactions between policy measures as well in all of that process.
Senator MILNE: How many board members have left since the change of government, and which board members have left?
Ms Harris : Four authority members have left. That leaves five of a board of nine. The members who resigned were John Marlay, Heather Ridout, Elana Rubin and Lynne Williams.
Senator MILNE: Will they be replaced, or is the board going to continue on as five?
Ms Harris : That is a matter for the government.
Senator MILNE: Minister, has any decision been made about replacing those members of the board?
Senator Birmingham: The government remains committed to the abolition of the authority, but, as you know, the legislation has so far not passed the Senate. You have addressed some of the issues around funding. The authority is undertaking its statutory requirements and we are having a look at any matters in relation to board positions as a result of the delays in getting passage of the legislation.
Senator MILNE: So you are looking at it actively?
Senator BIRMINGHAM: It is a matter the government is aware of.
Senator MILNE: And if the government does proceed to appoint someone will that be a cabinet decision or is it purely a ministerial one?
Senator BIRMINGHAM: The processes of government would be followed. I cannot recall offhand the requirements of the legislation in this regard, but obviously they would be followed, as well as proper government processes.