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Speech: Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 Second Reading

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:41): This bill, known by many as the 'dead koala power bill', should not pass. What the government calls the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill is shameful. This is a saga that highlights how far the Abbot government will go to deliver for its corporate constituency. In this case, the Liberal-National corporate constituency is the fossil fuel industry and those companies that want to continue logging native forests.

This bill trashes two things Australians love dearly: renewable energy and native forests, home to so much of our unique wildlife. The locals of south-east New South Wales tell me that they are not feeling much love at the moment. They are not feeling much love because of their deep concern about what this bill, if passed, will do to the forests and their pleasure at seeing more solar panels go up on homes and businesses in their area. The apt title of 'dead koala power bill' comes from south-east New South Wales and it resonates very deeply with them, as this bill would breathe new life into the now near-defunct Eden woodchip mill. This mill was just about to close; South East Fibre Exports had announced that its mill would no longer purchase timber from East Gippsland state forests. The general manager nominated international market pressures as the reasons. What he is referring to-and it is what Senator Rice has just gone into great detail about-is the poor woodchip prices and the contracting markets for native forest woodchips.

There is a huge change going on in the industry. As Senator Rice also set out, the shift is to plantations. That is where the transition should be taking the industry. What is happening here tonight is a push to open up the burning of our native forests. South East Fibre and its Japanese owners, Nippon, would be cheering because their hope of revival looks like being delivered, and that is an enormous setback. Burning native forests in the name of RET opens the door to new and more destructive ways to make a profit from Australia's native forests. It is an issue of great concern. The Eden woodchip mill is owned by Japan's biggest paper manufacturer, and they could well be the first cab off the rank with a 5.5megawatt wood fired power station. The destruction that will then roll on in south-east New South Wales and north-east Victoria will be immense-the loss of precious habitat for the powerful owl, for koalas, for quolls should not be tolerated

But it needs to be recognised that that destruction goes hand in hand with this legislation that is before us.

We can clearly see abuse of the RET system with this wood fired power station at Eden because it can only be viable with renewable energy subsidies. Again, as other speakers from the Greens have set out, the whole concept is founded on this misleading idea of so-called waste from the forest, misunderstanding the complexity of forest ecosystems and how much of that waste is actually part of the carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle and how the forest seeds itself and feeds animals. A living tree growing in a forest in New South Wales, sadly, can now be classified as waste.

I warmly congratulate the many activists, campaigners and local residents who have taken up this issue because they know what it will mean not just for their local area but for all of us. To lose these forests, for them to be damaged, as they surely will be, should not be tolerated. I extend special congratulations to the South East Region Conservation Alliance, which brings together CHIPSTOP, the Bega Environment Network, ChipBusters, the Coastwatchers Association, the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Friends of Durras, the Gulaga (Mt Dromedary) Protection Group, the far south coast branch of the National Parks Association of New South Wales and South East Forest Rescue. These organisations have put decades into this and have been able to protect much of the forest. Again, they can see what a setback this would be.

I will share with you some of the comments from these people that are most relevant to our debate tonight. Harriett Swift, a spokesperson for CHIPSTOP said:

We know that burning trees for power production is far from renewable and that in many cases emissions from burning trees are more intensive than burning coal ... Biomass power will also produce a toxic cocktail of emissions that are harmful to the health of nearby communities.
Ms Swift said that:

... big old trees that would provide habitat for many native species are already scarce. Species of trees that are currently not logged will now be permitted for burning, including trees supporting koalas, black cockatoos and a multitude of threatened and endangered wildlife species.
I have been fortunate to have toured many of these forests with Ms Swift and many of the other people working in this area. I have been fortunate to see these species. These are beautiful forests. They need to regenerate in many areas. Many of them are stunning as they are. But none of them should be touched. None of them should be under threat from this bill.

Ms Heather Kenway, a spokesperson for SERCA, has said:

This government has no interest in preserving the precious little left of our intact native forests for wildlife, water, tourism and future generations ... Will they wake up, like the Easter Islanders, only when the last tree falls? We need to leave NSW native forests in the ground to regrow and recover, switch to plantations for our timber needs, and formulate an energy plan for NSW that does not include 'Dead Koala Power'.
Noel Plumb from ChipBusters and Frances Pike from Nativesrule have said: 'Certification as clean energy under the RET will give the industry a public taxpayer subsidy while reducing funding support for genuine clean energy like wind and solar, a triple whammy as taxpayers subsidise forest destruction and the extinction of koalas and undermine renewable energy supplies.' They are important comments that I urge senators to consider and reflect on carefully.

I have just a few comments to make about the renewable energy target. As should be clear, wood waste from native forests should have no part in the RET. It was, in fact, removed as an eligible energy source in 2011. For four years the door was closed on burning forests in the name of renewable energy, and the RET went from strength to strength. As we know, it has been very successful in reducing emissions. I draw people's attention to the speeches of Senator Christine Milne and Senator Larissa Waters, as they have set this out in detail.

The federal government, however, have tried to blame rising electricity prices on the RET. This is where we start to get an insight into the corporate constituency of the government and what is going on here. Electricity prices doubled in the last six years, but the RET played very little part in that. The resulting array of interests stacked against the RET are considerable. We see this with electricity utilities, coal companies and forestry interests. What is going on here? Electricity prices have gone up. We have these companies complaining and obviously intensely lobbying the government. The Liberals and Nationals are getting an earful from these companies that are concerned about how this is all playing out.

So what do we see from the Prime Minister? He has become a crusader for coal, talking up the interests of corporate coal. What do we see from coal companies? We see a considerable and increasing level of generosity in the form of political donations. It was in October 2014 that the Prime Minister announced:

Coal is good for humanity ...
These were his words at a time when the world is turning its back on coal. Yes, for many decades coal was critical to powering our country, but we now know the dangers involved. We now know that there is another way. But here there is a Prime Minister who goes to such lengths, using such loaded language, to try to paint coal as a great saviour. The Prime Minister went on to say that coal will be the world's main energy source for years to come. This does give us an insight into why he is waging war on the RET, because effectively that is what is happening with the legislation before us. He is out there really representing the interests of coal companies.

This is where it becomes relevant to look at the political donations from the resource industry to the government. I will go through what some of those contributions are. I am not suggesting some deals have been done; we do not know what discussions go on behind closed doors. But there certainly is a public perception that this money is not handed over for no reason. These are just some of the resource companies that have put in hefty donations to the coalition parties. Adani, the company trying to build Queensland's largest coalmine, donated $49,500 to the Liberal Party of Australia. Gina Rinehart donated $25,000 to one campaign alone. That was the foreign minister Julie Bishop's campaign. That money came through Hancock Coal Infrastructure Pty Ltd. The figures all come from the Australian Electoral Commission. Some of them are collated on the Greens 'Democracy for Sale' website.

There is also a very useful reference from Australian Mining on the 7 April this year. They detail a whole range of resource companies that have been very generous to the Liberal and National parties. They have identified that the bulk of small donations from mining companies went solely to the Liberal and National parties. These companies each donated $20,000 to the Liberal Party: Silver Lake Resources, Northern Star, Whitehaven Coal and BC Iron. The NSW Minerals Council gave $32,250 to the coalition. Santos, infamous with regard to coal seam gas mining, donated a hefty $185,300 to the coalition. There was $500,000 donated-and this was just to the Liberal Party-that came from Nimrod Resources. That is a privately owned exploration company working around Bourke in New South Wales. These are just some of the donations that have gone to the Liberals and Nationals from various resource industries. This again is very relevant to this debate, because the RET has been a very important part of our work in addressing climate change in Australia. We are seeing another aspect of the work that was undertaken a few years back to deal with climate change being unwound-and this is just one more aspect of it that we are seeing tonight. We need to really look at the forces at play here. We do know that the renewable energy target was delivering jobs and investment around Australia. Most importantly, it was bringing down carbon pollution-the carbon pollution that is causing global warming. But this is all under threat now. It is under threat because those corporate interests are so close to this government-and this is a government that very much delivers for its corporate constituency.

We know this bill will allow the burning of native forest wood. We know that the Eden woodchip mill is set to get a new lease of life, as will many new power stations that will come into operation using this so-called new form of energy. Let us remember at this point that this is just a pre-industrial form of energy. We were burning forests hundreds and hundreds of years ago. That was what was happening across parts of Europe. We learnt that that was not necessary. So this is really turning the clock back in terms of how destructive this bill is. We also know that the coal industry, as it loses markets in many countries, is finding a safe haven in Australia under Prime Minister Abbott. That safe haven is about to be extended with these polluting power stations and these woodchip mills. Meanwhile, what will happen to the precious habitat for koalas, quolls, the peaceful owls, the beautiful bower birds, all those array of honeyeaters? I am a keen birdwatcher, so I have had the pleasure of going through many of these forests and seeing many of these unique birds and, periodically, but not so often, seeing the beautiful marsupials. Now so much of this is under threat, because, when you start burning forests, you are losing habitat, and habitat is what is critical for these native species. It will be an extraordinarily backward step if this bill goes through. It is the bill that should be trashed-not our environment.


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