Senate debates

Monday, 31 August 2020

Regulations and Determinations

Industry Research and Development (Bankable Feasibility Study on High-Efficiency Low-Emissions Coal Plant in Collinsville Program) Instrument 2020; Disallowance

4:59 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's good to finish off the speaking on this bill. I seem to recall that last time we started off by pointing out that this side of the chamber is the side of the chamber that believes in jobs for working-class Queenslanders and all Australians. I'd like to welcome back my coal-loving patriot friend, Senator Canavan. If it weren't for Senator Canavan, who has his finger on the pulse of the Queensland people, I probably wouldn't be a senator.

Matt Canavan listens to the people. So does the LNP, and so does the federal coalition. We know that what matters is jobs. All we want to do is help look at a scoping study to see if it's possible to put a coal plant in North Queensland so that north Queenslanders can have some jobs, because, heaven knows, the Queensland Labor Party is doing its best to destroy jobs. They've brought in the reef regulations, which are a threat to our cattle and cane industries—two industries that are synonymous with the great state of Queensland. But that's not enough. No. They want to destroy the coal industry as well, and tourism, and it goes on.

They're subsidising a foreign wind farm that is to be built in a national park—that's right, a multinational owned wind farm in a national park. But do you know who they won't let in national parks? Do you know who they're kicking out of national parks in Queensland? Australian beekeepers. National parks are where the bees go to have a rest after they have helped pollinate all the trees that grow the fruit et cetera. And I want to give a big shout-out to Rodney Smith from Chinchilla. He's a beekeeper who took me out to Barakula State Forest one day and showed me how it all works. The bees love their eucalypts. But I digress.

What's so annoying about this motion is the sheer blatant hypocrisy of it. It is sheer blatant hypocrisy that we can't look at all forms of energy generation—the power, the industries—that this country needs to get some jobs and some economic growth so we can get out of COVID. I'll explain why. The federal government has laid down $10 billion for the clean energy fund, another $5 billion for the Snowy Hydro project, another $3½ billion for the Climate Solutions Package, $2½ billion for the Emissions Reduction Fund, $1½ billion for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, another $1 billion for the Grid Reliability Fund and half a billion dollars for the National Hydrogen Strategy.

An honourable senator: How much is this?

It is $24 billion—about 10,000 times more than what the subsidy is or what we're going to put in for a scoping study at Collinsville. It is 10,000 to one. Is it that hard?

But it doesn't end there. The madness continues, because the Queensland state Labor government is signing offtake contracts with multinational companies to build wind farms. What's so frustrating about this is that the state of Queensland has twice as much supply as demand. The highest demand that Queensland has ever had on one day, 14 February 2018, is 9.7 megawatts per hour. On the supply side, it has 13 gigawatts in coal and gas, and it already has about another four or five gigawatts in renewables, so it has plenty of supply. But that's not enough, because, in order to meet their 50 per cent renewable target, they're basically going to build all these windmills and all these solar panels that they don't actually need. It's like 10 people going to the movies and ordering tickets for 30 seats. You don't need it.

What's annoying about it is that this is undermining the people of Queensland's own energy assets: the coal fired power stations. They are coal fired power stations that are going to last until 2040 or 2050. We have all the energy to meet the needs of Queensland until 2040 and 2050, yet the state Labor government is subsidising foreign multinationals to build wind farms that will be obsolete before the coal-fired power stations become obsolete. But it doesn't end there. The cheapest operational cost for the production of energy, as shown in the Finkel report in Australia, was at Kogan Creek—$9 a megawatt. At Callide and Tarong, the cost was $17 a megawatt. There is 200 years worth of coal at Kogan Creek. It's sitting right there on the surface—mine mouth coal. You just scrape it up and put it straight in.

What is interesting is that 60 to 70 per cent of the energy in this country is provided by 21 coal-fired power stations. To get renewables to make up that difference, AEMO says you're going to have to spend $100 billion on transmission lines to get the power to the market. Transmission lines are made up of lots and lots of switching gear and, in that switching gear, there is a product called sulphur hexafluoride. That has a global warming potential 23,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Why would you put a toxic synthetic gas into the atmosphere that has a global warming potential 23,000 times greater than that of carbon dioxide? Might I add: all molecules absorb and emit. One of the big myths about carbon dioxide is that it traps heat. Nothing traps heat. Gustav Kirchhoff in the 1850s said that atoms absorb and emit at the same frequency. Carbon dioxide emits at four frequencies: 2.8, 4.3 and two degenerate vibrational frequencies at 14.8. What's interesting is that the atmospheric window is between nine and 11 microns, and we know that because of Wien's law. Wien is the guy who got a Nobel prize in 1911 for physics. Wien's law proved that the atmospheric window the earth emits at is about 10 microns. And what emits at 10 microns? What's the atmospheric window at? Between nine and 11. It's a function of pressure. It just happens to be sulphur hexafluoride. Why would you be putting this stuff that goes straight through the atmospheric window into the atmosphere? It's not very smart at all, is it?

But, of course, it takes more than transmission to make renewables work. The unicorn farmers over here think that they're going to run manufacturing on green energy. It's never going to happen, because you can't build big enough batteries to power industrial use. Even if you could, it would cost a fortune. I'll explain why. Lithium batteries are made from lithium, which is a one per cent ore body. That means you've got to mine 100 tonnes of the stuff just to get one tonne of it, so you're going to be digging some very big holes to get this stuff out of the ground. Then it takes four energy-intensive processes to extract the metal out of the ore. And that's only for the anode. You haven't even started on the cathode, which could be cobalt, nickel or who knows what. That will mean another great big hole in the ground. The hypocrisy of all of this is: when these solar farms and these wind farms are built, does the state government charge them an environmental bond? No. Mining companies have to put down an environmental bond when they start a mine. Yet again, we're giving a free pass to renewables. Let me tell you: in 100 years time when the atmosphere is full of sulphur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride, which is the stuff in solar panels—that's the stuff used in solar panels, not the stuff used in etching solar panels. The stuff used in etching solar panels is silicon tetrachloride. You probably don't hear of that, because that's made in China, like neodymium, which is also made in China, because it's a rare earth. They're the only country that makes this filthy toxic stuff. Silicon tetrachloride is more toxic than nuclear waste. But, of course, they'll never tell you about that, will they? No, of course not! So I— (Time expired)

5:09 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll try not to take up too much of the Senate's time this afternoon on this disallowance motion. I will just say to those opposite: if you think that that contribution was good for your argument, if you think it's a very good idea to put that front and centre, you're going to lose touch with this debate. That was—with the greatest respect to Senator Rennick—an incoherent ramble that had no basis in science, no basis in economics and no basis in engineering. I say to you, Mr Acting Deputy President: at the very least, if Senator Rennick believes that there is too much supply in the Queensland energy market, why on earth does he want to build a coal-fired power station? What on earth do you want to do that for?

If we look at the company that that outfit over there want to allocate $3.3 million worth of borrowed money to, we first need a bit of close examination of who that outfit are. Are they—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do they have a record—

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do they have a record of delivery of any project anywhere in this country? A power station is a very significant and complicated—

Senator Canavan interjecting

I don't think you're—

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Canavan! Senate Ayres, please resume your seat. I will remind everyone that—

Senator Canavan interjecting

Senator Canavan, please cease the interjections! I will remind you that all interjections are disorderly, Senator Canavan. Senator Ayres, you have the call.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a bag of wind—really, what a bag of wind! That's what this is all about: it's about cheap politics. It's got nothing to do with the energy market, nothing to do with delivering cheap power for Australians. If that were what it was about, you would be on a very different path. What it's really about is a cruel hoax on the people of North Queensland. It's a hoax on the people whom you claim you want to represent. If you really wanted to demonstrate a commitment to the industries that are there and should be there—the resources industry, export coal, manufacturing—you would be on a very different path. You would be on a very different path if you wanted a plan for investment in new jobs, if you had a plan for cheaper energy, if you wanted to deliver for the steel and aluminium sectors. It's certainly not been evident in anything else that the Liberal National Party has done in Queensland. That's why Robbie Katter belled the cat the other day. He could see this plan for the fraud that it is. He could see straight through it.

When you look at who is there in Shine Energy, the personnel who are driving this corporate shell of a company, what you see is former Katter Australian Party people and former LNP people, not a single engineer or energy market expert. What you see is these guys perpetrating a fraud on people in North Queensland, who actually need an outfit that is prepared to stand up for North Queensland jobs.

Senator Canavan has never seen a good, permanent coalminer's job that he hasn't wanted to turn into a casual, low-paid job.

Government senators interjecting

That's what you're about. Your job here is spruiking for people who want to strip communities, strip jobs, drive wages down and drive jobs offshore. A close examination of Shine's publicly available material—because none of their governance material is available publicly in the material they provide on their website—just shows that it's a company that is not capable of delivering this project. There is no support for this project among the Brisbane Liberals; they are very clear on that. The Queensland LNP says, very clearly, 'We do not support this project, so what on earth are you doing here?' The energy spokesman for the Queensland LNP says, very clearly, 'We are not for this project.' But you're all down here, posturing and posing, a bunch of carpetbaggers who are here pretending to be something that you are not. These former Productivity Commission economists—no friends of the workers, jumping on in the high-vis, doing the press conferences, doing the podcasts—have no record of delivery. The closest things that this outfit opposite here have, in terms of northern Australian infrastructure, is their fraud of a northern Australian infrastructure fund, which delivered a big fat zero for northern Australia.

When people look at this debate and they watch the way that this debate is being conducted, they ought to think clearly and carefully about whose interests Senator Rennick and Senator Canavan are really representing in this debate.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ayres, resume your seat. You are getting very close to a direct imputation on others in this place and I would ask you to be very careful with your choice of words. Senator Rennick?

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a point of order. That is exactly what I was going to say: there is an imputation that somehow this side of the chamber's corrupt. It's not the first time that Senator Ayres has done that. He has absolutely no evidence. All we want to do, as we stated before, is protect jobs in North Queensland. Yet Senator Ayres continually walks into this chamber and casts aspersions as to our integrity.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Rennick, this is not an opportunity to debate the issue. I have already brought Senator Ayres's attention to standing order 193. Senator Ayres, I ask you to choose your words carefully.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll choose them very carefully, Mr Acting Deputy President. It was certainly not my intention—there's a high level of sensitivity over there. When I talk about 'whose interests', I don't mean whose pecuniary interests. I mean: is it in interests of jobs in North Queensland? Is it in the interests of lower power prices in Queensland? Is it in the interests of driving investment because of lower energy prices? It certainly isn't. It delivers nothing. What it does do is contribute to what Mr Buckley, the energy expert at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, called 'energy policy chaos on steroids'. That's what this is all about. More chaos, no energy plan, more disruption, more ideological fixations, and no focus on the practical things that are required to have a cogent energy plan that deals with the big challenges that Australia faces. I'll leave it there.

5:18 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Sadly, this august chamber that we are so privileged to be part of is not the only place in the world at the moment where careful and rational argument is being defeated by short-term political interests and short-term economic advantage. The fact that this disallowance is before us today, that this grant has even got to this stage, is a clear sign that this parliament and this government have been corrupted. When I talk about corruption—Acting Deputy President Brockman, I heard your contribution with the last speaker—I am talking about institutional corruption. I am talking about big business and big politics in bed together. That's what this is: clear and simple.

Let's go through this. We have this small company, Shine Energy, that wants to get up a project, the Collinsville coal-fired power station in Queensland. Everybody, to a tee, says this project is not economic and is not viable. I could sit here and list as long as my arm the people who have come out and said this, including within the Liberal Party. On the other hand, we have a marginal seat going into a federal election. We have trouble within the government between the coalition partners—the National Party and the Liberal Party. We have senators, including senators in the chamber now, who are totally outspoken about wanting to promote coal. We know this has caused division and concern within the Liberal Party; that's a matter of public record. But we also have a large international coal company—the tax-dodging Glencore, a significant donor to the Liberal Party—deciding to throw their hat in with Shine Energy and become their partner. Why would Glencore do that? They can make good political mileage out of this—a new coal-fired power station on the political agenda. Coal is not going away; it's still potentially a future generator of energy in this country regardless of what the science says, regardless of what the energy experts say and regardless of what the economic experts say. Glencore throw their considerable weight behind this project, and it gives it credibility

We have the perfect storm here. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from a favourite Australian author, David Gregory Roberts. He says, 'The only thing more ruthless and cynical than the business of big politics'—and that's what we're in—'is the politics of big business.' When they get into bed together, they're an unstoppable force. The fact that this is even before us today is a farce. It is the most egregious example of the fact that the Liberal Party and National Party in government simply don't care how this looks any more. They are so arrogant that they feel they can get away with providing $3.6 million of taxpayers' money to a company that's got no hope. I agree with what Senator Ayres said earlier. It's actually offering a false hope to the Queensland people purely out of short-term political interests.

I will say very clearly: there are political interests from the likes of Senator Canavan and Senator Rennick. They're the renegades within the Liberal-National coalition that want this kind of project to get up. It might just be a coincidence that the LNP retained this marginal seat and that this project was thrown into the political mix during an election campaign. What a great thing to do politically. It wedges Labor. It puts them on the spot. We know that they're divided on climate policy and coal use. Certainly LNP senators are given a chance to do one of their favourite hobbies, which of course is to pour buckets on the Greens and give a couple of very famous Murdoch publications the opportunity to do the same.

You get to promise jobs and a future for Queenslanders through a coal-fired power station in a marginal seat that desperately needs real leadership and real direction. That's a perfect storm. If that isn't institutional corruption—or crony capitalism; they're both the same thing—I don't know what is. I don't know what crony capitalism is if it's not a big Liberal Party government giving a big international coal company money for a feasibility study for a power station that nobody thinks is viable and for a power source that nobody thinks is viable in an industry that is very shortly going to be filled with stranded assets.

I want to talk a little bit about Tasmania, because it's not just a Queensland debate. What we've seen in parliament in the last week is not just to do with this Collinsville dodgy grant. We saw the government raising issues in the House last week to make the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the CEFC—an agency set up by the Greens and Labor to invest in renewable energy and an agency which the LNP have done everything they can over the last seven years to destroy—and its money available for gas infrastructure and gas investment. Of course, what better way to ruin the legacy than to open it up to investment not in renewables but in fossil fuels? We have seen the initial proposals to, as my colleague Senator Hanson-Young says, take a chainsaw to Australia's already weak environmental laws at a time of a biodiversity and extinction crisis.

Let's frame this up. While we have got this push on in federal parliament through the government to develop fossil fuels under cover of COVID, under cover of a pandemic, around the mantra 'jobs, jobs, jobs, economic recovery', the Liberal state government in Tasmania, in partnership with the Liberal federal government, are saying to Tasmanians, 'Look, at this fantastic project we have, this Marinus Link. We are going to build infrastructure to sell renewable energy to the grid.' Tasmanians don't see what is really going on. They don't see that that pet political project is on the Prime Minister's priority list. The Small Business Council released a report saying the infrastructure wasn't viable and it would actually drive up power prices in Tasmania.

Putting that aside, this pet project is nothing but a fig leaf, a smoke screen, to what this Liberal National Party government is trying to do around this country—that is, not only lock in business as usual but ramp up fossil fuel production and infrastructure. In other words, give this industry that is a significant donor to the Liberal National Party a final leg-up following this catastrophic summer of fires and the third mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in five years, which, 10 years ago, we didn't think that would be possible in my lifetime. We have seen it. At a time when you think you would be going exactly the other way and all working together to transition to clean energy, to a renewable future, and to investing in new industries, new technology, new jobs, what do we get? We get more of the same.

The government are cynically using a pandemic and the fact that we have to grab whatever jobs and whatever investment we can get, when what we should be doing is setting up this country not just for the next decade but for the next 50 to 100 years, at a time of record low interest rates, at a time we could invest billions of dollars in building a new future, not one just that creates jobs and productivity but one that also solves the great dilemmas and challenges of our time, like rising emissions and climate change. We are in the middle of a climate emergency and economic inequality. We went into significant debt after World War II, and a decade of growth dividends retired that debt. We are in the same position now, but what are we getting at a time when Australians are calling out for leadership, at a time when Australians are calling out for a green new deal, for a new way forward? What do we get? We get a $3.6 million feasibility study for a project that no-one thinks is going to be viable—no-one, perhaps, except those whose direct political interests are served: the National senators in this chamber.

This is politics at its worst, and I am genuinely disgusted. I haven't even gone into detail of the timeline that has led to this proposal that is before us today. The fact that the money is even flowing, that the company was invited to apply for it two days after the government had announced they were giving the money to this company because they made this promise in an election campaign—a promise to shore up a marginal seat in order to shore up their own power. Australians will see through this. This will not go well for the government, and my party, even if we're the only ones in this place, will continue to stand up for good governance, for a proper plan and for a vision for this country.

5:30 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to deal with some of the spurious arguments we've just heard from the previous speakers, but to start with I'd like to return to the substantive issues facing this country and why we should seek to use our natural resources to grow and develop our nation and create jobs. I believe that we have a strong future as a country as a manufacturing nation. I think we should be seeking to bring back manufacturing jobs here to this country, which we have, unfortunately, for too long seen hobbled—our manufacturing industry has been hobbled—with jobs disappearing to other countries. We have to face the facts that the policies we have pursued at least for the past 10 or so years have been ones of failure for our manufacturing sector. We have to face facts, particularly now the coronavirus epidemic has shown the fragility of the supply chains and the importance of having domestic manufacturing. We need to face facts.

The facts are that the last decade has been the first decade on record that the Australian manufacturing industry has gone backwards in real output, in real terms. The share of manufacturing as a percentage of our economy has been declining for some decades, as it has in most developed countries, but even during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s our manufacturing output continued to grow every decade, almost every year, even though it was a smaller share of the overall economy. The last 10 years have actually seen a decline, a decline in absolute terms, and that's a decline I think we should work to reverse. Because of that decline, we've seen fewer jobs in the manufacturing industry. In 1990, 1.2 million Australians worked in manufacturing. Today, the figure is around 900,000. It bottomed out at about 850,000 mid last year. So we've lost about 300,000 jobs in manufacturing over that time, and that's something we should seek to reverse.

It was summed up nicely by Senator Ayres that apparently there are some industries we can support now and some that are a third rail, at least for the Labor Party and the Greens, that we can't support. Senator Ayres said we should focus on industries like exporting coal. We should export coal according to Senator Ayres. Of course, given his contribution was on behalf of the Labor Party, that means they don't think we should use coal here; we should export it to other countries but not use it here. That is the position of the modern Australian Labor Party—that somehow it is okay for other countries to have access to our natural resources, to create jobs in their nations, to send back the goods for us saps to buy, but it's not good enough for us to use the same resources ourselves to create jobs in this nation. Well, I think that's a tower of absurdity; it's an absolute tower of absurdity that we would help empower, help arm other countries to compete against our own businesses but deny the same natural resources for the use of those same Australian businesses trying to compete on the world stage, trying to grow and develop their manufacturing base. It is ridiculous.

As Senator Ayres sort of implied—he didn't say it, but he implied it—there obviously is a market for the export of coal, or the Labor Party think there is. There are people in this country who are building coal-fired power stations. In fact, around three Hazelwood power stations—people might remember the Hazelwood Power Station that shut in Victoria; it was 25 per cent of Victoria's electricity supply—a week have been built in our region in the past decade, so there's a very strong market for Australian coal. Particularly given the high quality of our coal with the predominantly low ash content, it will be in greater demand as countries seek to improve their air pollution and the environmental circumstances in their country. There's a great demand for that. So, if there is a demand overseas, if other countries are using it and think it seems to be worthwhile for them to create manufacturing industries and create jobs, why would we deny ourselves access to the same resources? Why would we just say, 'No; nothing; not at all'? We can't even look into it. The only reason you can fathom that that position would have any kind of coherence is that the Labor Party cannot support it because of the votes they need in inner-city areas and the preferences they need from the Greens. That's why they have this absurd position, where they'll apparently support coalmines but just not the use of the coal in Australia. What the Labor Party support, basically, is that there should be a direct channel from the coalmine to Japan or Korea or China, and we can't touch that. It's got to go straight from the mine onto the ship and overseas, and none of it can be touched or put to use here in this country. That is the public position of the Labor Party. The reality is that all of us here, every day, rely on our high-quality Australian coal to get our energy, to get our electricity. In fact, I've just checked the figures right now—you can check them all the time—and in New South Wales 80 per cent of the power in this area is coming from coal-fired power. In Victoria it's 67 per cent.

I tell you what, Madam Acting Deputy President Stoker, I think I've been the only North Queenslander to actually contribute to this debate—and this is about a project in North Queensland. A lot of people are taking interest in North Queensland, which I welcome and love. But I am the only North Queenslander to take an interest here in this debate. I'll give you a guess what the figure is of coal-fired power being generated in North Queensland right now. You don't have to check a live app: it is zero. There are no coal-fired power stations in North Queensland. The last—the northernmost—coal-fired power station is at Stanwell, just west of where I live, in Rockhampton, and anywhere north of that has no coal-fired power stations—none at all. As I said, they're welcome to have their views, but, to be clear, the view of a bunch of southern Queenslanders and the Labor and Greens parties is that it's okay for us here to rely for the majority of our power on coal-fired power—to power our homes, to keep our lights on, to keep the factories running. That's okay. But for North Queenslanders: you can't touch it, you can't have any of it. You can't even think about building one there.

Why are Labor and the Greens so desperate to avoid supporting a $3.4 million feasibility study into something? Why are they so desperate to avoid even the question being asked? It's because, I think, they might not like the answer. That is the reason. There has been a study put in place into a coal-fired power station at Collinsville in recent years—in fact, it was commissioned by none other than Mr Wayne Swan, the world's greatest Treasurer apparently, according to some. He commissioned a study into a Collinsville coal-fired power station—I think it was a deal he had to do with Mr Bob Katter at the time. Mr Swan commissioned it. He didn't really want to do it, but he was forced to do it. The study came back with a report in 2014 from GHD, a respected engineering company: 'A major 800-megawatt coal-fired power station will put strong downward pressure on electricity prices.' It was pretty clear that, guess what, if you produce more power, you get lower power prices. It's not rocket science. And that, fundamentally, is why they don't want the question to be asked—because they're afraid of that answer. And that answer would make the absurd position of the Labor Party—that we'll export coal but not use it—even harder to sustain.

I want to get onto and rebut some of the arguments that have been put forward here. I've been away for a little while. This is my first day back in a couple of months, and I think there is a little confusion as to what democracy is. We are in a democratic chamber. We've all been elected here. And in the other place they go to an election every three years. They've all been elected. But there seems to be a little confusion about exactly what democracy is.

An honourable senator: Give us a reminder!

I thought we lived in a democratic system, where governments and parties, and all of us, put our policies out before an election and take them to the people, and there's a vote, and then the party that has the greatest number of people over there in the other place gets to form a government, and the government, generally, will seek to implement all those promises and policies that it put forward to the Australian people and that were voted on.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sounds good.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It sounds like a pretty good system I think, Senator Scarr. I think we should seek to adopt it here in this country—or, at least, the Greens and the Labor Party should get behind it and support it. Because guess what has happened? All these words that have been bandied around, and all the scandalous comments—guess what has happened here in this instance?

The Liberal and National parties, before last year's election, said to the Australian people and to the people of Central and North Queensland: 'If we're elected, we will fund a feasibility study into a coal-fired power station at Collinsville. Given the previous work has been done, given there's some argument for it. Given the ACCC report, which showed clearly that we need investment in base load and reliable power.' Clearly there are some market failures preventing that investment. We haven't seen a base load power station built in this country for over 10 years. So, given all that evidence, we said to the Australian people, 'We think it makes sense to have a look at this.' We publicly and openly said it to the Australian people, and they supported us. They voted for us. We achieved a majority in the House of Representatives. That gave us the right to form a government. Now the government is implementing the promises it took to the Australian people.

Apparently that process that I've just mapped out—and I don't think anyone contests that was the process—is the basis for a great scandal according to what we just heard from Senator Whish-Wilson and Senator Ayres! Have you ever heard anything more absurd than a government implementing its own election promises? That's the basis for some great scandal!

A government senator: Never heard of it!

Never heard of it! It has never been done apparently. Maybe they've never done it. They should try it some time. The real reason we come back to is: why is this motion being moved? Let's look into it a bit more.

The motion is being moved by Senator McAllister. Senator McAllister is from New South Wales. If you go to Senator McAllister's website on the New South Wales Labor Party's site, it says:

In 2003 Jenny founded the Labor Environment Activist Network, and served as one of its inaugural convenors

Otherwise called LEAN. I think that LEAN these days use the term 'Labor Environment Action Network'. But apparently it must have been an 'activist' network to start with. That's very interesting. I didn't know that. So Senator McAllister formed this LEAN group, which is basically the Bob Brown wing of the Labor Party. They now are moving this motion to prevent jobs and investment in North Queensland. Where are the Queensland Labor senators? I don't think any of them have spoken. I don't think any of them have moved this motion. None of them had the guts in this place to come up and tell the people of Queensland why they don't support coal jobs.

They're a bit shy on this, because they know that the people of Queensland have worked them out. Ms Jo-Anne Miller, the former Queensland member for Bundamba has said, Labor would like to take the royalties from the coal industry in Queensland with one hand and with the other hand poke the industry in the eye. The people of Queensland have worked them out. Until you get into this place and actually have the guts to come forward and put your arguments—not sit behind the LEAN group, the Bob Brown wing of the Labor Party—the people will continue to desert a once proud Labor Party in Queensland.

What did we see from LEAN the other day? This tells you a bit about who they are. Probably not many people know about LEAN. I think you're about to hear a lot more about them. Apparently the LEAN group the other day sent an email to their supporters, which was reported in The Australian last week:

The Labor Environment Action Network is launching a campaign to encourage people to junk their gas-powered household appliances, as the party's environmental wing escalates its campaign against using the resource as a transitional energy source.

The email goes on to say:

… a residential gas-to-electric program comes with an added bonus: it will free up gas for industry…

They want people to get rid of their gas appliances! This is their policy.

I've heard of a lot of political parties over the years who have wanted to come up with a policy or a program that is a barbecue-stopper, but I think this is the first time in Australian political history that a party has actually taken a literal barbecue-stopper as their policy. This policy is to shut down barbecues. I don't know about you, but my barbecue is powered by good old LPG. That's what I hook up to it every week. I fire it up. Most Australians probably have a gas fired barbecue. You could use coal; there are some of those around. I don't. Maybe I should, but I don't have a good old coal fired barbecue. I've got a gas fired one.

They want to shut them down. They want to stop all the barbecues in Australia. This is the madness that is coming if you just scratch the surface of the modern Labor Party. It is the madness that is underneath. This is what people like Mr Joel Fitzgibbon in the other place is exposing. He is doing his best to cover it up with a few high-vis shirts but it's becoming increasingly difficult. As he said the other week, he might have to split away. I don't think he has to form his own party. He can come and join us. He will fit in well in the Nats. We'll take him. A bit of polish and he will be right.

We need to expose this to the Australian people. This debate is very important because it shows the actual motives. It shows the direction that the Labor Party is headed in in this country. People hear the word 'Labor' and they think it must be something about jobs and workers. But that was a long, long time ago. They now want to take people's gas appliances away from them. I didn't think it would get this crazy but it has. This is from their own people. They want to take away people's barbecues. They don't want to support the use of our own natural resources to support our manufacturing industries. They basically now want to help out competing countries overseas with our own resources and then buy back solar panels and wind turbines at great subsidy, to the cost to the Australian taxpayer. I'm standing here as someone who wants to use our natural resources to create jobs in this country, because I want to see our manufacturing sector come back to strength, and that won't happen while we deny Australians the use of our own God-given, high-quality natural resources.

5:45 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We are debating an appalling decision tonight, an appalling decision to give away $3.6 million of your, and my, taxpayer dollars, hard-earned taxpayer dollars, for a coal-fired power station. This decision ticks all of the boxes of bad decision-making. There are at least four big reasons as to why it is totally the wrong thing to be doing. I'm going to talk through these in my contribution tonight. Firstly, the last thing that the world needs in a climate crisis is a new coal-fired power station. Secondly, a new coal-fired power station is totally economically irresponsible. Thirdly, it's just a cruel hoax. It's just teasing the North Queensland community with the prospect of jobs and economic development that is just not going to happen. Fourthly, the process of giving this grant is totally corrupt. I want to talk through these and finish up with what we need to do about it, because actions outside this place, sadly, are going to be needed to get ourselves to a place where we can have hope for our future.

You just heard from Senator Canavan. We just heard from Senator Rennick. Sadly, there is no hope that this government, supported by their tinfoil-hat-wearing sidekicks, One Nation, are going to come to their senses. They are not going to listen. Time and time again they have shown that they are not listening to the reality of what lies ahead for our world because of our climate crisis. They have their heads firmly in the sand. They have their fingers in their ears and they are saying, 'La, la, la, la, la, la' as loudly as they can without getting a mouthful of sand.

Let's start with the fact that the last thing that the world needs is a new coal-fired power station. In case someone has just woken up from some Rip Van Winkle-type sleep—they've been asleep for the last 30 years—here are the simple facts: the climate crisis is real, it is happening now and it is caused by the burning of coal, gas and oil. It fuelled the unprecedented bushfires that we experienced last summer that burnt the biggest area of forest in Australia in one summer ever, and the biggest proportion of forest on a continent anywhere in the world ever, killing three billion animals. It was the climate crisis that fuelled the smoke that blanketed our cities for months on end. It is the climate crisis that is creating the unprecedented drought that our farmers have been struggling with. The Nationals, as represented by Senator Canavan, are in denial about the link between the climate crisis and the drought. It is the unprecedented heat that is making these droughts get worse and worse and making it really difficult for us to grow food, destroying the livelihoods of our farmers. It is the climate crisis that is causing the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, and rising sea levels that threaten to wash away huge parts of our cities, pushing animals and plants—whole ecosystems—to the brink of extinction. You get the picture. This is a crisis. It is an existential crisis for humanity and for the world. We are doing severe harm to life, to our life support systems and to ourselves, and we've got to stop.

What do we need to do so that it doesn't get worse? It's very simple: we've got to stop burning coal, gas and oil as soon as possible. There is no time to waste. There is no carbon budget left. Every tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere is doing us and the planet harm. The last thing we need to be doing is building new coal-fired power stations. And, yes, I'll take Senator Canavan's point: we also don't need to be exporting coal for other countries' coal-fired power stations. Labor don't quite get the extent of this climate crisis either. But how does the government respond to this? We just heard Senator Canavan basically saying that everything was fine with burning fossil fuels. Basically, they are just totally in denial. They're saying that it doesn't matter because, in their view, building a coal-fired power station might somehow be good for the Queensland economy.

This of course brings me to my second point: a new coal-fired power station for North Queensland does not stack up. It's cheaper to build renewable power than it is to build new coal. Let me quote economist Frank Jotzo, who specialises in climate and energy policy. He makes it very clear that the high cost of building and running the plant, coupled with the falling costs of other energy sources, particularly renewables, means it's unlikely to be viable. In fact, his expert opinion is:

The average cost of producing electricity from a new coal-fired power plant, if one were built now, might be as high as two times higher than the average cost from wind and solar plants, even if you factor in the cost of smoothing out the intermittency of those plants with energy storage—

that is, the battery or the pumped hydro or the concentrated solar thermal that might be needed, or the hydrogen that might be needed, to store up the energy to buffer for any intermittent factors. He says:

The financial risk of any new coal-fired power plant would be massive. Any new coal-fired power plant would need Government support subsidies and a guarantee that a carbon price would never be applied. It would need to be the taxpayer that underwrites all of this. And it would be the taxpayer that pays the inflated bills for decades to come.

So that is a total fail on economics.

That is why my third point as to why this grant is so bad is so important. Clearly, this grant for a feasibility study is basically just the government tearing up $3.6 million and throwing it into the wind. They are doing it so it looks like they're doing something. They are trying to buy votes and give hope to people who are struggling, who want and deserve some economic security. This is just cruel. This power station isn't going to be built. It doesn't stack up. It's pretending to offer hope, economic security and jobs when they are a mirage.

There is so much more that this government could be doing with this $3.6 million to help transition away from the dirty industries of the past to a clean, jobs-rich economy. It could be doing things like—yes—massive investment in solar and wind, making hydrogen for domestic use and export, carbon farming, environmental restoration, health and aged care, education, investing in public housing and improving the ability to work remotely—like we are sort of managing to do here today—so that people can be living in remote areas and working with other people all across the country. This is where the jobs of the future are. This is what any government looking sensibly and strategically at how to improve the fortunes of a town like Collinsville would do, instead of throwing them a bone that stinks to high heaven. It's a bone that should have been well and truly thrown out last century.

But here is where it gets really stinky. Who are Shine Energy, who have had this $3.6 million windfall just land in their laps? Shine Energy is a company that has no expertise in building coal-fired power stations and a company that has links to the big coal company Glencore, who just happen to be a megadonor to the coalition. How did they get this $3.6 million? It was through a total farce of a process, where the grant was awarded two days before an application was even put in, in a grants program that was invented just to give them the grant. In fact, on 8 February this year, when the country was still burning, Minister Taylor announced that Shine would receive up to $4 million of public money for a feasibility study into a so-called 'low-emission' coal-fired power plant. Yes, you're right—it's for something that doesn't exist. Two days later they were asked to apply—two days after they had been announced as the winner of this public money. It gets worse. The company that would get this windfall gain, Shine Energy, has connections with coal giant Glencore, who donate a whole heap of money to the coalition and would directly benefit from the coal power station's construction. Funnily enough, Glencore have been very actively lobbying the government to support this power station and the coal industry overall.

This stuff matters. This is corruption. People like to believe that Australia has good processes, that we abide by the rule of law. Undermining good processes, trashing good processes, not only leads to corrupt outcomes that favour the rich and powerful, leaving people and the environment in their wake, but destroys trust in government. Trust in government matters. Being in a pandemic makes that very clear. We need to be able to trust that our government is acting responsibly, doing what's necessary to keep us safe. We need trust in our government so that we can have hope for a safe and healthy future. Trust in government is a critical thing. It's critical for a healthy, well-functioning society.

Of course, when it comes to trashing trust by rorting grant programs, the coalition has form. The Senate is still trying to uncover everything that went on with the sports rorts program, a $100 million pre-election rort that was all about buying votes—colour-coded spreadsheets going backwards and forwards to fund projects that suited them, with the then Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie, emailing the Prime Minister's office dozens of times about which projects would get approved in which electorates. Of course, during the sports rorts Senate inquiry we've uncovered sports rorts 2 and sports rorts 3, two more pre-election slush funds—sports rorts 2 being the female facilities and water safety stream, $150 million that was funnelled into swimming pools in marginal coalition seats. It was blatant pork-barrelling. And then sports rorts 3, which we uncovered just in the last couple of weeks, was the $45 million pre-election cash splash where 99 per cent of the money went to seats that were either coalition seats or marginal seats, without any requirement for an application and where the funding criteria have been described as 'light touch'—that is, just a nod and a wink between an MP and their mates so they would have an election announcement to trumpet.

I personally know how hard it is when you are in a community that isn't in a marginal electorate. I've lived in one all my life. I was the mayor of one. When you're the mayor of a council that's in a safe Labor seat, the coalition just ignore you when they're in government and Labor just take you for granted when they are. It's incredibly frustrating to see your community miss out because of this corrupt process.

It's the same when we're trying to shift our economy to a clean, green energy future. We are being held back by grants like this one, billions of dollars of subsidies to the mining companies, allowing them to get cheaper diesel than you or I can get. Instead of splashing our money to help out their mates, propping up coal and gas and oil, there's so much they could be doing to invest to recover from the crisis we're currently in. We could be leading the world as a renewable energy giant. Renewable energy projects could mean thousands and thousands of jobs across Australia, particularly in regional Australia. We could be building the sustainable transport and energy infrastructure that we need for this century. We could be building the affordable housing that's so critical for a fair and equitable society. But no; instead the coalition are looking after their mates—big business and big politics working well together—and not serving the interests of Australia. They are devastating Australia, in fact, through their refusal to act in the national interest.

I want to finish by focusing on what we, the people of Australia, can do about it. As I said, we've heard, from the contributions to this debate, that they are not listening. They are listening to their mates; they are not listening to the people of Australia. We need to get more active. We need to get our friends, our families, our neighbours and our communities informed and active, and we need to turf this lot out of office. We can elect a government that the Greens share power in, and we can then be on our way to building a future that doesn't have this corruption as part of it, that is clean and green and fair, and that we can feel hopeful about rather than despairing about. And do you know what? I'm really looking forward to people getting on board, because I'm very confident that the people of Australia will see through this. They will see that the only way out is to turf this lot out and elect a government that is going to work in the interests of people in the community. And I am really looking forward to working with the people of Australia in doing this.

5:59 pm

Photo of Sam McMahonSam McMahon (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a commitment that we took to the last election, and we on this side honour our commitments. Apparently, as we heard tonight, it is only we on this side who believe in honouring election commitments. It's something I'm quite proud of. Labor don't support mining, and they don't support the regions that rely on it. Labor has just gone through an NT election claiming that they support the onshore oil and gas industry. Is that about to change? Are they about to follow their southern masters? It's no surprise that last week, when Labor stood up against mining jobs, the CFMEU announced that they are backing away from Queensland Labor. Is our NT onshore oil and gas and future coal industry the next thing they're going to attack? 'But we don't need oil, gas, coal et cetera, because we have renewables'—renewables, or the dole bludgers of the energy mix, as my good friend Senator Canavan calls them.

Last week in this place Senator McAllister brought up the Territory's Sun Cable project, and I'm glad she did. For those who aren't aware, this project involves filling a cattle station paddock on the Barkly full of solar panels and running an extension cord over to Singapore. Present estimates for this project are that it will cost about $25 billion, or over eight small modular reactors. Labor brags about this number of $25 billion as though it is something to be proud of. Let's not forget, this project is predicated on a raft of technologies that do not exist. One only needs to look at Labor's history of fiscal mismanagement to understand how this massive expense rolls off their talking point sheets so easily.

Compounding their gross lack of understanding of renewables is their adherence to the inane notion that solar and wind power is free. That's right: they tell people that renewables are free or cheaper than coal- and gas-fired power stations. Why? Because you are the hoaxers, Senator Ayres and Senator Rice. You are the hoaxers, not those of us on this side of this place. The fact that the sun shines and the wind blows only partially explains their position. But the most alarming element is that when Labor spends taxpayers' money on rebates and subsidies they pretend that the money came from nowhere. Indeed, they factor that spending into their argument to make the cost of renewables appear lower. As with all Labor governments I've seen in Australia, that economy is a false one. In reality, the sun shines less than half the time; the wind blows intermittently. When renewables do produce power, you need to have a means by which to store that power. Those of us on this side of the house know this, and the concept is one that we see, understand and plan for. Labor prefer to remain in their fantasy world of unicorns and flying horses, of making announcements and pretending they will become a reality.

The productivity report into the power and water authority in the Northern Territory that came out earlier this year highlighted the imminent collapse of significant portions of the NT power grid because, while solar farms are being built everywhere, nobody actually thought to install a battery. Worse, they didn't even have any future plans to do so. That's right: all sun and no fun. When the sun sets, the solar power goes away, and then Territorians must rely on something other than renewables. For more than four months every year, the monsoon season rolls across the Top End of the NT, and guess what? There's no sunlight. In Queensland, right now, communities can have a coal-fired power station for about $2 billion. Two billion dollars is a great deal of money, but it's a fraction of the $25 billion for the solar powered project in the Northern Territory.

My Queensland colleagues in the Senate assure me that the sunshine state is, in fact, sunless for at least half of every day. I also know that in northern parts of Queensland many areas are affected by the seasonal monsoons inhibiting sunlight. How much impact do these attributes have on power in communities in Queensland? They have none. And do you know why, Madam Acting Deputy President Askew? It's because Queensland has coal-fired power stations.

6:05 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to put a few comments in the Hansard in this debate on the Industry Research and Development (Bankable Feasibility Study on High-Efficiency Low-Emissions Coal Plant in Collinsville Program) Instrument 2020. I rise as the shadow finance minister, because I think it is important, when we're having this discussion about where money is going at the moment, to remind everybody in this chamber that every cent of the $3.3 million feasibility study that's going to go to this project is borrowed money. It is—

Senator Rennick interjecting

Senator Rennick, I sat and listened to you, and now I'm going to make a few comments myself. The $3.3 million is all borrowed money, and we think that the government should consider that against the comments its own team members have made, in the sense of: 'It's fine because it was an election commitment. So we can go ahead with it, even though it costs $3.3 million, because the project's not going to get up anyway.' Those are the comments of your own team, whether they be from Mr Zimmerman, Mr Sharma or Mr Falinski.

We don't think that's right. We don't think we should be in a position where gross debt was, I think, as of last Friday, $768.6 billion, almost $300 billion of which was borrowed before the pandemic hit. Although we'll wait for the final budget outcome, we know that the budget for last year has a deficit of $85.8 billion. This financial year, in July, the government was forecasting a deficit of $184.5 billion, and we know they've made additional expenditure commitments since that time, so I would imagine the deficit will be significantly bigger than that when we are given that update in October. You are making further expenditure decisions in a time when you have record debt and record deficits, when you're heading into your seventh and eighth budgets, when you're delivering your seventh and eighth budget deficits in a row after promising a budget surplus in every year in your first term—remember, that commitment doesn't get spoken about very often anymore, does it? 'We will deliver a budget surplus in the first year and every year after that.' It never happened. 'We will pay down debt.' It never, ever happened.

Now, when those fiscal conservatives opposite should be looking at ways to repair the budget, we find ourselves in a situation where we have a project that it seems universally accepted won't get government funding to continue, but it's okay to hand out $3.3 million just to keep the Nats quiet. That's what it seems to be, because there hasn't been a very strong defence from Liberal members on this point. Well, we did have your contribution, Senator Rennick. I reaffirm that we haven't had a very strong argument from Liberal members of the coalition to defend this. It's a pay-off to the National Party.

It's $3.3 million. Imagine what that $3.3 million could be used for. I have witnesses before the COVID committee on an almost weekly basis who would have equal claim to that, whether it's to create jobs or to put food on the table for families that are struggling or to pay support for all the people that are excluded from JobKeeper. You name it; there's a whole range of worthy causes where you could actually argue the case for extra expenditure. I'm not sure a project which the government's own members acknowledge will not get up without further government subsidy is the right way to be spending $3.3 million in a time when we have record debt and record deficit, when we're heading into our seventh and eighth budget deficit under this government, and when the Parliamentary Budget Office is telling us that we are going to be in deficit for the next decade. That is the financial situation we are in, and, for some reason, those opposite who have argued the case tonight think it is fine to chuck $3.3 million to a private company whose project, on all the information I have read, is unlikely to get up without further government expenditure. And if there is going to be further government expenditure, why should this $3.3 million dollars be flushed away on a feasibility study that is apparently, according to government members, going nowhere?

6:10 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I sum up for the government. This was a commitment the government took to the last election. We keep all our election commitments, including this one, to the people of North Queensland. We are creating jobs and opportunities for Australians particularly, as we move into a post-COVID-19 world. We want a stronger economy supported by affordable and reliable power. A vote to disallow is a vote against jobs in North Queensland.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that business of the Senate order of the day No. 1 be agreed to.