Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Cormann, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, has warned:
The principle that governments can misuse their power to break up companies sets a dangerous precedent that will deter investment across the economy.
Is Ms Westacott correct?
Let me say right up front what I said last week: I hold Jennifer Westacott in very high regard, and the Business Council of Australia is a very important organisation. But let me also remind the Senate of my answer to the previous question, which pointed out that this legislation that we are putting forward is designed to strengthen the government's ability to address misconduct in the electricity markets. The proposed court-ordered divestiture powers would relate to a corporation's conduct where that 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. So I would throw the question back to you: do you believe it's unreasonable for the government to give itself the power and authority to deal with conduct which 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?
Clearly, our objective here is to bring electricity prices down as part of a suite of measures. We're on the side of families and businesses. We're on the side of making sure that we have the lowest possible electricity prices and reliable energy supplies. We believe that this, as part of a suite of measures, is one of the tools that the government should have available, subject to appropriate checks and balances and procedural safeguards which, after the consultation has taken place, are now of course a feature of this bill. In the end, Labor will have to form a judgement on whether they want to stand on the side of this sort of conduct or whether they want to side with us to address it more effectively.
The Australian Energy Council has warned the Prime Minister's policy will 'only increase risks and costs to investors and consumers'. Why is the Prime Minister pursuing a policy that will only increase risks to investors and costs for consumers?
We don't agree that it does that. We actually take the view that this is an important component of a suite of measures designed to bring electricity prices down and to ensure that we can have more reliable supplies of energy. With the greatest respect to another important organisation, I say that there are a lot of vested interests in this sort of space—inevitably—and they will argue their own book. I don't criticise them for that; that is their job. But our job as a government and our job as a parliament is to make judgements about what is in the public interest, and in our judgement it is in the public interest for us to have the opportunity to pursue court-ordered divestitures in the circumstances where a corporation's conduct is fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith for the purpose of manipulating prices and where the result is a net public benefit. You are entitled to take a different view, of course, but we, having considered all of the arguments, all of the different perspectives from different stakeholders, have come to the view that in the public interest— (Time expired)
The now independent member for Chisholm, Julia Banks, has said, 'The divestiture powers proposed are totally counter to Liberal values of free enterprise and small government.' Given the Prime Minister has been forced to retreat on his big stick by his own backbench, isn't it clear Ms Banks is correct?