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Christine Milne: Greens remain committed to a national energy efficiency target

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Christine Milne 4 Sep 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, addresses the Senate as the Abbott Government and Labor join forces to repeal the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens): It is really disingenuous and dishonest of the Labor Party to have one of its senators give an entire speech on why we should keep the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program, how good this program has been and why energy efficiency is so important-and then, at the end, say, 'However, we will not hinder the government in repealing it.' This why so many people are disengaged and fed up with politics-people tell them one thing in public and then do an entirely different thing behind closed doors.

I have just checked on what happened in the House of Representatives, because I was rather confused here after hearing a whole speech saying why the Energy Efficiency Opportunities (Repeal) Bill 2014 should not be passed. That is of course my view-that the act should not be repealed-and I will get to that in a minute. I found that Labor did not call a division in the House of Representatives. They just let the bill pass in the hope it would drift through in the Senate. Clearly they wanted to be able to go out to the community and put out this speech saying how great the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act has been and how Labor has totally supported it-whilst voting with the government to repeal it. It is just disgraceful behaviour.

It is no wonder young people are so disengaged. They say to me: 'We are told one thing. We vote. We change the government-and then they just say something different. No-one does what they say or believe.' Senator Singh obviously believes the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act should stay, but her party clearly does not. So we get this case of: 'Go out there and make a big scene and say you support something. Kick the government as hard as you can and then quietly let them do as they like.' It is disgraceful-and I can tell you that the Greens will not be behaving like that.

I am wholeheartedly supportive of the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program. It is disgraceful that the government is getting rid of it. I spoke on the bill establishing the program when it came through in February 2006. At the time Senator O'Brien, a Labor senator, said that the bill did not go far enough. Now we have the Labor Party-after the success of the program has been proven-backing the government in getting rid of it. We are in a ridiculous position in this country. We are a laughing-stock around the world. It is a no-brainer to go after energy efficiency opportunities. How can a government that goes on about the costs of energy then take away one of the only bits of legislation-and it is actually a pretty weak piece of legislation; nevertheless it has achieved some results-that gets people to reduce the amount of energy they use? The basis of this action is, the government claims, that it is too costly for industry to report on how they could save energy.

This is where I want to say how disgraceful the business leadership of Australia is at the moment. What a bunch of climate-denying cowards they are, whether it is the Business Council of Australia or ACCI or any of the others. They are saying to their own members that they do not care, that they should go ahead and use more energy. Why do they want people to use more energy and use more power? 'Don't worry about the climate, just get those coal fired generators cranking. Let's use more power.' That is what Dick Warburton wants. That is what he was saying in his RET review: 'Use more power.' He talked about 'when electricity demand recovers' and about how 'electricity demand must recover'. In other words, he is saying, 'Use more power.' He is saying this in an age when everyone else in the world is saying that business needs to be superefficient and that the best way to get your costs down is to have energy efficiency-that you should make your production process so energy efficient that you bring down your costs.

But not in Australia. No, we say: 'Rev'em up. Rev up your costs. It does not matter how inefficient you are or how much power you use; let's just rev up the cost-but let's make sure the power you use is coal fired power. That is what we want-not renewable energy but coal fired power. Let's get those coal mines revving. Let's get those coal fired generators revved up. Let's get Australian industry to go backwards and become such a rust bucket that it is uncompetitive with industries in the rest of the world.'

Energy efficiency, whether it is commercial, residential or industrial, is important. The Europeans have now perfected prefabricated wooden houses with triple-glazed windows that are energy neutral. Within 10 years, they hope to have energy-positive housing-that is, you can put up a house that will generate energy for the grid and create a net energy benefit. That is an extraordinary thing, but should we try to do that in Australia? 'No.' Do want a national energy efficiency target? 'No, why would we want that? We have plenty of coal. We don't care about the climate. We don't care about whether industry operates efficiently.' It is an absolutely disgrace.

Let me just go through where we are. When this program was set up, I said that it was not enough for it to be voluntary. We did not want to see companies identify where they could save money on energy efficiency but then have their boards say: 'We have other priorities. We want to spend our capital on this or that. We are not actually going to do this.'

So at the time I said we should make it mandatory-not only mandatory to report on where energy efficiency opportunities are but mandatory to implement them on a sliding scale. At the time, I said that all what we wanted to do was make it mandatory to implement them if there was a two-year payback initially. What a no-brainer-requiring a company to implement something if, over two years, there was a full payback on whatever the technology or improvement was and thereafter there were permanent savings. But I could not get Labor or the government to agree in 2006 to mandatory implementation of whatever energy efficiency opportunities had been identified. Now we have gone backwards even further. We are not even going to require them to report on the energy efficiency identified.

So what have we got? We have gotten rid of the carbon price, which is leading to increased emissions from coal and is driving greenhouse gases harder. We are now getting rid of energy efficiency opportunities. That means we will not have an energy efficiency target. We have nothing. We have a measly five per cent emission reduction target, which will have to go higher. The question is: if you are not going to support renewable energy or energy efficiency, where on earth are you going to get a five per cent emission reduction from, let alone the 40 per cent to 60 per cent reduction that will be necessary if we are to keep global warming to under two degrees? Australia agreed to that but apparently the Abbott government does not agree with it.

I also want to say how disgusted I am by these regulatory assessments that have come out saying that the benefit here is the reduced cost from not having to do the report without looking at the cost benefit of the outcome-reduced energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. What is even more extraordinary is that the UK has just adopted our scheme-the Australian scheme-to drive transformation of their big emitters. Just as we are dumping it, they are picking it up because they realise it has been so successful in Australia and could be even more successful. Why are they doing it? It is because they have already done a huge amount on energy efficiency at a residential level and now they want something for their big emitters. They have some sincerely good transformational energy strategy in UK to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. We took from their green climate bank to create the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That is where I got the idea from to put into the clean energy package. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation came from the UK, and they have now picked up our energy efficiency opportunities. But here we are trying to smash everything good.

There is a complete lack of professionalism from the assessors doing these jobs. There is the Warburton assessment. It is all based on completely wrong assumptions, telling modellers to make an assumption with the RET review that they do not have to take into account the commercial realities of coal. They just suspended commercial reality because they do not want a report that is going to do anything other than encourage coal fired generation. What a disgrace.

Where is the rigour in any of this? Where is the science? Where is the technical rigour? Where is the sense? Ultimately, you are talking about big industry in Australia-the big energy users. They are going to shut down if they are not competitive. They will not be competitive if they are allowed to be lax and wasteful when it comes to energy. They are not going to be able to bring down their costs and compete with the Germans, for example, or anyone in Europe, who will be sticking with very strict energy efficiency rules. That is exactly what we should be doing.

Not only do we think that we need to keep the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act, but I say again that payback periods needs to be made mandatory. I can only assume the reason for doing this is to allow for more corporate welfare from the government under Direct Action. They want to get rid of the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act and get rid of any reporting, keep the complete lack of transparency, keep the fog and then get these big coal-fired generators to come along to the government and say, 'Give me some money to put in some energy efficiency equipment and I will do it.' That is what it is about. It is about taking away any regulatory arrangements so that taxpayers' money can be given to the corporates under Direct Action. It is a precursor to where we are going with the government's Direct Action.

It will not be additional-that is the point. They want to get rid of the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act and get rid of any regulatory requirement to report and then fudge the figures on additional effort. Under Direct Action it has to be Kyoto compliant. To be Kyoto compliant, it will have to be additional. But now we are getting rid of all the regulation. The rest of the world is going to look at us and say we are cheap. They are going to start auditing how Australia is calculating what it is doing on climate change because of the dodgy deals going on. All of this legislative effort is designed to facilitate dodgy deals that will be done in the name of energy efficiency and Direct Action. You have to think that the intention to repeal the act is that it places a small compliance requirement on huge businesses and the government is committed to arresting the rapid decline in energy demand that has occurred since 2009 and 2010 in order to prop up its associates in the failing fossil fuel generation sector.

That is what I said at the start. This is all about using more energy, using more coal, getting the coal fired generators cranked up, making Australian business less efficient and ultimately putting people out of business. Then, when they are going out of business because they are so inefficient in a rust bucket economy, they will have their hands out to the government and Mr Palmer's new inquiry about manufacturing assistance because the government will have facilitated them in being less efficient and competitive than they should have been. What a disgrace. That is not the action of a clever, innovative country. That is not the action of a country moving to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, pollution and fossil fuel generation. It is the action of a country saying, 'We want to lock together economic growth and coal fired power,' which has been a disaster in this century and a recipe for backwardness. This is very bad legislation.

I conclude by saying to the Labor Party: do not go out and try to con the community by saying one thing and doing another. You are facilitating the end of the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Act because, no doubt, the coal and gas fired generators out there want this legislation gone. The big polluters want it gone, and Labor is facilitating them while making speeches saying how bad it is. It is so dishonest.

The Greens will not be supporting this legislation. We remain committed to a national energy efficiency target. I remain committed to bringing back this legislation with changes making it mandatory to report and introducing a mandatory schedule for implementation of the recommendations those reports make in relation to energy efficiency for big emitters and big users of energy in Australia.


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