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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Page: 13


Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (13:19): As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I note that while the government's bill has some merit it raises far more questions than it answers. Before proceeding, I want to compliment Senator Hanson on her comments. At last, someone's standing up for Australia. We understand that the government has a dilemma, because the government and the Labor Party have deferred—put off—a decision on fuel security for years. In that deferral, putting it off, they have put our nation into an almost impossible position. And still, through this bill, the government shows that it has not faced up to the issue of fuel security. Let me remind everyone: energy is crucial to human progress.

One hundred and seventy years ago was the start of the industrial revolution. Look how far we've come. Look at everything in this room. Look at everything around you—in a city, in a town, while you're driving in a car. That has come in the last 170 years. Why? Sure, it has been human creativity but, above all, it has been the relentless ever-decreasing real price of energy. Electricity was unheard of 170 years ago. Coal-fired power stations and petroleum powered cars were unheard of, undreamt of, 170 years ago. A king 200 years ago would not have lived as easily, as safely, as comfortably, as well, as long as people on welfare today. That shows remarkable human progress.

Senator Hanson and I raised energy security in 2016. The government avoided the decision. Now the Liberal-National coalition want to push it out to 2027. They want to avoid it again. It has deferred the decision again, and Labor will support them. So much for job security and investment across all industries. The key to driving an economy is low energy prices and energy security. That's what brings investment for future jobs. Now, in response, what we see is a lack of thought and a lazy, lazy approach.

Why? Why do so many so-called solutions of the Liberal, Labor and National parties end up being, simply, a gift of taxpayer money to multinationals who are not taxed? Why does the government have a fetish for labelling bills with the word 'security'? I'll tell you why. It attracts votes, even if the bill does not provide security. Australians love security. All humans love security. We've had cybersecurity, border security, energy security, internet safety security and data security, often hiding a lack of security. When it comes to votes, Labor and Liberal know the word 'security' buys votes. Yet the word itself—security—is not real security. All three tired old parties repeatedly fail to provide real, meaningful, lasting security. They refuse to get back to basics and the truth.

We know that job security is important. We want it beyond 2027, though, for the jobs of refinery workers, construction workers and, when we get back to cheap, reliable fuel, all workers across all industries, including agriculture, not just manufacturing and services. Two refineries have recently shut. That was half of our refineries. We have to do something, then, to ensure future fuel security. The government's attempts simply reduce the risk for refineries. We understand why. But taxpayers pay for that, and at the end of the deal in 2027 we have nothing to show for it—nothing, zip. So where's the government's energy plan? A plan is not a plan without addressing the five Ws and one H. That's a simple management tool, management concept: Why? What? When? Where? Who? Then comes: How?

This government, like so many Liberal-National and Labor governments, goes straight to the 'How?' missing the specifics, the actions, the time lines, the responsibilities, the justification of cost-benefit analysis and a business plan. Government plans that jump straight to the 'How?' are not plans, unless the five Ws are addressed. Look at climate. Look at energy. The same applies everywhere. Look at the NDIS. Look at education. They are fundamentals that are really important for our country.

Why does the government repeatedly avoid facts and data and a disciplined, objective approach to policy and, instead, adopt media lines and pander to Greens ideology and drive policies in accordance with then Senator Mathias Cormann's often repeated dictum, 'We will fulfil our global obligations'?

What he means is and what he meant was: our obligations to globalists. We are the world's largest exporter of energy, largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, second largest exporter of coal. We were the largest and we still have the highest quality coal but we have been overtaken by Indonesia as the largest exporter. Yet we have the world's highest domestic gas prices and electricity prices, now three times that of countries who use our coal to generate their electricity. Three times our prices using our coal—why? Why can't we use our own gas domestically? Why can't we build a transnational pipeline to bring North West Shelf gas to the east and convert it to produce liquid fuels like petrol and diesel? The gas is suitable. Why can't we use the gas itself to power cars directly? Why can't we brainstorm and discuss alternatives, many alternatives, in the national interest?

Consider what the government says is a solution. The government will pay up to $2 billion to multinationals to keep them here. Remember the car makers, as Senator Hanson reminded us? We paid them billions to stay here and then they left and, as a final insult, sold their factories and their land to developers and pocketed the cash, after we gifted them so much taxpayer cash. Is this a solution, when in 2027 the oil companies can simply leave, run away, after we give them up to $2 billion along the way? Liberal-Labor put off making a decision and now, when our country has self-inflected deeper problems, make a half-baked solution that really defers it again until 2027, when we will have to face up to it again. Why? Because we haven't faced up to it now. Why? Because the government lacks the will to listen and to do something novel and appropriate for the people of Australia and their national interest. Just as Senator Hanson recounted, Norway is doing something in its national interest.

In 2027 then what? China and our Asian competitors will, rightly, continue using hydrocarbon fuels like natural gas, coal and oil. For decades, we have had a small volume market. How can we compete with Singapore and China in refining fuels and do so with fair wages for good workers in this country? Here is a hint: energy. Singapore lacks any resources apart from human resources—a well-educated, industrious people—but it has solid stable governance that puts Singapore first. It has a superior tax system, a superior education system, superior governance focused on Singapore's national interest.

China, it takes a different strategy, one that won't last but here is what it does: it exploits labour, sacrifices the environment, sacrifices worker safety. We can compete because we have Australian management and leadership; we just need to let it have a go—our energy combined with our people, Australians, Australian workers and our executive leadership in business.

Other facts need consideration. The government repeatedly bet on technology that's unproven and very expensive. They're dreaming about hydrogen that currently costs about $6 a kilogram to produce and say they have a vision for $2 a kilogram. Even at $2 a kilogram, the electricity cost is $200 per megawatt hour, four times the price that coal can do it now. So in their dream, they're going to send us bankrupt. Solar is another one of their dreams—dependence on China, who makes the damn things, cost, reliability, unreliability, instability, the loss of jobs. This is what the government is dreaming about. Wind—same applies—dependence on China, cost, reliability, stability, instability and loss of jobs. China, meanwhile, continues building coal-fired power stations. In its Paris Agreement, it has to do nothing until 2030 and then maybe it will think about it.

We have abundant clean goal and gas; we should be the super power, as we were when international investors flocked to the Hunter Valley, Central Queensland and Victoria to build aluminium refineries near cheap abundant coal. Those jobs are gone and, under current Liberal-Labor-Nationals policies, the few that remain in aluminium are doomed. Instead, the trio put bets on unproven, pixie farts for energy and stake Australia's energy on rainbow-coloured unicorns in some imaginary Garden of Eden in the future. It abandons workers and the people of Australia. It abandons our country. It is hollow rhetoric keeping people ignorant, hollow rhetoric destroying our economy, hollow rhetoric destroying our national future.

So, let's consider some possible options. What about this? Create a corporation to run the refineries. Issue government bonds, with bonds investing in the corporation in the same way we do with low-income housing. Buy the damned assets. Use the bond funds to buy oil and build additional fuel storage. Modernise the refineries to produce high-quality fuel to international standards. Fill up the oil tanks at startup to eliminate risks in the market. Once it's up and running, sell 49 per cent of the ownership in the refinery on the stock market and invest the other 51 per cent with the Future Fund. That's its job: holding assets on behalf of the Australian people to produce future income for future generations and ensure future fuel security. Government absorbs the initial risk—in the proven refineries, anyway—with proven personal enterprise, with oil industry executives managing the business and with proven executives and proven workers running the show, combined with accountability from the stock market.

The benefits are that Australians own the business, taxes stay here and the overall cost to taxpayers is considerably less, because we'd sell off half the enterprise. And the purchase price for an abandoned asset would be very low. People would buy shares because the risk is in setting up the venture and the asset would be stable. Fuel storage would work exactly as it does now on our overseas storage: buy when prices are low and sell when prices are high, to drive down prices at times of high prices, as with our existing International Energy Agency commitments. Major fuel producers would buy shares to get access to trading in stored oil. We could make extra money storing oil for other nations—Pacific countries, Indonesia.

Alternatively: fuel security is ultimately a matter of defence security. Has anyone in the government considered taking the refineries and getting the defence forces to operate the refineries in 2027? Or the government could, as a minimum, simply take the refineries' land if refiners close down and leave. If they shut up shop after we gift them billions, why not take their real estate? We need some skin in the game, as Senator Hanson said. We need something for our money. Get the land as partial payment.

Another issue: tax oil companies fairly. Stop giving foreign multinationals a free ride. They exploit our resources, use our assets, use our services, use our trained people, and rely on our defence forces and our laws—for free, damn it! They don't pay for any of it. Fix the tax system. Start with taxing multinationals. Jim Killaly, the former deputy assistant commissioner for taxation, in charge of large companies and foreign taxation, said, in 1996 and in 2010, that 90 per cent of Australia's large companies are foreign owned and since 1953 have paid little or no company tax. The government needs to establish honest energy policies across all our energy needs and invest in infrastructure to restore our nation's productive capacity. It needs to restore national sovereignty, to restore good governance based on data and facts and on putting the national interest first.

All these would be enormous changes from current government approaches—decades of such approaches. They would be a return to our nation's roots and the time when Australia led the world in per capita income. Instead, the government's approach is a short-term bandaid at best. And 2027 is not the end. We need to think and prepare for beyond that. Liberal, Nationals and Labor governments, for the past three decades, have thought that 'long-term' means just two budget cycles: two years—that's it. Australians deserve better—far, far better.

This bill is not even a bandaid. It's a deferral, a putting off. It's Labor, Liberals and the Nationals playing hide-and-seek, hiding the reality from the public. It confirms this government's incompetence and laziness and continues decades of poor, dishonest and accountable governance. Now, I'm all for personal enterprise—or, as some may say, private enterprise. I'm all for security. Instead of repeated gutless bandaids and short-term fixes, where's the long-term solution? Where's the vision? Where's the national interest? Let's secure our nation's future with a comprehensive solution that addresses the basics for all Australians: job security, industry security and national security.