House debates

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Climate Change

3:15 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

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

That the House recognise that faster action on climate change is one of the most effective ways of insulating households against rising costs of living.

I call upon those honourable 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—

3:16 pm

Photo of Kylea TinkKylea Tink (North Sydney, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians from all walks of life are facing a cost-of-living crunch. Residents in my electorate of North Sydney are amongst them, with rising costs of mortgages and rents, food and groceries, energy and gas bills and petrol. Some of the most vulnerable in our committee still can't afford the energy they need. Too many people are depriving themselves of energy by taking fewer showers, cooking less, not heating or cooling their homes or going without food, medicine and other essentials to pay energy bills. It is clear that business as usual is not good enough for households and families.

At the same time, as a nation we are facing a climate crisis. Sea levels are rising, the arctic is melting, coral reefs are dying, oceans are acidifying and forests are burning. It is clear that business as usual is not good enough for our planet.

A solution to these dual challenges is available if we step up to grab it. The solution is to electrify everything. Renewable energy solutions are becoming cheaper, more reliable and more efficient every day. Our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable and harmful to the planet, which is why we have to change the way we produce and consume energy. Every year the decision to transition to ever cheaper renewables becomes a financially beneficial decision for more and more households. The average Australian household that switches from fossil fuels to electricity and efficient electric devices for transport, cooking and heating experiences benefits on three fronts. Firstly, annual household energy emissions decrease from 11 tonnes to zero tonnes. Secondly, daily energy usage reduces by about two-thirds, from 102 kilowatts per hour to 37 kilowatts per hour. Thirdly, households save around $3,000 to $5,000 dollars per year. These savings are so important for families struggling with rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

The question then becomes: how can we in this place ensure the maximum number of households across Australia benefit from these cost savings? We can learn much from the Inflation Reduction Act which was passed last year in America. The Inflation Reduction Act is a spending bill. It isn't so much a question of new legislation as it is a question of redirecting funds, mostly through tax credits. It includes taxpayer funded incentives to turbocharge investment in renewable energy and electrification. This spending stretches across households, businesses, large-scale energy supply projects and industries like green hydrogen. Crucially, it is called the Inflation Reduction Act. It is an act designed to achieve mass electrification and climate benefits all while reducing inflation. For example, fossil fuel prices rise at approximately the rate of inflation. With these increases, Australian households are forecast to be spending $9,500 on energy per year by 2050. If that same household was electrified, it could expect to be paying one-third of that per year—a third!

The Inflation Reduction Act shows that investing in electrification will help to reduce cost of living and inflation. It marks a step-change in the global transition to a decarbonised economy. It establishes America as a magnet for clean energy investment, technology and workers, all of whom are making a beeline for a country which has signalled its readiness to lead the world in the energy transition.

America's example highlights how much more we could be doing in Australia. If we don't step up our investment in electrification, we may find ourselves the losers in a rapidly accelerating global race for the labour, material and money needed to decarbonise. So what would investment in an inflation reduction act look like in Australia? Models run by Rewiring Australia show that an overall investment by government of around $12 billion over the 2020s would finance electrification of all suitable households with electric devices and electric vehicles. Importantly, this investment would also generate energy bill savings in the order of $3,000 to $5,000 per household per year in 2030. This spending could be achieved through a variety of measures—for example, grants to low-income households for energy efficient upgrades and renewable installation.

Another measure which could be rolled out in my electorate of North Sydney is an electrification pilot. Our community is ready to allow market design, grid integration and new business models such as community ownership to be tested so it can be rolled out more broadly. Other measures might also include directions to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to allocate funds towards electrifying both households and businesses in the form of zero interest loans.

There is much more Australia can do to match the scale of investment made by America in the Inflation Reduction Act. It's clear our efforts to reduce emissions and lower the cost of living go hand in hand. Electrification is the key, and I urge the government to commit strongly to the ambitious measures I have described. I'd like to cede the remainder of my time to the member for Indi.

3:21 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

For too long, debate around action on climate change in this country has focused on how much it would cost. Members of the coalition and the media have said time and time again that we can't afford to take action on climate change, that we can't afford to lower emissions. We know in fact that the opposite is true. As a society, as a country, as a planet, we cannot afford to allow climate change to continue unchecked. We also know actions that contribute to reducing emissions will also have a direct impact on reducing the cost of living for our households. It makes sense on every level to take action on climate change, especially when it comes to helping Australians cope with the rising cost of living.

Climate change is already affecting our lives and our household budgets in ways we didn't realise at a glance. The floods we experienced in Australia last year had a significant impact on the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables both in the effect on farms and in the effect on logistics. Prices soared; we all saw $12 lettuces, and that was just the start. The Australia-wide average cost of fruit and vegetables spiked by four per cent over a three-month quarter, shifting $153 million in costs onto Australian households.

We also know that extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change, have an impact on our health. A study by the Climate and Health Alliance in 2020 found people who were poor, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged, people living in poor quality housing and people living in regional and remote areas were at more risk of health impacts from climate change. The costs of responding to and managing the health impacts of climate change are yet another squeeze on the cost of living.

The most obvious way in which climate change is affecting the cost of living is in our electricity and gas bills. Both have increased in the past 12 months, as we hear constantly from our constituents and in this place, but gas has increased much, much more. The rising cost of electricity and gas is one of the biggest contributors to the rising cost of electricity and the cost of living in my electorate of Indi. Wodonga is in the top 30 postcodes in the state for forced electricity disconnections; in fact, regional areas make up 40 per cent of forced disconnections in Victoria even though we only make up 25 per cent of the population. Costs are high and reliability is also a challenge, especially in rural areas at the edge of the grid—and I have several of them, in the towns of Corryong, Euroa and Mansfield. Brownouts and blackouts are regular and much more frequent than in major cities.

As we are faced with hotter days and nights and more extreme weather, the demand on the electricity grid is set to increase. But there are simple ways—the member for North Sydney has talked about some already—to address reliability and cost and to reduce emissions and stress on the grid at the same time. We have the technology and we also have policies that are ready to go. It's simple! Well, it's not particularly simple. But there are some straightforward things that the minister sitting here right now could do. The first step would be to get households off gas and switch to high-efficiency electric versions of appliances. No-interest loans are operating in many places around the world; they're operating right here in the ACT. I encourage the government: make the switch and help low-income households get high-value electric appliances.

The government say they don't want to mandate these changes. Then don't. Incentivise them, through low-interest loans or no-interest loans.

We need our Australian families to install home batteries, but they're mighty expensive. So I put to government last year—and I will put it you again—that a move which could unlock household savings is to make home batteries cheaper. In the last parliament, I introduced the cheaper home batteries bill to do exactly this. It's a simple change that would extend the small-scale renewable energy scheme to include batteries as well as solar panels. I say to the minister: this is a really good idea, and you should do it. Australians have taken up solar like nowhere else in the world, and they would take up these batteries too. Household and community batteries are the next step to realise solar's full potential, keep the cost of energy down, increase reliability and reduce stress on the grid.

We know the problem, we've got some solutions and we have ways to do it. I say to the minister, and I say to the government: I know you're on board with these ideas—I know you are. We have people all over the nation just champing at the bit to do these things. Help us along; it's an incentive, and I say that to you now. I say that to the members here on this side of the House, actually—people from rural and regional Australia. You should jump on this. This is a good one for us. Don't hold back. The cost of living is the single most important thing we are trying to face right now, in addition to grappling with a climate emergency. We have many complex bills before the House. We're dealing with them— (Time expired)

3:26 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for North Sydney for—I'm sure in collaboration with her colleagues—submitting this matter of public importance, and it is important. It is worthy of the House's time to discuss the issues that have been raised. I agree with much of what my honourable friends have said in the last 10 minutes or so.

For too long, this country has been bedevilled by an argument, put by some in politics and in media, that action on climate change and action on renewable energy might be a good idea but comes at the cost of the economy. It's always been a myth; it's always been a lie. But it's never been more of a myth and a lie than today. As the cost of renewable energy has fallen and the cost of storage is falling, it is the case that renewable energy is the answer to our challenges, not the cause of them. The member for New England's not too happy with me saying this. He doesn't agree. He's entitled to seek the call to put his case that he doesn't believe that renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy. But, the fact of the matter is, it is. Not only is it the cheapest form of energy, but it is the answer in many senses to the energy trilemma.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for New England says it isn't, but I'll refer him to the CSIRO and the International Energy Agency. He apparently knows better than them. I know the member for New England is a passionate advocate of small modular reactors and nuclear power. He's welcome to seek the call.

At the moment, I have the call, and I'm going to use it to point out that there's an energy trilemma which faces every government around the world. That trilemma is how to reduce prices, increase security and reduce emissions, and, in every single instance, renewable energy is the way to do it. Renewable energy is the cheapest way, as I've said. The International Energy Agency has said so. It's not traditionally an organisation famous for its radicalism, I must say, but it's a very good organisation. I met with the director general and senior executives of the International Energy Agency just two weeks ago, and they pointed out that utility-scale solar PV and onshore wind are the cheapest options for new electricity generation in the significant majority of countries worldwide. It is the case not just in Australia but around the world.

Of course, we have the GenCost report, a collaboration between the CSIRO and AEMO, which has found consistently for several years that wind and solar are the cheapest forms of energy and that nuclear energy is by far the most expensive form of energy, and that's particularly the case in Australia, where we don't have a nuclear industry of any scale, and where scaling it up would come at a very significant cost.

The member for New England natters away in defence of nuclear energy. He can explain his costings. He can explain how much his 80 small modular reactors, spread around Australia, will cost, and where they'll be, before the next election. I look forward to it. I welcome the debate very much. But he's wrong. He's just dead wrong on all of these questions.

In Europe at the moment, of course, they're in the midst of an energy crisis—a real energy crisis. And some deniers and delayers in this House, in the other place and elsewhere say this is the fault of renewable energy. Again, that is an utter myth. I will tell you what the problem in Europe is: overreliance on a fossil fuel from one country. It's overreliance on gas from Russia, which has been turned off. Europe is in fact doubling down on its renewable energy plans: increasing its renewable energy investments and increasing its ambition. That's what it's doing, because it knows that's the answer. And I know that the policies that this government has put in place are good when it comes to the energy trilemma that we're facing, and all my colleague energy ministers around the world know the same thing. In relation to government policies, I'm going to touch on some of the matters that the honourable members on the crossbench have raised in their speeches.

I'm pleased, but not yet satisfied, with the work that the government has done in our first nine months. We have a lot more to do, but I'm pleased with what we've done so far. I'm pleased that the passage of the Climate Change Act through both houses of parliament, supported by the government and by most of the crossbench—no support from the opposition—has engendered the renewable energy certainty that has seen a massive uplift in interest in investment in Australia. Right around the world, big investors tell me that it's the passage of the act which is the key to their decision to invest more in renewable energy generation in Australia; it has been a vital step.

The other thing I'm satisfied with is our progress on rewiring the nation, because there's no transition without transmission. We have managed to strike agreements with the governments of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. There's a lot more to do, but the projects that we have agreed on with those three governments are vital. I mention particularly the Marinus Link, which was talked about by the previous government for years but which they made absolutely no progress on doing. We will build the second and third links between Tasmania and the mainland, which will be the key to unlocking the renewable energy potential of Tasmania. It is already at 100 per cent renewables and it can get to 200 per cent renewables. But it won't get to 200 per cent renewables if they have nowhere to exported to—that is the mainland—so they need the extra connections. So I'm pleased with that.

We also have more to do in relation to the announcement made just before Christmas by me and every single state and territory energy minister around the country—and I recognise the contribution of all of them. If you come to an energy ministers meeting—and I'll be honest; I'll be very frank with the House—you would have trouble working out who is Labor, who is Liberal or who is Green. All three are represented around the table, but we all have the same approach—getting the policies right to encourage renewable energy investment.

Again, the previous government talked about a thing called the Capacity Investment Scheme for years. They talked about it—they were 'gunna'. They were gunna do it. They kept saying they were going to do it because it was important. Well, it was important, but they never could deliver it. We delivered it last year. The capacity investment mechanism will unleash billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy, and many gigawatts of renewable energy generation, right across the country by a contract for difference regime agreed between the states and territories.

I'm going to take the interjection by the member for New England. He asked me what's happening in McMahon with renewable energy. People in McMahon know that renewable energy is cheaper and, guess what? So many of them are putting solar panels on their roofs, sport! That's what they know. They understand economics better than you do, champ! They understand that renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy. You're a climate change denier who stands in the way of progress. You have done so for your entire time in this parliament, and you'll be called out for it! You're one of Dutton's deniers, who sit there and whinge about renewable energy, and you should be ashamed of your blocking of progress over the years. You've been a big part of the problem in this country for the last 20 years and I'm glad that you'll be nowhere near any policy responsibility anymore, and ever will be again! You've been a block on progress on climate change action in this country!

I'm going to address the matters raised by the honourable members in relation to electrification. I agree with most of what they said in this regard: the US Inflation Reduction Act is a very good thing for the planet. It's a massive investment in renewable energy generation, and it's good that the United States, which is one of the biggest emitters in the world, has stepped up to the plate after four years of denial. The Biden administration, to its credit, has got through their Senate a very substantial package. Again, it's one of the main things I talk about with my international colleagues—how we're going to respond to the Inflation Reduction Act. We have to see that it's an addition to investment in renewable energy, not a distortion of investment in renewable energy—that it actually adds to the capacity of the world and doesn't attract investment to the United States at the expense of others.

We're in a good position in Australia: because we have a free trade agreement with the United States, we have concessions under the Inflation Reduction Act which mean that processing of critical minerals and manufacturing in Australia are treated in a very similar way to what happens in the United States. That's a very good thing. Europe doesn't have that advantage. They do not have a free trade agreement with the United States. They are very concerned about that. That is a matter of public record. We will, and I will, continue to work with the United States, with Secretary Granholm and with Special Envoy Kerry, on making sure that Australia maximises its opportunities under the Inflation Reduction Act. That will continue to be a focus of the government.

Honourable members have raised electrification. That's a very important point. The Prime Minister and I have made it clear we are working on an electrification and energy efficiency package, the National Energy Performance Strategy. I have asked my assistant minister, Senator McAllister, who has a very fine policy brain, to take carriage of developing that package for recommendation to the government, and we will continue to do that work. What we want to do is provide choices to families. This is about choice.

The member for Indi said that the government doesn't want to mandate it. She's quite right: we will not mandate it. This is an attack invented by the opposition. There was an opposition member on a TV network in the evening a few weeks ago saying, 'Chris Bowen's plan is to break into your house and steal your gas cooktop.' I can confirm this is not accurate. I'm not qualified. I'm not a gas fitter. I can't do the work. I'm nowhere near adept enough. And it is not our policy. We actually believe in giving people choices, real choices, and helping them with those choices by financial support. With electric vehicles, for example, we want people on low incomes, medium incomes and high incomes to have the chance to buy an electric vehicle. We will not see them be the preserve of only those who are wealthy. We want to see everybody with the right to take them up, and our National Electric Vehicle Strategy will make big strides. I'm pleased that electric vehicle sales are up 87 per cent under this government. But we've got a lot more work to do, and we will continue to work on the packages and plans that we can put forward to the Australian people, while the opposition continue with their nattering negativism and their climate change denial. (Time expired)

1:56 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was the minister for electricity in Queensland when we had the cheapest electricity in the world, by a long way. We had a reserved resource policy, with the much-maligned Country Party Bjelke-Petersen government. You did not get the coal unless you gave us free coal for our power stations. That's a serious reserved resource policy. We didn't let them walk all over the top of us, so we had the cheapest power in the world. It was $674. The incoming ALP government continued that for three years and then signed up to the free market National Competition Policy agreement, and the price shot through the roof. So don't let the conservatives say that it was the Greens that put the price through the roof. It was the free marketeers that put the price through the roof.

But also don't let the lily pad lefties tell us that it was all the fault of the free market, because that's not true either, because it continued to rise. For 11 straight years it was $674. There was no justification for increasing it. When we had to build a new power station, I said, 'Beggar that; I'm not doing that and putting the price up,' so we decided we were going to put solar hot-water systems on every government house in Queensland, which meant I didn't have to build another power station. That's the history of Queensland. It went from $674 to $3,300 per user. If you are trying to find out what it is today, I wish you well. The last survey we took was of all of our staff and their relatives and how much each of them was paying, and it was over $3,000. They weren't paying $674. There is no justification for them paying more than $674.

Unlike everybody else in this House, I happen to know plenty about solar panels. I, in fact, was the first person in Australia to put a standalone system in, in the Torres Strait. The energy for the world came out of the opening ceremony, and I think we got the prize for science in that year—before most of you were born, 1983. But I'm a mining man, and I wanted to process and produce the solar panels here in Australia. But you must understand that your spirals separate—no energy required—but then you've got to put it under electromagnets on a conveyor belt, and they use a huge amount of electricity to clean the iron filings out. But then you've got to crush it. Silica is the second-hardest element on Earth. It's not a lot of fun to crush, I can tell you, and it's enormously costly in terms of energy and price. After you've crushed it, then you've got to smelt it. There's only one way we know on the planet to smelt. You have to have heat. Where do you get the heat from? You can get it from coal or you can get it from burning trees. I don't care what you do, but that's what you've got to do.

If you think you're going to save—and this is the magical answer, when they're only going to last 20 years. If you burn up all of that energy in producing them—well, it is a terrific solution for a new suburb up in the middle of nowhere. For Normanton, it is terrifically good. For the Torres Strait, it is terrifically good. But please don't see this as the answer. You're supposed to clean them every nine days and, really they should follow the sun every day. No panels that I know of in Australia track. They should but they don't. No-one cleans their panels, but they should. How often do you clean your windscreen? Once a fortnight you press a button and squirt water on your windscreen. That's what you should be doing to get your solar panels working properly.

I want a reduction because I represent the barrier reef, and there are very serious problems that will arise in the ocean if we increase CO2 at its present rate, but I honestly can't see a single thing that you are doing that will reduce emissions. If you think putting in solar panels is going to reduce emissions, I am sorry. I know what I'm talking about and I disagree with you. I disagree with you strongly. If you're talking about wind farms, yes, I'm a terrific supporter of the proposal in Newman. I'm most certainly not a supporter of putting them in the middle of the jungle in north Kelly.

Please listen to me. Mike Kelly was no fool. He was a colonel in the army and was Kevin Rudd's right-hand man. His family own and run Bega. They've been dairy farming this country for 260 years and they are knowledgeable people— (Time expired)

3:42 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm grateful to the member for North Sydney for the topic of today's MPI debate. It's a really important conversation to have. It shouldn't really be a matter of debate that climate action and cost pressure relief are intimately connected. Sensible economic management and action on climate change are two sides of the same coin.

The Minister for Climate Change and Energy earlier was talking about the false duality and false dichotomy that took hold in this country, as perpetrated by those opposite, that taking action on climate change was somehow at odds with our best economic future. The reality is that those two things are intimately and inextricably connected. They go to the real trilemma that the minister talked about. We want lower prices when it comes to energy, we want more-secure and more-resilient energy systems and we want to reduce carbon emissions. The answer to all three of those things lies in the same direction. That's precisely why, eight months in, this government have taken a number of steps in that direction, and we have more ahead of us. It's why the Labor Party has been making that argument and taking actions of that kind, whenever it has had the chance, for almost all of the 21st century.

The part of the conversation we can't have on this topic in this House is best represented by all those empty benches opposite. Sadly, the Liberal and National parties still are in denial about the reality of climate change and about the true nature of the economic and energy system transformation that the globe is experiencing and that Australia has to be a part of. Without taking that kind of action, there is only going to be social, economic and environmental harm on a very significant scale, and Australia will be one of the countries most affected by every aspect of that—socially, economically and environmentally.

There are cost pressures in Australia right now. We all know that. It is worth thinking about who is at the sharpest end of those cost pressures. It is people on low and fixed incomes, typically younger people but also pensioners, single parents and people in outer metropolitan regions and in rural and regional Australia. That's why we are providing relief as part of what we are doing and we are undertaking broader policy and program repair.

An aspect of that is going particularly to those who are most affected. Within some of the programs we've mentioned, there's $100 million dedicated to ensuring that 25,000 low-income households receive access to solar energy. That's a big issue in Australia. We have seen record penetration of home solar, but it's mostly concentrated amongst those who are fortunate enough to own their own homes. People who are renters and particularly people in social housing haven't had the benefit of that technology, and we need to make measures to make sure they get to enjoy the cost benefits of solar energy and storage.

Similarly, we put $1.9 billion into the Powering the Regions Fund because we know that regional Australia needs that kind of investment because it will be especially affected by climate change and because those communities are generally among the lower socioeconomic communities in Australia. It's bizarre when you have their representatives in the National Party effectively, by their actions, seeking to condemn people in rural, regional and remote Australia to being second-class citizens when it comes to access to the cheapest, cleanest, most efficient form of energy.

The reality is that people are experiencing these cost-of-living pressures today because the coalition government was an economic basket case. Nine years with no national energy policy. Nine years of pretending climate change was some kind of bizarre international communist plot. Nine years of ignoring all of the evidence staring us in the face that supported what experts had been saying—that Australia was particularly vulnerable to extreme weather and that we had particular advantages to be gained and benefits to be achieved by getting on with being part of the renewable energy transition.

That's exactly what this government is going to do. Eight months in, we have legislated an improved target, we have dedicated funds through Rewiring the Nation and Powering the Regions, and we have introduced tax reductions when it comes to electric vehicles. All of those things in eight months. So I say to young Australians in particular—because there is a significant portion of the community that didn't get a chance to vote for this government but will get a chance to vote in elections to come—that they should be thinking about the direction we're going in and they should be voting in favour of the progress we are now making towards being a renewable energy superpower.

3:47 pm

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It's no secret that families across Australia are doing it tough. Inflation is running at close to eight per cent and interest rates are rising. Energy prices are a well-documented driver of this cost-of-living squeeze, with the average electricity price expected to rise by 23 per cent this year. Our reliance on expensive fossil fuels is the root cause of this. While the sun hasn't got more expensive and the wind hasn't got more expensive, coal and gas prices have skyrocketed because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Australian families are paying the price.

The silver lining is that faster action on climate change can permanently lower power bills across the country. In Australia we are indeed the lucky country—lucky because we have access to the cheapest home electricity in the world, rooftop solar, which can deliver electricity prices as low as three cents per kilowatt hour. That means that electrifying our households and powering them with Australian sunshine is an unparalleled opportunity to address the cost-of-living crisis for good. By switching out expensive gas appliances for more efficient electric alternatives, like heat pumps and electric stovetops, Australian households could cut their energy use in half. If these appliances were powered by rooftop solar with a backup battery in the garage, the average household in my electorate could save over $3,000 per year on their energy bills. At the same time as saving money, they would also be going into zero emissions. Rewiring Australia's estimate is that if we could add that up across Australia's 10 million households, we could cut over 40 per cent of emissions in the domestic economy and save more than $300 billion between now and 2035. That's cost-of-living relief and great climate policy.

As the CEO of Sydney Renewable Power Company, I saw firsthand the impact that cheap rooftop solar can have on energy bills and emissions. There are so many examples from across my community in Wentworth, from Nick in Bondi, who electrified his house with solar and saw his power bills plummet as a result; to Bronte Public School, who now save $6,000 a year because of the 100-panel solar array on their roof. But to seize this opportunity we need government to make it easier to get off expensive gas and to make it easier for families to overcome the upfront costs of clean technologies.

In supporting household electrification, we need more than a one-size-fits-all policy that works for detached houses in the suburbs but doesn't provide support for those living in high-density urban areas, because people living in apartments and people who are renting—often young people—are most exposed to this fossil fuel price crisis. Finder's latest Consumer Sentiment Tracker shows that those in Gen Z and Gen Y face electricity bills that are up to 26 per cent higher than for those aged 60-plus. That's partly because, if you're a young person in an apartment, you probably don't have access to rooftop solar. If you're renting, you're reliant on your landlord to install it for you. If you're fortunate enough to own your own flat, perhaps you can't afford it, and, if you can, you're faced with a dizzying array of regulations when you try to get together with the strata committee to make that change. That's the situation facing many people in Wentworth, where 60 per cent of homes are apartments and 45 per cent are rented. Nearly 40 per cent of the adults are under 40. That same situation is facing nearly three million Australian households across the country who live in rental properties.

So the government needs to be ambitious in pursuing the electrification opportunity, and it needs to ensure that this is an opportunity available to all. May's budget is a chance to seize this opportunity. The government's budget package must include direct incentives for households to electrify, in the form of either concessionary finance or tax incentives. The government must broaden the remit of its existing solar banks program so that strata managers and owners corporations can access zero-interest loans to install shared solar on apartment rooftops, and it must kick off a process of regulatory reform to break the barriers facing renters who can't access rooftop solar, including developing a national framework to share power bill savings between landlords and renters. If the government is serious about climate and about cost-of-living relief, May's budget must be the time it seizes the electrification opportunity.

3:52 pm

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of this matter of public importance. Indeed it is true that faster action on climate change is going to provide assistance to households when it comes to cost-of-living pressures both in the short term and, of course, in the long-term. I think it's worth noting that this government has indeed been taking faster action when it comes to climate change, at warp speed compared to the decade that we've come out of. I want to step through a few of the levels on which this has been undertaken.

The first is the big picture, the framework. This government undertook, as one of its first priorities, to set up a global framework so that our society and our economy can undertake the massive transition that they need to over the decades ahead. What did that look like? It looked like legislating a net-zero target by 2050, something the previous government had been unwilling to do. It looked like a 43 per cent target by 2030 in legislation. That was something that this economy needed. That was something that investors needed. So, at the highest level, our government, as an absolute priority, took action that was a decade too late.

This government has also, in doing that, provided certainty for investors. As everybody who knows about this challenge that our economy is facing knows, this is going to take a massive investment over a long period of time. It's going to take massive investment by government, by the private sector in this country and by international investors looking to Australia as an opportunity. I had the opportunity, while on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics last term, to talk to international investors from right around the globe, including BlackRock and international pension funds. They said to us that they wanted more certainty in Australia's regulatory environment. This is not some parochial or local issue. International investors were pointing the way, and this government, again belatedly, has provided that long-term signal to investors, and investors are now acting on that signal. As the minister indicated, investment is flowing into renewables.

We can also look at something that is already before the parliament, the safeguard mechanism, which is going to deal with something like 28 per cent of emissions and going to deal with over 200 of our largest emitters. As has been discussed already today and was a key focus in question time, this very parliament is going to need to deal with that particular reform. We need to strengthen the safeguard mechanism, and any parties in this chamber or in the other chamber that don't vote for it are going to be holding back this economy and holding back our society from making the transition that it needs to. All of the experts, the scientists, the business leaders, the investors—AIG, BCA, ACCI—all say the safeguard mechanism needs the reforms that this government is putting forward. As speakers on this side have indicated, those who vote against it will be held to account.

The third layer is that we are acting faster because the sooner you start in this massive task that we have to undertake as a country and as a globe, the better. All of the best modelling we can look at such as the Stern report, modelling by Ross Garnaut and all the integrated assessment models that combine economic modelling with the best science and climate modelling say that the longer you leave it, the harder the task becomes, the more painful it becomes for the environment, the more painful it becomes for households, and higher is the cost of the transition. All of the models agree on that. That is why wasting 10 years has been so bad for our economy, so bad for our society, so bad for our environment. Now we are where we are. We have wasted that decade because the previous government had its head in the sand. But we need to take action now and that is exactly what the government is doing.

The final thing I will talk about is that we need to fund appropriate mechanisms, whether it be investing in new technology—the CEFC—whether it be investing in rewiring the nation—so critical to enabling the massive investment in large-scale renewables—this government will be unlocking $20 billion for that massive investment. But it is even things like, at the local community level in regional areas, the $1 billion in the natural Disaster Ready Fund. That is significant. If we look at the Roma community, a massive reduction in insurance premiums is being enjoyed by the community after a levy was built to deal with the heightened risk of natural disasters. This government is putting $2 million a year into that. That will roll out and make a real difference in communities, not only protecting them but also reducing their insurance bills.

As this motion states, acting on climate change faster, which is exactly what this government is doing, is going to help households deal with cost-of-living pressures. We have already undertaken a lot of action, but there are things in front of this parliament right now that people in this chamber need to think about and vote for.

3:57 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Faster action on climate change means no new coal and gas; that is a no-brainer. But it also means designing the infrastructure for the lives that we share, for the places we live, work and play to truly sustain life and reduce the costs to the planet and to people. We are in a climate crisis and a cost-of-living crisis. With good design, I believe we can tackle these dual challenges together, and some great opportunities present themselves.

Brisbane will be hosting the Olympics in 2032. The government often talks about the Olympics leaving a positive legacy. What a remarkable opportunity this would be to create, to demonstrate a model of an Australian sustainable city, a city that fosters sustainable living, affordability and access to housing, to public and active transport and to clean energy. There are so many great possibilities. For example, well-designed sustainable athletes' villages could, post Olympics, provide social and affordable housing that we so desperately need. Our public transport system could be upgraded to a better and wider service, providing good access for all on a free and frequent electrified network. We could create new green spines and link public parkland with major gathering places and shade trees to mitigate urban heat island effects and cool our ever-heating city. We could build neighbourhood clean energy hubs so all business premises and dwellings including rental properties could access clean energy. We could ensure that we optimise utilisation of existing sporting facilities, well connected with efficient public and active transport networks.

These are not radical propositions; they are sensible, value-for-money ideas. Other Olympic host cities have achieved long-term community benefit. That is what we need in Queensland to leverage this huge Olympic expenditure to provide a long-term positive legacy for our city and for people, not a short-term sugar hit boost to the development industry, who, I have to say, are salivating over the opportunities for them.

There are many examples of unnecessary works that will neither assist the community nor progress the sustainability of the city. The most contentious is the Gabba, the planned centrepiece stadium. We know that the main principles of sustainable resources are reduce, re-use and recycle, and it's very concerning that the current plan is to demolish an existing 40,000-seat stadium to build a new 48,000-seat stadium. If the federal government progresses with plans to help fund this, the community will lose out, with the tragic loss, for example, of the adjacent East Brisbane State School and Raymond Park. Spending $2.5 billion for 8,000 extra seats for a two-week sporting event, with the loss of a school and park, does not stack up. This is not value for money; in fact, it's a hugely irresponsible waste of public funds at a time when schools and hospitals across the country are suffering from chronic underfunding, public transport is not up to scratch and we have a cost-of-living and housing crisis. And the government is still insisting on $250 billion worth of stage 3 tax cuts for the wealthy. That's bad business, that's poor planning, and there has been no consultation.

There's speculation in the media now that there might be a plan to ring fence this project from federal funds so that the federal government can distance itself while throwing money at the Olympics. If true, that's an admission that the federal government knows this is a bad deal, so why not share this reasoning with the people of Queensland or, better yet, use the Olympic funding to leverage good, sustainable design to benefit the community and the climate? The community does have a right to know what's going on, and that's why the Senate has ordered the government to tell us.

A remarkable opportunity presents itself right now to deal with these dual and interrelated crises of climate change and cost of living through clever design, creating sustainable, accessible cities and environments. Australia is a wealthy country with abundant natural resources and we are well placed to do this, so let's harness our collective will and our hearts and smarts to design the best solutions. Our very future depends on it.

4:01 pm

Photo of Carina GarlandCarina Garland (Chisholm, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

LAND () (): What we have here today—and I thank the member for North Sydney—is a really sensible and important topic for this parliament to discuss. It is one, I think, that shows we have moved beyond the damage and destruction that unfortunately have characterised conversations around energy in this country for the last decade, which has been a real shame. Here we can see that it is possible in this parliament, under the Albanese Labor government, for us to take action on energy prices and relieve cost-of-living pressures on households as well as to make meaningful investments for the future in renewable energy. We've seen such action from this government already, only eight months in, and what a difference it has made. Not only are households now having some of the sting removed from the hit they've faced due to the war in Ukraine; they're also seeing historic investment in renewable energy.

I would ask those opposite to reflect on whose interests they are serving when they stand in the way of help for households at a really difficult time for many in terms of cost-of-living pressures, and when we don't have much time to take meaningful action on climate change. Everything we've put forward that is sensible, that helps people, has been opposed by those opposite, even after they had the opportunity over the last decade to do something good for this country. It is unbelievable. Not only have they stood in the way of meaningful action on climate change and on the rising costs of energy that we're seeing in the short term; they're also refusing to invest in the technologies of the future through the National Reconstruction Fund. On numerous occasions in this place I've urged those opposite to reconsider their opposition. I do so again. I urge them to think about the best interests of this country, because that's what we on this side of the House are doing. This is an invitation for them to join us and show that some things are above politics. Rebuilding this country, making sure that we protect this planet, making sure that households don't have to experience the kinds of pressures they have been—those things should be above politics. Those things should be the very reason any of us decides to enter this place.

I think every Australian—certainly the Australians in my electorate of Chisholm—expects and deserves better. That's the message we received on 21 May—that people expect and deserve better. I think of all the different groups in my electorate of Chisholm—the community groups, the tomorrow movement and the youth activists, the local branch of the ACF and the baby boomers for climate action. I think of all those groups I have met with over the last 18 months. It's been a real pleasure to hear such support for the Albanese Labor government's plan to do something about climate change.

We are investing in Rewiring the Nation. That's going to make sure we have better energy in this country. That will drive down prices, too, because we know, as we have heard time and time again from the minister and on this side of the House, clean energy is the cheapest form of energy. We are already seeing record renewables since we have been in government. In the fourth quarter of last year we produced almost 20 per cent of total generation in the grid from wind and grid-scale solar. That is something we as a country should be very proud of. We should be very excited about it.

But these things don't just happen. They happen because governments decide to do the right thing and decide not to just play cheap politics with things as important as our planet's future and the future of our communities. This is not short-term thinking from this government. Yes, we took action in the short term to relieve some of the pressures from energy prices on families, but we are doing what really matters in the long term, too, to make sure we have a long, better future.

4:06 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Fast action on climate change is one of the most effective ways of insulating households against rising costs of living. By 2030, Australian families could save $5,000 per year by replacing current cars with EVs, switching their natural gas heating systems to electric heat pumps and furnishing their electricity with solar from their rooftops. If this shift is embraced now, we could keep track of emissions trajectories in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement. The largest portion of our domestic emissions comes from our households, some 42.2 per cent.

In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act dedicates a great proportion of the funding available to electrification of households and development of technology. We know that the EU is also working on similar legislation. Australia needs to match these commitments with government initiatives to bring down the cost of living, address climate change and drive economic growth through the transition. We have heard quite a few excuses and mitigating words, but we haven't seen that commitment. That's what needed because it takes time. Let's get real: there is a race on. The rest of the world is racing with the US around attracting investment and making sure they have that share and are involved in that process of electrifying households. We are simply going to be left behind if we stick with just the current policies. We must do this.

We know that there are emerging global supply chains that we need to be part of. If members of the government want to talk about the National Reconstruction Fund then that has to be part of the emerging global supply chains around electrifying households. When I asked the Prime Minister about this in question time a few weeks ago, he blustered that he won't mandate for households what they use. Let's be real: no-one is talking about mandating. We are talking about leadership and incentivising. To be clear, governments from both sides were already mandating households through building codes. They mandate a connection to gas. It costs great amounts for households to get off a gas connection. So let's be really clear to the Australian public about what is actually being mandated at the moment.

We know green building standards are desperately needed here. We know inefficient infrastructure accounts for a significant proportion of Australia's emissions. We need to improve building standards to maximise efficiency of household insulation and energy systems. State governments have started to step up to create a sustainable built environment. We know that 50 per cent of the building stock that we will have in 2050 will be built between now and 2050. So our building codes are incredibly relevant to the standard of household and residential stock we have by 2050. The other half of that building stock is existing now and so urgently needs retrofitting, and that is part of what we're urging the government to do. The ACT government is about to mandate that all new homes must meet minimum standards for roof insulation, and it has already passed legislation to prevent new homes being connected to gas. I urge other governments to follow suit. The lack of standardisation across all states is preventing substantial gains in reduction of our national emissions. We need to mandate improved thermal performance in all new homes as a national standard. That would be a highly effective way of creating a more sustainable urban environment.

We need to at least halve our emissions by 2030. Let's get real: the 43 per cent that was legislated by the government is a minimal political standard. If we want a hope of sticking to 1.5 degrees, we need to at least halve our emissions by 2030. To do that, we can electrify household appliances and machines and pair this with the production of clean electricity to power them, with a clear road map to emissions reduction and a safer climate.

Over time we know we can assist households with the absolutely rising costs of living through doing this. So, whilst we have this debate in the media and accusations towards the Reserve Bank, there is an action the government can take. You can take our policy that will reduce inflation and assist households with costs of living. We must electrify homes, and that is an investment of some $12 billion, but it will pay off. And we need to invest in storage. I'll be introducing a private member's bill to mandate a REST—a renewable energy storage target. Do you know that, if we provide batteries for one in five households that have rooftop solar, we will already achieve 30 per cent of our storage needs? So there are solutions, we can do it, but we do need political will from the government.

4:12 pm

Photo of Cassandra FernandoCassandra Fernando (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The cost of living has increased significantly in recent years, and these pressures continue to burden households across our great nation. Many families are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of essential goods and services, including energy. Energy prices are a significant contributor to this problem, and it is essential that we take action to address this issue.

As we all know, energy prices have been steadily increasing over the past year, due to circumstances that occur once in a generation, and nearly a decade of the coalition's incompetence. This has put a significant strain on household budgets. In fact, families in my electorate of Holt and across the country have been forced to choose between heating their homes, putting food on the table or paying their bills. I am proud to support a government that is fully across the difficulties faced by everyday Australians and that has been proactive in tackling these challenges.

Since being elected seven months ago, the Albanese Labor government has put the task of easing cost-of-living pressures at front and centre of its priorities in the immediate future. Families having it tough, like many in my electorate, want a solution which will help them meet the cost of the next billing cycle and the billing cycles after that. Energy companies have the responsibility to provide affordable energy to consumers. However, it is clear that the pricing model that was in place was not working for most households.

As elected representatives, we have a duty to hold energy companies to account and to ensure that we are acting in the best interests of consumers. This means working with stakeholders across the sector to find ways to reduce energy costs and pass on these lower costs to consumers. By taking urgent action to shield Australian families and businesses from the worst of these energy price spikes, by introducing our energy price relief plan, the Albanese Labor government has taken a significant step towards this goal. The plan limits coal and gas prices, provides targeted energy bill relief for households and businesses, and invests in cleaner and cheaper and more reliable energy for the future. Treasury analysis demonstrates that the large electricity price increases forecast by the energy market for 2023 have dropped significantly since the announcement of the plan, including by 34 per cent in my home state of Victoria. This is a sign that the government's policy will help in sheltering consumers from the worst of the price increases that were forecast.

Our focus on delivering immediate price relief for Australian families is supplemented by this government's unwavering focus on increasing the share of renewables within this country's energy mix. Renewable energy is receiving record high investment under the Albanese Labor government, and for good reason. Not only is it better for the environment but also it can be significantly cheaper than traditional fossil fuel sources. By investing in renewable energy we can help to lower energy prices and reduce the cost of living for families across the country. Not only is renewable energy good for the environment but also it will help to stabilise energy prices in the long run. It is a long-term solution to the issue and, as the technology improves, it will become more cost-effective.

Renewable energy is the future, and I am proud the Albanese Labor government has been prioritising investment in renewables from the beginning of its term. This will not only help to ease the cost-of-living pressures on households but also secure our energy future. Australians know that higher power prices are a direct result of a year of Russian aggression and the coalition's aversion to investing in renewable energy. It is unfortunate that the coalition continue to make the same mistake in opposition by voting to make power bills for families hundreds of dollars higher than they need to be. Thankfully, adults are in charge. I am very confident Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, will continue to deliver people-friendly policies for people across this nation.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has now concluded.