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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4135


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (14:37): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy. Last October, Labor claimed that the National Energy Guarantee would effectively put a price on carbon and involve carbon trading. Liberal Party backbenchers and National Party MPs have also been quoted in the media, asserting that the NEG is a carbon tax by stealth. Given that the Australian people have comprehensively rejected a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme on multiple occasions, are the Labor Party, those Liberal backbenchers and National Party colleagues correct in saying that the NEG is a carbon tax by stealth?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:38): The short answer to Senator Bernardi is no; they are not correct in any such claims. Ultimately the NEG is not a carbon tax. It does not put a price on emissions. It is not an emissions trading scheme. What the NEG does seek to do is put in place a unique condition, working through the retail environment, that addresses reliability concerns whilst ensuring that Australia meets its emissions reduction targets, and it seeks to do that in a context that puts downward pressure on prices over the long term. It is a technology-neutral approach. It doesn't seek to pick any winners. It is an approach that ensures that investment flows to those areas of the energy generation market that can best guarantee stability and reliability whilst ensuring that Australia meets those emissions reduction targets. The modelling indicates very clearly that the NEG will help energy prices in Australia. Around $300 or $400 per household benefit is likely to accrue to households as a result of the type of sound policy that the NEG is, as recommended by the Independent Energy Security Board, as a clear pathway to be able to ensure that we provide ongoing future stability for investment in energy generation in Australia, and, in doing so, know that that ongoing stability will help people to make investment decisions about existing assets, as well as any new investment that can maintain a guarantee of levels of supply that are necessary for Australian industry to have confidence that energy will be available for them, that prices will have downward pressure applied to them, and that, ultimately, all of those things will work in a way that is technology-neutral, without direct subsidy or tax of any part of the energy market.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi, a supplementary question.

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (14:40): I thank the minister for the response, and I note he parroted the Prime Minister's press release from last October when the NEG was hailed as 'truly technology-neutral, offering a future for investment in whatever technology the market needs'. If the NEG is truly technology-neutral, what modelling or consideration is being given to nuclear power as a future contributor to the national energy grid?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:40): The NEG itself operates in a technology-neutral way. Senator Bernardi would know that there are other restrictions that exist in relation to investment in nuclear generation in Australia. They don't sit within the NEG.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Macdonald is right that the coalition side of politics has long indicated a position that it is open in terms of the way in which energy could be generated but that we recognise that the lead time in terms of investment in infrastructure, such as any nuclear generation opportunities, is such that the uncertainty, given the lack of openness from those opposite, would prohibit anybody from making such investment decisions or pursuing such an option in the future. So the NEG itself operates in a completely technology-neutral way. It is, indeed, other impediments, and most notably those opposite, that get in the way of what Senator Bernardi proposes. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi, a final supplementary question.

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (14:41): I thank the minister. There are 50 nuclear power stations under construction worldwide, adding to the 440 operating in 30 nations, collectively generating 11 per cent of the world's electricity. Given the global uptake of nuclear energy, which I note has no carbon emission issues, and given the NEG is technology-neutral, will the government commit to supporting the Conservative party's bill to remove the blanket federal bans on even considering nuclear power stations?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:42): I've not seen the bill that Senator Bernardi speaks to. Of course, the government gives full and proper consideration to any proposal that comes to this Senate, and I'm sure that that bill will receive the full and proper consideration of the government as well. But I would make the point—and it has been made by many people over the years; I particularly remember former Prime Minister Howard making the point on a number of occasions, and I think former Senator Minchin has made the point over the years, too—that, ultimately, the economics are a challenge, in terms of investment in nuclear, and those economics are of course particularly prohibitive, so long as the alternative party of government in Australia basically denies any investment certainty to anybody who wants to consider such a proposition.