House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Matters of Public Importance


3:10 pm

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

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

The Government's failure to deliver on its promise to reduce energy prices.

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—

3:11 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

There's no doubt that every government comes to office having made promises. The coalition came to government and it made some promises: greater access to medicines, delivered; lower taxes, delivered; lower unemployment, delivered; more funding for infrastructure, delivered; more funding for mental health, delivered; more investment for energy assets, delivered. But the Albanese Labor government has a very different track record with its promises.

Let's have a look at the track record of the Albanese Labor government after only about nine months in office and ask whether or not they've delivered or they've broken their promises. They promised cheaper mortgages. Broken. They promised lower inflation. Broken. They promised no changes to superannuation. Broken. They promised no changes to franking credits. Broken. They promised no new taxes. Broken. But here is my favourite of all—my favourite broken promise so far, favourite because it exposes the rank hypocrisy of the Labor Party, but it's not a favourite in terms of me enjoying it, because the Australian people are the ones who feel the pain—the Albanese government promised the Australian people that household power bills would be reduced by $275. Has that been delivered or has it been broken? Broken. Absolutely broken.

In the lead-up to last year's federal election every single member opposite, every single member on the government benches, was very happy to share social media posts of the Prime Minister committing to the Australian public that he would ensure their power prices came down by $275—every single member of the Labor Party and every single senator. Yet here they are today still knowing they have broken a promise and they will not deliver that. Instead of delivering a $275 reduction in power bills, since they came to government the average power bill has increased by $700. Think about that: an increase of $700 for households. You promise a decrease by nearly $300 and you deliver an increase by $700. What's the variation? What's the difference?

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's $950.

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

It's $950. Thank you very much, member for Fisher. That is nearly $1,000. Members on the government benches are dumbfounded. They're not good at the detail. They're not good at the maths. But that is a variation of around about $1,000. In other words, you have already cut it short; there's already a shortfall between what you promised the Australian people and what you are delivering by $1,000 after only nine months in office. In the midst of the cost-of-living crisis of all time, this government makes purposeful decisions that in fact drive up the price of energy.

From our end—from the coalition's end—did we seek to get energy prices down? We sure did! Absolutely! And in the last term of government alone, we did. In the last term of government alone, we saw energy bills coming down for households by eight per cent. For businesses, under the coalition they came down by 10 per cent and for industries they came down by 12 per cent. The coalition delivered lower energy prices. The Labor Party promised to go even further, but prices are skyrocketing.

Today became another day of revelation. This morning we read that power bills are going to go up yet again over winter. They will increase by 20 per cent—an additional 20 per cent from where they are today. This is where power bills are going over winter. Let's not forget that just before Christmas the Prime Minister recalled parliament after having power prices blow out, and he made a second promise to the Australian people that he would fix this—power prices would be coming down and relief would be flowing as of April this year. It isn't going to happen! And now we find out that it's going up even further, by 20 per cent.

We can stand in this chamber and bang the table about this but, in truth, the ones who really count on this are the ones at home. We don't know who is listening to this, but there are bound to be senior citizens—probably the same senior citizens who have contacted MPs in their offices, I bet on both sides of the chamber. They're struggling; they're genuinely struggling to put food on the table. We are talking about seniors, and a lot of them don't know if they're going to be able to turn the heating on in winter. This is Australia, for crying out loud! We're one of the most prosperous nations on earth, but we have our most vulnerable worrying about whether or not they can put the heating on in winter because of Labor's power bills.

This is so concerning for families and for businesses. I was speaking to smelters and steelmakers in the second half of last year. They were telling me that they might have to close shop and move—or relocate to China or India—because of the power bills. And what was the answer to this from the Labor Party's policy suite? They decided to introduce a carbon tax; they decided to actually make it more expensive for manufacturing businesses, risking a loss of businesses and closures.

This comes down to a fundamental divide between the way that the coalition looks at the world and the way that Labor looks at the world. On the coalition side, we absolutely get the need to reduce emissions. That's why we smashed all our targets out of the ballpark. We reduced emissions by over 20 per cent on 2005 levels, right? The Labor Party are already falling behind their own target. They had a target which they legislated but they never did any economic modelling for. We struck a balance, because we knew that in order for us to tackle that challenge that we couldn't hurt the Australian people or botch the Australian economy. But that's precisely what Labor is now doing. It's on them after the amount of times we have said, 'Do not go down the path you're on.' On this side, the coalition, we back industry, we back enterprise, we back technology and we back the innovative genius of Australians. But the Labor government believes in big government, big unions and big taxes.

At no point has this socialist-like approach helped to reduce power prices or make life easier for Australians. And yet today, of all days, when we found out this morning that power prices are going up by 20 per cent over winter, the Labor Party had a dorothy dixer in question time and the minister was given an opportunity to show off about power prices! I do not know of any government that has been so removed from the reality that the people are feeling at home. We had the minister celebrating the fact that power prices are going to go up even higher. This is a minister who has not done one day of work outside of politics in his entire life. He does not get how it works in the real world. But, of course, in cabinet he sits across the table from the Prime Minister, who, by the way, has never done a day's work in his life outside of politics. They look across to the Treasurer, who might know the numbers, but the Treasurer has never done a day's work outside politics in his entire life.

The Prime Minister talks about a new era in energy policy, saying the Treasurer is redefining capitalism. The minister for energy thinks it's the new industrial revolution. They're ushering in new eras and redefining capitalism. There's a new industrial revolution, but not one of them knows how the real economy works. This is why Australia is in the problem state it is in today. Every single time it's the Australian people that pay. They're paying again under Labor. You promised $275. The Australian people expect it to be delivered and so does the coalition.

3:21 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

In Australia, the last six Liberal leaders have lost their jobs, one way or another, because of climate policy. We saw the Howard government thrown out in 2007 in part because of inaction on climate. We saw the Morrison government turfed out in 2022 because of inaction on climate. We saw the double defenestration of Malcolm Turnbull because they just couldn't cop his approach to climate change. As Malcolm Turnbull has put it, 'The Australian Liberal Party just isn't capable of dealing with climate change.'

It doesn't have to be this way. If you look around the world, everywhere except Australia and the United States, conservatives are taking action on climate change. The UK conservatives have committed to a fully decarbonised power sector by 2035 and a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, have established the UK Green Investment Bank and have put policies in place that, if members opposite were sitting in the House of Commons, they would have all voted against. Instead, those opposite, in this place, brought to us 22 failed energy policies. They saw four times as much dispatchable power leave the grid as come back in. If those opposite want to know their failures on climate, they need look no further than the crossbench, where the members for Wentworth, North Sydney, Mackellar, Kooyong, Goldstein and Curtin are now Independent. Those opposite have decided to put in place the member for Fairfax has their climate spokesperson. Trent Zimmerman has said, 'There's a driving desire in the communities I represent for greater action on climate change,' and yet the coalition has gone from climate deniers to nuclear fanatics faster than uranium decays into thorium.

There are lots of questions about nuclear—its cost, its safety, its location—but the big question is: if you're such fans of nuclear power, why didn't you do anything about it in nine long years in office? Those opposite are voting against their own safeguard mechanism. They're voting against a 43 per cent emissions reduction target. They're voting against a tax cut for electric vehicles. They're voting against electricity price relief. Business are shaking their heads. You've got the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry all saying: 'Why on earth is the coalition living in the dark ages?' We have seen the member for Fairfax choosing the Hiroshima peace park and Fukushima power plant as the backdrop for promoting nuclear energy as the panacea to Australia. This snollygoster thinks that the answer to Australia's power problems is nuclear, and perhaps this is the member for Fairfax's lowest moment in politics—which is, frankly, saying something for a bloke who lost an election to Clive Palmer. The coalition are living in Peter Pan's Neverland. They'll never support real action on climate change, because they don't want to grow up.

We on this side of the House took action to take some of the sting out of higher power prices. We weren't willing to have Australian businesses go to the wall and pay wartime gas prices because of Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. We've seen evidence of the impact of those changes. The AEMO quarterly report said:

Following these announcements, ASX Cal23 electricity futures prices fell steeply for each of the mainland states through to the end of the Quarter …

Treasury analysis reported that forecast wholesale electricity prices have dropped by 44 per cent in Queensland, 38 per cent in New South Wales, 32 per cent in South Australia and 29 per cent in Victoria.

This is the record of those opposite. First, they helped create the problem with their decade of energy policy chaos. Second, they kept power price increases a secret until after the election. Then, third, they tried to block direct energy bill relief for households and businesses. That is the coalition's trifecta. If those opposite had their way, households would be paying $230 more on their power bills than they would otherwise have to. That is why the coalition are the parties for higher power prices. Households would pay $230 more in power bills if they had had their way last December, when we brought back the parliament in order to put in place direct energy bill relief, which will put downward pressure on power prices and downward pressure on inflation.

We're working with the states and territories on the delivery of the energy bill relief package, working with their timetable to ensure that the relief is in the May budget and starts flowing not long after that. Those opposite are complaining about when the energy bill relief will flow, which is a bit rich given that they didn't want any electricity bill relief at all. Their view is that there should be no direct relief to households.

We on this side of the House are committed to the power of renewables. In Denmark, offshore wind is providing a vast share of the energy needs of that country. Australia has a much larger coastline and there is much more potential for us to benefit from offshore wind. Just one spin of an offshore wind turbine—as you know, Deputy Speaker Claydon—produces as much energy as 24 hours of rooftop solar. Not even Vladimir Putin can stop the wind blowing and the sun shining.

Those opposite seem to think that we can't have renewables because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. They must be flabbergasted that they can get water out of the tap when it's not raining outside. It must be a real mystery to them. It turns out that batteries can do for the grid what tanks do for the water system. Advances in battery technology are going to benefit Australia and allow Australia to develop an industry that will benefit the world. With half the world's lithium, we have huge potential to be a major battery producer. We've embarked on a major task of revamping the Australian energy generation system. Right now, renewables are just 30 per cent of production, and under our plan they will be 82 per cent by 2030. That will make electricity cheaper, because the marginal cost of renewables is close to zero. But it will also make us less vulnerable to geopolitical threats.

We saw right here in the ACT, which is 100 per cent renewables, that we were the only jurisdiction last year where electricity prices went down. They went down by one per cent but still went down. That is because the ACT, at 100 per cent renewables, was not vulnerable to Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. We know that, if we don't act on climate change, Australia is the advanced country most vulnerable to the effects of unchecked climate change. Estimates from scientists suggest that the atrocious Black Summer bushfires we saw in the summer of 2019-20 could become the norm by the 2040s and that 2019-20 could be a good year by the 2060s. That's if we do nothing, and that is why it is in Australia's national interest to act on climate change abatement. We know our Pacific neighbours are vulnerable. You won't hear members of the Labor Party, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, making jokes about how climate change affects the Pacific. That had a real geopolitical impact on Australia's influence in the Pacific because climate change has a real impact in the Pacific.

We know, if we don't act, that the dangers of volatility in Australia's electricity grid could cause crises bigger than the 1970s oil crisis. That's why Labor is committed to an EV charging network, to community batteries, to the Marinus Link, to the Climate Council of Australia, to our energy apprentices and to ramping up the safeguard scheme. We are working with business and we are working with the community in order to ensure that Australia tackles climate change and puts downward pressure on power prices. Those opposite, after nine failed years and 22 failed energy prices, have now become the hucksters of Australian politics. The former climate change minister, who is as miserable as a bandicoot, sits there spruiking nuclear and failing to move with the times—failing to acknowledge the benefits of the renewables revolution for Australian households.

3:31 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

There's one person walking around this parliament at the moment who is very, very happy, and that is the Greens leader. Even though the Prime Minister is off watching the cricket in India, the Greens leader has done a dodgy deal with Labor to get through the National Reconstruction Fund. Why is he happy? It's because there's no coal or gas as part of that legislation, so he's had a win. Earlier this week we heard the member for Brand, the Minister for Resources, answering questions in question time, and the Greens were absolutely into her for all they were worth. You saw this bit of a lovers' tiff between Labor and the Greens. Things were going a little bit rocky. But they patched it up! They've patched it up with some dodgy backroom deal, because that's what Labor and the Greens do.

The economist we just heard from, the minister at the table—the first part of his contribution was all about the politics. That's all well and good. He was talking about the Liberal leaders who he claimed had to go because of climate policies. Well, emissions came down under the coalition. We met and we beat all of our international obligations and we didn't bankrupt the economy while we did it. We didn't send businesses to the wall and we didn't force farmers to stop growing food and fibre whilst we were lowering emissions. We did it in a practical, balanced, sensible, methodical way—the coalition way. But what this mob opposite want to do is push power prices up.

I didn't hear the minister at the dispatch box talking about the mum who's going to be worried this winter about how she's going to pay the power bills at home. I didn't hear the member opposite talk about the truckie who's going to be worried about whether he or she is going to be able to put their road freight transport out there to make sure that they can continue to deliver the goods around Australia, even though they're going to pay 10 per cent more at the bowser and they're going to pay a hell of a lot more than that when they turn on the power switch. This is reckless, reckless politics by those opposite. But they're always about the politics. They're always about doing dodgy deals with the Greens. They're never about the family. They're never about the small business—those operators who are worried about whether they're going to be able to make ends meet.

We heard in question time today from the Minister for Education. He mightn't have realised it, but he was talking about higher education, and I thought it was the best answer, to be honest, in question time today, if not the whole week. He talked about the fact that we can make money out of higher education without having to dig something up out of the ground. He belled the cat—he absolutely did—because he acknowledged by that very phrase that we make money by digging things up out ground, and we've been doing it for decades. I tell you what—digging things up out of the ground has paid for a lot of schools, has paid for a lot of hospitals and has kept the lights on. It has made us—and kept us—one of the great nations of the world. But those opposite, with their reckless disregard for ensuring power prices are kept low, have ditched households and small businesses.

It wasn't that long ago—in fact, it was prior to the last election—that Labor said they were going to reduce power prices. Ninety-seven times—a Bradman-like number—the Prime Minister said that they were going to reduce power prices by $275. We haven't heard that number come out of the Prime Minister's mouth since, and for good reason, because we heard today that power prices are going to go up. And when are they going to go up? They're going to go up in the coldest months, in winter. How are people going to pay their power bills when prices go up by as much as 20 per cent? They were going down under us. The fact remains that this is going to send a lot of businesses to the wall. This is going to make it so hard for families who are already struggling with cost-of-living pressures. This is not good.

Each and every one of the Labor members opposite is no doubt getting constituent calls about what they're doing. They ought to be honest, look those people in the eye and say: 'Well, we're going to be closing power stations. We're turning our back on coal and gas. We're turning our back on the very industries that keep the lights on, keep power prices low and keep the country running.' I say: shame on Labor members. They ought to think long and hard. That $275 reduction was a great big fib.

3:36 pm

Photo of Jerome LaxaleJerome Laxale (Bennelong, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we go—another day, another MPI when those opposite feign outrage at the problems they created; another day, another MPI when they fail to acknowledge the plans of this government to fix the energy policy failures they left the country. All of those opposite know that we are taking urgent action to shield Australian families and businesses from the worst of the Liberals' energy price spikes.

I hope the member for Riverina tells his constituents how he voted against energy price relief when we came back here in December last year and put a cap on coal and gas prices and provided targeted energy bill relief, which was backed by every premier in every state and territory. We know that since the announcement of that price intervention forward prices are significantly less than what they would have been under the Liberals.

Those opposite voted to make power bills for families hundreds of dollars higher than they needed to be. They voted against targeted energy bill relief for thousands of Australian households and businesses, they voted against energy bill relief for pensioners and families doing it tough, and they voted against energy price relief for small businesses and manufacturers. Those opposite think it's fine and dandy for Aussie manufacturers to shut as they get slogged with upward-spiralling gas prices from Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine.

We've done more than our energy price relief plan. We've just rolled out our small business energy grants. These grants will support businesses to upgrade and replace inefficient equipment, improving their energy efficiency. These grants, from $10,000 to $25,000, are available right now for small and medium-sized businesses to upgrade their facilities. They'll enable industry to reduce its energy prices, manage energy costs and improve its viability in the long term. This will contribute to Australia's emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030. And—get this—the objective of this program is to reduce power bills for small and medium-sized businesses.

Then, of course, there are this government's huge investments in renewable energy, not only direct investments from government but also investments from the private sector because of the certainty that we have provided to the energy market. I'll let the opposition in on a little secret, Madam Deputy Speaker: the cheapest form of energy right now is renewable energy. Everyone knows it—the world knows it; Australians know it—but those over there refuse to accept it. To put downward pressure on energy bills, Australians need to invest in the cheapest form of power today. Since we came to power, large-scale wind and solar farm investments have grown. They grew by 50 per cent in 2022, totalling 4.3 gigawatts of new, cheap power. The second half of last year also saw a step up in rooftop solar investment by families, with over 300,000 small-scale rooftop systems adding 2.8 gigawatts of power, and all we see from those opposite is energy chaos. ARENA is investing $176 million in eight large-scale batteries. Then, of course, we have the $400 million investment in community batteries, which will help those communities store energy overnight and use free power at night. We're investing in renewable energy because it's cheap and it's good for the planet.

Contrast that to what those opposite want to do: they want to revive nuclear. They've been talking about nuclear energy in this place since 1955. Senator Spooner spoke about it in this place in 1955. There was not a peep about it in their last nine years in government. They dangle this radioactive carrot every couple of years. They bring it up and they all talk about it. It's all talk, no action. Let's have a look at what they're talking about. Two reputable organisations have costed the small modular reactors at $5 billion a reactor. We need 80 across the grid, they predict. That's $400 billion for their nuclear folly. It'd be cheaper to go to Wakanda and mine some vibranium than it would be to invest in nuclear power. We've had 'Kooyong Forever'. They're now going 'Wakanda Forever'.

The solution for cheap energy is investment in renewables. Those opposite want to go nuclear, and it will be bad for our country.

3:41 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to bring this MPI down to the granular level and the reason we're here, and that is our people—our people and those people who run businesses in our electorates. I cannot believe for one moment that the members sitting opposite haven't spoken to their constituents on this very issue of their power bills going through the roof. I don't believe for one second that you haven't had emails or telephone calls saying, 'My bill has gone up 20 per cent,' or, '40 per cent.' We'd all have examples, but for some reason—and that reason would be a broken promise of $275 said by the Prime Minister on 97 occasions—you're not bringing those stories to the fore.

Cynthia and Allan Ross from South West Rocks in my electorate are two pensioners. They live frugally. They don't go out spending money at the pub or putting it through the pokies. They live frugally because they're on the pension. Recently we saw an increase in the pension of $44 a fortnight. They just got notification that their electricity bill is going up 44 per cent. That equates to $11 a week for them. So that automatically takes away half of that increase to the age pension that they received. Imagine their terror when they heard that the bills are going to go up another 20 per cent in winter. That's not us saying that; there's a report in the newspaper today from Origin Energy—on 1 July, 20 per cent. So you can wipe out that increase to the age pension for Allan and Cynthia Ross in South West Rocks.

Worse is yet to come if we then talk about businesses. Peter Feros owns the Dorrigo hotel. Dorrigo is not awash with money. He gets his regular clients in there. He called me recently. He had to renew his contract. His bill is going up $25,000. What does that mean? He might have to lay off workers. He might have to lay off staff.

These are just examples from around the country and, as I said, I do not believe for one moment that these examples aren't happening in the electorates of members opposite. It's happening in all our electorates. If that's the price that the Dorrigo Hotel has to pay, imagine what the people living in Dorrigo are having to pay? I can tell you right now that Dorrigo gets very, very cold in the winter. People will be rugging up with blankets and jumpers rather than switching on their air-conditioners because, come 1 July, that 20 per cent goes straight onto their bills.

Add that to cost-of-living pressures. I'm more than happy to say that I actually do the shopping at Coles on a Sunday, and that I know what things cost. In the past 12 months I've seen that go up by 30 per cent—I can guarantee you that. People out there are hurting, and when they're lied to by the Prime Minister, who said, 'We're going to save you $275 a year,' that hurts. It hurts because they believed him, and that's why he's the Prime Minister. He broke that promise to the Australian people and they're out there hurting. But Labor are sticking their heads in the sand about power prices and the cost of living, pointing the finger at the coalition. In reality, we pushed prices down: we pushed electricity prices down.

They can hurl headlong into ideology, but on the street, at that granular level, those people who we represent and those businesses we represent are hurting. The Prime Minister broke his promise.

3:46 pm

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

The Albanese Labor government was elected on a mandate to deliver immediate cost-of-living relief to millions of Australians who were struggling due to the mess left behind by those on the other side of this chamber. This includes rorts—too many to name—and a trillion dollars of debt. As a nation, we're also faced with crises at home and across from our shores which impact on our economy. First was the global pandemic, which put severe pressure on supply chains across the world. On the other hand we have the year-long war in Europe due to Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, which is creating havoc in energy markets around the world and pushing electricity prices higher at home. I understand the impact that higher energy prices are having on households and businesses, and wish that the previous government had been aware of the risks of playing games with our nation's domestic energy policy. Instead it was left to those who did nothing but leave a decade of chaos and delay behind them.

Last December, we took action to take some of the burden of higher power prices off in order to support families, small businesses and Australian manufacturers. After nearly a decade in government, one would expect the opposition to be more aware of the way that government and the government's policies work. I guess that expectation only holds if they took action during those nine years. Unfortunately, the impact of government policies are rarely felt overnight and it will take some time for the benefits of the Albanese Labor government's policies to flow through fully, but there are encouraging signs that our actions are starting to work. We're seeing a big reduction in the price increases that were forecast for 2023.

After seeing a decade of energy policy chaos, the opposition voted against action on power prices and tried to block direct energy price relief. That's correct: the very same opposition that accuses the government of failing to deliver reductions on energy prices actually failed to support reductions on energy prices. They can talk the talk but they can never walk the walk. If the opposition had their way, power prices would be even higher and households would get what they got over the past decade of inaction: nothing. They are hopelessly out of touch to think that Australian households, businesses and manufacturers should not get the support that they need and deserve. The opposition's record is stellar in leaving no stone unturned to make life harder for honest, hardworking everyday Australians. First, they helped create the problem with their decade of energy policy chaos. Then they kept power price increases a secret until after the federal election last year.

Finally, they tried to block direct energy price relief for households and businesses. If we had let them get their way, families across this country would be paying over $230 more on their power bills than they would otherwise have to, without a cent of extra support.

We on this side are taking urgent action to shield Australian families and businesses from the worst of these energy spikes. Since the announcement of the intervention, forward prices have dropped significantly from what they would have been. According to the latest AEMO quarterly energy dynamics report, energy feature prices began trending down in November in anticipation of the government's intervention. We will have further announcements in the near future about the remaining elements of the plan, including targeted rebates for consumers and small businesses. We are wasting no time in delivering a stable policy framework to reduce volatility in the market, put downward pressure on prices and encourage increased investment in transmission. I applaud the Albanese Labor government, particularly the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, for providing effective, efficient energy price relief for all Australians. I thank the House.

3:51 pm

Photo of Zoe McKenzieZoe McKenzie (Flinders, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the simplest premises of Australian public life is you only make promises you both intend to keep and are capable of keeping. As a new candidate in 2022, I, like my friend here, the member for Menzies, endured the most rigorous of process to ensure that every single promise I made for the betterment of the lives of the good folk of Flinders could be funded and implemented within the responsible boundaries of a future coalition government. It was a process that was thorough, if not bordering on torturous, but it meant that both I and, more importantly, my constituents could be confident that whatever I said I could deliver, I would actually deliver under a returned coalition.

So it has been with some shock that I have observed the callous indifference to the promises made to the Australian people by the Australian Labor Party during their 2022 campaign. Nowhere is that disregard more stark than in energy prices. Last year the Prime Minister, then leader of the opposition, promised all Australians their energy bills would go down. His promise wasn't broad or in general terms. It wasn't a throw away, 'They will be less under Labor' or a 'Blah, blah, I don't know what the number is.' It was a categorical promise, a calculated and clear categorical promise electricity prices would go down by $275—$275, not by $200, not by $250, but by $275, on the money, not a penny more, not a penny less. It wasn't something he said once—a slipped remark, a hasty promise, tongue-twisted moment of forgetfulness. He said it 97 times. Part of me is tempted to stand here and say it 97 times or find 97 different ways of saying it so no-one misses the intent. 'Electricity prices will go down by $275 under Labor. Labor will reduce your electricity prices by $275. You will save $275 on your electricity bills under an Albanese government. Albo's going to underwrite your electricity bill by $275. Need a break from your electricity bills? That is okay, because we are going to pay the first $275 in 2023.' That's five. Technically, to be on par, I still have 92 to go. But in instead of delivering anything like a $275 or even $2.75 reduction, the Prime Minister has delivered the most expensive average wholesale electricity prices on record. This week we heard it is going to get worse, with expectations the Australian Energy Regulator will announce a 20 per cent increase in the default market offer for electricity prices next week, to take effect on 1 July.

I am perplexed. If I am perplexed, the Australian public has every right to be absolutely flabbergasted. I have a vague recollection of being recalled to Canberra last December. We had risen for the parliamentary year, said our farewells and had all returned to our electorates to care for our constituents and provide support across their activities in the lead-up to the Christmas break. Then the PM called us all back to Canberra for a single sitting day on 15 December. It cost more than $1 million to bring us all back, and the parliament passed the Prime Minister's Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan ) Bill 2022. At the time, the ABC described the outcome as follows:

Gas prices will be capped for a year in an effort to restrain runaway electricity price increases, after a last-minute meeting of parliament before the year's end.

'Oh, goodie!' you could be fooled for thinking, watching the news that night. And then the letters started to come from power companies across the nation to our kitchen tables, telling us we faced 30 per cent increases in the next year: 'Dear Elizabeth, on 1 February 2023, your natural gas rates are going up. We understand this isn't the news you want to hear'—or perhaps expected to hear—'and we're here if you need to talk to us. What's happening at a glance? We estimate it will cost you an additional $730 a year, $900 a year, $1,000 year.'

I got an email from a pensioner, Eddie, in my electorate, dated 11 January: 'I would like to express my concern re the recent price increase as advised by my service provider. On the information provided by them, I have calculated the current charges for domestic supply will increase, in my case, by 39.6 per cent effective February 2023.' A couple of days later, I got an email from Joe and Julie in my electorate. It read: 'We just received notification from our gas supplier advising of the new charges for gas supplied to our residence. Based on past usage it is estimated that our cost of gas will increase by $667.62, representing an over 50 per cent increase.'

These increases are as a direct result of the ALP, state and federal, demonising gas and, in particular, the Andrews government's ban on all types of exploration in Victoria for the last eight years. On the money—

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

Thank you. Member for Cunningham.

3:56 pm

Photo of Alison ByrnesAlison Byrnes (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If the member for Fairfax wants to talk about failure to deliver on energy, then maybe he needs to pick up a mirror and have a really good, hard look into it. By doing that, he will see there is a trail of mess and mismanagement that was left behind by his former government and its three prime ministers.

Reconstruction in the wake of the Liberal-National destruction won't happen overnight. It will take some time. But I can reassure the House and the member for Fairfax that, in the Illawarra, this Labor government isn't wasting a second in making the investments we need to rebuild the grid, lower energy prices and create the jobs of the future. These investments include $10 million to establish an energy future skill centre, located at the University of Wollongong so we have the skilled workforce to build the grid of the future; $2.5 million for a renewable energy training facility at the Wollongong TAFE, which will include upgrades to equipment and teaching aids; investing more than $1 million in a University of Wollongong study finding ways to keep Australia's grid secure through the renewable energy transformation; and investing in an Australian-German collaboration to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production and support cutting-edge technology in the industry, including close to $9 million to Hysata to work with Fraunhofer IPT to develop a new capillary-fed electrolyser to deliver low-cost hydrogen in Port Kembla. All of this is in addition to the New Energy Apprenticeships program, which will support Australians to train in the jobs of future and help power Australia's path to net zero emissions. Apprentices training in eligible occupations in the clean energy sector can now attract up to $10,000 in direct support, helping them to manage the cost of living while they train in the sectors essential to Australia's transition to a clean energy economy.

But, wait, there is more. This government is taking the lead on driving household electrification by committing $224.3 million to support 400 community batteries to store excess energy from rooftop solar generation. One of these batteries will be in Warrawong in my electorate, which is one of the lowest socioeconomic areas. This is a great win for the people in Warrawong; that's over 500 households. It is a suburb with some of the most vulnerable people, who will benefit from the Labor government's investment in a community battery. That's households that wouldn't be able to access clean energy technologies. They will be supported to gain the benefits of rooftop solar and other technologies, helping them to overcome the upfront capital costs of electrification.

We have also committed $100 million for the community solar banks program, which will support 25,000 households to access the benefits of community-scale solar, rooftop solar and clean energy technologies. These are real investments and real actions which are supporting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of a 43 per cent reduction by 2030, net zero by 2050 and 82 per cent renewables into the grid by 2030. This is real and tangible action on climate change, which those opposite refused to take for far too long.

What are the Liberals listed investments to rebuild the grid, lower energy prices and create the jobs of the future for the Illawarra? They are outlined here: nothing. But, don't worry, the Greens party isn't much better. Their climate and energy plan and their Job-for-Job Guarantee, looking after coal communities, completely overlooks the Illawarra. The Hunter got a look-in, the Latrobe Valley got a look-in, Gladstone got a look-in, the Bowen Basin got a look-in, and even Collie in south-west WA is there. But the Illawarra doesn't even rate a mention in a Greens Party plan for the future.

Clearly, with the Liberals and the Greens parties, there isn't any respect for the workers of the Illawarra: the steel workers, the miners, the manufacturers, the educators and the innovators who are going to help us drive Australia to rebuild the grid, lower energy prices and create the jobs of the future.

After nearly a decade of neglect, the Albanese Labor government is roaring ahead, making up lost ground and getting on with the job. We are taking immediate action to shield Australian families and businesses from the worst of these energy price spikes. The plan is about taking some of the sting out of higher power prices to support families, protect local industries and save jobs.

4:01 pm

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This issue may seem like an entertaining exercise for us to shoot invective across at each other, and it's good to see that new members are getting on their feet and doing that. Maybe we can't call ourselves new anymore; we're into the new year.

But we must never forget that what we do and say in this place affects real people, real people and real businesses. I will give you an example of one. In my electorate, there is a small business—or maybe a medium business—called Fratelli Engineering. Fratelli, for those who speak Italian, means brothers. It is a family business that was formed in 1996. We hear from those opposite that you want to make things here again. Guess what? Fratelli Engineering makes things here. It employs 20 people, many of whom have physical and mental disabilities, who work for a family business.

For the first time ever, that family business is now seriously questioning whether they can stay open. They have been there since 1996. I spoke to the owner, Sam Leo, just before I came in here for this debate. I asked him, 'What would you like to say to those opposite?' He said—and I didn't prompt him—'I trusted you. I trusted that you would help bring power bills down'. Trust matters. Trust matters because it goes to the heart of integrity. We are in opposition here, and that means we must reflect upon lessons learnt from that election last year. Integrity was one of them.

You may say that that's just about a corruption commission. We've heard a lot about that, and that was supported by this House and in the Senate. But it's not just about corruption commissions; it's about what we do and what we say. It's about trust. At the core of trust are promises. You can look at promises in two ways. You can look at a promise in a contractual way, in that there are consequences that may lead to a cause of action in a court. That's not what we're dealing with here. We're not dealing with promises that Australians can take you to court over. If we could, I would encourage Fratelli Engineering to go to court and have all of you as the respondents. We are talking about a moral obligation and a moral commitment. We can argue that is an even more important commitment for integrity and for trust. There is no cause of action, but it is about morality and moral consequences. People like Sam Leo and the pensioners that we heard about from many of the other speakers, who may seriously question whether, because of their power bills, they can turn the heating on, keep themselves warm and look after themselves and their families. They are going to make decisions this year, because they relied upon what was promised.

I don't know about those opposite, but I had a visit from the Edelman Trust Barometer. They spoke about a survey they did in this country on institutions and trust. There are some alarming conclusions. I encourage those opposite, if you have not read this, to listen to what I'm about to say. No institution is trusted by Australians anymore. Our institutions are out of balance. Government and media fuel a cycle of distrust and are seen as a source of misleading information. We are more divided today than we were in the past. This is a global survey: it's not just a problem here, but we must focus on what we can do in this country. Forty-five per cent of Australians surveyed think we are more divided than in the past. When asked about our social fabrics, 61 per cent said this: 'The lack of civility and mutual respect today is the worst I have ever seen.' The question of whether the social fabric that once held this country together has grown too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose—54 per cent. This is a problem that we must all face.

Leading up to an election, political parties make promises because there is a reward if that promise is believed. The reward is that you get to sit there and you get to occupy the blue-carpet offices. But people rely upon what you say. It's not just what the Prime Minister said but also what some of the candidates said. I'm going to single out one that happened in my electorate. The Labor candidate in the seat of Menzies in a quote to the Warrandyte Diary said that you, as a government, would match the fixing of the '5 Ways' intersection, where a young girl died. People in my electorate relied upon that promise that was made, then when I went to visit the minister about that commitment, guess what? It wasn't matched because the candidate didn't submit the paperwork. Guess what? Australians know you don't submit paperwork and they are onto you.

4:06 pm

Photo of Andrew CharltonAndrew Charlton (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Governments around the world are dealing with higher power prices. Australian is not immune. We're dealing with higher energy prices as well. It's painful and it's tough on the family budget. In this circumstance, Australians want two things: first of all, they want action; secondly, they want honesty. Unfortunately, they didn't get any of those things from those opposite when they were in government. They didn't get action—instead they had four gigawatts of generation leave the system and only one gigawatt come back in. They certainly didn't get honesty. The previous government hid the information that energy prices were set to rise.

We have had decades of denial and delay from this side, across four Liberal leaders. Leader number one, Tony Abbott, said that the science of climate change was 'crap' and that climate change was 'probably doing good'. That was Tony Abbott's hot take on climate change. He had a few corkers. The second leader, Malcolm Turnbull, described Liberal policy as 'an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing'—that's what he said about his own party. In 2009 he said that his fellow members of the Liberal Party 'do not believe in human-caused global warming'. After he left politics, Turnbull said that his biggest regret—and it was a long list, I assume—was a failure to secure meaningful climate policy. Who did he blame for this regret? He didn't blame Labor or business or any stakeholders. He certainly didn't blame himself, characteristically. He blamed his own party.

Then, we had Scott Morrison, the member for Cook, who brought a lump of coal into the parliament. He said the coalition's policy was for coal power stations 'to run as long as they possibly can'.

A government member: It wasn't even a decent sized piece of coal.

Thank you for that important interjection. He stood up in front of the world at COP26 and claimed that the government was acting on climate change the Australian way—which in his world meant doing nothing. What he meant was, 'the Australian government way' at that time. Leader number four is Peter Dutton, who thought that the devastation of rising sea levels in the Pacific was a joke. He joked about the risks of climate change for our important neighbours in the Pacific. This shows decades of disgraceful denial and disgraceful delay. They had 22 different climate change policies, and they didn't deliver one of them.

The saddest thing about this chaos is that it has left them so isolated. The Liberal Party like to think of themselves as the party of business—they think that's their natural constituency. But on this issue, businesses are leaving the Liberals in the rear-view mirror. On this issue, businesses are acting. They are putting in place targets to get to net zero. They are putting in place concrete plans. They are putting in place renewable energy. What they need is certainty. What they are crying out for is certainty. They have been waiting for decades for certainty, but it has not come from the so-called party of business.

In fact, the Liberal's climate policy is kryptonite for their core constituency. Businesses are walking away from them on climate, just like they're walking away from them on the Voice and just like they are walking away from them on fairness and gender equity. It is sad to see the Liberal Party, the party that thinks of itself as the voice of business, to be so distant from business. It must be embarrassing for the Liberals to see that their own constituency is so far out ahead of them, leaving them behind in its wake. If the coalition don't understand business's position on climate, if they don't understand the position of conservation groups and they aren't in touch with mainstream Australia, who is their climate policy for?

By contrast, we have taken strong action. We have been working with the states and territories on the delivery of the energy bill relief package; we have been taking action to limit coal and gas prices; we have been taking action to increase renewables in the grid; and we've been taking action to ensure that we get a sensible target that can be delivered in a way that will support jobs, support growth and support Australian industry.

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

The discussion has now concluded.