House debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2018; Second Reading

5:48 pm

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

They're pretty concentrated markets, as my honourable friend points out. They're pretty profitable markets. By the logic of the minister, it should apply to them. I mean, the minister's entitled to come to the despatch box and explain why it doesn't—because the government have made it up as they go. The fact of the matter is that this particular piece of policy flim-flammery has no support from any serious or credible economist, commentator or industry participant—none. The government are out like a shag on a rock on this one—zero support. They look behind them for support and there's none there, because there are sensible people in this debate. There are actually people who know what we need in energy policy in Australia, and it's a bit of investment certainty. That would be nice. A bit of a framework for renewable energy would be good—a bit of an understanding that the government understand the needs of industry for investment. But what we have instead is a government that actually make it worse by engaging in an effort to make it basically impossible for people to invest, because the sword of divestment hangs over those investments.

In the various economic portfolios I've held over the years I've come to understand that foreign investors, in particular, pay close attention to the legislative framework. They are always on the lookout for sovereign risk. It's often the case—it has been the case—that good intentions by governments have been misunderstood by investors overseas, who don't necessarily follow our debates as closely as we do. Changes like this create grave concern for investors, whether they be domestic or foreign—grave concern when it comes to engaging in the need to provide a framework where investors, whether they be domestic or foreign, can put their money into renewable energy, and into energy more broadly, and know what the rules are and know that their investment is not going to be taken off them. It is the case that the government has just completely flummoxed this issue from beginning to end.

We are here today as a result of the clean energy target collapsing and then the National Energy Guarantee collapsing—collapsing under the weight of internal opposition from climate change deniers opposite who don't believe in climate change and don't believe we should participate in policies to deal with climate change. Now, as a new Prime Minister comes to office—the third in five years—he says: 'Quick, we need at least a semblance of a policy. We need an excuse for a policy. We need an alibi of a policy. I need to have something to go to the election with. I need at least something to take to the people to say that this is how I'm going to reduce power prices.' The little coterie opposite comes up with the idea of divestment powers. That's what they come up with. That is about the worst piece of public policy development I've seen in my time here.

Mr Conroy interjecting

It's a low bar, as my honourable friend points out. I do think that this is a strong contender, and I think it is by far the worst piece of competition policy I've seen, and I've seen some shockers from the other side on competition policy. The effects test was pretty bad, and the Birdsville amendment was pretty bad, but this is the worst. This has real-life consequences. It means that there will be people paying more for electricity than they otherwise should. Big power users, big industry in Australia, will be paying more, and that will flow through to consumers more broadly, who will be paying more, directly, as well.

Several members opposite have pointed out in the privacy of the Liberal party room—such that it is—that this offends Liberal principles, that it offends Liberal traditions, and they had the courage to stand up for that. I hope they have the courage to stand up for it in this House as well, and not just in the Liberal party room. It's true that they forced a backdown from the Treasurer, to remove the power from the Treasurer to the ACCC, and a legal process. That is true. That they got that climb-down is something. But, as the commentators who I quoted before pointed out, this still causes grave concern.

There is a better way than what the government has engaged in. You could invest in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as we are proposing to do. You could create an energy security modernisation fund, as we are proposing to do. You could create an energy productivity agenda, as we are proposing to do. You could engage in a process to do with just transition, as the member for Shortland and the member for Port Adelaide have designed for the Labor Party, a policy we're very proud of, to help workers adjust.

The minister opposite doesn't care about those affected by inevitable change in the economy. Instead we have this crazy, Venezuelan approach from those opposite, who once used to believe in something. I don't know what the government believe in now. I don't know what the government stand for now. They clearly don't stand for good economics and they clearly don't stand for good policy; they clearly, by their actions, stand for higher power prices and stand for making the situation worse. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: "the House declines to give the bill a second reading, and notes:

(1) this unprecedented intervention into markets which will result in higher prices for families and businesses;

(2) the Government has abandoned all pretence at being the party of free enterprise and open markets; and

(3) the Government has abandoned all proper processes, scrutiny and consultation.

The House should express the view that this government has completely lost the plot when it comes to energy policy. There's a very significant price to be paid for that. That is the stark difference between this side of the House and the other side of the House. I'm happy to have our energy policies debated in the lead-up to the next election. The shadow minister, the member for Port Adelaide, is more than happy to debate the minister.


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