Thursday, 9 February 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is for the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Minister, given that the laws of physics mean that burning coal produces pollution and that pollution is not only harmful to the environment but is also associated with lung cancer, heart disease and stroke, can you please explain to the Senate how so-called clean coal actually works? And if not, will you accept that you are simply using the same tactic that was used by the tobacco industry when they promoted their 'light' cigarettes as being healthy when their business model came under threat?
Senator Di Natale, I absolutely reject that comparison. That is a fatuous comparison. I do not profess to be a scientist and, therefore, I am not in a position to explain to you—to use your rather artless form of words—'how clean coal works'. However, I can tell you, and none of us need to be scientists to know this: there are some varieties of coal that produce fewer emissions than others and one of the solutions to the energy mix in this country is to encourage the generation of electricity through burning coal which produces fewer emissions, sometimes called in the vernacular 'clean coal'.
Unlike your party and unlike the Labor Party, that take an ideological if not a theological approach to this issue, we in the government take a technology agnostic approach to the energy mix. But what we are not going to do is make the policy mistake of the Labor Party—encouraged, no doubt, and imposed upon them by the Greens—of adopting the wrong mix. We saw that in South Australia as recently as last night when, once again, a Labor government was not able to keep the lights on. It is all very well for Premier Weatherill to boast that South Australia has a renewables-only energy base, but if you cannot keep the lights on then you are failing in one of your fundamental duties as a government to the general public.
Is the minister aware that the latest wind project contracted in Australia needed a price of $65 a megawatt hour, the latest solar project $80, yet super critical coal needs a price of between $135 and $200 a megawatt hour? Minister, how much taxpayer money do you intend to throw at this industry to prop it up and make it competitive? How much?
Senator Di Natale, what we are concerned to do and what we will invest in is having the best mix of technologies, which includes clean coal, to ensure that we keep the lights on and ensure that the electricity that is delivered to the households of Australia is delivered at an affordable rate.
Australia has some of the most abundant and least expensive coal in the world, and it is a fantasy—it is a 'fairies at the bottom of the garden' fantasy—to imagine that Australian can have an acceptable level of electricity pricing if we have a renewables-only electricity power base or, as the Australian Labor Party would wish to have, a 50 per cent renewable energy base. We have to have a judicious mix of all the different technologies in order to take advantage of our natural assets, and that includes coal.
Minister, given that the brightest, shiniest supercritical coal generator would still pollute more than the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Financing Guidelines allow, will you now categorically rule out raiding the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise this polluting, unhealthy and dying industry?
Decisions in relation to finance by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are made by the board of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Senator Di Natale. You ought to know that. They are not made by ministers; they are made by the board of that corporation. Senator Di Natale, I do not know how many times I have to say this to you, but clean coal will be an important part of Australia's energy mix, along with renewables, for many decades to come, because unlike your party, which is ideological about this issue, and unlike the Labor Party, which you have bullied into following you to the left and which is also ideological about this issue, what we adopt is, as I said before, a pragmatic, technology-neutral approach. Our objective will be to keep the lights on, and only this side of politics can be trusted to do it.