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Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Page: 2587


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:17): My question is to the Minister for Regional Development, Senator Nash. Over recent months, I have met with businesses throughout regional Victoria about increasing their growth opportunities. Some of their key inhibitors which they have told me about have been their ability to access a reliable and affordable energy supply. Some have told me about price hikes of up to 30 per cent in their power bills over the last year. Other businesses have spoken about how much it costs their operating bottom line every time they have to switch from one supplier to another—tens of thousands of dollars. All of this affects their ability to grow and develop right throughout regional Victoria and, more importantly, it affects their ability to employ more people across regional Victoria. Could the minister update the Senate on recent developments to improve access to affordable and reliable energy sources?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:18): I thank Senator McKenzie for her question and her ongoing diligent and hard work for the people of regional Victoria. I am delighted to remind the Senate that it was only a fortnight ago that the Prime Minister announced that the Turnbull-Joyce government will start work on a $2 billion electricity game changer—the plan for Snowy Mountains 2.0. The unprecedented expansion will help make renewables reliable, filling in holes caused by intermittent supply and generator outages. It will enable greater energy efficiency and help stabilise electricity supply into the future. This project could boost electricity production capacity by up to 2,000 megawatts, enough to power an additional 500,000 homes—an additional 50 per cent of its current capacity.

The proposal builds on the original Snowy Mountains Scheme completed in 1974, which was a visionary nation-building project, which people across this country understand. In one hour, it could produce 20 times the 100-megawatt hours expected from the battery proposed by the South Australian government. It will deliver it constantly—I say 'constantly'—for almost a week. The coalition will ensure that the feasibility study into this historic expansion considers any potential impacts on rural communities and irrigators. The study is expected to be completed by the end of this year and, as somebody living in a regional community and very focused on water, I know that will be welcomed across those areas of irrigation. In terms of those water users, the farmers and irrigators, I am very pleased to advise that Snowy Hydro has indicated that it will not be requesting changes to its water licence as part of its proposal, so there should not be any impact on water users downstream.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, a supplementary question.

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:20): Can the minister outline to the Senate the substantial benefits that an expanded Snowy Hydro scheme will deliver to households and businesses, particularly regional households and businesses?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:20): Supercharging the Snowy Hydro project will mean that households and businesses, including many in regional Victoria and New South Wales, will be able to better access affordable and reliable electricity, which is what they are crying out for. The agriculture and food manufacturing sectors will benefit greatly from the cheaper and more secure power that pumped hydro can deliver. Businesses large and small will be better placed to invest with confidence—and we know how important that is—hire more staff with confidence and operate with more confidence. The construction of this project, which will be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, will create thousands of construction and engineering jobs. The expansion will see communities benefit beyond New South Wales and Victoria. While currently the Snowy Hydro already backups energy to New South Wales and Victoria, once expanded Snowy Hydro 2.0 will also be capable of supplying South Australia, if needed.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie, a final supplementary question.

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:21): Is the minister aware of any—

Senator O'Sullivan interjecting

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Whish-Wilson!

Senator McKENZIE: Is the minister aware of any alternative approaches to supply an affordable and reliable energy supply?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (14:21): Indeed, I am. This coalition has a very clear vision and plan to secure and protect Australia's energy future. What are those opposite doing with their alternative plans? Previously, they had offered us a carbon tax. Who could forget their carbon tax increasing the price of power—their job-destroying, economy-wrecking carbon tax? What do they offer now? They offer a 50 per cent renewable energy target—an offer that puts at risk energy security, energy supply and energy affordability. And how much power, colleagues, did we see in the Labor state of South Australia under the blackout? You know the word: zero; zero power in South Australia. Those opposite have an absolute failed policy when it comes to energy: a 50 per cent RET. It is this side of the chamber that is going to provide affordable, reliable energy in the future. (Time expired)