Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Matters of Public Importance

South Australian State Election

4:45 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today six proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Bernardi:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The vital importance that the South Australian state election on March 17th produces a government focussed on energy reliability, energy affordability, attracting business investment, lower unemployment and a South Australian economy that contributes better to the national economy.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerk to set the clock accordingly. Senator Bernardi.

4:47 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an important motion because in around a month's time the South Australian people will face an election critical to the future and good fortunes of my state. This is effectively the last opportunity we will have in this place to bell the cat about some of the issues that are confronting South Australia and to examine some of the solutions, or non-solutions, that haven't been put forward by some of the major parties. And it's significant because what happens in South Australia will affect the rest of the Commonwealth. It's no secret that there are many people who complain about the additional GST that South Australia receives above what it generates for itself. After 17 March the question is going to be that the government in South Australia is either going to lift its game and grow the national pie or continue to keep begging from the Commonwealth as it seeks to grow the size of government. This is the essence of what we face.

In South Australia industry is in decline and confidence is in decline, and it manifestly resolves around the approach of government. The Weatherill government, which has been a Labor government for 16 years, is as much an indictment on the Liberal opposition as on their own ideological bent. I say that because for 16 years they have got away virtually unchallenged in the parliamentary term. They've rarely been confronted about the most significant issues that our state has had to deal with.

When it comes to elections, the Liberals have done reasonably well. They've had the popular vote on more than a couple of occasions, but they haven't got it in the right spot. Their weakness has allowed the Weatherill government to pursue an agenda which has done an enormous disservice. Firstly, we have a massive focus of employment within the public service, which is unsustainable. There are a legacy of elections where they say they're going to make sure that 5,000 additional front-line public service places are implemented, and over the course of the next two or three years there are tens of thousands of jobs that are created there. You may say that is good, but they're back-office services, they're designed to entrench government as the centre of the economy and they're not delivering prosperity or reasonable outcomes to the people of South Australia.

Nowhere is this more glaring than in the idea of electricity generation. I've been very critical of this for a very, very long time in this place. I do not buy the subsidies for green power, wind power and solar power; I do not accept this is in our long-term interest. The ideological obsession of those on the other side of the chamber—and too many on this side, I might add—against coal, against gas and against fossil fuels has perhaps produced the Petri dish which is called the South Australian electricity industry. It's no secret that we have the most unreliable and unaffordable electricity in the Western world—or almost. It's because the Labor government has been pursuing a 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target, which I regret the Liberal Party signed up to as well as the Xenophon party. The result is we've got a lot of unedifying windmills, we have a lot of solar panels and we don't have any electricity to drive the things that create jobs and generate wealth.

What's the answer to the blackouts and the unreliability according to the Weatherill government? It's to get Tesla's PT Barnum, the equivalent of the monorail salesman from The Simpsons, Mr Elon Musk, to come out to Australia to spend $100 million on a battery that will power the state for about four minutes should it be required. In the meantime, in order to justify and pretend that there is not a problem, they're burning tens of millions of litres of diesel fuel and funding running diesel generators to keep the electricity on during the day. It is an appalling indictment; it is a sleight of hand.

The Labor Party have been able to get away with it because of the weakness of the opposition. Mr Marshall may be a well-meaning man, but he was hugging windmills when he should have been blowing them up. He was helping to blow up the coal-fired power station, when he should have been saying, 'No, let's retain it.' The man has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to every party position that he has actually had, and I can only reflect on the malaise that is infecting South Australia when I quote someone from the opposition benches. They said, 'We might not be any better than the other mob, but we sure won't be any worse.' What a terrible choice, and little wonder that former Senator Xenophon is capturing this market and never being held to account. This is the travesty: Senator Xenophon and his party are taking on the mantra up here of just throwing billions of dollars of borrowed money at issues, but not fixing them—all care and no responsibility.

This is not what South Australia can afford. We need a principled approach to making South Australia the most competitive it can be, and you do that by cutting taxes. You do that by providing the unique competitive advantage that Australia has hitherto had: the cheapest and most reliable electricity program anywhere in the world. That is what will sustain manufacturing. That is what will attract industry. It will retain people in our state: if there are jobs for them and if the utilities are affordable. The quality of life in South Australia, outside of not having a job or the price of electricity, is amazing. We have an abundance of resources. We have huge potential. We just need governments to get out of the way and actually unleash it. You don't get out of the way by foisting new taxes on individuals and making the cost of living unaffordable for them.

We have to do this. We have to fix states like South Australia in order to fix the Commonwealth, quite frankly. There is no way we can say we're going to reapportion some GST to the Western Australians without there being the consequential damage to another state. And who's going to put their hand up for that? No-one. We have to grow the pie, which means we have to make sure that every state can stand on its own and do it's very, very best. In order to do that, we can't dictate from here. We shouldn't centralise power here. We've got to make sure that we have governments in respective states that are going to deliver the services they want, without mortgaging the future of our children. We need governments that are going to produce the outcomes that are going to entice, attract or retain our young people. That is the great lament for so many people of my age in South Australia: we see our teenagers grow into adults and we watch them go away to university, and we wonder, 'Are they still going to be here in three, four or five years time?'

I reflect that, back in the nineties, we lost a generation of young workers in South Australia because of the malpractice and the malfeasance of the then state Labor government. It was terrible. It virtually bankrupted the state. We weren't alone in that, but we never managed to redress it because there was a lack of conviction from the government that ultimately replaced them. They were consumed by internal turmoil and factional warfare, which they're still paying the price for.

I come back to this: we cannot afford for my state, the state of South Australia—a very important state that is now the heart of defence manufacturing and that has enormous export potential in the grains, seafood, aquaculture and wine industries—to go backwards. That means we have to confront some of the issues that we're dealing with. I have enormous respect for my colleague Senator Ruston, who I'm sure is going to get up and talk about the potential of so much in South Australia and how it has been hamstrung. But there are very few in government who are without sin in this place. We need courage. It is going to take enormous courage to confront the necessary issues in South Australia. We're going to have to start to examine a nuclear fuel cycle in South Australia. We're going to have to recognise that we have 25 per cent of the world's uranium resources, and we're not allowed to use it. We have coal. We have gas. We have potential. We have a wonderful quality of life. We just need a government that is going to embrace it, get behind it, and back it to the hilt.

4:56 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the matter of public importance that has been put before this chamber by my colleague, and fellow senator from South Australia, Senator Bernardi. As a South Australian and a business owner, I, like Senator Bernardi, know the pain being inflicted on my home state of South Australia by the spiralling cost of energy. Extortionate prices are not the only thing we face in South Australia. In South Australia we contend not only with high prices but also with very unreliable power. This can be totally sheeted home to the ill-considered, ideological energy policy that has been inflicted on my state—

Senator Farrell interjecting

and your state, Senator Farrell—by the Weatherill Labor government. Mr Weatherill's absolutely idiotic 50-per-cent-renewable-energy experiment has made South Australia the laughing-stock of the nation. We can now boast the highest-cost, least-reliable power in the country—in fact, we can boast some of the highest-cost, least-reliable power in the developed world. South Australia's crazy solar- and wind-dependent energy policy forgot that, when the wind don't blow and the sun don't shine, we don't have any power.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

That's just not true!

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I totally support moving to a clean energy future, Senator Wong, but to pursue such a policy without considering the transition process that needs to occur is totally irresponsible. So we now find a totally avoidable disaster occurring in South Australia.

Let me paint a little picture of what it looks like in South Australia at the moment. We have no real base load power, so we're totally reliant on the eastern states when we are without wind or solar energy generation. On any given day, families and businesses cannot be sure that the power won't go off. We've got elderly people in my home state of South Australia who leave their air conditioners off on hot days because they're fearful that they won't be able to pay their energy bills when they come in. We've got businesses installing generators because they fear of outages or power spikes. That costs them anything up to $13,000 per megawatt hour. The Labor Weatherill government's solution to this is a great big battery that can store enough energy to sustain South Australia's peak demand for a whopping 2½ minutes. It's really quite ironic that the battery is located in Jamestown because Jamestown was without power last weekend for four hours due to a blackout.

In addition to this, we have a bank of dirty diesel generators consuming diesel. It's interesting that nobody seems to see the irony that South Australia has paid hundreds of millions of dollars buying carbon-spewing diesel generators to fix the faults of a renewable energy policy. It seems quite extraordinary. I wonder if it's ever been considered what the impact on the cost of diesel is likely to be when 80,000 litres of diesel is consumed per hour by these diesel generators. What do you think that's likely to do to the price of diesel? And who in the community is likely to suffer the most from this? Our transport operators and our agricultural industry. We seem to conveniently forget that much of South Australia's economy is generated in our rural and regional areas. Unfortunately, the policies of this sad, tired Weatherill government are really biting in the country. Take, for example, my home area in the Riverland, on the River Murray in South Australia. We're a region that's entirely reliant on irrigation.

Senator Farrell interjecting

This is a region, Senator Farrell, that grows most of the fruit and vegetables that you and your family enjoy eating for dinner most nights of the week. Another irony for many irrigators is that taking up the government's call to improve water efficiency to help restore the Murray to long-term sustainable health has now made them much more dependent on electricity to drive their pressurised irrigation systems. I will quote for you some statistics that came from discussions with the Central Irrigation Trust. This is a trust that supplies water to a large part of the Riverland, all the way from Myponga in the Adelaide Hills to Renmark, where I live. Their electricity costs now account for 37 per cent of their total expenditure. Their prices have doubled in the last eight years. It's yet another sad experiment that has now cost South Australia.

We all know the statistics of the renewable energy policy of the South Australian Labor government and the impact and consequences it has had on South Australia. A 50 per cent renewable energy target without any process to transition, with baseload power cut off, has been an absolute disaster. Sadly, it's not just the Labor Party that is keen to pursue vanity policies on renewables. In fact, it was Peter Humphries, the deposed Nick Xenophon Team candidate, who described South Australia's renewable energy policy as 'a vanity policy', but Mr Humphries's commonsense position on energy didn't fit in with the Xenophon team's policy; hence he is no more. South Australia is left with not only the Labor Party's policy but also the Nick Xenophon Team's policy as quoted by the Xenophon team's member for Mayo, Ms Sharkie, who rejected her colleague, saying:

Well, I wouldn't call it vanity politics. Myself and my team, Nick, Skye, and Stirling—

I'm assuming that's Nick Xenophon, Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Stirling Griff—

we agree with a 50 per cent renewable energy target.

That means that not only will we have a 50 per cent renewable energy experiment under the Labor Party but, if Nick Xenophon gets his hands on any power in South Australia, it will be continued.

The good news is that the state Liberal team have a plan to deal with the high cost and unreliable power fiasco that has been inflicted on South Australia by Jay Weatherill. The even better news is that Steven Marshall and his shadow energy minister, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, stand ready to work with the federal government to resolve the problem. Instead of the blatant and reckless refusal by the Labor Party to accept that South Australia even has a problem, and more importantly a preparedness to fix it, Steven Marshall and his team are ready to stand up and deal with this problem. Both the federal government and the state Liberal team are focused on keeping the lights on in South Australia and reducing household bills and businesses' energy costs.

In summary, the federal government has put together a suite of measures to assist all Australians with the energy crisis that is before us, and many of these will play out very well in South Australia. The federal government has put their energy policy on the table. In conjunction with the energy cost reduction initiatives of the federal government, Steven Marshall has announced that, if he is elected, his government will implement policies to further reduce household power prices, and they will do so without wasting taxpayers' money on the establishment and operation of government owned permanent standalone gas generators; the South Australian Liberals will instead support the construction of an interconnector with New South Wales to provide South Australia with access to affordable and reliable baseload power. At the same time, we will also provide South Australians with the opportunity to export our excess renewable energy. In addition to that, we are also going to provide a $180 million fund to support home based storage, other initiatives in storage, demand management and grid integration. On 17 March, South Australians have a choice. They can have more expensive and unreliable power at the hands of a Labor government, a Xenophon government or a Labor-Xenophon government, or they can choose a Marshall Liberal government that is ready, willing and able to address this all-important issue.

I thank Senator Bernardi for creating the opportunity for this debate. I look forward to him working with the South Australian Liberal government, should we be lucky enough to be elected by the South Australian public on 17 March, to provide the energy solutions that our home state of South Australia so desperately needs.

5:05 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to stand here and speak on the matter of public importance, and I'm delighted to follow my South Australian colleague Senator Ruston, who is continuing the tried and true tradition of the federal Liberal Party in South Australia, and that is to blame everybody else. It's fantastic. Nearly half a decade after they were elected, we've got a federal government that have presided over a complete mess in our NEM, our National Electricity Market, because they've been so internally divided. Now they want to blame everybody else for the mess they've created.

Meanwhile in South Australia, which is the state probably most exposed by the Commonwealth's failings, we are actually taking matters into our hands and trying to fix the mess—something Mr Turnbull could never do because of the internal division. So the contrast could not be greater: a government here in Canberra that is paralysed, when it comes to energy, by its own internal ideological differences—and you only have to read the reports over the last years that demonstrate that—that is trying to divert attention from its own failings by attacking a state Labor government that is actually trying to take practical steps to deliver more-affordable and more-reliable power.

Let's get a few facts straight. The Liberals here are now into their fifth year in office. The current Prime Minister is into his third. Under Mr Malcolm Turnbull, what's happened to energy prices? Up, up, up, up. The energy crisis has developed on the Liberals' watch. It is their responsibility. It's developed because they are so bitterly divided when it comes to energy. Mr Turnbull couldn't even get his own party room to agree on an energy policy. They still haven't got an agreement on a policy, but they're blaming everybody else. Instead of getting sensible energy policy, you've got the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia bringing lumps of coal into the House of Representatives and seriously talking up the prospects of spending millions or more—or billions—on nationalising clapped-out, failing, old, coal-fired power stations. Well, that is not an energy policy.

And their record on gas is even worse. We've seen gas prices soar. What have we seen from Mr Turnbull? Talk, talk and more talk. When gas prices kept going up, Mr Turnbull warned those gas companies that, if it didn't stop, well, he'd talk some more. In the meantime, hundreds of jobs at manufacturers like Qenos and Incitec Pivot are left hanging in the balance as they struggle to secure affordable gas supplies, with companies being offered supply at prices almost double what the ACCC says they should be.

Australians know that the handshake agreement between the gas companies and Mr Turnbull just won't deliver. What we actually need is a little less of Malcolm's incessant talking and a little bit more action—a government actually doing something to ensure reliable and affordable gas. If they were serious about doing that, about ensuring an affordable domestic supply of gas, they would have used some export controls to put some teeth into their agreements with the gas companies.

Let's contrast this with the action that the South Australian government has taken. Jay Weatherill and the Labor government are taking real action to ensure we secure reliable and affordable energy for South Australia. They have delivered the world's largest battery in record time. They are investing in state-owned power generation. After the Liberals privatised electricity in South Australia, we're investing in state-owned power generation and a solar thermal plant—actually taking charge of our own energy future. And what do the Liberals want? More reliance on the eastern states.

The South Australian Labor government is helping more households make the transition to solar with battery storage for 50,000 households—interestingly, criticised by the Liberals but actually pretty similar to a plan that Mr Frydenberg came to South Australia to announce, but then he slunk away because nothing really happened. We know that renewables mean cheaper power, and that's why the next step is for 50,000 homes with solar and batteries working together, providing cheaper power and more reliability. Energy prices in South Australia are already coming down, with the independent national regulator predicting a $300-a-year price drop over the next two years, and that's just the beginning.

In contrast, what do the Liberals want to do? They want to scrap our Renewable Energy Target—ideology if you have ever seen it. We heard it again from Senator Ruston today: 'Let's send ourselves backwards.' Former Young Liberal and former senator, Nick Xenophon, thinks wind farms cause brain damage. Let's be clear what this debate is about today. Labor says South Australia should be more self-sufficient and has the best plan for cheaper, cleaner and more reliable power. What's the Liberals' plan? They want to use taxpayers to prop up coal-fired power and make South Australia more reliant on the eastern states. The extent to which they have no idea what they're doing is demonstrated by their much vaunted electricity plan that Steven Marshall launched, where he said, 'There will be a $302 drop in prices,' and then just a couple of days later had to walk away; it might be only $60 or $70 in five years time. He couldn't even get his own plan right, because it's the wrong plan.

The sad truth about the South Australian Liberal Party is that the leader of the Liberal Party in South Australia is not Steven Marshall; it's Mr Christopher Pyne. Steven Marshall is Christopher Pyne's patsy. That's the hard reality. Where he should be championing his state, he ends up being Pyne's patsy, because he owes his job—lock, stock and barrel—to the control that Mr Pyne exercises over the South Australian Liberal Party. We see that time and again: Steven Marshall failing to stand up for South Australia when it comes to the GST, water and securing our energy future. The reality is that he is nothing more than a patsy for Mr Pyne. He would have been in a far better position if he had been prepared to stand up for the people of South Australia and the issues they care about, rather than simply doing what his political masters here in Canberra want. He is a weak Liberal leader. He is controlled by members of the federal Liberal Party, and in particular Mr Christopher Pyne. The problem is that South Australians know it. The game is up. If you want to know why former senator Nick Xenophon is as popular as he is, apart from—I acknowledge, Senator Patrick—the fact he that he is a very good politician and media performer, the reason is that people know Steven Marshall does what Chris Pyne wants, not what's good for South Australia.

5:12 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Electing a government is a lot like entering into a long-term relationship. With that in mind, and in honour of Valentine's Day, I think the voters of South Australia need to be reminded of the most celebrated romance in Australian history. I'm talking about the famous love affair between Labor and the Greens. I know they deny it and try to hide it, but it seems true love cannot be hidden. I think we can all agree that Labor is so head over heels in love with the Greens that they have changed everything about themselves. It's heartwarming to see someone is prepared to sacrifice for true love.

They've stopped hanging out with their blue-collar mates who worked in the mines and factories and ran the power stations—the same mines, factories and power stations that the Greens got Labor to destroy. Now they have a trendy new haircut and a shiny new Prius, have converted to veganism and moved to Melbourne. I know it's annoying that Labor won't return your phone calls and never has free time to hang out anymore, but that is what happens: people change when they fall in love. Though we might not approve of their love of shutting down mines, power stations and businesses, who are we to stand in the way of true love? I know we might miss them when we are out camping and fishing, but we've all seen their photos on Facebook, and no-one can deny Labor looks very happy with their new-found flame at those poetry slams and protest marches.

I know a lot of Australians feel betrayed, feel like they knew the Labor Party. Some felt like they were going to spend the rest of their lives with the Labor Party. I know Labor promised that they would start a business with you. I know there were grand plans to build mines and dams, but they just found someone better: they found the Greens. It's time to accept that the Labor Party has moved on to greener pastures. Some people might think it was rude of Labor to start a relationship with the Greens when they were already spoken for. But that's what happens: people fall out of love and people move on. So it's time to accept that Labor has moved on. They have moved to Melbourne to start a new life with their true love, the Greens of Batman. The people of Queensland and Tasmania also know of the damage this love affair relationship has done. I hope that South Australia wakes up in the coming election, and all Australians in future elections. Remember Labor in the last election in Queensland—chaos. I can see it. Greens and Labor—chaos.

5:15 pm

Photo of Lucy GichuhiLucy Gichuhi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on a matter that is very close to my heart. I arrived in Australia in 1999. I had a resume prepared by an expert writer in Kenya. My resume had details such as next of kin, age, gender and marital status. Under marital status it read 'married with issues'. Clearly, it didn't communicate my skills and capabilities to the Australian labour market. Thankfully, under the federal Liberal government of John Howard and state premier John Olsen, there was a program in South Australia called Interlink. As a new migrant, I was enrolled in this program free of charge and I learned how to do a resume Australian style, how to do an interview with Australian employers and how to communicate my skills, my experience and my capabilities effectively. Needless to say, in four short months I was employed as an auditor in the South Australian Auditor-General's Department, a job I held for the next eight years. It enabled me and my family to settle in this country. This is what Liberal Party policies do best. They create the capacity and opportunity for all Australians to enter the job market and, most importantly, be all that they can be. It is a fundamental core value of the party that everybody deserves an opportunity. I thank my colleague Senator Bernardi for highlighting this important issue, which shows how Liberal Party policies help South Australians not only find a job, not only to grow personally and publicly, but to be all they can be in this country.

As a voter, I believe it is vital we have policies that not only enable us to find jobs but that create jobs through small, medium or even big businesses. That is what the Liberal Party in South Australia can do and would do for all of us. Whether you are looking for a job or for people to fill vacancies that your business has created, the important thing is that their policies and values in place give South Australians the opportunity to choose the path that best works for them. Liberal Party policies in South Australia will deliver significant investment, internships and traineeships, among other opportunities. Both state and federal Liberal governments are committed to providing over $100 million for job creation, which will lead to close to 21,000 additional internships and traineeships. This is part of the government's Skilling Australians Fund, a national initiative for vocational education and training. This is happening through the federal Liberal government's jobactive program, which has placed 5,000 South Australians in the job market. In addition, 3,500 South Australians are participating in other programs. There is another program, ParentsNext, which has trial sites in Playford, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and Whyalla, where participating parents are given personalised assistance to improve their work readiness and a pathway from welfare.

South Australia was once a jewel in the crown of the nation, known for her ingenuity, courage and the entrepreneurship of her people. She has been suffering for many years, but I have great hope that she will rise again as an ethical and economic powerhouse.

5:19 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that Senator Fawcett was supposed to speak. When Senator Gichuhi jumped up, I didn't make a point about that, and I can understand why Senator Fawcett would be very embarrassed to have to talk about the South Australian election and the party that he—

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Fawcett, I'm hoping this will be a point of order.

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, a point of order. As Senator Farrell would well know, the speaking order was changed, and Senator Gichuhi took my place.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's not a point of order. Resume your seat.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Anyway, I thank Senator Bernardi for giving us the opportunity to speak about the leadership of the South Australian Labor government and encourage all South Australians to re-elect it for an historic fifth term. There are very good reasons for doing that, because South Australians have a very clear choice before them in this election. There are three options, really: they can choose a Labor government, focusing on the issues of our state—jobs, health, education and energy; they can choose a failed state Liberal Party that have made a career out of disappointing themselves; or they can choose a Xenophon party made up of people who failed in the failed Liberal Party.

The state Labor government in my home state has constantly and consistently delivered vital projects and necessary reforms to South Australians. A key example of this is the action taken by Premier Weatherill and Treasurer Koutsantonis on energy policy. As the National Energy Market failed under the Liberals, the federal Liberal government simply stood idly by, but the South Australian government took action. They announced a plan and acted to take control of South Australian energy needs.

But you don't have to take my word for that. I'd like to share a few excerpts from the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper in my home state. On 18 December last year, a headline on the Advertiser website informed us 'South Australian electricity bills tipped to drop by $300 over two years'. That article reports:

Expert modelling shows the price drop in SA—7.3 per cent over the next two years—was among the biggest savings in Australia driven by new wind and solar generation.

Then, on 21 December last year, a headline on the Adelaide Advertiser website read '"That's a record": South Australia's Tesla battery responds to coal-fired plant failure'. I've seen these batteries, and I encourage you, Mr Acting Deputy President, to go and have a look. They're terrific batteries. This article went on to say:

The world's largest lithium-ion battery, built by tech billionaire Elon Musk, responded quickly last week when the coal-fired Loy Yang power plant tripped and went offline.

The battery delivered 100 megawatts into the national electricity grid in 140 milliseconds—

yes, 140 milliseconds. An article by The Advertiser's political reporter—a very good reporter, Sheradyn Holderhead—published on 9 January this year described the success of the South Australian Labor government's energy policies. That article was titled 'South Australia exporting power to Victoria as eastern state imports tumble tenfold'. I'll share the opening couple of paragraphs with the Senate:

SOUTH Australia has shut off on its reliance on Victoria to keep the lights on and has consistently been exporting power to the east coast, new figures reveal.

Data from the national grid operator shows that every week since July, SA has exported more energy than it has brought in from interstate.

Not only has SA exported more electricity but the total amount of power being brought in from the east has dwindled and was now 10 times less than this time last year.

I know you look amazed, Mr Acting Deputy President. Just to avoid being too parochial in the promotion of The Advertiser, here's a headline from The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday: 'AGL to spend nearly $1bn on wind farms'. In that article we're told:

AGL will spend about $900 million to buy wind farms as part of a plan to replace the power lost when it closes the controversial Liddell coal-fired power plant.

It goes on to say that AGL:

… is turning to a mix of different sources—including wind and solar—as it brings more renewable energy on board.

So you see, Mr Acting Deputy President, senators need not take it from me and my colleagues on this side of the chamber or from our Labor colleagues in South Australia. The fourth estate—that great bastion of our democracy that we collectively refer to as the news media—required as it is to report in an accurate, fair, and balanced fashion, has done what the people opposite refuse to do and has told the truth. The truth is that the South Australian Labor government energy policies are providing reliable and affordable electricity not just for my home state but now for Victoria.

On a more local note, I'd like to advise the Senate about the excellent work being done on the ground by hardworking candidates and members across my home state. Starting in the electorate of Newland—a seat in Adelaide's north-eastern suburbs—local campaign extraordinaire Tom Kenyon is pounding the pavement and mustering the community behind him, even as a redistribution put his seat in the Liberal column. In Adelaide's south the member for Elder, Annabel Digance, and our candidate for Badcoe, Jayne Stinson—a terrific former news reporter—are fighting to passionately represent locals in two tough contests.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

What about the other faction?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

What about the SDA?

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

We don't have factions in the Labor Party, in South Australia. In Croydon, the rising star, Pete Malinauskas, is campaigning his heart out and filling the huge shoes left by the outgoing member and speaker, Michael Atkinson. In Adelaide, Labor's Joe Chapley is taking the fight to the local Liberal Party members who are foolishly opposed to everything from the tram extensions to the new hospital.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

She changed factions. She swapped.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I know you don't like what I'm saying. I know you don't like the truth, but that is the truth. In Adelaide's northern and western suburbs, Labor candidates and ministers alike, such as Michael Brown, Stephen Mulligan and Tom Koutsantonis, are doing excellent jobs representing Labor values across our communities. I know you'd like to shut me up, and now you have to.

5:27 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak to today's matter of public importance. I don't think anyone would doubt that the March 17 election is critical for our state. It's vitally important that we turn a corner and move away from the dismal path our state has been on for the last 25 years. It has been a path of economic stagnation, industrial retrenchment, high unemployment and relative population decline. While much of the rest of Australia has thrived, South Australia has struggled, and so much talent—particularly young talent—is being forced to seek opportunities elsewhere. We've become regarded with derision by the national, political and economic commentators. That's not the fault of South Australians. We have an educated and skilled workforce. We have reservoirs of technological expertise. We have excellent universities. We have a diverse and resilient mining sector with significant mineral deposits. We have world-class natural energy resources. Why then has South Australia struggled for so long? The short answer is the absolute failure of our state's political leaders and parties. The Tweedledum and Tweedledee of SA Labor and Liberal have long been much more interested in fighting about which side gets their snout in the trough, rather than what's best for our state.

The Labor government is tired, lacking in vision and more interested in who is in and out amongst its own factions than in having a good state. There has been a failure in the delivery of the most basic of services, but the Liberal alternative doesn't promise anything better. Under Steven Marshall, the state Liberals seem to be driven more by a sense of entitlement that they are overdue for their turn in office, rather than any vision for South Australia.

As SA-BEST leader, former Senator Xenophon, on more than one occasion, has said:

For too long, voters have had an awful choice between a government that deserves to lose and an opposition that doesn't deserve to win.

We don't know what the outcome of the 17 March poll will be; most of the experts are perplexed. SA-BEST is hopeful that we will secure seats in the house of assembly, and, hopefully, the balance of power. The polls suggest that this is a real possibility. Time will tell. If we do enjoy a measure of success, SA-BEST will seek to make parliament work better and to deliver better outcomes for the people of South Australia. Parliamentary reform and big improvements to government transparency and accountability are key SA-BEST priorities. We need a root and branch review of SA's failed health system conducted by a royal commission over the next year.

Both Labor and Liberal have announced elaborate schemes with promises of more reliable and cheaper power. But who can hold them to account? That's where SA-BEST comes into the equation. We're aiming to win the balance of power, not to form government. We want our influence from the sensible centre of politics to drive positive reforms on how we are governed, how essential services are delivered more effectively and how the state's problems are tackled. SA-BEST will use that balance of power position to hold a Liberal or Labor state government to account on the promises they make. If the next SA government doesn't deliver, they could find themselves looking for a job.

Debate interrupted.