Senate debates

Thursday, 23 August 2018



4:25 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Collins, I move:

That the Senate:

(a) notes Government policy inaction is driving up electricity prices, and abandoning the National Energy Guarantee, as the Government has done this week, is only the latest in a long line of government failure to deliver national energy policy;

(b) observes that the Government refuses to act, citing any and all excuse to delay, when everyone knows it is internal Coalition division and the weakness of the Prime Minister that are really to blame; and

(c) recognises that Australians deserve real leadership on energy, and it is clearer every day that they will not get it from this Coalition Government.

This motion is about energy policy in Australia, and what we've seen this week is disgraceful behaviour by a government which was elected by Australians to provide stable government and to provide Australians with hope. What we've seen over the last couple of weeks is nothing but disarray and rabble, and now we don't really even know who the Prime Minister is. At the heart of this is disagreement, as best we know, around energy policy.

It was absolutely disgraceful to see what happened in our parliament today. We had the House of Representatives, the house of government, shut down by a Prime Minister so desperate to hold on to his own job, so desperate to not have a vote moved against him and so desperate to avoid questions from the opposition at question time. We saw democracy in the House of Representatives shut down today by a government too scared of the opposition and too scared of itself and by a Prime Minister so desperate that he put his own interests above the interests of Australians, who, in good faith, elected him and others in here to be leaders. I'm not even sure what the count is: Is it seven ministers who've resigned? Is it eight? Who knows how many ministers have resigned. Question time in here was a debacle. I think we had three government ministers left, and they had to rely on their junior partners to help them out at question time. Every Australian will be absolutely disgusted with the way this government has behaved in their name. And for what? Because they couldn't get themselves to agree on energy policy.

What we are now seeing is that this Liberal Party is not the Liberal Party of Mr Menzies, who sought to govern for the middle centre of Australians; it's a Liberal Party in which a small minority of their backbenchers have absolutely pulled to the extreme Right. We see them cuddling up to people like Senator Hanson over and over again. We hear very little of the voice of moderation, which is still in the Liberal Party—it's pretty quiet at the moment, but it's still there. They've allowed themselves be to taken over by these far Right Tea Party supporters. We've seen that over and over again, firstly under Prime Minister Abbott and now under Prime Minister—well, is he the Prime Minister? who knows—Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull himself has abandoned all the things he stood for. He once said he would cross the floor over energy policy. Where's that Mr Turnbull gone? Who is the real Mr Turnbull? I don't know and I'm sure Australian voters have no idea as well. He was absolutely committed to good energy policy in this country, and today, Thursday of the second sitting week, we don't have an energy policy anymore. We have nothing. Mr Turnbull, who may or may not be the Australian Prime Minister, as I speak, has abandoned all pretext of a genuine commitment to solving Australia's energy crisis. We do hear the government go on and on about energy prices, and yet when they absolutely had the opportunity to do something about energy prices, not only did they squib it but they wrecked themselves as a government. They have left this country with a government that simply is not there anymore. Eight ministers resigned. We have a Prime Minister who is absolutely under threat and who said in the media today that if there's a spill he won't run. We've got a government that is so inwardly focused that it's just ignoring what it should be doing—that is, providing good and stable government not only to those Australians who voted for the coalition but to all Australians. We've seen them absolutely abandon that today, in particular by shutting down the House of Representatives—simply closing up the shop.

It comes down to the fact that Mr Turnbull and others in his government are not focused on energy prices. They couldn't care less, really, about energy prices, because, despite them talking the talk, they have not been able to walk the walk. They are desperately clinging on to their jobs—in particular Mr Turnbull, who is maybe still the Prime Minister; who knows?—rather than focussing on the future prosperity of Australians. It is a disgrace, and they will be held accountable because Australia has a solid democracy—despite what we have seen here today: a conservative government shutting down the House of Representatives. They will be finished at the ballot box, as they should be.

At every step of the way, Labor has been willing to work with the government to produce a genuine solution to the energy crisis. We have sucked up some pretty unpalatable proposals from those opposite. Those proposals wouldn't be what we would put in place if we were in government, but, in order to provide relief to Australians, we have been genuinely committed to trying to find a solution. Earlier this week, what did we see Mr Turnbull do? He tried to somehow say it was Labor's fault. He could not get all of his cabinet and members to vote on the energy policy, so he somehow said it was our fault. I don't know how Mr Turnbull—I'm sure he can count; he's certainly been counting this week in the party room—thought that if you delivered some of your government members and the others crossed the floor to join the Labor members that equalled a majority. That doesn't equal a majority. I think Mr Turnbull knows that, but nevertheless, there he was out in the media earlier in the week somehow trying to make it our responsibility.

I have heard Mr Mark Butler, our opposition environment and energy spokesperson, say over and over again that Labor is ready and willing to work with the government. We were willing to negotiate on an emissions intensity scheme. We didn't like it, but we were willing to negotiate on it. We saw another failed Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, kill that off. Wherever we go in this murky, swirling mess of a former government, Mr Abbott seems to be at the heart of all of the issues.

We were willing to work on chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel's clean energy target. How those opposite agonised over that! We had the report. We kept waiting, waiting, waiting and waiting, while, again, presumably, Mr Abbott, another failed Prime Minister, and others tore that apart page by page, shred by shred until it just disappeared up in smoke. Meanwhile, out in voter land, Australians that I talk to and voters that I speak to in the seat of Pearce, held by, for the moment, Mr Christian Porter, tell me that energy prices are a problem. Yet Mr Porter, a cabinet member, has just turned his back on those voters in Pearce. He's not willing to look after them at all. You'd think he would, because he doesn't hold the seat by too many votes. That margin is 3.6 per cent. That's all it's going take to change that seat to Labor—3.6 per cent—and he's turned his back on the voters in the seat of Pearce because he, too, is interested in his own job. I'm not sure who Mr Porter backed. We hear he initially backed Mr Turnbull, but I suspect that he, as a person with ambition, has gone somewhere else now.

But now we have any number of candidates for Prime Minister. I thought they could count over there. The more candidates you have in the ring, the more you split the vote. I'm sure the bean counters on the other side would know that. Ms Bishop, I understand, has put her name up. Mr Dutton has put his name up, although allegedly there's a question over his eligibility to even be in this place. And there is Mr Morrison. So, at this point we have three people who want to be the Prime Minister. I'm not sure whether Mr Turnbull wants to be the Prime Minister. He said today in the media that he wants to be the Prime Minister only if there's no spill against him. So, I don't know: have you got three candidates? Have you got four candidates? What on earth is going on? We don't know, because the House of Representatives was shut down today by the government.

This is all because they couldn't reach agreement on an energy policy. I mean, how hard is that? We've heard Mr Turnbull talk about stable government. Well, from the day he took up occupation in the Lodge, I've not seen stable government. I can't even remember now—I think it was Mr Abbott, or maybe Mr Turnbull—but one of them said, 'Good government starts tomorrow.' Well, we've never seen good government from those opposite, because there are people within the Turnbull government seeking to wreck it, to pull it apart, because somehow they don't want Australians to have cheaper power.

We were willing to work with Mr Turnbull on the NEG—the NEG's been egged, as I say—the National Energy Guarantee. But, under pressure from those in the coalition party room who oppose renewables, and without even talking to Labor—even though Mr Turnbull has said over and over again, 'We need Labor on this'—Mr Turnbull decided to abandon that policy, to just junk it. It was there one minute, gone the next. We saw it start to unravel before the cabinet dinner last Sunday. It's a policy that just a few days ago he said was 'essential' to solving the energy crisis. How can we believe anything that's said? In Mr Turnbull we have a Prime Minister—maybe we do, maybe we don't—who earlier said that the NEG was essential to solving the energy crisis. Yet I think by Tuesday or Wednesday—I can't remember when it was, now—it was junked, off the table.

You can't go from 'essential' one day to junked the next day. Where's the truth in that? Did he think it wasn't essential? That's what voters would conclude—that Mr Turnbull's heart was not in the National Energy Guarantee—because you cannot go from saying, 'This is essential' to junking it. The only way you do that is if somewhere in the middle of it your job becomes more important than the jobs, the livelihoods and the wellbeing of Australians. That's the only way you can move from a policy you described as 'essential' to junking it because at some point you say: 'Uh-oh: the backbenchers, led by Mr Abbott and others, are ganging up on me; they're threatening to cross the floor. I'd better toss this policy aside, because I'm really only interested in being the Prime Minister of this country.' There is no other conclusion that you can draw. That's the only way you get from 'essential' to a junked policy: because the self-interest of Mr Turnbull took over, and he decided that he was way more important than every other Australian voter and that he had to keep his job.

I've heard the pleas of business groups, of industry and experts. They've all been really clear: renewable energy is our future. Renewable energy is the only way forward for Australia's energy system. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new energy. It will create thousands of jobs, and it will drive down pollution. And there's a very stark choice now for Australian voters. The only way we are going to get to a decent energy future is under a Labor government, because the Turnbull government has shown itself to be completely unable to deliver any energy policy—we've seen them junked and junked and junked. The only way to that future now is through Labor, because we have been consistent, despite the criticism we've copped from those opposite about renewables. Remember the photos in the paper—one question time, it was, in the House of Representatives—of Mr Morrison and others, passing a lump of coal to one another like it was a gift: 'This is our future. Coal is our future.' Remember that? I think it was Senator Cormann who said, 'Coal is good.' These people have no idea about renewable energy.

Just a day or two ago, I heard some of those who have forced Mr Turnbull into this position—where he has put his job as Prime Minister above the interests of all Australians—talking about wanting coal-fired power stations. They wanted Hazelwood brought back. This is not a government who's looking to the future. Well, it's not even a government; you're not a government if you close down the House of Representatives and deny democracy by denying the opposition the opportunity to ask questions at question time. That's not a government. That's just a desperate action by those who want to keep their jobs.

We know that, under Mr Turnbull, the NEG's 26 per cent emissions target was already inadequate to fix this energy crisis. I saw the Leader of The Nationals on Sky TV trying to explain the NEG, trying to explain the 26 per cent, saying it was adequate and we would meet our Paris targets. It was like a Clark & Dawe sketch, actually. It must have been humiliating for him, because he wasn't on his game. He didn't know what was going on. He did not understand the policy. Yet it's his party, The Nationals, who are also heaping on pressure about coal-fired power stations as part of our future. It's also the Nats. But their own leader was unable to really explain what it all meant. He just looked like he was in a Clark & Dawe sketch.

Labor's plan to transition Australia has a target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 at its core. Those opposite have criticised us for that, but we have stood by it and stood by it and stood by it. So the only energy policy there is at the moment is the one that Labor has had for quite a number of years. We believe that it will drive investment in renewable energy, including in firming technologies like batteries and pumped hydro. We believe it will create 30,000 new renewable energy jobs. We believe it will put downward pressure on power prices for households and businesses. We believe—we know—it will deliver real action to tackle climate change.

Labor have tried over and over again to work with the government. But now we don't really have a government; we have a collection of individuals in disarray. But it is very clear that Mr Turnbull, if he is still Prime Minister as I speak, can't provide leadership because he is more interested in keeping his job today than in putting the interests of Australians facing high energy costs before his own interests. The choice is very clear. Labor is for renewables and lower prices, and the Liberals are for more coal and higher prices. Even that statement no longer really rings true, because we don't really have a government anymore. We have had a mass resignation of ministers. We have a cobbled-together group in the Senate. I do hope they're getting higher duties allowances, because they have massive workloads all divided up between them. All of them are there doing all of the work of the government in the Senate, just the three or four of them. Clearly, we have no government. We certainly are not clear on who the Prime Minister is. It is time to face the Australian electors through the ballot box to put to bed this unending spectacle of not being able to deliver an energy policy. Only Labor will drive down costs, and only Labor has renewables in mind. It's only Labor who has a plan.


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