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Senate rejects Taylor’s bid to redirect renewable energy funds to fossil fuel projects

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The federal Senate has delivered a critical blow to the Morrison government, voting to cancel out a set of new regulations issued to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency that would have opened up the agency’s funds to carbon capture and storage projects, fossil hydrogen production and a range of non-renewable technologies.

In a major rejection of the Morrison government’s ‘technology not taxes’ agenda, the Senate passed a disallowance motion late on Tuesday evening, which effectively cancelled out the new regulations issued by federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor, and will see ARENA revert back to previous regulations that related to only renewable energy technologies.

The success of the motion was unexpected, but came about as One Nation senator Pauline Hanson did not vote on the motion.

As the Coalition does not hold a majority in the Senate, the lack of support from the key One Nation senator meant Coalition senators could not block the disallowance motion that had gained the support of Labor, the Greens and independent senators Jacquie Lambie and Rex Patrick.

Similar motions that had been moved by Labor’s climate and energy spokesperson Chris Bowen and Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt in the House of Representatives were defeated by the Morrison government last week, where it holds an outright majority in its own right.

However, for a disallowance motion to be successful in cancelling out regulations, it only needs to be passed by either house of parliament.

The senate had voted on the disallowance motions earlier on Tuesday, with the motions initially being defeated. However, Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson had missed the earlier vote – which he attributed to a “dicky hip” that prevented him from making it into the chamber in time for the vote – and the Greens successfully sought to have the motions voted on again later in the evening.

In comments after the successful senate motion on Tuesday night, Bandt said that the Senate had again “saved ARENA.”

“This is a massive blow to this coal and gas-fired government,” Bandt said. “Coal and gas are not renewable energy.”

“The Australian Renewable Energy Agency was a key achievement of the Greens, Labor and independent power-sharing parliament.”

“The lesson here is that when we fight this coal and gas-fired Liberal government, we can win,” Bandt added.

In his own response, via Twitter, Taylor said that the result showed that Labor “did not believe in technology to reduce emissions”.

“Labor have shown their true colours – opposing investment in new clean technologies which will create jobs and economic opportunities. [Australian Labor] doesn’t believe in technology to reduce emissions, only taxes, which means Australians will pay more,” Taylor tweeted.

Taylor had argued that the new regulations were necessary to implement a range of budget measures aimed at progressing the Morrison government’s ‘Technology Investment Roadmap’ and included programs that would provide funding to carbon capture and storage projects, soil carbon, fossil hydrogen and sustainable transport.

The expanded remit also extended to funding an undefined category of ‘low emissions technologies’ that officials from the Department of Industry Science Energy and Resources told a hearing of Senate estimates that “conceivably it could include gas projects”.

However, both Labor and the Greens, as well as a number of representatives of the clean energy sector, said that the plan to redirect ARENA funds to a range of non-renewable energy technologies was counterproductive – diminishing funding for renewable energy technology research and development. A Coalition controlled oversight committee had sought clarification from Taylor about the regulations after finding they were likely to be beyond the powers that Taylor had as a minister under ARENA’s legislation.

“These changes were illegal – they were against ARENA’s founding Act of Parliament – and we were ready to take the Government to court on this issue,” Smart Energy Council CEO John Grimes said following the vote. “This is a big win for the renewables industry and a big defeat for Angus Taylor and the Morrison Government.”

“Renewable energy bodies should fund renewable energy projects. It’s that simple.”

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