The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

17 December 2008

Joint Doorstop Interview
with
Senator The Hon Penny Wong
and
The Hon Peter Garrett MP

Choice Electric, Hendra, Brisbane

17 December 2008

SUBJECTS: Renewable Energy Target Legislation; Global Financial Crisis; Jobs; Education Funding; US Interest Rates

TREASURER:

I'd just like to welcome my colleagues to the electorate of Lilley today. It's good to be here. It's good to be here for this very important announcement, and to have Penny Wong, the Climate Change Minister, here and Peter Garret, our Environment Minister.

As everybody's aware, we announced our Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme earlier in the week and today we're releasing our draft legislation for our Renewable Energy Target. And it's significant that we're doing it here today at this firm, a very successful firm when it comes to the supply of solar systems, a very successful local firm that's growing. And it tells us something about the green jobs for the future. And the legislation that we're putting forward today will really turbo-charge renewable energy usage in this country, particularly solar energy, and it will build upon the incentives in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to build a low pollution economy with green jobs for the future whilst protecting jobs in our economy. That's our task - to set this country up for the future - for a low pollution future which creates jobs and prosperity for all Australians.

So, with those few words I'll hand over to Penny and then to Peter.

WONG:

Thanks very much for coming. It is good to be here in Brisbane with Wayne and Peter.

Well, we're announcing today we're releasing our draft Renewable Energy Target legislation, putting an exposure draft out for consultation - legislation which will deliver a Rudd Labor Government election commitment of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020. We understand in this Government that a key aspect of building a low pollution economy of tomorrow is to reform our energy sector. That means we need to increase our renewable energy sources. It also means we have to work on lower emissions solutions on coal.

So, a key aspect, alongside the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, of reforming our energy sector so we can build the low pollution Australian economy of tomorrow, is to drive innovation in our renewable sector, to drive take-up of renewable energy. And the Government has announced a range of policies to deliver this. You will recall that the Prime Minister over the weekend brought forward the $500 million in the Renewable Energy Fund, brought forward this funding so that it is available within the next 18 months for those cutting edge technologies we know Australia will continue to need into the future.

And today we're releasing our Renewable Energy Target draft legislation to deliver 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020. This is a massive increase in investment in the renewable energy sector, a very substantial increase to 20 per cent. Currently, we know we have very low levels of take-up because the previous government failed to act on advice from its own review. It failed to provide support for renewable energy. So, today we're releasing legislation which delivers on our commitment - 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020.

Happy to go to Peter now.

GARRETT:

Thanks, Penny. Thanks, Wayne. Today the Government lays out a pathway for the solar industry which will deliver a sustainable growth platform into the future. This Renewable Energy Target will provide a strong foundation for Australia's solar industry and it will provide the opportunity for not only householders but also for community groups and businesses to take up support for new, small scale, solar, wind and hydro renewable energy systems. Critically, what we're providing for is a legislative basis for the solar industry to have a strong and sure footing in terms of industry development and growth into the future.

And I would just remind everybody that our election commitment for a solar Australia to double the amount of solar panels on Australian rooftops within eight years is a commitment which has been delivered within 18 months. The fact is the Rudd Labor Government will put more solar panels on Australian roofs than any other government has ever done.

So, today's a very good announcement for the solar industry and for the renewable industry. Critically, it provides a sure and steady pathway for future growth of solar. It puts solar, wind and hydro within the reach of Australian households, communities and businesses, and it will provide the necessary strong, strong support for us to build renewable industry over time.

JOURNALIST:

Is there still a means test on households wanting to put solar panels on roofs?

GARRETT:

This won't be means tested, and I think the critical issue in relation to the solar credit is that it is available to everybody. It's available to households. It's available to community groups. It's available to businesses. And it allows for around a $7500 solar credit for anybody that wants to install new, small-scale renewable technologies in their homes, their businesses or their communities groups.

JOURNALIST:

But isn't there a means test on the $8000 solar panel rebate?

GARRETT:

There is a means test on the existing rebate and I've got to say that the Government's decision in relation to means testing the rebate was absolutely the right decision. Why is that? At the time of the former Howard Government's last Budget, applications for solar panel rebates were running at about 30 a week. We are now running at about 1000 a week. In other words, the provision of the solar panel rebate means tested is providing the opportunity for Australians who can least afford it to get those solar panels on their roof.

What the solar credit will do will provide the opportunity for all Australians - households, community groups and businesses - to embrace new, small-scale renewable technologies, and it will importantly provide a foundation for growth for the solar industry over time. And if you look at the details of the release today and the material that's attached to it, you will see that we are applying a multiplier to the small, new renewable technologies - a multiplier of some five times the existing REC. That will operate for a period of three years, then we'll go five, four, three, two, one. And the purpose of that is to provide long-term certainty for this industry to enable it to get itself not only on a substantial footing, but to build its growth over time. And given that, under the previous government, we saw a number of changes to the rebates and a number of changes to the provision of support, this provides the necessary certainty and the legislative guarantee that the solar industry and other renewable industries can have for the future.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] ... lower income households will be able to apply for both grants, and those who earn too much will only be able to apply for the new solar credits. Is that right?

GARRETT:

The solar credit will not be means tested. It will be open to everybody, and it will apply to households, small businesses and community groups. It applies up to a level of 1.5 kilowatt hours, as distinct from the existing solar panel rebate. It will be the measure by which this Government delivers certainty to the solar industry and significant opportunities for households, communities and businesses to get solar panels on their roof or wind turbines or even, if they are lucky enough, hydro.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, Centrebet are offering odds of $1.12 now that Australia will go into a recession. Is it a foregone conclusion, do you think?

TREASURER:

No, I think that sort of talk is utterly irresponsible. What the Australian Government is doing in the face of the global financial crisis is everything we possibly can to strengthen our economy and to protect jobs in that environment. That's why we put out an economic stimulus package. That's why the Reserve Bank has been cutting interest rates. They are two powerful stimuluses to the Australian economy to strengthen our economy in the face of the global crisis. But that sort of speculation, I think, is utterly irresponsible.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]... at the number of jobs that have been lost in Queensland in the resources sector?

TREASURER:

Of course the Government is concerned when anybody loses a job. And, of course, the global financial crisis has now impacted most dramatically in China which has been a powerful driver of growth in the Australian economy and most particularly in the mining industry in this State and other States of Australia. And that's why the Government has moved so swiftly and so decisively to boost our economy in the face of this slowdown internationally, particularly now in developing countries which have been driving demand for our commodities.

JOURNALIST:

Given the importance of this sector to protect us from recession, are you considering any specific assistance for it?

TREASURER:

Well, the Government also announced a further package last week when it came to further investment in infrastructure. We also put forward a significant initiative in terms of a 10 per cent Investment Allowance. But the Government has on the table a whole range of options, should they be required, and should we see a further slowing of growth dramatically in the international economy. But the Government believes, through both the stimulus strategy which is being put in place right now, the easing of monetary policy that is out there, the depreciation of the exchange rate and further action that we must take, particularly when it comes to investing in infrastructure, that we can do our utmost to strengthen our economy in the face of all of these events.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] ... reasonable from the coal sector's point of view?

TREASURER:

Well, those are decisions that the mining sector will take, and individual companies will have to speak for themselves. Naturally, I urge those companies to proceed with caution. We do recognise there are dramatic events occurring internationally that have an impact. But at the end of the day, we do have a strong, sustainable mining industry. It will see changes in terms of demand internationally, but we do have a critical mass here which is important to maintain for the future of the industry and also for when the world economy begins to recover.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

TREASURER:

No, I'm not doing that at all. I think any job that is lost is regrettable but we have to recognise that there is a dramatic slowdown in the international economy. And I would urge all companies who are employers of labour to hang on to that labour as long as they possibly can in the face of these changes, because what we know when it comes particularly to the mining cycle, is that demand will return one day and valuing your labour and valuing your workforce is one of the most important things that you can do in the economy.

JOURNALIST:

The $6.5 billion it's going to take to get the higher education system back on track, where are you going to get that money?

TREASURER:

Well first of all, my colleague, Julia Gillard, is addressing the Bradley Report today so I don't intend to comment any further about the specifics of that report. But we do have a commitment to an Education Revolution over time. We also have a commitment to responsible economic management. And over time we will put in place the foundations of that Education Revolution and the funding that goes with it. But all of those matters are discussed in the context of drawing up next year's Budget and I can't announce the end product of those deliberations today.

JOURNALIST:

What about Universities Australia, though, saying that the Government should go into deficit to give more funding to universities and that would be good economics, it would help the Government in the long term?

TREASURER:

Well, there will always be claims from lots of groups out there for additional funding over time. But we're responsible economic managers. We look at what our priorities are for the year ahead and we develop them in the context of developing a budget. But could I just say education is very important to this Government. It is a key priority and we made it a key priority in our last Budget, and indeed we made funding of education a key priority in the statement we made only last Friday in terms of providing additional capital assistance to universities. So, they're a priority, but like every other area of the Budget, we'll approach spending in that area responsibly and we'll do it consistent with having a strong economy and a medium-term fiscal policy that recognises the reality of the world we're in.

JOURNALIST:

The US has gone to nearly zero per cent. Have you got a comment on that?

TREASURER:

Well, I welcome the decision of the Reserve in the US.