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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5783


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (12:20): I rise to speak on the Petroleum and Other Fuels Reporting Bill 2017 and the Petroleum and Other Fuels Reporting (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2017. Anyone who has dealt with the Australian gas market knows it is one of the most opaque and least transparent markets in Australia. No-one knows exactly how much gas is produced, who holds it, how much it is sold for and where it goes. This bill takes one small step towards improving that transparency and, as such, Labor is supportive of the bill.

Rather than relying on voluntary disclosure of information, this bill will require gas companies to disclose information regarding gas suppliers to the government. That information can be used to inform public policy and, with appropriate safeguards to protect confidential information, to inform the general public, researchers, the industry and others. But no-one should be fooled into thinking if this bill becomes law we will have a solution to the gas crisis this government has let develop.

The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Energy like to blame the last Labor government for this crisis—and, in fact, any other crisis we have. This is a crisis that has seen gas prices for Australian industry rise from around $4 per gigajoule a few short years ago to up to $20 per gigajoule today. It is a crisis that has the potential to devastate Australian industry and Australian jobs. It is a crisis that is impacting electricity affordability and our security of supply.

Unlike this government, Labor has been warning about this crisis for years. As long ago as 2015, Labor adopted a gas export national interest test to ensure gas exports didn't come at the expense of Australian industry and households. What was the Liberal Party's response? Echoing the gas industry, they said a gas export national interest trust would increase red tape. Rather than act, they did nothing and let an impending crisis turn into a debilitating crisis that is now threatening industry, jobs and even our power supply.

Once the crisis had become so severe that even the Liberal Party couldn't ignore it they held a series of morning teas with industry promising to halve gas prices. And then they backtracked on that same promise. They promised to introduce export controls through their domestic gas security mechanism—a mechanism Labor is hopeful will lower prices and increase domestic supply, but one that doesn't directly address price and won't be implemented until next year, if ever. No wonder stakeholders feel it will lock in high prices and fail to alleviate supply shortages. The government still won't support a simple test to ensure gas exports are in the national interest. Labor supports a strong LNG industry and a strong domestic gas market. It shouldn't be beyond our abilities to have both.

The fact is that when it comes to industry policy, like in so many other areas, this government is divided, ineffectual and blame-shifting its way to an ever-increasing shambles. One of their favourite blame-shifting targets is always the states. The Labor government of Victoria is a favourite target when it comes to the national gas crisis. They really love to blame Victorian bans on onshore gas development, forgetting that the New South Wales Liberal government also has such a ban. There is no attempt to play a constructive role in building and supporting community consent for responsible gas development in these states. It is all about blaming someone else.

When Labor was in government we worked with crossbenchers to foster community consent for responsible onshore gas development by building up processes communities could have confidence in and could understand. We established that independent expert scientific committee to advise on potential developments and their impacts on water resources. We included a water trigger in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The Liberal government abolished this good work, and when the inevitable happened, when communities opposed new developments, they started wagging the finger at the states for representing the view of the communities that they actually represent. This seems to be the typical Liberal approach to energy: deny a problem and oppose other solutions; let the problem get so big that it's then impossible to deny it anymore, then blame others. That is because they don't have the unity, the intelligence or, indeed, the ability to play a constructive role in finding and then actually implementing a solution—spin and substance. The longer the energy crisis goes on, the more Australians know about it and are fearful.

The government's approach to the gas crisis is mirrored in its approach to the electricity crisis. The electricity policy paralysis from this government has led to an energy crisis. Wholesale electricity prices have doubled under the Liberal government, while carbon pollution is once again on the rise. The government's Finkel review, which has been discussed many times in this place, recommended that a clean energy target be implemented urgently to end the policy uncertainty strangling investment and to deliver new supply and lower prices. The government is too weak and divided to deliver on the central recommendation from its own review.

Labor understands that this is a real crisis. That's why we're willing to put aside our preferred policy of an emissions trading scheme, to implement a clean energy target. We've discussed this in this place, but we have no partner in government. We have no-one to negotiate with. The government are paralysed by their own disunity. They can't address the largest electricity crisis this nation has faced in living memory. We have some government members saying that they would scrap the 2020 renewable energy target, while others are on record as saying that it's here to stay. We have some members, like the Deputy Prime Minister, saying coal is the future and the government should fund new coal plants with taxpayer funds, while the views of the Minister for the Environment and Energy range from, in one quote, 'The government stands ready to finance new coal plants,' to, in another quote:

We don't have a plan on the table to build a new coal-fired power station …

Seemingly—and there has been a lot of media—his view depends on the audience he's addressing, or is it actually the state where he's making his comments? The Treasurer has veered from bringing lumps of coal into the other place—and that was truly a great moment!—to recently saying:

Let's not think that there's cheap new coal, there's not.

Is it any wonder that the government can't agree with itself on a national energy policy when individual ministers can't agree with themselves?

This would be amusing, and I know that there has been laughter at times, if it weren't so serious. Energy is the lifeblood of our economy. Industry, households, jobs, our security—they all rely on affordable, secure energy and increasingly on clean energy. What is needed is clear: a national energy policy to support new investment, a policy like a well-designed, clean-energy target. At this historic crossroads at the beginning of a global energy revolution, Australia finds itself with a government divided and inadequate to the task before it. Australians know, and they desperately need, so much better.