Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Climate Change

3:30 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Families and Social Services (Senator Ruston) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to the fossil fuel sector.

I don't know if people know, but in the current financial year the federal government has spent $9.13 billion of taxpayer money subsidising the fossil fuel sector for things like cheap diesel for the likes of Gina Rinehart and other big mining billionaires. The Australia Institute crunched those figures and they worked out that that means that, for every minute of every day, $17,378 of taxpayer money—of your money—is given to those big mining companies and other fossil fuel companies to support them to make the climate crisis worse.

I asked the minister representing about this very issue and I did not get a single scintilla of a response. There was no acknowledgement of the sheer and undisputed quantum of subsidies that go to the fossil fuel sector. There was no acknowledgement of how deeply inappropriate and frankly dangerous it is that, in a climate emergency, not only would the government be terrible at acting on climate; it would be actively funding the industries that are making the problem worse. It's like they're in a parallel universe. There was simply no acknowledgement of the reality of the situation that we're in. I asked: Why the ideological attachment to fossil fuels? Why do they get so much public money when they are wrecking the planet and making all of our lives more difficult? After the summer of bushfires that we endured, when the Prime Minister was in Hawaii—I'm sure no-one has forgotten that—why would they get such a big budget spend of taxpayer dollars? I got no response from this government.

People might be interested to know that the fossil fuel sector is a very large donor to this government and, frankly, also to the other side of politics. I've done the figures. It's $8.2 million in donations to both sides of politics since 2012. When you work that out, compared with the amount of fossil fuel subsidies that the industry gets, for every dollar that they donate they get $10,000 of taxpayer money in return—in cheap diesel, in accelerated depreciation and in a range of other infrastructure supports. What a return on investment! Nobody else gets those sorts of numbers. I must say that the fossil fuel industries and companies and the mining billionaires have got it sewn up very nicely with this government. There are budget leaks that they'll get even more out of this budget. There's an unspecified amount of money to go to Snowy Hydro for them to produce not renewable energy but a gas-fired power plant. There's half a billion dollars for carbon capture and storage, and a little bit for hydrogen. There's $58 million for a so-called gas-fired recovery—almost $40 million of that is for critical gas infrastructure projects. There's the continuation of that cheap petrol for Gina that I mentioned before. There are all sorts of other subsidies: coal-fired power subsidies, coal railway subsidies, ports. How very convenient for these fossil fuel donors, who are clearly running this government. It's a plutocracy if I ever saw one. This government just could not answer my question.

It's interesting that Minister Pitt couldn't answer a question either about why he vetoed a wind farm plus battery proposal from getting federal funding through the NAIF—the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. There was a very hilarious interview, if I can be so frank, where he refused to acknowledge that of course wind farms can be backed up by batteries, that of course that can make them dispatchable power. So I asked Minister Ruston whether she could confirm that simple and undisputed reality that, yes, batteries can back up wind farms, and she wouldn't say the word 'battery' either. The 'big B' is clearly very scary for this government. They can't acknowledge that batteries are the way of the future because it interferes with their nonsense ideology that somehow renewables can't power our cities and homes and be a massive growth export industry for us. Let's hope that they discover the utility of batteries and maybe even give some taxpayer support to that clean industry and to that actual technology that works, rather than once again propping up their fossil fuel mates who happen to be political donors, who often go off and work for some of these ministers and cycle through those industry rep bodies back through to work for parliamentarians, and the revolving door of lobbyists just carries on.

Question agreed to.