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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Double dissolution trigger: Greens and Labor challenge Abbott on climate, clean energy

The Labor Party and Greens have defeated for a second time in the Senate a bill by Tony Abbott's Government to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This gives a first trigger for the Government to call a double dissolution election.

"Prime Minister Abbott if you really believe that this is absolute crap and that the Clean Energy Act is going to wipe Whyalla off the map, how’s that working out?" he told the Senate.

"If you really believe that renewable energy can't deliver, then here is the double dissolution election trigger you’ve been waiting for."

"The world is starting to move, in fact parts of the world are well ahead of Australia, we’re lagging and the hour is late, so if its an election you want then bring it on." explained Senator Ludlum.

Watch Western Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlum challenge the Abbott Government to bring on a 'globalwarming' double dissolution election.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation was established by the Gillard Labor party in consultation with the Greens and Independant MPs in 2011 to help fund renewable energy projects through assisting private funding. As an investment catalyst, it has actually proved a successful business generating about $200million annually to aid the budget, while also helping establish clean technologies in existing businesses.

Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne issued the following statement:

"The Senate won't stand for Tony Abbott's head-in-the-sand approach on global warming, and we're not afraid of a double dissolution election over renewable energy," said Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne.

"It's time for Mr Abbott to give up. The CEFC is an excellent institution that should stay.

"The CEFC is creating jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency, reducing Australia's pollution and returning money to the budget. What's not to like?

"The Abbott government has admitted the CEFC is profitable, but they're so driven by ideology that they want to wipe their hands of it and sell it off. It's just further proof that there is no budget emergency.

"Tony Abbott is a ‘crash or crash through' Prime Minister, and he's set to crash over these attempts to undo Australia's action on global warming and undermine our core values with his brutal budget.

"It's now more clear than ever that this Prime Minister does not have the skills to negotiate with the cross bench in the Senate, so you can expect that huge parts of his agenda will be blocked.

"The Greens won't entertain any compromise on our values, so we are ready for an early election, if Tony Abbott has the ticker for it."

Shadow Minister for the Environment Mark Butler tweeted this comment this afternoon:

Debate in the Senate

Eight senators spoke on the second reading of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013 (no2). Senators Christine Milne and Scott Ludlum from the Greens, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, Senators Ursula Stephens, Louise Pratt, Lin Thorp and Anne Urquhart from the ALP, and Finance Minister Senator Matthias Cormann in reply from the Government.

Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne made a strong case for maintaining the Clean Energy Financing Corporation in the coontext of the threat being faced by Australia and globally. "It is critical that the government faces the fact that we are living in a global climate emergency. That is the fact of the matter. The greatest threat to human civilisation this century is global warming, and it is disgraceful that the Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge that. I want to talk about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in that context. It is intergenerational theft not to face the threat of climate change. What it means is that life is going to be worse for generations to come if we do not deal with this threat now. We may already have gone beyond the tipping points from which there is no return."

Labor Senator Ursula Stephens identified that this bill was part of an 'ideological obsession to dismantle the achievements of previous Labor governments.' She argued; "There is no other logic to this. Of course, government senators are going to argue again that the government has a mandate for this. The problem is that the Prime Minister, having returned from his overseas travels—yee-ha—knows that the rest of the world wants to talk about climate change and wants to mobilise global action to reduce carbon emissions by investing in renewable energies and efficient technologies, and here in Australia we are moving backwards. The environment minister continues to promote the coalition's Direct Action Plan, although he was caught out with his million solar roofs announcement and swiftly swatted by the Treasurer, so he has retreated back to the shallow rhetoric of the Direct Action mantra."

Since inception in 2012 the fund is generating a return to the taxpayer and the government, with an estimated negative cost abatement of $2.40 per tonne for emissions and using good governance mechanisms in tax Stephens pointed out.

Labor Senator Lin Thorp highlighted the hypocrisy of the Liberal and National Parties in their blind pursuit of free market ideology: "We are often told by the conservative side of politics that only the free market can save us. However, when they are given a shining beacon example of a program that is leveraging private sector investment for the good of the nation, what do they do? They shut it down. If ever there was solid proof that this government is determined to maintain a fact-free zone around all policies relating to climate change, it is in this attempted repeal of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation."

Thorp indicated that Labor will stand strong for strong policy outcomes, "We in Labor will not 'get out of the way'—as Mr Hockey so arrogantly put it yesterday—and acquiesce to the dishonest and dangerously anti-scientific policy regime that the government is waging. We also have a responsibility to the Australian people to fight as hard as we can for the very best policy outcomes for all of us, not just for the rich and entitled. So, no, a win at the election does not mean we will simply wave through bad policy. We will stand strong and we will not be bullied into supporting a bill that will be detrimental to the budgetary bottom line, our nation and the planet."

Labor Senator Urquhart touched on many points raised by her colleagues, "Labor will fight tooth and nail to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation." she said. "Abolishing the CEFC comes at a cost to the taxpayer. It is reckless and irresponsible to remove this tool from our policy suite in tackling climate change. I know that it is foggy outside today, but I urge coalition senators to get their heads out of the clouds on climate change and vote no on this legislation."

Senator Xenophon, the Independent from South Australia had the most curious speech, "I am taking a conservative view in respect of this piece of legislation, and the conservative view—in the small 'c' conservative way—is that we ought not to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for a number of reasons." Those reasons included that firstly it is set up to provide a commercial rate of return, secondly in a dysfunctional market where externalities are not properly accounted for "there is a role for government to play to provide a finance mechanism, thirdly the importance of this mechanism given the state of play of the government's emissions reduction policies.

Xenophon made specific mention of the broken promise of abolishing the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is a retrograde step. Xenophon thinks that wind energy is problematic, but highlighted the possibilities for geothermal power in his home state of South Australia, and that initial financial investment is needed to get these projects of the ground that have the potential for supplying 24/7 power at minimal ongoing cost. He also emphasised that more powers need to be given to the Australian Energy Regulator to keep network costs in check and stop price gouging of consumers as this has been a large cause for increase in electricity prices in recent years.

"I believe that to abolish the CEFC, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, at this time would be most unwise. From what I have seen of its activities, its charter and the way that it has operated, it has done many good things in terms of the sector. So I think it is unwise. I think coalition supporters need to understand that there is bipartisan commitment to reduce greenhouse gas, and there also was a commitment by the coalition to keep ARENA, which itself could play a valuable role in unlocking the potential of geothermal energy, of which my home state of South Australia has enormous reserves." Xenophon said.

Noteable was the fact that Senator Cormann, for the Government, did not mention climate change once in his short speech, but flagged introduction of the bill for a third occasion. He brought up that this was part of the Government mandate and that the government was opposed to this kind of financing, "Fundamentally, we do not believe it is appropriate for the government to continue to borrow in order to underwrite a $10 billion taxpayer funded bank which cherry picks investments in direct competition to the private sector."

Instead the government aims to establish an emissions reduction fund of grants to business for emissions reduction. The potential for corruption or funding projections that were going to occur anyway highlights the danger of the governments own poorly thought out scheme.

The motion was put and was lost on party lines: NOES 35 (7 majority) AYES 28 PAIRS 6

Greens Leader Senator Milne also spoke very eloquently and intelligently as part of the debate. Here is her speech in full via Hansard:

A choice about a future where you deal with the biggest threat you are facing

Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (09:31): I rise today to oppose the government's move to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It is critical that the government faces the fact that we are living in a global climate emergency. That is the fact of the matter. The greatest threat to human civilisation this century is global warming, and it is disgraceful that the Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge that. I want to talk about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in that context. It is intergenerational theft not to face the threat of climate change. What it means is that life is going to be worse for generations to come if we do not deal with this threat now. We may already have gone beyond the tipping points from which there is no return.

The World Economic Forum have recognised that climate change is right up there in the 10 top threats—global risks of highest concern in 2014. They list in those 10 highest risks water crises, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, greater incidence of extreme weather events—floods, storms and fires—food crises and profound political and social instability. So at least five of the top 10 risks to the planet this century, recognised by the World Economic Forum, are covered in the climate space.

Not only that, but we know it from our own experience here in Australia. We only have to look at the consequences of the fires that we have suffered, the intense fires in the Blue Mountains and in Tasmania most recently, and the floods, the cyclones and the droughts we have had. We are seeing more intense extreme weather events. The losses are not just to people and property; the losses are very much to the environment. On the radio just today was a story about the koala population. They are already under huge threat because of loss of habitat, feral species, dogs and cats the environment, and disease, but because of the intensity and frequency of extreme heat and drought they are going extinct in Western Queensland. That is going to happen right across the planet. We are going to see a third of all species made extinct because of global warming, and that is likely to accelerate. That is the kind of planet that we will be leaving our children, and that is why I describe it as intergenerational theft.

You only have to look at our nearest neighbours in the Pacific. Just recently I hosted a delegation from Tuvalu and Kiribati. Those people came to see us to say that they are already suffering greatly, from the saltwater incursion into the freshwater systems and from storm surge. They are terrified that there is a point coming where they will be washed away from their island home, in the case of Tuvalu in particular. They are saying this happened as long ago as 2006. The Prime Minister of Tuvalu stood up in a conference in Kenya and said, 'Who will take my people?'

These are serious issues facing the planet, and Australia has its head in the sand if it thinks we can get away with pretending it is not happening and refusing to do something about it. The UN knows particularly that this is happening, and that is why there is now growing global momentum to deal with climate change. That is why Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, is having a conference shortly, in September, to call on the leaders of governments around the world to act on global warming. Australia is snubbing—the Prime Minister is snubbing—the United Nations by refusing to attend, and I find that disgusting and disgraceful. Prime Minister Abbott needs to change his mind and get to that summit and explain to the rest of the world why he is going in the opposite direction as the rest of the world is starting to move.

Not only have we got the summit in September but we have the G20 in Australia in November, then we have the UNFCCC meeting in Peru leading into the global negotiations in 2015. Let me tell you in this Senate and in this parliament: the world is serious about getting to a global treaty. I was ashamed that our Prime Minister stood in Canada with the Canadian Prime Minister to say that they will do what they can to effectively tear down the success of achieving a global treaty. That is the context in which we are today discussing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and its abolition. In Australia set up an architecture, if you like, to deal with these issues: the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It is interesting that just overnight—and this really highlights the point and the value of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—the United Kingdom signed a climate change agreement with China. In the signed statement from the leaders they talk about their commitment to Ban Ki-moon's summit in September. They go on to say:

The United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China have both taken substantial action to put in place policies to limit or reduce emissions and promote low carbon development. We welcome our existing strong relationship on low carbon cooperation that underpins our international work. Both sides agree to intensify bilateral policy dialogue and practical collaboration through the China-UK Working Group on Climate Change.

It is very interesting that they go on to list what the collaboration will actually focus on.

The first thing is: Green Growth and the Economics of Climate Change: The transition to a lower carbon, more energy efficient economy is an opportunity to drive new sources of growth and jobs in both economies.

Point 2 is: Clean technology: The UK and China have launched a joint £20 million research programme on Low Carbon Innovation, including work on offshore renewables, low carbon manufacturing processes and technologies, and low carbon cities … electric vehicles, smart grids, cleaner fossil fuels and energy storage.

This is not a radical fringe. This is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It is also the Premier of China actually doing this. Going on, renewable energy is the third thing they want to work on and then green finance. This is where the Clean Energy Finance Corporation comes in. On green finance they say:

The levels of investment needed to deliver a 2 degree world cannot be met by public finance alone—significant amounts of private investment are needed to achieve a sustainable low-carbon transition. This presents a major opportunity for business. The UK and China have been working together on areas including green finance, green credit and green procurement …

Are you listening, Senator Cormann?

Green finance, green procurement, why will you not recognise green credit? They go on to say they want to build on London's reputation as the green financial capital of the world.

The countries will continue this cooperation through the climate public private partnership . The UK aims at catalysing private finance specifically from institutional investors such as pension funds and sovereign wealth funds into low-carbon investments in China and other countries.

They go on to say they want carbon markets. Carbon emissions trading schemes achieve higher levels of emissions reductions at low cost while creating clean energy investments. And it says the UK has provided advice and expertise in the development of China's emissions trading scheme—if ever you saw an opportunity sitting there and saw the way the world is going. What you are doing in this country by trying to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is actually taking out of Australia the very mechanism that other countries are now trying to build in, and the opportunity cost to us is huge.

There is a report out today from CEDA, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, that makes the point that it is an undeniable fact that Australia's economy will be critically exposed on two economic fronts if we do not ensure an appropriate response to climate change. The first is the costs of extreme weather events and the economic and social impacts of these events. But the second point is that where Australia stands exposed economically to the effects of climate change relates to the availability of capital to fund its infrastructure and other capital needs. The report goes on to say:

Australia is reliant on foreign capital to fund major projects and new developments in international climate change policy are likely to impact international capital flow and investment decision making.
Applying climate related risk assessment when considering investment and financing decisions is an emerging trend globally. It is the divestment trend and that is why the Greens keep saying, 'If you keep trying to invest in coal mines, coal ports, coal railways, you will fail.' These are stranded assets of the future. You are totally going in the wrong direction. Frankly, this move that you are trying to engage in now to destroy the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is such a wrong-way-go-back policy is unbelievable. It is dumb economics; it is dumb politics; it is dumb international engagement; and it is an isolationist rust-bucket strategy. That is what it is and that is why this parliament should reject it—and we will reject it.

I have been thinking about this point. If you had a prime minister sitting here in Australia and there was an army offshore and that prime minister said, 'I do not see it. In fact I cannot see it to the point where I am going to stand down our own army.' We would say the person is barking mad and needs to be removed. We have to actually act on the threat and we have to actually deal with this issue. But here we have a prime minister who is effectively barking mad on climate change, barking mad on the greatest threat that is facing this country and he is now the biggest opportunity cost to the nation in research and development, in rolling out new technology, in new jobs, in bringing down prices to the community in energy efficiency and in renewable energy.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation now has $582.5 million of investment. It has now got a portfolio of $2.35 billion in investments. They are investments in a fantastic range of projects and proposals around the country. Its portfolio goes to manufacturing and to energy efficiency. Just yesterday I was talking to the local government association and there are so many councils that are pleased that they are going to get more energy efficient buildings, recreation centres and street lighting. Abattoirs are benefitting. Carnegie Wave Energy's future is tied up now with being assisted by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

You have got refrigeration upgrades, live scale solar boosted technology investments. You have got a tomato farm with solar innovation to bring down its heating costs, and great innovation at the Sundrop Farms in South Australia. You have got Pacific Hydro's Portland wind energy project. You have got egg producers turning waste into energy. You have got buildings transformed by upgrading. You have got converting waste to energy around the country, and it goes on and on.

A hospital saves on car park lighting, a leading pork exporter saves on energy and a stadium lighting upgrade in New South Wales reduced its energy by 60 per cent. The Gold Coast Burleigh Bears Leagues Club reduced its lighting bills by 65 per cent. A frozen food manufacturer replaced their existing commercial-style blast freezer with an industrial spiral freezer system that has cut annual energy consumption by 55 per cent, and on and on it goes.

Cool stores are reducing their energy costs, and a $1.15 million coolrooms upgrade is allowing a fruit supplier to save around a quarter on its refrigeration energy bills. A hotel complex, a multistorey, multiuse building in Queen Street, Melbourne has undergone a $1.3 million energy efficient upgrade making energy cost savings of more than 50 per cent. A foam manufacturer is reducing its lighting bills by more than 50 per cent, following a lighting upgrade to its Moorebank in Sydney's west plant, and so on and so forth.

Project after project after project is bringing down costs and making these projects cheaper to the community: more efficient manufacturing, more competitive. That is what the government wants to get rid of. Not only that but they have got in their pipeline a huge number of additional projects. For example, I asked at estimates: 'In the pipeline, what have you got?' The total project value of what the CEFC has in its pipeline is $10.7 billion worth of investment and what they have put in a bid for the CEFC to fund is $3.6 million. So you have got a massive leverage of private-sector finance out there ready to go in to make Australia competitive and, when you consider what I have just said about China and the UK and then you hear President Obama saying that he has brought in through the EPA a requirment for power stations to reduce their emissions and that that can be spread across states through emissions trading schemes or whatever, Australia is going to be left behind.

Some of our best brains are going to leave the country. Some of our best technologies will go overseas, and what we are we going to be left with? We are going to be left with a Prime Minister standing next to a coal pit telling us that that is the future for Australia. Well, it isn't. It is wrong. It is so last century. It is unbelievable, and that is why we have to get behind the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

I recognise that, when we vote down this abolition bill today, it will be a trigger for a double dissolution. I say to the Prime Minister: if you are so convinced that ignoring climate change, tearing down the clean energy price, destroying the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA is the way to go, go to an election on it. I say: Go to an election on it because, increasingly, Australians are recognising how conned they were by the absolute trite, superficial nonsense of 'axe the tax'. Now the polls are showing that Australians want our country to take a leadership role in global warning. They want the benefits of energy efficiency. They want to get to 100 per cent renewable energy

People are showing, as they go out and buy solar panels for their roofs, that they want to engage in the new technology and they are becoming increasingly aware of how the rest of the world is moving and the risk to us of being left behind. As they get their insurance bills and their premiums have gone thorough the roof, they recognise that, if we don't deal with global warming and get these kinds of things that the CEFC is out there investing in—the energy efficiency measures—and we don't get a national disaster fund, then we are in big trouble and it is the community that is going to have to pay. What they will find is that the government is prepared to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, this $10 billion into improving Australia's renewable energy and energy efficiency future, and instead we are going to pay the polluters and take the money out of the pockets of the community in this budget through co-payments, through a tax on the unemployed. They are starting to see what a huge con job that this government has been on climate change all along.

I just want to go back to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and its architecture. Most people do not realise that when we set up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—this amazing Green bank to leverage finance in this—the idea was not only that it would bring down emissions. Part of its goal is to bring down emissions. and it is doing that at a negative $2.40 cost. You cannot get cheaper abatement than negative $2.40 a tonne. Negative! And the government is going to rob the taxpayers to pay the polluters goodness knows how much a tonne when they are actually getting negative $2.40 benefit a tonne.

If the Clean Energy Finance Corporation could roll out all of its financing it says that it could meet half of a lousy five per cent target. Of course, we need to be going to a 40 to 60 per cent emission reduction target by 2030, as the Climate Change Authority says. But that is the contribution that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation could make. And the profits that it makes are being put back into the Australian Renewable Energy Agency—ARENA. That is to fund research that is hard to fund, that early stage research and pilot development. So we have set up a situation where we are improving manufacturing efficiency, jobs and investment and the profit from that is going back to pay the research that brings on the new technologies. So we have a fantastic cycle happening that the government wants to smash. I just think it is the most backward and appalling policy position.

People might ask, 'Well, why would the government go to an election on one thing like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation?' The answer is that it is not on one thing; it is a choice. It is a choice about a future where you deal with the biggest threat you are facing and you adapt your economy; you get ahead of it and you make new jobs, new investment, new decisions and new leadership. You invest in your universities and you get into that scene or you get yourself locked into the past—leg roped to the past. That is why this is important and we should not support the abolition. (Time expired)

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