House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Natural Gas

12:46 pm

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Throsby for bringing this motion on natural gas before the parliament. I think it is a good thing that has been brought before the parliament. In general, we do not discuss these matters enough. The member for Riverina bored us all, partly by reciting slogans, partly by getting onto that whipping boy, the carbon tax. Then every so often he actually wanted to discuss the motion. He tied himself up in knots there for a while.

We all know manufacturing is suffering under a high dollar. It is the currency that is the primary cause of difficulty for manufacturing in this country. I know from the car industry that six months ago a Japanese car that might have rolled off the boat for $20,000 now rolls off for $5,000. It gives you an idea of just how difficult many of those currency movements have been for the car industry. It is not just that we have got a high dollar but that our competitors are lowering their currencies through printing money, in the case of the Japanese and the Americans, and implementing austerity in the case of the Europeans, the Germans. It was not successful in the 1930s and it is not being successful now, resulting in very high unemployment and worsening deficits in the outlying countries.

Energy costs are a factor in manufacturing. No-one can deny that. The carbon price has put on about $40 a car. If we use Holden's figures, they say it is about $3,000 per car more expensive to manufacture a car in Australia than import it. That is primarily because of the currency, not because of energy costs. But we know from the member for Throsby's speech—and a very able speech it was—that higher energy prices are coming down the pipe potentially if we do not look at the regulation of energy markets. I have got a sitting on the bookshelf, ready to be read, called TheRace for What's Left.Around the world, nations are in a mad rush to secure energy supplies. You only have to look at the investment picture around the world to know that that is true. What has been missing in this country is a debate not just about energy costs, carbon prices and the like—how we deal with climate change—but a debate about energy security and the appropriate way to use the bounty that Australia has been bequeathed by providence. We have to make sure that that works for the nation.

At the end of the day, the best protection is to decarbonise the economy, to diversify the energy sources we have. That is probably a critical aim, but in the meantime we have got to make sure that the gas reserves that we have got are not just utilised to create huge profits for multinational companies or even Australian companies, and are not just used as for windfall royalties to state governments to keep budgets going, but they are also used to trigger and stimulate economic growth in this country. It would be a sad state of affairs indeed if, in creating this wonderful export market through Gladstone and exporting and getting very high prices for our gas, we caused market failure in our own domestic markets. Market failure is not just when you cannot get it; it is also when you pay very high prices or when those prices act against the national interest.

We have representatives of Manufacturing Australia listening to our speeches, and they have made us aware of the very large risks to their sector that may be caused if some allowance is not made and some protection is not made in terms of our domestic markets. We need to consider gas reserves, and we need to consider differential royalties, and we need to consider, I think, 'use it or lose it' approaches to gas reserves. We have to make sure the supply of gas is bountiful in the domestic market, and we have to make sure the price is right as well—not just for manufacturers but also for domestic users. It is just not good enough to say, 'Well, we'll leave it to the market and the market will provide.' We know that all energy markets around the world have some form of intervention and regulation inherent in them, and Australia should not be naive but should be practical in our analysis and our policy solutions in this area.


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