House debates

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:16 pm

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

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

The Government's mismanagement of the energy portfolio.

I call upon all 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 Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

For most governments and for most ministers having an Auditor-General's report which finds the misuse of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money would be a scandal. For this government it's called Thursday and for this minister it doesn't even touch the side. We heard him in question time: 'Nothing to see! All tickety-boo!' Three million dollars was given to a company which told the minister they couldn't do a feasibility study; he wouldn't take no for an answer, he was so determined to give away taxpayer dollars.

This report, which was released after the parliament rose last Thursday, should be categorised by the Parliamentary Library under 'H' for 'horror stories'. Even by this minister's standards, this is a damning indictment of his mismanagement. This report finds that the allocation of the funding was not fully informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice on the award of grant funding. It found that there was no probity framework covering the entire program and that appropriate arrangements had not been implemented to manage conflicts of interest. It found that Sion energy, as I said, told the government they couldn't deliver. It found that the department told the minister that there were real risks that the project would not be delivered. And it found that this company, which the minister was so determined to give almost $4 million to, had assets of $100 and debts of $70,000 with no other form of income. They have never delivered a coal-fired power station, let alone any other type of energy facility, yet this minister was very determined to give taxpayer money away.

When a government is soaked in scandal, it's our country that pays the price. When a government is so obsessed with spin and survival over policies and priorities, it's our country that pays the price. This government and this building are dealing with the most serious of issues at the moment. The most important thing is to ensure that women feel safe and valued in our national capital and in our national parliament. It's vitally important, and this minister will not use it as an alibi for his mismanagement. This minister will not use it as an excuse for his mismanagement. This is a minister who is a walking advertisement for the need for a national integrity commission in this country. This minister is a walking advertisement for the need for a federal ICAC. Our country pays the price for his maladministration of his portfolio.

To understand the context of the Auditor-General's report, we need to go back a little to the last election campaign. We need to go back to the Liberal and National parties telling the people of North Queensland and Australia that they had an answer for Australia's energy needs: it was a coal-fired power station in North Queensland. There were some on that side who said it shouldn't happen. There were members and cabinet ministers who said it will never happen. The member for New England said it was a firm commitment. He said there would be a coal-fired power station in Collinsville; he talked up that commitment. They were at war about whether to have a coal-fired power station in Collinsville. They knew that the private sector would never fund such an investment. They knew the private sector would never invest in a coal-fired power station in Collinsville or anywhere else. So these free market warriors, these protectors of our free enterprise system, came up with a cunning plan, a taxpayer funded coal-fired power station! But the minister at the table couldn't get the commitment to build it. So he promised decisive action, a feasibility study funded by the taxpayer!

So this maladministration started with dishonesty. The Auditor-General's report confirms, for anybody who's interested, that this was all about getting votes from North Queensland, not delivering energy to North Queensland. The people of Collinsville were promised a coal-fired power station. Now they're not even going to get a piece of paper for the $3 million which has been expended. This all comes down to the fundamental dishonesty of the government in the lead-up to the last election campaign. We in this chamber are all used to 'Taylor-made scandals'; we've seen them and heard about them. What the minister at the table hasn't learned in dealing with these Taylor-made scandals is the old lesson that the cover-up is normally even worse than the crime. The minister told us at question time that everything's fine, tickety-boo: 'We may have spent $3 million, and we're not even going to get a feasibility study, but, apart from that, the project worked perfectly well. The surgery went very well. The patient may have died but the operation was a success,' the minister told us. His other alibi is that, all the way through, he was informed by an independent strategic study. This independent strategic study apparently told the minister he had no choice but to go down this road: 'It had to be done. We needed a coal-fired power station. We needed the feasibility study. We need to do this because of the independent strategic study.' That's very interesting given that the minister announced the study in March 2019 but commissioned the independent strategic study seven months later. And the Auditor-General pointed out that, as of last January, he had not yet been briefed on the independent strategic study, which he had regarded as so important for this decision.

All of this has a real cost for our country and all of this is part of a pattern of behaviour by this minister. It's all part of a pattern of behaviour by this minister who, as a priority, engages in sledging the Sydney City Council based on the latest and best information he has at hand—which he downloaded from a website and has never really fessed up about where he got it from or who gave it to him. This is a minister who's very quick to get access to other cabinet ministers about things which are important to him. But is he so quick to get access to cabinet ministers about things that are important to Australia?

What is important to Australia, as we've been talking about on this side of the House, are the opportunities of getting energy policy right in this country, the opportunities of actually getting emissions and energy prices down—because that's what good climate change policy and good industry policy, working together, do. What is important are the opportunities for manufacturing in Australia, the opportunities for getting energy prices down, the opportunities for regional Australia—those areas which have built our country through cheap and reliable energy, who are the same places who can deliver cheap and reliable energy into the few future with the right policies; those areas with access to ports and railway lines and pipelines, with space for renewable infrastructure. They are the areas that can build our future. They are the areas that can power our economy into the future but they need policies. They need the right policy framework. They need a minister focused on the job at hand. They need a minister who understands the opportunities, not a minister who dishonestly plays games with the people of North Queensland—before the last election—and can't even implement that dishonesty with a degree of professionalism.

This minister can't even implement a feasibility study without the Auditor-General finding the need to bring out a report—which is very innocuously named Award of funding under the Supporting the Reliable Energy Infrastructure Program, but is a damning indictment of him and his management of his portfolio. This is a minister who told us the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Bill was a milestone for Australia. His personal talisman, his great legacy that he was going to leave—a milestone for Australia. It has been introduced into the House. We've all spoken on it. It's all been processed. I wake up every morning and I get the House of Representatives blue thinking, 'Maybe today's the day where it's going to come on for a vote. Maybe today's the day where we can see how the vote will go.' No, the minister doesn't bring it on for a vote. I have to say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, we'll never see it again. We will never see the bill again, because this minister is too incompetent to deliver it. He can't even deliver government policy, a bill to this chamber, let alone a policy for the country. He can't even deliver a framework for investment for our country. The people of regional Queensland deserve better. The people of North Queensland deserve better. The people of Australia deserve better. They're not going get it while this government is in office. They're certainly not going to get it while this minister is in office.

3:26 pm

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

What a tawdry performance from the member for McMahon. What else would you expect from the member from McMahon? It was absolutely tawdry. He is the shadow minister who wanted to tax Australians out of existence. Now he wants to impose a carbon tax. We all know it. He only got the job because his predecessor was sacked. His predecessor, the member for Hindmarsh, was sacked. One of the member for Hindmarsh's own colleagues—he might be over there actually, who knows?—called him, 'as useless as a vegan in a butcher shop'. That's a quote.

Here are some more glowing reviews of the policies we're seeing from those opposite. We hear Tony Maher describing those policies as, 'a gratuitous insult to the workers and communities whose livelihoods depend on them'. That's been reflected in comments from the AWU. They took a very similar dim view to Labor's policies on energy. We had a former Victorian Labor minister who named the member for Hindmarsh as one of the two people who lost Labor the last election—I think the other one is just over there—thanks to their economy-wrecking targets. The member for Hunter had it right on this issue, when he was talking about energy policy from those opposite, 'It hasn't turned out very well for us'. Well, it hasn't, because the member for McMahon's got the job now, not so ably supported by the member for Shortland, who helped put together Labor's carbon tax with Greg Combet. We all know about that. A sneaky carbon tax now though. He's moved away from an explicit one. Now he wants it to be a sneaky one. I remember sitting, waiting to go on to be interviewed on ABC regional radio several years ago and there was a member for Shortland, who was asked about whether their policy was a carbon tax. He said, 'an implicit carbon tax'. That's what those opposite want to do.

When I look to whether a policy is working I look at the outcomes. What we're seeing is a record eight consecutive quarters of year-on-year CPI reductions—a 9.2 per cent reduction in the last 12 months alone. I did a comparison with what we saw under Labor and the time they were in government: 23 consecutive quarters of CPI electricity price increases. The best quarter, the lowest increase, was 6.8 per cent in March 2009. The worst was in June 2012—they were building momentum like a snowball—an 18.5 per cent increase in one quarter.

The average over their time was a 12 per cent increase. That's not over the whole time they were in government; that's each quarter. That is the comparison. We've seen a 50 per cent wholesale price reduction since 2018, in the time since I've been the minister. We've seen the lowest December quarter wholesale prices since 2014.

Unlike those opposite we are lowering prices, while they raised them. Of course, central to that is more gas into our system, unlocking supply, efficient transportation and empowering customers. We've seen a 40 per cent reduction in the gas price; it is 40 per cent lower than it was in 2019. This is delivering results. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Before I do, we are achieving that at the same time as we are reducing emissions. We beat our Kyoto era targets by 459 million tonnes—almost a year's worth of emissions. Over the last two years alone we've improved our performance on emissions by 630 million tonnes; that's the equivalent of taking every car in this country off the road for 15 years, but we don't have to do that. Those opposite would do that; that's the kind of policy they would champion. But we don't need to do that. We, indeed, will strengthen and do strengthen our economy as we bring down emissions. Between 2005 and 2018 our emissions fell faster than Canada's and New Zealand's; theirs were flat. Ours are now down 19 per cent. Indeed, in the domestic economy there is a 36 per cent reduction. We have faster reductions than Japan and the United States.

Mr Conroy interjecting

I'll take that interjection. Those opposite hate our exports. The member for Shortland lives in a region that is a coal exporter, and he hates the coal industry.

Mr Conroy interjecting

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister will pause. The member for Shortland is warned. Any other members who don't want to be in the chamber for any subsequent divisions post this MPI are warned they won't be.

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

The member for McMahon, who is pretending that he likes the coal industry, went up to Queensland, visited a metallurgical coalmine and refused to do any media so that he could come back to the coffee shops of Sydney and Melbourne and explain to people that he in fact doesn't support the coal industry after all—just like his colleague the member for Shortland, who never supported the coal industry and is quite happy to see his constituents losing their jobs.

The member for McMahon mentioned the ANAO report. I make the very simple point that the ANAO report recognises that the department made a clear recommendation that the funding be approved. He can say whatever he likes but that was a clear recommendation, and it is focused on making sure we have the secure, reliable, affordable supply that Australians need. Ultimately this is about protecting jobs and creating opportunities for Australia—not destroying jobs, like those opposite would have us do.

The strength of our commitment to jobs and opportunities for all Australians was demonstrated just last week, on Friday, when the Prime Minister announced a package alongside the energy generators for the Portland aluminium smelter that will secure 500 jobs. Those are direct jobs for the Portland aluminium smelter.

Mr Bowen interjecting

I'll take the interjection from the member opposite—150 jobs, from a single contractor who I met this morning who will benefit.

Mr Bowen interjecting

That's right—150 jobs that will be protected, because they provide contractors to the Portland aluminium smelter. The member for McMahon wouldn't know that, because, as the member for Hunter has said, he's got his training wheels on.

We'll provide up to $77 million as part of that package over four years to secure Portland's participation in reducing energy demand at peak times. This is a unique role that aluminium smelters can play, but those opposite wouldn't understand. Certainly, the member for McMahon, with his training wheels on, wouldn't have a clue. What you can do with an aluminium smelter is make sure you keep the lights on and keep prices down at those peak demand times, and that's what we're recognising in this package. But it's alongside very aggressive, low wholesale electricity prices that were offered by the electricity generators as part of this package, and that is only possible because of the policies of this government to make sure we have affordable reliable energy in this country, in stark contrast to what we saw from those opposite when they were last in power.

We saw shining examples of mismanagement from those opposite when they were last in office. Indeed, based on the work of the member for Shortland, of course, and with the strong encouragement of the member for McMahon who wrote about this in glowing terms in his book, Labor in partnership with the Greens imposed a carbon tax that destroyed the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter, ending the careers of more than 300 people. It shut and announced its closure in the time when those opposite had imposed a carbon tax. This is the same carbon tax that the member for McMahon has gone out of his way to defend. He has never seen a tax he didn't like, whether it's a housing tax or a retiree tax, and now he's been put in this job to put in place a carbon tax, because what he loves more than anything else is taxing Australians.

3:36 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

What a weak effort from a weak minister! I see he didn't have the guts to mention Shine Energy even once, and there's a good reason for that. It's because, as Kerry Packer said, you only get one Alan Bond in your life, and Shine Energy only got one member for Hume in their life. Just imagine that you're Shine Energy. You're a company that's got $100 in the bank and you happen to owe $70,000 to everyone else. You've got $100 and you owe $70,000 and, along comes the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, who says, 'Take $3.3 million off me.' Shine Energy say, 'Hold on, no. I'm sorry.' In a fit of honesty, they say, 'Even if you give us the money, we can't do this study,' but the member for Hume, being the upstanding minister that he is, says: 'I insist. Take this $3.3 million.' What a joke! What a very lucky company to have run into the minister for energy in that corridor.

The tragedy is knowing what we could have done with that $3.3 million. That would have paid electricity bills for 2½ thousand struggling families in my electorate in Windale, for example. I'm sure every MP sitting here knows of families who struggle to pay electricity bills every day, and that money could have been used for them. It was interesting that the minister started quoting CPI statistics from the ABS. I went and had a look at those stats before question time. The minister always get very selective about when he starts the time series. What if you actually go back to when they won government, because they haven't been in power for only two years. They've had three prime ministers; they had to kill two prime ministers before we got the current one. They've been in power for almost eight years, and what has occurred on electricity prices in that period? Electricity prices since 2012-13 have gone up by 16.4 per cent. They haven't fallen, despite the minister's protestations; they have gone up by 16.4 per cent. That is a direct hit to the budget of every single family in this country.

What about wholesale energy prices? He had some other rubbish statistic that he was quoting there. According to the Australian Energy Regulator, wholesale spot prices in New South Wales in that period, for example, have increased by 50 per cent. So, during this period, we've had retail prices up 16 per cent and wholesale prices—the cost of generating electricity—up by 50 per cent. This minister is a joke. He is a joke who has presided over power prices going through the roof. At the same time, he's presided over renewable energy investment going through the floor. Since 2017, renewable energy investment has fallen by 80 per cent. One would say it's incompetence, but I actually think it's the minister's intention, because this is the same minister who said in 2018 there was 'already too much wind and solar in the grid'. So, clearly, he had a policy goal to destroy it. He has also said that the new climate religion 'has little basis in fact' and he said of large-scale wind that 'it's very clear that it's not economic on any grounds'. He has certainly worked very hard to make sure it's not very economic.

This is a minister who has driven prices up and renewable energy investment through the floor. He attacked Labor's hydrogen policy before the last election and stole it after the election.

An opposition member: He'll botch it.

And he is botching it. This is a minister who is part of a government that's had 22 energy policies in eight years, including four in 14 days. There was this glorious period in the middle of August 2018 when they had four energy policies in 14 days. Think about that. Think about the innovation and creativity, to change policies four times in 14 days.

What about emissions? The minister brags about emissions. This is another one where the minister cherrypicks data. The truth is that in the six years Labor was in government we cut greenhouse gas emissions by 93 million tonnes. In the eight years they've been in power they have, thanks to the member for New England, who was the policy powerhouse of this government, cut greenhouse gas emissions by nine million tonnes—nothing close to ours. The tragedy is that under this government emissions have stagnated—they're not falling; emissions have stagnated—power prices have gone up and our renewable energy investment has fallen through the floor. This is the tragedy of an incompetent minister who can't even hand over money to a Queensland company properly. They will be condemned by history for this incompetence. (Time expired)

3:41 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I've got to say, I walked into this MPI with the normal expectations, and they've been fulfilled by those opposite. Usually you can sit here and listen to a couple of those opposite make a few notes and come forward with some points to push back on what it is they're putting forward. I made a few notes about what they're talking about, and all I've got is 'Angus, Angus, Angus, Angus, Angus, Angus, Angus, Angus, Angus'—not a lot; not a lot at all about process, about policy, about what they propose.

We hear a lot about feasibility studies for the north. Well, we can say very clearly that our government has delivered on our election commitments. A feasibility study is about one thing, and that's determining whether a project is feasible. That's why you line up engineers. That's why you talk to people. That's why you put together business cases. A feasibility study is about the feasibility of a particular project. So, I thought, given that there's not much in anything they've said, I could move to the other piece, which is of course the differential, the split in those opposite when it comes to coal. But unfortunately the member for Hunter got up and walked out as well. He wasn't too interested in what was going on. So, I've lost one—the member for Hunter versus the rest, and the Otis group. It's all out the door, because the debate from those opposite is about one thing and one thing only: it's about coal workers and the coal industry, and they cannot bring themselves to support them.

This is an industry that delivers tens of thousands of jobs to regional Australia—billions of dollars into the Australian economy. It's what these individuals use to pay for their houses, to pay their mortgages and to put their kids through school, and it should be supported by both sides of the parliament. We hear a lot about the future of the coal sector, and I can tell you that the forecast I have is that there will continue to be increased demand for at least the next 10 years—at least—and even if there is some reduction over the next few decades it is not going to be significant. The reason we will continue to drive coal exports from this country is pretty straightforward: we have one of the best-quality products in the world. It is in demand right around the world. It has a high calorific content. It tends to be low-sulphur and low-ash. That is why individual companies in other countries use our coal—because it is some of the best. It should be supported by both sides of the parliament, not demonised, as it is by those opposite. Quite simply, they cannot land a position.

Our plan around the technology road map is about utilising technology for the benefit of the Australian people based on the resources we have in this country—resources that have been granted to us, which we will continue to utilise for the benefit of all those individuals in Australia. And we should continue to do that, because it drives so many jobs across the resources sector—some 264,000.

What do those opposite have to say about coal? Their current deputy leader said it would be a good thing if thermal coal prices collapsed. I don't think that would be good news for the individuals who work in the resources sector every single day. We want them to have a job. In fact, at the moment thermal coal prices are up. The spot price today is over $90. That is good news for Australia's thermal coal producers. Once again I see the member for McMahon has wandered off. He spent a lot of time wandering around Queensland in recent weeks. I am sure he had a guide with him; he wouldn't find his way to a mine otherwise! But I do welcome the fact that the member for McMahon has gone to a mine to inform himself about the hard work of those individuals in the resources sector.

As we continue to come through the effects of the pandemic, the resources sector has been the shining light of our economy. That is off the back of the hard work of the men and women that are in it. They are the ones who have been out there doing the hard yards. They've been away from their families and children. They are the ones who have been in isolation for long periods and doing longer shifts. I've got to tell you that I know they are getting tired. They are currently fatigued. There have been some significant challenges, particularly around proposals to shut, and I think that is likely to come to a head soon.

I support the resources sector. I support the work that we are doing around energy. I certainly support the minister for energy and the things he is trying to do around gas, because we need to continue to ensure we keep prices low and that electricity is reliable for those that utilise it, particularly in heavy industry. We know that those opposite are absolutely riven. They do not know what to do. They are torn. They do not support the resources sector, and those people out there don't believe a word they say.

3:46 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's perhaps take a step back from the machismo of calling each other names for a moment and talk about what we need in Australia, which is an energy policy—

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sorry; am I interrupting your conversation with yourself?

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member will direct her comments through the chair.

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. I was just wondering whether I was interrupting the member's conversation with himself there. What we need in this country is an energy policy that fosters renewable energy and promotes it, that reduces emissions and that reduces energy and electricity prices. What we need in this country is an energy policy that lasts.

Let's just go to a term of government, shall we? Let's start with a term of government. The fact of the matter is that over the last eight years there have been 22 energy policies. Why is that so bad? Apart from the instability that it gives to the market that this government professes to love so much, the instability that it gives to investors and the instability that it gives to the Australian public, 22 energy policies in eight years have given this country higher electricity prices. Retail electricity prices, as the member for Shortland has said, have increased by 16.4 per cent under this government, which has to stop trying to pretend it only just got elected. Twenty-two energy policies in eight years has led to increases in wholesale electricity prices of up to 50 per cent. These are numbers.

I'll tell you who aren't numbers: the pensioners in my electorate of Dunkley who contact me all of the time wondering how they're going to keep the heat on in winter because they can't afford to pay for their electricity. I'll tell you who aren't numbers: it's the age pensioners in Dunkley who swelter through summer because they can't afford to put on an air conditioner. Or, if they do, they can't afford to buy food. They're real people; they're not just numbers.

What have 22 energy policies in eight years delivered for this country? Higher greenhouse emissions. You know, the actual annual emissions in this country remain nearly four per cent above the low point of March 2014.

For the six years the Labor Party was in government, greenhouse emissions were cut by 93 million tonnes and in eight years, as the member for Shortland said, this government has reduced them by nine million tonnes. That's what you get with 22 energy policies in eight years. Here's a tip to the Minister and the government: those emissions and electricity costs are supposed to be going down, and renewable energy investment and delivery is supposed to be going up and it's not because this government isn't supporting it and it's not delivering it. It's bad for the economy, it's bad for the environment and it's bad for people. You must care about one of those three things—the environment, the economy or people. We on this side care about all three of them. That's why we have to have a modern energy policy. That's why we need to have an electricity grid that is fit for purpose now and for the energy delivery of the future. You don't hear this government talking about implementing the AEMO's report about rewiring our electricity grid for the jobs, to support renewables, for the good of the future. That's what we want in my electorate of Dunkley. We don't want this machismo of yelling and defending yourselves.

3:51 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a scientist, I know that it is vital we take ambitious and practical action on climate change. As the member for Higgins, with approximately 28,000 small and family businesses across my electorate, I understand the need for guaranteed access to low-cost energy. That is why the Morrison government has a clear and comprehensive plan for affordable and reliable energy that simultaneously ensures a green sustainable future for all Australians. We on this side of the House are not focused on the 'if' we get there but on 'how' we get there. And we will get there by unleashing the capabilities of the new technologies that are coming to light.

As the global economy transitions, a future of net-zero carbon emissions is what we are committed to. We will support that by also supporting the electricity grid security, providing low-cost energy to consumers and therefore protecting the future of our planet. That is why the Morrison government has developed Australia's first technology road map. We understand that prioritising new and emerging technologies will support the creation of 130,000 jobs and assist in our recovery from the COVID-19 recession. This approach will see the development and deployment of low-emissions technology supported by businesses, customers and the free market.

Those opposite don't have a single plan or policy to reduce emissions. It's all talk on that side, not action. Not only does our plan complement our future obligations which we will again meet and beat but also provides a clear pathway for business, industry and entrepreneurs to thrive. Vitally this will be achieved through technology, not taxes. There is no doubt that the optimal means to achieve our ambitious targets to tackle emissions is to harness innovation, technology and enterprise.

We on this side understand that energy prices are critical to business. We've put energy companies on notice with the introduction of our big-stick legislation. This includes electricity caps for families and small businesses and the ban we have placed on unreasonable late payment fees. Importantly, these measures are achieving results. Report after report is telling us that the Morrison government's plan is working, with wholesale electricity prices falling for 18 consecutive months. Prices are now at their lowest level in six years and this is because of our actions to back in businesses. With wholesale costs making up approximately a third of residential electrical bills and even more for industry, these savings are being passed on to hundreds of thousands of families and small businesses across Australia. They have benefitted directly from the reforms that we have put in place, including almost 28,000 small businesses across Higgins who all rely on more affordable energy. There are still better deals to be had, and I encourage my constituents and businesses in Higgins to find the best possible deal by going to the Energy Made Easy website. They can shop around for the best possible deal so that they have access to the affordable and reliable energy that they require and that we have made possible through our big-stick legislation.

On this side of the House we realise the importance of practical action on climate change. It's not some sort of pie-in-the-sky concept where, hopefully, we'll get there in the future; this is about getting there with practical, costed plans. In 2020 the Morrison government exceeded our achievement of the 2005 Kyoto targets by 459 million tonnes. We have also seen Australian emissions fall faster than the average of G20 countries and fall at a much greater compared rate to our New Zealand neighbours, or even our Canadian friends. They have barely budged on their reductions in emissions. Moreover, the recently released December 2020 forecast further demonstrates our credentials on climate action, with Australia on track to meet and beat our 2030 Paris targets. Indeed, over the past two years our position against 2030 targets has improved by 630 million tonnes. That's the equivalent of taking all of Australia's 14 million cars off the road for 15 years. Make no mistake, this is important stuff.

Our plan is delivering results—results for energy which hit the three targets of being affordable and reliable while also driving down emissions. This is a plan, and it's working.

3:56 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

It is hard to believe that a third-term, eight-year-old government cannot manage to settle a national energy policy. That would be extraordinary at any time in our history. It is extraordinarily harmful to be in that position at the time when Australia and the rest of the world are going through an energy transformation. We're going through that transformation in order to combat dangerous climate change and in order to set the foundation for a 21st century economy based on clean and affordable energy and based on new energy investment, innovation and jobs.

We are blessed in this country with the highest-quality natural resources, when it comes to clean energy innovation, and the highest-quality human resources. We are lucky to be in that position. We should be a renewable energy superpower and, in time to come, we should be a renewable energy exporter. It's inevitable that the world will go down that path and Australia actually has a lot to gain from leading the way internationally and in our region. But we're not on that track because we have a government that cannot settle a national energy policy.

If you ask people out in the community what a national energy policy would mean to them, they would say, 'It's the kind of basic administrative competence and leadership I expect of my government in order to deliver cheap and affordable energy and in order to lower emissions and combat climate change.' For those opposite, settling a national energy policy is a euphemism for having some almighty ding-dong battle that results in the demise of the latest Prime Minister. Every single time they have had even half enough courage to approach that task, that has been the result.

If upon coming into government they had simply left the settings, programs and policies that Labor had put in place we would be in a lot better position than we are now. Unfortunately, it hasn't even been as good as that; it hasn't even been as good as them hopping in the vehicle and leaving the satnav set as it was. Instead, they have actively undermined the progress that was made under the previous Labor government. They have attempted to defund the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and they have attempted to distort and pervert the Clean Energy Finance Corporation at every opportunity. That's something that is in train in this parliament at the moment: they have extreme members of the coalition backbench hoping to pin amendments onto that bill so that it becomes capable of funding coal-fired power and even nuclear energy, which is just utterly ridiculous. They've abandoned the Renewable Energy Target, but they talk about the progress that has been made in relation to renewable energy, which has been achieved entirely by the trailing value of Labor's reforms—the CFC, ARENA and the Renewable Energy Target, which, unfortunately, was allowed to run out last year. They've done nothing yet to address grid stability and transmission capability and investment. They currently have some discussion paper after eight years, three prime ministers, 21 aborted policies and God knows how many ministers.

They have no electric vehicle policy. When it comes to liquid fuel security in this country, our liquid fuel demand is higher than in almost every other comparable OECD country. Our mining and agricultural sectors are 90 per cent reliant on diesel fuel and our transport sector as a whole is 99 per cent reliant on liquid fuels, yet we have an uptake of electric vehicles that is one-seventh the rate of countries like Canada and the United States. Our energy security is at risk, not least because of the policy failures and inaction of this government.

When it comes at the end of the day to the absolutely critical area of energy policy and the national management of our energy transformation, the only conclusion the Australian people can reach, sadly, is that the government has been worse than useless. If it had done nothing and left the settings it inherited as they were, we would be in a better position than we are now. This government has gone out of its way to cut support, to gut programs, to play games and to indulge in ridiculous scare campaigns around electric vehicles. It has subjected Australia to an energy policy blackout. It has been a stinking, pestilent wet blanket on energy policy in this country. What does that mean in the end? It means higher prices, higher emissions, no innovation and fewer jobs.

4:01 pm

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a bit rich for those opposite to be harping on about energy policy and the cost of power when their colleagues in the Queensland state Labor government are continuing to ensure that people in North Queensland pay more than anywhere else in the country for power.

Honourable Member:

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And WA. This is one of the top five issues raised with me every single day in the electorate. The cost of power is crippling people there.

Ms Wells interjecting

I'm happy to take the interjection from the member for Lilley, who lives in the south-east corner, which has competition to get a lower price. In North Queensland there is only one provider and it is owned by the state Labor government. We need competition in the north. I think that it's reasonable that somewhere like Townsville has competition to let the market decide and dictate power prices, like in Brisbane and in the south-east corner in the member for Lilley's electorate. If there's no competition, there's no opportunity to shop around for a better deal and there's no such thing as the standard offer, which means the federal government is left with very little opportunity to step in and help.

This is something I wrote to the Premier about just weeks after being elected. I asked if we could introduce competition and I was told, flat out, no. It was not, 'Maybe.' It was not: 'Thank you for your correspondence. Let's work together.' It was not, 'How can we do better for the people of North Queensland?' It was just no. I urge those opposite to do the right thing and chat to their Queensland Labor colleagues in Brisbane and ask for competition in the market to drive down the prices in North Queensland. I think we can all agree that people in the north of Queensland and Western Australia deserve to have cheaper power prices.

Because the lousy Labor state government in Queensland doesn't want to play ball we need to be doing what's right and be doing more in this space. We haven't sat by and done nothing. I've mentioned plenty of times in this place that we have backed CopperString 2.0. This is a massive project that starts in the electorate of Herbert and runs all the way out to Mount Isa. It's a major transmission line that will connect the north-west minerals province with the NEM, adding more supply to the market and driving down power prices for locals. We want people to invest in North Queensland. We want businesses to get out of the south-east corner and the capital and go to the regions. If power prices are too high, how do we get them there? CopperString will drive power prices down.

One of the biggest problems we have with the Queensland state government's renewable energy policy is that all this money has been injected into renewable projects but it doesn't seem to worry too much about the infrastructure needed to connect them to the grid. For example, there's a new solar farm in my electorate, which generates a lot of power throughout the day, but the grid can't handle it when it's at full, so a lot of energy is completely wasted. CopperString 2.0 will connect up Mount Isa and Townsville as well as all the generators in between, along the line. We'll put a fair bit of money into it—$11 million—to assist CopperString to work up to their proposal to the point where an investment decision can be made. They've signed deals with two contractors to build the project, thanks to this investment. This is already sparking a bunch of other projects, with new players coming into the market knowing that this one is on the horizon. For example, yesterday it was reported that planning work for a $600 million Vast Solar renewable energy project in Mount Isa will begin soon. So, we're delivering in North Queensland in a very tangible way through CopperString 2.0.

I've always said that we need to have a blended model when it comes to energy. We need to have renewable energy, we need to have coal, we need to have solar, we need to have wind and we need to back them all, because they create not just the energy market but also thousands of thousands of jobs. I also want to highlight that we will not be turning our back on the coal sector. We will be investing in new technologies while these continue to provide opportunities to the existing ones. In 2018 coal made up just over 75 per cent of Queensland's energy generation capacity. We can't just flick the switch off, and we won't just flick the switch off. It brings a lot of revenue, not just into my electorate and not just into the state but into the country. It also creates thousands of thousands of jobs. I know that a lot of people in this place, on both sides, support the mining and resource sector, and we will continue to back the coal and the resources that come with that.

4:06 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are facing one of the greatest challenges of our time, and the Morrison government is wasting precious time with its inaction. We need a clear and coherent energy plan, and we need it now. We are getting closer and closer to a real energy crisis. We know some of the ways we can address that crisis but, without guidance and support from the government, industry will continue to be backed against a wall. Climate change is a real and genuine threat. But moving towards a renewable energy future also holds a wealth of opportunity. What frustrates me more than anything with this government's failure on energy is the opportunity for job creation that we are wasting.

This is going to take time. These industries won't pop up overnight. We won't suddenly become 100 per cent reliable on renewables tomorrow. It isn't possible—and, frankly, it would be irresponsible. This is what those opposite don't seem to understand. What we are talking about is a transition, and transitions take time. They take careful planning—making sure we help those who are moving out of old industries at the same time that we are helping people move into new ones. We have to build the skills, which means we have to have a healthy vocational educational system—yes, I am talking about TAFE, another aspect that this government and the New South Wales Liberal government also seem to be conveniently forgetting about. TAFE needs to play a critical role in this, training apprentices, teaching people the skills they need for the future. Education is essential. But even now we are seeing more and more funding being ripped out of TAFE and more and more jobs lost. It sounds like a different issue, but as a former TAFE teacher I can tell you it's not. It should all be forming part of the plan. But this government doesn't have a plan. I often feel like I'm yelling into a black void over so many things, because I can see the potential, I can see what needs to be done, and so can many in my community.

In March I've spent a lot of time talking with organisations about energy. I learnt so much, and I was so proud of what I saw. I met with Phil from Innovate Energy at farmer Tim's farm; he is one of the farmers involved in Australia's first biogas waste energy plant, near Nowra. I've spoken about our cow poo energy project before, but I'm just so excited about it that I can't stop talking about it. Local farmers have been pushing to do this for years, and now it's becoming a reality. I got a first-hand run-through from Phil and Tim. There's another plant on its way, at Kangaroo Valley. Because of the work done by Shoalhaven City Council over many years to develop the Reclaimed Water Management System, which is another fabulous energy innovation, this will be up and running in no time—12 or more months—with South Coast dairy farmers leading the way on energy in Australia.

Then there is Repower Shoalhaven, whose solar farm project is moving along so quickly. It is looking to be up and running by the end of the year. How fantastic is that! They have partnered with Flow Power. I was delighted to get an update only a couple of weeks ago on where things are at. Local businesses are excited to be involved, and it won't be long before the Shoalhaven solar farm becomes a real staple in our local energy market. I also met with the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance in Moruya to talk about how they are helping the Far South Coast community become more energy resilient. They are focusing on strengthening the grid locally and, in only five days, they managed to secure 860 signatures in support of a feasibility study into microgrids across the Eurobodalla. This is remarkable, and it just goes to show that local people want to see us looking to our energy future and formulating a plan now that will help us build that future that will have all those mutual benefits for communities—job creation, lower power bills and addressing climate change.

I want to sincerely thank all the local organisations who are working at this every day. Thank you to those who met with me over the last few weeks to show me how you are leading the way towards our energy future. Now it's time for the Morrison government to step up and do the same.

4:11 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about energy policy in this House, particularly as a South Australian, given that we've had a rocky few years when it comes to reliability and prices. I would say that three fundamentals of an energy policy are a reliable system, a system that's affordable and one where you're reducing emissions, particularly against international agreements we are making. I will address each of those three elements in my contribution.

Firstly, I will speak about reliability. In South Australia, we have had significant reliability issues in years gone by, and, thankfully, we seem to have moved beyond that. No-one from South Australia will forget the statewide blackout that happened in 2016. In early 2017, we had rolling load-shedding incidents that led the then government to have to purchase diesel generators to underpin our system. There's nothing worse than generating electricity through dirty diesel. But, when you don't plan for a reliable system and you don't have the firm base-load capacity in place, as was the situation that developed in South Australia, that's the sort of thing you have to resort to. Thankfully, we are progressing with an interconnector between South Australia and New South Wales which will give us around 850 megawatts of interconnection between those two grids, on top of the 800 megawatts we've got between South Australia and Victoria. That's obviously going to double the amount of electricity we can bring into the system. More importantly, South Australia can export out of the system, and that's going to unlock a lot of investment in South Australia. But, in terms of reliability, it's going to ensure that we will never risk a repeat of the situation we faced in 2016 when the entire grid collapsed. That sort of reliability is going to be fundamental for the other important challenges in energy policy for us.

The second point is affordability. Thankfully, again, there have been good developments in the last few years since the change of government in South Australia. In the 2019 financial year, the wholesale price per megawatt hour was $109.80. In the 2020 financial year, it was $62.04. In this year to date—bearing in mind that we're towards the end of March, so we've gone through the summer period which usually puts the higher price pressures on—the average wholesale price is down to $36.48. So, in just three years, we've seen wholesale prices fall to one-third of what they were. That's a great story for families, a great story for businesses and a great story for future investment in the South Australian economy, because affordable electricity was one of the great strengths that South Australia brought to the proposition of attracting investment and job creation in our state, and it certainly can be a great strength again. I welcome those falls in prices. Of course, we have to be ever vigilant there. We need a lot more investment, but we're attracting that investment into South Australia because, with more generation, particularly on the back of the interconnector that we will have switched on, hopefully, by 2023, there's a sound opportunity not just to generate electricity in South Australia for the South Australian market but to export electricity into the rest of the National Electricity Market. That is going to ensure that we keep downward pressure on prices. But to have a wholesale megawatt-hour price of $36.48 in South Australia is truly remarkable.

Finally: on reducing emissions. We're very lucky in this country and in my home state that we've had good investment in recent years and that we continue to have record investment in renewable energy. What is vital is that that's underpinned by firm, reliable dispatchable electricity so that all the renewable energy that we're putting into place is not just intermittent. That's fine when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining, but it doesn't help you very much when neither of those factors are in place. I am particularly proud of the Commonwealth government's Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the work that we've been doing in supporting households investing in home-scale battery systems so that they connect those to rooftop solar. They can store energy when they're generating it and they can use it when they need it. This is one of the very practical examples of our technology-rather-than-taxes approach to reducing emissions and also to the other two pillars—reducing prices and ensuring reliability.

I am very hopeful for the future of the electricity market in my home state and in this nation because of the Morrison government's approach to this and because we're focused on investing in and backing technology so that we can have that affordability and reliability, coupled with the emissions reductions we need into the future.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.