Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:28 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Education and Training (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to energy policy.

Senator Birmingham was confronted with a quote from the Prime Minister, who said today that there had been a colossal failure in the planning of our energy system. He was confronted with the fact that we actually agreed with that statement. But the question is: what is the cause of that failure? There is no question, as the Energy Regulator today themselves have said, that that catastrophic failure is a result of a failure in planning and a failure in ensuring that Australia sets up its energy sector for the future.

The catastrophic rise in energy prices, the questions around energy security and the issue around reliability all lie at the feet of the Abbott and Turnbull governments, who are responsible for creating so much uncertainty, which has in itself flowed on to higher wholesale prices. We had, as a result of the 2010 power-sharing agreement between the Greens, the Labor Party and the crossbench, some of the most effective legislation to govern the energy sector anywhere in the world—in fact, they were the words of the International Energy Agency itself. We had a carbon price which provided certainty and a clear pathway to clean energy investment, as did the renewable energy target. But we saw the carbon price abolished and then the renewable energy target slashed, with the support of the Labor Party, turning away clean energy investors and creating much uncertainty in the energy sector. Wholesale prices have actually doubled since the repeal of the carbon price, yet the government blame the opposition for the problems that they themselves have created.

It is true that the government has said that it's not taking an ideological approach. In some ways, that is true, because what we see is a market mechanism which one would think would be the most sensible position and a position ideologically aligned to Liberal values, yet they trashed it. They trashed it. The notion of market certainty is one that one would think would align with Liberal values, but they destroyed that, too. No, their ideology is one where they see cleantech progress as somehow being aligned with progressive politics—that somehow this is the domain of the progressive Left, not the domain of science and evidence. But what we're seeing now is this market ascendance of clean energy and the crashing economics of coal and gas. We're seeing that happen now, with the government refusing to acknowledge reality, and as a result we are seeing a catastrophic failure of the government's own making.

We know, for example, that, when AEMO, the energy regulator, say that there may be a gap in electricity supply as a result of the closure of some coal-fired power stations, they're correct. But that would have been avoided if we had more solar and wind in the system, which would have happened under the previous renewable energy target—something that the government destroyed, taking away 8,000 megawatt hours from solar and wind. That's the reason that we're in the mess that we are confronted with.

Of course, AEMO have given us a clear blueprint for how we should address this issue, and it's a blueprint that aligns perfectly with what the Greens have been saying for many years: if we are to reduce emissions and tackle dangerous climate change, if we are to ensure reliability and affordability for Australians right around the country, what's required is some certainty and a plan—a clear plan. That plan does require a timetable to close down coal-fired power stations before 2030, and, indeed, that's precisely the model that AGL was offering. Renewable businesses could plan around 2022, knowing that, when the 2,000 megawatts come offline, they will have completed a number of projects to supplement that extra demand.

We know that the regulator also talked about options like embracing a modern grid, a smart grid, accelerating the uptake of new technologies like storage, smart software and demand management. We know that the Snowy hydro could be part of the response as well. But the reality is that coal has no long-term future and that the future lies with renewables like solar and wind, with storage and with demand management. That is the pathway for the future. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change and bring prices down, that's what we need to do.

Question agreed to.


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