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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 62


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:28): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to the National Energy Guarantee.

Australians love renewable energy. They know that renewable energy lowers prices. In the latest Lowy poll, 84 per cent showed that they support renewable energy, while just 14 per cent want government to focus on coal and gas. Renewable energy is the future. It is absolutely the future. Indeed, it's the present. It's happening right now. And yet we have a government intent on blocking progress and denying Australia the clean energy future that awaits us.

We had a report today from Bloomberg New Energy Finance that made it very clear that we'll see around the corner Australia, if it takes advantage of the huge opportunities before us, becoming a renewable energy superpower. Sadly, the government isn't listening. It's got no plan, no vision for the future. Their energy plan is directionless. They are riven with disunity and division. It seems that the only energy policy that will suffice for Malcolm Turnbull is one that enables him to negotiate his way through the climate deniers within his government.

The National Energy Guarantee is a convoluted, confused policy that's intended to bamboozle the coalition backbench, so that they don't cotton on to the fact that no matter what policy framework you create pollution has to have a price associated with it. There is no other way. We need to recognise, even by their own failed neoliberal economics, that when you pollute you create an externality and that externality should be priced.

When Tony Abbott's review into the Renewable Energy Target caused an 88 per cent drop in renewables investment wholesale prices skyrocketed. No new generation was being built to drive competition and to drive down prices. Indeed, the blame for the crisis that people face right now with increasing energy costs needs to be laid directly at the hands of this government.

The ACCC's made it very, very clear that the lion's share of price rises can be attributed to poles and wires—another failure of a market. Privatised network companies and greedy state governments gamed the pricing framework, and that was established just to facilitate the profits of these companies. They built far more infrastructure than was required. It helped them to boost their profits, and what they did was to pass the cost on to people's energy bills. That's the reason that people are struggling and that failure can be laid at the feet of this government.

Then you have the energy retailers. Recent polling shows that, even though it's hard to imagine, they have become less popular than the banks. It's another example where you have a failed market where the privatisation of essential assets and essential services has failed Australians. Tasmania has the lowest retail costs in the country, because they're a state-owned enterprise and the energy market is heavily regulated. Victoria, which has been deregulated more than any other jurisdiction, has the highest costs. Contestability was supposed to drive down costs—remember that?—but it's done the opposite. They're gouging profits, they're relying on confusing pricing regimes to keep customers in the dark and they're extracting super profits for themselves.

The big driver of recent price rises is also due to the huge investment uncertainty, which again is the result of government policy. In 2020, in just a year and a half's time, investment's going to fall off a cliff, because the Renewable Energy Target finishes. Then we have a National Energy Guarantee that's locks in emissions reductions of just 0.3 per cent a year over the next decade. What that does is it shores up the ageing, clunky coal-fired power stations that were built in the 1970s and need to be mothballed.

Government's got a choice: it can either cling to the past—it can try and use this again as an electoral weapon to try to beat the opposition over the head with and in doing so it's going to push up power prices, continue the uncertainty and hold back renewables—or it can embrace the future. It's good for power bills, it's good for the environment, it's good for all of us— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.