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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 631

Climate Change

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (14:30): My question is for the Minister representing the Minister for Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. As servants to the people of Queensland and Australia, I and people in the One Nation party have repeatedly advocated the need for lower energy prices. These prices are out of control, and an understanding of energy production and its supposed market is clear: it is being distorted by subsidies, the renewable energy target, regulations, bureaucracy, politics and vested interests. Senator Hanson-Young made a brave attempt to patch over her failed policies by trying to blame the renewable energy market but did not succeed. Could Minister Birmingham advise the reasons for the Prime Minister's change of mind and the energy minister's change in policy? Is it politically driven or economically motivated?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:31): I thank Senator Roberts for his question. Senator Roberts, I can assure you—as I can the entire Senate and all Australians—that everything the Turnbull government does in relation to energy prices, energy reliability, energy affordability and energy security is driven by a desire to ensure that Australia has the most affordable and the most reliable energy possible. We are driven by a desire to make sure both that Australian households, Australian families—be they in Queensland, South Australia or anywhere else—can feel comfortable turning the air conditioning on in summer and turning the heating on in winter and that Australian businesses can feel comfortable knowing that they can invest with confidence, grow and create jobs, whether that is an aluminium smelter in Victoria; Nyrstar, in my home state of South Australia; or any of these businesses.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. Senator Whish-Wilson, a point of order?

Senator Whish-Wilson: I do not think Senator Birmingham is correctly addressing the question from his new coalition partner.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hinch, a point of order?

Senator Hinch: When you are way up the back here, it is very hard at times to even hear the question, despite the stentorian tones of Senator Birmingham, with the Labor opposition and the Greens interjecting all the time.

The PRESIDENT: Order! In relation to the two points of order: firstly, the noise can be unbearable at times and it can make it difficult for senators to hear not just the question but, importantly, the answer, so I remind all senators to bear that in mind. Secondly, in relation to the primary point of order from Senator Whish-Wilson, Senator Birmingham is in order. I call the minister.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr President. I will do my best to make sure that Senator Hinch can hear us as well, because it is important for Senator Roberts and all senators to appreciate that, during the six years of the previous Labor government, electricity prices across Australia rose by 101 per cent. There was a 101 per cent growth in electricity prices during that time, but, under the coalition government—as demonstrated by ABS data released in June 2016—it is clear we have seen the largest fall in electricity prices on record. That, of course, was driven in part through the abolition of the carbon tax and in part through reforms to network regulation that our government has overseen. We are determined to keep working on measures to bring down prices. Of course, our reforms to the renewable energy target to ensure that we have a target that is achievable without the types of pressures that were in place before are further measures in place to try to make sure that electricity generation is more affordable in the future, and we will keep pursuing—as we are through the Finkel review and other mechanisms—means to do so.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Roberts, a supplementary question.

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (14:34): After 10 years of demonising carbon dioxide, following former Prime Minister Rudd's fabrication of an election-winning scare in 2007, and with President Trump's imminent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is the Prime Minister's reversal of policy flagging a reversal of climate policy so that it becomes based on empirical evidence?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:34): Our energy policy will be driven by a desire to ensure it is affordable, reliable and meets Australia's emission reduction targets and commitments. We will be ensuring that energy policy in Australia does not play favourites between technologies and is not driven by ideology—like the 50 per cent renewable energy target of those opposite, made with no modelling, no costing and no details but just a random ambit claim that they take out at election time. We will make sure that energy policy is informed by evidence—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Roberts, a point of order?

Senator Roberts: My question was simple: will the policy be based on empirical evidence, solid data and physical observations?

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Roberts. I believe the minister was indicating a move towards answering your question directly, but the minister still has just over half of his time to answer.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I think the very last word I spoke there was 'evidence'. Our policy will absolutely be driven by evidence—evidence of what can guarantee reliability, affordability and meeting our emissions reduction targets. It will be driven not by ideology like those opposite, but by ensuring that investment, whether it is in storage capabilities such as pumped hydro or in cleaner coal capabilities, meets our commitments to the world as well as our commitments to Australian consumers, households and businesses for affordable and reliable energy.

Senator Dastyari: What about sovereign citizens? It is my will!

The PRESIDENT: On my left! It is unfortunate you are closer to me now, Senator Dastyari. Senator Roberts, a final supplementary question.

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (14:36): The Prime Minister, after 10 years of demonising carbon dioxide, is now like a shag on a rock. What we need to see is a policy based on empirical data on climate.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: On my left, order! Senator Roberts, you have about half your time left to ask a question. You gave a statement, but I did not pick a question up in that. The question, Senator Roberts?

Senator ROBERTS: Will the minister confirm that the Liberal Party will embark on a campaign to actually implement policy based on climate science?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:37): We will, and, indeed, as my colleague Senator Sinodinos alluded to in his earlier answer, there are clear points of policy difference between the coalition and One Nation. We are committed to ensuring that Australia meets its emissions reductions targets—as Senator Brandis acknowledged earlier, our world-leading emissions reductions targets on a per capita basis. Australia has of course always done so. We have met our targets and exceeded them at every juncture. We will do so again with the 2020 targets, and we will ensure that we do so again with the 2030 targets. But we will be doing so with a firm eye as a government, as we always have, on how it is you do so while ensuring affordability and reliability. That is why our government will meet the 2020 targets without Labor's carbon tax, without that job-destroying carbon tax, which we removed, putting downward pressure on electricity prices, because we have implemented more cost-effective policies that deliver for the Australian people—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. Senator Roberts, a point of order?

Senator Roberts: Again, Mr President, I requested an answer to the question, 'Will the policies be based on hard evidence on climate science?' not as Senator Birmingham is discussing.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Roberts. The minister has five seconds in which to complete his answer. I remind the minister again of the question. Minister.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Our policies are absolutely based on evidence about climate science, affordability and reliability for Australians and their energy bills. (Time expired)