House debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:14 pm

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

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

The chaos of the government's energy policy causing power prices to rise for Australians.

I call upon all 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

We've had a few MPI debates on energy policy over recent weeks because, frankly, this has been a movable feast, to say the least. We had a matter of public importance on energy policy debated in the last week of Malcolm Turnbull's prime ministership, a time when he had just announced the third version of the National Energy Guarantee in just seven days. It was a week that featured surrender after abject surrender and retreat after cowardly retreat by Malcolm Turnbull in the face of an onslaught by the hard right, led by the usual suspects, the member for Warringah, who's not here for this debate, the member for Hughes, who's always in this debate, and the member for Hume, who has been rewarded for his treachery by being appointed the Minister for Energy.

We warned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the time that he would not be rewarded for his abject, weak surrenders to the hard right agenda on energy policy. We warned him and we were proven right. The member for Warringah, always grateful for a bit of weak surrender, said that it was just 'a conversion of convenience' that Malcolm Turnbull had undertaken. Of course, true to form, he didn't let up, and now we have the member for Cook as the Prime Minister of the country. Everyone is asking, 'Why did this happen?' Was it just the personal ambition of a number of the people who now find themselves on the front bench, was it just the petty hatreds that get built up after leadership coup after leadership coup or was it something deeper?

I've been talking for a little while now about this deep, philosophical division that lies at the heart of the coalition, particularly in the Liberal Party. A key reason is that there is a battle for the soul of the Liberal Party underway at the moment. The centrepiece of the battle is climate and energy policy. What the deposal of the last Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, involved was a fight within the coalition to place the hard right agenda on climate and energy policy right at the heart of this government.

The new Prime Minister, the member for Cook, pretends that he had to have his arm twisted to be appointed Prime Minister and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time when someone said, 'Surprise, surprise, Member for Cook, you're going to have the job of Prime Minister'—with no treachery on his part and no numbers being done on his part to try to come through the middle between the member for Dickson and the then member for Wentworth! We see what he has ultimately given to the hard right in response to their support. He has given us the member for Hume as the energy minister, perhaps the key piece of surrender to the hard right. But he has walked away from the National Energy Guarantee. He's walked away from National Energy Guarantee version 3.0, which—count them—was the fifth energy policy this government had in just three years. He's walked away from any policy to deliver on the commitments to reduce carbon pollution under the Paris agreement and walked away from any responsibility to future generations of Australians—our children and our grandchildren—to ensure that they live in a safe climate.

But, as the member for Wakefield, soon to be the member for Spence, said, 'The key concession was to hand the energy portfolio to one of their own'—to one of the hard right who has been fighting this fight within the Liberal Party since he came to this building. We now have the most ideological person ever to hold the Energy portfolio sitting at this table in this debate. There is no clearer example of this government focusing on their own divisions and their own ideological obsessions, instead of on the interests of the Australian people, than the shambles of energy policy debate that's gone on in their party room. The evidence is clear. What this extraordinary turn of events over recent weeks has shown, and what it will make absolutely sure of, is that the energy crisis that's emerged under this government is going to get far, far worse.

Sensible members of this government understand that—even the new Treasurer, who profited, coincidentally, out of this coup against the member for Wentworth. Even he recognised this on Insiders on Sunday. He said that no-one was more disappointed than him at the death of the National Energy Guarantee. Again, it's all about them. It's all about the poor old new Treasurer and his disappointment; not about the thousands of businesses that have been waiting for an energy policy finally to be settled by this government after seeing the power prices skyrocket over the last five years under this government and the viability of their businesses placed in jeopardy while this coalition party room undertakes its parlour games over whether climate change is real or not real. There was no thought to the millions of households who are seeing their household bills skyrocket under a government that is completely incapable of settling an energy policy. It was all about them.

In his heart, the new Treasurer knows this is a disaster for the country and, I suspect, a disaster for the government. He and the new Prime Minister, when the new Prime Minister was the Treasurer, were promising households and businesses for weeks and months that the National Energy Guarantee was the best chance of bringing this energy crisis to an end. Only last month the now Prime Minister told Leigh Sales on 7.30 that he had never come across an initiative in his 10 years in parliament that had broader support than the National Energy Guarantee—except for five or six people on the other side of parliament who vetoed it. Every business group in this nation supported the National Energy Guarantee. Every single business group supported it.

The new minister issued a media release on the National Energy Guarantee, entitled 'National Energy Guarantee to deliver affordable, reliable electricity'. But I've looked at the minister's website, and the current version of that media release says, 'Page not found'. It says, 'We are sorry, the page you are looking for could not be found'. It's been erased from history. The energy policy that dare not speak its name again.

We actually know the member for Hume never supported it. He never supported the National Energy Guarantee. This man is the member for Warringah's candidate for energy minister. Alan Jones made absolutely clear how delighted he is about this appointment. It's one of the best appointments in politics in years, he said, because the member for Hume doesn't accept the science of climate change. In this building, in this chamber, he described climate change science as 'the new climate religion' that 'has little basis on fact and everything to do with blind faith'. He's a man who made his name campaigning against renewable energy. He was the headline act in a ridiculous rally out the front, co-headlined by Alan Jones, called the National Wind Power Fraud Rally. He said, 'Large-scale wind it's very clear that it's not economic on any grounds.' He might want to talk to the Energy Council or any other energy expert in the country who has seen these strike prices on wind and solar energy come in way, way lower, even with firming-up technology, than any other technology those opposite continue to talk about.

We do know what we're going to get from this energy minister. We're going to get no cuts in pollution and a complete abdication of any responsibility to discharge our responsibility to future generations around climate change. We're going to see a smashing of jobs and investment. His mentor, the member for Warringah, did exactly that a few years ago. There was an 88 per cent collapse in investment and thousands of jobs lost after pursuing the sort of policy the hard right in the coalition party room want. But the surest thing we will see is that prices will rise. The government's own modelling made this clear. They promised a $550 cut to power bills, but the same modelling warned that prices would go up by $300 if the National Energy Guarantee was not delivered. Tony Wood said as much in the Financial Review this morning. What we also see on the front page of the Financial Review is that future prices, the price that markets are betting on in the future, have already started to rise because of the policy uncertainty involved in this government.

The Prime Minister, in a previous life, when he was Treasurer only a few weeks ago, recognised that policy uncertainty is the key driver of price rises in this country. He said in that 7.30 interview a few weeks ago, 'If you're not for the National Energy Guarantee, then you're for continued uncertainty which leads to higher prices.' Perhaps the stand-out sentence from this minister's first speech was that he wouldn't 'even try' to deliver policy certainty or investor certainty in the delivery of an essential service in a mixed economy that their party is largely responsible for privatising over the last quarter of a century—a complete abdication of government responsibility. This government is an absolute shambles on energy policy. It has cost another Prime Minister his job, but the most important thing is it's going to cost households and businesses much, much more on their power bills.

3:24 pm

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Minister for Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I don't know when lower prices became ideological, but I accept that I am absolutely committed to lower prices, getting them down, down, and down. But it's clear that Labor's reckless policies at both state and federal level are why power prices are where they are today. The member for Port Adelaide has written a book on this. It was published in 2017. The reviews are mixed, I would say, to be kind. One of them described it as 'longwinded and boring, don't bother', but I will put that aside for the moment. In his book Climate Wars, he admitted that Labor made many mistakes on energy. He said:

… we've made mistakes in both the design of our policies and their presentation … In hindsight, it's also clear to most that the carbon price introduced under the Clean Energy Act was too high …

Dr Aly interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Cowan is warned!

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Minister for Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

We abolished it, and prices came down 10 per cent. During six years of Labor government, power prices doubled and went up each and every year. It was Labor who gave us pink batts, cash for clunkers, a citizen's assembly and of course the carbon tax, which I've already referred to. But they haven't learned from their mistakes, their errors of judgement. They're itching to have another crack. They want to implement a 50 per cent renewable energy target.

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You've made five mistakes!

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Cowan will remove herself under 94(a).

The member for Cowan then left the chamber.

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Minister for Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

That's going to mean more subsidies and higher prices paid for by every single hardworking household and business in this country. I'll come back to what the 50 per cent will mean in a moment.

Let me talk about our track record as a government in this area. Under my predecessor, now the Treasurer, prices came down. On 1 July we saw retail price reductions—as he said only about an hour ago—in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales. To take examples, in South-East Queensland we've seen price reductions of up to 14 per cent, $1,400 a year, off the bills of small businesses. In South-East Queensland we've seen price reductions for residential users of up to nine per cent, $140 a year. That's $140 a year for hardworking Queensland households. We've seen similar reductions across the other states that I mentioned.

Wholesale prices have also turned a corner. They're up to 25 per cent down this year on the previous year. We've secured more gas for Australia. We've seen prices up to 50 per cent down from their peak, from $20 a gigajoule down to $10 a gigajoule in 2018, and of course that's been a big part of what's been responsible for a reduction in prices.

We have reined in the power of the networks. We saw investment increase by 100 per cent in the assets of the network companies and the charges of the network companies under Labor between 2007 and 2014. We've abolished the limited merits review, and we're seeing those charges come down. But the impact of those charges has been over $1 billion a year on Australia and hardworking Australian businesses and households. As the member for Port Adelaide himself acknowledged, past overinvestment in networks has been a big part of the problem here. They had six years to deal with this, and they failed to do that.

We have taken action, and we're taking action in three areas. One is stopping the price gouging by big energy companies. It has happened, unfortunately. We saw significant increases in the bids made in the wholesale market after the closure of Hazelwood. Bids increased by over 100 per cent at the time of the closure of Hazelwood. This is what happens when you take reliable, fair dinkum, base-load power out of the system.

Secondly, we're providing customers with a price safety net. We've already seen 1.8 million households better off because of the work of the government to bring down retail prices, and we have accepted the recommendation of the ACCC to establish a default market price, which will ensure that those Australians who are least positioned to negotiate a better price will get a better price. The ACCC itself has estimated that the price savings for a typical Australian household will be between $200 and $400.

We have said that we will back investment in reliable generation, encouraging more competition. That means we need to have base-load power in the system, and we're going to back it in. Already, we're seeing a number of projects coming forward to be supported—to make sure we have the affordable base-load power that everyone in Australia wants. We have turned the corner. There is more work to do, and, with that suite of measures in those three areas—stopping the price gouging, providing customers with a price safety net, and backing in investment in reliable generation—we believe we will do that work.

There is an alternative: Labor's 50 per cent renewable energy target and 45 per cent emissions reduction target. If you look at Labor's national platform, what I like to call 'Bill's little red book', you will see that they have a plan to reshape the economy, and it will be expensive. Labor's true thinking was revealed by their environment action network, a group called LEAN, which said, 'Higher prices are not market failure; they're proof of the market working well.' They want higher prices. They believe that's a good outcome. The member for Port Adelaide endorsed LEAN. He commended them for their work. Not even the unions support this Green-left ideology. The CFMEU president said that a 50 per cent RET by 2030 will increase the cost of electricity for manufacturing and households while being a 'poor tool' to reduce Australia's overall emissions. Ben Davis, secretary of Bill Shorten's branch of the AWU, said:

The rush away from coal and gas-fired electricity power stations to renewables is a little unseemly in its haste, because we are potentially crucifying hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers.

They are the people you used to stand up for but clearly don't anymore.

The unions aren't the only ones who have seen through this shady Leader of the Opposition and his crony, the member for Port Adelaide. You mentioned Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute earlier. On Labor's claims that prices would go down as a result of a higher emissions reduction target, what has Tony got to say? He said that it is 'unlikely to be sustainable' and will 'accelerate plant closures'. Which coal-fired power stations do you want to shut down early? Is it in Gladstone? Is it in the member for Flynn's electorate? Is it Tomago that you want to shut down? Do you want to make sure every aluminium smelter worker in Australia is out of a job? Tony Wood goes on to say that it 'requires higher consumer prices' and would be 'inherently uncertain'. That's your 50 per cent renewable energy policy.

The Business Council of Australia has described Labor's 45 per cent emissions reduction target as 'economy wrecking'. We want the subsidies to phase out, and they will. They want the pork to continue forever. Labor want to stuff the system with an intermittent generation, forcing the closure of reliable base-load generation. The fact is that Australians will pay higher power bills under Labor and will be left in the dark. Their ideologically driven plan is for higher prices and less security. Our plan is for lower prices.

We know exactly what a 50 per cent renewable energy target will do, because we've seen it in South Australia. In South Australia we've seen electricity prices amongst the highest in the world, at 47.8c per kilowatt hour. Compare that with Latvia, at 25.6c per kilowatt hour; Estonia at half that—23.4c per kilowatt hour; Romania, that energy powerhouse, at 21.2c per kilowatt hour; and Hungary at 19.3c.

The contrast could not be clearer. We've taken action. We're securing better deals for 1.8 million households, and prices are coming down. We will not be distracted from our goal of getting power prices down for Australian households and businesses by motions like this.

3:34 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

They just had an opportunity for the new minister for energy to outline what the coalition's energy policy is, and what did we get? Nothing. 'Lower prices', he said. What's their policy to fix the drought—'More rain'? These people just cannot be taken seriously over an issue which is serious. We know what their policy was, because the now Treasurer said this just a couple of months ago:

… if you believe in lower power prices, if you want to see Australian households $550 a year better off, if you want to see the wholesale price down by 20 per cent, if you want to be side by side with the big employers across the country, you get behind the National Energy Guarantee …

That's what they were saying when parliament last sat, but now they've ripped it up. This is a new minister who doesn't know the difference between a coal-fired power station and an aluminium smelter in the Hunter Valley. This is a minister who, when he was the minister for cities, was known as a walking wind farm. There was lots of movement and lots of air around, but not much actually happened as he ran around the country.

Of course the tragedy of this is that, like in other areas of infrastructure development, what you need here for business to drive investment is certainty. But what do we have from this government? What we have when it comes to transport is that those opposite have moved away from the Infrastructure Australia model. They've taken money off projects that were ready to go and given it to projects that never, ever happened, and therefore we've seen a drop in investment. What we've seen on water is the National Water Initiative trashed by this mob. We've seen all sorts of water siphoned off to mates, with various corruption inquiries in New South Wales, and South Australia suffering at the end of the system. What we've seen on communications is the National Broadband Network abandoned, with a system now based on copper rather than fibre.

What we've seen on energy is perhaps the worst of all of the infrastructure modes. In 2007, in this parliament, both sides supported a price on carbon, an emissions trading scheme and ratifying the Kyoto protocol, but in December 2009 those opposite combined with the Greens political party to destroy that price on carbon. What we saw then was that, despite that, against the odds, we did legislate for an emissions trading scheme with a fixed price in the initial stage. But those opposite walked away from that. They trashed that, and we saw a doubling of wholesale power prices. Then we saw an EIS, an emissions intensity scheme, which they walked away from. Then there was the clean energy target. We were prepared to talk about that, but they walked away from that. The National Energy Guarantee in its various forms—they walked away that. What we've seen from this ATM government over here, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, is: insert some policy, but nothing coming out. Nothing constructive comes out at all, and it is Australians who are paying the price through higher prices.

If you are going to get that certainty, you have to know what you stand for and you have to be prepared to take people with you. You have to be able to work collaboratively. For the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who's now in New York, even obscurity is better than trying to work with this mob opposite. And, if you know Malcolm Turnbull, that's really saying something. But for this minister to be given responsibility for this portfolio shows just how bereft those opposite are. We on this side of the House know that the future is renewables. We on this side of the House know that by driving down emissions you drive down prices. Supply and demand—when you increase the amount of supply in the energy sector through growth of renewables, you drive down prices. Those opposite talk about business. The fact is business wants certainty; business wants what those opposite have refused to give them. (Time expired)

3:39 pm

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I come here for the betterment of Australia. We have a standard of living that is the envy of the world. Our life expectancy is high. Our safety, our security and our prosperity are the results of the endeavours of Australians. We have an abundance of natural resources—our sunshine, our gas, our coal, our uranium, our soils and our water. Water, which the member for Grayndler was talking about, is pumped by electricity to produce product. That product is cooled by electricity and that produce is then marketed. Our cities and offices are powered by electricity. The people who work in those offices catch trams or trains when heading home after work. Those trams and trains are powered by electricity. Those people go home to their houses which are cooled or heated by electricity.

You may ask, 'What is the threat? I can say it with one word: Labor—a party made up of nice personalities with no management ability at all. You may ask, 'What is the threat?' I say it again: it is Labor, who are so concerned about losing their seats to the eroding ideology of the Greens that they no longer care about the pensioners who are unable to turn their power on and keep themselves warm. You may ask again, 'What is the threat?' It is Labor with a 50 per cent renewable energy target that makes us feel so warm and fuzzy but sends us broke.

You may ask what our aim is. Our aim is to get power prices down. The coalition is the party for lower power prices. You may ask what our aim is. It is a new coal-fired power station. Australia exports coal and iron ore—little black rocks and little red rocks; those two things that are driving our domestic product—and yet we're so scared to want to build a coal-fired power station in Australia. It's good enough to export, but we should be game to export. You may ask what our aim is. It is to refurbish coal-fired power stations so that they're cleaner and more responsive and they can interact with renewables. You may ask again what our aim is. It is solar power generation—fields of sun-catching panels like you can see in the Mallee. You may ask again what our aim is. It is new gas-fired power stations. This government introduced the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, which has started to bring gas prices down and has not stifled investment in gas exploration.

You may again ask what our aim is. It is new pumped hydro. Snowy Hydro, started by Prime Minister Ben Chifley when the Labor Party used to stand for something, is going to be completed and commissioned by Prime Minister Morrison in the next term and the term after that.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

We will show you that we will win government again and again. You may ask what our plan is. It is stability—so the lights stay on and your business can expand. You may ask again what our plan is. It is certainty—so the lights stay on and your son, daughter and grandchild can have a job. I say to the grandparents of Australia: if you want your child to have a job, you need to be voting for the coalition so they can have a job.

You may ask again what our plan is. It is prosperity. Our wages, by world standards, are historically high, but our power prices have also been historically low. It is because of this that we've been competitive. The member for Grayndler may not know, but the biggest export out of the Port of Melbourne has been dehydrated milk. You didn't know that, did you? The reason that the milk industry has been able to expand is that we've been able to ultraheat treat it or dehydrate it and make it competitive. But, if you trust Labor, power prices will go up. If power prices are up and we have high wages, we will no longer be competitive and our capacity to gave pay rises to our sons, daughters and grandchildren will be greatly diminished.

I come here for the betterment of Australia, and I say to Australians that there is really only one side of this chamber that you can trust—and it is the coalition government. The coalition government will bring down power prices. The coalition government will not get caught up in some ideology to keep the Greens happy, to stop the erosion. The coalition government will bring power prices down. That is what we are taking to the people of Australia at the next election—and that is why we will still be here on this side of the chamber after the next election.

3:44 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

What an embarrassing performance by the member for Mallee. I congratulate him on his promotion, but, let's just pause for a second—this is a debate about climate change and energy policy and the second speaker for the government is on the record as saying, 'I am a self-described sceptic of policy responses to climate change.' He's a sceptic of policy responses and he questions the science regarding the impact of humans. The second speaker for the government on a debate about energy and climate change questions the science, doesn't think we can do anything on policy and has just called for, in his speech, the construction of a new coal-fired power station. This is the quality of the debate from those in government. What a disgrace. I can tell him, 'If you want to build a new coal-fired power station, that is a recipe for higher pollution and higher power prices.' It's a recipe for both. This is the state of the debate from the government.

We only have to see the minister's contribution. The member for Dickson's numbers man—a man who couldn't even count to 43 in the party room—is now in charge of getting power prices down. God help us all. If you can't count to 43, how can you get power prices down? I say you can't. This is the shame of this debate: the government has had five energy policies in two years. In fact, they've had four in the months of August and September. They've had four in a month and a half. What a disgrace. At least the new minister is clear. He has completely surrendered on emissions policy. The tragedy of this is that it means not only higher pollution but higher power prices.

What is going on now is, if you don't invest in renewable energy and if you don't attempt to provide any certainty to the market, you see higher power prices. Don't just ask for my opinion. Don't just take it from me. The Australian Energy Market Commission said:

The result of this uncertainty has been delays in investment and consequent increasing electricity prices …

The Australian Energy Council said:

A lack of robust or bipartisan energy policy means there is a lack of investment confidence, which means there is more risk to be managed, and this in turn leads to higher prices …

So we've got the government's own regulator and the peak body for all the power companies in the country—not just renewables—saying their actions and their decision to surrender any attempt to provide certainty on energy policy means higher power prices.

The market has responded most emphatically. In the last month and a half, wholesale electricity spot prices in Victoria have risen by 81 per cent. Let me repeat that: in the last six weeks, since this government has changed its policy four times, spot prices have risen by 81 per cent. That is flowing through to retail power prices very shortly, because spot prices lead to higher power prices for consumers. So we're already seeing the impact of this uncertainty. It's there, plain to see, if you read the government's own modelling. The government's own modelling says that, if you have no policy and don't go through with the NEG, you will see a $300 increase in power prices. That is what is going on right now. That is what the now Prime Minister said as Treasurer only four or five weeks ago.

What we have now is a government riven by divisions. We have a government that has an energy minister who is a climate change sceptic, who hates renewable energy and who doesn't want to provide certainty to the industry, and we have a second speaker who denies the science of climate change. It's no wonder they've given up. The great tragedy of this is it's not them who suffer or pay the price; it's the households in this country. Every single household in this country will pay higher power prices and will face higher emissions because this government has given up. They've given up because they are so hopelessly divided. The Australian population, right now, is condemning them, but history will condemn them as a government that has given up governing and is just interested in fighting themselves.

3:49 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank those opposite for bringing forward this debate. In this technology fuelled world, access to cheap and reliable electricity is one of the fundamental needs of our homes. Power prices are a key part of the cost of living and greatly affect my constituents and local businesses. We know that power prices have risen 56 per cent over the past 10 years. We understand Australian families are struggling with the cost of living, and rising power prices are impacting on their household budgets. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and are amongst the biggest employers in Bennelong. They're also struggling with rising power prices, and every cent that small businesses puts into their energy bills is one they can't put into employing a new person, lifting wages or taking advantage of new opportunities. That is why this government is absolutely committed to reducing power prices while keeping on the lights. We cannot afford to be distracted from our goal of lowering power prices for Australian households and small businesses, and we will not be.

The electricity sector has lost the trust of our community. It desperately needs to re-establish its credibility, and the coalition government will keep it to this task and ensure that the interests of customers come first. We're taking practical action to lower power prices. We're stopping the price gouging by energy companies, providing customers with a price safety net, backing investment in reliable generation, and encouraging more competition in the market. We have turned the corner on power prices, with reductions announced in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia from 1 July 2018.

We have some achievements in this sector that are making a real difference to homes in my electorate. We have secured more gas for Australians and gas prices are down by up to 50 per cent. We're introducing the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, securing an agreement with LNG exporters to offer gas to the domestic market and committing $90 million in the 2017-18 budget to expand gas supply and increase competition in the market. Let us not forget that 18 months ago gas prices were close to $20 per gigajoule. They now sit at between $8 and $11 per gigajoule. This is real progress. We've done this by engagement with the sector and, frankly, by standing up to the big energy companies. The coalition government is not afraid to use a big stick on the big energy companies to stop the big rip-offs. Through this, we are getting customers a better deal. Following meetings with the government, retailers have simplified their offerings and written to around 1.6 million households to tell them better deals are available. We've set up a website which helps people compare offers. Over one million people have been online to check this out and get a better deal. We are changing the rules to get retailers to lift their game, including banning dodgy discounting practices; getting retailers to notify customers about price rises more quickly, so customers can shop around; and speeding up metering installations. We've reined in the power of the networks, because past overinvestment in networks is the biggest contributor to increases in electricity prices over the past 10 years. What does this mean? It means prices will come down.

As I said, we have already seen prices come down in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales on 1 July. We are taking practical action to lower power prices: stopping the price gouging by energy companies, providing customers with a price safety net, backing investment in reliable generation, and encouraging more competition in the market. We have turned the corner on power prices. This will put more money in the pockets of families and small businesses in Bennelong, while the lights remain on.

3:54 pm

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to quickly reflect on a comment the member for Grayndler made in his contribution: with those opposite, it seems like a lot of energy and ideas go into their policy formation, but nothing comes out. It seems like those opposite are suffering from policy constipation. I think they need to do something about it, because the state of Tasmania will suffer. I take the incompetence of the government sitting opposite very, very personally, because they are putting at risk billions of investment dollars into Tasmania and hundreds if not thousands of jobs.

The NEG is dead and, under this government, Tasmania's Battery of the Nation is dead. The Tasmanian state Liberal government and Tasmania's federal Liberal senators' support for Tasmanians, their jobs and the investment potential in future renewable energy projects is dead. We have a state energy minister and a Liberal Premier who have failed to advocate for Tasmanians. They have failed to make a case for a national energy policy which supports Tasmania's place as the renewable energy capital of Australia. They have failed to take their own party to task for allowing the politics of the Liberal Party to ruin this opportunity for our state.

And now, thanks to the Liberals' civil war, we find ourselves with a new energy minister, who has lifted the bar for the most anti-renewable, climate-change denying minister Australia has ever seen. He is the poster boy for the troglodytes and the hard Right ideology of energy policy of those opposite, whose insistence that energy policy should ignore the need to transition to clean energy and that governments have no role in supporting investor certainty throws mud in the face of common sense and basic economics. His ideological opposition to renewable energy is a clear deterrent to anyone wishing to invest in future Tasmanian energy projects, a deterrent to the more than $2 billion planned investment into renewable energy projects on the north-west coast of my electorate alone. These renewable energy projects would create hundreds of jobs and put downward pressures on power prices for Tasmanian businesses and household consumers.

What happens when a weak Prime Minister surrenders to their backbenchers' anti-renewable, climate-change denying ideology? I'm just asking for half-a-million Tasmanian friends. The simple fact is the anti-renewable climate-dismissing Liberal government are incapable of delivering lower power prices or lowering pollution, because they are opposed to the renewable investment that will deliver both. Make no mistake: Australians will now pay even more on their power bills because of this reckless Liberal Party and their chaotic policy and chaotic internal division.

Now they admit that, by dumping this policy, families will pay more for power—at least $300 more. Shame! So, when Australian people open their power bills and see they're continuing to skyrocket, they'll know exactly who to blame: a weak Prime Minister who leads a divided and illegitimate government. Labor was willing to work with the former Prime Minister on the National Energy Guarantee but, without even talking to Labor, the Liberals decided to abandoned the policy they recently said was essential to solving the energy crisis. And now the government has nothing: no policy, no ideas, no leadership and no hope.

Labor announced that the north-west of Tasmania, which is in my electorate, will be Labor's first identified renewable energy zone, a zone that will attract investment to drive Labor's commitment to ensure 50 per cent of electricity from across the country is sourced from renewables by 2030. Labor has a plan to help households and businesses get a better deal on their power prices. Labor have a plan to transition Australia's energy system with our 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. At its core, it will drive investment in renewable energy, create almost 30,000 new renewable energy jobs, put downward pressure on power prices and deliver real action to tackle climate change.

Earlier today I had the privilege of speaking to young Indigenous people from across the country. I asked them what the most pressing issue is for them—these are 16- and 17-year-old Australians; the next voters coming through in our democracy—and their No. 1 issue is climate change. Clearly, those opposite will not listen.

The average small business customer under Labor will save up to $1,500 per year. But, most importantly, all consumers will benefit from increased transparency, simpler bills and downward pressure on prices. The choice is clear: Labor is for renewables and lower prices; the Liberals are for more chaos and higher prices.

3:59 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am always really surprised when the member for Port Adelaide wants to talk about power prices and reliability. It was the member for Port Adelaide and his South Australian Labor mates, the failed Weatherill Labor government, who delivered to my home state of South Australia, my constituents and my community, the highest power prices in the world.

What other world firsts did the member for Port Adelaide, the member for Wakefield and their SA Labor mates deliver for the people of South Australia? An unprecedented statewide blackout. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, as I think it was for many South Australians, and it was a miracle that nobody died. We had sole policemen and policewomen standing in the middle of intersections in peak-hour traffic, in really terrible weather, trying to get people home safely. We had a number of families who lost embryos, that were waiting for IVF transfer, because of this blackout. People's lives were terribly affected by this. How did the member for Port Adelaide describe this unprecedented statewide blackout? As 'a hiccup'. It wasn't a hiccup for the people I have just mentioned, it wasn't a hiccup for my community and it wasn't a hiccup for the state of South Australia. It was a devastating incident.

I thought that today, finally, the lights might have gone on for and within the Labor Party about the importance of power prices and reliability for the Australian people and for each and every one of my voters and constituents in the electorate of Boothby. Securing affordable and reliable power for my community and, indeed, for all Australians is what I am fighting for in this place and what the Morrison government will deliver. As we know, and as I've outlined already, the only governments who have failed the Australian people, and the people of South Australia in particular, on affordability and reliability of power are Labor governments. This is a fact.

As I said in parliament, just after the unprecedented blackout in late 2016:

I am appalled that my home state no longer has secure, reliable and affordable power. We have suffered an internationally unprecedented blackout and we are now facing, nationally, unprecedented high power prices. South Australian residents and businesses can no longer rely on a secure, affordable electricity supply. Families cannot afford to pay their skyrocketing power prices; pensioners and the elderly cannot afford heating or cooling; businesses must now lurch from contract to contract, pushing up the already climbing cost of living. This is the sad reality of energy security in South Australia, and my residents in Boothby and across the state are dealing with this reality every single day.

Things will get worse if a federal Labor government is ever elected, and I will be working so hard to make sure that that is not the case.

We know that the member for Port Adelaide is keen to introduce a 50 per cent renewable energy target. What would that do to reliability and affordability? I believe those opposite also want to see a 45 per cent emissions target. Again, what would that do to reliability and affordability for each and every hardworking Australian out there? Power prices will skyrocket even higher than they did last time under a federal Labor government, and reliability can only decrease further.

This government, led by the Prime Minister, is absolutely committed to reducing power prices while keeping the lights on. We're taking practical action to lower power prices by stopping the price gouging by energy companies, by providing customers with a price safety net and by backing investment in reliable generation and encouraging more competition in the market. We have put pressure on retailers to simplify their offerings, which has resulted in more than 1.6 million households knowing that better deals are available to them. We're banning dodgy discounting practices, getting retailers to notify of price rises more quickly and speeding up meter installations to give back power to customers. These are hardworking Australians—mums and dads, retirees, hardworking small businesses—that this will benefit. My focus is on energy affordability and reliability for each and every person living in my electorate. That is what I will continue to fight for. (Time expired)

4:04 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last year the House environment and energy committee published a report titled Powering our future: inquiry into modernising Australia's electricity grid. As a member of that committee, I read and heard the many submissions it received. In both public and private hearings the message was loud and clear: a well-functioning energy grid needs policy certainty. In visits to the US, to Germany and here in Australia, the message was always the same: a stable energy grid must be underpinned by stable energy policy. Policy certainty addresses both pricing and supply. Policy certainty allows genuine long-term investment in power generation and provision. Certainty also provides a stimulus for supply through new investment in plant and for innovation through funding, research and development.

Last year the committee heard evidence that the inability of the government to provide certainty has placed the equivalent of $50-a-tonne carbon price on electricity generation. Both industry and experts agree. In today's Financial Review the Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton, said, 'Abandoning any attempt at long-term energy policy leaves the energy market in a state of further chaos.' Innes Willox from the Australian Industry Group said, 'If we want to bring down prices, we're going to have to sharply reduce policy uncertainty.' There's not enough time in this debate to go through the rest of the experts but there are so many more.

At every step of the way, Labor have been willing to work with the government for a genuine solution to the energy crisis. That's because, along with industry and experts, we recognise certainty. Policy certainty is the key to driving down costs for households and businesses and to mitigating the effects of climate change. During the decade of alphabet-soup energy uncertainty from the EIS to the CET and now the NEG, Labor have been willing to work with the coalition. We were willing to negotiate on the EIS, the Emissions Intensity Scheme, but it was vetoed by the member for Warringah. We were willing to work on the Clean Energy Target but, again, the member for Warringah vetoed it. We were willing to work on the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee, but, once again, instead of a policy certainty, the government surrendered to the member for Warringah and his band of antirenewable climate sceptics.

Some optimists might have hoped that the change in Prime Minister and change in energy minister would see a way forward. Unfortunately, it seems to be bad news for those optimists. Before becoming Prime Minister, the member for Cook brought a lump of coal into this House as a joke. What about the new Minister for Energy? Let's take a select quote from the new energy minister. On climate change science, in a speech to the parliament four years ago, he said:

The new climate religion, recruiting disciples every day, has little basis on fact and everything to do with blind faith.

What is very clear is that, from this quote and from five years of policy chaos, the Liberals are incapable of solving the energy crisis. The only solution, the only way forward, is to change the government. That's because Labor has the real policies, real solutions and real outcomes for all Australians A Shorten Labor government will help households and businesses get a better deal on power prices. We will overhaul the electricity offers available to consumers and scrap outdated deals so Australians pay less for power. We will force energy retailers to introduce simple, honest and transparent pricing so consumers find the best deal. And we will work with the states to implement recommendations from the ACCC's retail electricity price inquiry.

Labor is still committed to 50 per cent renewables by 2030. What would this mean for consumers? Labor's plan would mean households could save up to $165 a year on their energy bill, and average small businesses could save up to $1,500 a year on theirs. Put simply: under Labor, consumers and businesses will get a fair go. They will benefit from increased transparency, simpler bills and downward pressure on prices.

Political commentators in this country like to speak of energy policy as being a political football. Well, I was a rugby league referee for many years and I have never adjudicated a game like this. One team's members are constantly squabbling amongst themselves in the sheds, keep changing captains and are being coached by the likes of 2GB and Sky News. There is only one team on the field, one team listening to the people, and that's the Labor Party on this side of the House.

4:09 pm

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

There's a good reason why the majority of Australians say that they trust the coalition more than Labor when it comes to keeping energy prices lower; it comes down to the lived experience. Australians have been through this before. When Labor's in government, energy prices tend to skyrocket, in part because Labor does so many deals with the Greens, pursuing ideology ahead of substance and fact. But it is also significantly down to Labor's sheer mismanagement in office, because you can't get around Labor's incompetence when it comes to running anything more complicated than a closed shop. Whether it's energy or other schemes like pink batts or school halls—you name it—their incompetence is at least consistent across Labor's people, both federal and state, as I will come to in a moment.

The substance of this MPI can be dismissed, as silly as it is, in a single sentence: our electricity prices just came down in Queensland, in New South Wales and in South Australia. It was a matter of weeks ago, around 1 July. It was on the front page of The Courier Mailthose opposite may have missed it and it was in press releases and letters sent to customers from energy retailers like AGL and Origin. It was in the annual pricing determination of the Queensland Competition Authority, where I used to work as an economist in the energy sector. That organisation sets a benchmark price. Everyone can check it out. Go to their website,, and there's a button right there on the front that says 'Regulated electricity prices 2018–19'. If you click on that, the first sentence says:

Electricity prices for most regional customers will fall in 2018–19. The typical customer on the main residential tariff (tariff 11) will see a decrease of 1.3%, and the typical customer on the main small business tariff (tariff 20) will see a decrease of 3.4%.

That reduction, worth about $140, on average, to the typical family, has been a direct result of the number of actions this government has taken over the past year or so to put downward pressure on energy prices, including, most notably, the government's big wins around securing domestic gas supply.

Of course we do need to see further and much larger decreases. There's not one step but many steps that need to be taken to bring energy prices down even lower. It's not enough to simply note that the coalition government has managed to decrease prices in two out of the five past years, whereas they always went up every year under Labor. The minister earlier talked about some of the government's plans, including bringing in a new default price for vulnerable customers, a safety net. The member for Boothby listed a few others. From generation to distribution and retail, this government is taking action on all of those fronts and more.

There's another significant pressure on electricity prices which people really should know more about, especially those of us from Queensland. The Queensland government itself has been caught out gouging profits out of people's energy bills. The ACCC chair, Rod Sims, has pointed this out. The two big generators in Queensland have a significant market share between them, and they're both fully owned by the Queensland Labor government. The ACCC has accused them of using their market power, essentially holding back their supply while waiting for the price in the market to rise as a consequence of that artificial shortage they create and then swooping in to take advantage of the higher prices. Those higher prices meant that the Queensland government got higher dividends through the energy companies they own. Those windfall profits by the Queensland Labor government came at a cost. It came at the cost of families, small businesses and everyone else as they paid their energy bills, which were higher than they otherwise would have been. That's not just the energy bills of those of us in Queensland but the energy bills of everyone throughout the National Electricity Market.

This government called out that Labor government and, as soon as we did, the Queensland government—I presume, through sheer embarrassment at being caught out—instructed one of their two generators to cease the disgraceful conduct. What did we see? Prices immediately came down. It was basically as clear an admission as you will ever get of having market power and abusing it. More Queenslanders should know about that history. Of course Queenslanders can form their own views as to whether the Queensland Labor government wisely spent their gouged profits. But one thing is very clear: this is one more clear demonstration of the approach that Labor always takes when it comes to issues like energy at a federal and state level. It's about ideology over facts, spending over thrift and incompetent management. You will always have higher energy bills under Labor.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the discussion has concluded.