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Interview with Jon Faine, 774 ABC, Melbourne
10 June 2009
JON FAINE: But the Rudd Government are under fire from solar activists this morning after yesterday at short notice a rebate that was supposed to be available for another three weeks for the installation of solar panels was withdrawn.
Peter Garrett is the Minister responsible, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Peter Garrett, good morning.
PETER GARRETT: Morning, Jon.
JON FAINE: Why?
PETER GARRETT: Jon, we've been monitoring the uptake of solar panel rebates. We committed some $150 million in the budget and we provided extra funding as well because that was expensed very quickly. We're now up at about $700 in terms - $700 million, I beg your pardon, in terms of those solar rebates.
We monitored very closely, we can see that there's about a year's worth of installation in the system and we'd always said that we would transition to solar credits which would provide people with an opportunity to get solar panels on their roofs, non-means-tested, through the renewable energy target legislation. And, given that we provided an unprecedented level of support through the rebate and also that the price of the units was starting to come down and we were seeing about half the applications for rebates effectively being sold to people on the basis that they were free, the Government believed that the rebate had fulfilled its task admirably but, at this particular stage and point in time, given this additional expenditure and the support that we've provided, time to bring solar credits in, as from today.
JON FAINE: So, Minister, in other words, this is something people wanted so much that you're taking it away.
PETER GARRETT: Well, Jon...
JON FAINE: This is something that was achieving its objective so well that you're going to undermine it. It just doesn't make sense.
PETER GARRETT: Well, no, Jon, we're not undermining it at all. In fact, we're providing an opportunity now, through solar credits and the renewable energy target, not only for people to have the opportunity for solar panels and for wind turbines but to be non-means-tested and you might remember some time last year, when we made the decision to means test the rebate, and we were subject to some significant criticism there.
JON FAINE: I do remember, in fact, interviewing you about it...
PETER GARRETT: That's right.
JON FAINE: ...precisely on the morning of the budget. It was - it was almost nonsensical even then and this is...
PETER GARRETT: Well, it wasn't though because what happened was that what we said would happen, in terms of the industry, has proven to be true and what those who criticise the decision said about the industry proven to be false.
Now, what we've had is a record level of applications for this industry. The industry's gone through a boom period and it was the intention of the rebate to make sure that we provided the industry with a solid footing to begin to get those solar panels on the roofs and for the rebate to provide support for people not to a level of free solar panels but support to get solar panels up.
Now, we've done that. We've done that to an extent far, far greater than we budgeted for.
JON FAINE: Totally agree with that, Minister, but how can it be a bad thing if you're growing Australia's solar industry at a faster rate? How can that be bad? It's only good.
PETER GARRETT: Well, we want to continue to see the solar industry grow and it will grow through solar credits and I think that's the point.
Solar panel rebate was means tested and it was a rebate whose intention was to give the solar industry the opportunity to get going.
Now, it is going gangbusters. We always said it. We said it in December of last year and we've said it consequently since, we will transition to solar credits, we'll give the industry the opportunity for a sustainable and sure footing where it's not frankly reliant on rebates as it has been up to this point in time.
We've provided four times the funding that we committed to in the budget, in the context of what we provided in the budget and the fact that we think that solar credits will provide every opportunity for this industry to continue its growth path, this decision was made and I think it's the right decision.
JON FAINE: It's an abrupt change to rules that have - excuse me - ambushed an industry. You promised a gentle transition. There's nothing gentle about this.
PETER GARRETT: Well, we said smooth and the fact is that as of today people will be able to apply for solar credits, as of today the solar industry has the confidence that they have solar credits that will come into place through the Parliament and will provide an opportunity for non-means-tested applications for rebates and for wind turbines and, as of today, we've still got some 63,000 installations that have yet to take place for the industry.
So we looked at it very closely.
JON FAINE: Sure, but Minister, the other lesson to be learned here, surely, is that the bureaucrats who advise you underestimate the hunger for solar energy in this country by a magnitude of 10 or 20 and they're not listening and they're still not listening to what people actually want.
PETER GARRETT: Look, Jon, I think we're providing an unprecedented level of support for solar. We've seen...
JON FAINE: You are but that's still not enough.
PETER GARRETT: Well, let me just continue to explain how solar credits will work because I think that's the important thing here, is that by providing for solar credits to operate through the renewable energy target, we effectively provide an opportunity which isn't reliant on the public budget appropriations but is more specifically reliant on us fulfilling the renewable energy target to make sure that people can get the solar panels on their roof, or the wind turbines on their roof as well and remember, this is non-means-tested, it applies to families, it applies to communities and it applies to businesses.
JON FAINE: All right. I've got text messages, Peter Garrett.
I was two days away from handing in my application. I'm sick to the stomach thinking I now will never be able to afford it, says Corin in Preston.
PETER GARRETT: Well, Jon, again, Corin has every opportunity to make an application through solar credits and support will be provided by the solar credits scheme that the Government's bringing in.
JON FAINE: But that's not the same as a subsidy that was through the rebate to install which is what she required just to get started.
PETER GARRETT: Well, as I've said, we've now got some 63,000 rebates sitting out there in the system that have to be fulfilled. The Government committed to 150, we spent $700 million on these rebates, Jon. We're doing the responsible thing and we're providing the transition for solar credits which means that everybody, every single person who qualifies to get solar credits - it's non-means-tested - they will have the opportunity to get the solar panels on their roof or the wind turbines on their roof and it provides the opportunity for the industry, because it applies not only to families but to businesses and community groups as well, to have a continuing rollout of solar.
Now, we've got solar schools out there...
JON FAINE: All right. I've got to move on.
PETER GARRETT: We've got solar...
JON FAINE: Peter Garrett, thank you. Because of the news, it's upon us. Peter Garrett there, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Thank you for joining us.