Senate debates

Thursday, 23 August 2018



5:03 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The Senate is debating a motion regarding electricity prices and the massive failure of this government to deliver not just on that policy but on any sort of policy when it comes to energy in general. On the government side of things on a day like today, I know somebody's got to roll up and go through the motions. So, to that extent, I have some sympathy for Senator Ruston in having drawn the short straw to try to defend the indefensible when it comes to the government in this week of all weeks. We might have forgotten by the time we got to Thursday, but the week started out with the disintegration of this government's so-called National Energy Guarantee, a policy they'd spent months and months pulling together. They'd had meetings with all the state and territory ministers, tonnes and tonnes of backbench consultation, continual refinements and changes—almost all of them driven by the climate-denying right-wing rump in the coalition that's become much, much larger than a rump in the most recent few days.

I'd have to say, despite getting the short straw and soldiering bravely on, it's a bit much to hear accusations that, somehow or other, it's this side of the chamber that has a problem with an ideological approach to energy or a problem with politicking, when the ideological warriors and climate change deniers and Turnbull haters in the Liberal-National coalition have just shredded any credibility this government had left when it comes to energy policy. The ideological approach that has infected energy policy in this country, particularly in recent times, has been from those who insist on making energy prices higher by pushing more public money into coal, into fossil fuel, into outdated, last-century technology. I'd be quite happy to deliver a bunch of reports to Senator Ruston about the fact that the expansion of renewable energy clearly will drive down prices in the future. In fact, if you look at the modelling that people have done to try to justify some of the figures around the government's National Energy Guarantee—whichever version of it you want to look at—most of the cost savings you can derive from it are based on the inbuilt savings that were already going to happen because of the further expansion of renewable energy under renewable energy targets in existence around this country at the moment. Let's not forget: it was the Abbott government that basically tried to destroy the Renewable Energy Target completely, purely on ideological grounds. If you want to talk about an ideological and divisive approach to energy, I suggest it is any policy approach that has come from the likes of Tony Abbott—every time, all the time, regardless of the public interest. That is clearly what we've seen from the coalition.

I spoke at some length just yesterday in this place about this government's failures when it comes to energy prices—its failure to deliver any policy, its failure to do anything effective to reduce energy prices and its obvious failure to meet its obligations to reduce greenhouse emissions. Alongside that, I outlined the Greens policies that we've been putting forward for a number of years now, properly costed and independently assessed by the experts, who are saying renewable energy will deliver cheaper power, reduce emissions and deliver jobs. But it's a matter of political will and it's a matter of listening to the science and the economics of it. This government has been the rolled gold standard when it comes to massive failures on energy policy. Let's not forget, it's not just about this government's own internal failure to agree with itself on anything, let alone energy policy, but about the consequences it is having for people in the real world: the significant problems people are having with soaring energy costs, the significant problems small business is having with soaring electricity costs, the huge numbers of people who are having their power cut off because they can't afford to pay their electricity bill. It is a core obligation of government in the modern age to deliver reliable, affordable electricity, and it is something, when it comes to affordability and to emissions, that this government has failed on.

I feel it's necessary to say that lost opportunities when it comes to energy policy are not unique to this government. In fact, what we've seen going right back to the Hawke era, when Labor first embraced the neoliberal approach to economics, has been missed opportunity after missed opportunity to modernise electricity generation and fast-track our shift to a renewable energy future that is affordable and reliable. The Hawke government first talked in the late 1980s of acting to reduce climate emissions, acting to transform our energy generation into the future. But it failed to deliver, repeatedly. Of course, whilst there have been individual policies here and there that have helped somewhat, when you're looking at trying to transform things, rather than changing incremental bits here and there to look like you're moving things forward, all you can look at is an overall failure to deliver, from both Labor and the Liberals. It is impossible not to assume that that is in significant part because of the very large financial contributions the fossil fuel lobby continues to make to both the Labor Party and the Liberal and National parties. Alongside that we've seen a massive disinformation campaign from the fossil fuel lobby worldwide to try to muddy the waters and fund the sceptics and denialists that have basically led to all of those missed opportunities.

There is, of course, a significant exception to that—that is, the world-class carbon-pricing scheme that was adopted under the Gillard government. I give them credit for that, but the obvious point that needs to be made is it took the election of a member of the Australian Greens to the House of Representatives to put political pressure directly on the Labor government of the day and to feed that into the proper and thorough scientifically based, economically sound process that developed that world-class system and all the infrastructure around it. The Renewable Energy Agency still to this day is delivering positive outcomes for jobs, renewable energy expansion and cheaper electricity, particularly in regional areas. As I said in this place yesterday, there was also the problem of the obsession, particularly of the Liberal and National parties but to a significant degree the Labor Party as well at the state level, with privatising significant parts of our electricity sector and corporatising those parts that were still publicly owned.

I spoke yesterday about the massive gouging by energy companies when it comes to electricity bills. People are paying high electricity bills at a time when the retailers, not even the generators, are making massive profits and giving huge bonuses to their executives. This isn't an area where we should have profiteering; this is an area where we should be ensuring an essential service is delivered at the cheapest possible rate in an affordable way that is not going to cause wider flow-on damage to our economy, community, society and environment by failing to address greenhouse emissions at the same time.

These opportunities have been lost year after year, government after government, with the exception of that brief significant achievement during the Gillard era, and some bits like the Renewable Energy Target, which came in under the Howard government, so I'll give some credit there, despite Mr Abbott's attempt to wreck that. He wrecked the very effective carbon pricing regime just as it was about to kick into full swing, but he didn't manage to succeed in wrecking and destroying the Renewable Energy Agency. Ironically, now and then they try to point to some of the achievements of the Renewable Energy Agency and take credit for what it is still managing to achieve, even though it's something this Liberal-National government put every effort into destroying.

But significant components of those achievements, and the significant transformation we had there briefly until the Abbott wreckers moved in, came about when a member of the Australian Greens was elected to the House of Representatives. It's a simple example of the transformative effect you can get by electing more Greens to the House of Representatives and by shifting away from the two—


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