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Monday, 23 October 2017
Page: 11455


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Coal is on its way out. It's an industry in decline and almost every other leader in the world seems to get that except for our Prime Minister and for Donald Trump.

The world is rapidly moving away from dirty old coal, which is a legacy technology, and making the transition towards clean, green renewable energy.

In 2017, coal makes no sense. It doesn't stack up environmentally or economically and it is literally killing people. Not only is the pollution from coal-fired power stations making global warming worse, but chemicals like mercury and sulphur dioxide are also being spewed into our atmosphere from burning coal. In Australia, we emit mercury at double the global average, and inhaling it and other toxic chemicals carries serious health risks.

Coal doesn't even work when you need it to. During the heatwaves in New South Wales this year, Liddell Power Station was unable to perform as two of its generator units were unable to switch on due to unforeseen boiler tube leaks.

There's a reason that no-one in the private sector is building new coal-fired power stations. It doesn't stack up economically. No-one is interested in investing billions of dollars into a giant coal-fired power station that no-one is going to want to switch on in a few years. No-one is interested in sinking capital investment into an ageing technology when the cost of renewables is plummeting and getting cheaper by the day. Investing in coal is about as sensible as investing in a company that builds fax machines and typewriters.

The cost of renewables is plummeting and we live in one of the sunniest, windiest places in the world. If the government had any vision, they'd be positioning Australia to take advantage of the clean energy revolution. We would be leading the world in renewable energy technology, we'd have some of the lowest prices in the world and we'd be reducing pollution across the country.

Instead, we're being left behind. Whilst the minister waxes lyrical about the falling cost of renewables, he's failing to do what other countries are doing, which is putting in place legislated targets to increase their uptake. China is getting on with it and introducing an emissions trading scheme. While the Treasurer and the Deputy Prime Minister throw around chunks of coal in parliament, Germany has been getting up to 85 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources on sunny, windy days this year.

To ensure that we transition to a nation that is powered by renewables, we need to do two things at once. One is rapidly introduce clean, cheap, reliable renewable energy into the system, and the second is to conduct an orderly retirement of coal-fired power stations—renewables in, coal out, and a legislated program to do it.

But that hasn't stopped this government from peddling their dangerous obsession with coal, and so now the parliament has to stop them.

The conservatives in this place only live and die by the market when it suits them. Right now, around the world, people are forcing out coal and the falling cost of renewables and storage is only going to make them more competitive. But here we've had members of the government recently talking about frantically pulling on one of the only levers that are left available to them—using public money that should be going to schools and hospitals to instead fund coal. This is a truly desperate and despicable step by a Prime Minister that's doing anything he can to hang onto power.

The government has been prosecuting the case hard to keep the decrepit old clunker Liddell Power Station open, for example. That joint—having been out to Bayswater and Liddell and visited the sites as part of visiting coal-fired power station communities around Australia this year, can I say that place is being held together by spit and sticky tape. Liddell is falling apart, and its current owners, AGL, don't want to spend the money on keeping it open. So the government is still, despite its recent announcement last week, bringing public pressure to bear to say, 'Keep it open,' and is leaving the door open to tipping in public money to make sure that the Liddell coal-fired power station stays open.

It should be illegal and unlawful to use public money in this way—public money that could be going to schools and hospitals and should be going there; public money that should be spent on science and research; public money that should be spent on reducing inequality in this country and ensuring that everyone has access to a high-quality education; public money that should be spent securing our renewable energy future; and public money that should be used in the public interest. If the government is wanting to use public money to burn our planet and make climate change worse, that should be illegal. We have to stop them.

The b ill

So the Greens bill that I introduce today, the Coal-Fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2017, prohibits:

the Commonwealth providing financial support to refurbish or build a coal-fired power station; and

the Commonwealth purchasing, or assisting with the purchase or transfer or ownership of, a coal-fired power station

However, this bill does ensure that the government can use public money to transition affected workers into new industry and use public money to manage the closure of a coal-fired power station.

Let's be very clear about this. Coal kills, whether it's through the toxic pollutants it spews into the atmosphere that affect the air we breathe, or the global warming that it accelerates that will destroy our way of life. We need to stop burning coal. And already, industry and investment are moving away from coal. No major financial institution in Australia wants to finance the Adani coal megamine and no-one in the private sector is interested in building new coal-fired power stations. But this government and the Trumps on the backbench that control it are resisting and opposing what the markets that they claim to worship are telling them, what the science is telling them, what the private sector is telling them, what public opinion is telling them and, most importantly, what the world is telling them. In their blind, dangerous resistance they are turning to the only option they have left: a culture war, using coal as a proxy for their failing grip on public opinion.

They're using their leverage over Malcolm Turnbull to condemn our future generations, and the Greens are willing to stand in the way.

Why? Because you can't count on the Labor opposition to do it. Labor and Liberals are wedded to each other and wedded to coal. The Labor Party tries to talk the talk on renewables and a clean energy target, but when the Greens introduce a motion into this place and into the Senate to rule out any attempts to extend the life of Liddell and to develop a plan for the orderly transition away from coal, where does Labor vote? Labor votes with the government, because when push comes to shove the Labor opposition is still beholden to the fossil fuel companies. Labor is still in the pocket of coal. But, worse still, the revolving door between big interests isn't just for the coalition, but the Labor Party as well. According to an article published in The Conversation on 22 June last year, former ministers Martin Ferguson and Craig Emerson either took up management jobs with mining and energy companies and associations or worked as consultants for them. Earlier this year, The Australian revealed that Cameron Milner, who has worked for the Premier of Queensland and in the Leader of the Opposition's office, was volunteering with the ALP while keeping his day job as a director and registered lobbyist at Next Level Strategic Services (NLSS), which counts amongst its clients Indian miner Adani.

Plan

But the Greens have a plan. We've got a plan to extend the Renewable Energy Target, which—despite what others like the member for Warringah, former Prime Minister Abbott is saying—is working, a plan to legislate a national storage target to run Australia on 100 per cent renewable energy, a plan to transition workers from coal communities into the jobs of the future and a plan to re-regulate electricity prices to bring down costs and provide much-needed relief for households around this country. We've laid out this plan and we're confident that, if it was implemented, we could stabilise the grid, restore investment confidence and end the investment strike on renewables, bring down pollution, bring down prices and even meet our paltry Paris obligations.

It is ideology and weakness, from the old parties, that is standing in the way of the energy revolution. Instead, what we are served up from this government is fear-mongering that falsely blames blackouts on renewables. It is juvenile name-calling in the chamber and it's a government that, instead of taking real action to bring down prices, forces energy retailers to write letters to customers telling them just exactly how much they're being ripped off.

Well, enough is enough.

I urge the opposition Labor Party and my colleagues right across the spectrum in this parliament to find the courage to support this bill so that we can take one important step forward, when the government insists on going backwards. Our precious public money should not be used to prop up clunky and dirty coal-fired power stations. There are better uses for it. If the government doesn't understand that, and if members of the government still want to talk about using public money to build new coal-fired power stations or extend their life, then this parliament needs to make sure we do not waste our money on building coal-fired power stations ever again. I commend this bill to the House.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wilkie: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

The SPEAKER: The question is that this bill be now read a second time. The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.