Senate debates

Monday, 20 August 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:02 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Payne) to a question without notice asked by Senator Bilyk today relating to energy policy.

Oh my goodness me, what an absolute shemozzle we are seeing in this nation at the moment. I honestly don't think Hollywood could have done any better at putting out a couple of fictional episodes as the very poor show that we've seen, particularly in the last few days. Here we are going into a national debate on energy, which we've been in for about 10 years. On Tuesday morning we saw beamed live on our TV screens, and then the front pages of the next day's papers, the Prime Minister out there with Minister Frydenberg saying, 'We have locked away the national energy agreement, the NEG. It's is locked in. Everyone's backed it in. Here we go full steam ahead'. I think that lasted about 10 or 15 minutes. I'm not sure what version we're up to now.

The total dysfunction of this government has actually got to the stage where it's embarrassing. It's been embarrassing for a number of years. I'm asking: who's seen this movie before? I certainly have. I can't believe it's an instant replay. Here we go again. It's the same culprits. What a bunch of backstabbing people. You wouldn't want these people anywhere near you, let alone behind you. The Prime Minister and the minister are out there saying, 'What a great job we've done. We are going to lower household electricity prices'. Then in the next instant it's led by the member for Warringah and Senator Abetz—these are the usual suspects, there's a whole gaggle of them. Then there's the usual suspects like Mr Christensen and that fellow who keeps popping up on Sky News, Mr Kelly. Seriously, Barnum and Bailey's couldn't match this outfit. It's absolutely unbelievable. While the rest of Australia sits back and thinks, 'What the hell is going on in Canberra?'

And then, as I'm walking down to question time, there's Senator Molan with his homemade video—'Look at me! Look at me!' I thought I was watching Australia's Funniest Home Videos, but he was fair dinkum. He was talking into a microphone and a camera on his iPhone. But he hasn't made his decision; he'll have a look at it. He can speak for himself, but he's guaranteed the small audience that happened to walk past ABC Radio at the same time as me that a decision will be made today. My goodness me!

Then we have—here we go!—the fixer, Mr Christopher Pyne, who, on this morning's radio—I'm really not making this up, seriously, but I needed this to keep the adrenaline going—actually said that the Liberal government is doing a magnificent job.

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


Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

, seriously, Senator Bilyk—'Fantastic results in the Super Saturday by-elections. The Liberal government is so successful.' I don't know how they can absolutely just erase five by-elections that happened only a month ago, when the Prime Minister himself made those by-elections on leadership. Quote me if I'm wrong, but it was about eight or nine weeks. We haven't seen anything like that. He couldn't wait to rush off to a double dissolution that cost the nation hundreds of millions of dollars instead of waiting another month, but he took eight or nine weeks to go to the Super Saturday by-elections. The father of the great candidate in Mayo got up on the TV that night and said, 'We're a bunch of nation-builders, us Downers.' I mean, seriously! It's gone from House of Cards to something that John Cleese would do. Seriously, this really is unbelievable. And there's Christopher Pyne telling us how great they've done in Longman. I've got to tell you: the last time I looked, your primary vote had a 2 in front of it, let alone that the candidate that you preselected was the Big Trev, who was going to be the next best thing.

Oh, my goodness me! Why don't you just do the right thing? To the backbench over there, while you're knifing your leader in the back, while you're giving Mr Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, in the other three-ring circus, every piece of fuel to undermine your Prime Minister and to embarrass the politicians in this nation: it's very hard to walk to suburbia and to say the majority of us, especially on this side—well, most of this side. I'll leave that corner over there out. Most of us on this side are decent people, who went into politics to make a difference. What does the nation have to put up with? I don't know what's going to happen. I actually get out of bed each morning thinking to myself, 'Could it get worse?' And you know what? It can. It gets worse every time. So I'll give those on that side a bit of advice. By the time the sycophants and the snivellers all start doing the numbers to see who'll get a promotion if you do knife your Prime Minister—we've seen it all before when you got rid of Mr Abbott—do us one favour. Why don't you just tighten your belt? Why don't you pull your pants up a little bit, tuck it in, and take it to an election? If you're that great, as Mr Pyne said, and you're doing such a great job, take us to an election. Why don't you do something decent for the nation, because—my goodness me!—Australians do not deserve this dysfunctional, childish, immature government we've got at the moment? (Time expired)

3:07 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's five minutes of my life I will never get back. Thank you very much, Senator Sterle. Obviously, Senator Sterle, as we well know, is one of the noisiest voices in the overcrowded clown car that is the ministerial wannabes on the other side of this chamber. The only thing that Senator Sterle has brought to the energy debate is availability.

Let's get on to what the real issue is here. The real issue is that Australia's energy resources and technological capabilities are the envy of the world, yet, for over a decade, we have seen successive failures. Ideology, politics and uncritical groupthink have invaded political discourse and policy. I will stand up here now, proudly, and say: yes, Australia's energy crisis is entirely government made, and it is arguably, probably, the most expensive policy failure of our lifetime. But this government—the Turnbull coalition government—is doing something about it.

Let's just recall that, during the six years of a Labor government, electricity prices doubled, and they went up each and every year. State governments have worsened the situation with their ideological and job-destroying policies of gas bans, moratoriums on gas exploration and crazy and unrealistic renewable energy targets that appease the inner-city green flanks at the expense of industry, businesses, families and households. Of course, my greatest personal frustration is that the open hostility towards reliable and dispatchable power, such as the Andrews government's 300 per cent increase on coal royalties, forced the closure of Hazelwood Power Station in my state of Victoria. How irresponsible, how negligent and how reckless can any government have been to intentionally the source of our greatest competitive advantage for decades?

We in the coalition have always known that fixing this mess will not be easy. It requires federal, state and local governments to focus on not political opportunism but national interest. The mission is certainly urgent. Electricity prices are way too high. Your bills are too high. Business is suffering. Households are suffering. Our progress, our prosperity, our entire economy are weighed down by the anchor of an inefficient energy market. But the Turnbull government have grasped the nettle and we are fixing this mess. We have developed and are systematically implementing a comprehensive suite of measures that will bring prices down. We've been doing this for over a year already, and already the effects are being felt.

Power prices have in fact reduced in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia since 1 July, 2018, and we expect reductions in Victoria when prices are repriced on 1 January. We've secured priority gas supplies before gas is exported overseas, and already this has brought down wholesale gas prices by 25 per cent. Bless the Guy opposition in Victoria, who have committed to reducing Daniel Andrews' ridiculous ideological moratorium on conventional gas exploration. We have required power companies to provide better deals to millions of consumers. Retailers have been brought in and asked a 'Please explain'. If they're not offering customers the best deal possible, why are they not offering customers the best deal possible? Already the retailers have written to more than 1.6 million households and saved them hundreds and hundreds of dollars on their annual bills.

We've stopped the energy networks gaming the system—a Gillard policy, bringing in the limited merits review. Network costs make up about 40 to 50 per cent of household bills. No longer can networks challenge the AER's decisions. We're investing in national infrastructure like Snowy 2.0, expanding the capacity of this iconic nation-building scheme. We are taking action on a number of fronts to lower prices through the ACCC and are supporting the financing of projects that will see new generation assets built for large commercial and industrial customers. We are creating a level playing field through the National Energy Guarantee that will ensure all types of energies are part of Australia's mix, ensuring reliability and affordability.

But what is the Labor alternative? A 45 per cent emissions target, a 50 per cent renewable energy target, more taxes, more subsidies, more appeasement to your Green-left flank. Our focus is on reducing power prices. Our policies are pragmatic and principled. Our approach is comprehensive. And our mission is clear: power prices will only come down under a coalition government. (Time expired)

3:13 pm

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

What an amazing lack of answers from Senator Payne, who represents Minister Pyne, to the questions I asked her in question time today, and that's what we're taking note of. I feel Senator Sterle's pain and frustration about this, because on this side we're all feeling that. What are you guys doing? You've been in power for nearly five years. You've still got no idea of what to do. Seriously, life is not a dress rehearsal, over there. You're supposed to be running the country. I'm still waiting for good government to begin—still waiting for it.

One of the questions I asked today was: 'Minister Pyne said that there is overwhelming support in the party room for the National Energy Guarantee. Was Minister Pyne correct?' Well, I suppose he may well have been at that point in time, but, by this afternoon, we know that the Prime Minister made a statement to say that they're taking the NEG off the board for now, they're taking it off the table for now, because he couldn't get enough support on his own side. They've got the numbers in the House, and he couldn't get enough support! I have to say, if ever I've seen a government that is in disarray, that is divided, that has no unity about it, this is the one.

I feel sorry for those on the other side, because the National Energy Guarantee policy has changed so many times. It seems like it's not even day by day but hour by hour or minute by minute. It would be really hard for anyone to keep up with, so I do feel a bit of sympathy for them. But then we've got the Prime Minister trying so hard to ward off a leadership challenge and keep some of those in his party happy that he's given up on everything to help make them happy. I call that wimpish, really wimpish. We need a Prime Minister who will stand up, who has the courage of his convictions. But we've seen this on so many issues with Mr Turnbull. He did a backflip in regard to same-sex marriage and he's done a backflip in regard to a number of other things. Now it's: 'Oh, we'll take it off the table.' So we wasted most of last week in this place having a debate on it, only to have it taken off the table. What a joke! What a way to run the country! I'm not sure what plan he intends to go with in the future—if Mr Turnbull remains Prime Minister, and of course that's very iffy. We might have Mr Pitt's plan or we might have Mr Kelly's plan or we might actually end up with a whole new Prime Minister and have Mr Dutton's plan.

We heard today—I think it was The Australian that mentioned it—that many MPs called Mr Dutton through the weekend, supported Mr Dutton and asked him to become the leader. It's pretty interesting to see The Australian writing that sort of thing. We even had Mr Abbott on the weekend speaking to some Young Liberal members—in Tasmania, as I understand it—and saying he was entertaining the idea of serving under a Dutton government. Mr Abbott was in Launceston on the weekend talking to Young Liberals and actually talking to them about serving under a Dutton government. It doesn't really matter what those on the other side say, because we can all tell there is going to be a leadership challenge. Even though Mr Turnbull has taken this off the table for now, his position is still under threat. Christopher Pyne said yesterday:

There are some people who don't support the current leader and that is quite obvious.

I would say it's very obvious.

We've got those on the backbench of the government playing their own little games with energy policy, not worrying about the people of Australia, but the people of Australia know all too deeply that, under this Prime Minister, a profound energy crisis has emerged which has led to a collapse in confidence in our energy system. They've seen power bills go up, not just for households but for businesses. How can those on the other side say they support businesses when they're so happy to put this aside because it's all got a bit too hard?

One of the things that really amazed me in all this discussion— (Time expired)

3:18 pm

Photo of Jim MolanJim Molan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's hard to know what this take note motion is about. Senator Sterle has certainly spoken to us in glowing terms about a range of things, but nothing specifically precise. Senator Bilyk mentioned that she asked a question about overwhelming support, a question which, of course, Senator Cormann answered in the very first answer in question time today. It's a great comfort to me personally to know that Senator Sterle actually watches my Facebook page. That puts him in a very great group of people many, many tens of thousands strong. And Senator Bilyk said that she felt Senator Sterle's pain. I can assure you, Senator Bilyk, that we feel it as well. We listened to Senator Sterle for quite some time and we feel that pain very, very much.

What I'd like to talk about really is: what does Labor believe in? This seems to be a question of overwhelming support, but overwhelming support for who or what? Whenever I think of overwhelming support for Labor Party policies, I immediately go to border control. Border control in the Labor Party is a classic example of a greatly confused series of people who find they do not and cannot support the policies of their own party. I need only mention Ms Ged Kearney MP and Ms Linda Burney MP. At the last election at least 30 Labor Party members, although their leader kept saying that their policy was exactly the same as the coalition government's policy, declared that they did not believe in regional processing centres.

Let me assure you that I support government policy. I will go through a few of the policies in order to illustrate what I mean. We stand for affordable and reliable energy for household and businesses; Mr Shorten stands for blackouts, higher power prices and a brand new tax on electricity. We stand for lower business and personal taxes for stronger economic growth, more jobs and money in the pockets of Australian workers; Mr Shorten and the Labor Party stand for appalling higher income taxes, company taxes and small-business taxes, and new taxes on electricity, housing and investment. We stand for strong border protection; on the Labor side Mr Shorten stands for weak border policies that led to 1,200 deaths at sea, 50,000 illegal arrivals and the opening of 17 detention centres, which we subsequently closed. We stand for reforming private health insurance to make it simpler and more affordable; the Labor Party will cut the rebate, increase costs and hurt millions of Australian families. We stand for a guaranteed and fully funded Medicare—despite the lies we hear from the Labor side—via a dedicated fund, the lifting of Labor's freeze, and record levels of bulk-billing; Mr Shorten has no guarantee for Medicare and stands for the politicisation of the health system. We stand for drug-testing welfare recipients to help them get into work, and getting 120,000 young people to experience work through the PaTH program; Mr Shorten and the Labor Party oppose drug-testing of welfare recipients to help them get into work, and getting young people to even experience work. We stand for fair, needs based funding for schools, yet the Labor Party stands for unfunded school promises and special deals that do not deliver needs based funding.

In the take-note debate today, if we're going to talk about overwhelming support, we should make a comparison of who supports what, what individuals don't support their own party's policy and what makes a very good government, which is the coalition government. (Time expired)

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

I remind you that the take-note debate today was in response to questions from Senator Bilyk to Senator Payne. You started off well and then strayed fairly far from the topic. I gave you some leniency.

3:23 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of the answers to the questions from Senator Bilyk to Senator Payne. As a number of my colleagues have already outlined, the shambles that is the Turnbull government is becoming more and more clear every hour. I thought I'd seen it all before question time began today, but we saw it again here in this chamber, where minister after minister tried valiantly to defend the latest energy policy put forward by this government, while their backbench behind them were putting their head in their hands, trying to be anywhere other than here. From what I've been reading on Twitter I understand it was very similar in the House of Representatives. Every backbencher in this place—House of Representatives or Senate—would have rather been anywhere possible other than standing or sitting behind their ministers as they tried to defend the latest energy policy from this government.

I thought the most interesting thing about Senator Payne's answers to Senator Bilyk's questions was the lengths to which Senator Payne went in order to avoid answering these questions. She was up on her feet straightaway trying to deflect the questions away from her, saying it was nothing to do with her, nothing to do with her portfolio. I think Senator Payne was doing the right thing there, because why would you, as a minister in this government, want to take any personal responsibility for what this government's current policy is when you know very well that it's probably already changed? It is now half an hour after question time, so I suspect that once I sit down I will see that there's been yet another shift from this government in response to internal pressure.

Apart from the rollcall of coalition backbenchers in their internal ranks, one other person who has been speaking up very loudly about this government's position on energy is Senator Hanson. In the last week or two, we have seen her being very active on social media, putting forward her position on energy, and she has been doing it down here again today. It's interesting that Senator Hanson should be speaking so loudly about energy, because we know what is really going on in the background is that, for all of Senator Hanson's comments to the contrary, she is on the move and she is yet again trying to do a deal with this government on company tax cuts. We resumed the debate on company tax cuts just before question time, and it was interesting that Senator Hanson was one of the only contributors in the limited time that we had before question time intervened. The reason she wanted to get on the record is that she is still desperately pleading with this government to do a deal with her and get these company tax cuts through.

The notorious flip-flopper from Queensland is at it again. I think we're up to position No. 13 from her on company tax cuts. Her current position is that she's not going to support them, but, just as you can be sure that the government is going to change its policy again on energy, you can be absolutely sure that, by the end of the day, Senator Hanson will have changed her position yet again on company tax cuts. She even used her question to Senator Cormann in question time today as another attempt to put a deal to the government. She was indicating very clearly the kinds of things that she would be looking for from the government if they want to get her vote and the vote of her colleague on company tax cuts. Her questions were about the banking royal commission and what this government is prepared to do to step in and better help the victims of the banking scandals.

If this government actually cared about the victims of the scandals in the banking royal commission, it would have the decency to join Labor and come forward with a compensation package. But instead they're having to have their arms twisted into it by a dirty deal with Senator Hanson. Even apart from her question to Senator Cormann, in Senator Hanson's speech before question time today, she actually outlined in crystal clear terms the terms of any deal she would be prepared to make with the government to see it get its company tax cuts through. She outlined that what she is looking for from this government is changes to policy on the banking royal commission. She wants to see a reform to the tax rules for large gas projects and changes to ensure that gas licences are used. She wants to see more apprenticeships, ignoring the fact that she voted with the government to cut apprenticeships already. And the list went on and on and on. She used her speech to outline the terms of a deal that she would be prepared to make with this government about company tax cuts. Now, this isn't someone who opposes a deal on company tax cuts. This is someone who is using her speeches to the Senate to outline the very terms of a deal that she's prepared to do. I can't believe that anyone who ran in the Longman by-election would want to do a deal with this government, but it looks like Senator Hanson is up to her old tricks.

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

Thank you, Senator Watt. I remind you that the Senate was taking note of the answer given by Senator Payne to a question asked by Senator Bilyk. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Sterle be agreed to.

Question agreed to.