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Interview with Mike Carlton and Sandy Aloisi, 2UE Breakfast, Sydney
10 June 2009
SANDY ALOISI: This is an interesting story. The Federal Government is accused this morning of letting down thousands of families who are planning on installing solar panels on their rooves.
This is what happened yesterday: until yesterday, households were able to pick up an $8000 rebate on the cost of installing solar panels. It was supposed to end at the end of June, but was brought forward, without any warning whatsoever.
MIKE CARLTON: And suddenly chopped it off. So if you're paperwork's in the pipeline, or whatever, who knows what's happening. It does seem a funny way to do things.
Peter Garrett is in charge of solar panels. He's the Federal Environment Minister.
PETER GARRETT: Morning, Mike. Morning, Sandy.
SANDY ALOISI: Morning.
MIKE CARLTON: Why the indecent haste?
PETER GARRETT: It was very clear that the solar panel rebate had got to a stage where there was so much existing work in the system. We had committed ourselves to $150 million to provide rebates over five years. We've actually now committed some over $700 million. And we've got about 60,000 or so applications which haven't yet been fulfilled.
And we always said we'd transition to solar credits which are nonmeans tested way of getting solar panels on the roof and monitoring that very closely and seeing how much significant work there was in the pipeline, it was an appropriate time to conclude the rebate program and transition to solar credits.
MIKE CARLTON: Take your point, but if you were a family who had been thinking about it and we'll get round to it in a week or so, we know we've got a few weeks to decide, that's a bit rough on them.
PETER GARRETT: Well I really encourage people to continue to make the application for solar credits, Mike, because one of the things I can say is we've been through a huge boom in the solar power industry. That's come on the back of this rebate. It's been a popular rebate.
But at the same time, we've seen prices come down for the solar panels and probably around about half of the rebates that were being marketed are probably to people who were getting solar panels effectively free. That wasn't the intention of the Government.
We wanted to provide assistance for people so that they had some support to get solar panels on their rooves, but it was never the intention that it actually should be for free, solar panels...
MIKE CARLTON: So did it sort of get out of hand, just run out of control, too popular?
PETER GARRETT: Well look it has been a very popular program and we put more solar panels on the roof than at any time in our previous history. We also got solar schools and solar flagships out there.
But the Solar Credits program will be a really good program for the country because not only does it apply to people in homes, it applies to businesses, it applies to community groups as well. And it will give people the opportunity to put either solar panels, one kilowatt or 1.5 kilowatt system up or even wind panel - wind turbines as well.
And we believe it will provide the kind of necessary sustainable growth platform for this industry. We want to see the industry continue to grow, but we want it to be on a sustainable growth pattern.
When we have something approaching 30,000 applications for these rebates over the past month, the responsible course of action was to say, it's now time for us to transition to solar credits....
SANDY ALOISI: But you didn't give anyone any warning, so what about people whose paperwork's already in the pipeline, waiting to get their solar panels? What happens to them?
PETER GARRETT: Sandy, if people have got applications in the system and their postmarked before midnight, in other words if they come in before midnight yesterday, yeah, yesterday as we're speaking, then of course they'll still be entitled to the application.
MIKE CARLTON: Yeah, but a lot of companies are saying, look we had all this paper in the office and we were dealing with it as fast as we could. Now people have applied, they've gone to the shop to buy the stuff, but just because their application's not in the mail means you won't pay it.
PETER GARRETT: Well Mike what I can say to that is...
MIKE CARLTON: That's going to throw a lot of people, you know.
PETER GARRETT: Well I think this industry's done really, really well from this rebate.
And the fact of the matter is that they were assiduously and strongly promoting the rebate. We reached a point where we recognised that we provided such significant support for the rebate, some...
MIKE CARLTON: Yeah, yeah, but no, you're missing the question, missing the question. If I was, you know, wanting to get the solar panels stuck on the roof and I went to the solar panel supplier, let's say last, you know, last Friday, for example. And they said, yes right, we'll fix it all up and we'll get the paperwork done for you and that paperwork hadn't been done by five o'clock, you're done. You're screwed, aren't you?
PETER GARRETT: Well the Government's got to make a decision about when it's going to announce the transition...
SANDY ALOISI: But why no warning?
MIKE CARLTON: Why no - a warning might have helped.
SANDY ALOISI: Why wouldn't you say in two weeks this is what we'll do.
PETER GARRETT: Yeah, I think the answer is that we saw a remarkable spike in applications for the solar panel rebate around about the time of the Budget. The industry has known for some time...
MIKE CARLTON: And we're getting a remarkable spike in telephone calls from our listeners at the moment saying that you're been unfair and unreasonable.
PETER GARRETT: Well I think that, having given some $700 million in support, having provided installations to the level that we had and with a year's worth of work in the system and now, by providing the opportunity for a transition to solar credits.
So all those people that wanted to get solar panels on their roof will still be able to do that. And in fact more will be able to because it's no longer means tested. But the Government's very strong view was that we provided significant support by way of the rebate, way past what we'd actually committed and because we've got a year's worth of work in the system on those rebates, the appropriate policy response from us, to support solar into the long-term, was to transition across to solar credits, give people the opportunity to apply as they can today for solar credits and in so doing, you know, keep the industry on a sustainable...
MIKE CARLTON: All right. Now we're getting other calls here. Are you going to do exactly the same to the Pink Batt business, the roof insulation? Are you suddenly going to chop that off without warning?
PETER GARRETT: Well we'd always said, Mike, and we said it consistently that we were going to transition to solar credits and that's the commitment that we made and that's what we're doing. And I can certainly say, in terms of the ceiling insulation program that the Government has, we're totally and absolutely committed to rolling out that ceiling insulation. It's a fantastic program, you get a $1600 rebate to put ceiling insulation in your roof. You reduce your energy costs and you reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we've seen that program roll out and it will be one of the most exciting and positive things that we do. And look, I've got to say, that at the time when we brought in the means test for this solar panel rebate, everybody jumped up and down, including the industry and the Opposition said the solar industry's going to go to the wall. There were campaigns running, people were accusing me of all manner of sins. And I said at the time, this is the right course of action to ensure that we have a good solid growth prospects for the solar industry. And that's what happened.
But here's what the Government's done. A commitment of $150 million in the Budget, we're now at $700 million and we're providing for the transition knowing that there's been a boom in solar power and it is absolutely the right time for the industry to transition to solar credits.
And it also means that people who earn more than $100,000 a year, because the current rebate was means tested, will have access to solar panels as well.
MIKE CARLTON: Okay.
SANDY ALOISI: Okay, Peter Garrett, thank you for your time.
MIKE CARLTON: Thanks, Peter.
PETER GARRETT: Thanks, Mike. Thanks, Sandy.
MIKE CARLTON: Peter Garrett, the Environment Minister there.