House debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Matters of Public Importance

Energy Security

4:01 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Energy policy and the proper administration of our electricity system are critical to this nation's future. The last thing we need is for energy policy to become a blackout blame game, and for it to turn into an exercise in bringing your pet rock into question time.

The member for Barker said that energy policy needs to deliver two things, and that is right. It needs to deliver secure and affordable energy, that is No. 1, and we also need a safe and stable climate—that is No. 2. We need to ensure that global warming stays below two degrees Celsius, and the only way to do that is to seriously reduce carbon emissions.

The development of renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage technology is the clearest path to doing both of those things. The greatest fraud—the greatest dereliction of responsibility—in this place is for people to manufacture a conflict between secure and affordable electricity and renewable power. That is a fraud. It is a false dichotomy, it is dishonest and it is dangerous.

What is the reality? Last year, carbon dioxide concentrations measured at the aptly named Cape Grim passed 400 parts per million for the first time. And 2016 was the hottest year on record. The hottest year before that was 2015 and the hottest year before that was 2014. The world needs to respond, and it is responding. On the positive side of the ledger, The Financial Times reported last October that renewables have now actually overtaken coal as the largest source of power capacity on the planet. But as the world surges towards renewables we are going backwards.

In 2013 we were in the top four nations for renewable energy investment; now we are well outside the top 10. In 2014, while global investment in large-scale renewables grew by 16 per cent, in Australia it went backwards by 88 per cent. We literally fell off a cliff when it came to investment in large-scale renewables. We lost 3,000 jobs. If we had maintained the trajectory that the Labor government was on we would not have lost those 3,000 jobs, we would have added an additional 7,600 jobs.

We know that Australia's future has to include a mix of energy sources. We know, if we are honest with ourselves and if we consider the science, that that mix will include more and more renewable energy as time passes. The science tells us that; it tells us we need to make the transition sooner and more comprehensively. Our commitment under the Paris agreement requires us to make that transition more quickly and more comprehensively. And the evidence of the Department of Climate Change and Energy to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties acknowledged that our existing policies will not get us to our current inadequate targets.

So we can argue about how fast and how far that transition will go. There are plenty of expert and not-so-expert views. I happen to like this formulation that was put forward in 2010, that Australia needs to move to, 'A situation where all, or almost all, of our energy comes from zero- or very near zero-emission sources.' That same public intellectual said, 'I promise you, you cannot achieve that cut without getting to a point by mid-century where all or almost all of our stationary energy from power stations and big factories and so forth comes from zero-emission sources.

The person went on to say, 'The zero-emission future is absolutely essential if we are to leave a safe planet to our children and the generations that come after them.' In 2010 those were the views of the member for Wentworth, the current Prime Minister. In recent days he suggested that 50 per cent is a bridge too far. His colleagues think that 20 per cent is a bridge too far. Now we are hearing about new coal-fired power stations and so-called 'clean coal', when the business community says that the former is uninvestable and scientists say that the latter is a fantasy.

The reality is that the crises we have seen this summer are not from a mix of renewables and non-renewables; they are from inadequate management of electricity supply. Even though my state of Western Australia is not subject to the vagaries of the national grid or the national regulator, we are at risk because we face the prospect of the privatisation of Western Power. We are at risk of seeing the price rises, job losses and instability of supply that comes with the privatisation of our power system. All that will be put at risk because of the $40 billion of debt that Colin Barnett has racked up. He has squandered the boom, he has run down the strongest economy in the nation and now he needs to sell the farm.

He said he would run surpluses. He promised he would build a railway line to Ellenbrook and introduce MAX light rail. He promised he would never sell Western Power. Western Australia cannot bear any more broken promises. There is only one way to protect our public assets, jobs and power prices; it is time to switch off the Colin Barnett government.


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