Senate debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Matters of Public Importance

Renewable Energy

4:17 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Well, $14.1 million goes a long way in Australian politics. In fact, in this country it is enough to buy an entire political party, because, of course, $14.1 million is the amount that fossil fuel companies donated to the coalition between 2005 and 2016. That $14.1 million is enough for the Liberal Party to hand over billions of dollars every year in subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. In fact, big polluters in this country get $24 billion in every budget. That is a four-year period. That is $6 billion a year averaged over the out-years of a budget. That is one hell of a return on investment for these big fossil fuel donors.

Apparently, these donations are enough for the coalition to repeat the lies from the coal sector about coal being able to be made clean. Let's be very clear: clean coal is bulldust! It is a complete and utter myth. Not only are the Liberals swallowing that myth, they are trying to con the Australian people into believing their rubbish. But here is the truth: clean coal exists somewhere between the Easter bunny and Big Foot. It is like scientific whaling or healthy cigarettes. It is as real as a dragon, and this mob wants to use Australian money to chase this dragon until our climate is completely cooked. And on coal, it saddens me to say, the Labor Party is not much better.

Let's hear what some of Australia's biggest businesses say about clean energy and coal. AGL is arguably Australia's biggest polluter. Their CEO, Andy Vesey, has said this: 'You have to embrace where the future is going. If you know your customers are going that way, you have to move before rather than after because you want to continue to own that customer.' Mr Vesey said: 'I'd rather be out in front than trailing behind it.' AGL, of course, are embracing renewables and local generation technologies. Australia's second biggest polluter is EnergyAustralia. Their CEO, Catherine Tanna, said today: 'We listen to our customers, and our customers are very, very clear with us that clean energy is where the future is. We know what the future will look like. We own and operate coal power stations, but we want to be part of the plan to transition our energy system.' If the government actually listened to companies like AGL and to companies like EnergyAustralia and actually treated the electorates like these companies treat their customers, perhaps we would not be in the climate mess that this world currently finds itself in.

If the government were to do that, they would pull back from their poorly executed strategy and support the rapid rollout of truly clean renewable energy and technologically advanced storage options. We have a party with a 35 per cent approval rating attacking renewable energy, which has 80 per cent of public support. The Liberal strategists are absolute geniuses, are they not? Not even their voter base is buying it, because none of it is believable or based on facts. What makes this clean coal crusade even more absurd—more absurd than a senior cabinet minister wandering into the House of Representatives with a lump of coal in his pocket—is that clean energy is cheaper than coal, it creates more jobs than coal and it attracts more investment than coal ever will.

Right now, as we debate this, supercritical coal is double the price of wind or solar. The costs of wind, the costs of solar and the costs of advanced battery storage are plummeting every month. Make no mistake: no-one is going to invest in coal. It is spent technology, and investment into coal will create stranded assets into the future. In fact, just about the only people who support coal, apart from the Liberal Party and the Labor Party in this place, are the Minerals Council who, quite frankly, will never have to invest a cent in these absurd ideas.

Meanwhile, there are scores of exciting small Australian businesses leading the global race for storage technologies—like Redflow in Queensland, working on flow batteries, and 1414 Degrees working on silicon storage based on research developed by the CSIRO, whose funding has been slashed in particular recently by the coalition. We have First Graphite Resources trying to commercialise a graphene supercapacitor battery and companies such as Reposit Power, GreenSynch and Redback Technologies are all developing and selling software for a future grid where people will trade electricity.

If Malcolm Turnbull had never entered politics, he would probably be investing in these companies. In fact, he might even own a couple of them and run a couple of them, because they are Australian companies at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and the global energy business. They are exciting, they are helping the world's climate and they are empowering households and businesses and helping them drive down and control their energy bills.

Clean renewable energy is an unstoppable force, while the Liberal Party is looking more and more like an immovable object. There is no way the government is ever going to win this ridiculous pretend-war it has waged. Rather than manufacturing clean, exciting, cutting-edge technologies, all the Liberal Party is interested in doing is manufacturing fear in electorates.

'Clean coal' is nothing but a cruel, cruel hoax. We have seen recently that we have burned so much fossil fuel over the last decades and century that we are changing the climate. One of the changes is more hot days and hotter heatwaves across much of Australia. During these more common hot days and these hotter heatwaves, people turn on more air conditioners. This places more pressure on generation assets and transmission assets. Sometimes they wobble, such as we have seen recently in New South Wales and South Australia. The government's answer has been, 'Burn more coal.' But that is what created the problem in the first place! If it were not so bloody serious, it would be laughable.

Make no mistake: these troglodytes who support the coal industry have placed themselves on the wrong side of history. The unutterably sad thing is that it is our children and our grandchildren who will be the victims of this cruel hoax. It is them and their descendants who will suffer. It is them and their descendants who will not have access to the opportunities that we take for granted today. It is them and their descendants, along with billions of the world's most disadvantaged people, who will pay the price for the greed and short-sightedness we are exhibiting right now. Seriously, you people make me sick. You actually make me sick with the way you come in here and wave lumps of coal around and laugh and joke as if there is no climate crisis in the world when overwhelmingly climate scientists are telling us there is a climate crisis. We have to act. There is a moral imperative on us to act.

In the meantime, the economists are telling us the least-cost way to bring emissions down is to put a price on carbon. Yet in a shocking example of what Peta Credlin recently described as 'retail politics' we saw a campaign against a price on carbon waged by Tony Abbott. Shame on him. He makes me sick, too. Every single one of them make me sick. I say to future generations: I am so, so sorry for what our generation is doing to you today. I am so sorry for the fact that your lives are going to be compromised by our greed today. I am so, so sorry that, as a whole, our generation has completely stuffed up this issue. We collectively are still failing the future. I apologise humbly to our children, our grandchildren and the billions of disadvantaged people around the world who are going to be impacted by climate change.


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