September 07, 2017

The SPEAKER (15:23): I have received a letter from the honourable member for Port Adelaide proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's complete failure on energy policy.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (15:24): This week, on the fourth anniversary of this government, under two prime ministers, two reports were received from the Energy Market Operator, both of which have laid bare four years of stunning failure on energy policy—stunning, devastating failure on energy policy, on every possible indicator. In four years, wholesale power prices under this government have doubled, causing power bills to skyrocket for households.

Just in the last couple of months in New South Wales, power bills went up by 20 per cent for households, adding to other power bill increases that they've experienced under Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Turnbull. Businesses have been walking through Parliament House this week talking to members of parliament—I'm sure on both sides—about the deep energy crisis that has emerged under this government. And, contrary to what the Prime Minister would like to tell this House, they are seriously hurting on power bills and on gas. They're not experiencing 20 per cent rises; they're talking to us about 70 per cent, 80 per cent, even 100 per cent increases in their power bills as they come to renegotiate new contracts.

AEMO has also warned that two-thirds of Australia is at risk of blackout over coming summers without action and a proper policy. Pollution is on the rise. Gas prices are skyrocketing. The Prime Minister tried to tell people a number of times this week that everything's fine in the gas market and that gas prices are coming down, while talking about spot prices in the spot market for gas. Well, only about 10 per cent of the gas market is traded on the spot market. Manufacturers across the economy have been in this building this week still talking about $15 to $20 a gigajoule quotes being received by them, prices which simply make their businesses potentially unviable, jeopardising tens of thousands of workers in manufacturing sectors across the country. And in the renewable energy industry, after jobs tripled under our government for six years, the ABS reported that, under this government and this minister, one in three renewable energy jobs—thousands and thousands of jobs—have been lost while they've soared around the rest of the world.

Every Australian now understands, when they open their skyrocketing power bills, when they consider the risk of blackouts across two-thirds of our country, who created this absolute mess—this Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abbott and this minister. And it's no mystery how we got into this deep mess over the last four years. As in so many policy areas, in 2013, the Liberal Party had a great plan to dismantle stuff, to destroy stuff, to wreck policy, and they did that. They completely dismantled Australia's energy policy, but they put nothing in its place. For four long years, this country has had no energy policy to guide investment decisions to ensure that there is new generation plant being built to enter the market in coming years to provide reliable supply. And it's not a mystery. It's not hard to work out what that energy policy framework should be, because the government received the blueprint from the Chief Scientist months ago; it's a clean energy target.

The Chief Scientist framed a recommendation for a clean energy target as 'there being an urgent need for a clear and early decision on this matter', a point that was reinforced by the Energy Market Operator only this week in its two reports. And it is urgent because generators that are ageing, which were built in the 1960s and '70s, are closing. This is inevitable. Members opposite might wish it were otherwise, might wish that these generators could just keep generating forever and a day, but it is inevitable. As Matthew Warren, the head of the Energy Council, said in the Australian Financial Review today, 'The problem isn't old power stations closing. It's that we don't have a plan to replace them.' And we haven't had a plan for four years under this government.

The Labor Party have said time and again that they're willing to sit down with the government and agree on a bipartisan framework to get that investment flowing, to ensure that when the generators inevitably close because they're too old that they're replaced by generation that provides reliable and affordable supply. We know why there's been no action opposite. We know that for over four years the government have been utterly paralysed on this question because their party room refuses to admit that there is an irreversible, inevitable transition happening in electricity systems across the world, not just here in Australia, and it will happen in Australia whether or not those in the coalition like it. That transition is partly driven by the imperative to reduce carbon pollution, and that's so important in a country that produces twice as much pollution from its electricity sector on average as the United States or the OECD more broadly, but it's also heavily driven by price. The other side might deny this, but it's now utterly clear that renewable energy has won the race to produce the cheapest possible form of new-build electricity generation across the world and in a country with unparalleled renewable energy sources like wind and solar, particularly here in Australia.

Of course, that transition must happen under a plan that ensures it happens in an orderly way. The transition must be a just transition for workers and communities that are affected, particularly directly. The nation must ensure that power is still dispatchable, reliable and affordable. AEMO, the Energy Market Operator, is working on a plan in spite of the government—not with the government, but in spite of the government. The South Australian energy plan was roundly endorsed by the Energy Market Operator's report this week, because it understands that the South Australian energy plan is providing the sorts of security mechanisms that the rest of the country needs. It may well be that Snowy Hydro 2.0, after we receive a feasibility plan, plays a part in that transition as well, but it won't play that part until the mid-2020s at the earliest.

The coalition is absolutely stuck on the fantasy that there is growth in coal in the future, that we can build new coal-fired power stations. The Prime Minister kicked this off in January, and it has been roundly rejected by all companies in the electricity industry—by the banks, by the lenders, by the experts who recognise that the days of building new coal-fired generation are simply over.

We know that the reason the coalition commissioned the AEMO report that was released this week was that they were crossing their fingers, hoping that AEMO would come and say: 'The solution to our challenges is to build new coal-fired power stations.' But of course AEMO didn't say that, because no-one is saying it anywhere in the world. There is no prospect of new unabated coal-fired power stations being built in this country. It's simply too risky. It's not cheap, as the Treasurer at least was courageous enough to say after bringing that lump of coal in here and fondling it in a very creepy fashion. People understand this, if they give it the most casual piece of analysis. We just need a Prime Minister who's willing to be honest about it. We just need a Prime Minister who is willing to go into that coalition party room and have an honest, logical discussion with his colleagues and say that this is not the future.

The transition in the electricity sector is inevitable, but there are two pathways. It can be an orderly transition that delivers reliable and affordable power with a proper investment framework agreed by both parties, or we can have a nation bedevilled by blackouts and skyrocketing power prices, which is exactly what the Energy Market Operator warned is the future under this minister and this Prime Minister if they continue to ignore the reality of what is happening in electricity systems across the world.

The Labor Party will continue to be honest with the Australian people and with regional communities that this transition is inevitable, that it can be managed in a way that is either positive for Australia or it can be resisted. You can pull the cardigans over your heads and pretend that there's another path, but the only alternative path is the path of unreliability, of blackouts in coming summers and of continuing skyrocketing power prices. If that is the path that this minister and this Prime Minister continue to choose, because they don't have the courage to have logical, rational explanations in their coalition party room, I tell you what: the Australian people will hold them to account.