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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8308

Energy


Senator WATT (Queensland) (14:11): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. In a Tuesday interview on Sky with David Speers, the minister couldn't explain the government's policy to break up power companies, which he described as 'putting on the table the big stick'. Can the minister explain to the Senate and to Australians how the government would break up private power companies? What exactly is the big stick and exactly when will it be used?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:11): I'm always bemused when I hear Labor senators selectively quote from a very important interview. Let me confirm for Senator Watt and for the Senate that, on this side of the chamber, we are committed to lower power prices. That is why we are not going to impose the carbon tax after the next election. We know that the Labor Party and the Greens—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong, on a point of order?

Senator Wong: The point of order is direct relevance. The minister may complain about selective quoting, but the quote was his. He was the one that talked about putting on the table the big stick. The question goes to: what was he talking about?

The PRESIDENT: You've reminded the minister of the question. I note he has been speaking for 28 seconds, and has one minute 32 remaining to answer.

Senator CORMANN: Senator Wong, that wasn't really a big stick, I've got to say. Let me say for the Senate again: this is a government that is committed to bringing electricity prices down. Of course, if Labor and the Greens were successful at the next election, they would be pushing electricity prices up. Electricity prices would be higher for families and for business. It would hurt the economy. It would put jobs at risk. It would—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong on a point of order, I might anticipate?

Senator Wong: He talks about a stick. He says it's big. We're just asking what it is.

The PRESIDENT: I'll take that as an interjection.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I'll call the minister when there is some semblance of quiet.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! The minister has one minute four remaining to answer the question.

Senator CORMANN: Thank you very much, Mr President. If Labor and the Greens got into government after the next election, not even a big stick could bring down electricity prices. That is the problem. On this side of the parliament, we are on the side of families, we are on the side of business, we are on the side of a stronger economy and we are on the side of those wanting to get a better opportunity to get ahead. If Senator Watt read my interview carefully, he would have seen that I said that as a last resort we are pursuing the divestiture powers that have been well and truly explained. You also know that the Minister for Energy is going through a consultative process to engage with stakeholders. Some of those stakeholders are not that enthusiastic about what the government is proposing to do as a last resort. Of course, when all these consultations have taken place, I'm sure Senator Watt will still be in favour of higher electricity prices, as supported by the Labor Party and the Greens, which would hurt families and business.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Watt, a supplementary question.













Senator WATT (Queensland) (14:15): I'm still not any clearer on what the big stick is, but we'll try this one: during the interview, the minister declared, 'As a general rule I support government policy.' What are the exceptions to the general rule? Given the minister refused to explain the government's policy to break up private power companies, is this one of the government's policies he does not support?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): Absolutely not. I made a rookie mistake I've got to admit it; I've put my hand up. I made the rookie mistake of repeating part of the question that was put to me, and from memory—David Speers, one of the best interviewers in this place, got me. He was trying to get me to, I guess, move away from the general message, and he said, 'As a general rule, what is your view?'

Let me say, I always support government policy. I get my opportunity to have my say within government. Do you know what? As a result of the work of all of us—all of us here have the opportunity to have our say. As a result of the involvement of all of us, the decisions that we make are the best possible decisions for the Australian people, and of course I support them unequivocally.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Watt, a final supplementary question.



Senator WATT (Queensland) (14:16): Energy sector stakeholders have said that the government's latest energy policy will create more uncertainty; undermine investment and drive power prices up; is constitutionally questionable; and should be shelved until after the election. Did the minister fail to detail the policy because he doesn't understand it, doesn't support it or because this is just another example of his chaotic and dysfunctional government making policy on the run?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and the Public Service, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:17): I think that is an example of the Labor Party siding with the big end of town against family and small- and medium-sized business. This question is an example of the Labor Party quite happily sitting back and letting the rip-offs continue. If there are rip-offs, are you saying we shouldn't do anything about them? Are you saying we shouldn't pursue regulatory reform to ensure that families and business across Australia get a better deal? Well we believe we should, and we will. There are certain things we would rather not do. There are certain measures we would rather not have to pursue, but, as we've said very clearly, as a last resort, if we have to, we will. That is because people across Australia can be confident that we are on their side; we are committed to bringing electricity prices down. The Labor Party and the Greens would drive them up.