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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8791


Senator RYAN (Victoria) (13:55): The Senate Select Committee on Electricity Prices report brings to a head the farce that has been the Labor Party and their Greens allies when it comes to energy prices in Australia. Desperate to create the illusion of compassion, they set up this committee with some contrived empathy about electricity prices. They set up the committee dominated by themselves, so of course it limits who can be called; it limits the evidence. But nothing can hide the truth, because the very logic that the advocates of this carbon tax have put forward is that it drives up electricity prices. That is the very logic of the program. It is the whole idea of creating a price signal. Oops! All of a sudden, the price signal is starting to get a little bit too harsh.

We have the government whip in the other place publicly complaining about electricity prices. The government understand that, with their Greens allies at their back, they are attacking their own constituency. People on fixed incomes are reconsidering whether to use heaters during winter. People on fixed incomes are going to think on a 38 degree Melbourne day, 'Can I afford to run the air conditioner?' In this society today, that is what the Labor Party want people on fixed incomes to think about. That is not what this party stands for.

There was some great evidence—and I will give Senator Cormann the credit for this—given to this inquiry. He highlights this in the opposition's comments to the report, despite the officials from the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, not using the word 'tax'. That is like the word 'price', which has been redefined like another word in recent history by Macquarie Dictionary. A 'price' now means a 'tax'. Mr Morling of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism in evidence to this committee specifically outlined that the biggest driver of increased electricity prices was the carbon price. He described it as a 'carbon cost', which is probably a redefinition that the government has undertaken. Senator Cormann highlighted this. So the biggest driver the government has just mentioned for increasing the cost of electricity is the carbon tax, and Mr Morling admits it.

So we now have the government trying to obfuscate and defer blame onto network costs—and here is where a little bit of history is relevant. I come from the state of Victoria. We are still bearing the cost of the carbon price, but some of the problems that are being experienced elsewhere are not being experienced in Victoria, and that is precisely because we had our way and people like Senator Carr and Senator Conroy did not have their way. In the mid-1990s we sold our electricity networks, so we did not have the ability of our Labor governments to dividend strip, run down and refuse to invest. We did not have the gold-plating that is a vain effort to create jobs, which has been happening in other states so that Labor can recover from its failures. We have the impact solely of the carbon price in Victoria. Senator Carr, you lost that battle with your mates back in the mid-1990s. You lost your battle when Joan Kirner sold off part of Loy Yang B. You lost that battle. We sold off the network, we sold off the generators and we sold off the retailers.

With the complete hypocrisy that is so typical of this government, we now have the current Prime Minister—the former chief of staff to the then Leader of the Opposition, John Brumby, when Labor were implacably opposed to privatising the electricity network in Victoria—lecturing Liberal governments on how they should privatise. For Senator Thistlethwaite, as a New South Wales senator and a former General Secretary of the ALP, to be lecturing anyone on how we should be privatising the electricity networks of this country to save costs is absolutely hilarious. Senator Carr can tell us a few stories about how gutless the Labor Party is. In New South Wales, Senator Kim Carr, the unions won. Your colleagues in New South Wales won. And what they won was for decades hence increased electricity prices as a result of dividend stripping, under investment and new governments having to play catch-up.

Senator Thistlethwaite interjecting

Senator RYAN: We are going to keep dividend stripping, are we, Senator Thistlethwaite? That is what the Labor Party does. This report is not worth the paper it is printed on. The Labor Party's compassion for people suffering under electricity prices is nothing but contrived. The Australian people know about it. And they will remember it, especially as summer comes and they want to use their air conditioner.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.