Senate debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Statements by Senators


1:05 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Many of the people in this building are probably preoccupied with the political soap opera happening around the place, but I'm sure the Australian public would be much keener if there was a continuing focus on what was supposed to be the big focus this week of the government, which was an attempt to bring down energy prices and to do so in a way which would be compliant with our obligations to also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, this government is focused on tearing itself apart whilst Australians continue to face significantly and unnecessarily excessive power prices.

Of course, all of the 16 different variations the government put forward in their so-called energy guarantee wouldn't have delivered the sort of price cuts to electricity costs that Australian households are keen on, and it certainly wouldn't have delivered anti-greenhouse emissions. So, in that sense, the fact that that whole plan is dead is of no great loss, because it wouldn't have delivered anything of value to the Australian community over the long term. In fact, it would have caused more harm. But it should not mean that the issue goes off the agenda.

The Greens have promoted and put forward workable solutions for significant reductions in energy prices for a number of years now. In the lead-up to the state election in Queensland, the Greens released a comprehensive package that was independently assessed by a well-known expert, Hugh Grant, and not only was it found to be effective and valid but, indeed, it would have delivered more cuts to households in terms of electricity prices than the policies put forward by either Labor or the Liberal National Party of Queensland. One Nation, as far as I know, didn't put forward a policy of any substance at all, which is pretty much what you could say about most of their issues.

It's pretty simple, really. The government managed to tear themselves apart after they finished tying themselves in knots around this issue, but it's actually pretty simple if you know what you stand for and if you're about putting the community first rather than corporations. We want an energy system that runs for people, not for profit. The measures the Greens put forward would save people up to $600 a year on their electricity bill. A simple, clear thing we can do to reduce power prices is to roll back privatisation. The chances of the Liberals or Labor doing this are minimal, because they both take money from the energy companies, who are making record profits with their price gouging. Families are being driven to the brink while corporations make record profits and CEOs get fat bonuses. This is not just rhetoric. Last year 21,000 households in Queensland alone, not counting the rest of the country, had their power cut off because they couldn't afford to pay their electricity bill. After food and water and having secure housing, electricity is pretty much the next thing in line when it comes to the essentials of life today. I think we would all agree that it is an essential service to ensure that people have reliable electricity and affordable electricity. So, it should not be an area where corporations make massive profits while people pay soaring bills to fund those profits.

Removing climate change targets won't bring down power prices; stopping gouging by private corporations will. In Queensland, Labor privatised the retail arm of the electricity sector in 2006 and prices have nearly doubled. Those energy corporations are making record profits whilst tens of thousands of Queensland households have had their power cut off. Pensioners and unemployed people are skipping meals to make sure they can keep the lights on and the heating on.

We need to transition government-owned energy corporations back to being public authorities that are putting people first, not profit-making. Even those parts of the sector in Queensland that weren't privatised, as in other states, were nonetheless corporatised. Up to 40 per cent of our power bills in Queensland is profits made by state-government-owned energy companies and private corporations. Last financial year, the state government made $3 billion from the profits made by state-owned energy companies, money that came straight from the pockets of Queensland households. Origin and AGL made over $7 billion in profits. If they come back not just under government ownership but under government control and regulation, and are regulated in a way that doesn't allow billions of dollars—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is in government ownership.

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If you'd listen to me, Senator, as a Queenslander you would understand that reversing privatisation is essential but not sufficient.

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

Order! Please address your comments through the chair—

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

You also need to eliminate corporatisation and stop governments being able to direct their government-owned corporations to gouge the public. Make government responsible and be able to regulate prices to ensure that there are not massive profits being made out of the pockets of Queensland households. It's pretty simple. It might be a pretty old-fashioned sort of thing, but you like to portray yourself as an old-fashioned guy, Senator, so take up some old-fashioned ideas—

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

Senator Bartlett, please direct your comments through the chair, not directly to another senator.

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is in the power of governments to do something about it. Because both Liberal and Labor are so caught up still in the neo-liberal agenda of putting profits first, in letting market forces deliver supposed benefits to the community, they can't see that there are other approaches that will work.

This is the approach that the Greens put forward, and it is an approach that independent energy analysts have said will deliver. Alongside rolling back privatisation, having public ownership, having government control, and having a long-term legislative objective to require prices to be set in a way that doesn't allow price gouging, we can also invest in renewable energy. Again, every independent observer who's not an ideological warrior will recognise and say that expanding renewable energy is the way to reduce power prices. Killing the renewable energy industry, as this government wants to do, and funding coal-power generation won't push down prices; it will push prices up. It will not deliver jobs and it will not, of course, deliver the sorts of emissions reductions that every independent scientific analyst recognises we urgently need to deliver. The economic harm, let alone the environmental harm, from continuing to allow runaway climate change, because of a lack of political will to reduce emissions, will hit all of us and it will, of course, hit poorest households hardest.

We can invest in continuing to roll out renewable energy generation, which is creating jobs in regional and rural parts of the country, including in Queensland. The proposals the Queensland Greens put forward of investing adequately in renewable energy generation would not only reduce prices but also create up to 5,500 full-time jobs in design and construction every year for five years. That doesn't include operation and maintenance jobs, which would be additional and ongoing beyond that. That's if you had the political will to fund activities that will not only generate jobs but also reduce electricity prices. Instead this government wants to give those gouging corporations more tax cuts. Thankfully, at least today the Senate managed to roll back that effort to give back even more money to companies already making record profits while households dealing with energy prices, which this government is now doing absolutely nothing about, face continuing wage stagnation and job insecurity. That is the focus for the Greens. That is the approach we will continue to put forward leading up to this federal election, whenever it might be called.