Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Statements by Senators
Many of the people in this building are probably preoccupied with the political soap opera happening around the place, but I'm sure the Australian public would be much keener if there was a continuing focus on what was supposed to be the big focus this week of the government, which was an attempt to bring down energy prices and to do so in a way which would be compliant with our obligations to also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, this government is focused on tearing itself apart whilst Australians continue to face significantly and unnecessarily excessive power prices.
Of course, all of the 16 different variations the government put forward in their so-called energy guarantee wouldn't have delivered the sort of price cuts to electricity costs that Australian households are keen on, and it certainly wouldn't have delivered anti-greenhouse emissions. So, in that sense, the fact that that whole plan is dead is of no great loss, because it wouldn't have delivered anything of value to the Australian community over the long term. In fact, it would have caused more harm. But it should not mean that the issue goes off the agenda.
The Greens have promoted and put forward workable solutions for significant reductions in energy prices for a number of years now. In the lead-up to the state election in Queensland, the Greens released a comprehensive package that was independently assessed by a well-known expert, Hugh Grant, and not only was it found to be effective and valid but, indeed, it would have delivered more cuts to households in terms of electricity prices than the policies put forward by either Labor or the Liberal National Party of Queensland. One Nation, as far as I know, didn't put forward a policy of any substance at all, which is pretty much what you could say about most of their issues.
It's pretty simple, really. The government managed to tear themselves apart after they finished tying themselves in knots around this issue, but it's actually pretty simple if you know what you stand for and if you're about putting the community first rather than corporations. We want an energy system that runs for people, not for profit. The measures the Greens put forward would save people up to $600 a year on their electricity bill. A simple, clear thing we can do to reduce power prices is to roll back privatisation. The chances of the Liberals or Labor doing this are minimal, because they both take money from the energy companies, who are making record profits with their price gouging. Families are being driven to the brink while corporations make record profits and CEOs get fat bonuses. This is not just rhetoric. Last year 21,000 households in Queensland alone, not counting the rest of the country, had their power cut off because they couldn't afford to pay their electricity bill. After food and water and having secure housing, electricity is pretty much the next thing in line when it comes to the essentials of life today. I think we would all agree that it is an essential service to ensure that people have reliable electricity and affordable electricity. So, it should not be an area where corporations make massive profits while people pay soaring bills to fund those profits.
Removing climate change targets won't bring down power prices; stopping gouging by private corporations will. In Queensland, Labor privatised the retail arm of the electricity sector in 2006 and prices have nearly doubled. Those energy corporations are making record profits whilst tens of thousands of Queensland households have had their power cut off. Pensioners and unemployed people are skipping meals to make sure they can keep the lights on and the heating on.
We need to transition government-owned energy corporations back to being public authorities that are putting people first, not profit-making. Even those parts of the sector in Queensland that weren't privatised, as in other states, were nonetheless corporatised. Up to 40 per cent of our power bills in Queensland is profits made by state-government-owned energy companies and private corporations. Last financial year, the state government made $3 billion from the profits made by state-owned energy companies, money that came straight from the pockets of Queensland households. Origin and AGL made over $7 billion in profits. If they come back not just under government ownership but under government control and regulation, and are regulated in a way that doesn't allow billions of dollars—