Senate debates

Thursday, 15 December 2022


Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022; In Committee

4:17 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

I would have loved to have had extended hours, and we'll come to that in a moment. I wanted the minister to reiterate the Labor government's commitment to bring power prices down by $275. Those numbers did not pass the minister's lips. In fact it is a no-go. You are not allowed to say those numbers anymore if you're a Labor MP or senator. We tried it in estimates, we've tried it here in this debate but, no, we're not to say it because that promise was never made—except we know it was made 97 times in the election. A broken promise.

And here we are today duping the people of Australia into thinking this bill's going to fix all their woes. It won't. So we've had 3½ hours of debate in the Senate. We have more than 200 questions to ask during this committee stage and we have been denied that opportunity. We had several coalition senators—Senator Colbeck, Senator Reynolds, Senator Fawcett, Senator Liddell—who all wanted to ask questions during the second reading debate, who all wanted to make contributions but, no. What this crew here did was they truncated debate. They wanted to ram it through. Who knows where they've got to be tonight? I don't know! It's all under the guise of wanting to bring some cost-of-living relief. But we know that will not happen. We know this bill will not be able to deliver that for the people of Australia. It's going to go in the opposite direction, and the minister cannot bring herself or any of her colleagues to make the same commitment they made nearly 100 times during the election campaign—to bring power prices down by $275. This is typical of the politics that the Australian Labor Party seeks to play by dismissing concerns from any of the analysts and companies that generate power and saying, 'Don't worry about what they've got to say.'

The real test for the Australian Labor Party will be: when the people in the gallery and the people outside this building get their power bills, will they be up or down? They'll be up! We know they'll be up. And you know what, the next question I seek to ask this government is: whose fault will it be then? When power prices are going up, is it still going to be our fault, is it going to be the Ukraine conflict's fault or is it going to be someone else's fault? In the next month, when Australians are opening their power bills, their electricity bills and their gas bills, who are they going to blame?

This is exactly why we needed more than 3½ hours to debate this legislation—to be able to properly interrogate it and to be able to look at whatever deal was done between the Greens and the Labor Party. We don't know. This is the thing. There are a few sketchy details referred to in their contributions to the second reading debate. Perhaps it was the election commitment they took to the election. Maybe this is new policy—Labor and the Greens get together and what they didn't get up at the election because they didn't win government, you're now going to give them a licence to do as part of your deals. Are we going to see a climate trigger down the track built into your EPBC legislation? Who knows? It's a wild dream for the Australian Greens, but it's a nightmare for the people of Australia, who are going to be paying more for their power bills. This is the simple problem. All of us get out—all of us talk to our families, friends and people that run small- to- medium businesses. There's a blatant disregard for the concerns that normal, everyday Australians have in trying to make ends meet, in trying to make sure that they can pay their bills.

It might be amusing to some in this place, because we've all got to get on a plane after 4.30 pm, but, in fact, we should be here debating this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right. We are seeing the biggest, most destructive, extreme changes to energy regulation in decades, and they have been labelled by experts from the sector as the worst ever seen in the world, not just here, not in the ACT, not in the east coast of Australia, but in the world. How can this government ignore these alarm bells? How can the government turn their backs on the people of Australia who are asking for the one thing you promised at the election? It's a contract—a contract between you, the government, the people who formed a majority after the last election, and the people of Australia. They voted for you on the basis of your promise—that you would reduce power bills. By how much, colleagues?

Opposition senators: Two hundred and seventy-five dollars!

It's a promise you've broken; it's a promise that the Australian government will not deliver—not through this bill and not through any other mechanism. It's a number they will not utter—they won't go anywhere near—because they don't intend to deliver on it. It is a dark day for Australians. It's a dark day for Australians who are already struggling with increasing cost-of-living pressures—mortgages, groceries, electricity bills. The other thing, too, is that the glee that you see beaming out of the faces of the Australian Greens should be enough to tell all of us that this is a dud deal for Australians. Now the heads go down, because this crew down here, the Australian Greens, are not known for their support of Australian industries, Australian jobs, and things like fossil fuels that actually do generate energy at the moment.

I made the point in my second reading speech that you deny reality—you can't switch the old system off without switching the new one on. The new one has been switched on yet. We don't have the capacity to generate energy. So, when we have to choose between who gets the gas and who doesn't, will it be the children's ward at the hospital or the house? Who gets heating in winter? This is what's going to happen—blackouts, price spikes. All of these things are going to come. This is not some scare tactic; this is what's going to happen. It's what experts in the sector are saying; it's what analysts are predicting.

There are ways to fix this. There are ways to deal with it. If the government went out and spoke to the industry and spoke to the sector and consulted, if the government went out and spoke to people who are struggling with the cost of living, they would do more than what this bill proposes to do; they would actually go and deliver on their election commitment, which I can only assume was made on the basis of good-faith consultation with the community.

It begs the question again: why break the promise of $275? I say that to the minister, who is in the chair at the moment. I wonder whether it still remains government policy. But at the end of the day I want Australians to know: this government has duped you yet again. You were fooled into voting for them based on a promise of $275.

I will take the interjections from Senator Watt. Senator Watt, when a government lies to the people of Australia, like this one has, around a promise to cut $275 off their power bill—not once since the election has any single member of the frontbench or backbench referenced that number. Why would that not be something you would do? Is that not what a good government would do—actually honour a commitment it made 97 times? That's the kind of thing I would be expecting. I reckon it's what the people who voted for your government are expecting as well. Why won't you deliver on that promise? Why won't you reference that in anything you do?

I have a lot more to ask you before my time is up, Senator Gallagher, and I will continue to ask those questions because I'm angry on behalf of the people of Australia who are going to pay higher power bills because of this decision by the Senate today. To anyone who thinks this is something that will just go away: I guarantee you, over time—I said it, and Senator Cash said it too in the debate—there is one test you're all going to be facing in coming months and in fact at the next election. It's that one thing we are all going to be looking at. We all pay power bills. We all pay for gas. We all pay for those essential services. Will those bills be going up or going down? I have a feeling they're going to be going up. You can say at the end of this year: 'We've got our optics up. We've rushed this bill through. We called people back to parliament', but, frankly, in reality, you will have done nothing for the people of Australia except make their lives harder, make it harder to pay bills and make it harder for Australians to keep food on the table, keep the lights on and keep the heating on come winter.

The most alarming thing, as I said before—I look down the end here to the Australian Greens, who are beaming with happiness today. That is a sign they got what they wanted. The people of Australia have been dudded again because a minority are directing what this government does. When you actually reduce power bills by 275 bucks, it'll be a happy day and I will be the first to congratulate you on what you do.


No comments