Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023


Productivity Commission Amendment (Electricity Reporting) Bill 2023; Second Reading

9:47 am

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

What else would we expect? It's just extraordinary. There is nothing controversial about the Productivity Commission Amendment (Electricity Reporting) Bill 2023. We have claims from those opposite, all across the chamber, that they are all about transparency. But they also claim regularly that renewables are cheap—well, they're free, apparently, like electricity in WA, according to Senator Brockman's contribution. They're cheap and they're going to be so reliable and they're going to power us forward and the whole economy is going to thrive under this great, free, renewable energy. Of course, the transition to it is also going to be cheap, according to those opposite, which is just a fantasy.

It is just extraordinary that those opposite, who purport that renewables are going to be such a great contributor, don't actually want the Australian people to see at all—at any stage or at any opportunity—how it is actually coal that keeps the lights on. It's actually coal that keeps Australia's economy powering ahead. In fact, this surplus that we were hearing about from Senator Ayres earlier—the very slim surplus—is off the back of the resources sector, that sector that you guys want to tear down at every opportunity and that the Greens want to remove from the Australian economy as fast as possible. We see different resource taxes being put in place to ensure that there are fewer coal and gas projects going forward to appease the Greens and some of the crossbench. But they don't want anyone to know that their beloved renewables actually contribute very little to the energy grid and that the power for the lights, air-conditioning and heating in the businesses that require energy to function, in our schools and in our hospitals, is actually generated by coal—and in fact all of their little pet projects are also funded by coal. It's the resource sector that funds them. It's the resource sector that provided a surplus, yet those opposite are absolutely determined to ensure that that isn't available to a future Australian economy.

I don't understand why there's anything controversial here at all about this bill. It's just about allowing Australians to have more clarity, uniformity and transparency. Do you remember when that was the big word? No, they don't want transparency, because then people would know how much power comes from coal. That's what they're worried about—that Australians will actually see through these claims that renewable energy is cheap, that the transition's going to be cheap and that it's actually going to provide reliable, affordable base-load power. Anyone who has any sense, understanding or intellectual capability can see that that is all not true. All Senator Duniam is trying to ensure—we know productivity is actually the greatest way to ensure that inflation comes down. Inflation will come down as productivity increases. We know that if Australians are able to make affordable choices when it comes to their power then we will see productivity improve, because they'll be able to make informed decisions.

But over there, on the other side, the government's not interested in productivity; it's interested in handouts. I thought it was interesting this morning, listening to 2GB—one of the biggest radio stations in Sydney and the highest-rating talkback show across the country—and to what some of the punters, some of the everyday Australians, who listened to the budget last night had to say. Of course, we won't hear it from any of those opposite, but this was a typical Labor budget—take money from hard workers and give it to lazy bludgers. So, once again then, the workers who carry this country get screwed over. There is nothing in this budget for the workers, and I think that's what we could see. It's all about little handouts. But I'll say to those opposite: it's not your money; it's taxpayers' money, and it's taxpayers' money that actually comes from the resources sector. But I feel like we're on a loop at this point in time.

We know that the parliament was recalled last year because the government were going to do such great stuff to ensure that energy power bills would come down. But they didn't come down. They've continued to increase, and they're continuing to increase at a much higher rate than anyone expected. The thing is that a $500 handout—temporary bill relief—is going to be welcomed by those families that are eligible. But not all families are eligible. It's not everyone that's going to get this; it's only some. And congratulations to Senator Ayres, who could actually say the figure $275. It's the first time we've heard it from a Labor member since the election. All Australians were promised $275, but it's not all Australians who are eligible for this, because those opposite never govern for all Australians. They only govern for people that vote for them. We know that not all Australians are going to receive $500 in assistance to pay their bills; only some Australians will, and in fact it'll be those Australians who are the working poor, the people that are working, that will miss out. The people that are actually struggling to work and pay their own way, put the roof over their head and feed their family are the ones who won't be eligible for this government assistance, because those opposite don't like the people that work to make this economy better. Those opposite don't like people who work hard to pay for their own retirement. They don't like people who contribute and take personal responsibility and individual responsibility for their family. Those over there don't like those people. They only like those who do what they're told. They only like those who vote for them, and they've certainly never governed for all Australians.

There was maybe a little bit of a digression there, but I thought it was important, after Senator Ayres's contribution, to ensure that we discussed the fact that the energy bill relief isn't going to all Australians. It's going to some Australians, and it's going to be in conjunction with states. So we don't even know what it's really going to look like. It's a maximum of $500, but not everyone is going to get $500. It'll depend on what state you live in and what your state government decides to do. And that's where we'll see the rubber hit the road.

We know that over the last 12 months, since those opposite came to government, the typical Australian family is $25,000 worse off. We hear from those over there about child care, but there are a lot of families who don't have kids in child care. That might be surprising to those opposite, but there are a lot of Australian families with teenagers, kids who've moved beyond the early learning stage, kids that have moved beyond child care and kids that are actually eating families out of house and home. I've got a couple of boys, and trying to keep up with food for them is absolutely impossible. Not everyone with families uses child care. Some have teenagers. Some have big kids. But the average family is $25,000 worse off under this government, thanks to increased mortgage payments, increased power bills and the increased cost of groceries.

And those opposite seem to think some sort of magic pudding exists, that you can hand out all this money, give it to people, increase welfare payments, put all this money out there, but somehow it's not going to have an inflationary impact. Every economist is saying that you have now put it onto the RBA to continue to lift rates. Guess who's going to be paying for that: homeowners—mortgage holders. Mortgage holders are going to be paying more. Small businesses with loans are going to be paying more.

These are the families that are going to be the hardest hit, but those opposite don't care; they just don't care about those Australian families. It's only neat little groups that are going to be targeted by their assistance that are going to get any benefit at all, and it will be temporary; it will be a sugar hit, because we know that this will be inflationary. And this is now your budget. You own it. You claim inflation will be down to under four per cent by next year. That's a big drop, real quick, as you inject more money into the economy. We know that's not going to happen, and you will own it.

But going to Senator Duniam's bill, I actually don't even know, from Senator Ayres's contribution, whether or not you're supporting it. I mean, it was just bizarre. It's a yes or no, really. That could have helped. It was really just a speech that went around in circles on a whole range of issues but not one about the actual bill. Why would you not give Australians access to transparency? Why would you not give Australians the opportunity to see where their power is coming from? And by putting these sorts of things in place, every government going forward—we know the hubris of Senator Farrell that apparently this Labor government is never going to lose ever, but we know that's not the case; that will happen one day, Senator Farrell—is going to have to table something from the Productivity Commission showing where Australia's energy mix is coming from so that we and the Australian public can see: is this talk about cheaper renewables powering our economy forward, and that we're apparently going to be some renewable energy superpower in a minute and a half—all overnight, according to Senator Ayres, all easy, all coming quick—really true? Australians will be able to see whether you're telling them the truth.

And you have this confidence in technology that does not yet exist—that it's all coming down the pipeline and woo-hoo! It's all going to be renewables! It's all going to be cheap, businesses aren't going to suffer, and we're going to have the Tomago smelter in the Hunter kicking along all good, with no problems at all, because wind will be blowing somewhere, or there'll be battery technology that hasn't even been generated yet, that doesn't exist—not possible. But somehow or other it's coming down the pipeline, and those businesses are going to be able to continue.

The Australian people deserve to know whether what you're telling them is the truth. They deserve to know that what every government is telling them is the truth and to see where their power's coming from. They're told: 'Don't worry. We're going to close Eraring in 2025. We're going to take 25 per cent of the power out of the New South Wales market that comes from a coal-fired power station. We don't need to worry about it, because coal-fired power stations are not contributing that much to the grid anymore!' But they are. They are the only things that keep the lights on. We're talking about over 70 per cent of power that comes from coal. But those opposite seem to think Australians are just going to go along and not worry about massive coal-fired power generators coming out of the market, to think that somehow they're not going to get rolling blackouts.

You see, when you get less supply, you get prices going up. That's the whole supply-and-demand thing that they pretty much covered in Economics 101, on day one. When we have less supply and the same demand, prices are going to go up, and they're going to keep going up, and that little sugar hit of $500 that some families will get—some families, not all—will be long gone. It has already been absorbed. It's not really going to make any difference to the bottom line in anyone's household budget. It's going to be a little sugar hit that's going to contribute to the pressure on inflation. It's going to mean that mortgages go up and, where there are investors in the market—the Greens might be interested in this—that means rents are going to keep going up. That's because, when investors buy houses that renters then rent, if their mortgage payments go up, so do rents. It's just how it works. Then, if that's not allowed to happen or if it just gets too hard for that investor, they sell it. Then it's not in the rental pool anymore either. They put it on the market and they take it out of the rental pool, and that also reduces supply. That means—again, this is day one, economics 101, supply and demand—if there is reduced supply but demand stays the same or goes up, prices go up. That's what happens.

Somehow, those opposite were dozing during that first day. Economics can be a bit dry sometimes, but it's important. It's what we look after here. When you take out supply but demand is either the same or going up, prices are going to go up. That's what's happening with power, and that's what Senator Duniam's bill is about—so that Australians can see what's happening and how they can best manage their own family budget at a time when they are under increasing pressure and will continue to be under increasing pressure because this budget is just going to create more inflationary problems. What we know now is that those opposite own it. You own it. You have to tell the Australian people why you are putting pressure on their mortgages, why you're going to put the price of everything up and why inflation is just going to continue to head north.


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