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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1375


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:49): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. Minister, last week we had the Prime Minister describe himself as the 'nation-building Prime Minister'. He wanted a big response to his exciting announcement of a feasibility study into the expansion of Snowy Hydro. Minister, can you please explain to South Australians just how a feasibility study into an eastern-state-focused facility in New South Wales—that might take upwards of seven years to even get there—will help next summer when prices are going through the roof and stability of electricity is low?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:50): How sad and cynical of Senator Hanson-Young! How sad and cynical that she sees no benefit in the types of nation-building infrastructure projects the Turnbull government is thinking about. How sad and cynical that she does not recognise that, by actually investing in projects like the Snowy Hydro project, by investing in projects like the Cultana pumped hydro project in western South Australia—that these types of projects can make what is currently a broken model in relation to our energy market work better for us in the future; and that the Greens, who have championed wind power and have championed renewable energy over many, many years in this place now will not come to recognise that you actually need these types of investments that the Turnbull government is talking about and trying to pursue and get implemented to actually make your wind energy work—because we need these types of investments to stabilise the system, to stabilise the energy grid, to ensure that, actually, when the wind is not blowing, you still have power going through the system. Senator Hanson-Young, I would have thought that you, as a South Australian Senator—like me—would come to appreciate and recognise that over the course of the last six months in particular, it has become quite clear that there are fundamental problems in our electricity market. And we have put on the table solutions to those problems—solutions that are not what Jay Weatherill is proposing in spending more than half a billion dollars of new taxpayers' money building a new gas-fired power plant to replace the one that is mothballed or to replace the coal-fired plants he has closed down, but are actual solutions that will ensure that we make the current circumstance work better in terms of the energy that is going into the grid right now, make it more sustainable, and put those mechanisms in place that will smooth out the energy market whilst—and I would have thought, Senator, you would be welcoming this fact—they might also make renewable energy projects work better in the future than they currently are at present.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, a supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:52): It seems that the only thing missing aside from the Akubra on the Prime Minister's head last week was a sense of urgency. South Australians need action now. Given that the only useful thing the federal government can do is change the national energy market rules to reduce peak demand and encourage more storage, can you please advise South Australians how much longer this government is going to do nothing and ignore the repeated advice from energy experts to fix the market rules?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:53): Senator Hanson-Young has clearly failed to notice the work that the Chief Scientist, Dr Finkel, has undertaken which is absolutely looking at the market rules and will ensure we have a coherent response to the market rules. But I tell you what won't fix the market rules. What won't fix the market rules is Premier Jay Weatherill deciding he is going to empower his energy minister to try to direct the national electricity market all on his own. What will happen there is that ultimately you will see other states—Victoria and New South Wales—decide to give their energy ministers the same power; and, far from having an effective electricity market, all you will have then is chaos with different energy ministers putting in place different orders at different times that conflict with one another and lead to a chaotic environment. Nothing will fix the national electricity market by giving individual states capacity to dictate in competing ways; what will fix it is the coherent, thoughtful approach the Turnbull government is applying which will ensure we have rules of the market that work effectively in the interests of all states in the future. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, a final supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:54): How long has the government known that the national energy market rules need changing to change the 30-minute settlement to five minutes, and when are you going to act?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:54): I am not sure Senator Hanson-Young heard my previous answer. The government absolutely has a process in place here to act—if you support this government in ensuring we get the national market to work effectively rather than having Premier Weatherill or different states deciding they are going to unpick the national market. Premier Weatherill seems to forget that South Australia is still incredibly reliant for about one-quarter of its power on the interconnector coming in from Victoria and New South Wales bringing power across the border into South Australia. If we choose in SA to go it alone with our own market rules then the risk is that, when Victoria or New South Wales goes it alone with their market rules, we will find that the interconnector flows no more. We will have more blackouts, more brownouts, more statewide blackouts. Total chaos is what we want to avoid. We want to ensure we have a functioning market. We are working through that process with each of the states to make sure we get a comprehensive response that makes the market work in the future, unlike what Labor is proposing.