Senate debates

Monday, 21 June 2021


Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (No New Fossil Fuels) Bill 2021 [No. 2]; Second Reading

12:01 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Amendment (No New Fossil Fuels) Bill 2021 [No. 2]. We shouldn't have to be introducing this bill today. We do, because, in the middle of a climate emergency, the government announced that it would use public money to back a fossil fuel project, which will make the climate crisis worse, at the same time as slowing down investment in renewables. Not one single energy analyst says that we need to build this white elephant. It will result in the loss of taxpayers' money, it will slow the transition to renewables, it will create even more market uncertainty, it will enrich the Liberal donor who owns the land and it will drive up energy prices. That is quite the combination of bad outcomes in just one decision.

The government only wants to build this because Minister Taylor wants to enrich his gas donors, mainly Santos, whose Narrabri gas field would supply the gas, should that field ever be fracked—and only over the proverbial dead bodies of the traditional owners would that occur. The energy industry pointedly refused to waste their own money on a gas plant. Yet this is a gas fired power station. Gas is a fossil fuel. Any new fossil fuels are locking us in for catastrophic climate impacts. The Climate Council says it best:

Building a government-owned gas power station in the middle of a climate crisis is the equivalent of asking the Australian public to jump onto a sinking ship without a safety raft.

This bill would stop that public money being wasted on a new fossil fuel gas-fired power plant. This bill would prohibit Snowy Hydro from developing or constructing—or being involved in the development or construction of—new fossil-fuel-based electricity generation capacity. It would prevent Snowy Hydro from acquiring, purchasing or otherwise investing in—or being involved in acquiring, purchasing or investing in—new fossil-fuel-based electricity generation capacity. It would prohibit Snowy Hydro from operating, or being involved in the operation of, new fossil-fuel-based electricity generation capacity. This bill would stop more public money being thrown at irresponsible fossil fuel projects that the market doesn't support, that experts have denounced and that the climate and future generations cannot afford.

This bill explicitly does not deal with the fossil fuel assets that Snowy Hydro already owns. We have to deal with that. We know we need to wind down our existing fossil fuel generation capacity, whilst transitioning those workers into jobs that have a long-term, sustainable future. The Greens have a clear position on this. The transition to 100 per cent renewables needs to be completed in the next decade if Australia is to do its fair share of limiting global heating to 1½ degrees Celsius in the next decade.

This bill also would not impact on the ongoing business of Snowy as an electricity and gas retailer, even though we know we have to urgently transition homes and businesses from gas to electric heat pumps and green hydrogen, but what this bill does seek is to prevent the government from making the problem worse. This government has made it clear that it intends to invest in new fossil fuel based electricity generation in the middle of a climate emergency, but no-one wants this gas plant. Since Minister Taylor put the call out to the private sector not only did they not invest in this project but they announced a range of other renewable projects. Origin announced a 700-megawatt battery at their Lake Macquarie site. Neoen have announced a 500-megawatt battery in the central tablelands. And CEP Energy have announced their intent to build a 1,200-megawatt battery at Kurri Kurri, which is the very site for this proposed taxpayer boosted gas plant.

Despite the private sector seeing the writing on the wall and wanting to invest in stuff that stacks up and will make their money, in future, as it tackles the climate crisis, this government is pressing ahead. Despite all their protestations about being neutral, Minister Taylor has made it clear that he's not interested in dispatchable capacity unless it comes from gas. The government has even knocked back a wind farm with storage through NAIF, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, because it's competing against gas. All this talk from the government about technology over taxes is just a hollow slogan, because when the sector steps up and says, 'We will make up for the shortfall in the form of renewables and storage,' the minister says, 'No, I prefer gas; I'm going to take money that could be going to schools and hospitals and, instead, use it to force investment in fossil fuels.'

Last week, the G7 countries made it clear that not only should we be not subsidising fossil fuels or funding more fossil fuel projects with public money but we should have strong emissions reductions targets by 2030, targets that should be at least double what this government is proposing. Of course, we know the opposition doesn't even have a 2030 emissions reduction target. Australia just keeps flying in the face of the rest of the world and flying in the face of the energy market.

The public owns Snowy Hydro. We hold 100 per cent of the shares. The government has the power, right now, to tell Snowy Hydro to stop investing in new coal- and gas-fired power plants, and that would make this bill redundant. Minister Taylor could tell Snowy Hydro to invest in batteries instead. He could tell them to invest in renewables in the Hunter and Latrobe valleys. But we have a government that is not interested in addressing the climate emergency. It's not interested in keeping energy prices low, through renewables, which we know depress the market price, and it's not interested in keeping Australians safe. It's not interested in representing the over 70 per cent of Australians who want us to be a global leader in climate action. It's only interested in delivering for its donor mates and doing nothing to avert a climate disaster.

That's why, sadly, we need the legislation. The government has proven itself completely incapable of addressing the climate emergency and dealing with public money responsibly. So it falls to this parliament to hold them accountable. We cannot let the government invest taxpayer money in new gas. We cannot let the government build new gas infrastructure. We know that we must bring down carbon pollution rapidly if we are to have any hope of having a safe climate for everyone on this planet and the creatures that we share it with. This parliament must hold the government to that responsibility. That's why we are bringing this private member's bill on for debate today.

The notion that you would spend taxpayer dollars to invest in a gas-fired power station, when the rest of the world has just said we need to get off fossil fuels and we need to end fossil fuel subsidies, is sheer lunacy. You only have to look at the number of donations made to this government—and, sadly, to the opposition—by big gas companies to work out why that's their position. So much for technology neutral. This government is now boosting for gas, even though renewables will do the job far better, will create more jobs for workers, will help us deliver a safer climate and will make money for Snowy Hydro. No, this government just wants to deliver for its gas donor mates. It is reprehensible that in this day and age they want to spend public money on opening a new gas station that private companies will not touch with a barge pole because it is an economic doozy. Yet this government dances to the tune, once again, of its gas donors. It is appalling. If we were to do one thing in this parliament, it would be to end those dirty donations from the coal, gas and other fossil fuel sectors. We might start to get some semblance of a science based climate change policy if that were the case. But right now the money is running the show, and those vested interests are getting the policy that they pay for. And there will be some cushy lobbyist jobs to follow for many of the MPs when they leave this building and go to work for those rep bodies, whether it's APPEA or the gas lobby or whether it is those companies directly. It's just a disgusting triumph of private interest over the public interest of this planet and this nation, and that's why we commend this bill to the House.

12:10 pm

Photo of Ben SmallBen Small (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we go again—more alarmism from the Greens, who told us before the Prime Minister went to the G7 that he would be isolated, cast aside and ignored on the world stage. But, instead, the only distance we saw at the G7 was COVID social distancing because, in fact, the Prime Minister has been recognised, much like a very solid former senator here from Western Australia, my predecessor, Mathias Cormann, who, in travelling the globe in order to secure the secretary-generalship of the OECD, told Australia's incredibly powerful story when it comes to achievement in reducing emissions. That's so much more important than talking points, promises, commitments and vacuous statements of intent. Achievement is what actually matters, and that is where Australia has a great story to tell on emissions reduction.

At the same time, this is a government that is focused on achieving affordable, reliable and secure energy for all Australian households and businesses. They are the three pillars that we absolutely need in a reliable energy market: we need affordability, we need reliability and we need sustainability—no doubt about that—because of the impact that power interruptions or significant increases in energy prices have not only on us as Australian citizens in our houses but more broadly on the Australian economy. We need to see small, medium and large businesses in industries like manufacturing grow in order to diversify the Australian economy as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, so they are the people that we target our policies at. That's why the government is taking real and practical action to deliver lower emissions at the same time as we protect our economy, protect Australian jobs and protect, most importantly, the investment that will deliver jobs into the future.

As the Prime Minister and the energy minister are fond of saying, the government's approach is driven by technology and not by taxes. We will not wilfully tax Australian business into the ground and cast thousands of Australians out of work. We are the party that supports Australians getting on with what they do best at the same time as we make the necessary investments and the technologies that unlock emissions reduction into the future.

We have a great story to tell here, not only on emissions reduction but also on our achievements in energy prices. Wholesale electricity prices on the east coast are at their lowest levels in more than nine years. There have been 19 straight months of price falls following the introduction of the big stick by this government. That's where we see the rubber hitting the road; that is what the average Australian experiences out in their home or in their business. It's what matters to them and it's what matters to us. Household retail prices are 11.2 per cent lower than they were just one year ago.

At the same time, not resting on our laurels from that great record of achievement, the government is making the necessary investments to ensure that reliable and affordable power continues to be available, and that's what underpins our investments in the Kurri Kurri power generation facility through Snowy. At the same time as the Labor Party and the crossbench are paying lip service to the gas industry, which generates tens of thousands of jobs for Australians directly and underpins the economic activity through our small businesses and our communities, we are not only supporting the energy industry but supporting the technology that will continue to deliver the sorts of results that have led to Australia being very isolated in achieving our Kyoto commitments and beyond. That's the only isolation that Australia feels at the moment. In fact, we beat our 2020 emissions reduction target by some 459 million tonnes. The latest forecasts show that Australia is on track not only to meet its 2030 Paris target but to beat it. Over the last two years, our position against that 2030 target has improved by some 639 million tonnes. What went before was good, what we're doing now is great and what is yet to come will be even better. This government has achieved the equivalent of taking all of Australia's 14.7 million cars off the road, not for a week, not for a month, not even for a year but for 15 years. That's quite an achievement. Further, between 2005 and 2019, our emissions fell faster than emissions fell in Canada, New Zealand, Japan and the United States, faster even that the OECD average overall. Emissions through electricity generation itself have fallen to the lowest level since records began, down an incredible 5.6 per cent in the last year alone, and the record levels of investment in renewable energy are continuing.

In 2020, some 7,000 megawatts of renewable power was installed in Australia. That's the difference between a taxing, spending, big-government approach advocated by those opposite and the record of the Morrison government in embracing renewable energy as part of an affordable, reliable and sustainable energy generation future for Australia. That 7,000 megawatts of renewable power installed under this government, in the last year alone, is more than what was installed under Labor during their six long years of government. Whilst we're often attacked for somehow being anti renewable energy, more renewables have been installed in the last year—in the course of a global pandemic—than were installed in the entirety of the last Labor government. Australia now has the highest amount of solar generation capacity per person of any country in the world. We have the most wind generation capacity of any country outside Europe, and electricity generation emissions, overall, as I've been clear to point out, are at the lowest level on record.

We've got to keep this momentum going. That's why the Morrison government has a clear plan to do so through the Technology Investment Roadmap. Our commitment through that process is clear: lower prices, keeping the lights on and doing our bit to reduce global emissions without wrecking the economy, and we're seeing the results. Advancing the next generation of low-emissions technology is crucial to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. That's why our investment in the technology road map will maintain a reliable and secure energy supply for all Australians at the same time as living up to our commitments and delivering on them, most importantly, on the world stage. Our experience has been that, when new technologies become economically competitive, they're rapidly adopted by Australian businesses and households, and that is certainly unchanged by the COVID pandemic.

Our comprehensive plan to invest in sustainable, renewable and affordable power will ultimately mean that we have power for Australian households and businesses to do what they need to. We will have our necessary commitment to the global emissions reduction targets. We will be accelerating the investment in things like hydrogen, carbon capture and soil carbon measurement, and that will unlock the potential for advanced manufacturing and for long-duration energy storage. Ultimately, it will support 160,000 new jobs by 2030 and cement Australia's position as a world-leading exporter not only of energy but of food, fibre, minerals and advanced technologies. I thank the Senate.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for this debate has now expired.