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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7885


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (15:04): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by Senators Gallacher, Chisholm and McAllister today relating to energy policy.

I just want to put on the record at the outset what we are talking about when we refer to energy and electricity prices. The National Electricity Market generates 200 terawatt hours of electricity annually and supplies 80 per cent of Australia's consumption. We know it operates on one of the world's longest interconnected power systems—from Port Douglas in Queensland to Port Lincoln in South Australia. Given the length and breadth of that network—and I keep returning to this—occasionally there are outages which are caused by weather events. Despite Senator Brandis's attempt to portray all of the ills that occurred in South Australia on wind, solar and the like—renewables—we know these outages were caused by a once-in-50-years storm at one end of a 5,000 kilometre network. You can't be allowed to keep putting the falsehood on the record that it was a decision of the South Australian government that caused those power outages. The public record is clear: it was the Olsen government in South Australia that privatised, it was the Olsen government that sold the network. The Olsen government sold the South Australian public a dud with one interconnector and refused the RiverLink interconnector.

It is really important to note that in the National Electricity Market the generators offer and then the market determines the combination of generation to meet demand in the most cost-efficient way, and the AEMO then issues dispatch instructions to these generators. What we also note from the public record is that the only one that's ever been fined for not following those instructions is the Snowy Hydro Scheme, which is owned by the federal government, the Victorian government and the New South Wales government. This is on the public record—a $400,000 fine. This lot over here created the National Electricity Market. They actually used to believe in a free market. And now what do we see? We see the Liddell power plant, with 20 per cent of New South Wales's generating capacity, at the end of its 45- or 50-year life and a Liberal government is stepping in and telling a private company with shareholders what to do with their fully depreciated asset.

That goes to the political point here. They used to believe in one thing and now they believe in another. The Prime Minister has moved consistently; that's the only thing he's done. He's shifted his position consistently, in line with the division in his caucus room, in line with pressure from the Nats. We saw on the weekend another catastrophic result for the National Party in the bush. There was a 20 per cent swing against them. We see this dysfunctional, divided government not making public policy and sending their caucus out to an electorate to say, 'In 2020, you'll save 100 bucks a week.' That's not going to fly. No-one is going to buy that. You might save 50c cents a week! For the people who are under pressure with their electricity bills, that is an absolute insult. I think the polls we have seen will be repeated all the way up to the next election.

This government will get its just desserts. Its just desserts are a number of terms in opposition for the dysfunction they are displaying, the lack of proper pragmatic policy and the lack of bipartisanship in putting energy security for Australian manufacturing and Australian consumers at the forefront of their policy. They are putting their own survival first. The Prime Minister is putting his survival first and Australia's needs second. In manufacturing, there are areas where electricity is 18 or 20 per cent of their costs. This government is not putting forward a coherent long-term policy that would allow investment to deliver the continuation of the manufacturing sector—in plastics, in cement.

We know that this government is only concerned about survival. What we also know is that the electorate has made its mind up, according to the polls. We are now at 21 polls which haven't gone their way. We'll get to 30 or 31 with or without Mr Turnbull—it ain't gonna make any difference. The only thing that will solve this crisis is the re-election of a Labor government and giving the coalition what they deserve, which is a couple of terms in opposition.