House debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Bills

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

7:22 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | Hansard source

I'm really pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2018. I want to say a little bit about the process by which this bill has come to the parliament and the fact that Labor members in parliament, and indeed those on the other side of the chamber, are being called on to contribute to this debate with absolutely no proper opportunity to look at the bill, to properly study it, as our constituents would expect us to do, and to form a view about this next iteration in the government's energy policy. I think the public now is completely of the view that there is no better emblem of the chaos and division that divides this government than energy policy, so the absolute mayhem that's preceded the debate and that's brought the bill before us right now is probably not a surprise.

It's frustrating, as a member of parliament, to have to engage in these really serious policy issues on these terms—these very rushed debates that we're having on this very important subject. This is probably the single most important issue that faces our country right now. It sits across the things that are really affecting the people who live in my electorate. They're affected by energy costs, which have absolutely skyrocketed under this government's rule, and they're concerned because of the complete failure of those on the other side of the chamber to do anything about climate change.

Energy policy is like kryptonite to the people who are sitting on the other side of the chamber. I wonder if the fact that this rush has come on—that suddenly after five years of talking about this we finally have a bill before the parliament, which pretends to deal with some of these issues—is actually not about getting any support from our side of the chamber; it's not to do with the parliamentary process; it's about them, trying to sandpaper and trying to tape over some of the divisions that we've seen erupt many times over the last five years.

We've got the Leader of the House, the former Manager of Opposition Business, chattering away down here at the dispatch box. I'm reminded that, when Labor was last in government, the then Manager of Opposition Business would scream blue murder when something was brought before the House that genuinely was urgent. He would say it was an outrage that we didn't have a proper process in place. Well, the public needs to understand that Labor, which occupies almost half of the seats in this chamber, had one hour with the EM to this bill, one hour to absorb the detail of this, before we went through a chaotic and rushed process, with division after division after division, trying to ram this bill through the parliament. I think it is completely unacceptable. It is unacceptable, but it is not unexpected, because that is what we have come to expect from the government, who still, after five years, are flailing around trying to stick together some type of energy policy. And now, after five years of talking about this, they are expecting us to believe that it is unbelievably urgent and not only can it not wait until the next sitting fortnight but it can't wait until tomorrow. I think that is ridiculous.

I also want to point out that the bill that is being debated here is actually a different policy to what the government put forward yesterday. So, after five years—and the number of energy policies they have put forward must be in double digits—we have a policy change from yesterday, and now the bill is being rushed through the process. It is a bad process; it is a chaotic process. It very much represents the style of government we have come to expect from those on the other side of the chamber—five years, three prime ministers and innumerable iterations of energy policies.

The policy we are debating right now is not the first choice of the government. It is not the second choice of the government. It is probably not the eighth or ninth choice of the government. It might be somewhere around the 10th choice of the government. You can understand that, after going through so many differences of opinion, so many iterations and so many different forms that this will take, the bill we are debating now is a dog's breakfast, it is harebrained, and we don't even really understand where it has come from. It hasn't been through the party room of those opposite. It hasn't been endorsed by the very people who are standing up in this chamber and arguing forcefully for something that they probably haven't even read. That is no way to deal with one of the most important issues facing our country.

I mentioned that we have gone on about this for five years, where the government have thrashed around and flailed around and been unable to come up with an energy policy they can stick to. One of the things that have really irritated me—and I know it has irritated a lot of my constituents—is the way expert views have been treated by those on the other side of the chamber. We know that there are a lot of people on the other side of the chamber who don't accept the views of the 97 per cent of climate scientists who believe that climate change is real. I am reminded of the words of the member for Higgins that I think will ring in the ears of Australians right up until the election. She called the government 'a bunch of homophobic, antiwomen climate change deniers'. That refers to a significant group of people who sit opposite us in the parliament who actually don't believe in the science of climate change. That has been reflected in the way that those on the other side of the chamber have dealt with expert opinion as it has come up on this.

We can all remember back to when the wonderful Alan Finkel was asked to have a really good look at a root-and-branch renewal of energy policy in Australia and come up with some recommendations—that was to adopt a clean energy target, as I recall. But Australia's Chief Scientist's view is just cast aside because 'experts' like the member for Hughes, on the other side of the chamber, didn't like what they saw there. They were unable to adopt the National Energy Target. I am reminded of the words of Senator Jim Molan, in the other house, who has lost his preselection spot. At the time, he said 'it's a very fluid situation' on the National Energy Guarantee. I think that is understating things somewhat!

And what have they come up with now? They have come up with a policy that is so devoid of any sense. We have been reduced now to an ad hoc mix of strange rhetoric. We have a grab bag of ACCC recommendations. We have arbitrary threats of intervention that, as far as I am aware, are not supported by any substantial expert in this field. We've got no report; we've got no proper analysis of what this policy would do to energy prices and to our climate aspirations as a country. And, for God's sake, we have the notion that the taxpayer should bankroll new coal investments in this country. It is just extraordinary to me that any group of sensible people could come up with such a bunch of harebrained things, stick them together and then call it an energy policy. The only conclusion I can draw is that the people who are making these decisions are not very sensible.

And it's a completely bizarre approach if the aim of this policy process is to put a kind of conservative stamp on climate and energy policy in Australia, because this is a philosophical nightmare for people who call themselves conservatives. We're left with this absolutely weird thought bubble that really, for the first time, would allow the Australian government to intervene in investments that are being made in the private sector in a way that no expert has recommended. How are we going to end up with good energy policy when the people on the other side of the chamber are asking expert after expert after expert, and all these experts of course come up with the wrong answer, because they can't get recalcitrants like the member for Hughes to sign up to these policies that in some instances Labor has thought are very sensible? So we end up in a place of true crazy; we are in true crazy right now with energy policy.

Never in Australia's history has the sort of divestiture power that those on the other side of the chamber are putting forward as an energy policy existed. Never has this existed in Australia before. It is unprecedented. It is possibly unconstitutional. The government should be punished for even putting this forward as a serious option, much less trying to rush it through the parliament in this crazy way that's happened this afternoon. Energy and climate policy is complicated, and that's why it's really important that we bring scientists and experts into the discussion. I want to just note here, regarding the conversation that we're having about this particular proposal that the government's put forward, that I am not aware of anyone outside of the parliament who supports this. The Sky News hosts that the government loves to listen to in the night hours think it's crazy. The people who actually know something about climate science think it's crazy. It is amazing to me that, in trying to find something that sticks these weird factions together in their party room, they've come up with a policy that has united the environment groups and the biggest polluters in the country to say that it's completely nuts. Yet here we are debating a bill that we've had notice about for just over an hour.

The coalition's proposal is dangerous. We truly believe that. I heard a couple of those on the other side of the chamber talking about ACCC chairman Rod Sims and the report he wrote about competition in energy policy. For anyone listening to the debate, please know that Rod Sims did not recommend that the government adopt this power. This divestiture power has come out of nowhere.

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