Thursday, 25 March 2021
Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (5) together:
(1) Schedule 1, item 7, page 4 (line 24), omit the definition of Secretary.
(2) Schedule 1, page 7 (after line 23), after item 15, insert:
15A At the end of Part 2
8A Prohibition on assistance for fossil fuel-based infrastructure
(1) Financial assistance must not be provided under this Act for the development of fossil fuel-based infrastructure.
(2) It must be a condition of any grant of financial assistance under this Act that the financial assistance not be used (whether directly or indirectly) for the development of fossil fuel-based infrastructure.
(3) Without limiting subsection (1), neither the Facility nor a subsidiary of the Facility may invest (whether directly or indirectly, including as a participant in a partnership, trust, joint venture or similar arrangement, through subsidiaries or other investment vehicles, or by any combination of these means) in fossil fuel-based infrastructure.
(4) In this section:
fossil fuel-based infrastructure:
(a) includes fossil fuel-based electricity generation capacity; and
(b) does not include electricity transmission infrastructure.
fossil fuels includes any of the following:
(b) oil and other petroleum-based products;
(c) natural gas;
(d) products, by-products and wastes from extracting or processing fossils fuels to which paragraphs (a) to (c) apply.
(3) Schedule 1, item 25, page 8 (line 29) to page 9 (line 1), omit the item.
(4) Schedule 1, item 27, page 9 (lines 4 and 5), omit the item.
(5) Schedule 1, item 42, page 10 (lines 15 to 24), omit the item.
These amendments will improve the integrity of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Amendment (Extension and Other Measures) Bill 2021 and prevent loss of taxpayer money on risky fossil fuel ventures.
Items 1, 3, 4 and 5 will omit provisions in this amendment bill which inserts that the Secretary of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources would be able to join the board on the NAIF. The NAIF must be independent of government. It must be independent for the community to trust that the provision of financial assistance is given with the utmost integrity and it must be independent to prevent ministerial influence on decisions of the NAIF. We've seen time and again this government seeking to stack agency boards with sympathisers or government employees. We saw it with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and we see it again here. With this fund we are not talking small amounts of taxpayers' money; we are talking billions of dollars, huge sums that will be spent, and we can't allow it to become a government controlled slush fund.
Item 2 will introduce a new section 8A which will ensure that taxpayer money is not used to support risky, loss-making fossil fuel ventures. It's extraordinary considering last year's fires and droughts and this year's historic floods that this government is here today seeking to support gas projects in the Northern Territory through the NAIF. The minister's comments were plain, and that is what these changes are really for. It's reckless and irresponsible in the extreme. Gas is as polluting as coal, and methane, the by-product, is far worse for the atmosphere in the short term. It is also incredibly poor economics. The revenues of the gas industry are being eroded by the continual price deflation in the cost of renewables. The result is fossil fuel majors are destroying their shareholders' wealth and writing down billions in assets. Santos, for example, since 2014 has written down over $8 billion of its assets. Many gas projects have been abandoned, and R&D spending has been downsizing. Oil and gas are in a precarious position caught between a confluence of forces. It's in structural decline. The industry knows this, and the market knows this. That's why they have their hands out for subsidies from sympathetic governments. The answer should be an unequivocal no.
The recent Grattan Institute report Flame out: the future of natural gas said the only rational approach for governments, the energy industry and its customers is to begin planning for a future without natural gas or at least with a substantially reduced role for natural gas. Instead of redirecting funding to fossil fuel projects, the NAIF should be promoting a clean technology vision for northern Australia. Northern Australia has enormous potential to supply the world with energy harnessed from remarkable wind and solar resources. The Sun Cable project and the Asian Renewable Energy Hub are two examples of what is possible. The amendments that I propose will ensure that NAIF funding is directed only towards worthy projects, not fossil fuel projects. The NAIF should remain independent. It should invest only in clean technologies that are actually for the future of northern Australia. Anything else would be money wasted.
I commend these amendments to the House.
I and the Greens support these very sensible amendments that have been moved, but it's worth being clear how it is that we got to the point of moving these amendments. The only reason we're debating these amendments moved by the member for Warringah is that Liberal and Labor voted just then to give public money to new gas projects. That's what they just voted for. We have a government fronting up and saying that it wants to take billions of dollars that could be going to schools and hospitals and, instead, use it to fast-track the climate crisis by expanding new gas projects in northern Australia. Liberal and Labor just voted for that. You can't say, 'We're in a climate emergency,' and then turn around and give public money to new gas projects, especially when we know that gas is as dirty as coal and when we know that expanding the Beetaloo Basin project—which is what this government wants to do and, apparently, is Labor wants to do as well—will blow any chance we have of Australia doing its fair share in meeting the Paris goals of limiting global warming to well below two degrees, while still aiming for 1½ degrees.
These amendments are absolutely critical. I think most people in the country would accept that the government doesn't quite get climate change, and most people in the country would accept that the government's not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis. But most people in the country would also be stunned to know that they themselves, the public, are bankrolling big gas corporations with the permission of Liberal and Labor. That's because what has just happened is that they have both voted to say, 'Let's take public money and make it available to big gas corporations.' And do you know what? The big gas corporations just brought in $50 billion in revenue and paid zero dollars tax. So, not only do they pay no tax, but Liberal and Labor say: 'We'll give you handouts. We'll give you money that could be going to bring down the cost of dental care or making public schools genuinely free.' No! Thanks to that vote, this money is now going to big gas corporations, who are going to be building stranded assets, and the public is going to be on the hook for them. We know we've got to get out of coal and gas. We absolutely cannot build any more new coal and gas. We have to get out of it. What we certainly should not do is use public money to make the climate crisis worse.
These amendments are very sensible and they are very critical because they make it plain that this fund cannot be used as a slush fund for the big gas corporations, which is what the government is trying to do. I'm disappointed, but not surprised, that the government moved this, because the government is just delivering, and this is payback for the political donations that the big gas corporations have given to the Liberal Party. But it appears that it's payback for the donations that the big gas corporations have given to the Labor Party as well. I urge the opposition to rethink and to support this amendment, so that no public money can go to fossil fuel projects as part of this terrible NAIF slush fund that the government is establishing.
The question is that the amendments be disagreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question agreed to.
It being after 1.30, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.