Thursday, 15 December 2022
Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022; In Committee
This is the brave new world of Labor-Greens transparent, accountable, scrutinised politics. Here we are—3½ hours. We've all flown back to Canberra today to pass a bill that Labor and the Greens have the numbers to pass. This is what Australians can now expect as a result of what this crew here are going to do. They've come in here with this bill to purportedly bring down power prices.
I just have to reflect on one thing. During my second reading debate contribution, I invited the minister, in her summing up, to make one commitment. The commitment I wanted to have made, to have reiterated—
I would have loved to have had extended hours, and we'll come to that in a moment. I wanted the minister to reiterate the Labor government's commitment to bring power prices down by $275. Those numbers did not pass the minister's lips. In fact it is a no-go. You are not allowed to say those numbers anymore if you're a Labor MP or senator. We tried it in estimates, we've tried it here in this debate but, no, we're not to say it because that promise was never made—except we know it was made 97 times in the election. A broken promise.
And here we are today duping the people of Australia into thinking this bill's going to fix all their woes. It won't. So we've had 3½ hours of debate in the Senate. We have more than 200 questions to ask during this committee stage and we have been denied that opportunity. We had several coalition senators—Senator Colbeck, Senator Reynolds, Senator Fawcett, Senator Liddell—who all wanted to ask questions during the second reading debate, who all wanted to make contributions but, no. What this crew here did was they truncated debate. They wanted to ram it through. Who knows where they've got to be tonight? I don't know! It's all under the guise of wanting to bring some cost-of-living relief. But we know that will not happen. We know this bill will not be able to deliver that for the people of Australia. It's going to go in the opposite direction, and the minister cannot bring herself or any of her colleagues to make the same commitment they made nearly 100 times during the election campaign—to bring power prices down by $275. This is typical of the politics that the Australian Labor Party seeks to play by dismissing concerns from any of the analysts and companies that generate power and saying, 'Don't worry about what they've got to say.'
The real test for the Australian Labor Party will be: when the people in the gallery and the people outside this building get their power bills, will they be up or down? They'll be up! We know they'll be up. And you know what, the next question I seek to ask this government is: whose fault will it be then? When power prices are going up, is it still going to be our fault, is it going to be the Ukraine conflict's fault or is it going to be someone else's fault? In the next month, when Australians are opening their power bills, their electricity bills and their gas bills, who are they going to blame?
This is exactly why we needed more than 3½ hours to debate this legislation—to be able to properly interrogate it and to be able to look at whatever deal was done between the Greens and the Labor Party. We don't know. This is the thing. There are a few sketchy details referred to in their contributions to the second reading debate. Perhaps it was the election commitment they took to the election. Maybe this is new policy—Labor and the Greens get together and what they didn't get up at the election because they didn't win government, you're now going to give them a licence to do as part of your deals. Are we going to see a climate trigger down the track built into your EPBC legislation? Who knows? It's a wild dream for the Australian Greens, but it's a nightmare for the people of Australia, who are going to be paying more for their power bills. This is the simple problem. All of us get out—all of us talk to our families, friends and people that run small- to- medium businesses. There's a blatant disregard for the concerns that normal, everyday Australians have in trying to make ends meet, in trying to make sure that they can pay their bills.
It might be amusing to some in this place, because we've all got to get on a plane after 4.30 pm, but, in fact, we should be here debating this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right. We are seeing the biggest, most destructive, extreme changes to energy regulation in decades, and they have been labelled by experts from the sector as the worst ever seen in the world, not just here, not in the ACT, not in the east coast of Australia, but in the world. How can this government ignore these alarm bells? How can the government turn their backs on the people of Australia who are asking for the one thing you promised at the election? It's a contract—a contract between you, the government, the people who formed a majority after the last election, and the people of Australia. They voted for you on the basis of your promise—that you would reduce power bills. By how much, colleagues?
Opposition senators: Two hundred and seventy-five dollars!
It's a promise you've broken; it's a promise that the Australian government will not deliver—not through this bill and not through any other mechanism. It's a number they will not utter—they won't go anywhere near—because they don't intend to deliver on it. It is a dark day for Australians. It's a dark day for Australians who are already struggling with increasing cost-of-living pressures—mortgages, groceries, electricity bills. The other thing, too, is that the glee that you see beaming out of the faces of the Australian Greens should be enough to tell all of us that this is a dud deal for Australians. Now the heads go down, because this crew down here, the Australian Greens, are not known for their support of Australian industries, Australian jobs, and things like fossil fuels that actually do generate energy at the moment.
I made the point in my second reading speech that you deny reality—you can't switch the old system off without switching the new one on. The new one has been switched on yet. We don't have the capacity to generate energy. So, when we have to choose between who gets the gas and who doesn't, will it be the children's ward at the hospital or the house? Who gets heating in winter? This is what's going to happen—blackouts, price spikes. All of these things are going to come. This is not some scare tactic; this is what's going to happen. It's what experts in the sector are saying; it's what analysts are predicting.
There are ways to fix this. There are ways to deal with it. If the government went out and spoke to the industry and spoke to the sector and consulted, if the government went out and spoke to people who are struggling with the cost of living, they would do more than what this bill proposes to do; they would actually go and deliver on their election commitment, which I can only assume was made on the basis of good-faith consultation with the community.
It begs the question again: why break the promise of $275? I say that to the minister, who is in the chair at the moment. I wonder whether it still remains government policy. But at the end of the day I want Australians to know: this government has duped you yet again. You were fooled into voting for them based on a promise of $275.
I will take the interjections from Senator Watt. Senator Watt, when a government lies to the people of Australia, like this one has, around a promise to cut $275 off their power bill—not once since the election has any single member of the frontbench or backbench referenced that number. Why would that not be something you would do? Is that not what a good government would do—actually honour a commitment it made 97 times? That's the kind of thing I would be expecting. I reckon it's what the people who voted for your government are expecting as well. Why won't you deliver on that promise? Why won't you reference that in anything you do?
I have a lot more to ask you before my time is up, Senator Gallagher, and I will continue to ask those questions because I'm angry on behalf of the people of Australia who are going to pay higher power bills because of this decision by the Senate today. To anyone who thinks this is something that will just go away: I guarantee you, over time—I said it, and Senator Cash said it too in the debate—there is one test you're all going to be facing in coming months and in fact at the next election. It's that one thing we are all going to be looking at. We all pay power bills. We all pay for gas. We all pay for those essential services. Will those bills be going up or going down? I have a feeling they're going to be going up. You can say at the end of this year: 'We've got our optics up. We've rushed this bill through. We called people back to parliament', but, frankly, in reality, you will have done nothing for the people of Australia except make their lives harder, make it harder to pay bills and make it harder for Australians to keep food on the table, keep the lights on and keep the heating on come winter.
The most alarming thing, as I said before—I look down the end here to the Australian Greens, who are beaming with happiness today. That is a sign they got what they wanted. The people of Australia have been dudded again because a minority are directing what this government does. When you actually reduce power bills by 275 bucks, it'll be a happy day and I will be the first to congratulate you on what you do.
There were a few questions in there, but I think the contribution from Senator Duniam just confirms that the opposition have dealt themselves out of being part of any sensible policy dialogue in the energy area. That presentation has just confirmed it. We will deliver on our Powering Australia plan, but, unlike you, we are also taking the urgent steps needed to take the sting out of the increases that are being felt right across the country by households, manufacturers and small and medium-sized businesses. This response is a sensible, meaningful and responsible response to the current energy crisis fuelled not only by the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia but also at your feet—and we will not let you forget it. You're voting for higher energy prices and higher costs for households, and you want to see businesses go to the wall; that's what you're voting for today. That's the position you have chosen. We on this side want to see those prices come down and people be given that assistance. That's what you're voting against today. You've dealt yourselves out of being any kind of respectful or reasonable politicians involved in sensible policy debates. It's absolutely pathetic. You've been sitting there complaining that you weren't given the opportunity and wasting the time you had available to you today. You made the choices and you've drawn up the ground. The Australian people will understand—and this is a question that Senator Duniam put to me—that they have a government that is on their side, prepared to make difficult calls and prepared to make the decisions and pass the legislation that will take the sting out of these increases in energy prices that we inherited from those opposite and a forecast impact on 2023-24.
The CHAIR: It being 4:30 pm, I will now put the questions on the circulated amendments and then on the remaining stages of the bill. I will first deal with the amendment circulated by Pauline Hanson's One Nation. The question is that the amendment on sheet 1784 be agreed to.
Pauline Hanson's One Nation's circulated amendment
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 11 (after line 19), after section 53L, insert:
53LA When gas market code regulations take effect
(1) This section applies to regulations made for the purposes of section 53L.
(2) If neither House of Parliament passes a resolution disallowing the regulations or a provision of the regulations, the regulations take effect:
(a) on the day immediately after the last day upon which such a resolution could have been passed; or
(b) if a later day is specified in the regulations—on that later day.
(3) If either House of Parliament passes a resolution disallowing a provision of the regulations, the remaining provisions of the regulations take effect:
(a) on the day immediately after the last day upon which a resolution disallowing the regulations or a provision of the regulations could have been passed; or
(b) if a later day is specified in the regulations—on that later day.
(4) To avoid doubt, if either House of Parliament passes a resolution disallowing the regulations, the regulations do not take effect.
The CHAIR (16:37): I will now deal with the amendments circulated by the opposition on sheet 1787.
Opposition's circulated amendments—
(1) Title, page 1 (lines 1 and 2), omit the title, substitute:
A Bill for an Act to amend the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 , and for related purposes
(2) Schedule 1, page 3 (line 1) to page 50 (line 11), to be opposed.
The CHAIR: I alert honourable members, before I put the question, that the first question will be that schedule 1 stand as printed. Therefore, if you are supporting the opposition amendment, you should vote no and, if you are supporting the bill, you would vote in the affirmative. The question before the chair is that schedule 1 stand as printed.
The CHAIR (16:41): I note that the remaining amendment on sheet 1787 was consequential on the previous amendment. Is someone seeking leave to withdraw the consequential amendment? No-one is seeking leave, therefore I will put the question. The question before the chair is that the remaining amendment on sheet 1787 be agreed to.