Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Statements by Senators
I rise to speak about energy policy and the significance of bipartisanship in energy policy. The Prime Minister this week, of course, has made real efforts at bipartisanship. I'm talking about his effort to reach out to his so-called colleagues in the coalition party room. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the form that this bipartisanship took was complete and utter capitulation to the hard-right warriors who have seen total victory in their campaign for coal as their only acceptable objective in any negotiation within the party room.
I want to be really clear about the position that was taken to the coalition party room this week in relation to energy because it will not see a single additional renewable energy project being built for a decade. It's a very significant problem because we know that renewable energy is the cheapest way of providing new sources of generation capacity. We know our existing generation capacity needs to be replaced. If we replace it with coal, as so many on that side seek to do, we will lock ourselves in for decades to higher prices and higher costs for households. It is completely unacceptable that the Prime Minister, who knows this, who has been briefed on these questions, persists with this plan and has capitulated in such a craven way to the hard-right in his own party room.
But returning to the theme of bipartisanship, I do want to say that it is most important that we eventually arrive there as a nation. Labor has made a serious effort at bipartisanship over the last five years. It is indeed a real gift to a government to be offered bipartisanship from an opposition party in relation to a whole policy area, and we have made good on our promise in this regard. We were positive about the emissions intensity scheme proposed by Minister Frydenberg. We were positive about the clean energy target and we have certainly been positive about the negotiations undertaken between the states and the Commonwealth to establish the National Energy Guarantee. We think a bipartisan framework for investment that integrates climate objectives, carbon objectives, security objectives, reliability objectives and affordability objectives within a single framework within the existing National Electricity Market is a good idea. It has real promise to resolve the impasse that has bedevilled the energy system for so long. But it is a very different matter when it comes to the targets that are being proposed by the Prime Minister.
The target proposed and agreed by the coalition party room is worse than useless. It certainly won't do anything to deal with carbon emissions additional to what is already locked in in the energy system, but it will be actively harmful to the Australian economy. Under the coalition's proposal, the electricity sector will only be responsible for a pro-rata share of our Paris emissions reduction goals. These guys have agreed to a 26 per cent reduction, and they say, 'Well, the electricity sector should reduce its emissions by 26 per cent.' This is such a complete waste. It leaves so much on the table, and on the way through it smashes the opportunity for jobs and investment in renewables. All of the modelling—again, received by the government's own advisers—shows this. We should be supporting our renewables sector, not undermining it.
Our expertise in renewable energy and renewable technology means we have so much to offer and so much to gain from a renewables revolution. Last week I was back at UNSW. I've worked with people there for a long time over my career. They have been doing amazing work for 40 years on photovoltaics, and Professor Martin Green is a world-leading researcher in this area. That unit is responsible for many of the technology advances that have seen solar energy prices come down and down. It's those improvements, in part driven by these amazing Australian researchers at an Australian university, that lead AEMO to tell the government again and again that the most cost-effective replacements for our ageing power stations will be renewable. There is a direct connection between our research capability and our future energy capability.
Senator Williams interjecting—
I will take that interjection from Senator Williams. AEMO says—and you should read their latest report—that investment in renewables will continue to be the dominant form of energy investment, with or without subsidies, because they are the cheapest possible way—I say it again—of providing new generation capability.
What those opposite are doing is a form of economic vandalism. Where is the support for jobs and innovation? I remember when the Prime Minister said, 'There's never been a more exciting time to be alive.' You might have thought at that time that he was actually thinking about the promise of solar and renewables. But apparently not, because we learnt this week that what he's excited about is the prospect of reviving 1950s technology and building a coal-fired power plant. The target those opposite have set does not just waste opportunities; it will burden the rest of the economy. They have committed to getting a 26 per cent reduction, which we don't think is enough, and the experts tell us that the cheapest and easiest emissions cuts are to be found in the electricity sector. We need that sector to do more than its pro-rata share.
Senator Williams interjecting—
I'll tell you why—and I go to Senator Williams again. The burden will fall on other sectors if not carried by the electricity sector. The burden will fall on sectors like agriculture. And all the advice is that there are no cost-effective options in agriculture. There's only destocking and letting fields lie fallow. That is not a good option for the sector that so many senators here claim to support, and yet the model they have adopted will see that sector have to carry the burden. Shame on you for being so partisan and so narrow in the way that you approach this!
I want to finish on the theme of bipartisanship, which was where I started. We have offered bipartisanship time and time again over the five years of this government to resolve the impasse over energy policy. We have been serious and earnest about that, but there has been no interest; there have just been endless partisan games. The great writer Sun Tzu said that there is no instance of a nation benefiting from a prolonged war. I say to the coalition: have a think about that the next time you reject our bipartisan offers.