Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Senator Birmingham. Yesterday in Senate question time the minister said, 'The government is not funding a new coal-fired power station.' Former resources minister Senator Canavan has been reported as interjecting: 'Not yet'. Will the minister rule out appeasing the latest tantrum from Nationals like Senator Canavan by providing taxpayer's money for new coal-fired power generation?
Honourable senators interjecting—
I think I've seen one or two tantrums in this chamber, usually looking straight opposite—stop smiling, Senator Wong; you shouldn't let yourself be caught out like that—but certainly not from any distinguished colleagues in the National Party.
In relation to the senator's question, I reiterate what I said yesterday: what the government is doing is precisely what the government took to the last election. We promised $10 million of funding for feasibility studies. The feasibility studies are looking at two different projects in relation to the Queensland energy markets. That's what we're funding and that's what we're doing—nothing more, nothing less. There are no further policy decisions that have been taken to take that any further at this stage. Those matters, of course, all depend upon seeing whether or not cases stack up. If cases stack up, then, in large part, it will be a matter of seeing what private sector reaction there is to funding cases that stack up in relation to energy markets.
In terms of energy markets in Australia, and the question about the former minister for resources, who I know has played a big role in energy policy as well, I note that Australia is a country where at present not only our emissions are going down but also, importantly, prices are going down. A critical part for Australia in terms of this government's policy focus is to make sure we have lower emissions and higher reliability but lower prices for Australians as well. Wholesale energy prices have dropped in recent times, in some cases with reductions of up to 35 per cent. The wholesale energy prices for the National Electricity Market for the last quarter of last year were at the lowest level in years. That's what it's about: getting lower prices while making sure we have reliability and emissions reductions, as we promised. (Time expired)
As I just said in the answer to the first question, and as I said yesterday: the government is very clear about what it is we are doing. They are feasibility studies—feasibility studies and business cases that will look into these projects. And, of course, for business cases and feasibility studies, if they stack up, then you would expect to see investment that will flow to projects that stack up. That is how the commercial market works. We identified in the last election that, in relation to those regions of Queensland, there are questions about the reliability of energy. There are pressures in terms of the affordability of energy. These are issues it seems that the Queensland state Labor government has happily overlooked over a period of time.
On the point of order, I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question nor to use a particular word. I believe the minister is being directly relevant if he is talking about funding arrangements for this. He doesn't have to use a word that is used in the question. It is not appropriate, however, to talk about state government policies in this place and be directly relevant.
On the point of order, I'm not clear what you've ruled, Mr President, but I would just draw to your attention: the only aspect of funding that was asked about was a taxpayer funded indemnity.
I appreciate that, Senator Wong. And I've ruled that discussion of matters of state government policy in this regard that aren't directly related to funding of this particular issue that's been raised in the question are not directly relevant. I have been listening carefully to the minister's answer and I do believe he was being directly relevant talking about funding arrangements for this particular project. I can't instruct him how to answer a question or to use a particular word in the answer, but it was a specific question so the answer must relate to funding.
I know those opposite seem to want us to pre-empt the outcome of feasibility studies or business cases and, of course, their mates in the Queensland state government didn't even support such work happening. We are, standing on what we took to the election—
Yesterday, the minister ruled out government funding for a new coal-fired power station. Why did the Prime Minister yesterday fail to rule out providing an indemnity which the Australian Industry Group says could cost taxpayers $17 billion?
I won't accept the words that the senator tries to put in my mouth about what I said yesterday. What I said yesterday is on the Hansard record, and it should all be read entirely in context. What I said yesterday very clearly was that the government is funding a feasibility study, business cases, into two projects—$10 million, as we promised at the election, nothing more, nothing less. Are we currently funding a coal-fired power station? No, we're not. That's a statement of fact. We are funding precisely what we promised. This is about making sure that, when it comes to reliability and affordability of energy to be able to support industry in areas of Queensland, our government is willing to make sure that industry has the energy that it needs—and is working through the process to make sure that investors have the information they need—to make informed decisions to support those jobs in Queensland. I'm surprised that a Queensland senator would be raising such concerns about jobs in Queensland.