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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Solar hot water rebate; Prime Minister; Kimberley strategic assessment; recycling; national waste policy

Doorstop interview, Australian Hot Water, Sydney
3 April 2009

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BRIAN CALLAGHAN: (National Development Manager, Solahart) I'd like to welcome you here today, Peter, and thank you for your time.

I first met the Minister at his own house in Maroubra when we were discussing which option of solar water heater would suit his house best. And I guess that was about a year ago. And in that time we've seen a pretty steady increase in the number of Solahart, or solar hot water sales. But certainly, when you consider the size of the market, it wasn't really breaking through like we would have hoped.

In February of this year the Minister announced that he was going to increase the Federal Government rebate on solar hot water heaters, which has led to an exponential growth in sales. And, in fact, Solahart, for the month of March, increased its sales by 200 per cent year on year, so March last year to March this year, which is just phenomenal growth for a company that's been around over 50 years doing the same thing.

So, it's great news for households and the reaction that they've had has been fantastic, cause they realise now that they can actually install an energy efficient solar option for around the same price or even less than a power hungry electric type of unit. So, it's great news.

In terms of energy savings, by replacing an electric water heater with a solar option you're looking at a - around about a 20 per cent total household energy reduction. So, if you're reducing your energy usage by 20 per cent, you're reducing your carbon footprint by 20 per cent. So, the flow-on effect of that, of course, is the cost savings associated with that. With electricity prices on the rise, it's really good news for homeowners as well.

So, great news. Great for jobs as well. We've had to increase our manufacturing capabilities. We're also looking at opening around 20 new Solahart outlets this year alone. So that's 20 new small businesses that'll be opening up. And, of course, you'll get a flow-on from that of tradespeople, like plumbers and electricians, needed to put the systems in.

So, all round great news. So, thank you, Peter. Thank you for the initiative and welcome and over to you.

GARRETT: All right. Look, thanks very much, Brian.

And it's really a fantastic day here when we see the proof positive of the delivery of the economic stimulus package and, in particular, the extraordinary uptake that we've now got for solar hot water systems under the Energy Efficiency Homes plan. And I'm really, really delighted to hear this news from solar hot water manufacturers that they are seeing a phenomenal increase in interest and in applications for the rebate.

This is a non-means tested rebate. Critically, it provides the opportunity for homeowners and households to take-up solar hot water. And it's going to provide a direct and specific boost to employment; to small businesses. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is a very good thing.

And the extraordinary increase that we've seen in uptake for the solar hot water rebate shows that the Government's economic stimulus package is working. It shows that the decision that we made to concentrate on solar hot water and on ceiling insulation as the most important mechanisms by which we can allow householders to be able to take practical action to reduce their energy costs, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to provide a strong stimulus for the Australian economy, has been absolutely the right decision.

So, we have no means test on this rebate. We have very high levels of public take-up of this rebate for solar hot water, just as we are seeing strong take-up of our ceiling insulation rebate as well. And this marks a really, really positive day for Australian industry, for the solar hot water industry, for the retailers, for the installers, for the plumbers, for the tradies, this is going to drive economic activity through the sector.

And I'm very, very pleased to see these record level of uptake for solar hot water systems. It says to us that the policy decision was right and that the public response to that has been very, very positive.

JOURNALIST: I suppose it's nice that something's environmentally friendly and going to stimulate the economy at the same time.

GARRETT: It is. And that's the great thing about this particular rebate. It's not means tested, it's environmentally friendly, it stimulates the economy and it's stimulating local jobs and local manufacture. That's the critical thing.

So, we have proof positive that the Government's decision in the economic stimulus package to provide a non-means tested rebate for solar hot water systems is paying us immediate dividends in jobs, in small business and in local manufacturing.

JOURNALIST: It ticks all the right boxes. Do you think that the rebate could be boosted even further?

GARRETT: Well, remember that we have a $3.9 billion Energy Efficiency Homes plan. This is one of the most significant investments in household energy efficiency that we're seeing anywhere in the world. And it certainly is the most ambitious rollout of energy efficiency in our country's history.

With about half Australia's homes accessible and available for the solar hot water rebate, there's the opportunity for us to have at least 100,000 installations every year for the next couple of years. That's an extraordinary driver of economic activity.

And just listening to Brian from Solahart say that he's expecting to have another 20, another 20, facilities put in place in the future, in the midst of what are tough and difficult economic times, this is a very positive, positive story and it shows us what's possible when you act decisively and when you properly target your stimulus and your investment so that the environment benefits, jobs benefit and the economy benefits.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask about your reaction to the Prime Minister - reports today of the Prime Minister reducing a woman to tears on his - on a flight?

GARRETT: Look, I've only seen the comments reported in the paper. I've seen the Prime Minister's comments acknowledge this matter and offering an apology. I don't think anything more needs to be said on that matter. I think - I've seen those comments.

JOURNALIST: Obviously, it's a disturbing distraction from events like this even that those kind of reports come up that perhaps it happened.

GARRETT:Oh well, look, I think the Prime Minister's made the necessary comments that he felt that he needed to. On that basis, you know, we've got something to say here which I think is very positive. I don't propose to add anything additional to what Mr Rudd's already said.

JOURNALIST: What about, what about his diet though? I understand he's on a non-meat diet. Are you familiar with that? He's obviously a colleague of yours.

GARRETT: Well I - I'm not across the Prime Minister's diet at all. What I do know is that when we announced the Energy Efficiency Homes plan, we travelled to an insulation facility in Queanbeyan and the message that we got from the insulation industry was this would drive jobs in the sector and it would provide a strong economic boost to that sector's activity.

What we know today is that our decision to provide a non-means tested rebate for solar hot water is having the same effect. It's driving jobs and investment in this industry; and that is a very positive thing for us to be happening in the midst of the significant economic challenges that this country faces.

QUESTION: [INAUDIBLE] environment issue, Minister, your name's being invoked by both sides of the Kimberley at the moment. Rob Hirst said that he was hopeful or confident that you would veto the proposed gas plant. What's your response to that?

GARRETT: Well, I think that I've always said that there are two processes in play here. One is the process that's being undertaken by the State Government, in terms of its negotiations with Indigenous people and its participation in the site selection process as a part of our strategic assessment.

The second part is the Commonwealth's role. And my role is a very clear one. I've communicated it on a number of occasions and I've said exactly the same thing and that is this: we recognise that there are significant environmental values in the Kimberley. We also recognise that there are significant economic opportunities with an onshore, onsite processing hub.

My role is to ensure that the strategic assessment we have agreed with the West Australian Government is concluded satisfactorily and rigorously, and, as the determining Minister under the EPBC Act, we will make our considerations and our determinations on that basis. Now that's what we've said all the way along. It is a matter of some significant interest, particularly in the west, but we have a process underway and I'll continue to observe it.

JOURNALIST: Did you give Rob Hirst any cause to think that you might have a preformed view on this, as the Opposition would say?

GARRETT: All I've ever said to anybody that's spoken to me about this matter, whether it's been NGOs, other stakeholders, the West Australian Government, colleagues or anyone else, is this: my task, under the EPBC Act and the strategic assessment, is to make a determination on the basis of whether or not there will be significant impacts on matters of national environment significance and consistent with the strategic assessment which we've agreed with WA. And that position remains.

JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE] of something like this - by your friends?

GARRETT: Oh, look, there's always going to be commentary about when there's an issue of great interest like this. And I know that there are many people who have got acute areas and levels of interest about what happens in the Kimberley. I've spent a fair amount of time in the Kimberley myself and I understand that. But my role as the regulator in this particular matter is very clear and I will absolutely ensure that I diligently follow the requirements that are laid out under the national environment legislation and the strategic assessment which we've agreed with WA.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of green jobs and investment, are you aware that Australia's largest recyclers have called for greater Federal Government support to increase investment in that sector and recycling rates?

GARRETT: Yeah, look, I am aware of that call from the recycling industry. And one of the things that we have done since we came into government is recognise that there does need to be some national leadership in the area of waste policy generally. Up to this point in time, and it remains the case, that it's a matter primarily for the states and for local authorities, and I think, for the most part, there's an industry there that's underway and there's a regulatory framework for them to operate within.

But we recognise that waste generally, and that includes the recycling dimension of waste, needs to be looked at thoroughly and we're going to continue to do that. I have a decision through the EPHC Committee, so that's State Environment Ministers and myself, to bring forward consideration of the development of a national waste policy. I'll be meeting with those ministers soon and obviously we'll take note of what the recyclers say.

JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE] spend $2 million if you guarantee green bonds and accelerated depreciation and rebates on every tonne that's recycled [INAUDIBLE] synthetic?

GARRETT: Oh, well, look, I'm not going to start making policy on the run on that matter. We've got work underway, through the Ministers Council. We will obviously hear carefully what they and others, and there are many other stakeholders in this game, have to say. But the point is that we're working decisively to look at the way in which the Commonwealth can provide an appropriate leadership role in the whole area of waste.

JOURNALIST: On the solar power issue, we've heard about a 200 per cent increase in New South Wales, but obviously people in New South Wales get an extra boost from the State Government. What's the take-up been like across the other states?

GARRETT: Look, it is the case that the take-up in New South Wales has been very vigorous, but there's significant take-up in other states as well. And my expectation would be that there will be increased take-up over time.

There are different rebates that operate at different state jurisdictional levels. But at the end of the day, if you, as a home owner or a renovator, want to do the right thing by the environment, want to employ Australians, want to support Australian manufacturing, want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and want to take advantage of a non-means tested $1600 rebate for solar hot water, then the decision making will be pretty straightforward and clear. And I expect other states and people in other states to continue to get onboard as well.

JOURNALIST: What difference has it made to your power bill?

GARRETT: Well, it - it lessens it a little, to some extent. I think the thing about solar hot water is that, particularly here with Solahart, there are other manufacturers, it's an area where we've led the world. We were the world's first solar hot water manufacturing company and country. Solahart and Australia.

Now there are other companies that do a fantastic job, but this is a part of the Australian manufacturing history and it's as - more relevant today than it has ever been, because we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we provide the opportunity for savings and energy costs, but most importantly, at a difficult economic time we're employing Australians and we're supporting Australian manufacturing. And that's a very positive result of this Rudd Government policy.


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