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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 149


Ms STANLEY (Werriwa) (18:29): When the motion we're dealing with today was first proposed on 18 June this year, the government's National Energy Guarantee, the NEG, was spruiked as a policy device that would lower prices and bring certainty to the electricity network. The then Prime Minister, the former member for Wentworth, was lauded for getting his party room's endorsement of the NEG. It was said to be a boost to his leadership. However, since then, if you believe the commentators' opinions—something which I have to say I normally take with a grain of salt—that same NEG has now brought an end to that leadership. Years from now, when people look back on this rather unusual and unstable period in Australian politics, a common thread will be the amount of navel-gazing and policy uncertainty in this place and how at odds and out of touch it was with the problems faced by the wider nation.

The supposed big debates of the last decade have for the most part been isolated to this building. While we have squabbled in here, the experts, the industry and the public have made up their mind and moved on. Examples are numerous: broadband, marriage equality, the funding of education, and of course climate change and energy policy. The Australian people deserve better from their government, and their disgust is borne out in the numerous polls and surveys. We must stop the bickering and reach a consensus, bipartisan policy on energy to drive down costs for households and businesses and to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases on our climate.

Last year the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, of which I'm a member, produced a report called Powering our future: inquiry into modernising Australia's electricity grid. The message was clear from the submissions received, and in both public and private hearings: in Australia and overseas, a well-functioning grid needs policy certainty. Policy certainty will address pricing and supply. Policy certainty will allow investment in power generation and provision. It will allow further research. It will make the provision of alternative methods of power generation possible by funding research and implementation. Certainty will provide the stimulus for investment in both plant and innovation to supply Australian businesses and consumers with affordable, accessible power. Conversely, continual policy uncertainty guarantees that businesses will not invest and may make choices to locate overseas. Last year the committee heard evidence that the inability of this government to provide certainty in energy policy over the last decade has placed the equivalent of a $50 a tonne carbon price on electricity generation.

Australia has long been at the forefront of embracing new technologies, from televisions to computers and mobile phones, and electricity has been no exception. The take-up of rooftop solar has risen exponentially in the last decade. Some of this growth obviously was helped by subsidies from previous federal and state governments, but that growth has continued well after the subsidies have disappeared. It seems there are many reasons for the continual trend, bill reduction always being a primary concern, but a wish to provide cleaner energy and a lower carbon footprint are also determining factors. With well-thought-out policy settings, the amount of generation behind the meter can be assessed, modelled and then incorporated into planning for the grid and for future production to ensure stability.

Last year the committee also heard evidence that innovation of behind-the-meter generation can negate the need to build extra power generation, such as new large-scale power plants. I'm aware of an initiative led by the organisation ShineHub, called the Sydney Community Solar Program. The initiative is looking to buy solar rooftop and batteries on behalf of consumers in the hope of creating Sydney's biggest virtual power plant. Their primary selling point is they are getting on with real solutions, instead of waiting for politicians who waste their time squabbling in corridors. While an exciting and innovative initiative, which I will keep a keen eye on, it is a sad indictment of this parliament. The initiative also points to the need for a clear approach from government with support from all sides of politics, underpinned by equity. We need an approach that ensures consumers, particularly those on low incomes or renters, are not left to shoulder grid costs as those more able to afford rooftop solar and battery leave the grid.

For the Australian public and industry, the most important function of the electricity grid is to provide reliable, dependable power when they need it. The government needs to provide certainty of policy so that businesses can get on with the provision of reliable generation for Australia's future needs.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Howarth ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.