House debates

Thursday, 6 December 2018



3:01 pm

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

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for McMahon from moving the following motion immediately—

That the House:

(1) notes:

(a) the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Governments have failed to provide a consistent energy policy for Australia;

(b) that the Government has embraced respectively, before each policy was abandoned:

(i) an emissions intensity scheme;

(ii) a clean energy target;

(iii) at least six different versions of the national energy guarantee; and

(iv) three different versions of divestment just this week,

(c) the Government's most recent attempt at forced divestment policy has been panned by experts as increasing sovereign risk, chilling investment and putting upward pressure on power prices;

(d) that the divestment policy had to be completely rewritten to remove the power to order divestiture from the Treasurer to the courts;

(e) that the legislation tabled by the Treasurer yesterday allows for the privatisation of energy assets if divestiture is forced in relation to a government owned asset;

(f) that the Treasurer and other Government ministers have continually denied this is the case despite the legislation being clear on this point;

(g) that the Member for Kennedy has moved an amendment, seconded by the Member for Dawson, which seeks to ban privatisations as part of a divestiture process, which confirms that the current bill does not; and

(2) condemns the Government for their complete failure in energy policy, their botched divestiture policy and for seeking privatisation by stealth.

There has been a lot of intemperate language in the House and in the building today from the Prime Minister. We heard of 'clear and present danger'—he swallowed one too many Tom Clancy novels—in a very un-prime-ministerial and unedifying performance from the incumbent in the job, but what we actually see here is what happens when a government's policy agenda falls apart before our very eyes. Nowhere is this more evident and more important for the economy and for households than in this government's complete failure when it comes to energy policy. This is a government which has had so many energy policies that the House would be forgiven for forgetting just how hopeless it has been when it comes to stability and certainty in energy.

The now Treasurer, when he was Minister for the Environment and Energy, had an emissions intensity scheme as his policy. The House would be forgiven for forgetting that, because it lasted less than 24 hours before the extreme right-wing, climate-change deniers opposite killed the then energy minister's policy. Then the Chief Scientist recommended the clean energy target. That lasted a couple of weeks—relative longevity as an energy policy for the government—before it was destroyed. Then we had the National Energy Guarantee, which was personally designed by the now Prime Minister and the now Treasurer. The National Energy Guarantee was personally designed by them and redesigned by them. We had four versions in 14 days of the National Energy Guarantee.

Now, to make up for their lack of policy, we have the made-up policy of divestiture. It is poorly designed, poorly implemented policy on the run. It has had three versions already and it's a week old. We had the version where the Treasurer would be able to force divestiture of energy assets. We had the version where the Treasurer wouldn't have the power to force diversion of energy assets; the courts would. And now we have version 3, which the government seemingly embraced during question time, which embraces an amendment moved by the members for Kennedy and Dawson. So, clearly, the legislation allows for privatisation. You shouldn't need to be a Rhodes scholar to know that it allows privatisation. The members for Kennedy and Dawson could work it out, but the Minister for Energy and the Treasurer couldn't work it out.

Why would the Australian people be concerned about privatisation under this? Because the government believes in it. The now Prime Minister himself said: 'privatisation of the New South Wales electricity network will place downward pressure on electricity prices'. He believes in it.

The Treasurer's alibi here is that the legislation allows for a government entity to be disposed of to another government entity. Who is going to buy these assets whose divestiture is being forced? Is the Queensland government going to sell it to itself? Are they going sell it to Tuvalu maybe—or Morocco or Tunisia? Which government owned entity is going to buy the asset which they are being forced to divest themselves of? Are the people of New South Wales expected to buy the Queensland assets when they're being privatised in New South Wales? This is absurd policy on the run from the Treasurer and he should have the gumption to admit he's got this wrong. He should have the gumption to admit he's had to rewrite his policy and he should have the gumption to admit that his policy will put upward pressure on energy prices.

The Minister for Energy says that this side of the House voted nine times for higher energy prices. I'll tell you what we voted nine times for: good policy. I'll tell you what we voted nine times against: sovereign risk. We voted nine times against a policy which would chill investment in this country.

The Treasurer talks about Venezuela. If he wants to talk about Venezuela, he needs to go no further than the nearest mirror. That's where he needs to go if he wants to talk about Venezuela, because he'd see the policies of a country which does not believe in stable policymaking but which does believe in sovereign risk. The words 'sovereign risk' should not be uttered about Australia. It should be the first responsibility of the Treasurer of Australia to ensure that the words 'sovereign risk' are not uttered in relation to us. On this Treasurer's watch he is introducing sovereign risk in a way which is extremely dangerous for the Australian economy.

What this Treasurer and this government have done is unite energy consumers and energy producers in one view. The energy consumers and the energy producers released a joint statement, together with the leaders of the business community, earlier in the week saying that this is bad policy which will make electricity more expensive. You'd think that, if the energy consumers thought that this was a good idea and it was going to reduce power prices, they wouldn't have signed on to that statement. Well, they did. It's there for all to see. The energy consumers have united with the energy producers. Well done, Treasurer! You've managed to bring Australia together and unite the producers and the consumers in opposition to your policy. That's what the government has managed to do. It takes an effort, it takes some doing, but they've managed to do it. That's what happens when you have such bad policy being implemented by this government.

You have the opportunity for the privatisation of assets. You have that being facilitated by this government. If they really didn't believe in the privatisation of assets, if they had had the chance to make sure that the legislation was crystal clear on that point, maybe if they'd spent more time getting it right—if that's their real view and not their secret view—maybe they would have spent time referring it to an inquiry, having draft legislation, showing it to the states, showing it to the industry and showing it to experts. No state saw this legislation before the Treasurer introduced it yesterday. No industry players saw the legislation. It was introduced confidentially and not released for draft exposure. The Liberal and National Party rooms did not see that legislation. I doubt that cabinet saw the legislation before the Treasurer introduced it.

This is what this government has become. We have reached the nadir of policymaking on this Prime Minister's watch, the nadir of policymaking of this once great party that once believed in sound economic policy, that once eschewed sovereign risk, that once believed in investment certainty and that once consulted with industry and with consumer groups before embarking on such a policy.

This government has lurched from crisis to crisis in energy. It has destroyed one Prime Minister so far and it should destroy this Prime Minister today. We'll talk of clear and present danger if you really want to. This Prime Minister is a clear and present danger to electricity prices, if that's the language he wants to use. The nation has been subjected, on their watch, to the most un-prime-ministerial Prime Minister we have seen since Billy McMahon. He is the most un-prime-ministerial Prime Minister we could imagine—a man who will always see the politics in any issue. You can take the member for Cook out of the role of state director of the Liberal Party, but you can't take the state director of the Liberal Party out of him. He will always find the cheap political stunt, he will always find the slogan and he will always find the cheap policy.

Where we have divestment, a policy which stands against everything the Liberal Party once believed in, and a policy which stands against everything that political and economic conservatives in this country once advocated, we know that this Prime Minister has jumped the shark. He's finally jumped the shark when it comes to economic credibility.

Former Liberal leaders will be hanging their heads in shame. John Howard and Peter Costello will be hanging their heads in shame that a government has been reduced to forcing electricity companies to divest their assets if the government is not happy with the way they conduct themselves.

There's a better way. There's a better way than this and it's policy, stability and certainty under a Shorten Labor government. If you're so certain, call an election and we'll bring it on.


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