House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business


11:00 am

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) expensive and unreliable fossil fuel energy has driven up power bills by over 20 per cent in eastern states;

(b) households can reduce their bills:

(i) by an average between $1,134 and $1,822 a year with rooftop solar;

(ii) between $514 and $1,594 with more efficient electric appliances; and

(iii) by even more with insulation and improved energy efficiency; and

(c) renters, apartment dwellers, and those on moderate and low incomes cannot get these savings, meaning over half of households are missing out on cost of living relief;

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) the Government has taken significant positive steps in this area, including the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, Solar Banks Scheme, and funding for social housing; and

(b) despite these positive steps, no funding has yet been disbursed from the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, and the 110,000 households that will be supported through the scheme are just a small fraction of the millions which need help; and

(3) calls on the Government to:

(a) accelerate disbursement of existing support via the Household Energy Upgrades Fund;

(b) fund a 'people power plan' to lower energy bills in the May budget, with significant additional support for renters, apartment dwellers, and those with lower incomes and savings, as well as new measures to help landlords, homebuilders, and people in regional and rural communities hosting large-scale renewable projects and transmission lines; and

(c) work with state governments to urgently implement promised mandatory energy performance disclosure for rental properties, and minimum energy performance standards.

It feels that every day we hear news of another climate disaster. The world has recorded its hottest year on record, the seventh mass bleaching of the Barrier Reef is underway, and 30,000 people in Victoria were recently told to leave their homes because of catastrophic fire risk. But, whilst our window to 'keep 1.5 alive' vanishes, we also face a second crisis here in Australia.

Cost of living is the issue that dominates every town hall meeting and every poll in every electorate in the country. Whilst many people want to talk about interest rate rises or an unfair rent hike, many others want to talk about their power bills. Over the last year, retail power prices have risen over 20 per cent. These power bills were driven up by our dependence on aging coal plants and expensive gas. But the very real pain that households are feeling is being weaponised by those who seek to blame renewable energy to delay climate action and to pit the regions against the cities in a new culture war. It is more important than ever that our actions to combat the climate crisis also address cost of living.

Luckily enough, we already have the solutions, because over three million households have been shielded from recent energy price rises. They're the ones with solar on the roof. They're people like Nick in Bondi, who installed solar when he renovated his home and is now saving around $150 a month. Nick's story is not unique. The average household with solar saves between $1,100 and $1,800 a year. They have cheap, clean energy off the roof and long-term financial certainty. But the opportunity goes beyond solar. Those who switch out gas appliances for more efficient electrical alternatives can reduce bills by between $500 and $1,600 a year. By fixing up home insulation, we can save even more. These actions are great for cost of living, and, by dramatically reducing our use of fossil fuels, they're also great for the planet. By reducing households' peak demand by up to three-quarters, they also reduce the risk that we overspend on transmission.

But over half of Australia's 11 million households are locked out of these opportunities to permanently reduce their power bills. Renters are six times less likely to have solar than homeowners. Their home is much more likely to have a zero energy star rating, because there's not much incentive for landlords to take action, and there are no laws that can tell them to do so. Renters are left frustrated and out of pocket. Apartment dwellers are 10 times less likely to have solar. They're blocked by financial and regulatory barriers, and we've seen them abandoned by government policy for too long. Those with lower incomes and low savings face additional financial constraints. Too many people are locked out of lower power bills, and too many people in regional and rural Australia are not yet seeing the benefits of the transition. It's not fair, and we need to act.

That's why I am today calling on the government to fund a people power plan to lower energy bills at the May budget. The plan should include, firstly, support for households who have been left behind, particularly renters, apartment dwellers and those on low savings or with low income. Secondly, it should include support for people in regional and rural Australia, who this transition cannot succeed without. Finally, it should include driving regulatory reform, including an end to new gas connections, minimum standards for rentals and mandatory energy performance disclosure. We need a multiyear, additional funding commitment that supports an additional half a million homes to electrify over the next three years. And it can be paid for by properly taxing windfall profits of the gas industry, by lowering the deductions cap on the petroleum resources rent tax to 80 per cent.

Earlier today, 14 organisations including ACOSS, Rewiring Australia, Better Renting, the Smart Energy Council, Think Forward and National Shelter wrote to the Treasurer and energy ministers to join my call, and I'm delighted that many of these advocates representing renters, apartment dwellers, young people, low-income earners and people across Australia are here in Canberra today. The government must listen. It must heed their call and it must deliver a people power plan.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion second?

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

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:05 am

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

I thank the member for Wentworth for moving this important motion today. Like us in government, she understands how important it is to transition our electricity generation away from fossil fuels and ageing infrastructure. She understands this and she supports this, and it's why she won her seat and the Liberal Party didn't.

Energy security is an important issue to discuss. Australians want us to work out the challenge of how we'll meet our energy needs whilst reducing emissions along the way. They voted out a government that had 22 failed energy policies, so we know that this issue matters to everyday Australians. Importantly, we know that Australians also want tangible solutions. They want and need dispatchable energy now—not a nuclear energy fantasy that is decades away. They want a shift away from fossil fuels because they know that low-emissions technology also delivers a reduction in wholesale power prices.

I'm pleased to inform that this wholesale power price reduction is happening right now. In January this year, the Australian Energy Market Operator's update stated:

Record generation from grid-scale renewables and rooftop solar is triggering wholesale energy prices and greenhouse emissions to fall …

The CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Daniel Westerman, said that 'wholesale electricity prices on the east coast had halved from 2022 levels, reflecting the increasing roles that low-cost renewables are playing in daily generation'.

I'm part of a government that wants as many Australians as possible to access the dividend of renewable energy. Energy-efficient homes are not just beneficial for our environment; they offer tangible benefits for every Australian household. Electrified homes are cheaper to heat and cool, and, crucially, they are more able to access free and clean energy along the way. For people to access these benefits equitably, we know we have a lot of work to do. We need solar, batteries and wind to be accessible for everyone, whether you own your home or you rent, or whether you live on a farm or you live in an apartment. People should be able to access affordable and emissions-free energy no matter where they live.

Since coming to government, we have worked incredibly hard to overcome the 10 years of climate denial and delay from those opposite and to get this energy transition on its way. We've been working very hard, and I'd like to also acknowledge the work of the crossbench, including the member for Wentworth, for their work in this space over the last two years. The majority of people elected in this place all want the same thing. We want cheaper energy, we want energy security that's deliverable now and we want the overwhelming majority of that new energy to be renewable.

Contrast that to the alternative, to those who wasted their 10 years in government and who have chosen now, in opposition, to pursue their nuclear energy fantasy. With renewables, Labor wants cheaper energy, and the Liberals want nuclear, which has been proven time and time again to be the most expensive form of new power generation. Labor wants to deliver renewable energy now, whereas the Liberals want to wait 10, 15 or 20 years before their first reactor operates. Labor wants our new energy to be clean and emissions free, whereas the Liberals want to extend the life of dirty coal-fired power plants.

To enable renewable energy uptake in homes, we have to date committed over $1 billion to help households electrify. The Household Energy Upgrades Fund will, through financial institutions, offer low-interest and concessional loans to homeowners who want to install energy efficient technology. Not everyone has the $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 needed to invest in this infrastructure at home. These low-interest loans will make it easier for homes to electrify and access the benefits of renewable energy. Under this plan, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will partner with private financial institutions to offer concessional green loans, and there has been extensive interest in this program. I'm hopeful that the government can provide further updates throughout the year about these partnerships as we lay the groundwork for the widescale rollout of energy performance upgrades across households. On top of that, importantly, we've offered $300 million to improve energy efficiency in social housing properties across the state. This is just one of many policies that we've rolled out in under two years. We were elected to take action in this space. We have, and will continue to do so.

11:10 am

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

I strongly support this practical motion calling for the funding of a people's power plan to accelerate the electrification of households. We are facing the twin challenges of emissions that urgently need to come down and households with high power costs, and this motion tackles both. Firstly, let's acknowledge the climate crisis we are in: 2023 was a year of record temperatures, and, so far, in 2024 the temperatures just keep rising. Earlier this year was the hottest January on record in the world's oceans. Secondly, households face a cost-of-living crisis, with high energy prices driven by ageing coal-fired power and expensive gas. The recent ACOSS Heat Survey report indicates that over 1.8 million low-income homes can't afford the electricity to cool or warm their homes, putting them even more at risk of the health impacts of climate change. First Nations respondents were even more likely to be struggling to pay for essentials, such as energy and other bills.

It is a frustration of renting, not being able to take greater control of power via rooftop solar. Renters need better visibility on the energy efficiencies of rental premises, and the same goes for small businesses, who are often also renting. They are incredibly frustrated. In particular, the government's legislation giving small businesses access to instant asset write-offs and energy incentives to decarbonise has stalled for months, and yet it is due to end—even though it has not even taken effect yet—at the end of this financial year. It's ridiculous, and I call on the government to urgently extend the program.

I echo the call of the member for Wentworth for the government to implement policies that incentivise landlords and provide rebates to low-income households to install rooftop solar PV and batteries. Australia is the continent with the most abundant solar and wind. We must make sure that all Australians can take advantage of the bountiful supply that we have. We need to go faster to tackle climate change and emissions reductions. We need to reduce emissions by a minimum of 75 per cent by 2035 to have any chance of keeping warming in check. We need an equitable, long-term approach. We can't leave behind huge sections of our community—in particular, renters and low-income households.

We need measures to incentivise landlords, home builders and people in regional and rural communities to decarbonise. Decoupling energy from fossil fuels will deliver savings and provide Australians with energy independence and protection from inflationary pressures. This is a no-brainer. By helping households decarbonised, we can reduce the average power bill by some $1,100 to $1,800 a year with rooftop solar, by around $500 to $1,600 a year with more efficient electrical appliances, and by even more with insulation and improved energy efficiencies, yet we hear nothing from the government on improved building standards or mandatory codes. Even the social housing and the HAFF bill were silent on ensuring the coupling of measures to ensure energy efficiency.

This is a cost-of-living issue, but it is a health issue ultimately, as we are witnessing more and more extreme weather events more and more frequently. We know heat will bring health risks, and that adds more pressure to the system. It is a no-brainer for the government, in this May budget, to increase its support for the Household Energy Upgrades Fund and deliver an electrification-of-households program, a people's power plan. We can be ambitious; the government needs to do things like interest-free loans, which can offer a low-cost way to encourage homeowners and landlords to immediately access the savings from rooftop solar and accelerate emissions reduction. We need the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme; it was slated to end in 2030 and it needs to be extended. It supports consumers directly to use renewable energy to lower their bills.

Thirdly, it should pursue small-scale renewable energy and battery projects, currently specifically excluded from eligibility for support from the Capacity Investment Scheme. This should be looked at as well. We know that we need some 15 gigawatts of storage by 2030. This can be achieved by having 30 per cent of households which have solar taking up batteries as well. Where is the government plan to deliver that? We have success stories about this in Warringah, from Colormaker Industries to Free TV Australia, and we have Zero Emissions Sydney North and Solar Alliance all working hard to electrify our households and small businesses. The government absolutely must do more.

11:15 am

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Wentworth for raising this very important issue. Like this side of the House and the government, she understands that climate change is real, that we need renewables and that time is running out. We know that the 10 years of inaction by the former government caused prices to go up. There was no investment in renewables. Of course, if you were an investor in renewables, why would you invest when the government at the time, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, was divided about whether climate change was real? That was one of the starting points. If you were an investor in renewables, why would you have invested over that period of 11 years when they were in government? Thank God, the government has changed and real action is being taken to reduce emissions, to ensure that energy prices are cheaper and to ensure that we do everything we can to use those magnificent things of nature—wind, solar, the sun et cetera.

I'll read out an email I received last week from a constituent of mine called Paul, a resident of the Adelaide federal electorate. Paul said: 'The $125 quarter concession impact was astonishing. My last electricity bill was $52.69, an amazing 71 per cent less than I would otherwise have received and the lowest bill that I have ever received in my life. But it gets even better. When the PM initiated the energy cap negotiations, it stimulated my energy supplier to initiate a "free electricity for two hours a day" offer, which means an additional $45-plus per quarter credit to my bill. If included, then this amounts to a whopping 76 per cent saving to my electricity bill. Thank you, thank you, thank you.' Those were Paul's exact words and they speak volumes about the impact of the action that this Albanese Labor government is currently undertaking. The truth is that the government has been making some big moves in this area; initiatives like the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, the solar bank scheme and funding for social housing are making a real difference, and they're making a real difference in my electorate.

Paul wasn't just talking about numbers here; he was talking about the real impact that government action is having on his life. It's about putting money back in pockets of hardworking Australians, making a real difference in their daily lives and, at the same time, reducing emissions. Consider the impact of solar panels: if you've got solar panels on your roof, you're already saving between 39 to 57 per cent on your energy bills. That's up to $1,350 per year. And if you add a battery to your set-up, those savings shoot up to over 100 per cent—more than $2,000 annually. But the whole country benefits from cheaper energy through renewables: we reduce our emissions, which is the No. 1 priority for all of us, and, at No. 2, we have more players in the market with renewables, which will eventually bring prices right down. The whole country benefits from cheaper energy. Rooftop solar is driving prices down for everyone by reducing demand on the grid and cutting the need for expensive fuel sources during the day.

However, some people think that it's a good idea to put the brakes on renewables and to look at something called 'nuclear' 15 to 20 years down the track. We don't have time for 20 years down the track, but some people think it's a good idea. It will leave us in the dark as old coal plants shut down and make energy prices more expensive. They've even voted against helping struggling households with their energy bills, as we saw when we moved our energy bill about 18 months ago.

It's time to stop blocking progress and start supporting cleaner, cheaper energy for all, and that's why this government is investing in upgrading our grid and unlocking more reliable power sources. We're making sure that when the sun goes down you still have electricity, without breaking the bank. We're helping low-income families and renters get in on the solar action as well. With initiatives like the household energy upgrades and solar banks, our aim is simple: we want everyone, regardless of their circumstances, to reap the benefits of energy upgrades. Improving the energy efficiency of social housing means putting money back into pockets. It's about introducing better technology, efficient air conditioning, upgraded hot water systems, improved lighting, and double-glazed windows. After years and years of neglect it's time to act, and this Albanese Labor government is acting. (Time expired).

11:20 am

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.