House debates

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:11 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 Government's energy policy paralysis.

I call upon those 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

This is definitely a matter of public importance because, still, Australian households and Australian businesses find themselves in the throes of a deep energy crisis, and under this Prime Minister—this new Prime Minister—and this new energy minister, this crisis is simply getting worse.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and I released a comprehensive, fully costed plan to take charge of our energy system again and to put consumers back at the centre of this essential, largely privatised service. The centrepiece of the announcement that we made last week was an offer, as we said time and time again in question time today, to resume negotiations and to finish the work on the National Energy Guarantee that was so close three months ago.

About the National Energy Guarantee: those opposite are trying to forget this little inconvenient piece of history, but there were no stronger advocates than the new Leader and the new Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party back when they were the Treasurer and energy minister in the Turnbull government. The new Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, for example, said that this idea, the National Energy Guarantee, had the broadest support of any initiative he had seen in his more than 10 years in parliament. He said:

If you're not for the National Energy Guarantee, then you're for continued uncertainty which leads to higher prices.

On another occasion he said that the NEG was the 'only credible plan to reduce electricity prices in Australia'.

Now, this was a plan—somewhat like the Clean Energy Target in 2017, which almost got there, and somewhat like the emissions intensity scheme in 2016, which almost got there—that had the support of every single business group in Australia. It had the support, broadly, of every state government in the National Electricity Market—Labor and Liberal alike—in Australia. It was something that the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and I had said, time and time again, was a model we thought was workable and which could be subject to agreement between the two major parties in this parliament.

But, again, it was subject to a veto exercised by a loud minority in the coalition party room, led by the hard Right. Time and time again over the last few years, sensible policy fell victim to the hard Right of the coalition party room. This is the group that the member for Higgins, quite famously over the last 48 hours, has called out as the 'homophobic, anti-women, climate-change-denier faction of the Liberal Party.' Our offer last week was genuine, because we have heard time and time again, not just over the last few weeks but particularly since the National Energy Guarantee was dumped by this new Prime Minister, that the best solution to this deep energy crisis in Australia is a bipartisan solution.

Since we made this offer back on Thursday last week almost every serious business group in the country has again called on the Prime Minister and the new energy minister to accept our offer and to sit down and resume negotiations on the National Energy Guarantee. Again, as we raised in question time, the former deputy leader, the member for Curtin, this week said on a couple of occasions on a front page from the Financial Review, 'Do NEG deal with Labor.' The member for Curtin said:

The government needs to consider energy policy through the prism of securing bipartisan agreement with Labor, to establish a long-term, stable regulatory framework that will support private-sector investment in generating capacity.

Not a new message, it is a message that has been given to this parliament, both sides of this parliament, time and time again by business groups that are struggling with the energy crisis that has emerged under this government in various prime ministerial forms.

Labor is clear about the National Energy Guarantee. This framework is a means to an end. The important end here is delivering investor confidence that is able to renew our aging, increasingly unreliable electricity generation system, much of which was built 30, 40 years ago. As I have said, as the assistant shadow minister for climate change and energy, some 75 per cent of our generators in the NEM are already operating beyond their design life. Whether it's an inconvenient truth over on the other side of this parliament or not, they simply have to be replaced. To be replaced, particularly given the privatisations led by Liberal state governments over the last 25 years, we need the investor certainty that the member for Curtin has rightly pointed to.

The National Energy Guarantee must be capable of delivering on Labor's commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. That is a core condition for the Labor Party and it is also the nub of the problem we encounter on the other side of this parliament. The hard Right of the coalition party room is so deeply opposed to renewable energy for its own sake that they are willing to cripple investment and prolong this energy crisis that is biting household budgets and business viability. The hard Right continues to force the Liberal-National Party into positions like dumping the National Energy Guarantee, a policy that the now Prime Minister has said time and time and again would lead to lower power prices and increased reliability in our system, and had broader support than any other initiative he'd seen in his 10 years in parliament.

The hard Right position, and their stranglehold over climate and energy policy, forces the Liberal Party at different levels in this Federation to continue to run campaigns against Labor's renewable energy policies and campaigns that instead propose using taxpayer funds to build coal-fired power stations. Over the last 12 months we've seen two of them: in Queensland 12 months ago and in Victoria a couple of weeks ago. How did they go for the Liberal Party? How in touch are they with the sentiments of the community of Australia about what they want to see the future of their energy systems look like? This is a party under the control of the hard Right that is too busy fighting the inevitable future. For the time being at least, energy policy in this government remains in the hands of the hard Right of the Liberal Party.

The new energy minister boasts that now his only focus is on getting down power prices. We heard the Prime Minister boast about decisions that AGL and EnergyAustralia have announced over the last 48 hours or so, decisions that were initiated by the Labor Party being the first party to accept the ACCC recommendation about default capped pricing—a decision the Labor Party took that was then followed by the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. They don't point out, of course, that the AGL and EnergyAustralia announcements amount to less than three per cent of households in Australia, nothing for more than 97 per cent of Australian households. And we know what is going to happen for the other 97 per cent of Australian households, because the government's own modelling indicated that a failure to deliver the National Energy Guarantee wouldn't see power prices come down by $550, which the NEG would have, but instead would see power prices rise by almost $300. A failure to deliver that bipartisan policy would see power prices rise.

We are already seeing that. As we've seen reported in the Financial Review time and time again, futures prices—the prices that the market is expecting in 2019—in the NEM have already risen by 40 per cent in the wholesale market over the last few months, as this new fellow took over the energy ministry. That is what the coup against Malcolm Turnbull and the National Energy Guarantee is delivering for households.

Other than playing catch-up on the Labor Party's initiation of default capped pricing, what has this government done? It has pulled out the big stick in the form of an investment policy that is reminiscent of the height of Venezuelan socialism—just an extraordinary piece of recklessness. If it was in the interests of consumers, perhaps the consumer watchdog might have recommended it after its 18-month retail price inquiry. It deliberately didn't recommend it. Such a grab bag of vapid, fatuous headlines—that's all we have from this new energy minister. We have an idea of building coal-fired power stations; that has gone really well in Queensland and it went really well in Victoria.

This new energy minister has even said he would be prepared to indemnify the operator of a new coal-fired power station, something the Australian Industry Group has suggested could cost taxpayers as much as $17 billion. These are the headlines this energy minister has put up in place of a bipartisan framework that was supported by every single business group in the country. There is nothing on renewable energy, nothing on a just transition for workers in coal-fired communities, nothing on batteries, nothing on the transition to the 21st century energy system that Australian households and businesses are crying out for. Why is that? It is because, although this deep energy crisis is of the government's making, the paralysis in the coalition party room means that they have no plan whatsoever to address it.

3:21 pm

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

It is a pleasure to be able to speak about our plan to get Australians' electricity prices down through practical action and giving practical outcomes for everyday Australians, for families and hard-working small businesses who deserve a better deal on their electricity prices, who deserve electricity supply that is on 24/7. We've made very clear that the heart of our policy is lower prices and we are seeing the outcomes already. As we heard during question time, AGL has reduced its standing offers for its customers, with 10 per cent reductions in New South Wales and Victoria. That comes to $180 for a typical household and close to $400 for a typical small business. There will be 150,000 households and 27,000 small businesses who will see the benefits of that. Similar benefits are now coming from Energy Australia and the smaller retailers as well. Next Energy is cutting its standing offer prices by 14 per cent for New South Wales and 8.5 per cent for Victoria, the states where they participate.

But right at the heart of our policy is holding the big energy companies to account, something that those opposite have absolutely no interest in doing. We're bringing forward to the parliament in the coming weeks legislation that will hold them to account, legislation that will stop the market manipulation that we have seen, manipulation that we saw when Northern Energy and Hazelwood withdrew from the market.

The ACCC made it very clear that, when supply is pulled out of the market, these big energy companies have behaved badly, including the big energy companies owned by the Queensland government. They're the worst of them, taking $2 billion out of the wallets of hard-working Queensland families, hard-working Queensland small businesses and those big businesses, like the member for Flynn knows so well, in towns like Gladstone that provide the jobs for so many Queenslanders. But that legislation will also stop the price gouging, the hikes above wholesale prices, the failure to pass on wholesale price reductions. Wholesale prices are down 20 per cent from the peak despite what the shadow minister just said and continue to come down through the hard work of this government. And the big stick legislation will also ensure that we retain supply in the market, supply those opposite want to see gone. They want to see those coal-fired power stations gone. Well, we need that supply. We need that supply to keep prices down, to keep the lights on, to keep our factories going and to keep our smelters going in Gladstone, in Portland, in Tomago and in Bell Bay—crucial supply for the jobs of so many Australians.

Meanwhile, we will bring new supply into the market. By early next year, we will have a shortlist of 24/7 projects that will ensure we have the supply we need for all Australian businesses, for those energy-intensive businesses that have been the backbone of this country for so long. Right at the heart of this plan—

Ms Keay interjecting

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

The member for Braddon is warned.

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

is our commitment to the reliability obligation, which the Labor states need to step up to in the coming weeks. That's an obligation that requires every energy retailer to ensure that, years ahead of time, it has the supply it needs to meet the demand of all Australian families and businesses. That reliability obligation has been worked up over a long period of time. We hope the opposition is going to support this, because this is absolutely crucial to making sure we have the supply in the market to meet the needs of all Australians.

Meanwhile, we know that we will achieve more emissions reductions in the next three years than at any time in Australian history in our National Electricity Market. We're going to see the generation of wind and solar in the NEM go from 17½ terawatt hours to 44½ terawatt hours in the next 2½ years—that's a 250 per cent increase. The result of that is we will reach the Paris emissions target, the 26 per cent reduction target, in an absolute canter. We will get there in the early 2020s. That gives us breathing space. That gives us the ability to focus on getting prices down and making sure we have the supply we need for all Australians.

The shadow minister likes to talk about the NEG, which he described as a Frankenstein policy. But the real difference between our policy and those opposite is that they have a reckless target of 45 per cent emissions reductions. The question is: how are they going to achieve that? As I said in question time, the answer is becoming clearer by the day. On 27 November we heard an interview by Laura Jayes on Sky with the member for Isaacs. She asked the member for Isaacs, 'Are you ruling a carbon tax out, though?' The member for Isaacs said, 'I'm not ruling it in or out.'

But it gets better. A journalist was interviewing the member for Shortland over there on regional Victorian radio. I was driving along the road and, all of a sudden, up he came on the radio. The journalist said, 'If elected, would Labor go so far as restoring a price on carbon?' His answer went on to say, 'You can argue there is an implied carbon price in our policy'—a tricky carbon price; a sneaky carbon price.

Then, on 22 November, the member for Port Adelaide appeared on ABC's 7.30and at least he was honest. Leigh Sales asked him, 'Will that include a decision about whether you will or will not be pricing carbon?' and he went on to say, 'It will cover all the other sectors of the economy, apart from electricity.' That's a pretty long list.

Those opposite need to come clean with Australian farmers about what this is going to mean for the control they have over their land. What are you going to do to native vegetation laws? What are you going to do to stocking rates? What will it mean for the control that Australian farmers have over their ability to run their businesses and to deliver their products—the best agricultural products in the world—to their customers all over the world? Markets have grown at an unprecedented rate under this government, and you want to control how that land is used.

On the transport sector, you snuck in, at the last election—a very sneaky one, this one—a vehicle emissions standard for light vehicles of 105 grams per kilometre. Now, let's talk to the tradies out there. What do the tradies use now? A Toyota Hilux at over 200 grams per kilometre. A Ford Ranger at 244 grams per kilometre. What are they going to drive? Mini Minors? Are they going to put a shovel and their toolkit in the back of the Mini Minor? Guys, this is not going to work. Let's be clear: this is not going to work, and yet that is your policy right now. So fess up. Come clean to the Australian people about what your policies are.

Then we get to manufacturing. The member for Flynn over there knows only too well, as the member who represents the great city, the centre of Gladstone, an aluminium town—smelting and refining. What is the future of the aluminium industry? Tomago, Gladstone, Portland and Bell Bay—what's the future of those places? Well, let me tell you—I know this industry well—it will not survive under the opposition's policies, because they want to get rid of affordable, reliable power in this country.

We know that you as a party believe in higher prices. We see it in Queensland, where you've taken $2 billion from Australian families and businesses by hiking prices and refusing to drive competition. We've called on the Queensland government to split two companies into three to create real competition. No go; no interest, because they rely on higher electricity prices for their policies. And we've heard it from this wonderful organisation, LEAN, the Labor Environment Action Network, which says:

High prices are not a market failure. They are proof of the market working well.

Well, go and tell that to the workers at Tomago. Go and tell that to the workers at Bell Bay. We say it to the workers at Boyne in Gladstone, because they know they need affordable, reliable power, as all Australians do. (Time expired)

3:31 pm

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

What a shameful and disgraceful performance by the minister. A man who's come in to this place with probably more raps than Andrew Peacock. A man who looked pretty doing the job—you look pretty doing the job—but failed to deliver. Sadly, the member for Hume is repeating that standard. The truth is, this government's energy policy is an abject fiasco. In the great month of August, can anyone guess how many energy policies this government had in 14 days? One, two, three—four energy policies in 14 days. We had NEG 1, NEG 2 and NEG 3 without an emissions reduction policy, and then the big stick. Four in 14 days. You wouldn't see that out of a Third World military junta, but we've seen that out of this shameful LNP government, a government that has abandoned any pretence of policymaking. That would be fine if it just reflected on them—if it didn't impact on anyone in the rest of the world or the rest of Australia—but it's having a market impact already.

In the two months since they junked the NEG, wholesale prices in the NEM went up by 122 per cent. Their abandonment of energy policy more than doubled wholesale energy prices in two months. The 2019 future price rose by 20 per cent in that same period. Consumers right now are paying the price for this government's abject failure on energy policy. Don't just take our word for it; take the words of the BCA—no friend of Labor—who labelled the coalition's policies ad hoc and extreme. By contrast, we've got a reasoned policy, a policy that reaches across the aisle to try and reach a bipartisan settlement on this energy crisis. Our policy around the NEG will have a market impact. It will provide investment certainty that will lead to lower power prices. Don't take our word for it. Who supports the NEG-plus policy? The BCA, AIG, the Energy Council, ACCI, BlueScope, the Energy Users Association, APPEA, the member for Curtin, the Clean Energy Council, Energy Networks Australia, the Smart Energy Council and Solar Citizens.

Who supports their policy? Maybe Alan Jones, maybe Andrew Bolt. But no-one who lives on this planet or in reality supports their policy, because it's a dog of a policy. It is a policy that puts prices up, removes certainty and ignores the basic, fundamental truth of our energy sector, which is that 75 per cent of our existing power stations are operating beyond their planned plant life. They're getting awfully old and they're getting awfully unreliable. In my home region of the Hunter, all four coal-fired power stations have use-by dates completely unrelated to government policy. Liddell will close in 2022; Eraring in 2032; Bayswater in 2035; and Vales Point, people think, around 2029—that is, 25 per cent of Australia's total electricity production will close in the next 17 years.

Only Labor has a plan to deal with it. Only Labor has a plan that will replace it with cheaper and more reliable power. The Australian Energy Market Operator has found that, of the replacement options for those power stations, the cheapest is renewable energy. Origin Energy, which has investments across the whole spectrum, has said that not only is renewable energy cheaper than new coal-fired power but it is cheaper than running existing coal-fired power stations. It was a watershed moment when they made that statement a few weeks ago.

Our policy provides a plan for the sector, will reduce power prices and will create up to 71,000 new jobs in our economy, according to independent experts. Ours is a reasonable plan. It is a plan that is honest with the people of Australia that change is coming and we must adapt. Those on the other side will be condemned by history not only because they are they lying to workers and communities but because they're lying to future generations who will pay the price for their abandonment of any pretence of taking action on climate change, investing in the energy sector to drive lower prices or making the sector more reliable. History will damn them. I say it's not too late to change. Bring on the NEG. Support it. Have one more chance at redemption.

3:37 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my great pleasure to rise and speak on this MPI. I note the member for Shortland speaking about abandonment. One thing very clear about the modern Labor Party is that the Labor Party here now in this chamber has abandoned coal workers. That's what the Labor Party has done. The Labor Party, in its rant against coal, in its ignorance of the importance of a balanced energy mix in this nation, has abandoned coal workers.

The member for Shortland talks about honesty. Well, I will give him credit for one thing: the honesty of saying what is coming if Labor ever got the chance—

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

It's inevitable!

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Inevitable? What's coming is an implied carbon tax, by the words of the member for Shortland. They are the words. I notice the member for Corio has left this parliament. The member for Corio slunk out of his parliament because he knows what happened when Labor had a carbon tax in his region.

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm still here!

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, there he is over there. He hasn't slunk; I withdraw that. He's hiding in another part of the parliament. The member for Corio knows what the toxic carbon tax did to the people of Geelong, Geelong workers and manufacturing. I can tell you, under our watch we will never allow that toxic carbon tax to ever, ever be introduced again. It was a wrecking ball for manufacturing, a wrecking ball for our economy and an absolute disgrace. It's no wonder the CFMEU is already at loggerheads with this Labor Party, already exercising its muscle, because even the CFMEU is saying that this is a disgrace.

I am very, very proud of our government's focus on driving down power prices. What will our plan do? Our plan will stop the price gouging with a big stick—yes, a very big stick; a legislative package that will introduced into parliament next week. There will be a price safety net in place by 1 July next year, with a down payment introduced from 1 January. Already we have seen that embraced by two large power companies who have given the commitment to lower power prices.

We say the power price rip-offs, the loyalty taxes, have got to go and, under our government, that is happening. Small businesses could be paying up to $3,457 more per year in higher electricity costs because of what is currently going on with the gouging, and we will not cop it. Members opposite can sit there and take it and say, 'Yes, it is fine to rip off Australians', but we won't cop it; it's disgusting. The gouging, the loyalty taxes, the penalties on customers who loyally stay with their energy companies are unacceptable, and we're tackling them. We are calling the big energy companies out and this is having an impact, as I say. AGL has already announced cheaper power prices for over 150,000 families and 27,000 small businesses and, of course, we welcome Energy Australia's move to lower standing offers for concessional customers.

So we are taking very strong action and this is on top of what we've already done—secured more gas for Australians. Spot prices are down by up to 50 per cent from the peaks of over $20 a gigajoule to between $9 and $11. One of the things that is really interesting about members opposite is that as soon as we fix an issue, fix their mess, they stop talking about it. Isn't it interesting that Labor has stopped talking about gas prices? It is because we had to fix their mess. Those prices have come down by 50 per cent. We have reined in the networks, which Labor could have done sooner. We have secured better deals for 1.6 million households and we have seen retail prices already come down in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales. We won't cop the rip-offs. We won't cop the gouging. We're taking strong action, driving down power prices and we are very proud of the action that this government is taking.

3:42 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very slow to anger. Actually, I have lost my temper about three times in my life but I'm very close at this point, so you might see the fourth one today. Look, government, would you just stop? For 10 years, we have known how important this is. I'm going to quote John Howard's energy minister in 2007, who said:

The Australian Government will commence work on a world-leading greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme with careful analysis on a long-term goal for emissions reduction…

That was from 2007, from John Howard's energy minister.

When Labor came to power, we worked constructively with the government to put together a trading scheme. It was rolled when past Prime Minister Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull as the then opposition leader. We then introduced another emissions trading scheme; it was scrapped by this government. Then we worked on a bipartisan approach to an emissions intensity scheme, then we offered bipartisanship on a clean energy target, then we offered bipartisanship on the National Energy Guarantee and we offered it on the NEG. The NEG, by the way, we have announced, is not the policy we would have developed if we were off on our own in a perfect world; but it's something achievable that industry backs, that the government backed in its own party room, twice. It's something that is achievable that industry is calling for.

What the country needs most now, more than anything else, is certainty so that business can get around to finding the solutions to act on climate change. And we have to do that. I went and visited the school students on strike today. I spent an hour with a bunch of kids, some of them from primary school, some of them as young as nine—between nine and 17—and they told me very clearly that what we do today affects their lives. It affects the world they will live in. One of them said it affects whether they are going to be able to go out in the afternoon in summer. It affects that.

We have climate scientists all over the world telling us that we are not on target to hold 1.5. We're not even on target to hold two. We have the UN telling us that Australia is nowhere near meeting our 2030 Paris climate agreement targets, that our emissions will continue to rise right up to 2030. Ten years after 2007, we have some of the highest power prices in the world and the highest per person emissions target in the world. Yet we are a country that is built to respond to climate change, of all the countries in the world. Europe responds better with solar. They are further away from the equator than Tasmania. We are absolutely in a position to benefit from what is necessary.

For every major problem, there are opportunities to solve it. We are so well positioned for that. We were a world leader in solar technology. We had 13 per cent of the world market before John Howard came to power. We were leading the world. But we lost our edge because we gave it away, because we couldn't provide the industry with certainty so they could invest. The rest of the world is doing it. It is inevitable. It is now cheaper to produce wind power and solar power than it is to produce coal-fired power, particularly if you have to start again and build a whole new coal-fired power plant. It's not going to happen, because it's cheaper to have other alternatives. The whole world is going that way. If we want to be on that path, if we want to be part of the solution, if we want to own the prosperity that responding to climate change can bring, we need certainty for business to respond.

And business is well and truly telling us. In a recent survey of business, 92 per cent of respondents—Australian business and industry leaders—agreed that Scott Morrison's current national climate and energy policy is insufficient to drive emissions targets needed to meet the Paris targets by 2030. They overwhelmingly agreed that current climate and energy policies are inadequate, and 82 per cent of business leaders agreed that Australia should set an economy-wide net-zero emissions target for 2050, in line with Labor policy. That's 82 per cent of businesses surveyed that are agreeing.

Get on board, government. How many more years are you going to do this boom and bust, where, no matter what policy comes up, somebody on the Liberal Party side tears it down? If we come up with a policy, you're not prepared to even talk about it. We heard it from the previous speaker. We can see what the next election is going to be. It's going to be scare campaigns again; there's going to be no action. We've got a government that is actually going to go to an election campaign with no policy on climate change—none. Ten years after John Howard—11 years after John Howard actually—we've got a Liberal government that will go to an election campaign with no policy on climate change, no serious energy policy and no policy that provides consistency for business to do what business does well, which is find solutions. Get on board, guys.

3:47 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

At least there's one section of the previous member's speech I agree with: we do need policy certainty in relation to energy and energy affordability. Reliable, affordable energy is at the heart of our economy and it is at the heart of our household cost of living. It's good for households. It's good for jobs in our communities if we can provide that policy certainty.

We need to support an energy mix and get it right. We need a mix of renewable energy and base-load energy, which is provided largely in Australia at the moment by coal-fired power stations. We also need to do our share to meet the emissions reduction target and get that balance right. But I'm afraid that, when it comes to getting the balance right, there is one very clear fact when it comes to energy policy and the Australian Labor Party—that is, it has sold out the blue-collar workers for green votes. Throughout the 10 years I've been in this place, I'm have been amazed at the manner in which the Labor Party, which once proudly represented the blue-collar workers in my electorate of Gippsland, particularly around the Latrobe valley, has vilified power station workers—vilified them and labelled them as 'dirty big polluters'.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I invite the members who interjected to come to my electorate and have a meeting with some of the power station workers, and ask them, ask their families and ask their kids how they felt about the language used by the Australian Labor Party when it was in government.

You only need to look at the result in the seat of Morwell over the past 20 years. The Labor Party used to hold the seat of Morwell with a clear majority on primary votes. Over the last 20 years, the Labor Party vote in the seat of Morwell has dropped by 20 per cent on the primary vote, and that's because you sold out the blue-collar workers in the Latrobe Valley.

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

Where was the National vote? It was on 10 per cent!

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I hear the member interjecting. At the last election the Labor primary dropped by another two per cent.

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

Yes, but what was the local National Party's official vote?

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I accept the interjection by the member opposite. Right now in the seat of Morwell, the count is about 50-50 between the former National Party member turned Independent, against the Labor Party candidate. Labor's primary vote has dropped 20 per cent in the last 20 years. As a local MP, I'm very proud to stand up for the power station workers in the Latrobe Valley. I stand up for the workers at the Australian Paper mill as well. I stand up for the workers at the timber mills that the Andrews government has sought to shut down as well. When it comes to natural resource management in the seat of Gippsland, the Australian Labor Party has sold out blue-collar workers in their enthusiasm to try and harvest green votes in the city. It's like they’ve swapped their high-vis vests and steel-capped boots for skivvies and canvas loafers. They’ve sold out every blue-collar worker they can.

This government, this side of the House, is determined to provide reliable and affordable base-load energy—

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are plenty of hydro workers in high-vis.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

because we understand it underpins regional jobs.

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

The member for Lyons is warned.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

In my electorate we're quite literally at the coalface. The four large power stations in the Latrobe Valley—sorry; there are only three coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley now, because the Andrews government worked so hard to shut down Hazelwood—are absolutely critical to the economic wealth of Victoria and much of the south-east corner of Australia. So we are quite literally at the coalface of this debate. When it comes to the other major providers of jobs in the Gippsland electorate, they too are dependent upon reliable, affordable base-load energy. The dairy farmers in my electorate obviously have a high dependency on good, cheap, reliable energy. The food-processing companies, which employ hundreds of workers in Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley, rely on affordable base-load energy. The timber mills—the ones left after the Andrews government cut their supply of timber—rely on base-load energy to be available to them 24 hours a day.

We need a balanced approach to this issue. Unfortunately, the Labor Party, with their absolute obsession with winning green votes in the city, have failed to stand up for the jobs of blue-collar workers in regions like the Latrobe Valley.

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You're so two-dimensional.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The member opposite can interject as much as he likes. In fact, he's welcome any time to come to Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley. I'll take him round. We can meet with some of those workers and ask them what they think about Labor's policies in relation to energy in our region. I invite any of those members opposite to come and join me. We'll go round the power stations and talk to people about their views on the Labor Party's efforts to sell out their jobs in the search for green votes in the city. Those opposite have gone quiet because they know it's true. There was a 20 per cent drop in their primary vote in the state seat. As the National Party in that seat, we receive a primary vote in the order of 50 per cent in many towns in the Latrobe Valley.

I'll make just one other point. There's actually no Australian solution to climate change. We emit less than two per cent of total global emissions, so there's no Australian solution. We do need to do our share to meet the emissions reduction targets, but there is no Australian solution. It is misleading to our young people to suggest there is. We don't need to mug our economy. We don't need to punish households. We don't need to set unrealistic targets that drive investment offshore and shut down our manufacturing sector, which, I'm afraid, is the Labor Party's plan for energy policy in this country.

3:52 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It has been years since Australia has had a real energy policy. Not since Labor was last in power has anything really been done. It's costing us. It's costing my community, it's costing our families and our small businesses and it's costing our economy. And the blame for all of this—the damage to our wallets and to our environment—can be laid squarely at the feet of a small band of malicious MPs. 'The reactionary right' you might call them, as the member for Chisholm, of course, described them in her speech yesterday. It may well be just a handful of coalition members and senators who are leading this crusade against scientists, economists and the business community but, aided by their Prime Minister, they are costing every Australian, year after year after year.

That's not to mention what they're doing to our environment. No matter what these reality-refuting rejects of the reactionary right may rasp, climate change is having a huge effect on our country. Just take a look outside today. It's flooding in Sydney, it's hailing in Brisbane, and in regional Queensland emergency services are fighting vicious bushfires that are being further fuelled by huge dust storms. There are children in parliament today who walked out of school in protest against this government's inaction. They are doing more than anyone—anyone!—on the other side of this chamber.

It's not just activists, either, who are taking matters into their own hands. If you were to take a short drive around my community, you'd see household after household who have taken it upon themselves to install solar panels. Private citizens are investing in renewable energy because they know it's cheaper; they know it just makes sense. I remember how, just a couple of years ago, somebody living on Bribie Island excitedly showed me her home's new battery system. I remember going out to her home, and it was pretty breathtaking seeing live, on her mobile phone, just how much energy her panels were capturing, how much her battery was storing and how much money she was saving. At the time it seemed that it was probably beyond the grasp of many to have this piece of technology—and, to an extent, at the time it really was; those things weren't a cheap up-front investment. But prices have fallen, efficiencies have risen and now, for many people, these systems are just within reach.

For many, however, the initial investment comes at too great a cost, which is why a Shorten Labor government will give them a hand, providing a $2,000 rebate for 100,000 households. Not only will this allow consumers, like this woman from Bribie, to focus on lowering their own power bills but it will also reduce demand on the electricity grid in peak times, lowering prices for everyone. It just makes sense, doesn't it?

It's not just homeowners who will win under Labor; we have committed $75 million to a neighbourhood renewables program to ensure that renters and social housing tenants will be able to benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy. Businesses, of course, will be supported by comprehensive and robust policies to increase energy efficiencies and to retain workforces in the new job-creating space of renewable energy—a just transition into renewable energy.

With the Prime Minister announcing yesterday that his government seemingly wants to avoid an election until May next year, Labor is willing to work with them to force down pressure on power prices before we go back to the polls. Labor is willing to accept this government's National Energy Guarantee—a guarantee supported by the Business Council, by AiG, by the Australian Energy Council, by ACCI, by BlueScope, by the Energy Users' Association of Australia, by APIA and, of course, by a government member, the member for Curtin, Julie Bishop. We are willing to accept the National Energy Guarantee, which the Prime Minister lauded time and time again—though, of course, that was before his party room erupted into an all-out civil war. But he did laud it time and time again, that this was the way forward.

It's been years since Australia has had a real energy policy. Let's just get something done! We are more than willing to work with the government to ensure positive outcomes, but let's be very clear: we will not wait for this government.

3:57 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are some differences between the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party. We believe in small government, they believe in big government. We believe in low taxes, they believe in high taxes. We back people, they back unions. We believe in substance and in getting things done, they believe in politics and motherhood statements.

These distinguishing differences—these differentiators—are seen very much in energy policy. The coalition has a very clear policy for energy, the objective of which is affordable and reliable energy relying on a balanced mix of energy. To date, because we are a party that gets things done we have already cut the carbon tax, we have already reined in the networks, we have already lowered the RET and we have already put more gas into the market. We have already announced the Snowy and we've already brought pressure to ensure that wholesale prices come down. We've already made transparency key with retailers. We've already exceeded Kyoto 1, we are on track for Kyoto 2 and we're going to meet Paris at a canter. This is what you have when you actually have a government that understands substance—a government with a very clear policy objective of reliability and affordability, relying on a balanced mix. We already have runs on the board.

And yet what do we have over there in the Labor Party? Their energy policy relies on a carbon tax that the Australia people have already said no to. Or does it rely on a carbon tax? Anybody over there want to put their hand up? Hands up, Labor Party, if you are going to introduce a carbon tax. Okay, hands up if you're not going to introduce a carbon tax! We have substance; the Labor Party wouldn't have a clue about what they're going to do.

All they know is that they have a policy that their leader has defined as Frankenstein. Hello, Labor Party! Are you serious? The best you have for an energy policy is something your own leader defines as Frankenstein? And they want a carbon tax. But, hang on, there's something else. They want a 45 per cent reduction in emissions, a policy that promises to smash the Australian economy, promises to ensure that heavy industry closes down and promises to ensure that prices go up. Again, it comes back to the difference between Labor and the coalition. They haven't got a clue about the economy. They are very prepared to introduce an energy policy that will cripple the Australian economy. They don't understand that the economy is not the endgame. The economy is the means by which we can deliver vital public services. It's due to a strong economy that we can build hospitals. It's due to a strong economy that we can build schools. We can ensure that teachers, nurses, doctors and the fire brigade can all be employed. It's due to a strong economy that people can have jobs and put food on the table. And yet they are more than happy to introduce tax after tax. And now they want an energy policy which they describe as Frankenstein. It includes a carbon tax and they're going to smash the economy with a 45 per cent emissions reduction target.

Those opposite love the words. They love the motherhood statements. But, if you want a sneak preview into what a Labor government would do to national energy policy, look at Queensland, where Labor runs the state. In Queensland a quarterly bill is how much the average Queenslander is being ripped off on an annual basis. So Queenslanders, if you want to know how much the Queensland Labor Party are ripping you off through energy, look at your bill. Whatever your last quarterly bill was, that's how much you're getting ripped off every single year. There is a $7.3 billion overinvestment in poles and wires. There is this crazy debt-to-dividend rip-off where—listen to this—the Labor state government says to the utilities they own, 'You must take on debt.' They take on debt. Then they turn around and say, 'Now give me that debt back and call it a special dividend.' So it goes into their consolidated revenue. Then, to top it off, they charge those utilities a 4.8 per cent interest charge. They recover it through taxing Queenslanders. That's what the Labor Party offers in energy: more tax, nothing more.

4:02 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to join this debate on a topic of such vital importance not only for the nation but for the world. The contrast between the coalition government and the Labor opposition on energy policy could not be starker. Yes, the coalition government's policy is in paralysis, but it is also stagnant, it is stultified and it's incapacitated. In short, it's a shambles. Four policies were destroyed, shredded in the Liberal party room: the emissions trading scheme, the emissions intensity scheme, the clean energy target and the National Energy Guarantee. It's an utter failure. It's a momentous failure. It's a horrible failure for the Australian people who are suffering high energy prices and for future generations of Australians, who expect us to address climate change.

The coalition's failure to adopt and implement any energy policy has not only torn their own party room to shreds; it has hurt Australian business with an uncertain investment outlook. It has hurt consumers through skyrocketing energy prices. It has hurt the environment through a complete disregard for emissions reduction targets. It's a disgrace that the Liberal Party's division and chaos means Australians will go into this summer fighting heightened risk of blackouts.

The Prime Minister junks the NEG and destroys any chance of having an energy policy in place before summer. Instead he appoints a new antirenewables energy minister, who in his first speech as minister said he would not even try to deliver energy policy certainty. The minister is just one of many in the coalition who are utterly out of touch on energy policy. They call themselves the Monash Forum. What an insult to the Monash family. They are more Dad's Army than they are successors of General Monash. They are the climate change deniers. They are dinosaurs who want to walk backwards to the fossil fuel past, oblivious or, worse, conscious of the threat of climate change but ultimately unwilling to face it for the sake of their own children and grandchildren.

The member for New England, who is not in the House, said he would prefer to prioritise coal-fired power stations over the Snowy 2.0. The member for Warringah has called on the government to 'address the political risk that's stopping power companies from investing in new coal-fired power stations. There's no market failure here, just government failure.' The member for Hughes is strident in his support for building more coal-fired power plants. He's acknowledged that the private sector investment in coal might not be forthcoming, so he says, 'The government may need to step in and assist in building a new coal-fired power station.' I challenged him this morning to rule out support for a taxpayer funded coal-fired power plant. He refused. I ask him, and his compatriots in the climate-denying Dad's Army, again: do you want to spend $4 billion of taxpayer money on a coal-fired power plant?

Labor has articulated an energy policy that is progressing and progressive, that tackles climate change and reduces energy costs—a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030; a commitment to 50 per cent renewables by 2030; and a 10-year, billion dollar renewable energy investment framework that delivers certainty for industry, lower power prices and more reliability. We'll also help ordinary Australians slash their power bills with a new national target of one million household battery installations by 2025 and a $2,000 rebate for 100,000 households on an income of less than $180,000 a year to purchase and install battery systems. The policy of federal Labor measures perfectly without of my own state of Victoria, and the re-elected Andrews Labor government, while also helping Victorian households cut their electricity bills through the solar homes package, which offers rebates of up to $2,225 on the cost of a solar PV system and up to $1,000 on the installation of solar hot water system.

My constituents tell me that they want effective action on climate change. Victorians want effective action on climate change. Australians want effective action on climate change. I've heard this time and time again in the many meetings I've had in my own electorate with stakeholders such as Climate Action Moreland and Moreland Energy Foundation and also with organisations like the Earthworker Cooperative, who are building solar batteries. They all know, as do thousands of my constituents and millions of Australians, the Labor government can deliver that action, not the Greens political party, who talk a big game but never deliver—or can't deliver—and not this coalition government, who brazenly hide from their responsibilities to future generations. Australians know that a Labor Party in government, if elected, will deliver on climate change policy for the benefit of all Australians and future generations.

4:06 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The clear message from this afternoon's debate is that Australians want reliable energy, that they want it to be affordable and, obviously, that they see responsibility as being an important part of that, but not at the expense of the first two. The coalition is really the only one that has a definitive plan to take on the major energy retailers. I think that's something we really should be able to agree on right across this debating chamber. We need a price safety net in place as soon as possible, and many would like to see that even before 1 July next year, but certainly a downpayment on 1 January.

Of course, we're backing investment in reliable energy generation, and there is a short list of projects to ensure that occurs. We're requiring energy companies by 1 July to be investing in genuine, reliable electricity generation years ahead so we don't find ourselves caught the way we were in South Australia. Most importantly, we're just going to try and stop the rip-offs. I'm not going to traduce the Labor Party's policy of battery subsidies. That's not an unreasonable policy to add to the mix. The question really is just how expensive it is for the benefit it achieves. What's probably more important to the average Australian householder is just getting energy prices down. This side of the chamber won't take the risk that prices keep going up. You've got to remember that it's not just about getting prices down but about stopping them continuing to go up, as they did over the Rudd-Gillard era almost without control—in fact, power prices almost doubled. You don't have to go back very far—it was only 15 years ago—to when Australia, apart from the major hydro economies like Iceland and parts of Scandinavia, had some of the lowest household prices in the world, thanks to our backbone of coal-powered generation. We have now slipped right up, for no reason, moving through the pack to be one of the most expensive household power economies in the world. The best example of that is South Australia, which is the third-most-expensive household power in the world.

What Australians are going to be asking when the next election comes along is which of the two parties is going to stop the rip-offs and which of the two parties can get prices down? We've got time to make sure that we have an environmentally responsible power policy, but we've only got months to sort out the rip-offs that low-income families and pensioners, particularly in Queensland, are being subjected to. The Australian Energy Market Commission found that customers on standing offers might well find themselves paying huge amounts more money than they really should be. We need to stand up for small businesses, which, according to the AEMC, could be paying even more—$3,000 a year—then they need to, particularly in Queensland, as I'll explain later.

This is outrageous. We should have done something about this years ago. Labor could have done something about this nearly a decade ago but didn't. They didn't move on it. In the last 12 months, we have a record of securing more gas for Australians, getting spot prices down, reining in the power of the networks and getting better deals for households. Now, because of our pressure—we're not wielding a big club—we are making sure that energy retailers are acting on behalf of customers for a change, because up until now they've simply shrugged their shoulders and said that they act in the interests of their shareholders. We saw AGL protecting customers on standing offers by implementing a price safety net from 1 January next year. That's going to make a huge difference. More than 150,000 families and 27,000 small businesses will benefit.

In contrast, Labor's approach means that you're going to be paying more for your power for longer. While they can go on about super high renewable energy targets and emissions reduction targets, they've yet to explain to the Australian people how they'll achieve it. I can say that it's going to be noble to have some of the largest emissions cuts in the world, but Labor must articulate how they're going to do it, without shutting down industry, without impeding transport and without hurting some of our largest employers. One thing for sure is that, when we looked at the issue five years ago, the initial energy reduction proposals for Paris were based on how much GDP drag they would create. We knew that, if it went to a 26 per cent reduction by 2030, it would have minimal, if any, drag. We knew that, if it went to 28 per cent, it would start to have a GDP drag each and every year. When Labor are proposing 40, 45 or 50 per cent, they'll need to look Australians in the eye and talk about how they will achieve it.

That big fat tax is coming. Australians know that. They've got a gut feel that it will be five times the size of the previous Labor carbon tax. They've got a gut feel, because they listen to the member for Isaacs, the member for Port Adelaide and the member for Shortland all equivocating around the fact that there is a carbon tax coming. We know that in Queensland they've profited for too long on the misery of households, where we've had 65 per cent of our baseload, government owned, transferring huge amounts of profits, $2 billion a year, into gold-plating, and them faking the size of their actual deficits each year. That kind of damage should stop. Queensland are the most irresponsible jurisdiction, and they need to give Queenslanders a break.

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

The discussion has concluded.