Senate debates

Thursday, 23 August 2018



4:25 pm

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

At the request of Senator Collins, I move:

That the Senate:

(a) notes Government policy inaction is driving up electricity prices, and abandoning the National Energy Guarantee, as the Government has done this week, is only the latest in a long line of government failure to deliver national energy policy;

(b) observes that the Government refuses to act, citing any and all excuse to delay, when everyone knows it is internal Coalition division and the weakness of the Prime Minister that are really to blame; and

(c) recognises that Australians deserve real leadership on energy, and it is clearer every day that they will not get it from this Coalition Government.

This motion is about energy policy in Australia, and what we've seen this week is disgraceful behaviour by a government which was elected by Australians to provide stable government and to provide Australians with hope. What we've seen over the last couple of weeks is nothing but disarray and rabble, and now we don't really even know who the Prime Minister is. At the heart of this is disagreement, as best we know, around energy policy.

It was absolutely disgraceful to see what happened in our parliament today. We had the House of Representatives, the house of government, shut down by a Prime Minister so desperate to hold on to his own job, so desperate to not have a vote moved against him and so desperate to avoid questions from the opposition at question time. We saw democracy in the House of Representatives shut down today by a government too scared of the opposition and too scared of itself and by a Prime Minister so desperate that he put his own interests above the interests of Australians, who, in good faith, elected him and others in here to be leaders. I'm not even sure what the count is: Is it seven ministers who've resigned? Is it eight? Who knows how many ministers have resigned. Question time in here was a debacle. I think we had three government ministers left, and they had to rely on their junior partners to help them out at question time. Every Australian will be absolutely disgusted with the way this government has behaved in their name. And for what? Because they couldn't get themselves to agree on energy policy.

What we are now seeing is that this Liberal Party is not the Liberal Party of Mr Menzies, who sought to govern for the middle centre of Australians; it's a Liberal Party in which a small minority of their backbenchers have absolutely pulled to the extreme Right. We see them cuddling up to people like Senator Hanson over and over again. We hear very little of the voice of moderation, which is still in the Liberal Party—it's pretty quiet at the moment, but it's still there. They've allowed themselves be to taken over by these far Right Tea Party supporters. We've seen that over and over again, firstly under Prime Minister Abbott and now under Prime Minister—well, is he the Prime Minister? who knows—Turnbull.

Mr Turnbull himself has abandoned all the things he stood for. He once said he would cross the floor over energy policy. Where's that Mr Turnbull gone? Who is the real Mr Turnbull? I don't know and I'm sure Australian voters have no idea as well. He was absolutely committed to good energy policy in this country, and today, Thursday of the second sitting week, we don't have an energy policy anymore. We have nothing. Mr Turnbull, who may or may not be the Australian Prime Minister, as I speak, has abandoned all pretext of a genuine commitment to solving Australia's energy crisis. We do hear the government go on and on about energy prices, and yet when they absolutely had the opportunity to do something about energy prices, not only did they squib it but they wrecked themselves as a government. They have left this country with a government that simply is not there anymore. Eight ministers resigned. We have a Prime Minister who is absolutely under threat and who said in the media today that if there's a spill he won't run. We've got a government that is so inwardly focused that it's just ignoring what it should be doing—that is, providing good and stable government not only to those Australians who voted for the coalition but to all Australians. We've seen them absolutely abandon that today, in particular by shutting down the House of Representatives—simply closing up the shop.

It comes down to the fact that Mr Turnbull and others in his government are not focused on energy prices. They couldn't care less, really, about energy prices, because, despite them talking the talk, they have not been able to walk the walk. They are desperately clinging on to their jobs—in particular Mr Turnbull, who is maybe still the Prime Minister; who knows?—rather than focussing on the future prosperity of Australians. It is a disgrace, and they will be held accountable because Australia has a solid democracy—despite what we have seen here today: a conservative government shutting down the House of Representatives. They will be finished at the ballot box, as they should be.

At every step of the way, Labor has been willing to work with the government to produce a genuine solution to the energy crisis. We have sucked up some pretty unpalatable proposals from those opposite. Those proposals wouldn't be what we would put in place if we were in government, but, in order to provide relief to Australians, we have been genuinely committed to trying to find a solution. Earlier this week, what did we see Mr Turnbull do? He tried to somehow say it was Labor's fault. He could not get all of his cabinet and members to vote on the energy policy, so he somehow said it was our fault. I don't know how Mr Turnbull—I'm sure he can count; he's certainly been counting this week in the party room—thought that if you delivered some of your government members and the others crossed the floor to join the Labor members that equalled a majority. That doesn't equal a majority. I think Mr Turnbull knows that, but nevertheless, there he was out in the media earlier in the week somehow trying to make it our responsibility.

I have heard Mr Mark Butler, our opposition environment and energy spokesperson, say over and over again that Labor is ready and willing to work with the government. We were willing to negotiate on an emissions intensity scheme. We didn't like it, but we were willing to negotiate on it. We saw another failed Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, kill that off. Wherever we go in this murky, swirling mess of a former government, Mr Abbott seems to be at the heart of all of the issues.

We were willing to work on chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel's clean energy target. How those opposite agonised over that! We had the report. We kept waiting, waiting, waiting and waiting, while, again, presumably, Mr Abbott, another failed Prime Minister, and others tore that apart page by page, shred by shred until it just disappeared up in smoke. Meanwhile, out in voter land, Australians that I talk to and voters that I speak to in the seat of Pearce, held by, for the moment, Mr Christian Porter, tell me that energy prices are a problem. Yet Mr Porter, a cabinet member, has just turned his back on those voters in Pearce. He's not willing to look after them at all. You'd think he would, because he doesn't hold the seat by too many votes. That margin is 3.6 per cent. That's all it's going take to change that seat to Labor—3.6 per cent—and he's turned his back on the voters in the seat of Pearce because he, too, is interested in his own job. I'm not sure who Mr Porter backed. We hear he initially backed Mr Turnbull, but I suspect that he, as a person with ambition, has gone somewhere else now.

But now we have any number of candidates for Prime Minister. I thought they could count over there. The more candidates you have in the ring, the more you split the vote. I'm sure the bean counters on the other side would know that. Ms Bishop, I understand, has put her name up. Mr Dutton has put his name up, although allegedly there's a question over his eligibility to even be in this place. And there is Mr Morrison. So, at this point we have three people who want to be the Prime Minister. I'm not sure whether Mr Turnbull wants to be the Prime Minister. He said today in the media that he wants to be the Prime Minister only if there's no spill against him. So, I don't know: have you got three candidates? Have you got four candidates? What on earth is going on? We don't know, because the House of Representatives was shut down today by the government.

This is all because they couldn't reach agreement on an energy policy. I mean, how hard is that? We've heard Mr Turnbull talk about stable government. Well, from the day he took up occupation in the Lodge, I've not seen stable government. I can't even remember now—I think it was Mr Abbott, or maybe Mr Turnbull—but one of them said, 'Good government starts tomorrow.' Well, we've never seen good government from those opposite, because there are people within the Turnbull government seeking to wreck it, to pull it apart, because somehow they don't want Australians to have cheaper power.

We were willing to work with Mr Turnbull on the NEG—the NEG's been egged, as I say—the National Energy Guarantee. But, under pressure from those in the coalition party room who oppose renewables, and without even talking to Labor—even though Mr Turnbull has said over and over again, 'We need Labor on this'—Mr Turnbull decided to abandon that policy, to just junk it. It was there one minute, gone the next. We saw it start to unravel before the cabinet dinner last Sunday. It's a policy that just a few days ago he said was 'essential' to solving the energy crisis. How can we believe anything that's said? In Mr Turnbull we have a Prime Minister—maybe we do, maybe we don't—who earlier said that the NEG was essential to solving the energy crisis. Yet I think by Tuesday or Wednesday—I can't remember when it was, now—it was junked, off the table.

You can't go from 'essential' one day to junked the next day. Where's the truth in that? Did he think it wasn't essential? That's what voters would conclude—that Mr Turnbull's heart was not in the National Energy Guarantee—because you cannot go from saying, 'This is essential' to junking it. The only way you do that is if somewhere in the middle of it your job becomes more important than the jobs, the livelihoods and the wellbeing of Australians. That's the only way you can move from a policy you described as 'essential' to junking it because at some point you say: 'Uh-oh: the backbenchers, led by Mr Abbott and others, are ganging up on me; they're threatening to cross the floor. I'd better toss this policy aside, because I'm really only interested in being the Prime Minister of this country.' There is no other conclusion that you can draw. That's the only way you get from 'essential' to a junked policy: because the self-interest of Mr Turnbull took over, and he decided that he was way more important than every other Australian voter and that he had to keep his job.

I've heard the pleas of business groups, of industry and experts. They've all been really clear: renewable energy is our future. Renewable energy is the only way forward for Australia's energy system. Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new energy. It will create thousands of jobs, and it will drive down pollution. And there's a very stark choice now for Australian voters. The only way we are going to get to a decent energy future is under a Labor government, because the Turnbull government has shown itself to be completely unable to deliver any energy policy—we've seen them junked and junked and junked. The only way to that future now is through Labor, because we have been consistent, despite the criticism we've copped from those opposite about renewables. Remember the photos in the paper—one question time, it was, in the House of Representatives—of Mr Morrison and others, passing a lump of coal to one another like it was a gift: 'This is our future. Coal is our future.' Remember that? I think it was Senator Cormann who said, 'Coal is good.' These people have no idea about renewable energy.

Just a day or two ago, I heard some of those who have forced Mr Turnbull into this position—where he has put his job as Prime Minister above the interests of all Australians—talking about wanting coal-fired power stations. They wanted Hazelwood brought back. This is not a government who's looking to the future. Well, it's not even a government; you're not a government if you close down the House of Representatives and deny democracy by denying the opposition the opportunity to ask questions at question time. That's not a government. That's just a desperate action by those who want to keep their jobs.

We know that, under Mr Turnbull, the NEG's 26 per cent emissions target was already inadequate to fix this energy crisis. I saw the Leader of The Nationals on Sky TV trying to explain the NEG, trying to explain the 26 per cent, saying it was adequate and we would meet our Paris targets. It was like a Clark & Dawe sketch, actually. It must have been humiliating for him, because he wasn't on his game. He didn't know what was going on. He did not understand the policy. Yet it's his party, The Nationals, who are also heaping on pressure about coal-fired power stations as part of our future. It's also the Nats. But their own leader was unable to really explain what it all meant. He just looked like he was in a Clark & Dawe sketch.

Labor's plan to transition Australia has a target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 at its core. Those opposite have criticised us for that, but we have stood by it and stood by it and stood by it. So the only energy policy there is at the moment is the one that Labor has had for quite a number of years. We believe that it will drive investment in renewable energy, including in firming technologies like batteries and pumped hydro. We believe it will create 30,000 new renewable energy jobs. We believe it will put downward pressure on power prices for households and businesses. We believe—we know—it will deliver real action to tackle climate change.

Labor have tried over and over again to work with the government. But now we don't really have a government; we have a collection of individuals in disarray. But it is very clear that Mr Turnbull, if he is still Prime Minister as I speak, can't provide leadership because he is more interested in keeping his job today than in putting the interests of Australians facing high energy costs before his own interests. The choice is very clear. Labor is for renewables and lower prices, and the Liberals are for more coal and higher prices. Even that statement no longer really rings true, because we don't really have a government anymore. We have had a mass resignation of ministers. We have a cobbled-together group in the Senate. I do hope they're getting higher duties allowances, because they have massive workloads all divided up between them. All of them are there doing all of the work of the government in the Senate, just the three or four of them. Clearly, we have no government. We certainly are not clear on who the Prime Minister is. It is time to face the Australian electors through the ballot box to put to bed this unending spectacle of not being able to deliver an energy policy. Only Labor will drive down costs, and only Labor has renewables in mind. It's only Labor who has a plan.

4:45 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to stand here today to put on the record the very strong energy policy of this government. I acknowledge the kind words of the senator opposite about the work that has been done by those on this side today. We appreciate her kind words. Unfortunately, when it comes to energy policy, I come from the state of South Australia, and there is no state in Australia that has experienced the impact of reckless renewable policy, such as not considering renewable policy in terms of its transition, like South Australia.

I don't think there's anybody who has a problem with moving to a clean energy future. There are many, many wonderful innovations that have taken place in the Australian marketplace over recent years through an absolute, committed desire for us to have a clean energy future. Like when you want to change any substantial policy—such as going from one where we've been almost entirely reliant on fossil fuels for many, many years into a renewable energy future—there is a transition that needs to take place. Part of that transition sometimes is going to require certain mechanisms in the marketplace that will enable that transition to take place without having significant consequences and impacts on the people who rely every day on power.

The fundamental bottom line here has been that our hell-bent pursuit of renewables, without actually taking into consideration the need for dispatchability, saw South Australia suffer the inevitable consequences of this reckless ideology over the past couple of years. I suppose the only saving grace when our major blackout occurred in South Australia was that it didn't occur either in the absolute coldest days of winter or in the height of summer. It actually happened in September, so some small grace or intervention of God probably prevented what was a very, very serious issue and event in South Australia from being a whole heap worse than it actually was.

Some of our communities in South Australia were without power for four days. When you consider not just the economic impact but the inconvenience of that, we dodged an extraordinary bullet in terms of the energy services and the human impact. That could have been quite serious had we had an accident, because our telecommunications towers were down. We had no way of being able to communicate with an ambulance that was required to go out to an incident or to somebody who was in a serious or critical condition. We had no way of being able to communicate, because we rely so heavily on mobile phones these days, particularly in rural and regional areas. We were very, very lucky to have escaped, by the skin of our teeth, from something that could have been much, much worse than it was.

The absolute pursuit of an ideological renewable policy, without thinking about the transition and the necessity of storage and dispatchability through the transition process, has seen a number of things occur. Obviously, as I said, there is the reliability of the generation of the power that we have seen in South Australia. The fact is that, because we now have more than 50 per cent of our energy generated in South Australia through renewables, during very hot or high-demand periods, if the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing, we find ourselves in South Australia with no power. This is unacceptable in the 21st century in a First World country.

Only a few years ago, Australia would brag that we had entirely reliable power. You didn't have to have three gin and tonics before you opened your power bill. I have to say, these days, when the envelope turns up with the little blue square in the corner that says 'AGL', it puts the fear of God into most of us, because when you open that bill you know it's going to have an impact. I'm one of the lucky people in that I have a salary that allows me to be able to pay those bills, but there are a lot of people in our community who can't. What we have as a result of the recklessness of this pursuit of renewables without considering how we are going to get there is a community in Australia, particularly in my home state of South Australia, who can no longer rely on affordability and reliability of power.

I like to think the power market or the power situation in Australia is a bit like a tripod. You've got three legs: you've got the leg of affordability, you've got the leg of reliability, and, I will admit and concede, we have an international obligation to make sure that we look after the planet into the future and leave it in at least as good a condition as we found it for the next generation and those that follow. But you can't have one leg without the others, because, for all of us who have ever seen a tripod with one of its legs cut off, you can be absolutely guaranteed it will fall over. That's exactly what we saw in South Australia. We saw a tripod that was completely reliant on standing on the leg of meeting some renewable energy target without considering the two other legs of affordability and reliability of power.

We've now ended up in a situation in Australia where the people of Australia have become so impacted by the price and the cost of their energy that they are no longer focusing on the ideological pursuit of renewables; they're looking at being able to afford to pay their power bills. For this reason it is absolutely essential that we, as a government, focus on reducing people's power bills. I have heard the contributions from those opposite who, for some reason, seem to think that an increase in the amount of renewables is somehow going to decrease the price of power. I'm not quite sure which scientist you got to give you that piece of information, given that so far the pursuit of renewables has seen nothing but increases in the price of power. One would suggest that any move to increase the renewable energy targets in this country, based on absolutely empirical evidence and experience, would see the price of power go up. What we need to do is put a circuit breaker—pardon the pun—into energy policy. We have to focus on the people who are being impacted by higher prices for their energy.

The Turnbull government have put a series of measures in place. We saw this government intervene in the gas market to make sure that there was sufficient gas available in the Australian market so that we would see a reduction in the price of energy, and that's exactly what happened. We're already starting to see a slight decrease in people's energy prices in Australia. But, equally, we had to look at a suite of other measures. There was a report from the ACCC, and they put forward a series of recommendations. It is a matter of public record that we were unable to get the full support of all of those on this side, in the coalition government, but equally, despite the fact that we had an energy policy that was going to deliver, we never at any time received support from the opposition to get the energy policy through and address all of the matters that were before us in terms of reliability and affordability, and working towards delivering an energy policy that would see our responsibility, in terms of emissions, being achieved.

I'd also like to put on the record that, whilst Australia has, over a very long time, had a very responsible approach towards energy policy, we are, to a large extent, a bit player in this market. So there has to be some support for the argument that we probably should be putting a bit of a break, perhaps, on our ideological pursuit of a renewable energy future, when the rest of the carbon emitting world is not pursuing that. We cannot drive Australia out of the world market by driving up energy prices to such an extent that we become totally and utterly overexposed in energy and non-competitive in the global marketplace.

We already saw those opposite throw out our corporate tax cuts that were going to allow our companies with over $50 million in turnover to be globally competitive. It is quite ironical that there seems to be a complete disconnect in the minds of those opposite when they come up with policy. They say that the fact that a company happens to be big means that it's somehow bad. I have to say bigger companies actually employ people. I don't know too many companies with turnovers over $50 million that don't have a significant workforce, and those people actually have jobs. They have pay packets that are paid by these companies so that they can live the lifestyle that we like to live in Australia. So you should not penalise our large companies and put them at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace simply because ideologically you don't want to support something that the government is putting forward.

The hypocrisy and the irony is that so much of the policy that was put forward by the coalition in relation to corporate tax cuts was actually the very same policy position that was espoused by those opposite in previous times. The Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, the shadow Treasurer and so many of those opposite have actually said that the best way to move the economy along, to stimulate the economy, to drive people's wages up and to make sure that there are more jobs available is to reduce the tax burden on our corporate sector so that they will have the money and the incentive to employ more people. But once again we saw that those opposite would rather blow up the bus. The government put through a sensible policy that was going to have a major impact on the Australian economy for the better. Those opposite would rather throw that out.

It is interesting also when you sit down and have a look at some companies in Australia who turn over more than $50 million. It's not just the big banks. There are an awful lot of companies that turn over more than $50 million. Take Qantas for an example. We all know where Qantas started. It started as a company in Longreach a long, long time ago, and look at what it is today. When you look at Qantas, they have 3,000 suppliers that supply them with all sorts of things to get their aircraft in the air and to look after the passengers once they're on board, whether it be the person that provides some of the food, the person who provides the cleaning products or the person who provides some of the maintenance activities. There are so many companies. Three thousand companies support Qantas getting its planes in the air, and those 3,000 businesses are largely small businesses. They're certainly all small and medium sized businesses, and every single one of those will be put at a disadvantage simply because those opposite would rather throw out a good policy than see the coalition government actually be able to deliver for the people of Australia. So once again this really is a case of: shame on you.

In terms of energy policy, we had the opportunity to work together to deliver good energy policy, but it was decided that we were going to have this ideological pursuit at renewables at all costs and that we would put false information out into the marketplace in support of this alternative policy of reducing emissions by 45 per cent and having a 50 per cent renewable energy target. If that is not putting a wrecking ball through our economy, I don't know what is.

We need to sit down as a parliament and decide that we need to pass policies that are in the best interests of the people of Australia. We should put politicking aside because of the people who stand to suffer from us not being able to move forward with sensible policies when it comes to energy, corporate tax cuts, managing the economy and keeping the budget in check. There are so many things that we could do and that the people of Australia elected us to this place to do that we aren't doing. If we sat down and put the people of Australia before our own petty political self-interest, I'm sure that we could make a huge amount of difference.

In concluding my remarks today on energy policy, I say: just spare a thought today for the hundreds and possibly thousands of farmers who have been impacted massively by the drought that is affecting much of Australia. These people have run the country for so many years. The agricultural sector has been the backbone of the Australian economy for so many years. Things come and things go, but the agricultural sector is still there. And we have been very keen in working with our agricultural sector to make sure that they are in the best possible place to be able to provide the economic benefits that they can generate for the rest of Australia. But they are under so much pressure at the moment because of drought and the impact of drought. Don't forget what the impact of their energy bills is on them at a time when they can least afford or cope with it.

There are so many impacts of bad energy policy that are negative and so many good impacts of good energy policy. I would call on this chamber to not play politics with something as serious as the price and reliability of Australian power. Let's sensibly, systematically and methodically work our way towards being able to deliver a clean energy future that all Australians can afford, a clean energy future that's not going to mean that pensioners are too scared to turn their heating on in winter and that they have to crawl underneath a blanket to keep warm. Let's make sure that we don't expose the weak and vulnerable in our communities, who can't afford to turn their air conditioners on in summer, and make them swelter in their houses and put them at great risk because we don't have energy policy that is primarily focused on reducing the price of power. Let's not be so ideologically obsessed with talking about having to have renewables as the only source of power. Some amazing technologies have been delivered that can use clean coal. You should remain agnostic to the source of your energy. If you want to focus on emissions, that's just fine, but don't then demand that somehow you can also put in place a ruling about where the generation of those emissions is coming from.

I think the Turnbull coalition government has got a very proud record when it comes to energy policy. Obviously, we would have liked to have seen energy policy passed in recent times so that we could have given certainty and comfort to the millions of Australians who are currently struggling under high energy bills. But, when those opposite come in here and spout the fact that a renewable energy target of 50 per cent is going to reduce energy bills, I'd like to say, 'Show us your evidence,' because, if history is anything to go by, the pursuit of even higher renewable energy targets and even higher emissions targets can only do one thing to the price of power—that is, make it go up.

In conclusion, during the six years of the Labor government, electricity prices doubled. We are doing everything we can possibly do to bring electricity prices down. I call on those opposite to work with us as a government to make sure that we continue to do so for the sake of all Australians.

5:03 pm

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

The Senate is debating a motion regarding electricity prices and the massive failure of this government to deliver not just on that policy but on any sort of policy when it comes to energy in general. On the government side of things on a day like today, I know somebody's got to roll up and go through the motions. So, to that extent, I have some sympathy for Senator Ruston in having drawn the short straw to try to defend the indefensible when it comes to the government in this week of all weeks. We might have forgotten by the time we got to Thursday, but the week started out with the disintegration of this government's so-called National Energy Guarantee, a policy they'd spent months and months pulling together. They'd had meetings with all the state and territory ministers, tonnes and tonnes of backbench consultation, continual refinements and changes—almost all of them driven by the climate-denying right-wing rump in the coalition that's become much, much larger than a rump in the most recent few days.

I'd have to say, despite getting the short straw and soldiering bravely on, it's a bit much to hear accusations that, somehow or other, it's this side of the chamber that has a problem with an ideological approach to energy or a problem with politicking, when the ideological warriors and climate change deniers and Turnbull haters in the Liberal-National coalition have just shredded any credibility this government had left when it comes to energy policy. The ideological approach that has infected energy policy in this country, particularly in recent times, has been from those who insist on making energy prices higher by pushing more public money into coal, into fossil fuel, into outdated, last-century technology. I'd be quite happy to deliver a bunch of reports to Senator Ruston about the fact that the expansion of renewable energy clearly will drive down prices in the future. In fact, if you look at the modelling that people have done to try to justify some of the figures around the government's National Energy Guarantee—whichever version of it you want to look at—most of the cost savings you can derive from it are based on the inbuilt savings that were already going to happen because of the further expansion of renewable energy under renewable energy targets in existence around this country at the moment. Let's not forget: it was the Abbott government that basically tried to destroy the Renewable Energy Target completely, purely on ideological grounds. If you want to talk about an ideological and divisive approach to energy, I suggest it is any policy approach that has come from the likes of Tony Abbott—every time, all the time, regardless of the public interest. That is clearly what we've seen from the coalition.

I spoke at some length just yesterday in this place about this government's failures when it comes to energy prices—its failure to deliver any policy, its failure to do anything effective to reduce energy prices and its obvious failure to meet its obligations to reduce greenhouse emissions. Alongside that, I outlined the Greens policies that we've been putting forward for a number of years now, properly costed and independently assessed by the experts, who are saying renewable energy will deliver cheaper power, reduce emissions and deliver jobs. But it's a matter of political will and it's a matter of listening to the science and the economics of it. This government has been the rolled gold standard when it comes to massive failures on energy policy. Let's not forget, it's not just about this government's own internal failure to agree with itself on anything, let alone energy policy, but about the consequences it is having for people in the real world: the significant problems people are having with soaring energy costs, the significant problems small business is having with soaring electricity costs, the huge numbers of people who are having their power cut off because they can't afford to pay their electricity bill. It is a core obligation of government in the modern age to deliver reliable, affordable electricity, and it is something, when it comes to affordability and to emissions, that this government has failed on.

I feel it's necessary to say that lost opportunities when it comes to energy policy are not unique to this government. In fact, what we've seen going right back to the Hawke era, when Labor first embraced the neoliberal approach to economics, has been missed opportunity after missed opportunity to modernise electricity generation and fast-track our shift to a renewable energy future that is affordable and reliable. The Hawke government first talked in the late 1980s of acting to reduce climate emissions, acting to transform our energy generation into the future. But it failed to deliver, repeatedly. Of course, whilst there have been individual policies here and there that have helped somewhat, when you're looking at trying to transform things, rather than changing incremental bits here and there to look like you're moving things forward, all you can look at is an overall failure to deliver, from both Labor and the Liberals. It is impossible not to assume that that is in significant part because of the very large financial contributions the fossil fuel lobby continues to make to both the Labor Party and the Liberal and National parties. Alongside that we've seen a massive disinformation campaign from the fossil fuel lobby worldwide to try to muddy the waters and fund the sceptics and denialists that have basically led to all of those missed opportunities.

There is, of course, a significant exception to that—that is, the world-class carbon-pricing scheme that was adopted under the Gillard government. I give them credit for that, but the obvious point that needs to be made is it took the election of a member of the Australian Greens to the House of Representatives to put political pressure directly on the Labor government of the day and to feed that into the proper and thorough scientifically based, economically sound process that developed that world-class system and all the infrastructure around it. The Renewable Energy Agency still to this day is delivering positive outcomes for jobs, renewable energy expansion and cheaper electricity, particularly in regional areas. As I said in this place yesterday, there was also the problem of the obsession, particularly of the Liberal and National parties but to a significant degree the Labor Party as well at the state level, with privatising significant parts of our electricity sector and corporatising those parts that were still publicly owned.

I spoke yesterday about the massive gouging by energy companies when it comes to electricity bills. People are paying high electricity bills at a time when the retailers, not even the generators, are making massive profits and giving huge bonuses to their executives. This isn't an area where we should have profiteering; this is an area where we should be ensuring an essential service is delivered at the cheapest possible rate in an affordable way that is not going to cause wider flow-on damage to our economy, community, society and environment by failing to address greenhouse emissions at the same time.

These opportunities have been lost year after year, government after government, with the exception of that brief significant achievement during the Gillard era, and some bits like the Renewable Energy Target, which came in under the Howard government, so I'll give some credit there, despite Mr Abbott's attempt to wreck that. He wrecked the very effective carbon pricing regime just as it was about to kick into full swing, but he didn't manage to succeed in wrecking and destroying the Renewable Energy Agency. Ironically, now and then they try to point to some of the achievements of the Renewable Energy Agency and take credit for what it is still managing to achieve, even though it's something this Liberal-National government put every effort into destroying.

But significant components of those achievements, and the significant transformation we had there briefly until the Abbott wreckers moved in, came about when a member of the Australian Greens was elected to the House of Representatives. It's a simple example of the transformative effect you can get by electing more Greens to the House of Representatives and by shifting away from the two—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


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

From Labor and from Liberal, Senator Macdonald, the two parties who have failed in this area consistently over many decades. Part of the instability in the current government and the previous Labor government has been because their complete wedding to the neoliberal economic ideology poisoned their approach and meant they put the market before the community, time after time. With essential services you have to put people and the community first. As neoliberalism has become more and more discredited, and as free market fundamentalism has been shown to deliver more and more harm, suffering and inequality in our communities, they have been unable to agree internally on new approaches. We've seen that play out—alongside good, old-fashioned hatreds, which are part of the human condition and are not unique to any part of the political spectrum—and it's a key reason why we've seen such political instability from both of the traditional parties, the parties of the political establishment, over the last 10 years. And that has led to policy failures.

So, this motion, which I support and acknowledge the validity of, nonetheless does need to be put in the wider context of the wider failure of our entire political system, going back many decades. This is just one example amongst many of how our political system is broken and how it needs transformative change—not just a bit of tinkering at the edges, a new person in the driver's seat or a slight change of management; it needs a complete overhaul. The motion does recognise that Australians deserve real leadership on energy and it is clear, every day, that they will not get it from this coalition government. The big question mark on this, and many other issues, is whether they will get it from a Labor government. The story, time and time again over many decades, is that the Labor Party will say one thing in opposition and do a different thing in government. An extra reason you need more people from other parties in the House of Representatives is to keep them honest. If Labor does get into government, I'd have to say they could not possibly do a worse job than the current mob. I think most Australians would agree with that after today, of all days. But just going from somebody terrible to somebody not quite so terrible is not really good enough, and it's part of the reason Australians are disillusioned with the political system in its entirety.

We need to make the change as significant and transformative as possible, and part of the commitment and role of the Greens in doing that is to get major change. This motion talks about real leadership on energy. I would like to see that meaning leadership that takes us in a brand-new direction away from the failed neoliberal and market-first approach that we've seen from both Labor and Liberal over many years now. That's the sort of transformation we need, but, as a bottom line, the first clear thing we need is any sort of coherent energy policy at all from a government so that investment and business can have some certainty and those of us who want to push for better policies can have a framework within which to operate—rather than just trying to engage with incoherent chaos, which is all we are seeing from the Liberal-National Party at the moment.

I don't think anyone holds terribly much hope that we'll see improvement regardless of who ends up in the Prime Minister's seat after tomorrow. Energy policy is just one of the many failings of this government, and its failure is not a political failure on its own; its failure is in how it has failed the community and how it has failed the public—those rising energy costs and the impact they are having on so many people. And there is the inability to recognise the new approach that could be taken, which quite a number of people—plenty of independent people outside the Greens, including a wide range of economists and energy experts—have all put forward. It has to be based on a clean-energy future and it has to be based on government recognising it has a significant role to play—not just trying to leave to it the market or a privatised or corporatised system. This needs to be significantly changed. That's the sort of leadership we need on energy.

5:18 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Three years ago, the Prime Minister was greeted by laughter when he told the Liberal conference there are no factions in the Liberal party. In some ways, what he said then is true today: there are no longer merely factions; there are factions of subfactions and there is the kind of vicious, internecine conflict that would put the Bolsheviks to shame. I think Australians are genuinely embarrassed about the brawl that is playing out in the open, and they have a right to be angry—angry about the shameless, naked ambition and the disregard for the public that has been shown by many in the Liberals' party room. There has been a lot of drama, and it's exhausting.

It feels a little bit strange to be having a debate late on Thursday afternoon about energy policy after all that has gone on. But that is exactly what we ought to be talking about and that is exactly what has brought us to this point, because it is climate change that defines the conflict in the Liberal Party and their inability to manage energy policy over the last five years. It is climate change that will continue to drive the coalition's inability to govern, and it is climate change that represents one of the most pressing policy challenges for our nation. Climate change lies at the heart of this whole thing, and that has been apparent for weeks. The government's failure to appreciate the seriousness of the climate change challenge underlies and underpins five years of policy failure in energy. It has been five years of total and absolute failure.

What has happened over the last couple of weeks is that all of that has bubbled to the surface. We can now actually see what has been going on. We can see who has been saying it, we can see who the deniers are and we can see that what they have been determined to do, year after year under Mr Abbott and under Mr Turnbull, is wreck any prospect of a meaningful response to climate change that deals coherently with the energy system. The discussion about the NEG in the coalition party room looks much less like a discussion or a negotiation and basically just looks like extortion. It has been absolutely extraordinary over the last couple of weeks. The member for Capricornia came out and explained to everybody that it was thanks to the rebels that the changes have been made. There was change after change to a policy that the Prime Minister himself had taken into COAG and had sought to negotiate with state premiers. Well, weren't they right? Why would they negotiate with this group of clowns? What a ludicrous failure to be able to deliver anything coherent whatsoever.

What became apparent over the last couple of weeks was that there was absolutely nothing the Prime Minister could do to appease the hard Right. There was nothing he could do. There are a lot of dissenters who actually have been unable to explain in any coherent way to the public what their objection to the current Prime Minister is in relation to energy. It is possible, knowing some of these people, that it's just a failure of comprehension. Most of them certainly seem unacquainted with the basic facts about the cost of new energy supply and the way that that might play out in the energy market over the coming years. The member for Hughes actually had to be corrected this morning on television, during a live interview, about what the coalition's energy policy is—or perhaps it might be better to say was.

You've got to suspect that nothing the Prime Minister could give them would stop them asking for more. He has given the deniers, the hard Right in their party, exactly what they demanded. Under the latest round of policy, there would not be a single new renewable project built for a decade. But it's not enough, is it? It's not enough for Mr Pasin, not enough for Mr Hastie, not enough for Mr Abbott and not enough for Mr Kelly—not enough at all. They don't want someone who has to put his principles aside in order to take no action on climate. They want someone whose principles demand that he take no action on climate change. They want a climate denier in the Lodge, and they will not stop until such a person is there. This is an absolute disgrace. It is an absolute betrayal of the interests of the Australian people.

These people are wreckers. They are ideologues of the worst kind. They are intent on sabotaging this country and its energy system because they insist on seeing climate change as part of the culture wars. They would prefer to fight on climate and battle on rather than deal with the facts and see climate change and energy policy as the serious policy challenge that it is. It is total economic vandalism. History will not look kindly on this government. It will not look kindly on this government and the boosters of this government outside the parliament. Their inability to provide a coherent response to climate change, integrated within energy policy, that will give the energy sector and the investors in that sector the certainty that they require to invest in the energy market is absolutely a dereliction of duty. It should disqualify this crowd from government for a generation.

There is evidence of climate change all around us. In New South Wales, 100 per cent of the state is in drought. We have bushfires raging in the middle of winter. The ice sheet in Greenland is breaking up. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is happening and that it is caused by mankind. Yet these people refuse to act.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Here in the chamber this evening, we've got Senator Macdonald, the failed preselection candidate from Queensland, who sits over there calling out over and over again—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

He is calling out his refusal to believe that Australia has any obligations whatsoever in relation to climate change.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Here he is. He continues to interject, because Senator Macdonald is one of the many people in the coalition party room who prefer not to believe the science. They prefer not to believe that climate change is happening, and they continue to refuse to accept our international obligation to act collectively with every other serious participant in the international system. They refuse to accept that obligation, because they are isolationists of the worst kind. The only possible way that climate change can be dealt with is if every nation takes steps to reduce our emissions and decarbonise our economy. That is the raw logic of international emissions reduction. Those people who sit over there and say that we have no obligations and that it makes no difference are simply wrong. When Australia was a holdout under John Howard, it made a huge difference in the way that the international community considered climate change, and when Australia, under a Labor government, committed to Kyoto and to climate action, it was truly significant. I was at the convention in Bali when that happened, and I can tell you that it made a huge difference in the way that other nations approached this.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Australia is a non-trivial actor in the international system, Senator Macdonald. You can talk our significance down. You can scoff and mock.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

I've given a lot of free rein at this stage today, Senator Macdonald, I have called you quietly to order three times. You have ignored me. I am now asking you to keep your comments to yourself and let Senator McAllister finish her contribution in silence.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia's contribution to climate change is significant, and our actions in the international community shape the way that the rest of the community responds to this. We are a middle power with a significant capacity to shape international decision-making. We are not the only decision-makers, but we live in a world where working together to deal with global problems is the only possible path forward. Those who would withdraw into isolationism ought to explain what other alternative mechanism they propose to deal with the consequences of human-driven climate change.

It is a problem that isn't going to go away for the coalition. I know that there are some members on the other side who recognise the necessity to act, but they are cowed into silence during the current debate. I notice that, whenever this issue comes up in this chamber, we don't hear from those members of the coalition who I know understand the significance of climate action. They sit quietly, because it has become socially and politically unacceptable in that crowd to deal with the realities of climate change. This is a huge problem, and the coalition will remain hopelessly riven along these lines. I can't see a situation where the climate deniers change their position. I don't know what the sensible people in that organisation are going to need to do to respond to that, and I don't know when they will respond.

But I can say this: there's no good outcome from the spill tomorrow, if one is indeed to occur. Who do people want? Do you want the Treasurer, who brought a lump of coal into parliament and laughed while he was handing it around; would you prefer the former Minister for Home Affairs, who walked out of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations; would you like the Deputy Prime Minister, who has aided and abetted former Prime Minister Abbott, and indeed Prime Minister Turnbull, through all that they have done; or would you prefer the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, who has sold out everything that he once believed in? The Prime Minister once said that he would never lead a party that didn't care as much about climate change as he did. Well, maybe that's true. The past few months have shown that he doesn't care about climate. He doesn't care about energy. He cares only about power and about himself.

5:29 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For those few people who might be listening to this debate late on a Thursday afternoon, what you've just heard is another typical lying Labor speech—a speech that's full of lies and inaccuracies. It's like the motion we're debating, which is in three parts, and the three parts are just lies. The senator who just spoke was inaccurate in just about everything she said. She calls those of us who have a sensible, commonsense view on electricity and on the climate 'deniers', as if a denier is worse than a paedophile. As I have said to her and to anyone else any number of times in this chamber, I am not a denier. I accept that the climate is changing. It always has changed. Once upon a time, the earth was covered in snow. Once upon a time, the centre of Australia was a rainforest. Clearly those two things don't occur these days. So, of course, the climate is changing. It's always been changing. I don't deny that, yet Labor Party and Greens politicians time after time get up in this chamber and accuse me of being a denier, as if that is, as I said, worse than being a paedophile. Well, I am not a denier. I accept that the climate is changing, and I think everyone on this side of the chamber does.

Then the previous speaker said, 'Senator Macdonald doesn't believe the science, doesn't understand the science, won't take the advice of scientists.' Well, I'm sorry for the senator who spoke before: I am relying on science. In fact, I'm relying on Australia's Chief Scientist, who told me at estimates, when I asked him about it, that if you shut Australia down completely it would have 'virtually no impact on the changing climate of the world'. Yet the Labor Party and the Greens continue to run around, continue to lie to young children, continue to try to propagandise all of our young people at schools that Australia is causing climate change. Yet Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. If carbon emissions are causing climate change, then what impact would cutting Australia's 1.2 per cent by 26 per cent, which the coalition is doing—or 40 per cent or 50 per cent or whatever it is that the Labor Party wants, or the 80 per cent that the Greens want, or even 100 per cent, which means you'd shut down every building, every factory, every office in Australia, and there'd be no cars; there'd be nothing in Australia—have on the changing climate of the world?

Don't ask me for the answer; ask the Chief Scientist. He will tell you, as he told me in estimates—and it's all there, recorded for everyone to read, and if you can't read you can watch the video exchange I had with the Chief Scientist. What impact would that have on the changing climate of the world? Virtually nothing. Yet the previous speaker from the Labor Party was trying to tell the Senate that I don't listen to science. Well, sorry, but I do. I listen to the Chief Scientist. Clearly she didn't—can I call her 'she', or have I got to call her 'they'? Clearly the previous speaker has not listened to the Chief Scientist, doesn't understand what it's all about, simply goes along with the propaganda and rhetoric that's churned out.

I'm pleased to say that there is some hope for the Labor Party, because, while most of them just follow the propaganda, I see that the CFMMEU have at last tried to bring some sense to the Labor Party when they warn the Queensland government that its ambitious 50 per cent renewable energy target is 'not realistic' and that Labor should instead back new clean coal power stations. That's the CFMMEU—not a union I usually instance in supporting any argument, although I do make the point that, when Michael O'Connor was head of the forestry section of the then CFMEU, he and I worked together against the Labor Party to save the forestry jobs of workers in Tasmania. I'm pleased that Mr O'Connor and his CFMMEU, as it is these days, is at last starting to stand up for mining workers and to realise that the party that the unions support, the Labor Party, doesn't care one iota about workers in the mining industry, about workers in my state of Queensland. I can understand why nobody from Queensland in the Labor Party cares about workers in the mining area, because all of their senators come from Brisbane. They wouldn't know what a mine looked like. They would barely know Central and North Queensland, where the mines are. Occasionally they blow in and out on a one-day trip, but they don't understand what it's all about. That's why they're so out of touch, even now, it seems, with the CFMMEU.

I read somewhere that I think the AWU is starting to come around to my way of thinking—that emissions from Australia have no impact on the changing climate of the world, again, agreeing with the Chief Scientist, Dr Finkel. They are starting to realise that these are jobs of the workers that the unions are supposedly looking after. I'm pleased to see there is a light starting to burn in the unions, who allegedly look after the workers, and I'm pleased to see that light is starting to show through. It'll take a long time to get through to the thick brains of members of the Labor Party, but at least it's a start. And, because the unions completely control the Labor Party and all of the senators from the Labor Party in this chamber, I'm hopeful about the action and leadership taken by the CFMMEU and I believe the AWU—and I think the ETU is also starting to raise doubts about the policy that the latte set in the Labor Party have been running for the last decade or so.

I keep asking any Labor Party senator, any Greens senator—no-one will ever answer my question—how anything we do in Australia, which emits 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, is going to make one iota of difference to the changing climate of the world. Criticise me all you like, but the Chief Scientist agrees with me that, no matter what we do in Australia, it will make not one iota of difference. Senator McAllister was saying, 'When John Howard started this, he started a movement, and every other country in the world stood up and said, "Australia's doing this, so we'd better do something about it."' I'm as proud an Australian as anyone, perhaps prouder than anyone else. I'm very, very proud of my country. I think we're a great country. We do wonderful things. Yet, sadly, when we attend international conventions, people struggle to work out whether we're Austria or Australia. So, to the senators who would say that, because Australia has done something in the emissions area, everybody else follows suit, that is laughable. Much as I'd like it to be the case, I'm afraid that's not the reality.

I mentioned the lying speeches we've heard from the Greens and the Labor Party, which are completely devoid of any accuracy, any truthful statement. They are relevant for this particular motion that the Senate is debating, because the three elements of this motion are all in themselves lies. The first part of the motion says that the Senate notes that government policy inaction is driving up electricity prices. Well, hang on. Until recently, the states were entirely responsible for electricity prices—regrettably, most of them are Labor states—and prices kept going up and up, mainly because Labor states are mad keen on these expensive, subsidised renewable energy projects. They don't want coalmines; they don't want to look after the coalmining workers, so they've gone to these very expensive renewable energy schemes that have pushed up power prices. Of course, in my state of Queensland that suits the energy company, particularly the one up my way, because it's entirely owned by the Queensland state government. It makes huge profits and the Queensland Labor government love that because they can't run a budget. They're almost as bad as Wayne Swan—also regrettably a Queenslander—and the Labor Party federally. They can't run a budget. The Queensland Labor Party can't run a budget, and they rely on the dividends from Ergon Energy and the other electricity companies to try to keep their budget in some sort of order. And they do that with the Townsville Port Authority. Every other agency the Queensland government owns contributes their profits to try to help the Queensland government in some way get near to balancing their budget—not that they ever achieve that. So the first part of this thing is an outright and abject lie.

Then it says we're 'abandoning the National Energy Guarantee' and that's another lie. The National Energy Guarantee is coalition policy, and it's all about reducing prices and confirming, guaranteeing, reliability, which is something the Labor Party doesn't understand. The Labor Party ran South Australia for years and years and they ran out of electricity. That's how good they were at trying to keep even the lights on, let alone keep the prices down. So the coalition government does have a policy. It's not about emissions. Our Paris target—which I think is a farce but we have made it—is to 26 per cent, I think, which we've almost achieved without any legislation, so dropping the legislated carbon emissions target from our National Energy Guarantee is irrelevant. We've achieved that 26 per cent reduction without legislation, without the big stick, but by arranging incentives.

The second part of the motion:

… observes that the Government refuses to act, citing any and all excuse to delay, when everyone knows it is internal Coalition division and the weakness of the Prime Minister that are really to blame …

Again, none of that is factual or truthful. The government has acted, but the Labor Party won't help. The Greens won't help. They'll just sit in their corner and criticise and encourage prices to go up because they think it gives them a political advantage. That's all it's about—pure, raw, crass politics. The government has acted.

The motion goes on to say—the third lie; the third element of the motion which is simply incorrect:

… that Australians deserve real leadership on energy ...

Again, what Australia has got from this government, for the very first time at federal level, is a clear position and real leadership on energy. This is something that wasn't originally a Commonwealth responsibility, but the Commonwealth—the federal government, the coalition government—took it over because the states were simply incapable of keeping the lights on and keeping power at affordable prices. So the Commonwealth has come in to try and make sure we have reliable supplies of electricity at reasonable prices. The initiative taken by the coalition in relation to making gas available within Australia was just one element of that policy, which has been so successful today. The coalition has spent a lot of time debating this and a lot of work has gone into getting a national energy policy. Whereas the Labor Party, in the six horrible years they were in government, did absolutely nothing. I might say—digressing slightly—that the Labor Party criticise us for shipbuilding failures in Australia. Labor were there for six years. They didn't build a ship. They didn't even build a canoe! They took no action towards a shipbuilding industry, whereas, under the coalition government, we will shortly have a thriving, sustainable and long-term shipbuilding industry. These are just some examples of the wonderful work coalition governments have done over decades to help Australia along.

I'll return again to the speeches from the previous Labor speaker and the previous speaker from the Greens political party. They are fixated on carbon emissions. They know that going to renewable projects at this time, at this stage of the cycle, is enormously expensive. That's why electricity prices are so very high in Australia. They know it, but they can't bring themselves to accept the reality that that's one of the reasons why electricity prices have skyrocketed. The renewable energy guarantee was, I regret to say, an initiative of the Howard government, but it's one that everyone now accepts has been a failure. It hasn't brought the price of electricity down. It hasn't brought the price of renewable energy down. It has just made it more and more difficult for ordinary Australians to be able to turn on their lights.

Labor Party and the Greens political party senators just go along with the rhetoric because it's easy to do. As they're sitting around drinking their latte coffees in the leafy suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, it's easy to feel that they're doing something for the world when, in fact, if they had any brains—if they had just a smidgen of common sense—they could work out, like the Chief Scientist has confirmed, that nothing Australia does will have any impact on the changing climate of the world, particularly now America has pulled out of any international agreements. India were never in them. China allegedly is in them but only pays lip-service to them. China opens a new coal-fired power station every couple of weeks. So nothing we do in Australia will have any impact except to send Australian jobs overseas. The Labor Party have been pretty good at doing that over their terms in office. The demise of the car manufacturing industry—most industries in Australia—occurred under the Labor years. Their fixation with this ideological position on carbon emissions has meant that Australia has simply become uncompetitive. Factories have all moved overseas, and Australian jobs have gone with them.

For all the rhetoric of the Labor Party, all the viciousness, all the anger in their speeches directed at me and others, they can't even look at the commonsense approach. Forget about the Chief Scientist; just have a look at yourselves. A bit of common sense—

Opposition Senator:

An opposition senator interjecting

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You know this. You understand as well as I do: nothing we do in Australia is going to make one iota of difference, so why are we whipping ourselves? Why are we flagellating ourselves just to get the approval of some United Nations committee?

An opposition senator interjecting

Ask your workers about that. I know you know the answer. I know you've got to go along with Labor Party policy. But you, for one, would understand, because you have a bit of common sense. You can hear what the Chief Scientist says. You know that Labor and the Greens are bound together in this ideological bubble that means nothing. It gives them a warm inner feeling but doesn't do anything at all for the changing climate of the world—and it certainly does nothing for Australia's economy.

5:49 pm

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

Another terrific contribution from Senator Macdonald! We will miss him when he's gone, I can assure you of that. I often note that I'm a relatively new member of this chamber, but, with the number of new entrants we've had, sometimes it doesn't feel that way. I have only been here for two years, and I feel like I'm just getting going, but it could well be that this is the last speech I make in this chamber before an election is called, such is the level of instability—

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

What do you know?

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

Well, I haven't looked at Twitter in the last 30 seconds. Things may have changed more! And, no doubt by the time I sit down after making this contribution, there will be five more contenders for the Liberal Party leadership. So, even though I've only been here two years, this could well be the last speech that I make during this term of government, such is the level of instability in this government. It actually isn't a laughing matter, because we all know that, with this government remaining completely directionless on energy policy and so many other issues since the day of the last election and even before that—since Mr Turnbull took over as Prime Minister—the losers have been the Australian people. There is no greater example of that than the issue that we're debating here today: the government's failure to deliver an energy policy which can keep power prices down for Australian households and businesses and can ensure a reliable supply of electricity to those households and businesses.

On the issue of energy, we've had five years of division and inaction on energy policy from, first, the Abbott government and then the Turnbull government and, no doubt, from whatever government might come next on the other side of politics, and the only losers have been the Australian people in the form of increasing power prices and decreasing power reliability. Over the last couple of years alone—and, probably, if I think about it hard, over the last 12 months—we've seen at least three different iterations of an energy policy from this government. First of all, they were going to have a clean energy target, and that got shot down by Tony Abbott and all the climate change deniers. Then they were going to have an emissions intensity scheme, and that got shot down by Tony Abbott and all of the climate change deniers. They finally limped along, trying to cobble together something called a National Energy Guarantee, which no-one really understood. Even the government didn't know what it would actually involve, And, piece by piece, Tony Abbott and all of the other climate change deniers in the coalition have chopped it away until it is actually just a shell. It is a phrase—'the National Energy Guarantee'—that means nothing, has no content and can do nothing to actually drive down power prices and increase power reliability.

At every stage of this debate over the last 12 to 18 months, as the government has put up different options around an energy policy—whether it be the clean energy target, the emissions intensity scheme or, now, the NEG—the Labor Party has actually resisted the opportunity to play politics. At every stage, the Labor Party has offered the hand of bipartisanship to this government in an attempt to put together a workable policy that can actually respond to what the Australian people want, which is lower electricity prices and a more reliable power supply.

As an observer of the Rudd-Gillard years and from talking to people who were here during that period of time, I can assure you that the Labor Party knows very well how politically damaging and risky the issue of energy policy and emissions reductions can be. We saw it when we were in government. We saw the problems that were caused when people tried to play politics with energy policy and emissions reductions, and that's why we have so consistently offered to work with the government to come up with an energy policy. It might not be exactly what we want. In every single one of these different schemes that the government has put up, there have been things that we would have preferred to see done differently, but we've consistently offered to work with the government and avoid taking the political route to shoot them down—even though it would have been easy to do so in every single case—in order to try to get to a policy that would help the Australian people. But every time we've offered that hand of bipartisanship to the government, they have been unable to put out a hand because they've got so many different hands out offering so many different options because they cannot come to an agreement on one policy that their entire party can get behind.

Every time they put up one option, Tony Abbott criticises it. Then they'll come up with another option, and the National Party criticises it—and so it goes. As I say, Labor is left waiting there every single time, looking for a willing partner in the government who's prepared to work together to come up with an energy policy. We're left standing on the sidelines, without a willing partner and without a capable partner who can actually come up with an energy policy that works. We've had five years of division, five years of inaction and five years of increasing power prices and decreasing power reliability, and that can be 100 per cent laid at the feet of this government and its incapacity to manage its own internal affairs and to put the interests of the Australian people above government members' own personal ambitions and need to settle scores and carry out vendettas over past leadership changes. Even today, they still can't decide what they want to see out of an energy policy.

We know that, along with the disastrous results of the by-elections only a few weeks ago, particularly in Longman and Braddon, it is their inability to come up with an energy policy yet again that is driving the most recent leadership crisis. As usual, as we have seen every other time an energy policy has come up, Tony Abbott and his colleagues have been sniping at it from the sidelines, even though he said he was never going to snipe and never going to do whatever else he has done every single day of the week. Because of that, it's well beyond a leadership crisis; it's a crisis of government in this country. This government, if you can call it that, is, to quote my good friend Senator Cameron, 'an absolute rabble'. It is not a joke. It is actually a tragedy to see an Australian government so dysfunctional that it can't even work out a process to work out who its leader is going to be.

If you were watching Senate question time today—you didn't have the opportunity to watch the House of Reps question time because the government chickened out and shut down the House of Representatives, so we enjoyed the fact that we had a pretty full gallery here to watch us in Senate question time for a change—and you looked over at the other side, you'd have seen the number of gaping holes in the government frontbench, with ministers missing and ministers walking out. It actually looked like a big piece of Swiss cheese: holes here, holes there, a little bit here, a little bit there. That is what this government has become. It is a piece of Swiss cheese that is barely hanging together because of the number of holes that have been made by ministers resigning and walking out on this government. It has got to the point now that, with the number of resignations by ministers in the Senate, there are not enough Turnbull backers on the government's backbench in the Senate to fill the number of vacancies that have been created. Even if Malcolm Turnbull was to survive as Prime Minister and wanted to promote a few people, pick a few people from his backbench and fill some of the vacancies that have been caused by these resignations, he doesn't have enough people to fill those spots. That demonstrates how little support there is for this Prime Minister in the Senate, and it demonstrates exactly how unworkable and dysfunctional this government has become.

In essence, just like the famous Monty Python parrot, this government has ceased to be. There is not really a Prime Minister anymore. No-one really knows who the Prime Minister is and no-one actually believes that it's Malcolm Turnbull. So there's no Prime Minister. There's no cabinet. There's no ministry to speak of because they're disappearing like flies. There's actually no government because no-one knows who's running the government and they have no idea where they want to take the country, whether it be on energy policy or anything else.

Now, the Labor side of politics did learn the lessons of the division that we saw during the Rudd-Gillard governments. We learnt the lessons and, as a result, for the last five years we have been incredibly united and stable and focused on coming up with policy ideas that will actually fix the problems that the average Australian faces—and wants their government to focus on rather than focusing on themselves, on getting ahead and on becoming the new leader of the country.

As things stand—and I've been talking for nearly 10 minutes, so who knows what's happened in that time—we have four declared candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party and the prime ministership of this country. The current Prime Minister, so to speak, Mr Turnbull, is still hanging in there, hoping that they won't come up with the number of names required for a petition. We've got Mr Morrison; he has put his name forward. We've got Mr Dutton, of course. We've got Ms Bishop there as well. I've even seen reports our old friend Mr Abbott might resurface and have another crack. I can tell you that all on the Labor side are very much looking forward to that! So we've got at least four declared candidates. But whoever it is, whoever takes on the leadership, it's going to be a disaster.

Debate interrupted.