Monday, 3 December 2018
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) recognises that:
(a) many Queensland families are struggling with cost of living pressures and many small businesses are being crippled by the cost doing business;
(b) the primary responsibility for lowering power prices for Queensland families and small businesses lies with the Queensland Government; and
(c) the Queensland Government is ripping off everyday Queenslanders through a sophisticated scam that funnels billions of dollars into government coffers;
(2) calls on the Queensland Government to:
(a) immediately pass on recent reductions in wholesale prices to customers in full;
(b) end the network 'gold plating', write down regulated assets and accept a lower return so that Queenslanders can be charged less;
(c) provide adequate subsidies to Queensland families and businesses in recognition of the interest they have been paying on unnecessary debt carried by state-owned electricity businesses;
(d) increase competition in the Queensland electricity market by splitting the two state owned generators into three viable businesses with 'fair dinkum' electricity generation; and
(e) be honest with Queenslanders by informing them of the real cost of increasing the supply of unreliable electricity to meet Labor's 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target; and
(3) acknowledges that if the Queensland Government was prepared to take serious action, electricity prices could be lowered immediately for millions of hard working Queensland families and hundreds of thousands of small businesses.
If you want a sneak preview into how the Labor Party would manage its national energy policy, look no further than its comrades in Queensland and the horror story which is the Queensland energy sector. Most times when you talk about Labor and management, you could call it out for those two words almost being an oxymoron. But there are times when, by virtue of having government, Labor are forced to manage, and in Queensland what they are showing is not just the typical habit of Labor unconscious incompetence but, in fact, wilful deceit—wilful deceit where they are effectively ripping off everyday Queenslanders to put more money into the coffers of the Queensland Labor government. This is nothing short of a sophisticated scam, involving a myriad of feedback loops, that converts money earned by hardworking Queenslanders into political power by the Labor Party in Queensland. They prey on people enjoying the opaque system that the energy market represents in Queensland. And they do so to the tune of a quarterly bill every single year for the average household—in other words, about $468 is being effectively stolen out of the pockets of everyday Queenslanders because of the Queensland Labor government's management of the electricity system.
If you are wondering why these claims can be made about Queensland in particular, it's because the Queensland government controls 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the power generated in my state. It's because they operate in every single sector of the supply chain in Queensland. Nobody has more power, when it comes to energy, than the Queensland Labor government, and yet they rip Queenslanders off to the tune of a quarterly bill every single year.
To put it differently, 25 per cent of your next bill, as a Queenslander, could be removed if the government stopped its rip-offs. Imagine what that would do to the pensioner who right now is sweating and finding it difficult in the heat in Queensland. Imagine what it would do to the family that's trying to get enough money together to cook the Christmas ham in a few weeks time if 25 per cent of the bill could be wiped out.
So the rip-offs start, and there are three key areas where the rip-offs take place. First, the Queensland government has overinvested in poles and wires to the tune of $7.3 billion. The overall asset value is $28 billion, $7.3 of which represents an overinvestment. Why do they do this? They do this because the more they invest, the more they can charge consumers, and when you own the companies that's what happens. That is why they need to partially write down those assets and they need to accept a lower return on investment on those assets.
Second, we have seen a drop in wholesale prices thanks to the pressure of the federal coalition government. From October to October, there was a 40 per cent drop in wholesale prices. Has the Queensland government passed on those wholesale prices, especially in regional Queensland where they themselves are, in fact, the retailer? No, they have not. This 40 per cent drop has been converted into 1.8 per cent, tops, which they've taken off their bill—a complete rip-off on the cost of energy. Meanwhile, of course, they've got a debt-to-dividend rip-off going on where they say to the utilities, 'You take on debt, state utility,' and then they call that money back as a special dividend, effectively laundering money, and then—wait for it!—they charge them an interest payment of 4.8 per cent on top. This is a complete rip-off by the Labor government in Queensland, which should separate its two generators into three. They should be split. It should stop paying a subsidy to only their regional retailer in regional areas and pay that subsidy to customers instead.
What we need to have in Queensland is what we are doing federally. We need to take a big stick to those who are price gouging. We need to ensure we have a price safety net. We need to ensure that we back reliable energy and get rid of the Queensland rip-offs from the Labor government. That's what's required. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the motion moved by the member for Fairfax. I agree with the member for Fairfax on one thing: that many Queensland families are certainly struggling with cost-of-living pressures and many small businesses are being crippled by the cost of doing business. It's a timely reminder that this coalition government has been in power; they're limping towards their sixth year of government. I note that house prices in many capital cities and share prices have also taken a big hit under their watch.
It's an old tactic, isn't it? When you've run out of vision, when you've run out of things to do, you pick a fight with a state government. Let's look at the speaking list today. Let's have a look. In terms of the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill, there are no coalition speakers. On the Higher Education Support (Charges) Bill, there are no coalition speakers. On the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill, there is one coalition speaker. But they're happy to jump up to speak about this private member's bill.
Unbelievable! I'm talking directly to the motion put forward by the member for Fairfax, and he can't take a little bit of criticism. He's got a glass jaw. Unbelievable! I remember in 2013 when the member for Warringah, then the Leader of the Opposition, promised Australians that he would drop power bills by $550. That was his promise to the people of Queensland and to the people of Australia. What happened? Have we ever had an apology from those opposite? Have we ever had anyone stand up and say, 'I'm sorry about that'? No, we haven't. Instead, we have them hiding behind parliamentary tactics when we're talking about power bills.
I rise on a point of order on relevance. Two minutes has already gone and he hasn't addressed this issue. The entire motion talks about the Queensland Labor government. He's refusing to defend his comrades. I don't know what's wrong. He has 2½ minutes to go. I'm hoping he might address the topic.
A point of order: this is intolerable. It has been the practice in this place that we don't call points of order, particularly on relevance, in private members' business. He's had his time to speak. Perhaps the member for Moreton can be allowed to have his entire allotment.
It's great to have in Hansard, on the record,that the member for Fairfax says that the member for Warringah's promise that power prices would be reduced is not relevant in a discussion about power bills. What planet do these people live on? What planet do they live on? We know that people in Queensland are doing it tough. I've doorknocked people. I visited a pensioner just off Monash Road in Tarragindi the other day. He said in winter he had to turn his hot water system off. In Queensland, you can almost get away with that, but it broke my heart to hear it was in the middle of winter. The member for Fairfax said, 'I know that the Leader of the Opposition and then Prime Minister'—the last but one Prime Minister—'promised a $550 reduction in power bills'—a broken promise. I remember in 2018 when the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull—have you ever heard that name?
That's right. The former member for Wentworth, the then Treasurer and now Prime Minister Morrison, and the current Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, promised a $550 power saving if the National Energy Guarantee was adopted. That's not ancient history. That was only a few months ago. Remember? But it hasn't happened, because their policy went up in smoke. It went through the Liberal party room after it was backed by those opposite three times, including by the current member for Hume and the member for Fairfax. They backed it three times, but then they ditched it like they ditched the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
It's a bit rich for the member for Fairfax to complain about power prices in Queensland when, for the last six years under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison-whoever government, power prices have gone up and up despite their promises. We need a Labor Party that can take control and that will invest in renewables. That's what will deliver cheaper power prices in Queensland.
Our use of energy in the family home, in businesses and in all kinds of industry is what enables us to live comfortable lives. It's a fundamental driver of our economy. So it doesn't take an economist to understand that higher energy costs lead to a weaker economy and that higher electricity costs result in lower productivity and less money in the household budget. It beggars belief that any government could rip off its own constituents with a massive energy tax, but that is exactly what the Queensland Labor government has done. Queensland Labor is ripping off everyday Queenslanders with secret energy taxes hidden in each and every one of their quarterly energy bills. In what The Courier Mail describes as 'a sophisticated scam run by the state government', Labor has pushed up the cost of electricity so much that Queenslanders are paying about 25 per cent more than what they should.
The Queensland Labor government has the ability to lower power prices. They could pass on reductions in wholesale prices. They could write down the state energy provider's assets. They could agree to a reduction in its rate of return. They could subsidise electricity customers to make up for Labor's dodgy deals with debt. That would cut the power bill for an average family in my electorate by 25 per cent. Sadly, just because the Labor government has the ability to cut those power prices doesn't mean they will. They don't have the will, because they're using this secret electricity tax to prop up their budget.
Mums and dads in my electorate and across Queensland are paying for Labor's inability to manage the books. Farmers and small businesses are paying for Labor's waste. An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report found that the Queensland Labor government could save householders $419 a year on average by adopting some of their recommendations. That would effectively remove about one of the quarterly bills for every family across the state. While the federal government is looking for ways to bring power prices down, the Queensland Labor government is looking for ways to push power prices up.
I encourage all Queenslanders to go to a simple website called energytax.com.au to see how much Labor is taxing their family budget. They can enter the cost of their last power bill and it will tell them how much of that bill the state Labor government is gouging from them. It's almost 25 per cent, which is a massive impost on mums and dads. It makes the cost of business so high that it impacts on jobs and it forces businesses to shut down or reduce in capacity.
In North Queensland, the Thomas Borthwick and Sons abattoir in Mackay have got an energy bill ballooning into the millions of dollars. That's money that would better spent on employing locals, job creation and making the end product more affordable for families. Farmers are already paying exorbitant prices for power without the Queensland Labor government adding a secret energy tax on top.
The escalating cost of water is made even more unaffordable when the price of electricity used to pump the water gets out of control. Unaffordable costs have already pushed the Pioneer Valley irrigation scheme to the verge of collapse.
To make matters worse in North Queensland, we have only one energy provider. Such a monopoly—it's the state government mind you—means families and businesses are forced to take whatever price is offered to them. It is not unusual for a government to move to break up such a monopoly and it is probably time that the federal government take a closer look at what the Queensland Labor government has done with the energy market and what it has failed to do. While the Queensland Labor government is happy to price gouge, kill jobs and industry and make families in North Queensland across the state even poorer, I am not.
I am very pleased that the energy minister and the Prime Minister have talked about considering setting up competition to the electricity market in Queensland, because we need fairer prices. We need fairer prices for north Queenslanders.
I would call on the federal government to take note of the strong support for building a high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power plant in North Queensland.
Earlier this year I started a petition, which again can be signed at powerthenorth.com.au. The campaign has attracted tremendous support from North Queenslanders because, unlike the Greens and Labor, we are not afraid of coal. We are not afraid of coal. North Queenslanders know modern generators reduce emissions by up to 50 per cent. They know they're a better option than Labor's dangerous 45 per cent emissions reduction target. North Queenslanders want to see jobs in construction and in operation, and they appreciate the benefits that affordable and reliable power can bring to their family and to local jobs, because energy is what drives our economy and improves our standard of living. Outrageous taxes from the Labor Party on your electricity bill are driving down our economy, driving down our standard of living, costing local jobs and costing your family budget.
You'd think the member for Fairfax would have learnt by now that the people of Queensland are sick and tired of the 'blame Labor' mantra. It's galling he can stand up here in this chamber and point the finger on energy policy when his party has held government since 2013 and done absolutely nothing for power prices. This government is in its sixth year and they haven't done anything but bicker amongst themselves about whether to listen to trusted scientists and economists.
On average, electricity prices in Queensland are the cheapest of all mainland states in Australia—the cheapest! In fact, the Queensland Competition Authority says that power prices have either fallen or remained stable in South East Queensland for four quarters in a row. The ACCC have acknowledged that this, at least in part, is because of the Palaszczuk government's policies, which are placing downward pressure on electricity prices. The fact of the matter is that Queensland state Labor government have been investing in affordable energy. Their $2 billion affordable energy plan is on track and more than 90 per cent—more than 90 per cent!—of the dividends received by the state-owned power assets have been invested into putting downward pressure on prices. You won't hear that from the member for Fairfax, of course.
But it seems that the facts don't interest the member for Fairfax. The LNP's analysis relies on incorrect assumptions and flawed logic from the starting proposition that wholesale prices have been reduced by 40 per cent. The Queensland government's actions have certainly put pressure on wholesale spot prices, which have fallen 21.7 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18. But the author of this motion, the member for Fairfax, should know that spot prices do not correlate directly with expected reductions in household bills. Queensland power assets compete in a national energy market to sell power. Consequently, they need to be competitive, and their cost structures, including their staffing, need to reflect a commercial reality. Further to this, the Australian Energy Regulator regulates Queensland's power network, including just how much revenue it can make—interesting. Again, you won't hear that from the member for Fairfax.
It's because Queensland has fought against the LNP's goal of privatising our power networks that the Queensland government can invest the dividends from these businesses to make electricity more affordable. Clearly the member for Fairfax has forgotten about Campbell Newman and the LNP government in Queensland. Ask Queenslanders what they thought of that government. There is no need to plead with boards or CEOs interstate or overseas for profits to be returned or reinvested into Queensland. But the member for Fairfax chooses to ignore absolutely all of this. Instead, he's just lazily pointing his finger.
After five years, we are still waiting for a federal policy from this government. The reality is that the federal Labor Party have instead stepped in and crafted sensible policy from opposition—a policy of cheaper energy, cleaner energy and reliable energy, and a policy that means working with states and private companies, not fighting with them. It involves listening to scientists and economists to create a forward-thinking plan that acknowledges the life spans of our pre-existing power stations and complements them with technologies like renewable energy generators and energy storage.
It's true that we've never been the biggest fans of the National Energy Guarantee, but, if it means something finally gets done, we're happy to work with the government to get this passed. If that's what it means, let's do something and get this passed. It's time that this government put aside its petty politics and sought to find a way to compromise within its party and its party room so that regular Aussies finally get a go. It's time the Liberals actually showed some leadership. It's time they showed up, took some initiative, took some action and put downward pressure on power prices, just as Queensland's state Labor government has done. I would suggest it would be fine if they just showed up. As we heard the member for Moreton say, there are not too many speakers today. Maybe they could just show up. That might be a good start. I'd suggest that, if this government doesn't take action now, what's going to happen come election time is that the voters are going to be pulling out a big stick for it.
I want to thank the member for Fairfax for bringing this motion to the House, because not only does it give me an opportunity to talk about the failure of the current Queensland state Labor government but it also reminded me of a previous Queensland state Labor government, led by one Peter Beattie, who promised that prices would fall under his privatisation of the retailers. But we've seen that, ever since that occurred, prices have increased.
On that note, I'd like to congratulate the Minister for Energy, Angus Taylor, for his work in seeking ways to reduce electricity prices, because, at the end of the day, we know that we have an economy that is based on power and, most importantly, based on reliable, affordable power. Business in this country relies on reliable and affordable power to ensure that it can manufacture and produce the goods necessary both for Australians here locally and for our export economy. We require cheap and affordable power to ensure that we can compete on an international stage—that our products are competitive. We require cheap and affordable power to ensure that our households can turn on their lights and power their air conditioners. As the member for Fairfax rightly pointed out, at the moment in Queensland we are having some very hot weather and we need people to be comfortable that they can turn on their air conditioners when they get home from work, or, if they are elderly people, that they can afford to have their air conditioners on during the day. That is why this motion is so important.
I know firsthand, and I have seen firsthand in my electorate, the gold-plating of the electricity network by a state Labor government. There was a project put together in my electorate through Logan Reserve, Chambers Flat and Logan Village that was complete and utter gold-plating. At the time, people in the local community who had a background in the electricity industry put a number of alternative proposals to Energex that would have been half the cost of what was ultimately put in place by Energex. That is just one example locally in my electorate, but I'm aware of plenty of others across the state where those things were also done. In relation to the issue of gold-plating, we know that this government has passed legislation to prevent the power companies and the networks price gouging on those gold-plated networks. But the worst part of all in relation to this motion, and in relation to Queensland in particular—the electricity companies—is that 70 per cent of the distribution, the generation and the transmission is owned by the state government. So they have been direct beneficiaries of these gold-plated networks and, in addition, they've been direct beneficiaries of the fact that the operators of those networks have sought to get returns over and above the regulated return that was originally approved by the Australian Energy Regulator by appealing those decisions. This government has put new rules in place that prevent those energy companies from appealing the decisions of the AER, in order to reduce the cost of those energy networks.
I again thank the member for Fairfax and I call on the Queensland state government to use the opportunity they have as the 70 per cent owner of transmission and distribution across the state to reduce electricity prices, as the ACCC report has pointed out, potentially by some $419 a year, which is roughly a quarterly bill—but also, as we've seen now in another report today, a potential increase in the profits of AGL and Origin, for them to take a hit as well. (Time expired)
I have been looking forward to this debate. It is like Christmas has come early. What does it say about a government that has stopped governing, has stopped turning up to work, and whose only policy announcement for today is to criticise a Labor state government? It says everything about the shambles of a so-called government led by the current Prime Minister. It was best summarised by Laura Tingle on the weekend in the Financial Review, who wrote:
There aren't many occasions in the past 30 years when a government has so comprehensively lost its political and administrative bundle.
That says everything you need to know about this government.
Today, the member for Fairfax wants to point to energy policy as a matter on which this government has some authority. We know they've jumped from one position to the next. Depending on which day of the week or the weather for the day, we don't know what their position will be. What we haven't heard a lot about in today's energy debate is the abandoned so-called signature policy, the National Energy Guarantee. We know the Prime Minister has said through all the course of this year that that policy had a broader base of consensus than any other proposition he had seen in his 10 years in parliament. He and the Treasurer reminded households pretty much every day that delivering the National Energy Guarantee would result in a cut in their power bills of $550. I'm going to read a quote into the Hansard that was made about the National Energy Guarantee. It's this:
The National Energy Guarantee will lower electricity prices, make the system more reliable, encourage the right investment and reduce emissions without subsidies, taxes or trading schemes …
Who said that? Was it anyone in this chamber? It was. It was the member for Fairfax who made that comment. Bagging out his own policy is one thing; flip-flopping on his own government's policy is another.
But instead they've junked their signature policy—which, in their own words, would lower prices—to come up with this so-called big-stick policy. This has gone down so well that media reports today say:
The move has prompted the Australian Energy Council, Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and others to join together to appeal to the government to abandon its plans, which it says will "specifically discourage badly needed investment in the energy sector".
Time and time again we have made an offer to work with the government on the National Energy Guarantee because, in their own words, it's the best way to bring the government's energy crisis to an end.
The member for Fairfax draws the attention of the House to power prices under the Queensland government. He doesn't reference anything to do with his own government, because we know there is nothing for them to reference—no plan, no ideas; nothing that the government have provided in the last five years. If the government could stop ripping themselves apart for 10 seconds instead of talking about themselves, bagging each other out, doing doorstops against each other—former prime ministers, current prime ministers, ex prime ministers, future prime ministers, all bagging each other out—they might want to listen to what has happened in Queensland because, thanks to the Palaszczuk Labor government, we have the lowest prices in the country. Why is that? It is because Queenslanders own their electricity assets.
There's someone very quiet in this debate today in this chamber who has not said a peep. That's the member for Groom, trying to keep his head down, trying to keep out of this frame, because the member for Groom speaks with authority about assets in Queensland. He was a minister in the Newman government, which attempted to sell Queensland's essential assets. What happened to them? They were thrown out of office, rejected by the community, rejected outright. The largest swing against a sitting conservative government in the nation's history occurred under the member for Groom's watch because they had such great ideas when it came to policy! We know their only agenda was to cut, sack and sell. If the member for Fairfax, the member for Bowman and the member for Groom had had their way, Queensland's essential services and assets would have been sold off.
So we will not be taking any lectures from any members from the LNP in Queensland when it comes to lowering prices in Queensland, because, under the Palaszczuk Labor government, we have the lowest energy prices. Rather than attacking that government, I would take a lesson from the Palaszczuk government, listen to what that government is doing to deliver a—