Monday, 29 July 2019
Questions without Notice
I thank the honourable member for her question and for her strong focus on a fair deal for energy for the people in her electorate, because on this side of the House we are focused on lowering energy prices and ensuring the reliability of the power grid. That's why from 2 July we've seen the introduction of the retailer reliability obligation. That means that the big energy companies have to have supply in place to meet their customers' needs years ahead of time. It's also why we've created our program to underwrite new, reliable generation in the market, pushing power prices down and keeping the lights on.
It's simply not enough to have power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. We need it 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and that's why we're sharply focused on keeping our existing coal and gas generation in the market running at full tilt. I'm pleased to say that we will be bringing forward later this year the big stick legislation that those opposite have voted against 13 times in this parliament. This legislation is vital to ensuring that we have another tool in the toolkit to maintain supply in the market and drive prices down. We saw in 2016, as a result of the reckless targets of the Victorian Labor government, the exit of the Hazelwood Power Station, and the mere announcement of that exit saw a doubling of wholesale prices in Victoria. Since then we've seen in Victoria, as a result of the exit of Hazelwood, prices hiking and lights going out. Two hundred thousand Victorian households and businesses lost their power last summer.
Despite the clear failure of that policy and a similar policy from the previous South Australian Labor government, those opposite want to roll this policy out nationally. During the last election, we saw independent modelling telling us that doing so would double the wholesale prices of electricity and triple the price of gas. We on this side of the House sit on the side of a fair deal for the hardworking small businesses and households of Australia.
Mr Brian Mitchell interjecting—
My question is to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. I refer to the minister's earlier answers. Will the minister table any correspondence about the grasslands listing from constituents received prior to his meeting with the Department of the Environment and Energy in March 2017?
I've already made a comprehensive and detailed statement in the House, earlier today. I tell you: the frustration of the farmers with this listing was clear in 2014, in a table that I documented earlier today as part of that comprehensive statement. The National Farmers Federation—
It goes to relevance. We've got the letter in 2014. This is about any constituent correspondence; any at all will do. Was there a single person who wrote to him about this prior to the meeting?
The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.
Honourable members interjecting—
Members will cease interjecting. I'll just make a couple of points from the Practice that are relevant for the Leader of the Opposition—even for the question that was asked, I have to say. The Practice makes very clear that questions can elicit a yes/no answer, and that's a classic example of it, but that that can't be demanded of the minister. I'm listening to the minister. He's not 30 seconds into his answer yet. If you need me to pull out the page of the Practice, I will, but it's very clear in there. There's a long history of questions inviting a yes or no answer. Invite as you may, you can't demand a yes or no. I need to listen to the minister to check that he's being relevant. I appreciate the question. Obviously there are other sections of the Practice that relate to not identifying constituents, but we're not at that point. The Leader of the House, on a point of order.
In addition to that, it must have been the case that any correspondence or any oral representations went not in the position as a minister. They went from constituents to a member of parliament. At that stage, he did not have ministerial responsibility.
Ms Bird interjecting—
The representations that went from constituents did not go to the member in his capacity as a minister, because he didn't have the relevant portfolio. They went in his capacity as a member of parliament representing on a local issue.
On that point: the question begins by referring to the minister's earlier answers. Whether it's relevant to someone's current portfolio or not, once they have made a statement while in the current portfolio we are allowed to question that statement, which is specifically referred to both in your own rulings and in the Practice.
Do members on my left wish me to actually address the point of order or just watch them interject for 15 seconds? I've listened to both the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business. The point the Manager of Opposition Business made is right, and I've ruled that way several times: a minister can't be questioned about any of their previous portfolio responsibilities until such time as they address them, and once that's been done—that's why questions do refer to a minister's previous answers. I've ruled numerous times in accordance with those precedents. I think it's fine for the question to be asked. Obviously, the manner in which it's been asked is a matter for the minister in how he seeks to deal with that.
In my statement earlier today in the House, I said that in late 2016 and early 2017 I spoke with farmers from Boorowa and Goulburn, in my electorate, and Yass, which had been in Hume until mid-2016, about this listing and their concerns about the listing.
Mr Albanese interjecting—
Can I get the minister to pause for a second. This is precisely why I wanted to hear the minister. He is being directly relevant to the question. Unless you let me listen to him, I can't make that judgement. He is being directly relevant to the question.
On 21 February 2017 I spoke with a farmer near Yass who expressed strong and detailed concerns about the revised listing, pointing out that it had occurred despite the concerns of the National Farmers Federation and the NSW Farmers Association and with little consultation with the farmers themselves. A letter from the National Farmers Federation to the department back in 2014 typified and laid out very clearly the frustration of the farm sector in response to the proposed adjustment to listing under the EPBC Act. They made it very clear that the evidence supporting the listing is not sufficiently robust. This was of deep concern to farmers across my electorate and across the region. I stood up for them, and the member for Eden-Monaro failed to do what he should have done.