MPI 11/9/18

September 11, 2018

We've had a few MPI debates on energy policy over recent weeks because, frankly, this has been a movable feast, to say the least. We had a matter of public importance on energy policy debated in the last week of Malcolm Turnbull's prime ministership, a time when he had just announced the third version of the National Energy Guarantee in just seven days. It was a week that featured surrender after abject surrender and retreat after cowardly retreat by Malcolm Turnbull in the face of an onslaught by the hard right, led by the usual suspects, the member for Warringah, who's not here for this debate, the member for Hughes, who's always in this debate, and the member for Hume, who has been rewarded for his treachery by being appointed the Minister for Energy.

We warned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the time that he would not be rewarded for his abject, weak surrenders to the hard right agenda on energy policy. We warned him and we were proven right. The member for Warringah, always grateful for a bit of weak surrender, said that it was just 'a conversion of convenience' that Malcolm Turnbull had undertaken. Of course, true to form, he didn't let up, and now we have the member for Cook as the Prime Minister of the country. Everyone is asking, 'Why did this happen?' Was it just the personal ambition of a number of the people who now find themselves on the front bench, was it just the petty hatreds that get built up after leadership coup after leadership coup or was it something deeper?

I've been talking for a little while now about this deep, philosophical division that lies at the heart of the coalition, particularly in the Liberal Party. A key reason is that there is a battle for the soul of the Liberal Party underway at the moment. The centrepiece of the battle is climate and energy policy. What the deposal of the last Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, involved was a fight within the coalition to place the hard right agenda on climate and energy policy right at the heart of this government.

The new Prime Minister, the member for Cook, pretends that he had to have his arm twisted to be appointed Prime Minister and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time when someone said, 'Surprise, surprise, Member for Cook, you're going to have the job of Prime Minister'—with no treachery on his part and no numbers being done on his part to try to come through the middle between the member for Dickson and the then member for Wentworth! We see what he has ultimately given to the hard right in response to their support. He has given us the member for Hume as the energy minister, perhaps the key piece of surrender to the hard right. But he has walked away from the National Energy Guarantee. He's walked away from National Energy Guarantee version 3.0, which—count them—was the fifth energy policy this government had in just three years. He's walked away from any policy to deliver on the commitments to reduce carbon pollution under the Paris agreement and walked away from any responsibility to future generations of Australians—our children and our grandchildren—to ensure that they live in a safe climate.

But, as the member for Wakefield, soon to be the member for Spence, said, 'The key concession was to hand the energy portfolio to one of their own'—to one of the hard right who has been fighting this fight within the Liberal Party since he came to this building. We now have the most ideological person ever to hold the Energy portfolio sitting at this table in this debate. There is no clearer example of this government focusing on their own divisions and their own ideological obsessions, instead of on the interests of the Australian people, than the shambles of energy policy debate that's gone on in their party room. The evidence is clear. What this extraordinary turn of events over recent weeks has shown, and what it will make absolutely sure of, is that the energy crisis that's emerged under this government is going to get far, far worse.

Sensible members of this government understand that—even the new Treasurer, who profited, coincidentally, out of this coup against the member for Wentworth. Even he recognised this on Insiders on Sunday. He said that no-one was more disappointed than him at the death of the National Energy Guarantee. Again, it's all about them. It's all about the poor old new Treasurer and his disappointment; not about the thousands of businesses that have been waiting for an energy policy finally to be settled by this government after seeing the power prices skyrocket over the last five years under this government and the viability of their businesses placed in jeopardy while this coalition party room undertakes its parlour games over whether climate change is real or not real. There was no thought to the millions of households who are seeing their household bills skyrocket under a government that is completely incapable of settling an energy policy. It was all about them.

In his heart, the new Treasurer knows this is a disaster for the country and, I suspect, a disaster for the government. He and the new Prime Minister, when the new Prime Minister was the Treasurer, were promising households and businesses for weeks and months that the National Energy Guarantee was the best chance of bringing this energy crisis to an end. Only last month the now Prime Minister told Leigh Sales on 7.30 that he had never come across an initiative in his 10 years in parliament that had broader support than the National Energy Guarantee—except for five or six people on the other side of parliament who vetoed it. Every business group in this nation supported the National Energy Guarantee. Every single business group supported it.

The new minister issued a media release on the National Energy Guarantee, entitled 'National Energy Guarantee to deliver affordable, reliable electricity'. But I've looked at the minister's website, and the current version of that media release says, 'Page not found'. It says, 'We are sorry, the page you are looking for could not be found'. It's been erased from history. The energy policy that dare not speak its name again.

We actually know the member for Hume never supported it. He never supported the National Energy Guarantee. This man is the member for Warringah's candidate for energy minister. Alan Jones made absolutely clear how delighted he is about this appointment. It's one of the best appointments in politics in years, he said, because the member for Hume doesn't accept the science of climate change. In this building, in this chamber, he described climate change science as 'the new climate religion' that 'has little basis on fact and everything to do with blind faith'. He's a man who made his name campaigning against renewable energy. He was the headline act in a ridiculous rally out the front, co-headlined by Alan Jones, called the National Wind Power Fraud Rally. He said, 'Large-scale wind it's very clear that it's not economic on any grounds.' He might want to talk to the Energy Council or any other energy expert in the country who has seen these strike prices on wind and solar energy come in way, way lower, even with firming-up technology, than any other technology those opposite continue to talk about.

We do know what we're going to get from this energy minister. We're going to get no cuts in pollution and a complete abdication of any responsibility to discharge our responsibility to future generations around climate change. We're going to see a smashing of jobs and investment. His mentor, the member for Warringah, did exactly that a few years ago. There was an 88 per cent collapse in investment and thousands of jobs lost after pursuing the sort of policy the hard right in the coalition party room want. But the surest thing we will see is that prices will rise. The government's own modelling made this clear. They promised a $550 cut to power bills, but the same modelling warned that prices would go up by $300 if the National Energy Guarantee was not delivered. Tony Wood said as much in the Financial Review this morning. What we also see on the front page of the Financial Review is that future prices, the price that markets are betting on in the future, have already started to rise because of the policy uncertainty involved in this government.

The Prime Minister, in a previous life, when he was Treasurer only a few weeks ago, recognised that policy uncertainty is the key driver of price rises in this country. He said in that 7.30 interview a few weeks ago, 'If you're not for the National Energy Guarantee, then you're for continued uncertainty which leads to higher prices.' Perhaps the stand-out sentence from this minister's first speech was that he wouldn't 'even try' to deliver policy certainty or investor certainty in the delivery of an essential service in a mixed economy that their party is largely responsible for privatising over the last quarter of a century—a complete abdication of government responsibility. This government is an absolute shambles on energy policy. It has cost another Prime Minister his job, but the most important thing is it's going to cost households and businesses much, much more on their power bills.