House debates

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Motions

Energy

3:11 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Port Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

It is. A very serious energy crisis has emerged under this government, an energy crisis that is crippling household budgets, that is seriously threatening the viability of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country and a crisis that is seriously damaging Australia's reputation as a sound destination for investment either in energy or in energy-using manufacturing across the globe. In response to this crisis this government has now reached its 10th energy policy in just this parliament—its 10th energy policy since the 2016 election and it still hasn't been able to land a single one of them.

The emissions intensity scheme, which my colleague the shadow Treasurer spoke about a little earlier, was a policy that had the support of every single business group in the country and every single state government—Labor and Liberal alike—in the country. The National Farmers' Federation supported it. As the Deputy Prime Minister will remember very well, I'm sure, the Young Nationals annual conference supported the emissions intensity scheme. It was extraordinary consensus, yet after one radio interview that the Treasurer did with Fran Kelly in late 2016 it was smashed by a veto led by the member for Warringah.

The then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, tried again. He asked the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, to come up with an alternative, and he did—a clean energy target. The story's rather familiar. Every single business group in the country supported it. Every state government, Labor and Liberal alike, supported it. Federal Labor said we could work with it. I'm not sure about the position of the Young Nationals—the Deputy Prime Minister might inform us—but they seemed to take a pretty constructive view about energy policy. The National Farmers' Federation supported it. Again there was a veto led by the member for Warringah—sorry, I forgot to mention the member for Hughes—and many others on the hard Right of the Liberal Party to smash yet another attempt to gain consensus to solve to energy crisis that has emerged under this government.

In response to that we had the National Energy Guarantee. There were two versions of that, and four versions in the dying days of Malcolm Turnbull's prime ministership. In just 14 days there were four versions of the National Energy Guarantee added to the original two. You have to admire maybe not their views on energy policy and climate change but the assiduous way in which the member for Warringah, the member for Hughes and the member for Hume—now the energy minister—have gone about demolishing every attempt at energy policy consensus in this country.

In some exquisite irony, the new Prime Minister gave the member for Hume, the chief spear thrower against the National Energy Guarantee, the portfolio. The dog that caught the car was finally given a chance to work on a solution to this energy crisis. Just like the proverbial dog, he's been left utterly bereft of any ideas. He had one idea: throw billions of dollars of taxpayer funds at building new coal-fired power stations, and maybe even indemnify the operators of such power stations for any future carbon risk. Now, trying to find an operator to do that would be pretty difficult. The only business figure who has indicated any interest in partnering with this government on building a new coal-fired power station is of course Clive Palmer, whose last great idea was building Titanic II. The Australian Industry Group has estimated that indemnifying just one coal-fired power station would cost taxpayers $17 billion.

Added to that brilliant exercise in fiscal recklessness, this government has come up with the idea of divestiture, a Venezuelan-inspired act of neo-Marxism the likes of which are difficult to find in the 21st century—but they've found it. And who supported this? You'd think that if this were in the interests of consumers then the consumer watchdog might have come up with the idea after an exhaustive inquiry into the electricity industry over 18 to 24 months. But they considered it and they explicitly rejected it as an extreme measure. You'd think that, if this were a measure that would cut power bills, maybe business groups that use lots of energy would support it. But, to a group, they have said over the past couple of weeks that this is a deep and real sovereign risk that will impact the Australian economy and simply force prices up.

The government haven't asked anyone else. They didn't ask any of the state governments, and we learned earlier this week why they didn't ask the state governments. It was because a more sinister purpose behind this legislation became clear from the energy minister: it was about continuing their 25-year exercise in selling off—in privatising—the people's electricity assets. They did it in Victoria. They did it in South Australia. They did it with the support of the now Prime Minister in New South Wales, and they had Queensland, Tasmania, WA, Snowy Hydro and the Northern Territory in their sights. It took the member for Kennedy to fix the government's mess. (Time expired)

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