Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering released a statement on Monday entitled, 'More coal-fired power stations would be a mistake', which said:
New coal-fired power stations will not reduce the cost of electricity and will not aid efforts to reduce emissions.
Is the academy correct?
It's funny but the last two days I have received questions from the opposition about whether there wouldn't be any new coal-fired generation investment under the policies of the NEG. Now, of course, we're getting questions going in the opposite direction. The Labor senators seemed to be asking, 'Why won't there be?' Now they're saying, 'There will be.' Of course, every entity is entitled to its opinion.
Thanks, Mr President. I'm not sure whether the Labor Party understands, but the National Energy Guarantee is a technology-neutral approach. It doesn't pick winners. Indeed, just as the ACCC's recommendations are technology-neutral in their approach, there is a premium put on reliability that relates to the dispatchability of energy.
We actually didn't ask about the NEG. I know he wants to talk about that. We asked a question about a report which states that coal-fired power won't reduce the cost of electricity nor reduce emissions and whether that statement was correct. That was the only question asked. I ask the minister to return to the question.
Thanks, Mr President. It is up to the energy market to deliver the lowest cost energy for households. Whether that is thermal generation using coal or gas, whether that is storage, whether that is renewable energy generation, what we want to see put in place are market conditions to get the lowest cost generation for Australian households and businesses.
The minister is deliberately flouting convention in the Senate and avoiding answering the question. Twice now you have reminded him of what the question is, and he continues to address quite a different matter.
Senator Collins, with respect, I have been listening very carefully to the minister's answer subsequent to the points of order that were raised. I do believe he is being directly relevant to the question. I cannot instruct him how to answer a question as long as he is directly relevant to all or part of the question asked. Senator Birmingham.
Those opposite asked the question: is the academy correct in saying that coal would not provide for lower prices? That's their analysis. What I'm saying is the role of this government and the intent of this government is to have policies in place that give the lowest-cost energy generation for Australians whilst ensuring it's reliable, whilst ensuring we meet our international obligations. That is precisely what we're getting on with doing. That's what we've done in a range of energy reforms to date that are already bringing down prices. It's what we'll continue to do through the National Energy Guarantee and through our responses to the ACCC review, all of which are about a technology-neutral approach, not picking winners but empowering the lowest possible prices for households.
I'm not going to come in here and play 'do I agree with somebody's statements or disagree with somebody's statements'. We respect Dr Schott's work and analysis, and indeed we are acting on the recommendations of the National Energy Guarantee. If you value her words so much then you should sign up to the National Energy Guarantee. As you rightly point out, it was the Chair of the Energy Security Board—the Energy Security Board which has recommended the National Energy Guarantee—so you have to ask: why does the Labor Party continue to play ducks and drakes over their position on the National Energy Guarantee? Why is it that Mr Shorten cannot give a straight answer when it comes to whether or not the Labor Party will support the National Energy Guarantee? Why is it? Of course, it's because the Labor Party is still trying to cling to their 45 per cent emissions reduction target—a 45 per cent target that, of course, we know will see much higher prices and much lower reliability and destroy aspects of the Australian economy. (Time expired)
Given that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and experts are all on the record saying that a new coal-fired power plant is not feasible, isn't it clear that the only reason Prime Minister Turnbull is spending billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to underwrite new coal-fired power stations is to buy the support of his own party room?
Now we've just got the Labor Party making stuff up. Nobody is spending billions of dollars underwriting new power plants. We have absolutely indicated that we will respond to and act upon recommendations from the ACCC, who have done a very good report. If the Labor Party haven't read it, I would encourage them to look at the ACCC report. I'd encourage them to look at the recommendations, which also apply in a technology-neutral way. They apply in a technology-neutral way just the same as the National Energy Guarantee does, because it's not about picking winners in the Turnbull government's policy; it's about picking policies that give us the lowest possible prices, policies that give us the most reliable energy, policies that meet our international commitments but do so with the lowest price and reliable energy. Ultimately, whether it's in the NEG or in response to the ACCC approach, they will be the priorities that drive us and drive our policy responses.