Senate debates

Thursday, 16 August 2018



5:08 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Collins, I move:

That the Senate:

(a) express its disappointment in the Turnbull Government for its chaotic and disunified approach to energy policy; and

(b) notes that the Prime Minister's compromise policy on the National Energy Guarantee will not see a single renewable energy project built for a decade, an energy plan that will see the rates of installation of rooftop solar cut by a half, and an energy plan that will channel billions and billions of taxpayers' money to building new coal-fired power stations.

I am of the view that the government have such a chaotic and disunified approach that they really don't have much time left. This is a government in absolute chaos. What we are saying in this proposition is that, during the period of the National Energy Guarantee, not one single renewable energy project would be built; the installation of rooftop solar would be cut by half; billions of dollars of taxpayer funding to new coal-fired power stations would be required; and the government should not do this because it's a government in its death throes, it's a government with a weak Prime Minister and it's a government whose members are carving each other up before our very eyes. Ten coalition members are reserving the right to cross the floor on the National Energy Guarantee, and the government have the hide to demand that the Labor Party sign off. This government has got the hide to demand that state governments sign off when substantial numbers of their own members don't believe in the National Energy Guarantee, when substantial numbers of their own members are opposed to the National Energy Guarantee.

I watched Senator Abetz just an hour ago on Sky, and the best Senator Abetz would say about this policy was that he was prepared to continue a watching brief on the Prime Minister's signature policy—a watching brief. This is a former senior cabinet minister who says that he's not prepared to sign off on this. He's only prepared to give it a watching brief. He says it's too early for him to make a decision to support or oppose the NEG. If it's too early for a former cabinet minister, one of the most senior people in the coalition, to either support or reject it, why is this weak Prime Minister trying to push the Labor Party and the states into support for it?

And then he says, 'Well, we've had some movement.' Of course Senator Abetz and these 10—and I think 10 is probably not the exact number; I think there might be more—will get some movement from this weak Prime Minister. And then the rhetoric came in. They wanted to put pensioners before Paris. Where was Senator Abetz—where was this government—in 2014, when the budget that they brought down would cut pensions by $80 over the decade? Pensioners weren't being put before anything then. The government were simply in their austerity phase and trying to push costs down for government, and one of the biggest casualties was going to be pensioners in this country. They would have $80 a week less to spend. I don't buy this fake concern that this coalition has for pensioners in this country, because that's all it is. It's a fake concern.

Then he argued that he wanted cheaper electricity. The way you get cheaper electricity is through renewables. That's what the electricity companies are saying. That's what the electricity companies are doing. That's what's happening overseas. And yet the numbskulls in this government want to try to push to build new coal-fired power plants when everywhere else the major push on energy is to renewables. And here we have Senator Abetz—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

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

Senator Cameron, resume your seat. I remind senators on my right that all senators in this place, including Senator Cameron, have the right to be heard in silence even if you disagree with what he's saying.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not surprised that there's so much angst and concern amongst those sitting opposite me, because this government is in total chaos. They're at each other's throats. Every day it's another hit on the Prime Minister. Every day it's another member coming out and saying they're prepared to cross the floor. So don't lecture the Labor Party about what we should be doing; you can't get your own act together. You're a rabble of a government—always have been and always will be—and, the sooner you get to an election, the absolute better.

Senator Abetz said they want coal for manufacturing. I don't have to remind people in here that the biggest loss in manufacturing jobs in this country was when that mob over there decided they would chase the car manufacturing companies out of the country. That's what they did. So, again, don't come here with your crocodile tears about manufacturing when you have set about trying to destroy one of the most highly skilled industries in the manufacturing sector. You have destroyed it—the car industry.

Senator Abetz said they want a special focus on price. If they actually knew what was going on, the focus would be on renewables, because that is where the prices are coming down. Senator Abetz said it's a moveable feast. Here we are, the Prime Minister's signature policy—apart from handing $80 billion to the big end of town—is this moveable feast, the NEG. He said they want more dispatchable power and he said this was a decision of great moment. We agree: this is a decision of great moment. This is a decision that will save energy prices for the future. If we go down the path that the rebels want to go, the people that are determined to pull Prime Minister Turnbull down, if we go down their path then we will end up with more expensive power. Senator Abetz said there have been long discussions with Minister Frydenberg over the weekend. Senator Abetz was asked by David Spears, 'Do you have faith in Mr Turnbull?' Well, there was no response in the affirmative; no response from the former cabinet Minister. He just said that it would be a cabinet decision and he wasn't interested in what one person's view might be. He wasn't interested in what the Prime Minister's view was. What a joke! A former cabinet Minister, former Prime Minister and former government ministers lining up to pull Malcolm Turnbull down. Prime Minister Turnbull is being targeted day in, day out. He said that he had serious reservations about the NEG, that he lived in hope that the NEG could be delivered, and that the majority—because this government only had a majority of one, then the Prime Minister had to satisfy everybody. I think it is quite clear that this Prime Minister has to satisfy the climate sceptics, the climate deniers, the troglodytes in the coalition.

We've hard this story before with this government, haven't we? Remember back in 2009, when the then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, said, 'I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am.' This is why this Prime Minister is in so much trouble. Ever since then he has waltzed away from that position. He leads a party that is not committed at all to dealing with climate change. He leads a party where the sceptics and the deniers determine the policy. The situation that arises from that is that we will have more expensive power in the future. We have gone from one approach to dealing with climate change to another. We've got a Prime Minister who is so malleable that he'll put up one position and then another. All he's interested in is staying in power, and yet the malcontents—that was the heading back in the Four Corners report in 2009: 'Malcolm and the Malcontents'—the malcontents are back. They are going to do the same to this Prime Minister as they did to him when he was the Leader of the Opposition. They are going to pull him down. I don't think that would be a bad thing—because he has been a weak Prime Minister, a vacillating Prime Minister, a jellyback of a Prime Minister. He has not delivered what he said he would do. He has got no values, no principles, that he wouldn't sacrifice to maintain his job.

Back in 2009—what we are getting now is like a re-run—a range of Liberals and Nationals told Four Corners that they don't believe climate change is primarily man-made. The earth is not actually warming, we still have rain falling. We can go outside and not cook. If the question is 'Do people believe or not believe that human beings are the main cause of climate warming?' then I would say a majority don't accept that position. That is what senior Liberals and senior National Party members were saying back in 2009—and even though we have seen all the evidence of climate change they are still maintaining this denialist position. It is an absolute tragedy that this country cannot get its act together to deal with what is the biggest threat that we are facing, and that is the capacity for our kids and our grandkids to live in an atmosphere, a climate, that is conducive to growth and decent conditions in this country.

And now to the latest we have: in The Australiantoday, Simon Benson, no friend of the Labor Party—this is the Murdoch press—said that 'federal government ministers are coming under pressure from colleagues to resign over the National Energy Guarantee in a counter-campaign by rebel backbenchers that risks further eroding Malcolm Turnbull's authority as his attempts to win the support of wavering coalition MPs appear to be failing'. The heading is 'Rebels urge ministers to quit over National Energy Guarantee'. We have heard that story before. When that starts coming about, you know what's on: Malcolm Turnbull's time as Prime Minister is terminal. That is the reality.

And more than one senior government source told The Australian that Keith Pitt, the assistant minister to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, was considering resigning from the frontbench over his opposition to the NEG. It's on! That's what's happening. Prime Minister Turnbull's authority is being challenged. And The Australian goes on to say that 'senior government sources, last night, effectively conceded that the coalition would require Bill Shorten's support to get the NEG passed in both houses'. You lot need the Labor Party to get this through. That is the reality of where you are at. The Australian says that 'the legislation is due to be introduced before a Tuesday decision by the Labor caucus on whether the opposition will support it'. If you rabble of a government, you pathetic mob, can't get your act together, why should I go to the Labor caucus and support this? You don't support it, and your ministers are talking about resigning over this policy. What a joke you lot are! The story says The Australian was told that 'frontbenchers known to be opposed to the NEG, but bound by the ministerial code to vote with the government, were under pressure to step down and cross the floor and support rebel MPs including Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister, Andrew Hastie, Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz and Barry O'Sullivan'—and on and on it goes. This is a government in terminal condition.

There is another article today—'George Christensen hits Malcolm Turnbull with list of demands over NEG'. It's by Joe Kelly, another News Limited journalist. He says:

George Christensen has publicly committed to crossing the floor of parliament to vote against Malcolm Turnbull's national energy guarantee in its current form, ahead of the government putting legislation into the lower house early next week.

He then goes on to say that Mr Christensen has 'issued a list of demands to the Prime Minister' and that they include 'the creation of a new clean coal fund'. I'm a former power station worker. I was a maintenance fitter at Liddell Power Station for seven years, and I can tell you now there is no such thing as clean coal, absolutely no such thing. Mr Christensen also wants 'a cut in the NEG's emissions reduction target from 26 to 17 per cent'. To the young kids sitting up in the viewing areas now: you won't have the same climate conditions we have had over our lifetime, because this government and this Prime Minister don't have the courage to take the troglodytes on. That's the reality.

The article goes on to say that he wants 'the competition watchdog to keep AGL's Liddell coal-fired power plant operating in New South Wales beyond its planned 2022 closure date'. I worked at Liddell Power Station. I started in about 1975. Liddell had its problems then because the coal in that area has a high ash content. It rips the boiler tubes apart on an ongoing basis. It's a costly, outdated power plant. And yet this mob would try and keep that piece of junk going for more years to satisfy those who are opposed to dealing with climate change and the issues that are important.

The article then goes on to say:

Keith Pitt is understood to be considering standing down from the frontbench …

It says that there's a demand to adopt 'all 56 recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's recent report'. It quotes Mr Christensen as saying:

If I am being asked to vote for an emissions reduction target based on the Paris agreement, I would vote against it.

And it says that Mr Turnbull has been holding crisis meetings all the time with South Australian Liberal MP Tony Pasin and with Lucy Wicks, the member for Robertson.

This is a government that doesn't get it. This is a government that is in civil war internally. This is a government that has no ideas, no plans and no hope for the future of the Australian people. This is a government that should pack its bags now, go to an election and let the people decide, as they did in the by-elections, to throw this mob out and get a decent government in.

5:28 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on Senator Collins's motion. It's always quite enjoyable sitting down and listening to Senator Cameron's speeches, which are full of overblown and overegged rhetoric and bear very little relationship to the truth. It is my pleasure to speak on this motion today, particularly as a senator from Western Australia, a state abundant in so many resources which could stand to power our nation cheaply and reliably for many generations to come.

Senator Cameron seems to have forgotten that this government is dealing with the mess that those opposite left us. Listening to him speak on Senator Collins's motion, you would think that, in developing this policy to deal with unreliable, expensive power for Australian families and businesses, we just dreamt it all up, rather than it being a policy to deal with a problem they left us with. As to Senator Cameron's rhetoric about troglodytes and this government being in crisis and all of the other rhetorical flourishes that he's very well known for, he says he was quoting anonymous sources. Well, I am not an anonymous source. I was in the party room for the debate. I was proud to stand up and support the National Energy Guarantee as proposed by this government. I can assure Senator Cameron and all of those opposite that the debate was robust but it was also a very clear result. It was supported in both party rooms for very sound reasons. Those reasons are all about Australian families and Australian industries that employ millions of Australians.

What always amuses me somewhat, and sometimes saddens me, is that those opposite quite often—as we just heard from Senator Cameron—mistake robust and very healthy debate on significant national issues for disunity. If only those opposite were able to have such robust debate on serious national issues such as energy pricing, availability and reliability, then maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't have left us with 100 per cent price increases in power after six years in government. Sadly, they very rarely have the opportunity to have the debates that we do in our party room.

What I would like to place on record is the record, so that we know where we've got to today and how we've got to the National Energy Guarantee, which I understand will be before the parliament in the next sitting week. As I said, during the six years of government under Labor, supported by the Greens, power prices doubled for Australian families. It didn't just happen; it happened because of the poor policy decisions that were implemented by those opposite. I was incredulous listening to Senator Cameron saying that the only way to reduce energy prices and increase reliability was through renewable energy. He was part of the government that introduced these irresponsible policies that doubled prices. It is quite extraordinary that he now thinks, all of a sudden—after they screwed up our energy policy and prices for so many years, which we are now dealing with—that that is the way to decrease prices. It's not only what Labor left us with after six years in government; the state Labor government policies have also continued to increase pressure on prices through job-destroying gas bans, moratoriums, unrealistic renewable energy targets and open hostility to reliable baseload power.

I was also reflecting when Senator Cameron was speaking—and it will be very interesting to hear from those opposite when they stand up to speak about this—that the greatest tactic that those opposite have is that, when they're on the defensive, they go on the attack and come up with this emotional and sometimes quite interesting rhetoric that actually bears no resemblance to the truth. Why do they do that? Because we have not heard one thing from those opposite about what their alternative policy would be—about how they would continue to increase reliability while, at the same time, reducing prices. That is the thing for anybody listening or watching today: have a look, watch what they're doing and hear what they're saying. I can guarantee you now, like Senator Cameron, there will not be one solution or one credible policy alternative to the NEG. That's the challenge I have for those opposite: tell us what else you would do to reduce prices for families and also increase reliability.

Unlike those opposite, the Turnbull government is taking action to fix this mess. What is the alternative, as I said? Let's have a further look at this alternative that we've heard nothing of from those opposite in the chamber today or any other day. I certainly don't think we'll hear it from them when the National Energy Guarantee comes on for debate in this place. Let's have a look at what their alternative, which they never talk about in this place, actually is. Bill Shorten wants a 50 per cent renewable target at a national level—

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

Order! Senator Reynolds, remember to address members in the other place by their correct titles.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, wants a 50 per cent renewable target at a national level, which will inevitably again mean more subsidies and, therefore, greater prices yet again and increasing unreliability yet again. But that's not the only damaging thing that Labor want to do in their policies. They also want to go further ahead than any other country in the OECD, I understand, and cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent. This reckless policy would harm our economy and cost thousands of jobs. Over the past decade, Labor has adopted well over a dozen climate and energy policies. So, even if they did come out and say, 'This is our energy policy; this is how we would improve the NEG,' how could we even trust what they say today? Let's have a look at all of their energy policies from over the last 10 years. Which one might they flip-flop back and forward to? Who remembers the CPRS, the carbon tax, the CET, the ETS, the EIS, pink batts, contracts for coal closure, cash for clunkers and the citizens' assembly?—just to name a few of their flip-flopping policies.

Remember when the coalition repealed the carbon tax? It led to the largest fall of electricity prices on record. That's not just me saying it; it is according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. When we abolished the carbon tax it led to the largest fall of electricity prices on record. That is not Senator Cameron's rhetorical flourish; that is fact. Labor is all for locking up our resources, subsidising expensive and unreliable sources of power and penalising Australian industries who create jobs for our workers. They're risking Australian jobs. Alternative to that, we are getting on with the job of delivering a sustainable future for this country. We cannot do that without reliable and competitive international electricity prices.

When you have a look at it, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind, or in any Western Australian's mind, that Australia should have some of the lowest electricity prices in the world. We have abundant reserves of high-quality coal, gas and uranium, which those with ideologically extremist points of view amongst those opposite have continued to fight. We are the fourth-largest coal producer in the world and we are growing because the world usage of coal-fired power plants is increasing, despite the rhetoric of those opposite. I believe, like so many on my side, that we should be developing our uranium deposits as a reliable and clean source of energy. Those opposite know that one of the most reliable and clean forms of energy that we have in abundance is nuclear power. It's worth noting and reminding those in the chamber today that Tim Flannery himself argued we should be leading the world on uranium and nuclear power, given that we have half the world's supply of uranium right under our feet.

In Western Australia, we are also doing wonderful things with solar, wind and wave power. They are important to keep developing, and nobody on this side is saying they are not important power sources that we should be developing, but they simply do not yet provide the baseload power resource that will be reliable enough and cheap enough, and probably won't for many years. This government is focused on keeping the lights on and reducing household electricity bills and, in the process, bringing down the rising cost of living pressures on Australian families. Those opposite talk endlessly about working families, but what do they do when in power? They doubled families' energy prices.

What will the National Energy Guarantee mean for Australian industry? It means they will have access to a reliable source of power at an affordable and competitive rate. Those on this side of the chamber know just how important that is for current industries and for new industries looking to start here in Australia. You have to have reliable, affordable and competitive power supplies. We on this side of the chamber are cutting electricity prices in Australia by ending subsidies for energy which are all passed on to the customers, which are, as we know, Australian businesses and Australian families. We're also creating a level playing field that ensures all types of energy are part of Australia's energy mix. We're also providing certainty for investors, more supply and, in turn, lower prices. We're also reducing volatility by ensuring reliable and affordable power when and as it's needed.

The NEG will also ensure Australians will be at least $300 a year better off than they would have been under Labor's proposals. In the 2020s, modelling demonstrates, this saving will rise to $550 a year for households. For businesses, wholesale electricity prices will fall, on average, by 20 per cent to 2030. What does that mean for Australian businesses? It means mum-and-dad businesses, small businesses, cafes will save hundreds of dollars a year. Medium businesses such as supermarkets could save over $400,000 a year in their energy costs. And large, energy-intensive manufacturers could save millions of dollars a year. This will allow Australian households to keep more money in their pockets. It will allow Australian businesses to grow and invest and, more importantly, employ more Australians.

These are not just claims we are making. This government's action is already having demonstrable and positive effects. Wholesale electricity prices are down around 25 per cent compared to last year. I'll say that again for those opposite: in the last 12 months, we have reduced energy prices by 25 per cent for families and for businesses that employ Australians. Compared to last year, retail power bills have been reduced in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. Power prices are also going down in Queensland by up to 8.5 per cent for small businesses and five per cent for households. South Australia had the most catastrophic failure of energy policy under the previous Labor government. Power prices there are going down by two per cent for small businesses and nearly two per cent for households.

The National Energy Guarantee is made up of two critically important obligations. The first is a reliability obligation, which will be set to deliver dispatchable energy from ready-to-use sources such as coal, gas, pumped hydro and batteries in each state as required. The second guarantee is an emissions obligation, which will be set to contribute to Australia's international commitments. The level of the guarantee will be determined by the Commonwealth and enforced by the Australian Energy Regulator. But when it comes to reliability, no longer will intermittent power such as wind and solar enter the grid without providing backup, whether it's pumped hydro or batteries.

Modelling shows that renewables that do have a falling cost curve would make up between 32 to 36 per cent, up from around 17 per cent today. Despite the myths those opposite are peddling, under this plan, renewables will grow significantly but in a way that is responsible and reliable while still delivering lower costs for consumers. At the same time, there will be more than 3,600 megawatts in dispatchable generation capability over the next decade, which will firm up the intermittent renewables because, as we know, the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow and we need to make sure that we have enough dispatchable generation capacity to deal with that.

Under this plan, for the first time a premium will be put on the power that adds to the reliability of the national energy grid. Critically, the guarantee also ends the subsidy mentality—there is no carbon tax, no carbon price, no emissions trading scheme and no subsidies, which, in the past, were converted. It's consumers and businesses that pay the cost for these subsidies.

What do industry groups say about this process and about the National Energy Guarantee? Industry groups, including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Manufacturers Australia, represent some of the largest energy consumers in Australia and the largest employers in Australia. Many of these organisations' members contribute significantly to our exports and to our economy. All of those industries and those businesses need to have internationally competitive energy prices and reliability. Australia's largest employers, including BHP, BlueScope, Santos and JBS Australia meat processors, have also welcomed this policy. In fact, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, in representing more than one million Australian jobs, said it 'is the most practical, workable thing we've seen in business for quite some time'. The CEO of BlueScope, our biggest manufacturer, said the NEG 'turns the game around—where now, the effective functioning of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals is the priority' of government.

As a senator for Western Australia, I particularly welcome the Prime Minister's focus on gas. The Turnbull government will always make sure there is enough gas for Australians first before it is shipped offshore. That is now already having significant benefits for the Australian market in the east.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the AEMO had projected shortfalls of up to 108 petajoules in 2018 and 2019. Just to give you an idea, one petajoule is enough for a large industrial user or Penrith, Bunbury or Geraldton for a whole year. It was this coalition government, this Prime Minister and our energy minister who secured a deal with gas producers so that they will cover projected shortfalls in domestic gas supply over the next two years. We didn't need to pull the trigger of the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, which would have allowed us to impose export restrictions, should there have been a need. This deal is delivering results, with 73 petajoules of gas already committed to our domestic Australian market. This is a positive outcome and will bring relief to Australian houses and businesses who have been struggling, in the eastern states, with a lack of supply and high prices.

However, the long-term solution still rests with states and territories to remove their damaging bans and moratoriums on gas exploration, development and production. For example, if Victoria lifted the moratorium, they would have 40 years worth of domestic gas supply in known reserves already. I also acknowledge the Northern Territory's recent decision to lift its moratorium, which has the potential to unlock up to 200 years worth of domestic supply. We've also taken significant action for gas in many other areas, which, unfortunately, time does not allow me to go through this evening.

In conclusion, these measures that the government has announced in this policy package are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the Turnbull government is doing through the National Energy Guarantee. Those opposite and their state Labor counterparts are pursuing a dangerous mix of policies that will hit both energy security and affordability once again. In this debate and when the bill comes to this chamber, what you will not hear from those opposite is their policy. There is a 45 per cent emission reduction target by 2030, a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, an emissions intensity scheme and the forced closure of coal-fired power plants, and they still have not got a single word to say on a credible energy security plan. Together, these policies, without question, will once again wreak havoc on Australian households and businesses. These days, it is very unclear what Labor's energy policy is. The Leader of the Opposition and his frontbench have refused to explain how they will receive the targets, but we know, from experience, what the impact will be on Australians. (Time expired)

5:48 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If this motion is an indication from Labor that they oppose the government's renewables-destroying National Energy Guarantee, the Greens welcome it. As this motion points out, the NEG would lock in no action on climate change for 10 years. It now includes a giant slush fund for coal. But I say to Labor that words aren't enough. For all Senator Cameron's words, I note that, in his contribution he didn't actually say that Labor would vote against the NEG. Labor, you must vote against the NEG when it comes before the House of Representatives. The future of the policy, which this motion rightly criticises, is in the hands of the Labor Party. The Greens are opposing it. The coal huggers led by Tony Abbott, who the policy has been written for—

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

Order! Senator Rice, remember you need to call members of the other place by their correct title.

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. The coal huggers led by Mr Tony Abbott, who the policy has been written for, oppose it because they want revenge on Malcolm Turnbull. So Labor must decide what it wants to do. It has to decide whether it supports the policy, which it says has been written for Tony Abbott and which Labor states have correctly said locks in failure.

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

Senator Williams, on a point of order?

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, you just told Senator Rice to refer to those in the other place by their correct titles, and she just said 'Tony Abbot'. I don't know if she's hard of learning or what. Can you bring it to her attention again, please?

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

Senator Rice, I think you understand?

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I do understand. Or they need to stand up for the climate, stand up for renewables jobs and stand up for the lower prices that renewables bring. I say to Labor: by opposing the NEG legislation in the House of Representatives you have the opportunity to send the NEG back to the drawing board. If you wave it through, you will betray all Australians, who expect you to stand up on climate change and to stand up for renewables.

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

Senator Rice, while you pause, remember to direct your remarks through the chair.

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I want to look at the details of the National Energy Guarantee. The Smart Energy Council has identified five fundamental flaws with the NEG. Firstly, it does not encourage investment in renewables or any form of new generation. Secondly, it doesn't cut coal pollution. Thirdly, it doesn't reduce power bills. Fourthly, it can't be easily changed. And, finally, the government is still dropping in new policies that will make it worse, like the coal slush fund, and it still can't get enough of its party room to even support it through the parliament.

Let's unpack some of these points. The former head of the government's Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, cut through the crap of the NEG and put it succinctly when he said, 'The only thing Turnbull's energy plan does is to help coal companies to know that they don't have to reduce their pollution over the next 10 years.' This policy entrenches the power of the big three power companies. They are the ones gouging prices and consumers. How will giving them more market power lead to lower prices? The big three all donate to the Liberal Party. This is just them returning the favour and screwing over households and the renewables industry at the same time.

The people won't be fooled twice. They were promised $550 when the carbon price was repealed, and it never came. This $550 won't come either, because there is no evidence that the NEG will reduce power prices. I noted that Senator Reynolds, in her contribution, said that the $550 had now been reduced to $300. The $550 is based on absolutely nothing. We now know it's based on nothing because we now know that the government modelling for the NEG is just a single Excel spreadsheet. So we know that it has no evidence to back up the $550 claim.

But this spreadsheet does show that the NEG will mean a complete stall in investment in large-scale renewables over the next decade, once the Renewable Energy Target comes to an end. The spreadsheet, which outlines all the assumptions behind the NEG, says that only 14 megawatts of new utility-scale investment will be made. That's the equivalent of four new wind turbines over a decade—four, just four. It's an absolute travesty. Meanwhile, coal remains locked in. As the Smart Energy Council says, coal pollution is baked in as the planet bakes.

There is absolutely no evidence from the government on the public record to show how the NEG will cut power bills. It just asserts that it will. On the contrary, we know that the growth in renewable energy because of the Renewable Energy Target is what has been driving down the wholesale cost of electricity. But the NEG is going to shrink investment in renewables. Even the Reserve Bank of Australia, if you want somebody that you could actually listen to on prices, said in its most recent statement on monetary policy that more renewables will mean lower prices. But the Turnbull government insists that power bills will somehow magically fall under the National Energy Guarantee, despite significant new compliance costs and less market information.

The NEG stands in the way of progress, and it does this while the world is on fire. There are unprecedented fires in California, fires in Greece, fires in Britain. I was there last month. The North York Moors are on fire. There are fires in the Glacier National Park; a park once covered in glaciers is now on fire. And there are even fires in the Arctic Circle! Back home, we have large bushfires in New South Wales in August, in winter. The whole of New South Wales is in drought, and much of Queensland and Victoria are too.

Last week in the Australian Financial Review there was an excellent article by journalist Ben Potter which discussed what we all know to be true—that climate change is starting to supercharge extreme weather, including the current drought. He interviewed Peter Mailler, a third-generation grain and cattle farmer, who has sent pregnant cows for slaughter because he can't feed them all and who had a message to the Turnbull government. He said:

First, don't pretend to champion drought-struck farmers if you're not prepared to tackle climate change because the increasing frequency of hot dry weather is compounding the effects of drought. Second, don't talk about giving coal-fired power a free kick in the National Energy Guarantee when a full accounting of its environmental costs will tell you not that we can't afford to close coal plants but we can't afford to run one tomorrow. Thirdly, don't lean on high-risk struggling industries like agriculture for deeper carbon emissions cuts when a stable regulated electricity industry can obviously bear a larger share of the burden.

We are in a climate emergency, so now is not the time for half measures. We need to dump this policy, kick out this mob and put in place a proper energy policy that addresses the climate emergency we face. There are those that say something is better than nothing, that putting in place this fatally flawed policy locks in failure for a decade but that we can fix it later. But that would be denying political reality and is taking a hell of a political gamble.

Unfortunately, at this stage, we are facing the prospect of a conservative, possibly even a One Nation controlled Senate after the next election. If this policy is waved through by the Labor Party, the opportunity to fix it after the next election may well be zero. But, unfortunately, there is a danger that the rot is setting in on Labor and the NEG. It is very disturbing, the suggestion that Labor will support the NEG in the House and then try to say that somehow the real fight is in the Senate. That would be rank opportunism of the highest order. Everyone knows that, if Mr Shorten and Mr Butler vote with the Greens in the House, they can kill the renewable-destroying, dirty coal-loving deal stone dead. We can force the government to go back to the drawing board.

So I say to Labor: now is the time to stand tall. And, if you won't stand tall because it's the right thing to do, think of the electoral mathematics. Remember what happened in 2010 when Julia Gillard dumped action on climate change and went for her cash for clunkers? There was a massive swing to the Greens. You are now facing the same prospect, because we will make sure that every voter knows that you sold out the climate and you sold out renewables.

Seats in inner Melbourne will likely fall to the Greens if you back in the NEG deal that was authored by Mr Abbott and is now being promoted by Mr Turnbull. Seats in inner Melbourne will fall. You will lose McNamara, Wills, Batman if you fail to act on climate change. Now is the time for the Labor Party to stand up. So I call on the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Shorten, and Labor to follow through on the sentiments expressed in this motion, follow through and vote against the NEG in the House.

5:59 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on motion 966 moved by my colleague Senator Collins. The government are in utter disarray about their energy policy. They came up with a clever name for it, the National Energy Guarantee, thinking they would be able to con the people by using the acronym NEG so it sounds a bit like 'energy'. But that appears to be the only thought they have put into this whole policy. All Australian households and Australian businesses know all too well that a profound energy crisis has emerged under this Prime Minister. The deep energy crisis has led to a collapse in confidence in our energy system and has seen power bills go up—not just once, but up and up and up—for households and for businesses.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bilyk, that concludes the time allotted for the debate. The debate is adjourned.