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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 639

Renewable Energy

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:55): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. I refer to media revelations today of departmental advice to the government that the cause of blackouts in South Australia during last September's storm was indeed because of the storm and the damage. This advice showed that the Prime Minister and his ministers were told from the beginning that the power outage was not the fault of wind power. The Prime Minister and his government ignored that advice, opting to attack South Australia's renewable energy industry instead. The Prime Minister has now been caught lying. When will the Turnbull government stop lying to South Australians by falsely blaming renewables for our state's energy crisis and start being part of the solution?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, you will need to withdraw the direct reference about the Prime Minister.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I believe it was lying. I believe it was fibbing. I am prepared to rephrase. When will the Turnbull government—

The PRESIDENT: No, I am asking you to withdraw the comment.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am happy to withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young. I call the Attorney-General.

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:56): Senator Hanson-Young, I think I really answered that question to your leader, Senator Di Natale, because he asked the same question. So, forgive me if I go over some of the territory that I covered in response to Senator Di Natale. First of all, it is absolutely false to say that the Prime Minister lied or misrepresented the position. The Prime Minister always acknowledged that the storm knocked out transmission lines. He acknowledged that. But he went on to observe, as is the case, that South Australia's over-reliance on intermittent energy and renewables created vulnerabilities in the system. And so it did. And let me read just a little of the report of AEMO, the Australian Energy Market Operator, into that event. This is what AEMO said:

The growing proportion of this type of generating plant within the generation portfolio is leading to more periods with low inertia and low available fault levels, hence a lower resilience to extreme events.

That is what AEMO said, and that supports what the Prime Minister observed as a matter of common sense—that if you create vulnerabilities then, if there is an unpredictable event such as a storm, the system will have less resilience; it will have less capacity to respond to a black swan event like the storm that knocked the physical facilities in the South Australian network. That is what caused the problem, and there is no doubt that, as AEMO found, over-reliance on intermittent energy sources was a contributing factor.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, a supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:58): Well, of course, we know liars never like admitting when they have been caught out. Following—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Hanson-Young, that is exactly the same reference as I pulled you up for in your primary question. You cannot impugn that. So, you will have to withdraw that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I think it is ridiculous that the Prime Minister can mislead the Australian people and he cannot be called out for it. It is unacceptable to continue to mislead—

The PRESIDENT: Order! A point of order, Senator Bernardi.

Senator Bernardi: Mr President, you have already identified that Senator Hanson-Young has used unparliamentary language. You have asked her to withdraw, and she has refused to. Surely, the Senate's standards require her to adhere to your ruling.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Bernardi. Senator Hanson-Young, I was giving you a couple of moments, thinking that you were going to withdraw that comment. You will need to withdraw first and then you can continue with your question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you, Mr President. I withdraw. I would like to point out that following the blackout on Wednesday last week, again the Prime Minister and his ministers attempted to blame the renewable energy industry in South Australia for the power outage. Again, the Prime Minister and his minister failed to inform the parliament and the public that part of the shortage was due to the lack of power stations running from fossil fuel companies. When will the government—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! Senator Hanson-Young, there were a few seconds with me asking you to withdraw. You can continue your question, if you are very brief.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When will the Turnbull government stop using the SA power crisis for its own political gain and do something to fix the problem?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:00): Well, Senator Hanson-Young, we are not playing political games in pointing out that the South Australian Labor government, because it has adopted the wrong generation mix, has been unable to keep the lights on in South Australia, and that is a violation of the most fundamental obligation of any government. This has been an abject policy failure by Premier Weatherill and his ministers—an abject policy failure. A very important reason for it is that there is not enough resilience in the South Australian network. That is because there is not enough redundancy in the South Australian network so that when an event of the kind that we saw in South Australia occurs the network is unable to respond. It is unable to respond, and that is what you get, Senator Hanson-Young, when you favour ideology over science, as you do. We believe in a technology-agnostic approach that will keep—(Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, a final supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (15:01): The Prime Minister has been caught out again not telling the truth to the Australian people. Many Australians are wondering: does the Prime Minister even understand or is he capable—

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Hanson-Young. A point of order, Attorney-General?

Senator Brandis: You have already required Senator Hanson-Young to withdraw the allegation she made against the Prime Minister. She is making precisely the same allegation that you ruled must be withdrawn in only slightly different words and she should observe your earlier ruling.

Senator O'Sullivan: Test the floor!

The PRESIDENT: I did let Senator Hanson-Young get away with that, but it is sailing very close to the wind. Senator Hanson-Young, in the context of your previous two questions, it does follow suit that that is what you are indicating. However, if I take it in isolation, it did not directly impugn the Prime Minister. I will allow you to continue with your question, but I advise all senators that matters, comments and phrases that directly go against and impugn members of the other place and, indeed, this place are disorderly. Senator Hanson-Young, you can continue your question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: A question to the minister: is the Prime Minister capable of telling the difference between the truth and alternative facts?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:03): Well, Senator Hanson-Young, these are the facts: your party is wedded to an ideological policy based entirely on commitment to renewables that the economy of no state in Australia is ready for. That is fact No.1. Fact No.2: the Turnbull government is committed to the most ambitious emissions targets per capita in the world, which we committed to at the Paris climate change conference. You can hardly impeach the Turnbull government for not implementing policies to encourage the renewable sector. But fact No.3: unlike you and unlike the Australian Labor Party, we take a technology-agnostic approach because we acknowledge that the most important obligation of all is for a government to preside over an energy policy that will keep the electricity generation network on stream and that will keep the lights on. It is because of your failure—(Time expired)