Monday, 11 November 2019
Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. Labor was critical of the original bill in the last parliament. It risked doing harm and it seriously risked the privatisation of publicly owned electricity generators. The government has dealt with some of our reservations by introducing into this parliament a different bill, which makes improvements, particularly in relation to privatisation. The passage of this bill will not change the fact that, after 17 attempts, the coalition government still has no sensible overarching energy policy to drive investment, to reduce emissions or to cut power bills for struggling Australian households and businesses. This legislation has not been recommended by the consumer watchdog. Not only did the ACCC, after its lengthy examination of the retail electricity market, not recommend the legislation, but indeed it specifically recommended against a divestiture power, as did Professor Ian Harper in his landmark review of competition policy for the government a couple of years earlier.
As any observer of this debate would know, various business groups, energy users and energy suppliers over the last 12 or 18 months have been critical of the legislation in its different iterations. But, since the election in May, the business groups—most notably the Business Council—have changed from opposing the legislation to instead seeking to work with the government to improve the operation of this bill. That too, in the spirit of being constructive, has been the approach of the Labor Party. Most notably, after considerable debate about the impact of potential ministerial overreach in the operation of the original bill, it is pleasing to see that the government has curbed or pulled back the ministerial power that would be able to be exercised under this legislation. Instead, a role for the ACCC has been put in place, as well as a very important role for the Federal Court. We take that as a significant improvement to the bill, given that, since its original presentation, we have been complaining of overreach on the part of ministers.
Since the original presentation of the bill, we have been steadfastly against its very significant loophole which would have allowed the privatisation of publicly owned electricity assets—namely, the forcible divestiture of publicly owned electricity assets and the transfer of those assets to private companies. We know that the Liberal Party is addicted to the privatisation of electricity. We were promised that there would be more choice and that there would be better prices and more competition in the market, but I think anyone who has had even a casual look at the operation of the electricity market knows that privatisation has worked for the companies but it hasn't worked for consumers. The member for Kennedy and Labor identified this loophole after the original presentation of the bill in the other place. Labor was able to ensure that the loophole was closed absolutely and completely, to ensure that, if the operation of this legislation results in the divestiture of a publicly owned asset, it can only be divested to another publicly owned asset with the same or a greater level of public ownership.
As the Labor Party, we are of course very concerned that workers and their entitlements not be prejudiced by the operation of this legislation. Workers have no responsibility for the conduct that is apparently the driver of this legislation, no responsibility for allegations of cartel conduct and no responsibility for reductions of competition in the market. It's not surprising to anyone that the government has apparently paid no attention at all to the possibility that workers' entitlements will be reduced by the operation of this legislation. It's simply not a matter that is typically on the radar for the government. Labor in the other place moved an amendment to ensure that the transmission-of-business provisions of the Fair Work Act are deemed to apply to this type of transmission—namely, a forcible divestiture. This will ensure that those entitlements that are contained in registered enterprise agreements and in awards are preserved and protected for workers, who are, as I said, not the subject of the so-called mischief that lies at the heart of this legislation.
Since consideration in the House, and thanks to the work of the Senate committee which inquired into this bill—an inquiry in which I took part—it has become clear that a similar issue exists for non-registered agreements between workers and employers in the context of possible divestiture. Labor does not accept that workers should be made worse off as a result of divestiture which is a remedy for prohibited conduct that workers themselves had no part in. Put simply, workers should not be punished for the anti-competitive actions of a company. That is a position that all senators in this place should agree with. That is why I am now flagging that Labor will move a further amendment in this place to ensure that non-registered agreements between workers and employers which provide workers with additional protections agreed by employers should be safeguarded in the event of divestment. That is the right thing to do—it's the Labor thing to do—and we call on the government to support our amendment.
I want to be clear that this bill in no way substitutes for a proper, coherent national energy policy. We are in the throes of the deepest energy crisis since the mid-1970s. But, unlike that crisis, which was caused by an external shock, this crisis is the product of a profound public policy failure. Households and energy-using businesses are paying the price for this crisis. Power bills for households and businesses are going to go up and up, and it's quite clear that the market expects those bills to go up too. Wholesale prices are up across the National Electricity Market—on average, by 158 per cent since the Liberal energy crisis really took a grip in 2015.
The Financial Review reported very recently that forward prices in the electricity market are up 29 per cent, in just 12 months since the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the National Energy Guarantee were both dispatched in a coalition party room ambush. The key problem identified in advice after advice and in all of the evidence that has been put forward to the Senate committee that examined this is the lack of a coherent national energy policy. The Grattan Institute, reflecting on what's happened to wholesale prices under this energy crisis, confirmed that it has resulted in $1 billion in additional windfall profits to just the three big private energy companies. That is an additional $1 billion in profits every year since this crisis took hold, paid for by Australian households and energy-using businesses.
The Prime Minister seeks to convince the Australian people that everything is hunky-dory; that this is fine. We did have a burst of investment in renewable energy to meet the Renewable Energy Target that the Labor Party put in place when we were in government, and those opposite have tried to tear that down time and time again, particularly the now Minister for Energy, who came into this parliament surfing a campaign about being anti renewable energy. But what the Prime Minister doesn't tell the Australian people is that Bloomberg—the organisation that he enlists in his claim that we're leading the world in renewable energy investment—has also reported that renewable energy investment is already down 50 per cent in the first half of 2019 alone. The Clean Energy Council says that's probably a low-ball estimate. We should expect thousands and thousands of jobs to be lost from this sector which should be growing. We do support this bill, but we will continue to hold the government to account for its completely hopeless management of energy policy.
I rise tonight to make my contribution on behalf of the Australian Greens on this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. Right up-front, let me be very clear: the Australian Greens oppose this bill because it won't lower electricity prices and, in addition to not doing that, it will make global warming worse, as this government will use the powers in this bill to keep coal-fired power stations operating for longer—and we know that the longer coal-fired power is produced, the harder and longer it's going to be for us to get global warming under control.
As I stand here tonight, I do so in the midst of what we know is a horrific scene unfolding across the country, with bushfires burning across Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, and now, just in the last few hours, there have been a number of very serious warnings in my home state of South Australia. In fact, just three hours ago, we had an emergency warning for Port Lincoln in South Australia—and I will read this, because I think it is really important. The South Australian Country Fire Service issued a warning this afternoon. It says to the people of Port Lincoln and Lower Eyre Peninsula:
You are now in danger. Take shelter in a solid building. Do not leave or enter this area in a vehicle or on foot. It is too late to leave as the roads will not be safe.
Conditions are dangerous and firefighters are now unable to prevent the fire spreading. Shelter before the fire arrives as heat can kill you well before the flames reach you.
That is the official warning from the South Australian Country Fire Service in the last couple of hours in relation to Port Lincoln.
SA Power Networks has issued a statement:
Due to the rapid escalation of weather and fire conditions we're now disconnecting power to Port Lincoln to ensure community safety.
So the power has been turned off in Port Lincoln as the fire rages. I convey my thoughts and concern for everybody facing these disasters, and urge people to listen to the advice of emergency services and personnel. Follow their advice carefully and stay safe.
These fires are supercharged by the climate crisis we are facing and are being fuelled by the record drought we are experiencing. Firstly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison must bear some responsibility for the situation we are confronted with today. He has not only continued to make the climate crisis worse with bills such as this one before us tonight but also failed to bring down global warming pollution across the board. Secondly, the Prime Minister must take some responsibility for his refusal to heed the scientists and fire officers who have been warning that Australia is unprepared for extreme fires exacerbated by the climate emergency. Tonight I call on the Prime Minister to apologise to the communities that are being impacted by this fire, especially after refusing to heed the warnings of fire chiefs only a number of weeks ago.
Scott Morrison needs to apologise to the Australian people as a whole for putting their towns and their lives at risk by making global warming worse. He must apologise, and then, more importantly, he must act. He must act to deal with the climate emergency that we are facing. Bills like this one before us tonight do nothing to help the towns and communities who are suffering. All this bill is going to do is make climate change worse. It's going to do that by keeping open the very power plants that contribute to climate change and make it more and more damaging. It is more harmful to keep these coal-fired power stations open for longer, and it makes it harder and harder for us to transition.
Of course the Australian Greens, along with the rest of the country, are devastated and deeply saddened by the loss of life in these fires. We heard many contributions in this place earlier today. Our hearts go out to all the families and communities impacted. As I mentioned, I'm thinking particularly, as I stand here right now, of friends and colleagues facing the threat in Port Lincoln in South Australia. But words and concern are not enough. Thoughts and prayers are useless without action. In fact, thoughts and prayers from our leaders—well, I would prefer that our leaders dealt with brains and policy. That's what we need as we face this crisis and this emergency. Unless we lead a global effort to quit coal and cut pollution, these terrible, horrific scenes will only continue and get worse in the years to come. Just this month, former fire chiefs warned the Prime Minister on national television that the climate crisis was making a catastrophic bushfire risk worse and that Australia was unprepared.
Greg Mullins is a firefighting veteran and a former head of Fire and Rescue NSW. He appeared only last week on the ABC, in a 7.30 story. He said:
My whole career as a fire chief was trying to calm people down …
When you have people like me who have been around for half a century doing this work getting frightened—and I'm frightened—it's time for everyone else to be, particularly politicians in Canberra.
That was a direct warning to not just the Prime Minister but every single one of us in this place and in the other to take seriously the concerns that scientists and those on the front line are raising. Filmed while he was visiting the fireground in California, Mr Mullins said:
The most fire-prone parts of the planet are burning more and more …
Here in California, 18,000 homes last year, 9,000 the year before. Previously 3,000 was the biggest they'd think of. They're just shaking their heads saying, 'What the hell is round the corner?'
Mr Mullins said the Australian fire services are dangerously unequipped to deal with the 'new normal' of catastrophic fire weather fuelled by the climate crisis. He led a delegation of former fire chiefs and fire professionals and experts in writing to the Prime Minister, seeking action. But the Prime Minister, in Mr Mullins's own words, just 'fobbed them off'. He says:
It's up to the retired fire chiefs who are unconstrained to tell it like it is and say this is really dangerous …
People are at risk, we need a game changer in how we deal with these catastrophes because they're going to get worse and worse.
He's angry that the government wouldn't even talk to them, saying:
We were fobbed off to Minister Taylor who is not the right minister to speak to …
We wanted to speak to the Natural Disasters Minister and the PM. We asked for help with that, we never got a reply.
You had 23 experts willing to sit down with a PM and come up with solutions, but he's just fobbed us off.
What does it take to wake these people up in Canberra? I don't know.
It's time we all woke up. It's time we all took the very serious and dire warnings of not just Mr Mullins and the fire experts but of course the scientists as well.
It is outrageous that 23 former senior emergency figures have been trying to get the Australian government to listen to their concerns about climate change and the missing capacity to fight fires in the new era, and the government has failed to listen to them. Just this morning we heard the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McCormack, attack those fire officers, fobbing them off once again and suggesting perhaps this was all part of some climate-change conspiracy. It is simply insulting that individual officers like these 23 fire experts and former fire chiefs would be treated with such disrespect by the Deputy Prime Minister. These are people who have put their lives on the line for others, for their community; people who are watching and helping and out there today, risking their own lives. And we have the Deputy Prime Minister saying that the reason no-one responded to their letter is because they didn't know if it was real. It is an insult and it is absolutely galling that this could come out of the mouth of our Deputy Prime Minister.
One of the key issues that Mr Mullins and fire experts have warned about and wanted to discuss with the Prime Minister was the lack of aircraft for fighting fires here in Australia. He said:
The Erickson sky cranes, the Elvis helicopters, 737s with 15,000 litres, C130 Hercules with 15,000 litres. We don't have them in Australia …
He was saying this as he was reflecting on what it was taking to battle the fires in California. It is a major problem that the seasons in Australia and California are now overlapping. The same equipment, the same aircraft, are going to be busy on totally opposite sides of the planet. Mr Mullins, speaking of those in California, said that, for one fire service—one fire service—they had 23 fixed-wing water bombers, and here in New South Wales we have only one. He said:
As each of the states and territories in Australia, their fire seasons heat up and start early, they won't be able to share trucks, people, incident-management personnel, so it's going to be harder and harder to fight these fires and we need a national response …
Scott Morrison, as Prime Minister, does not have the climate crisis under control. It is not even summer yet and already firefighters are running out of adjectives to describe the fires that are burning across the country. Bushfire seasons are longer, the country is drier and the fires are worse. Instead of pursuing a piece of legislation like this before us tonight that is going to make climate change and global warming worse, the government should be dealing with the climate emergency. The failure of successive Liberal-National prime ministers to accept and address the climate crisis has led to higher electricity prices.
Since the Abbott government's abolition of the Greens-Labor carbon price, pollution has increased year after year and electricity prices have continued to rise. They are now higher than they were when the carbon price was put in place. We have gone backwards when it comes to electricity prices being on the rise. They are getting higher and higher. I have no faith that this bill will do anything but make that worse. Why? It is because of the uncertainty about the carbon risk caused by the failure to put in place a new national energy policy with clear emissions reduction goals. This has continued to lead to a lack of adequate investment in new energy generation.
The Abbott government's war on renewables followed by the Morrison government's war on energy companies trying to manage the retirement of old, unreliable coal-fired generation and the transition to renewable generation has exacerbated the uncertainty for investors. We should be investing and helping the transition for new generation. Smart grids, demand management and storage are the elements that ensure we do not just have power prices come down but have a climate that is heading in the right direction and that will be safe—to reduce the pollution that we know that the current energy production is creating.
Instead of a clear timetable for retirement of coal fired-power stations, proper planning and investment in grid infrastructure, and a clear pathway to zero emissions in the electricity sector, the electricity market has a war of words, threats and ad hoc policy. If you want to know why power prices in this country are so high, have a look at the Liberal-National party room. That is why. They cannot get their own house in order. They have done nothing to reduce power prices. All they have done is have a war of words amongst themselves, a war of ideology—speaking tough out there while doing nothing in here. Meanwhile, pollution grows, uncertainty grows and investment declines.
This bill represents the latest round in the Liberal-National's ideological war on a rational energy transition to renewable energy. Dressed up as a bill to deal with electricity prices, it is absolutely crystal clear to anybody who has watched this debate, read the bills, listened to the speeches and listened to the arguments being made by the government, the opposition and those in the industry that this bill is designed to enable the government to bully power companies to keep unreliable, old and dirty coal-fired power stations open longer. That is what this bill is about. It is going to do nothing to reduce electricity prices, but it is going to do everything to keep pollution going up and keep those coal-fired power stations—particularly those that are on the brink right now—open for longer.
Contributions from government members during the debate in the House of Representatives were explicit on this point. They said the big stick of the divestiture of powers in this bill was necessary to stop AGL from retiring Liddell rather than selling it. We have members of the government who want to bully AGL because AGL have made a decision that it is time to transition away from coal—to retire their old clunker, the Liddell Power Station. The government says, 'No, we do not want you to retire it; we want you to sell it so it can stay open for longer.' That is what this piece of legislation is about. Do not be fooled. It's not about reducing power prices. It's not about putting Australia on track to a secure, clear, rational energy future. It is about propping up old clunkers of coal-fired power stations, because the coalition and the National Party are at war over climate policy. That is what this bill is about. We know that, when Liddell was listed for closure, AGL were very clear about the fact that it's an old power plant, that it's one of the dirtiest in the country, that it isn't meeting the efficiency standards, that it isn't effective any longer and that it needs to close if we are to get on with the transition. This government, rather than bullying, should be listening.
I'll be moving two sets of amendments tonight to this piece of legislation to try to at least reduce how bad this bill could be. The first will address the Liddell issue by inserting into the bill amendments that will prevent orders being made which would have the effect of inhibiting, delaying or stopping a planned closure of a coal-fired power generator. If the government and the opposition don't believe that this bill is designed to do that, then they should back in these amendments and make it crystal clear that this is not about trying to prop up a dying clunker of a coal-fired power station. The second set of amendments will ensure no public money can be used on propping up ageing, dirty and unreliable coal-fired powers stations. This is taxpayers' money, and it shouldn't be spent propping up the old technology that we must transition out of if we are to deal head-on with the climate emergency that we are facing.
This will not just be a test for the government, of course; this will be a test for the Labor Party. Prior to the election, the Labor Party said they would support this amendment because they understood that we have to transition. Fast forward a couple of months later and an election loss and now the Labor Party are saying they are just going to tick and flick this bill through. Will Labor vote for the future or stick with the past and aid and abet the government's plan to keep coal operating for longer? As we deal with this drought, when bushfires are raging across the country, when we've got communities in rural and regional Australia crying out for some leadership, the last thing we need is for the two big parties cuddling up—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—and saying, 'Let's just pass it, and we can keep our coal mates happy.' If you care about what is going on out there tonight in some of our regional towns, do something to start bringing down pollution and deal with climate change. Act tonight: knock off this bill and put it in the dustbin so we can get on with decent, genuine climate policy for this country.
I rise tonight to join my colleagues in supporting the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019, which is currently before the Senate. As some in here would know, I've spent much of my career in and around the energy market. It's clear that we need to bring some sense and some knowledge to this debate, and I hope to do that now.
This bill defines what is considered misconduct in the energy market and gives the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a raft of powers to monitor, act and apply large monetary penalties to energy suppliers breaching the laws of fair competition towards consumers. The bill also increases the authority of the Treasurer to act against gross market misconduct in the energy market. This means that the Treasurer will have the direct authority to pursue a divestment order in the courts over a particular energy supplier. This is a bill that fulfils the coalition government's pre-election commitment to take on market operators that behave in an unethical manner towards energy consumers and to ensure strict accountability of these businesses. It is a strong but necessary bill to provide much-needed safeguards to Australian energy consumers, both households and businesses, who all were losing out due to the unfair pricing and uncompetitive behaviours in the retail and wholesale sectors.
The coalition government's energy policy is based on two fundamental principles: firstly, security of supply, and, secondly, lower electricity bills. This bill is one aspect of that commitment, as it injects much-needed fairer competition into a complex but essential utility for Australian households and businesses.
Other measures undertaken by the federal government to enhance electricity supply and lower prices have followed the recommendations of the 2018 ACCC retail electricity pricing inquiry. As a result, the government introduced a default market offer, which acts as a price safety net for households and businesses. In essence, this policy is a ceiling on highest prices set by the Australian Energy Regulator. However, it is important to note that it is a reference price, not a legislated price cap. It is estimated that, since 1 July 2019, some 800,000 households and businesses have benefited by having their power contracts reduced to the default price. This is yet another tangible example of how this coalition government is working to bring down electricity prices. To give another practical example, in the retail market, as supply chain costs fall in a sustained manner, the retailer is compelled to adjust and lower its prices accordingly for the consumer. In essence, this bill is an antigouging law.
Another aspect of the government's policy is to bring more secure supply and therefore lower electricity prices. This is under the Retailer Reliability Obligation. It is an enforced obligation. It is incumbent upon suppliers of electricity to meet demand with supply. The Australian Energy Market Operator will monitor the obligation placed upon the suppliers to have sufficient generation of electricity to meet the demand. It is a long-term policy that attempts to stop future blackouts or brownouts—a serious problem that continues to affect my home state of Victoria, particularly during peak usage periods in summer.
However, even with all of our ongoing successes to date in our attempts to further reform this essential but complex area of the market, this government has been hindered by those opposite, by the Greens and, more importantly, by obstructionist state Labor governments throughout Australia. Remarkable as it may be, the federal Labor Party are not the worst offenders in forcing up power prices and creating insecurity in the energy market. The Andrews Labor government of Victoria takes that cake. Its careless policies, based on extreme and unrealistic ideology, have driven up electricity prices in Victoria to be the highest in Australia. AEMO found that, due to the 'continued deterioration' of the reliability of ageing brown-coal units, energy reliability in Victoria would get worse. It is clear that Premier Andrews has learnt nothing from the 200,000-odd households and businesses that suffered severe blackouts last summer. It is beyond comprehension that the once economically thriving state of Victoria could be, and has been, reduced to such a crippled state of affairs. It is based on foolish ideology and incompetent management, shrouded in their hatred for base-load energy. I remind those senators here that Victoria used to be a net exporter of energy and is now an importer of energy.
On Premier Andrews' watch, and in fact with his encouragement, Victoria has seen the closure of one of the state's major electricity suppliers, the Hazelwood Power Station, with no base load replacement. Its closure means a straight-out reduction of power generation in the state. This equals loss of reserves in high-demand usage periods. Also through mismanagement, the Victorian state Labor government was blindsided by AGL's Loy Yang power station going into shutdown mode for maintenance at the start of the summer season. Frankly, this is a gross failure by the Andrews' Labor government in assuring energy security. Victorians have their fingers crossed that AGL's guidance to the market—that the unit will reopen mid next month—is accurate as any major slip will almost guarantee blackouts and will certainly lead to higher prices.
To compound Victoria's power crisis, the Andrews' government has upped the stakes and introduced compulsory use by suppliers of the 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target by 2030—a law with the Orwellian title of the Renewable Energy (Jobs and Investment) Act 2019, Victoria, as their instrument. It is a target that will likely foretell the closure of the Yallourn Power Station. It will not only be due to costs imposed by the Andrews' government but will be primarily due to the unrealistic mandatory renewables target. As a result, it will not be financially viable to operate or update the ageing power station, so we can only guess that it will be a matter of time before Yallourn goes the way of Hazelwood.
Victoria's unrealistic and damaging renewables target is at the fundamental core of Victoria's high energy prices and unreliable energy supply. It is a situation that is severely damaging our economy and future investment opportunities. 'Blackout Dan', as the Premier has become known, has now made high prices and blackouts the new normal in Victoria. Once upon a time, this was never the case, nor could it have even been fathomed. The investment attraction for the great state of Victoria was its cheap and reliable power prices. We forged our strong reputation and economy upon this. That reputation has since gone by the wayside. In contrast, this government, the Morrison government, has a realistic and balanced policy in place requiring a 23 per cent renewables target. It supports investment in baseload energy without ruling out coal merely for rigid adherence to ideology alone.
A vote against this bill is a vote for big power to further dominate and manipulate the market economy, contrary to fair practice and at the expense of Australian households and small business. To vote against it is to have pensioners, retirees and low-income families facing higher power prices. For those Australians, it will be a case of having to make the grave decision to either flick the power switch on or not—something that was once rare but is now an ever-increasing occurrence in Australia.
As a senator for Victoria, the state whose energy security is in disarray because of a lack of long-term vision from the Andrews' state Labor government, I urge senators in this place to support this bill in order to bring greater security and accountability to the energy market. It will place downward pressure on prices Australia wide. I again restate: the legislation will also be good for the market economy. It procures more market competition, thus creating a more efficient, competitive and fair market. These reforms will actively reach all the way to personally supporting Australian households and businesses by lowering the cost of living and business expenses. It is yet another example of how the coalition is restoring common sense back into the practice of good government.
Tonight I also rise to make a contribution on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019, otherwise known as the government's 'big stick'. During the 45th Parliament the Labor Party were very strongly and rightly critical of this legislation. It seriously risked the privatisation of publicly owned electricity generators. The bill introduced into this parliament is different, and the government has gone some way to addressing the concerns raised by Labor, particularly in relation to privatisation. So we're supportive of the bill.
But let's be clear: even with the passage of this legislation, the government, after some 17 failed attempts, will still not have a coherent overarching energy or climate change policy that would drive investment, reduce emissions or go any way at all towards reducing household energy costs. Let's be clear: that is not what this bill can or will deliver. Nor does it address climate change, the effects of which have been so hotly and devastatingly realised by too many Australians in recent days. This is something that government after government has been forewarned about, and this government has failed to heed the call. We have here a tired government that has failed to get this right and has failed at every turn when it comes to these questions.
The ACCC undertook a lengthy examination of the retail electricity market and specifically did not recommend legislation of this kind—not at all. They deliberately recommended against this kind of divestiture power, just as Professor Ian Harper did previously in his review of competition policy. We've had six years of reviews and we've had solid advice, and the Liberals and Nationals continue to be stumped on energy—another classic example of the coalition policy machine at full steam!
Perhaps the only reason they did pick this up was the tantalising idea that they might be able to intervene to retain coal-fired power stations. But let's look at what's really going on with coal-fired power around the country. I'll use my home state of WA as an example. The Muja Power Station, which is our only coal-fired power station in Western Australia, has had two units close already. Keeping Muja C open is estimated to cost WA taxpayers at least an additional $350 million. That means it will be staged for retirement from October 2022. It is also why a foresighted government which is actively engaged in these issues is looking at transition plans for the local community, where they've got an Industry Attraction Team, a $60 million Industry Attraction and Development Fund and a $20 million Collie Futures Fund to drive economic opportunities and jobs in Collie. What did the people of Collie say to me when I visited there just the week before last? They expressed their extreme concern about the fact that this government does not have a coherent energy policy and they said that the way the government frames energy debates as coal versus renewables does nothing to serve the community of Collie—let alone the communities around places like Liddell or anywhere else in the country. So it's high time the government picked up their game and really thought about what kind of just transition our nation needs.
We know that the many and various iterations of this bill have been viewed by business groups as well as energy users and energy suppliers over time with some criticism. But we note that, since the May election, business groups have changed their views and have been seeking to work with the government. Labor wants to do the same, in the spirit of being a constructive opposition—in the spirit of being constructive, given we're not in government—and I guess if this is all that you can put forward, then it is what we have left to constructively deal with. With this iteration of the bill, the government seems to have minimised some of the ministerial power that would have been able to be exercised under this bill and has allayed some of our concerns about the impact of potential ministerial overreach. We see that the ACCC, as a legislated Commonwealth body, will play a significant role in protecting the interests of consumers, as, of course, does the Federal Court. We've long had concerns about overreach on the part of government ministers, so we welcome the changes to the bill in this respect.
As a Western Australian, I'm also particularly keen to ensure that publicly owned electricity assets remain in public hands. The Muja power station, which I was just speaking of, is a publicly owned asset. Western Australia has many publicly owned electricity assets—generation, retail and transmission. But we have in the Liberal Party a party addicted to the privatisation of electricity. That went really well for Colin Barnett back in 2017—not! The last thing we want to see is the forcible divestiture of publicly owned electricity assets and the transfer of those assets to private companies. That's why I'm very glad that the member for Kennedy and Labor identified the significant loopholes in the original version of the bill that would have allowed for the divestiture of publicly owned assets.
Australians were assured by the government that there would be more choice and better prices and competition in the market. However, I think the majority of Australian consumers know that privatisation in the energy market has tended to work better for companies than it has for them as consumers. This is born out from experience of Western Australia compared to the eastern states. We've also experienced electricity price increases with the changes with required investment in the grid and for generation, but nothing like what we've seen in other places. Labor has successfully closed the loophole in this legislation to ensure that, if the operation of legislation results in the divestiture of a publicly owned asset, it can only be divested to another publicly owned asset with the same or greater level of public ownership. We are pleased that the government have agreed to our amendments and that we've been able to work constructively with them. Our community should rightly expect careful management of our nation's essential services.
As was noted in Labor's additional comments to the Senate Economic Committee's report on this bill, we hold serious concerns about the impact of this bill on workers, particularly for those on non-registered worker agreements. With the introduction of new energy technologies and the inevitable closure of legacy generation assets—and there are good examples in WA—as they reach their end of design life, the energy sector is experiencing significant change and a period of adjustment. It is not the simplest time to be progressing this bill. The Australian Energy Market Operator has said that, over the next 10 years, it's expected that 12 legacy coal-fired power stations are likely to close and to reach the end of their life. This is already happening, as you can see by the existing changes in WA.
Unions like the CFMMEU and the ETU have rightly rung the bell on this issue, which, under the functioning of this bill, coupled with the process of plant closures, could adversely affect members and workers in the sector. In evidence to the committee the ETU told the Senate that a divestiture order applied to an ageing generator scheduled to close:
… puts at risk all of the good work that may have been done in planning to minimise the impacts of the closure and the disruption to the community.
In a written submission to the committee the CFMMEU raised similar concerns, citing the example of Liddell:
… the commitment made by AGL Energy Ltd to "no forced retrenchments" with respect to the retirement of the Liddell power station. This means the company will, inter alia, rely on employee retirements, voluntary redundancies, redeployment to the nearby Bayswater power station and redeployment to other activities at the Liddell site.
This is a reasonable outcome, given the closure of a workplace, but the agreement between AGL and the union, as the employer representatives of the Liddell workers, is not a registered agreement under the Fair Work Act. The agreement, which for all intents and purposes is a good outcome for workers, would not be captured by the transfer-of-business provisions that apply to registered agreements in the case of divestiture. Here you could have an asset divested to another company. It could easily mean that all existing employees lose their jobs. Their pathway to a just transition is potentially completely disrupted by these divestiture powers in this bill.
Labor is here for workers. It is our view that non-registered agreements between workers, their representatives and asset owners should be protected in the event of a divestment order. Efforts between workers and asset owners that are positive should be encouraged. On that basis it is reasonable that this bill also seek to protect workers in the instances of such divestment. Workers have no responsibility for the conduct that is apparently the catalyst of this legislation being put in place, the market misconduct that the government has spoken of. Workers are not the ones that bear responsibility for allegations of cartel conduct or reductions of competition in the market. However, in true Liberal Party fashion, the drafting of this bill has given no consideration for the impact on workers. That is something that I don't think will surprise anyone. The government has paid no attention to the possibility that workers' entitlements will be reduced by the operation of this legislation.
In the other place it was Labor that moved an amendment to ensure workers under registered enterprise agreements would have their entitlements protected. We have ensured that the transfer-of-business provisions of the Fair Work Act are deemed to apply to this type of transmission—that is, forcible divestiture as a remedy for prohibited conduct in the energy sector that workers themselves have had no part in. Workers should not be punished for the anticompetitive actions of a company. This is the position of Labor senators and, I think, should be the position of all senators in this place. Following the good work of the Senate committee, Labor will be moving an amendment in this place to ensure also that non-registered agreements between workers and employees, which provide workers with additional protections agreed by employers, are safeguarded in the event of divestment. This is a very Labor thing to do, but we call on the government to support our amendment and to protect workers and their interests in the progression of this legislation. I place on record tonight my appreciation for the good work of unions like the ETU and the CFMMEU for acting in the best interests of their members and for working to protect the entitlements and livelihoods of workers in the energy generation sector.
It is a great shame that the government will not, even with the passage of this bill and after six years, have come up with a coherent national energy policy. We find ourselves as a nation not only in climate crisis but in the throes of the deepest energy crisis since the mid-1970s. And unlike the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, which was caused by an external shock, this crisis is the product of a profound failing in public policy. Households and energy-using businesses are paying the price for this crisis. We've already seen vast changes in our electricity markets. We've already seen a growing capacity for renewable energy to make a contribution to bringing down energy prices. However, in the face of a lack of a coherent energy policy from this government, the chaos and division have driven a crisis in investment and have had a terrible impact on both households and businesses around the nation. It isn't just household consumers paying the price; manufacturing businesses across many parts of the country are struggling under these high energy prices. They can't get energy contracts that ensure the future of their operations in an energy market that provides no certainty. And the government is doing nothing at all to remedy that. The only thing that manufacturing and other energy-using firms can be sure of is the failure of the tired old government that sees the energy sector with no clarity and that has a shaky ability to forward plan—very little capacity to forward plan at all, I would say.
Wholesale prices are up across the National Electricity Market, on average by 158 per cent, since the Liberal energy crisis really took grip back in 2015. The AustralianFinancial Review reported only recently that forward prices in the market are up 29 per cent in just the 12 months since the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the National Energy Guarantee were both dispatched in a coalition party room ambush. The Grattan Institute has reflected on what's happened to wholesale prices under this energy crisis and has confirmed that it has resulted in an additional $1 billion worth of windfall profits to just three big private energy companies since this crisis took hold, paid for by Australian households and energy-using businesses. So that makes it clear what the motivation has been and why Labor supports this legislation. Big profits like that need to be passed on in the form of savings to electricity consumers. However, it does not address the government's lack of policy in the overall energy market and energy framework. So Labor will support this bill but, here in this place and across the country, we will continue to hold the government to account for its useless management of energy policy. The way it has approached things is simply not good enough. Households, consumers, families and businesses deserve much better.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to summarise this bill by borrowing a phrase from Senator Whish-Wilson, who uttered it, I think, a couple of years ago. I don't normally see his phrases containing accuracy but this one is accurate: 'This bill is like a dog revisiting its own vomit.' The Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019 should really be the government's 'we failed' bill. It is proof of failed governance and it vindicates all that we've been saying about energy and climate for the last three years yet the government touts it as a big stick to protect users. That is a lie. It is another Liberal-Nationals facade. Energy prices are ridiculous, and it's of the government's own making. When large companies, as we see today, need help and are crying out for help, it's really saying something. Aluminium smelters were built in the states of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia because of our cheap coal-fired electricity. They have shut, and now more are shutting. Large industries are crying out for relief. Food processors and fodder growers are crying out for relief from electricity bills. Families are crying out for relief from electricity bills.
Before getting into the detail, I want to talk about the primacy of energy. Since the Industrial Revolution, which started around 1850, we have seen a relentless decrease in real prices of energy. That has driven the material development of Western civilisation, and now civilisation around the world. When energy becomes cheaper, productivity increases. When productivity increases, wealth increases. When wealth increases, we have much more ability to do the things that people want and need us to do. And the environment improves. It is a well-known fact that high productivity leads to wealth, which leads to improved environmental outcomes.
I also want to talk about the market we had in this country, under what is known as competitive federalism in our Constitution. It meant that, if any one state was sloppy on its electricity prices, raised electricity prices or didn't deliver reliability, then businesses and families moved to other states. We've seen that in South Australia recently; we've seen businesses leaving South Australia. But we haven't seen South Australia wake up. We've seen the Greens driving South Australia downhill, with the Labor Party—especially in the form of Jay Weatherill—piling on, and the Liberal Party, Senator Bernardi and the Centre Alliance all piling on. Why? Because South Australia has been bailed out by the other states, especially Western Australia. It's no longer competitive federalism in this country; it is competitive welfare-ism. Now we have Victoria following South Australia's lead. We have Queensland, under the Palaszczuk government, threatening to follow South Australia's lead. It's a mess. Employers have bailed on South Australia. And now employers—you watch!—will bail on Victoria in the near future. So that means companies are now looking to go overseas, and they well need to, because that's where they're getting competitive energy prices. Brickworks, a major Australian company, is talking about moving to America. And it's not the only one; others are talking about it.
Let's go through the government's glossy brochure on this bill—the 'we failed' bill. It talks about retail pricing prohibition, which, it says:
… requires retailers to pass on 'sustained and substantial' reductions in costs to consumers.
That means the market has failed. Secondly, it talks about 'contract liquidity prohibition', which, it says:
… penalises generators that withhold electricity contracts for the purpose of substantially lessening market competition.
That means it's not a market; it is a racket. The government talks about 'wholesale prohibition', which, it says:
… bans generators from manipulating the spot market, for example by withholding supply to inflate prices.
That means the market has failed. On and on and on it goes. Watch them get around all these civil penalties. Then the government talks about contracting orders. It says:
… if recommended by the ACCC, the Treasurer can require a generator to offer contracts to third parties for up to three years.
The market has failed. Divestiture orders are another gamble from the government. It says:
… if recommended by the ACCC, the Treasurer can apply to the Federal Court to force a company to sell an asset or assets to an unrelated third party.
What happened to free enterprise? The Liberal and National parties have become bastions of socialism and of governments allocating the means and resources of production. This is a question from the government:
Did you know: The ACCC found retail margins more then doubled between 2007–08 and 2017–18.
In one decade, retail margins doubled, under the Liberal-Labor-National policies over the last 15 or 20 years, starting primarily with John Howard's Liberal-National government. The government says:
The ACCC has the power to obtain information from retailers about their costs, including the cost of:
… … …
• complying with green schemes (environmental costs).
That sounds like the Murray-Darling Basin again. And then the government says, 'The ACCC will choose the most appropriate remedy for the size of the wrongdoing.' More bureaucracy, more socialism! Then we read here that the government says:
Where a company—known as a gentailer—
there's a new term, a gentailer—
owns both generation and retail services, it might be tempted to withhold contracts to drive up prices or gain an advantage in the retail market.
Socialism has failed. The legislation penalises generators that refuse to offer electricity contracts for the purpose of substantially lessening competition. Regulations caused this. The government goes on to say:
There are good reasons why a generator may not enter into contracts with rival retailers. For example—
hello, listen to this one!—
intermittent generators like wind farms—
are unable to sell supply contracts because they can't be certain they can produce the generation when it is needed. This kind of behaviour is not prohibited.
But it is common sense. We told them this would happen with solar and wind.
And then the government talks about prohibited conduct on the electricity spot market, basic and aggravated cases. I will get onto the aggravated case later. For basic cases, it says:
A corporation contravenes this section if:
(a) the corporation:
(i) bids or offers to supply electricity in relation to an electricity spot market; or
(ii) fails to bid or offer to supply electricity in relation to an electricity spot market; and
(b) the corporation does so:
(i) fraudulently, dishonestly or in bad faith; or
(ii) for the purpose of distorting or manipulating prices in that electricity spot market.
This is the Liberal-Nationals-Labor-Greens market for electricity in this country—destroying farmers, destroying industry, destroying exports. Let us go on, though, because this is an essential service that has failed under this Liberal-Labor duopoly governance. We go onto section 153H—big, capital letters!—'PROHIBITED CONDUCT—ELECTRICITY SPOT MARKET (AGGRAVATED CASE)':
A corporation contravenes this section if:
(a) the corporation:
(i) bids or offers to supply electricity in relation to an electricity spot market; or
(ii) fails to bid or offer to supply electricity in relation to an electricity spot market; and
(b) the corporation does so fraudulently, dishonestly or in bad faith, for the purpose of distorting or manipulating prices in that electricity spot market.
This is the supposed market that the Liberals, Labor, the Nationals and the Greens have concocted over the last 15 to 20 years. It is not a market; it is a bureaucratic racket. It is socialism that has failed. Then we see that, if you get two basic cases, they become an aggravated case. Again, market failing! This is the Liberal-Labor government admitting failure.
The dreamers in the Labor Party still will not own up. At least the Liberal Party—although it did not know it—has owned up. They have created this mess. And we see the Queensland Labor government. Listen to this; this is coming from the Liberal-National government:
To prevent forced privatisation, government-owned businesses will be provided the opportunity to divest to another business owned by the same government that is considered to be in genuine competition with the business.
Annastacia Palaszczuk's government owns the generators in Queensland. There is no competition. She had competition before, because she competed with New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. Now it is gone. There is no competition. The Labor Party in Queensland milks the taxpayers in Queensland for all they are worth—or, rather, the electricity users and businesses in Queensland for $1.4 billion going to $1.6 billion a year.
This happens because policy on energy is based on a lie. That leads to a bigger scam, which is the energy scam, the energy racket. Mr Angus Taylor knows this. He knows from his farming business what is going on in this country. We need to bring back competitive federalism. Socialism has failed. You created this mess with regulation. Now you're trying to fix it with regulation—more regulation and more complex and onerous regulations. That adds more cost and it employs more bureaucrats and more lawyers. It's more socialism, government control and allocation of the means of production. It could be Lenin leading you lot. We told them that solar and wind are not sustainable and not economic. They added subsidies that Australians are paying for with their jobs, not just their wallets. We told them solar and wind are not reliable. They ignored us. Now they claim that this will ensure solar and wind generators that are not reliable will be hit with a reliability penalty and that will add to prices. What is going on in this country?
I could talk about Kilcoy where governments are subsidising the proposed installation of the largest solar panel in the Southern Hemisphere, destroying 10 kilometres of a mountain range and destroying the productive capacity of productive farmland—valuable farmland—raising electricity prices and killing industries. And they're subsidising the Chinese to do it, because the Chinese will be building this solar industrial complex. When the Japanese bombed Darwin, Prime Minister John Curtin, a Labor leader, did not send them a cheque saying, 'You'll need to pay for the bombs,' but that's what we're doing with the Chinese. We're paying for them to destroy our energy. Meanwhile, they'll take our coal and build cheap wind turbines and cheap solar panels with it, and then we'll pay them subsidies to install them and run them. What is going on?
Minister Taylor knows that farmers lost their property rights to the Howard Liberal-Nationals government working with the Borbidge National Party government in 1996, and in 1998 the Beattie Labor government in Queensland and the Carr Labor government in New South Wales. Minister Taylor has firsthand experience of the damage to farming and the pain to farmers. Liberal and National party MPs know that climate change is crap and rubbish. It is really climate variability that is just going through cycles, yet this lie has been perpetuated. This afternoon we heard Senator McKenzie telling us that the Nats are committed to pushing this—committed to climate action. The sad thing is they are, and it's destroying us. Look at them hanging their heads in shame.
The Liberals say they're working on climate change, while they're trying to do as little as possible, yet still people pay the high prices. Industry pays the price. Families pay with unemployment. Farmers pay by going out of business. Labor senators say they're working on it, yet people smashed them for it five months ago. The root cause is that energy policy under the Liberals, Labor and the Nats has followed the Greens, implementing the UN's agenda now known as the 2030 Agenda—previously known as Agenda 21. Senator Pauline Hanson has rightly been calling it out for 23 years. It's an agenda for central global governance, as UN bureaucrats have admitted many times. In 2004, it was written into Greens policy and written into the policy agenda of the ALP. The Liberal-Nats pushed it. Ask Senator Robert Hill, who drove it. Queensland LNP has successfully passed several motions, I believe—certainly two; maybe three—banning their federal MPs from enacting Agenda 21. They passed that in 2013 and 2015. Does the name Smeed mean anything to you? Does the name 'Noosa branch' mean anything to you? Does the name 'Wide Bay branch' mean anything to you? They drove this right through the state.
Have a look at the Greens' policies today aimed at 2030 to comply with the UN's agenda. The UN's agenda is unelected global socialist governance. The Liberal-Nats are socialists hell-bent on regulating everything centrally and ultimately in accord with UN treaties, protocols, agendas, agreements and declarations—like the 1972 UN Lima Declaration that Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam signed in 1975 and Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser ratified the following year; like the 1992 Rio declaration, which gave birth to UN Agenda 21, now known as 2030; like the 1996 UN Kyoto protocol that drove John Howard's Liberal-National government to steal farmers' property rights, against the Constitution, with no compensation; like the 2015 UN Paris Agreement that President Donald Trump has just pulled America out of. We ask you again: pull Australia out of the Paris Agreement. It continues, as does the control of property, the control of energy and the control of water. The UN admits it. Under water, for example, UNEA, which stands for United Nations Environment Assembly, says of itself:
In May, countries will meet in Nairobi for UNEA 2—the world's de facto "Parliament for the Environment"—
not my words, UN words—
Those are not my words; they are the UN's words. And they claim credit, in the article, for installing water trading in Australia to control water quantities and prices. Look it up. The article from UNEA is entitled 'Development of water trading in Australia'. They take the credit for it because it's all based on a lie—the UN's climate lie, which is embedded at the heart of Liberal, Labor, Greens and Nationals policies, which are based on UN dictates and lies. The Greens are leading the charge as the UN's useful idiots, despite wrecking our nation and hurting our people.
There's an underlying philosophical problem. The UN-Greens goal is to keep nature as it is, untouched. Our goal is human happiness. Animals affect the environment. Humans are no different. Yet we are the only species that has the ability to know when it is hurting the environment and the only species with the intelligence and the care to minimise our impact. The Greens say we must choose between the environment and civilisation. According to the Greens and the UN, they're mutually exclusive, and they're brainwashing the kids to choose one or the other. We say that is nonsense. We say the environment and civilisation both need each other. They're mutually dependent. The future of civilisation depends on protecting the environment today. The future of the environment depends upon making sure we have a civilisation that is healthy. The UN-Greens approach is antihuman. Our approach is prohuman. We are happy when people are happy.
We've seen that regulation begets regulation—just bandaids on bandaids on bandaids. That adds cost. Canberra's workforce is growing. It is the wealthiest town, with the highest growth, in Australia—lawyers, bureaucrats. That's not productive capacity. It is destroying productive capacity. While Canberra grows, the rest of the country is putting up shutters. Just go anywhere in the bush. Our productive capacity is being destroyed, smashed, killed. So I grit my teeth. This situation is almost hopeless. Yet most MPs don't even see the problem. I grit my teeth because we must support this legislation to close the exploitation that Liberal and Labor have designed into their duopoly's energy policies. The real and honest solution, Mr Taylor, is to tell the truth on climate and to get back to policy based on solid data and facts. Let the cheapest generator prevail, on a level playing field.
I want to commend Craig Kelly, who questions the Bureau of Meteorology for its lies on climate, its distortions, and who is working diligently to turn the ship around. I want to compliment Senator Rennick for questioning the Bureau of Meteorology. And I want to acknowledge Maurice Newman, former international banker and head of the Australian Stock Exchange, who has said the same and exposed the UN's desire for control openly and publicly. Energy primacy, water privacy, property rights primacy—we will restore the productive capacity of our beautiful country.
Madam Acting Deputy President Fierravanti-Wells, let me reassure you and reassure the chamber that, as a National, I am not hanging my head in shame while standing here speaking to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. I'm not hanging my head in shame that our Minister for Agriculture stood here today and said the climate is changing. There is nothing wrong with supporting a cleaner environment across the board. There is nothing wrong with being cleaner, reducing pollution, cleaning up our society, getting rid of plastic waste, getting rid of pollution, to support a cleaner society. But we need balance. We need reliable, affordable power. In the absence of a clear pathway with state support for new, reliable coal-fired power plants, and in the absence of clear support to build the cleanest power available—that being nuclear power—we are tying our own hands.
I also want to address some comments made by Senator Pratt, who supports jobs. I commend her for supporting jobs and supporting transition arrangements between power companies, such as AGL, which are looking to the future when they close down. But what about the jobs in the smelting plants? What about the jobs in our aluminium sector, which relies on absolutely reliable power at an affordable price? If one of those smelting plants loses power for a significant period of time, that shuts down the plant. There is no reopening. That is thousands of jobs lost. So what we on this side of the chamber are trying to do is introduce a mechanism that serves consumers well, that serves the market as well as it can be served, without overburdened regulation. This bill is designed to amend the Competition and Consumer Act to define energy market misconduct, to provide a series of penalties and remedies for companies engaging in misconduct that is prohibited, and to enable us to have a fairer market and better outcomes for consumers and the power market in general.
I commend my colleagues in the Nationals, who have long championed reliable and affordable power—particularly for our rural and regional communities. We have worked hard to achieve greater transparency in the electricity market. The Nationals are not wedded to one type of power over another; it is not coal or bust, and it is not renewables or bust. We will take power from anywhere. We are power agnostic, and proud to be power agnostic. We are proud to be part of a government that invests in renewables at a higher per capita rate than any other nation, and we're also proud to talk about other options such as nuclear power.
We know that the Australian energy market has not been serving consumers well, which is why we directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to undertake a retail pricing inquiry in March 2017. In undertaking that inquiry, the ACCC identified clear problems in the retail, wholesale and contract markets, labelling the situation unacceptable and unsustainable, and noted that energy retailers have played a major role in poor outcomes for consumers. That is why the Nationals, in coalition government, are working to address those problems identified by the ACCC. That is why, in January, over 458,000 Australian families and 39,000 small businesses received a better deal on their energy prices, thanks to pressure from the coalition government on big energy companies to put customers first by moving them off high-priced standing offers.
On 1 July, this government introduced a default market offer—a cap on standing offer prices, locking in a safety net for around 700,000 Australian families and 110,000 small businesses. Since its introduction, family power bills have come down between $130 and $190 per household per year. We are committed to underwriting new generation investments of all types and implementing a reliability guarantee across the energy market. We will also make competition more effective in energy markets by extending the consumer data right to energy. We will make it difficult for companies to shut down power plants when there is a willing buyer in the market, because that's not fair. That's not fair to our consumers. That's not fair to our energy marketplace.
Market participants in markets that lack competition can be tempted to engage in misconduct, to the detriment of consumers. This new law addresses that issue by specifying three types of electricity market misconduct: failing to pass on sustained and substantial reductions in the cost of electricity, refusing to enter into contracts for the purpose of substantially lessening competition, and distorting or manipulating prices in a way that is fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith. This new law introduces a range of graduated penalties to apply when the ACCC has identified market misconduct.
While both private and public electricity firms will be subject to the legislation, this bill does not allow for blanket privatisation. The court can order only that a government owned asset be divested to another government owned firm. Many in the energy sector oppose this new legislation, but the government is determined to act to address the misconduct so as to protect consumers, because that's what this is about. This is about consumers. This is about jobs in the consumer market and businesses that need and rely on affordable power. The status quo, in the words of the ACCC, is unacceptable and unsustainable. By introducing this new legislative framework of prohibitions and remedies, the government is determined to improve competition and lower prices across the energy market. Make no mistake: our government, and the Nationals in government, are absolutely committed to fair competition in marketplaces, and where needs be we will take action to ensure it happens. I commend this bill to the chamber.
I rise tonight to speak to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019, otherwise known as the 'big stick' bill. As many of you will know, Labor was deeply critical of the original bill in the last parliament as it risked doing harm and seriously risked the privatisation of publicly owned electricity generators. This issue is particularly important to me and my fellow Tasmanians. The building of Tasmania's hydroelectric system—its dams and pipelines, turbines and power stations—created Australia's largest producer of renewable energy. Since its first hydropower development over a century ago, Tasmania has led the nation in renewable energy development. Today it uses water and wind power to harness natural energy that is then sold on to the country on the national grid.
Tasmanians and many migrants who battled often cruel working conditions, difficult terrain and huge engineering challenges—not to mention environmental disputes that divided families and communities—are enormously proud of their hydro and the thousands of people who sweated to build it. We've made it clear time and again that we are not prepared to countenance it being sold off and privatised. The Morrison government has attempted to deal with some of our reservations by introducing in this parliament this bill, which makes improvements particularly in relation to privatisation.
Labor, while supporting the bill, remain highly sceptical that it will make a real difference to the power bills of ordinary Australians, and we will continue to hold this government to account for its absolutely woeful management of energy policy in this country. Most recently, we witnessed the demise of the National Energy Guarantee and the career of the prime minister who backed it. Since then, and under new leadership, the government have wandered around producing their own special emissions in the form of thought bubbles and other expulsions that they think the Australian people might buy as actual policy. After 17 attempts, the coalition government still have no sensible energy policy to drive investment, reduce emissions or cut power bills for struggling Australian households and businesses.
This absence of a coherent, overarching policy should be a source of shame to this government. It is yet another example of a government without any plan for our country. Just the other week we heard Malcolm Turnbull state that the Liberals are simply incapable of delivering policy that takes account of carbon emissions. The government continue to squabble amongst themselves over carbon emissions and refuse to capitalise on the very clear evidence that a coherent policy would both benefit the hip pockets of energy consumers and create jobs, industries and opportunities for the future.
Just to be clear: the dubious nature of the impact this legislation might have is indicated by the fact that our own consumer watchdog, the ACCC, has not recommended it. Not only was it not recommended by the ACCC after its lengthy examination of the retail electrical market but, indeed, the ACCC recommended against a divesture power, as did Professor Ian Harper in his review of competition policy for the government a couple of years earlier. As any observer of this debate would know, various business groups, energy users and energy suppliers over the last 12 or 18 months have been critical of the legislation in its different iterations. However, since the election in May, business groups have changed their view from one of opposition to one of seeking to work with the government to improve the operation of this bill. In the spirit of being a constructive opposition, the Labor Party has also adopted this approach. In particular, we've been concerned about the impact of potential ministerial overreach in the operation of this original bill. It is important to note that the government has seen the error of its ways and pulled back the ministerial power that would be able to be exercised under this legislation. Instead, it has appropriately substituted a role for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a role for the Federal Court.
Since the original presentation of this bill, Labor has been steadfastly against its very significant loophole to allow the privatisation of publicly owned electricity assets—namely, the forcible divesture of publicly owned electricity assets and the transfer of those assets to private companies. We know the Liberal Party is addicted to the privatisation of electricity. We were promised there would be more choice and there would be better prices and competition in the market, but I think anyone who has even had a casual look at the operation of the electricity market knows that privatisations have worked for companies; they haven't worked for consumers. Mr Bob Katter, the member for Kennedy, and Labor identified this loophole in the original presentation of this bill. Labor in the other house was able to ensure that loophole was closed absolutely and completely to ensure that, if the operation of this legislation results in the divesture of a publicly owned asset, it can only be divested to another publicly owned asset with the same or a greater level of public ownership.
Also, as a Labor Party, we are, of course, very concerned that workers and their entitlements not be prejudiced by the operation of this legislation. Typically, this government appears to have paid no attention at all to the possibility that workers' entitlements could be reduced or negatively impacted by the operation of this legislation. Workers' entitlements, as we know, don't tend to be front of mind for Liberal governments. Workers cannot be seen as having responsibility for the conduct that is apparently the driver of this legislation being put in place—that is, allegations of cartel conduct or reductions of competition in the market. Labor in the other house moved an amendment to ensure that the transmission of business provisions of the Fair Work Act are deemed to apply to this type of transmission—namely, a forcible divesture. That will ensure that those entitlements that are contained in registered enterprise agreements and in awards are preserved and protected for workers.
Since consideration in the House, and thanks to the good work of the Senate committee that inquired into this bill, it has become clear that a similar issue exists for non-registered agreements between workers and employers in the context of possible divestiture. Labor does not accept that workers should be worse off as a result of divestiture, which is a remedy for prohibited conduct that workers themselves have no part in. Put simply, workers should not be punished for the anticompetitive actions of a company. That is a position that all senators should agree with. That is why Labor will be moving a further amendment in this place to ensure non-registered agreements between workers and employers which provide workers with additional protections agreed by employers should be safeguarded in the event of divestment. That is the right thing to do, it is the Labor thing to do, and we call on the government and others in this place to support our amendment.
I want to be clear that this bill is in no way a substitute for a proper, coherent national energy policy. Australia finds itself in the midst of the deepest energy crisis since the mid-1970s. Unlike that energy crisis in the 1970s, which was caused by an external shock, this energy crisis is a product of profound public policy failure. Households and energy-using businesses are paying the price for this crisis. Power bills for households and businesses are going up and up, and it is quite clear that the market expects those bills to continue to go up. Wholesale prices across the National Electricity Market are up by 158 per cent on average since the Liberal energy crisis really took hold in 2015. The Financial Review has reported that forward prices in the electricity market are up 29 per cent in just the 12 months since the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the National Energy Guarantee were both dispatched by a coalition party room in turmoil. The key problem, as identified by advice after advice, is that lack of a coherent national energy policy.
The Grattan Institute, reflecting what has happened to wholesale prices under this energy crisis, confirmed that it has resulted in $1 billion in additional windfall profits to just the three big private energy companies every year since this crisis took hold—paid for by Australian households and energy-using businesses. This government is, quite disturbingly, trying to persuade the Australian people that all things are tickety-boo in the investment market. It is true that we did have a surge in investment in renewable energy to achieve the Renewable Energy Target that the Labor Party put in place when we were in government. Now that target is discharged it is clear that, while Australia was leading the world in renewable energy investment, the level of investment in that sector is already down 50 per cent in the first half of 2019 alone. The Clean Energy Council said that that is probably an underestimate. This sector should be growing. Labor sees it as a beacon for investment, innovation and job creation, yet we expect it to shed thousands and thousands of jobs, because of policy uncertainty and the lack of a plan. We do support this bill, but we will continue to hold this government to account for its woeful management of energy policy and its lack of vision.
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. The last few weeks have been dominated by the crushing effects of the drought being experienced right around this country. The last few days have seen, frankly, apocalyptic climate-driven bushfires which have now taken lives as well as homes and huge swathes of bushland. Those fires come on top of the fact that towns are soon to run out of water. A few towns in my home state are already having water trucked into them. Regional communities are under enormous financial and psychological pressure, and the government's own reports have detailed the increased frequency with which farming areas will be turned into desert because of our climate collapse, yet there's no government legislation in front of this parliament to deal with those society-wide challenges of our planet cooking and drying out.
But we do have this 'big stick' bill. What a very big stick it is! Of course, it is purely targeted at bullying energy companies to keep coal in the system for as long as possible. Today we have not just the government but the opposition, both big parties, supporting government intervention in the market to prop up old coal-fired power stations as we have warnings of catastrophic bushfires bearing down on New South Wales and where my home state of Queensland is on fire. We have bipartisan support for coal-fired power and keeping those old clunkers going, despite industry wanting to move away from them. Not only does this approach fly in the face of the climate science—we're getting a bit used to that—but it flies in the face of global economics. Coal use in the National Electricity Market is down eight per cent in the last year. Many of those coal-fired power stations that are in the NEM are old and outdated. They are clunkers that break down regularly, and every month they get older and pose an even bigger threat to the reliability of our energy system.
This government cannot hold back technological progress, no matter how hard they try—and even when they have the Labor Party's legislative support. Of course, Labor opposed this bill before the election, but now they are too scared to talk about government-backed just transitions away from coal and coal-fired power and towards clean, job rich, renewable energy. What an absolute travesty and abrogation of duty that is! The fact is that renewable technologies are getting cheaper and more efficient every month. In the next few years, building a new solar plant will be cheaper than running those existing coal-fired plants—that is huge. That is despite the fact that those existing plants would have already been paid off and run into the ground to squeeze out every last dollar of profit. We know that new solar is already cheaper than new coal, but in the next few years it will be cheaper than existing coal-fired power.
Instead of a clear timetable for the retirement of coal-fired power stations, proper planning, investment in grid infrastructure and a clear pathway to a zero-emissions electricity sector, the electricity market has been victim to a war of words, threats and ad hoc policy bubbles. This bill represents the latest round in the Liberal-Nationals ideological war on a rational energy transition to renewable energy. As a result of the policy uncertainty created by this government's unwillingness to accept the climate crisis, what we have here is yet another strategy to cause chaos and uncertainty in order to scare away the billions of global dollars wanting to invest in clean energy. It sounds to me like a strategy to keep their coal donors donating.
The government don't care that this uncertainty will keep driving power prices up, and they certainly don't care that coal workers will be thrown out of employment at a moment's notice, instead of guaranteeing that not one worker will be left behind, as Germany managed to do in the coal transition plan that they have now delivered. This government doesn't care that keeping coal open longer will make the drought a constant, lived experience and force the migration of farming families. All they care about is the donations of coal, oil and gas companies continuing to line their parties' pockets.
Under any other government, a divestment power for anticompetitive conduct and market manipulation would be welcomed by our party—and that is why we are going to support Senator Patrick's amendment—but we cannot support this legislation, because it is designed solely to bully energy companies to keep open old coal-fired power stations—like Liddell, in particular—which will result in driving up prices and creating even more uncertainty and unreliability in our energy system. It is absolutely clear that the government hounded the former CEO of AGL out of the country and then established the Liddell Taskforce and now have introduced this bill, all with the express purpose of keeping one of Australia's dirtiest power stations open, against the owner's wishes and against commercial reality. If the Liberals weren't so in love with privatisations, the government would still own Liddell. But I guess they are a victim of their own success in that regard.
The powers contained in this bill are largely friendless. Evidence to the committee and statements in the media show that almost the whole of the energy sector is opposed to this bill. A number of legal bodies and energy policy experts have also expressed deep concerns, including the Grattan Institute and the Law Council. The powers in the bill have not been requested by any of the agencies tasked with managing the energy market. In fact, the government commissioned the ACCC to inquire into and report on electricity prices, and they didn't recommend these powers. The Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills also raised concerns—in particular, about the reversal of the onus of proof in some of the offences contained in the bill.
But the bill is before us, and it is because the cabinet is full of bullies who want more legal power to push around their political opponents—and Labor cannot feign ignorance that they are supporting the government and handing over this bullying power. Contributions from government members during debate in the House of Representatives were explicit on this point. They said that the 'big stick' of the divestiture powers in the bill was necessary to stop AGL from refusing to sell Liddell power station instead of retiring it.
Both our major political parties are swimming against the tide of progress. By backing in coal and making it as hard as possible for low-cost, clean energy to power our cities and homes and our National Electricity Market, you are condemning Australian homes to higher power prices, you're cutting off the lifeline to energy-intensive industries that need cheap, abundant power to be competitive and you are worsening the climate emergency that is already wreaking havoc on people's lives, their homes and our bushland.
Just like for the farmers suffering through this frightening drought, clean energy is the only hope. That is why the Greens will unequivocally oppose this bill and it's why we've given notice that we will move some amendments to enable this bill to operate as it ideally should—not as just a mechanism to try and keep old coal-fired power clunkers going long past their use-by date.
I'm pleased to rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. If there's something I hate more than inefficient bureaucracies, it's parasites in the private sector bleeding the taxpayer dry by living off government subsidies—and what a private sector we have in the energy market, made all the bigger by Senator Watt's previous boss, Anna Bligh, selling all of Queensland's gas and wind assets back in 2007. For those of you that need reminding, Queensland Labor privatised wind assets for $460 million, gas assets and Enertrade for $268 million, Powerdirect for $1.2 billion, Sun Retail for $1.2 billion and Allgas for $535 million. Here it is, the truth about who sold Queensland's energy assets: Queensland Labor—and never forget it.
The private sector in energy is only going to grow bigger in Queensland, because Queensland Labor are subsidising private industry to build power plants that aren't needed. That's right: they aren't needed. Why? Because the maximum amount of demand in Queensland ever recorded, on Valentine's Day last year, was 10 gigawatts, and we currently have a 16-gigawatt capacity in the system—13 gigawatts in coal and gas, and three gigawatts in renewables. Despite this, Queensland Labor want to spend billions more on installing another 19 gigawatts into the grid by subsidising the private sector to do this. These billions should be spent on building dams, not on further energy generation which will only increase transmission costs, storage costs and auxiliary costs.
This is the real reason why energy prices are rising across the country: if you add more energy generators to the grid, you've got to have a bigger grid, you've got to have more storage and you've got to have more auxiliary services. So, there you go: if these assets are rendered worthless, it will bankrupt the state of Queensland. These assets that I'm talking about are the current assets we have in Queensland, which, might I add, generate power for $9 a megawatt. That is on page 120 of Alan Finkel's report—$9 a megawatt. For Kogan Creek, Stanwell and Callide, it's $17 a megawatt. That's cheaper than any other energy source in the country.
The Labor Party are a disgrace. They have no idea. Even after having their backsides handed to them on a plate at the last election, they still don't get it. Led by their chief yapping poodle, Senator Watt, they hide in their Twittersphere safe space with an ever-decreasing band of zealots spouting bile, incapable of rational argument. For several years now, the rising cost of living has constantly been the most common issue raised when I talk with Queenslanders. These sentiments are also reflected in the published polling, which consistently shows that cost of living is the No. 1 concern for Australians—more than any other issue and well ahead of climate change.
Essential expenses such as electricity are putting a huge drain on household budgets. Fifteen years ago Australia had some of the cheapest energy prices in the world. Over that time we have slipped dramatically and now have some of the most expensive, to the detriment of Australians, their businesses and our economy. Look no further than my home state of Queensland, where the Palaszczuk-Trad Labor government puts extreme green ideology above the needs of everyday Queenslanders. And where have we seen a near doubling of government returns on electricity in recent years? It's gouging. This amounts to a secret tax—a secret electricity tax that punishes small business and rips off our most vulnerable and disadvantaged, simply to funnel more revenue into another cash-hungry Labor government and big corporates in the renewable energy sector. In my first speech, I said that national interests should always come before vested interests, and I stand here today, pleased to be speaking on a bill which goes to the very heart of that statement. It is in our national interest to have cheaper power. Cheap power drives our economy and helps create jobs for Australians and takes the pressures off working families.
No, it's not, Murray. It costs a lot of money to build solar panels. I'll take that interjection. It's free, is it? So how many synchronous condensers are you going to need in your renewable paradise? Do you even know what a synchronous condenser is, Senator Watt? No, I bet you don't. Never heard of it! You wouldn't have a clue, would you? This bill will help the federal Liberal-National government honour its commitment to a 25 per cent reduction in wholesale electricity prices by the end of 2021, which is a great start in helping Australian families, pensioners and small business. Electricity assets tend to become natural monopolies, and this is particularly true in regional Queensland, where consumer choice is virtually non-existent. It is up to responsible governments to provide oversight and to step in when monopoly power is abused. Generating electricity should not be a licence to print money at the expense of everyday Australians, and it should never be allowed to become one. This legislation is about ensuring that big corporate electricity providers and cash-hungry state governments do not abuse market power and become robber barons with a light switch. And don't we know all about that? Who can remember the numbers released in August 2018 by Origin and AGL showing profits up by 20 per cent despite the fact they didn't generate any more electricity? That's what you call a monopoly gouging everyday hardworking Australians. This government is going to do something about it—fantastic! I'm pleased that this Morrison government is doing something about this.
Competitive markets work best when there is a clear understanding on both sides of the transaction. People understand that bread is bread and can make an informed choice based on price, convenience and their personal preference. An electricity account, on the other hand, is more complex. Big corporates should not be able to take advantage of customer loyalty and confusion around such complex matters simply to line their own pockets. Any competitive or deceptive practices detrimental to consumers must end. Such practices will only end when targeted disincentives and harsh penalties are imposed to make sure they do end. The spiralling cost of electricity has made reform imperative, particularly in situations where effective regional monopolies mean there is no other consumer choice available. Retail price-gouging, where retailers fail to pass on substantial price savings to consumers, will be prohibited by this bill—and about time. The Australian people are not an ATM for big energy retailers. This prohibition is long overdue and simply corrects the abuse of market power by some electricity retailers.
This bill also deals with anticompetitive contracts designed to cut out the knees from under small electricity retailers to remove effective competition. We wouldn't stand for this type of behaviour in any other sector, and we definitely should not stand for it in the provision of an essential service. The ACCC was established to protect Australian consumers from conduct just like this, and I am pleased to see that the Morrison government is acting decisively to ensure that this unethical behaviour is rooted out. Further, the wholesale contract prohibition in this bill will prevent any deliberate market manipulation and anticompetitive conduct by generators. It's ridiculous that we allow generators to deliberately withhold supply from the energy market in a way that essentially amounts to price manipulation. We would not tolerate big supermarkets or petrol retailers who deliberately shut half their outlets to raise prices in others. Nor should this be permitted to occur in our electricity market. These new prohibitions provide a strong framework to deal with the worst of the misconduct evident in our energy market. The message I hear across Queensland is loud and clear: we must get electricity prices down. This bill will help to do that, and I am pleased that this Liberal-National government has demonstrated the courage of their convictions by tackling the big energy companies head-on.
Any law is only as good as the appropriate authority's ability to enforce it and the disincentive that the legislative penalties provide. This government has not shirked its responsibility in this regard. The legislation allows for a series of graduated and tailored remedies to ensure that the ACCC is empowered to deal swiftly and appropriately with poor conduct, meaning that there is no blind eye or incentive for market players to push the envelope. Initial warnings and infringement notices from the ACCC will put operators on notice immediately, while significant penalties will remove any incentive to simply pay the fines and move on. Any further serious misconduct where a generator refuses to offer electricity financial contracts to a retail rival for any competitive purposes will allow the ACCC to recommend that the Treasurer issues a contracting order.
The most controversial element of this so-called big-stick legislation is the final and most severe element—namely, the mechanism for a court ordered divestiture order. It is important to note that a divestiture order can only be issued by the Federal Court in serious and repeated instances of market manipulation and gouging, only with the recommendation of the ACCC, following a referral from the Treasurer, and only where such an order will result in a net benefit to the public. Divestiture orders can only be considered where a corporation's conduct is shown to be fraudulent, dishonest or otherwise unethical for the purpose of manipulating prices. As with all other remedies outlined in this bill, a clear process must be followed and strict criteria must be met, including the penalties that must be reasonably proportionate and must target the conduct appropriately. Court ordered divestiture under the terms of this bill will not empower the court to order the sale of any asset to a private purchaser. I am confident that this legislation will work effectively to bring down power prices over the term of its life, as the legislation is set to sunset on 1 January 2026, which will be at the conclusion of the ACCC's ongoing monitoring inquiry.
Like any calm and sensible government, we will ensure that there is appropriate scrutiny and make sure that all measures continue to function as intended. The government will also conduct its own internal review in 2024 to comprehensively examine how well the legislation is working and to determine if its life should be extended.
I proudly support this bill as one pillar of the Morrison government's comprehensive strategy to get electricity prices down and ensure we keep the lights on. This is an absolute priority for everyday Australians, and it is a responsibility, and indeed a commitment, that we on this side of the chamber take very seriously. This bill will work in conjunction with the government's other energy policies, including the default market offer and the retail reliability obligation. Both commenced earlier this year. Collectively, these measures will ensure that prices come down and supply is assured for all Australian families and businesses.
It is encouraging that those opposite have chosen to support this bill. While Labor may have been dragged kicking and screaming to support the government's plan to lower electricity prices, it is good to see that they are finally waking up to the cost-of-living pressures faced by Australian families. It is my hope that Labor's epiphany on the virtues of reliable and affordable power will quickly transfer up the road to their colleagues in the Queensland Labor government, because that government's manipulation of the energy market continues to suck money out of the pockets of Queenslanders—all day, every day—and it too must stop. I will quote the figures for those who can't remember: the amount of money collected from the energy assets last year was $1.7 billion, up from $1.4 billion the year before—a massive 15 to 20 per cent increase in one year. That's what you call price gouging by Queensland's state Labor government. If they're not careful, they're going to render those assets worthless and there's $20 billion worth of debt that's secured against those assets. So, if that's added to the existing debt that we've got in Queensland, you're going to send the state broke. Just keep that in mind. Senator Watt especially might like to keep that in mind, given his past involvement in selling assets under the prior state Labor government. To those against this bill, I make one further point. Companies that act ethically and appropriately and do not engage in misconduct will not be adversely affected. In fact, those operators will now enjoy a level playing field, unhampered by market manipulation and anticompetitive behaviour.
Finally, the government understand that this legislation imposes a new framework on players in the marketplace. That is why we are taking the sensible option of giving them six months to understand their obligations—they shouldn't need it—and make any necessary adjustments before the legislation takes effect. This bill is what good government is all about: a focus on the real issues facing Australians, with proper consultation and careful consideration of all factors at play. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Well, Mr Acting Deputy President, what a night it's been! I flicked the telly on and watched some of the performances over the course of the evening. I've got to say that it fell off a cliff after Senator Pratt, really. I watched Senator Roberts's performance this evening. With all that stuff—the UN one world socialist government, the solar industrial complex—I could feel myself getting stupider as each minute went by.
I'm coming to you in a minute, Senator Rennick, because you weren't much better. I think—if I properly understood what you were saying—you were for it and he was against it, but I couldn't tell the difference between you. Each of you is as silly as the other. If Australians are listening to the Senate—
Senator Rennick interjecting—
If Australians are listening to the Senate and they tuned in after Senator Pratt, they will have got a very clear understanding of why the country's in so much trouble on energy policy. The kind of loopy stuff that we heard from Senator Rennick and the kind of wacko conspiracy stuff that we heard from Senator Roberts is the same stuff that we hear in the House of Representatives from the member for Hughes, and that's what's really driving the behaviour and thinking of people in the coalition party room. That's why you're in so much trouble on energy policy. That's why we're into coalition energy policy No. 17. It's because you people—this crowd over here, Mr Acting Deputy President—are driven by some of the loopiest thinking on energy policy in the country.
What is the coalition for on energy policy? Bills have gone up by 148 per cent. Ever since the start of what passes for this lot being in charge, bills have gone up by 148 per cent.
I know Senator Rennick doesn't believe emissions are a problem, but emissions have gone up. Investment in the sector: down. Reliability of the system: down. That's because you lot don't have an energy policy.
I watched closely Senator Rennick's interview on Sky this afternoon. He was there with Senator Watt. I've never seen Senator Watt so quiet. I've never seen him in an interview so reluctant—
We all want to see more of it. I've never seen Senator Watt so reluctant to step up to the microphone. But we all know why he was reluctant. He was acting in the Labor Party's interests and making sure that the Australian public saw as much of Senator Rennick as possible.
We know what's driving the coalition's energy policy. It's not the experts; it's the little blokes in their basements—on the old Google or the dark web or whatever they do—looking up the conspiracy theories, thinking really hard about energy policy and—
Talking logic—that's right, Senator Rennick. They're applying their own logic, sitting there in their basements. They've got the avatars on their accounts. They look like Brad Pitt but really they look like Senator Rennick. That's what this lot are doing. That's what's driving their thinking.
The Labor Party will support this legislation, when it's been amended, but we don't believe it will have the slightest impact on energy and prices. What the country really needs is a comprehensive energy policy. It's like the old Hippocratic oath—do least harm in this place. The failure to have a proper energy policy will very likely drive down investment in the energy sector and continue to drive up electricity prices. The bill claims to address market misconduct, when there is very little evidence to support the scale of intervention set out in this bill.
Finally, the policy development process for the bill has been rushed. It's a sign that the bill is more about politics than good policy—another signature of this government. When the Liberal government came to power in 2013, they dismantled four major climate change programs and began drafting legislation to repeal the Clean Energy Act 2011. They've introduced a whole series of legislation—the only country in the civilised world to actually go backwards on climate change and energy policy.
Senator Rennick interjecting—
I think you should just let him go; he's got to get it all out! After changing prime ministers, the Liberal government had another go at energy policy.
Senator Rennick interjecting—
You've been at the heart of this too. You've been at the heart of this disaster. In 2017 Malcolm Turnbull proposed the National Energy Guarantee, targeting emissions and reliability. He didn't have the support of his own party and he didn't last for much longer. We recently heard from the former Prime Minister that the energy crisis will continue under the Morrison government. He said that the Liberals are simply incapable of delivering policy that takes carbon emissions into account. If they were serious about ending the energy crisis, the government would come back to the table on the National Energy Guarantee.
Instead of getting serious and making real, lasting attempts to fix the mess, this is what we've had from the government in the last few months. We've got an inquiry into nuclear power, as if an expensive and dangerous nuclear power plant that won't be operational for 20 years is supposed to solve a crisis that we're experiencing here and now. We have attempts to keep increasingly unreliable and economically unviable ageing coal plants open, rather than policy to support their replacement with clean, cheap alternatives. I've been to the Liddell Power Station. I've worked with people who've worked on Liddell Power Station. Everybody knows it's a power station that's running out of time. Lastly we've got this bill—the 'big stick' energy legislation—which is not going to go anywhere near solving the crisis that's in front of the country.
In short, all the government has achieved is a confusing jumble of policies, with no vision, no guiding principle and no policy coherence. The coalition is beholden to climate change deniers and pro-coal lobbyists. Anyone who believes in the need to take urgent action on climate change and invest in renewable energy is barely visible in the government, and they are frightened to speak up. Anybody who has any trouble understanding how much trouble the Morrison government is in on energy policy should tune in and listen to the Senate tonight and listen to Senator Rennick's brilliant interview on Sky television, and that will tell you exactly how bad it is over there.
Since 2015 under this government, we've seen gas prices triple and wholesale power prices across the National Electricity Market skyrocket by 158 per cent. Millions of Australians haven't had a wage increase in that time, and this has put an unacceptable strain on household budgets. The lack of energy policy from the government has been cited by the Finkel report, AEMO, the Energy Security Board, industry and Infrastructure Australia as driving up energy costs for all Australians.
It's not only skyrocketing energy prices that have brought us to this crisis point. The Australian Energy Market Operator warns that Australians are at increased risk of power shortages this summer, with more than a million homes expected to suffer power shortages of up to five hours. New South Wales will become particularly vulnerable. EnergyAustralia has warned that blackouts in some areas could last for weeks. These dangers are exacerbated because Australia's energy grid is highly interconnected and increasingly fragile, putting all Australians at risk. Putting aside the direct impacts of power outages on the lives of individual Australian households and the impact of rising electricity prices on Australian households, the Australian economy risks becoming uncompetitive because of the drastic and unsustainable rise in energy prices. This year, BlueScope Steel invested a billion dollars in a steel plant in Ohio instead of in Australia and what they directly said—