House debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Energy

3:14 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

We all know that the dysfunction and chaos at the heart of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government comes with a very big cost, and we saw that cost, at least in part, in the national accounts, the economic growth figures, today. Economic growth is down, household consumption is slow and household savings are at a 10-year low. We saw that lack of confidence, that concern about the uncertainty at the heart of our government, reflected in the figures today.

But we also see it when it comes to the energy policy—or perhaps, more accurately, the lack of an energy policy—that we have from this government. This is a government which has proven itself to be pathologically incapable of providing our country with an energy policy. It is just not up to the job of providing the country with the framework necessary to invest in energy generation. This is a government that wasn't able to adopt its own Chief Scientist's recommendation for a clean energy target. The whole party fell apart at the very thought. Then they weren't able to adopt the National Energy Guarantee, which we were told was vital to putting downward pressure on prices. It didn't fall as a result of the operation of this parliament. It fell as a result of the operation of that party room. It fell under its own weight.

Now we have the fig leaf for a policy, and I use the term 'policy' very lightly—the fig leaf, the alibi for an energy policy which is the big stick: the divestment policy. I never thought I'd see the day where a supposedly free-enterprise government would concoct such a preposterous idea, which, they assert, will put downward pressure on prices, when, in fact, it will put upward pressure on prices because it will chill investment.

We know the Prime Minister's happy to make all sorts of claims. I was taken by one he made last week. He took to Twitter. He's had a very patchy track record on social media since he became Prime Minister, the poor old Prime Minister. But he said this—and let's just break down this tweet, this Prime Ministerial statement on Twitter:

We're bringing electricity prices down. Our big stick legislation is pressuring energy companies to give Australian families better prices. And it's working.

Here's the problem with the Prime Ministerial boast: the divestment policy had not, at that point, even been introduced to parliament, let alone been implemented and been working. It has changed dramatically from the time he made that statement. It was rewritten overnight by the Treasury because it had again imploded under the weight of the Liberal and National parties, and it is not putting downward pressure on prices.

What we know is that wholesale power prices have doubled under this government. Under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, wholesale power prices have doubled. Also, in futures pricing, we're seeing that the market has worked out what's going to happen next. The market knows what's going to happen next, and the market is pricing in a further 40 per cent increase, when prices have already doubled under this government.

What have they got? What has this minister got? He's got a poor, weak excuse for a policy. He's got a small and weak policy, not a big stick, and it has fallen apart. It has failed a few tests. There is the small matter of whether it's constitutional or not. I've got a pretty low bar and a pretty high tolerance when it comes to policies from this government because I've seen all manner of mistakes, but the first test for a Prime Minister and a minister is to check whether their policy is constitutional. Maybe check and see whether it complies with the vibe. That would be a good start. But we've seen constitutional experts point out—and their case seems pretty logical—that it would fail under a High Court challenge. That's a pretty big problem for a government. Then, of course, we've got the problem that it has fallen apart at the hands of those who sit behind the minister.

I'm going to do something you won't hear me do every day in this House: I'm going to pay a compliment to some of those opposite, because the other policies have fallen under the weight of the climate change deniers on the other side. The clean energy target and National Energy Guarantee fell under the weight of those who do not accept the climate science, those who said the government shouldn't have an electricity policy—the intellectual giants like the member for Hughes and others on the other side who claim that climate change isn't real or isn't caused by human activity and that therefore they shouldn't have a policy. They're the ones who've killed the first policy. This policy has been killed by those honourable members opposite who actually have some understanding of economics and who actually have some understanding of the principle that if you create more uncertainty, and if you create an environment of instability, you will get less investment and not more. They're the ones who've killed this policy, who've rolled the minister and rolled the Treasurer. They're the ones who said, 'We're not having any part of this policy.' Yet again we see the dysfunction at the heart of this government, meaning that the country rolls on without an energy policy.

We know that what we need is more investment, not less. What we need is a policy which actually encourages people to invest in energy generation. What we need is a policy which actually provides people and investors with the certainty to know that their environment is stable and that there won't be sudden changes to government policy. With this government you don't know if there's going to be a sudden change of Prime Minister or not, and you also don't know if there's going to be a sudden change in policy.

We could accept the policy if we thought that it would put downward pressure on prices. But expert after expert in the industry, and beyond the industry, have said that it would put upward pressure on prices.

This is a minister who is about to get to the despatch box and accuse us of being too close to big business. That's what he's going to do. A few weeks ago in an MPI this minister would have been arguing that we should give billions of dollars worth of corporate tax cuts to the very same energy companies. He's about to launch an attack on them. He's about to say, 'The problem with Labor Party is that they're far too pro-business.' He's going to say that's the problem with the Labor Party: 'Those terrible socialists over there have been listening to business too much again.' That's what he's going to say. I'm going to say: 'Listen to the minister. It's going to be a cracker, because this bloke has said all over the country that the Labor Party is too close to big business.'

I'll tell you who we're close to: Australian consumers. And I'll tell you who we'll stand up for: Australian consumers, who should have a government putting downward pressure on prices, not upward pressure. We'll stand up for consumers who want an energy policy which actually embraces the future. I'll tell you what: I know who'll give Australia an energy policy. A Shorten Labor government will give Australia an energy policy. Only a Shorten Labor government will double the investment in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That's what we'll do. We'll provide an additional $10 billion in capital for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Only a Shorten Labor government will create an independent energy security and modernisation fund, because we're not afraid of modernisation. We don't shy away from modernisation; we embrace it. We don't pretend it's not happening, like the economic vandals who sit opposite. We embrace it.

Only a Labor government will implement a new energy productivity agenda. Only a Labor government will provide grants for Australian manufacturers to help them reduce their energy usage. I'll tell you what: only a Shorten Labor government will assist households doing it tough to install batteries to reduce their power prices going forward. They laugh; they don't like batteries. They don't like the future. Now we're too much on the side of Australian consumers, according to those opposite.

Only a Shorten Labor government can do these things. We're not going to engage in this crazy Venezuelan-style intervention. I have considered apologising to the government of Venezuela for the terrible insult of comparing them to this unstable government, but I think the comparison stands.

What we will have is rational policy with stability of personnel and stability of policy. We'll provide that stability through good leadership and through stable leadership. We've had five years of leadership on this side and the revolving door of Prime Ministers and ministers on that side. What we'll provide is policy certainty for business and for consumers. What we'll stand for is good policy in the interests of consumers. We don't need a slogan like 'big stick'. What a pathetic little slogan you have. What a pathetic little slogan this government has. The government of Australia is reduced to this pathetic slogan. I thought three-word slogans were bad enough, but now we've got two-word slogans put on this policy. That's what this pathetic government has been reduced to. Australia deserves better than that. Australian consumers deserve better than that.

Australian consumers deserve a government that actually believes in something. I say this: at least Malcolm Turnbull had some beliefs he could betray. At least he had something to betray. This Prime Minister and this Treasurer don't have any beliefs to betray in the first place. This minister makes his bosses look good, that's what he does, because he's not up to the job and he's got a pathetic excuse of an alibi for a policy.

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