Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Statements by Senators


1:25 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was good to see Senator O'Sullivan finish as he started. I, too, want to talk about an issue that confronts, increasingly, regional Australia. Acting Deputy President Duniam, I know the long-term plight of workers in regional communities, particularly those associated with energy and power stations is an issue you have been concerned about and is of particular concern to me.

I want to talk a little bit about the direction of energy policy in this country under the LNP. What we're increasingly seeing from the other side, and what we heard from Senator Abetz's contribution in senators' statements, is just a scare campaign. There was a scare campaign about housing prices and a scare campaign about dividend imputation policy. We're increasingly seeing a scare campaign about energy from those opposite as well. The LNP have been in government now for five years, so they've had five years to come up with an energy policy. What we've seen in that time is prices go up, emissions go up and reliability go down. It's an issue that has already cost one Prime Minister his job.

What's been the policy paralysis by the government over the last 18 months? We know they previously put forward an emissions intensity scheme. We know they then moved to a clean energy target and, more recently, they've had the National Energy Guarantee. As they've abandoned each of those policies they've also abandoned some pre-eminent Australians—Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, and, more recently, Kerry Schott—who were integral to the drafting of those policies and an attempt to reach a consensus with the Labor opposition. The government have not only abandoned all of those policies but also any sense that they can reach a bipartisan agreement on policy.

Whilst the government have junked all of those policies, all we have increasingly seen from those opposite is a scare campaign. The LNP have been attempting to run a scare campaign in Queensland on the back of resources as well. We've seen it from Minister Canavan over a long period of time, and we saw it again on Monday in question time. Mining rehabilitation has become a significant issue in Queensland, particularly on the back of the collapse of Clive Palmer's nickel refinery in Townsville. There's obviously a significant environmental legacy that has been left there. The Queensland government has been acting responsibly to deal with the debacle and put in place legislation that ensures something like that can never happen again. In question time on Monday, Senator Canavan, when asked about this, basically used the opportunity to mount a scare campaign against the Labor Party in Queensland. He said:

… but unfortunately there are moves afoot by the Queensland government to impose a massive new cost on the Queensland resources sector just as some green shoots are emerging …

He went on to say:

It is clear that the agenda here is to hurt the mining sector and to hurt mining jobs, not to protect the environment.

That is the scare campaign we saw from Minister Canavan in question time on Monday.

Yet what did I read in The Australian today? It was an article by none other than the Queensland Resources Council's chief executive, Ian Macfarlane. Many people in this chamber will be aware of his background. He said:

We look forward to the updated bill passing the house, which will allow a world-standard rehabilitation fund to begin collecting interest.

That's what the council's chief executive said today in relation to the legislation that is expected to pass the Queensland parliament this week. There's no retrospectivity involved, and all we've seen from Senator Canavan is scaremongering. That's increasingly what we're seeing when it comes to energy and resource issues—scare campaigning from the other side. We know that they do that because they're incapable of actually articulating their policy going forward, so all they've got left in the kitbag is to run a scare campaign against Labor. We're seeing it on energy and resourcing, and, as I highlighted earlier, we're seeing it increasingly on economic issues as well. But when they can't talk about their record, and when they can't agree on what they want to do for the future, it's no wonder that that's where they ended up. And increasingly we're seeing that in the months before the lead-up to the federal election, as they basically present what is a hoax of an energy policy.

It is being made up on the run; it's clearly a thought bubble with regard to energy. Basically, they have sticky tape holding it together. I think that the main aim of the policy that they're attempting to put together is to appeal to those dinosaurs on the backbench in the LNP. Senator Cormann, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, gave us valuable insight into how much of a joke the LNP energy policy is in an interview on Sky Newsyesterday. He was asked, 'As a general rule, do you like the idea of government intervening in the private sector?' This is with regard to the policy, the thought bubble, the government are putting forward. This is Senator Cormann's response: 'As a general rule, I support government policy. We operate as a team. We operate under the Westminster system.' In my experience, any time a government member has to rely on the Westminster system to defend their policy ideas, it just shows you how divided the government is when it comes to this policy thought bubble that has been put forward by the new minister. The interviewer then went on to ask, 'What would be the circumstances under which the government would break up a private company here?' And Senator Cormann's response was, 'These are not judgments for me to make.' This was the government's Senate leader not prepared to answer questions about the policy thought bubble that has been put forward by the government. I think that just shows you that this is absolutely policy on the run, that it has not been thought through and that there is obviously division on the government's side about how such a proposal would be brought forward.

It's no wonder that we've seen in recent weeks criticism from industry and others who are concerned about this policy. We know the Australian Energy Council are on the record as having concerns about it. We know Infrastructure Partnerships Australia are on the record as having concerns about this policy, and we also know that the chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, said that the first he heard about this policy was when he read about it in the newspaper. So it's clear from that analysis that the LNP is only interested in thought bubbles rather than the substantial, long-term policy change and reform that is needed.

Who is suffering under the inaction of those opposite? We know the reality is that families are suffering because of the high prices they're paying. We know that workers and businesses are struggling because of the policy uncertainty. But we also know that communities are suffering. There is an alternative, but it does require a government that will actually think long term—a government that will plan, be honest and be up-front with communities at the same time. No scare campaigns—we need a government that will manage these policy transitions in the long-term national interest. If you bury your head in the sand, you'll end up with situations like we saw with the communities around the Hazelwood Power Station closure. The workers in that community were given six months notice that the power station was going to close down under this government. I will give some credit to the Victorian government, who at least scrambled to get some policy settings in place to ensure that community did not suffer too greatly as a result.

Minister Canavan likes to mention what the CFMEU are up to with regard to their concerns about some Queensland legislation, but I haven't heard him mention once the report that the CFMEU have done that actually looks at the transformation of energy policy and the impact that it is going to have on communities, workers and their members. The report goes into substantial detail about the impact that this will have on communities. Basically, these communities and workers have been suffering because there has not been a developed, coherent and sensible energy policy by the coalition, who are intent on pushing the fantasy of new coal-fired power stations in spite of the fact that companies who own and operate these coal-fired power stations have no plans to build new ones and have consistently reiterated that the economics of constructing coal-fired power plants simply do not stack up. It goes on to highlight a number of issues in regard to the current policy settings that are going to have a long-term impact on those communities and those workers.

But we on the Labor side will not bury our heads in the sand. We want to take on reports like that, because we know that we don't want to see those workers and those communities left behind. It is an important bit of work that the union have done on behalf of their members. It's okay for the minister to cherrypick on one issue, but he won't actually look at the substantial issues that that union raise because they are concerned about their members. But we on the Labor side know that they need representation that is going to think long term and put an energy plan in place that is going to ensure that those workers and communities have a stable future.