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

Transition from Solar Homes and Communities Plan to Solar Credits

Interview with Jason Morrison, 2GB Drive Show, Sydney
9 June 2009

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JASON MORRISON: Peter Garrett, the Minister for the Environment, has been good enough to be available to talk to us now.

Mr Garrett, good afternoon.


JASON MORRISON: Peter, this is confusing, and I hope you understand how much this has caused angst today in people who are in solar business but also their customers that were still to-ing and fro-ing about whether they'd sign up for this. Why did you do this?

PETER GARRETT: Well, we've continued to meet the record levels of demand for the rebates, Jason, and as you know they're now running at record highs. We've got about 63,000 installations in the pipeline, and so the rebate's fulfilled its objective. We originally committed 150 million in the Budget over some five years; we've spent 700 million. And because the price of some of the systems, the smaller one kilowatt system has come down, we've seen record levels of applications for a system which in some cases is free.

We believe that now is the time to transition to solar credits, which is non-means tested, which will provide the opportunity for families and communities and businesses to take up solar panels or wind power and to enable all the backlog to be dealt with by the industry which we estimate will take them, on current track record, around about a year.

JASON MORRISON: Well yeah, no - I've no doubt about that just given the response today and people calling us making the point that they had factored into their mind June 30, and June 30 was the date that they had to lock into this and now they're getting calls from people saying you have to lock in by close of business today or you miss out on this deal. I mean, if you say June 30, June 30 is the deal, isn't it?

PETER GARRETT: Well, I think the industry has been vigorously promoting the June 30 date. What we've said is that...

JASON MORRISON: But so has Government.

PETER GARRETT: We - well we've said specifically that we want to work with the industry on a transition and it was a case that we brought forward, in effect, the solar credit commitment which people had an expectation we would meet.

I mean when we first made the announcement in December last year, Minister Wong and the Treasurer and I talked about meeting demand and looking at the transition to solar credits, people were on notice that we would make a decision.

JASON MORRISON: But you would have known a week ago that this is where this was going, that far more people had subscribed than you thought would. You would have known a week ago to be able to say, look, here's what's going to happen. You have a week. It's not 30 June, but to tell us this morning and make it close of business today, I mean, you know, that's not fair.

PETER GARRETT: Well, look, Jason, I guess my feeling is that we've made exactly the right decision. The industry itself has had plenty of notice that there would be a transition. We said it clearly in December. I've been saying it in my correspondence.

JASON MORRISON: No, but you said June 30.

PETER GARRETT: Well, I - no, well I haven't been saying June 30 in my correspondence to people at all. What we've been saying is we will move to a transition, and the fact is that...

JASON MORRISON: Yeah, but look, come on, hang on. People know June 30, that's the date. I mean the Government had been saying June 30. It's in people's heads, it's in advertising, it's everywhere. People are saying June 30, and then you decide this morning to change it.

PETER GARRETT: Jason, you're right, you're right, but it's been what the industry has been saying. It's not what the Government has consistently been saying at all. What we've consistently been saying is that we'll meet the demand and we'll transition to the solar credits. And I've got to say that having put more solar panels on the roofs in this last year than at any time in our history, but recognising that we now have some 63,000 installations out there yet to be fulfilled in the pipeline, this was the appropriate time to make that transition.

And - and bearing in mind that for people who don't or aren't able to put in an application for the solar power rebate by the close of business tonight, by midnight tonight, tomorrow they will be able to apply for the solar credit. It's non-means tested.

JASON MORRISON: But it's not as good too. I mean, you're not going to get $8000.

PETER GARRETT: Well, no, but I - but in Sydney you'll get approximately $7700 if you put in for a 1.5k system, and over time...

JASON MORRISON: Which is significantly more in cost than what most people are going into the system to have.

PETER GARRETT: Well, look, I think we've got to go back two steps. The original rebate was designed to provide some assistance and support, around about 50 to 60 per cent support for people to get into solar panels. Now that's gone up to around about 85, 90, sometimes 100 per cent support, so for about half the people applying, they're getting effectively solar panels for free.

Now the intention of the rebate was to provide support and to provide a foundation for the industry to get going. The industry has gotten going like never before. They've got a year's worth of work in the pipeline and we're now providing them with solar credits which will operate through the renewable energy target which are non-means tested and which provide them with the opportunity to do 1.5k system at 7700 on the price of the current REC [INAUDIBLE]...

JASON MORRISON: That's the rebate, yeah. Look I think...

PETER GARRETT: Incidentally, it's a price which can go up over time, and also wind power and also it's for communities and also it's for businesses.

JASON MORRISON: Peter, I think the point is that - yeah, now you're a fair go fella, and people have known you in the public eye for many years and this is not fair to announce mid-morning that by close of business today it's gone, sorry. That's not fair.

PETER GARRETT: Well, Jason, I think it is and I'll tell you why: because we said that we would meet demand, and that demand that we said we'd meet was for $150 million commitment. Now we'd made that...

JASON MORRISON: But you know, I mean, this lady that's just emailed me - Margaret's just emailed me to say we were saving up for this thing and we were taking advantage of the fact that everything said 30 June.

Now if the companies had been misleading - I'm surprised if the companies you are suggesting have been misleading on that date - that you haven't as Environment Minister been out there saying, sorry, I don't believe this. June 30's not true.

PETER GARRETT: Well look, what I can say is that we said that we would commit to meeting demand for the $150 million. A significant commitment. We met that demand.

JASON MORRISON: Now Peter we know. I understand. We understand. If the answer is that this had been oversubscribed, then I mean we probably should have thought this through a little better from the start, but the public has been of the view that June 30 was the date, and to tell them at eleven-thirty this morning that you've got, you know, five, six hours to get this done or bad luck, is not good enough.

PETER GARRETT: Well, Jason, I disagree with you, and I'll tell you why, if I can just make the point here.

JASON MORRISON: Go for it, yeah.

PETER GARRETT: We said our commitment would be to meet demand for $150 million for solar rebates for panels. We put more panels on roofs than at any time previously. What we've seen is record applications in the system and we've committed another $700 million.

We said as well, and I said it very clearly last December, and we've said it subsequently, that we will transition to solar credits. Now the transition to solar credits provides people with every opportunity to get solar panels on their roof. It's not means tested. If you're living in Sydney or in New South Wales and you get a big system, you'll get the equivalent of $7700, and we've got a year's worth of backlog in terms of the applications that are already in there but which haven't been fulfilled by the industry.

JASON MORRISON: All right. Well, that's the explanation, I - we're not clearly going to change your mind. I think this is going to reap a real sour taste in a lot of people's mouths because they had been counting on that date and many of the people that are going into this, as my emails and calls this afternoon are suggesting, are pensioners who are looking at this as a way to try to cut back or self-funded retirees who aren't blessed with an enormous amount of money and were taking advantage of the system. I'm just surprised that you think it's fair and reasonable...

PETER GARRETT: Well, look...

JASON MORRISON: ... to cut it off in the morning and expect everyone to cop it sweet by the afternoon.

PETER GARRETT: Well, we announced it very early, but I think what we've seen is very aggressive marketing of this rebate by the marketers, and those marketers have been out there very aggressively marketing this application. What we find is...

JASON MORRISON: But that's the way of the world. That's the way of the - you're giving away something for nothing. That's the way of the world. PETER GARRETT: And as a government it's appropriate for us to have the proper mechanisms in place, the proper funding in place, and the proper long-term support in place for solar which we're doing with solar credits, which will be available...

JASON MORRISON: [Interrupt] Five and a half hours, Peter, I'm sorry, we can try to turn this any way we like, that is bad. That is rotten and it's not fair and I'm telling you this because it is what everyone is thinking, and the generosity continues with the program tomorrow in a different fashion, that's just not fair.

PETER GARRETT: Well, I reckon that we've provided such significant support for solar panels over time with the 700 million. The marketers have gone out there because they know there's an opportunity to get those applications in the system. But having said that, we're fully committed to making sure that people get the opportunity to put solar panels on their roof, and that's why from tomorrow under solar credits they'll have that opportunity again.

JASON MORRISON: Yeah, with a different system. All right, I appreciate you coming on, thank you.

PETER GARRETT: Thanks Jason.

JASON MORRISON: We're not going to change his mind, but that's where it stands.


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