House debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:17 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the member for Port Adelaide proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The importance of long-term policy certainty, including on renewable energy and climate change.

I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

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

It's hard to think of a policy area that has been more dogged by uncertainty over the last decade than climate change and energy policy. It's also hard to imagine more serious consequences than those that are facing our nation today largely because of that uncertainty. As we've spoken about many times in this chamber, the nation finds itself deep in the throes of an energy crisis. It is an energy crisis that has emerged under this government, particularly under this Prime Minister, and is causing power prices to go up and up for households and for businesses. It is causing gas prices to go up and up, particularly for manufacturing businesses, placing tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy for Australian workers.

Over the last two years we have also been regularly reminded by electricity sector agencies of increasing concerns about the reliability of our energy system across the whole of the national electricity market, no matter what the levels of penetration of renewable energy or coal fired generation or anything in between in all of those regions. After coming down by some 10 per cent during our last term in government, carbon pollution and greenhouse gases have again started to rise under this government and, according to the government's own data that was released just before Christmas, those pollution levels are projected to keep rising between now and 2030. Australia is now pretty much the only major advanced economy in the world where greenhouse gases are going up rather than coming down.

It could all have been so different. Only a decade ago there was an emerging consensus on this devilishly complex area of policy in climate change and energy. It was an area of consensus where the Liberal Party and the Labor Party had both taken an emissions trading scheme to the 2007 elections. Through the course of 2008 and 2009, Liberal Party MP after Liberal Party MP continued to protest their support for an emissions trading scheme. Indeed, the member for Warringah—who was not then the Leader of the Opposition—said famously that he thought maybe a carbon tax, rather than emissions trading scheme, would be a more efficient way to deal with climate change policy.

But that all changed in late 2009 when, in the dead of night, a coup emerged from the member for Warringah to dethrone and defenestrate the then Leader of the Opposition, the member of Wentworth. And then, to quote The Economist magazine in their description of Newt Gingrich, the member for Warringah 'turned politics into war'. Since then, that side of the House has devoted years to vandalism and to wrecking any chance of bipartisan policy in climate change and energy.

But the crossbench has been important in this as well, and I want to talk a bit about the role of the crossbench over the last decade. I and many on this side have spoken about the role of the Greens in trashing the carbon pollution reduction scheme in 2009. Of course, they will never admit that they made a mistake. They will always pretend to be pure than anyone else in this chamber. But we know that that decision was a platform for the decade of vandalism that has happened since by those opposite on sensible climate change and energy policy.

But I want to talk today about the role of Nick Xenophon—a former senator in this place and now challenging for a seat in the House of Assembly in South Australia. Nick Xenophon, as some of us from South Australia know, is a very clever politician, a very cunning politician—pitching at the moment to lead a conservative coalition between SA-BEST and the Liberal Party after the next election. He regularly polls as the second preferred premier, the second-rated preferred premier, in South Australia, substantially behind Jay Weatherill but even more substantially ahead of Steven Marshall from the Liberal Party.

So it is a bit overdue that we have a bit of focus on Nick Xenophon's policies in this area, because, as in so many policy areas, it's important to look at what they do rather than what they say—how they vote rather than what they say. We've talked about schools policy, and that's been a bit ambiguous from Nick Xenophon. But, on climate change and energy, there has been no equivocation whatsoever. On every occasion that has counted, going back to 2009, Nick Xenophon has lined up with the member for Warringah to trash sensible climate change and energy policy. Back in 2009 he described Labor's emissions trading scheme—which we were negotiating with the Liberal Party—as a 'dog that should be put down'. On the first day of the member for Warringah's leadership after defenestrating the member for Wentworth, Nick Xenophon delivered Tony Abbott the most extraordinary tactical victory by voting down the emissions trading scheme in the other place and setting the platform for a decade of vandalism and wrecking on sensible climate change and energy policy. More than any other, that vote, that level of support that Nick Xenophon gave to the member for Warringah that day, sowed the seeds for today's energy crisis and the challenges we have in good climate change and energy policy.

In 2011, Nick Xenophon again backed the member for Warringah in voting against the Gillard Labor government's clean energy futures package, a package negotiated with sensible crossbenchers like Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Again, Nick Xenophon lined up with the extreme right of those opposite in trashing sensible climate change and energy policy. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Nick Xenophon then loyally voted again with the member for Warringah to repeal the clean energy package, to dismantle entirely the carbon price mechanism, after Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, became Prime Minister, making Australia the first nation in the world to entirely dismantle a climate change framework—and the member for Warringah did so with Nick Xenophon's support.

Six months later, again unsurprisingly, Nick Xenophon voted with the member for Warringah to install the direct action policy—a policy that had been ridiculed for five years by expert after expert. And 3½ years later what do we see? Carbon pollution levels have continued to rise. Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds have been handed over by those opposite to businesses with no impact on the government's carbon footprint whatsoever. And the review that Nick Xenophon negotiated with the member for Warringah as his price for supporting direct action into legislation—a review that was delivered in December—recommended making it even easier, not harder, for large polluters to increase their carbon pollution levels.

On renewable energy, Nick Xenophon has again been a strong supporter of some of the most extreme, discredited anti-renewables rubbish seen in this country. In 2012, famously, Nick Xenophon said about wind power:

People are being driven out of their own homes. How can you have people turned into wind turbine refugees because the noise, the infrasound, that low frequency sound that actually affects brain activity is actually ruining their lives?

That is a claim that has been utterly debunked by the National Health and Medical Research Council and all of their equivalent agencies across the world. When the government, under the member for Warringah's prime ministership, launched their attacks on the Renewable Energy Target in 2014, again Nick Xenophon stood shoulder to shoulder, right beside them. He told a conference that year, 'I don't like wind, and I think that's an issue for a lot of other coalition MPs.' He famously arranged to attend, on the same day, a rally in favour of the Renewable Energy Target and a rally against the Renewable Energy Target—classic Nick Xenophon, walking both sides of the road.

Over the course of this campaign you often hear Nick Xenophon talk a lot about affordability. But again we saw the true colour of Nick Xenophon's commitment on this last year when he waved through $24 billion of company tax cuts supported by those on the other side. When he had the government over a barrel and said he'd deliver something on affordability, do you think he got the government to drop the energy supplement cut, which would have meant $365 per year every year for age pensioners and disability support pensioners? No. He gave in for one one-off payment of $75. I'd love to negotiate with this guy when he's in a position of strength.

Nick Xenophon has made a career out of presenting himself as an honest broker. You don't look at what he says, though; you've to look at what he does and how he votes. On climate change policy, on every single occasion when it counted, Nick Xenophon voted with the member for Warringah to wreck sensible climate change policy and to usher in reckless Direct Action nonsense. On renewable energy, he has parroted some of the silliest, most discredited rubbish you'll hear in this building or even outside it. He gave moral support to the member for Warringah's constant attacks against renewables. If you care about action on climate change and energy transition, don't vote for Nick Xenophon.

3:27 pm

Photo of Josh FrydenbergJosh Frydenberg (Kooyong, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

It's truly bizarre for the federal Labor Party to bring this MPI into the House to attack a candidate at the South Australian state level and then, on the other hand, to say, 'Hang on, we're open to a partnership with him if he ever holds the balance of power.' Labor's inconsistency and hypocrisy are there for all to see. The member for Port Adelaide, a truly nice guy in this place, is in charge of a horrible Labor Party policy when it comes to energy and climate change. He belled the cat when he published a book about the climate wars and he admitted that the Labor Party had sent 'mixed signals' when they were last in office on energy and climate policy and had made mistakes. Their mistakes were any one of the 12 different positions they had at the time. There was the CPRS, the ETS, the dreaded carbon tax, the citizens assembly—that Athenian mode of democracy that was promised by Julia Gillard—as well as Cash for Clunkers and the many other disastrous policies that the Labor Party presided over during their six years in office. But the worst possible aspect of their policies at the time was the fact that electricity prices doubled on their watch. In their own words, in their own policy document, network prices skyrocketed. The gold plating which we are now paying a heavy price for occurred under the then Labor government. And they ignored the warnings about the major export gas industry on the east coast of Australia and the impact it would have on prices and stability in the domestic electricity market and gas market. Then, after denying that they were warned, the member for Port Adelaide finally admitted that that was the case in its energy white paper as well as in an AEMO report, both in 2012. It's that mess that the coalition has been left to clean up.

Our approach to energy and climate change policy is, for the first time, to try to integrate them into one single mechanism—a mechanism which will drive a more affordable and reliable power system, as well as meeting our international commitments to reduce emissions over time. That is taking place with the National Energy Guarantee—a recommendation from independent experts made up of the Energy Security Board, the head of AEMO, the head of the AEMC, the head of the AER, an independent chair, and an independent deputy chair. That recommendation, through the National Energy Guarantee, creates two new obligations on the retailers. One is an obligation to provide a certain amount of dispatchable power, because we have failed to price reliability. We have failed to put a premium on dispatchability. The price for that failure is played out graphically in South Australia, with the huge price volatility and the fact that prices in South Australia are, on average, 20 per cent more than can be found in the rest of the country. We're creating two new obligations on the retailers: one to provide a certain amount of dispatchability, and the other to ensure that the emissions intensity of their portfolio of assets declines over time in a way that is consistent with our Paris commitments.

Our National Energy Guarantee has been independently modelled. The average Australian household will be $300 a year better off than they would be under the Labor Party's plan. At the same time, we will see wholesale prices come down by 23 per cent. So, if you are running a supermarket, that could see you save $400,000 on your power bill. If you're a major chemical manufacturer, you could save $1 million on your energy bill. If you are a paper manufacturer, you could save $10 million on your energy bill. If you are one of the millions of small businesses around Australia struggling with high power bills, you could also save hundreds of dollars, if not more, every year. No wonder the National Energy Guarantee has been so warmly received by both energy users and energy producers alike.

The big employers across Australia—the BHPs, the Rio Tintos, the Dow Chemicals—have come out in favour of the National Energy Guarantee. BlueScope Steel, the largest manufacturer in Australia and a major exporter into the United States, where they have cheaper power than we do here, has said that, for the first time in a decade, it's an opportunity to break that impasse over energy and climate policy. The BCA, the Australian Industry Group, the ACCI—the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—irrigators and farmers have all come out and strongly supported the National Energy Guarantee, as it's the only game in town. So we say to the Labor Party: put your ideology aside, put aside the fact that you didn't come up with this policy, put aside the fact that your carbon tax was a disaster, put aside the fact that you presided over a doubling of electricity prices when you were last in government and get behind the National Energy Guarantee to deliver lower prices and a more reliable system as we meet our international commitments.

On top of the National Energy Guarantee is the work we've done to abolish the limited merits review process, which allowed the network companies to game the system to the tune of $6½ billion in additional power bills that Australian consumers have had to pay because the Labor Party didn't have the courage and the foresight to abolish the limited merits review, as we did last year. The deal that we've done with the retailers to ensure that they get more information, more comparable information, and information in an easier-to-digest form so that they can compare their energy bills with those being offered to them by other retailers. It's that ability to shop around for a better offer that can save hundreds of dollars a year or, as the Australian Energy Regulator has said, more than $1,000 a year for some customers. Nearly one million Australians have gone to the Australian Energy Regulator website——in order to compare their deals. We're told 50 per cent of Australian households have not moved retailers or contracts in the last five years, despite the benefits of doing so.

What about our intervention in the gas market, that the ACCC has said has already seen up to a 50 per cent fall in the gas price that is paid by some customers? That action we took was only forced upon us by the fact that the Labor Party had ignored the warnings when they were last in office. Gas is increasingly setting the price of electricity, as some of the coal-fired generators have closed.

And, of course,  there is storage and Snowy 2.0. We are putting in place the big batteries, whether they be lithium batteries or with the pumped hydro project s , like the ones we are funding in the member for Grey's electorate, at Cultana in the Upper Spencer Gulf, and near Whyalla with Zen Energy, partnering to use a disused mine. There is the Kidston pumped hydro project in Queensland. These are projects that are helping to deliver a more stable system, and a more stable system means a more affordable system.

In closing, we know what the Turnbull government's plan is: i t is reducing the network costs, it's getting a better deal from the retailers, it's putting in the storage solutions that we need for the 21st century, and it's putting in place the National Energy Guarantee to integrate climate and energy policy. That's the stability that we are offering the Australian people. At the same time, emissions, on a per-capita basis , are at their lowest in 28 years.

On the other hand, we know what the Labor Party stands for: higher prices and a less stable system. That was their record when they were in office, and that is the record we're now seeing in Victoria under a Labor government, where they have tripled the Commonwealth royalties.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Coulton): The member for Shortland!

Mr FRYDENBERG: The Leader of the Opposition will say one thing to the coalminers in the Latrobe Valley, and another thing to the people in Batman. And we've seen it now in South Australia, with not just a 50 p er cent renewable energy target but a reckless 75 per cent renewable energy target. T he Premier, Jay Weatherill, is like a problem gambler doubling-down to chase his losses. That is what Labor will give you when it comes to energy and climate policy.

3:42 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

Finally Labor have put forward an MPI that I agree with. But, the longer this debate goes on, the more I realise it is nothing to do with national energy; it is actually to do with the South Australian election. Nonetheless, it is a good topic for us to talk about. Here today we are talking about one of the greatest challenges that the world faces today: how do we maintain the delicate balance between conserving and protecting our environment and growing our economy? Those opposite would have the Australian public believe that we on this side don't care about the environment. They think all we care about is blowing it up and digging it out. Well, that's not so. We on this side want the environment to be better today than it was yesterday. That is what Australia wants and that is what our policies are going to achieve.

But what about those opposite? We've heard a lot about what Nick Xenophon wants and doesn't want. But since the factions inside the Labor Party successfully lobbied for the 50 per cent renewable energy policy to become official state and federal Labor policy we have seen Labor repeatedly throw caution to the wind on really important issues like energy policy, conservation, land management and water resource management. Every normal clear-thinking person in Australia—you know it and I know it—wants renewable clean energy because they know it is a good thing. But this industry needs to be slowly, methodically and responsibly developed and maintained. Otherwise, we'll see a repeat of the blackouts in South Australia—and nobody wants that.

If we all took Jay Weatherill's advice, our country would have the most expensive energy power in the world, our economy would collapse, our wages would stagnate and our way of life would be in tatters. We all know that, including those opposite. We know that this irresponsible approach by South Australia Labor will be tested in the South Australian election on 17 March.

Energy generation accounts for 36 per cent of our carbon emissions and is clearly a significant contributor to our total emissions. Getting the policy right is crucial for meeting our Paris commitments. The arguments proffered by those opposite are sadly ignoring some inconvenient facts which make their case untenable. Our emissions today are the lowest they have been on a per capita and GDP basis for some 30 years.

We're investing record amounts through ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in renewable energy projects, many of which are in my electorate. I'm particularly proud that we are trialling innovative projects in regional Australia which will help to ease the burden on regional communities, because we know that those communities are the most affected by unreliable and expensive power. Five Mile Community, an Indigenous community in my electorate of Durack, has received $500,000 from this government for an off-grid solar water treatment and power plant, a little but very important project that will give that Indigenous community clean drinking water and renewable power to power their homes instead of running a very expensive and unreliable gas generator. We've recently granted $20 million to the Pilbara Minerals project through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This will help to develop a lithium mine south of Port Hedland, lithium being the prime ingredient in lithium batteries, something that we'll all need a lot of as we transition to renewable energy technologies. In Emu Downs in Badgingarra, also in my electorate, we've invested $5.5 million through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to build a 20-megawatt solar farm on the wind farm already located there. See? We love wind farms, especially in Emu Downs. In that same funding run, 11 other solar farms were approved for funding all around the country. This has led to us seeing, in the last quarter, the largest drop in overall emissions in four years.

But those opposite don't care about the facts; they just care about the Batman by-election or, as it happens, the South Australian election, including worrying about Green votes. This whole MPI exercise is about out-greening the Greens and also having a crack at Xenophon along the way. They don't care about these issues that affect regional Australians. We know that regional Australians are disproportionately affected by the cost and also that those who are involved in the fossil fuel industry are predominantly employed in regional Australia. They don't care about these things, because they turned their back on regional Australia some time ago and haven't been back. The party that used to care about shearers and labourers is no more.

On this side, we get regional Australia, we understand regional Australia and we care about regional people in Australia, especially those on the land who are constantly dealing with the effects of climate and weather events, often more than their city cousins. I understand there's a need for strong leadership on this issue, and I'm very proud that this government is providing the right leadership, the strong leadership to tackle these very complicated issues.

3:47 pm

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always good to hear the member for Port Adelaide lacerate the government on their actual achievements, which are higher emissions, higher prices and less reliability. That's what they've actually delivered for the people of Australia, and they wonder why no-one can take them seriously when they stumble around in this incoherence. The speaker before me reels off all these projects, but this is the government which sat around and celebrated the end of effective action against climate change in this parliament, and the member opposite was one of those dancing around the parliament and cheering and clapping with the member for Warringah at the time. Members opposite hand around lumps of coal in question time, and they wonder why we think that they are incapable of managing a transition to a new energy system dominated by renewable energy.

Of course, the member for Port Adelaide also pointed out Nick Xenophon's decade of cohabitation with Tony Abbott, his cohabitation with bad climate change policy and his role in destroying our transition to a renewable-based energy system, a non-carbon-based energy system. He talked about how Nick Xenophon had voted against the CPRS, had indulged crackpot theories and crackpot exercises, and had spent his time running around the place undermining people's confidence in renewables.

Ms Price interjecting

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The assistant minister's had her turn.

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science) Share this | | Hansard source

The assistant minister has had her turn. I didn't hear the interjection. She talks about regional people. I remember where I was on the night of the blackout. I was up in the Barossa Valley and, like other South Australians, we were trying to get everything ready. The power went out, and there we were, hunkered down in the living room. It was the middle of winter, so we had the combustion heater on and a good glass of red. We had the baby in the same room as us, and the dog was in the same room—the dog loved it. But I tell you what was so frustrating that night. Rather than the people of South Australia being able to get emergency messages from the Premier or the State Emergency Services or the CFS, instead, they had to watch the ABC, where, 45 minutes after the blackout, Nick Xenophon, who was in Canberra, ran into a newsroom and blamed renewable energy. That's what actually happened on the night of the blackout. Normal politicians—and those opposite are normal, everyday politicians—when there's a disaster, when there's a natural event, stay out of the news waves, don't make political statements, and support the government and its agencies at a time of peril. Nick Xenophon—so desperate is he to get his head before the cameras, such a prima donna is he—ran into a Canberra newsroom and delivered a farrago of mistruths and lies about renewable energy. This is the record of Nick Xenophon. How anybody can take him seriously, and how anybody can take his signs that are up around Adelaide promising to lower power prices seriously—you may as well believe in the magic pudding, in fairytales, that there's a bridge in Sydney Harbour which you can buy. It is just complete nonsense. Of course, he's not alone in the South Australian election. There are other people putting out complete nonsense.

On 11 October in 2017, it was exposed, 'SA Liberals concede energy plan alone won't slash bills by $300'. This was two days into the energy plan. Steven Marshall had conceded householders would only be between $60 and $70 better off as a result of his energy plan alone, rather than spruiking a $300 drop. So he was $230 out in his own estimates. It was such a debacle for the Leader of the Opposition, Steven Marshall, that Lainie Anderson, a columnist for the Sunday Mail, described it as 'one of the most stupid and/or devious policy announcements of recent times'. Lainie Anderson is no friend of the Labor Party, I might add.

Against this, you have Jay Weatherill, who's actually delivered an energy plan, with the world's largest lithium ion battery in Jamestown, a 150-megawatt solar thermal plant in Port Augusta, a state owned power plant with stand-by power for South Australian agencies, a $150 million renewable technology fund, stronger ministerial powers and stronger intervention in a market that wasn't working, because the national government made sure it wouldn't work.

3:52 pm

Photo of Trevor EvansTrevor Evans (Brisbane, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Labor Party opposite is the party of the on-again, off-again, on-again carbon tax. They're the party who talked about the greatest moral challenges of our time, who then backflipped and walked away from that view; they're the party that delivered a doubling of electricity prices when they were last in office; and they're a party who thinks that the statewide blackouts in South Australia were a 'hiccup' in a 'big experiment' that they really wish they could take nationwide. And here we are today, with that jumble, that unstable, feeble record—they're here trying to talk about stable energy policy—or maybe I'm detecting a little bit more of a South Australian flavour and element to the approach here. Is their polling in South Australia really that bad? Are the people of South Australia about to deliver a statewide blackout to the Labor state government in that state?

The Labor Party are incapable—as they've proven over the last 10 years—of delivering stable policy on almost any topic. But their record of delivery on energy and the environment is especially incompetent. I find it remarkable, even today, that I was the only candidate in the inner-city seat of Brisbane at the last federal election who made local environmental commitments. There was a Labor candidate, there was a Greens candidate and there were others, but it seemed that I was the only candidate who had actually thought deeply about the local environment, who'd considered the environmental priorities and who had successfully lobbied my party and my minister seeking resources to make those sorts of commitments.

On the topic of energy policy, let's consider all of those key planks of this government's energy policy out there right now: Snowy Hydro 2.0, ensuring our domestic gas needs are met; promoting retail competition and choice for consumers; and of course the National Energy Guarantee, designed by independent experts, as the minister outlined. Why didn't Labor do any of those things? Why didn't they touch on any of those ideas or topics when they were in government? They could have, but they didn't. They certainly didn't think anything about pumped hydro, and they've never said anything in their policies about the idea of storage, despite how important it is to make renewables actually work for the grid. Labor caused the issue of domestic gas shortages, despite being officially warned, as we've heard in this place, that the policies they were pursuing would cause that exact gas shortage.

On the topic of policy certainty, Labor would actually do quite well to move aside some of these coincidentally South Australian members of the Labor Party who are all talking here today and to talk to some of their own backbenchers who have recently been doing some work with us on the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy. A few weeks ago, many of us on both sides got up in the Federation Chamber and talked about the report called Powering our future: inquiry into modernising Australia's electricity grid. It was a significant contribution towards this parliament's work, which is supposed to be bipartisan and looking forwards, on this important topic of energy. That report was important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as I said, it was certainly bipartisan. Secondly, as the very first recommendation in that report made clear, the importance of policy certainty is supposed to be a bipartisan feature of the landscape now. Quite frankly, that report went on to make further recommendations that really underscore the importance of so many of the other key planks of this government's energy policies, as the minister outlined earlier—that increased focus on dispatchability and the flexibility of the electricity grid and the need to incentivise stability in both a technical and an economic sense.

That report was obviously focused specifically on the electricity grid, but it's important to understand there are so many other features of our energy system. That's why there are all of these other key planks to the government's energy policy. In the area of generation, in those wholesale markets, as the minister outlined, the government's National Energy Guarantee is the mechanism that will settle the energy trifecta of affordability, reliability and emissions reduction. The reliability guarantee in the national electricity guarantee will help deliver the right level of dispatchable energy when it's needed by customers, while the emissions guarantee will ensure Australia simultaneously meets its environmental commitments.

3:57 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Medicare) Share this | | Hansard source

The one thing I would agree with the last speaker about is that policy certainty is important for the nation. That is one thing we would agree with. The very reason we are having this debate today is that there is no policy certainty for this nation under this coalition government and under its counterparts in each of the state and territory jurisdictions. The reality is that we are having this debate because so many members of the coalition—and particularly those in the National Party, who seem to have a great say in how this government operates—still do not believe that climate change is real.

Just for the record, let me quote just three or four recent facts. Between 2013 and 2017, the world had its hottest five-year period ever. 2017 was the hottest ever in which temperatures had not been boosted by an El Nino event. The world's 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998 and 17 of the last 18 hottest years on record have occurred this century. The evidence is in, and it's clear—the climate is changing and fossil fuel burning is contributing to that change. Governments, whether in this place or at the state level, have a responsibility to lead and to manage the emerging risks that they and the people that they act on behalf of face. It is not their right to simply walk away, to kick the can down the road or to pretend that the risks simply are not there.

We see an absolute policy failure when it comes to this government. It does not have an energy policy, a gas policy or anything near it. Nor do we see one in South Australia when it comes to the two main contenders to replace Jay Weatherill as Premier of South Australia. I'm referring to Steven Marshall and Nick Xenophon. The reality is that, in South Australia, where energy is a big issue, only South Australian Labor has a credible energy plan—a plan that looks at a 75 per cent renewable energy target, a plan with a 25 per cent renewable storage target, a plan where the Premier has committed $560 million towards securing South Australia's future energy supplies through $360 million for a gas-fired generator, $100 million for battery storage and $100 million for diesel generators. That plan provides future and certainty, and future and certainty in turn provides investment and confidence for the people of South Australia.

Can I say to members opposite who don't live in South Australia: South Australians are getting rather sick and tired of the minister for energy and the Prime Minister constantly coming into this place and telling them that they are following an energy policy in South Australia that is wrong for them. South Australians are not fools. They understand that it was not renewable energy that caused the blackout two years ago, and they also understand that the future in terms of the security of our state rests with a clean energy target and a clean energy system. That has been proven by the fact that we're seeing in South Australia in recent times significant investments, whether it is from Elon Musk, with his battery investment; Sanjeev Gupta, who is leading a green energy revival of the Whyalla steelworks; or Sonnen's proposed manufacturing plant, again, to do with renewable energy in South Australia. These investments are creating jobs for South Australians and creating the policy certainty that is required. Yet, when you look at the Liberal opposition in South Australia, led by Steven Marshall, there is no credibility, no policy, no idea.

The reality is that it was the Liberals who sold off ETSA. As far as Nick Xenophon goes, yes, he voted against the sale, but he would have supported the long-term lease of it, which would have amounted to exactly the same thing. The Liberals sold ETSA, and they did so quite deliberately, making sure that there was not a New South Wales interconnector in order to boost the price of the sale. Had that connector been there at the time when the blackout occurred, we may not have had the blackout. But, in order to boost the price of the sale of the ETSA, they deliberately walked away from the interconnector with New South Wales at the time. This is a party who has no idea about energy policy, and that's become more evident in their recent policy announcements, which the member for Wakefield quite rightly, just a moment ago, showed them as ridiculous propositions being put to the people of South Australia.

With respect to the other party, SA-BEST—and I won't go into all the details, because time does not permit me—there is a simple message. They'll say what they think people want to hear, but, at the end of the day, they do not have a coherent policy. Their latest policy of supposedly having a cooperative buy energy does nothing to address the real issue of how the energy is created in the first place. Only Labor has a secure energy policy for the future of South Australia.

4:02 pm

Photo of Ken O'DowdKen O'Dowd (Flynn, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

During six years of Labor government, electricity prices actually doubled—yes, doubled. Federal and state Labor policies have continued to increase the pressure on prices through job-destroying gas bans and moratoriums, unrealistic renewable energy targets and open hostility to reliable base load power. The Turnbull government has taken action to fix this mess. The government is focused on keeping the lights on and reducing household electricity bills. The government and the National Energy Guarantee will cut electricity prices by ending subsidies for energy which are passed on to the customers, creating a level playing field that ensures all types of energy are part of the Australian mix and providing certainty for investors. This means more supply and, in turn, lower prices—in other words, supply and demand. This will reduce volatility by ensuring reliable and affordable power when it's needed.

I have a 10-point plan of my own. This was developed in conjunction with industry, both large and small. I have spoken to companies like Boyne Smelter; Queensland Alumina at Gladstone and Yarwun; Orica, a chemical company in Gladstone; Cement Australia in Gladstone; and Rusal, a Russian company, who partners with QAL. I have also spoken to BMA, BHP and a lot of other mines in my area. I have 11 coalmines in my electorate, and the future of those 11 coalmines would hang in the balance if Bill Shorten were to gain power in Australia. Coal will be around for the next hundred years, in their terms and their planning. It will not go away. It will be a future energy source for a long time yet.

But there are also small businesses who are buckling under the power prices—places like Biggenden Meat Works, owned by Peter Gibbs. He's the biggest employer in the town of Biggenden. It's a small town, but he employs 52 people. His electricity bills are going up $500 each and every month. Half of his electricity bill is made up of what he uses and the other half is the renewable energy or the network charges. Mind you, he had to bulldoze his own powerlines in and put in his own poles to get power to his plant. For that honour, he gets charged between $8,000 and $9,000 each and every month. He also pays $280,000 a year in payroll tax. He said to me, 'What are you trying to do to my business? The day I stop making a dollar is the day I depart the scene'—and there goes the 52 jobs with the biggest employer in Biggenden because of these power bills.

My 10-point plan is comprehensive and it centres around HELE—high efficiency, low emission—power plants. These HELE plants are new to Australia but they are not new to the rest of the world. We export millions of tonnes of coal to other countries, such as Korea, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, and they are fully engrossed in the HELE plants. This ensures base load power at the cheapest price. Our aluminium smelter on Boyne Island pays the dearest price in the world for electricity—and that just ain't good enough, when we have all these natural resources at our fingertips. We have coal, we have gas, we have uranium and, of course, we have sun, water and wind. Why should Boyne Smelter, who employ over 1,000 people, be paying— (Time expired)

4:07 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to join my South Australian colleagues on this side of the House on this matter of public importance. What a great shame it is that we have a government here in Canberra that fails to recognise climate change and the importance of renewable energy. We have had a government for the last six years—and they were in opposition for three years prior to that—that are anti-climate change, anti-renewables and anti-investment into renewables, which means that they are anti-jobs.

When I think of this government's climate change and energy policies, I can't help but think of a novel that many of us may be familiar with, a novel written by Miguel de Cervantes, where the protagonist, Don Quixote, is on his horse fighting windmills that he imagines are massive giants out to destroy him. That's what I see in this government—a government that sees renewables and windmills et cetera as massive giants that are out to destroy them, which is absolutely not true. You can just imagine the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, on his horse with a wooden sword trying to chop down the wonderful windmills we have that create energy, and a whole bunch of MPs and backbenchers riding behind him up the hill to destroy these wonderful works of renewable energy that help reduce our carbon emissions et cetera.

It is a great shame. It's a government that has done nothing in this area. We have seen no national framework for a national policy on energy and renewables. They've spent six years saying that climate change is not a problem and that we should continue with coal. We had a Treasurer that walked into this House with a lump of coal. How embarrassing on the international scale can that be, when other nations around the world are combating and doing everything they can, to see a leader of the government, someone in high office, come into this place, plonk a hunk of coal on the table and say, 'This is the way to go.'

I think most Australians actually get it. Young people get it. I was at a school recently, the Star of the Sea, where a great group of kids were dedicated to the environment. A particular student called Hudson was incredibly passionate about the planet and so were his fellow students. They were genuinely worried about the planet that they would inherit. They spoke to me about it. Hudson spoke about his opposition to Adani and many other things, and he was so impressively engaged with this debate that he had garnered signatures from all others in the community and handed them to us.

We need to invest more money in renewables. We need to create green jobs and projects just like the Weatherill Labor government is doing in South Australia. This government has left the states on their own when it comes to energy policy. They came into government in 2013 promising that energy prices would go down once they removed Labor's policies. What we have seen is a 70 per cent increase in energy prices. It's closer to 70 per cent to 80 per cent increase in energy prices across the nation. Why have we seen that? Because there's been no national framework. There's been no national policy for renewables, so how can you get new industries to invest into the nation and the economy with renewable energy and new technologies et cetera? Therefore we have seen the outflow of many of these businesses. You look at Asia, where trillions of dollars are being spent at the moment in investment in renewables and much more will be spent in this area. We will be missing out. We will be missing out because our government doesn't care.

But in South Australia we've got a 75 per cent target for renewables by 2025; a 25 per cent renewable storage target; a $10 billion investment in low-carbon generations; achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and establishing Adelaide as one of the world's first carbon-neutral cities. This is drawing in investment. We have had people coming in to invest in solar power, battery power and a whole range of other things. This is the way that this federal government should be going—coming up with a national plan that actually encourages business to invest, to create jobs, to have new technologies and to ensure that we save this planet. The reality is you can talk as much as you like about businesses, about jobs, but there will be no businesses and no jobs within a few years, within the generation of our great grandkids. We have a duty as people in this place to ensure that we protect the environment. (Time expired)

4:13 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I look at this discussion of a matter of public importance, I was searching everywhere for Nick Xenophon, but I couldn't see his name in there. There must be some awful polling coming out of South Australia for the state Labor Party, I'd suggest. It is interesting, though, because the matter of public importance goes to policy certainty. I'm not too sure what the member for Port Adelaide was on about, whether he was trying to dent the reputation of the coalition government or blow up his mate Jay Weatherill. But some proposals coming out of South Australia from the Weatherill government have been the cause of the problem.

The motion goes to policy certainty. There's nothing more certain than blowing up a perfectly good coal-fired power station with more than a 15-year life left in it will plunge the state into darkness. It's certain to massively increase wholesale electricity prices. It's certain to lead to the state having to spend well over $500 million just to keep the lights on. In fact it's certain that it will consume more diesel for the new generators that have been hastily installed trying to keep those lights on. The Premier is on record as saying that South Australia's electricity grid is a giant experiment. Well, that's another certainty. It's an experiment that's gone horribly pear-shaped. And it's down to the Premier. It's down to the team that sit on the other side of this House. South Australia has become the laughing-stock of the rest of the nation, and I don't appreciate it very much, nor do my businesses appreciate having to pay ridiculous prices for electricity that their competitors interstate can get on a much more equitable basis.

In 2012 I met with the AEMO commissioner in Adelaide. I said to the commissioner at the time, 'If we close Port Augusta too early, if it is closed before we are ready to make the transition, South Australia will be in deep trouble.' The commissioner assured me: 'It will be okay because we're upgrading the interconnector to Heywood. It'll be okay, Mr Ramsey, even if Port Augusta goes offline.' It wasn't okay, because the week it closed the wholesale prices in South Australia doubled. It wasn't okay at all. So I was doubtful, and I was right to be doubtful.

What has happened? Nationally we've had a 20 per cent renewable target by 2020, but we did a little better than that. But it was not area specific, and this is a policy failure. Consequently, state governments could seek to maximise installations within their boundaries, which is exactly what South Australia did. It chased down wind investment. In fact, Jay Weatherill had a target of 50 per cent, and he was successful. South Australia is now close to that amount. But doing so has led to surging, intermittent electricity supplies, which have undone the business case for base-load generators in South Australia. In that period of time, we got rid of the coal-fired power station and we've have had no reinvestment in new base-load generation. There has been no reinvestment in the Torrens Island gas turbine and no investment for new base-load generators at all.

The member for Adelaide talks about certainty, and he wanted to reflect on the member for Warringah when he spoke, without any reference to his Prime Minister, who promised never, never to have a carbon tax under a government which she led. Where is the certainty in that? It was certainly a promise that was trashed pretty quickly.

We more than met our Kyoto Protocol targets, if we're talking about certainty on climate change. We will meet our Paris targets, and we are making positive contributions at the federal level about reducing the price of electricity in Australia and increasing its reliability. We've reduced the price of domestic gas by passing import restrictions that we have not had to implement, because the Prime Minister sat down with the retailers and they increased the supply of gas. We put $110 million on the table. I would note the member for Wakefield said that Jay Weatherill was building a solar thermal plant with molten salt storage in Port Augusta. He hasn't put any dollars into it—no dollars at all. It's the federal government putting $110 million into it.

We are backing Snowy 2.0. I had the opportunity to go down and have a look at it a couple of weeks ago, and it's a very impressive operation. It will make a considerable difference to Australia. We're backing two pumped hydro projects in my electorate, in the Upper Spencer gulf. We have convinced retailers to contact their uncontracted customers to give them up-to-date prices and move them into the current format. Most importantly, we will establish the National Energy Guarantee, which will ensure we will have not only renewable energy but base-load energy.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! This discussion has concluded.