Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Cormann, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was forced by his own backbench to retreat on his energy big stick, with the Prime Minister waking to headlines, including 'Morrison's energy "big stick" cut down to size'. Reports indicate Deputy Leader of the Liberals, Julie Bishop, warned the Liberal party room that the big stick threatened investment, could be regarded as a sovereign risk and is inconsistent with Liberal values. It is also reported that other backbenchers, including Jason Falinski, Russell Broadbent and Craig Laundy, spoke out strongly against the proposed legislation. How many members of his own backbench did it take for Mr Morrison to retreat?
I thank Senator Singh for that question. I'm pleased that Labor has started this question time by asking a policy question, which is a very good development indeed. I can confirm for Senator Singh that, yes, our government is absolutely committed to bringing power prices down and ensuring that electricity supplies are reliable and to doing so in a way that is as environmentally efficient as possible.
As part of an overall package of measures—as part of a comprehensive plan—we do have a last-resort measure as part of our suite of measures, which has been colloquially described as the 'big stick'. The big-stick legislation has been approved by our party room, and I'm pleased to confirm what it does. The bill amends the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to provide a legislative framework to strengthen the government's ability to address misconduct in electricity markets. Let me say that slowly: to address misconduct in electricity markets. Do you want to leave misconduct in electricity markets unaddressed? Are you against addressing misconduct in electricity markets? Is that really what you're saying?
I think once you actually understand what our legislation is doing I would not be surprised if, when all is said and done, you actually ended up voting with us in favour of it. Here's a prediction: I think we might get some bipartisan support, because I think that Bill Shorten will not want to be left out when it comes to the big stick—I'm very, very confident of that—although, everybody will know it's a coalition big stick, even if the Labor Party gets on board, to bring electricity prices down and to ensure that we've got reliable supplies of energy. The bill creates new prohibitions against certain— (Time expired)
In a now infamous interview with David Speers on Sky, the minister refused to explain what the government's big stick was and when it would be used, and has refused to articulate the policy to the Senate. Can the minister now explain Mr Morrison's big stick? Is it still a big stick or is it a little twig? How will it work and when will it be used?
Let me, first, confirm for the Senate: it's not just a big stick; it's a giant stick. It is designed to bring electricity prices down. The reason I wasn't prepared to share the details underpinning the giant stick with David Speers—as I've previously said, he's one of the best interviewers in the business—was because the legislation had not as yet been finalised. We were consulting in relation to the legislation. I actually started to explain the detail, but you didn't listen to that, so I'm quite happy to go to the detail again. The bill creates new prohibitions against certain misconduct in electricity retail, wholesale and contract markets which is detrimental to competition or consumers. Importantly, on the recommendation of the ACCC and following a referral from the Treasurer, Federal Court issued divestment orders can only be made—and I'm happy to continue— (Time expired)
Reports yesterday indicated that the changes were a refining of the original government proposal. Given the minister last week declared that the government had already refined its energy policy, is this a refinement of the refined policy? If so, how has it been refined and what exactly is the government's policy?
Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho! Last week, the question was about our overall energy policy, and our overall energy policy has indeed been refined after the recent change in prime ministership. But, when it comes to the giant-stick legislation, we've been going through a proper process of consultation with stakeholders and we have now finalised that legislation. Under that legislation, divestiture court orders can only be made where a corporation's conduct is fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith for the purpose of distorting or manipulating prices and where the order results in a net public benefit. My question to the Labor Party is: will you really stand in the way of such a power? Are you really going to stand in the way of a giant stick to ensure we can keep electricity prices down? (Time expired)