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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 2355

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (10:59): The Security of Critical Infrastructure Bill 2017 introduces, in essence, two new measures: a register of critical infrastructure and ministerial directions powers. The bill will apply to approximately 140 assets in the high-risk electricity, water, gas and ports sectors. According to the explanatory memorandum, the bill focuses primarily on the risk of sabotage, espionage and coercion in Australia's highest-risk critical infrastructure sectors and provides 'a risk based regulatory framework to manage national security risks from foreign involvement in Australia's critical infrastructure'.

The purpose of the register is to provide a more detailed understanding of who owns and controls critical infrastructure assets. I'll make some observations about ownership of critical infrastructure later in my speech. The register requires reporting entities who are either direct interest holders or the responsible entity of critical infrastructure assets to provide interest and control information and operational information within a certain time frame. The explanatory memorandum states:

This information will assist the Government to identify who owns and controls the asset, its board structure, ownership rights of interest holders, and operational, outsourcing and offshoring information.

I note the government has proposed several amendments to this bill that implement recommendations made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

In January 2017, the Australian government established the Critical Infrastructure Centre and stated that the centre was established in response to the complex and evolving national security risks to critical infrastructure. But it ought come as no surprise to the Australian people that the government has abjectly failed to meaningfully consider one of the biggest threats to critical infrastructure in this country, and that is climate change. It's not just the direct risk of increasing levels of climate risk that will be the problem in the future. In a submission to the Critical Infrastructure Centre in March 2017, the CSIRO wrote:

We provide the following comments to note that the discussion paper is silent on the potential effects of global environmental change, particularly climate change, in systematically altering the risks faced by critical infrastructure from the range of security-related sources …

The CSIRO went on to say in their submission:

… climate change may be exacerbating some of the drivers of the key security risks addressed in the current paper, for example, placing greater pressure on foreign interests to consider espionage, sabotage or even coercion, because of growing pressures on the resources of those foreign interests.

It's not only this bill that doesn't mention climate change as a risk; in fact, the government's Critical infrastructure resilience strategy: plan is astoundingly silent on climate change. Australia ought not, and the government ought not, ignore the risks to national security and the risks to infrastructure posed by the disruption of our planet's climate. The ARC's Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes recently stated:

Australia lags behind the US and some European countries in examining, assessing and responding to climate change risks in terms of national security. Vulnerabilities associated with national security and climate change are already increasing and exist now. These are not "future issues" that can be left for a decade before strategies are considered. The creation of a high-level taskforce to examine risks associated with climate change and national security is urgent and overdue.

It is important to acknowledge that the 2016 Department of Defence white paper did identify climate change as one of the six key drivers in the development of Australia's security environment and as 'a major challenge for countries in Australia's immediate region'.

While that's the case, it appears the government has no plan and no appetite to do anything about our vulnerabilities in the areas of national security and infrastructure caused by climate disruption. Instead, it's been left to the Australian Greens, through the mechanisms available to us in this parliament, to establish two inquiries, which are currently running through Senate committees, into the impact of climate change and the threats posed by climate change to infrastructure and our national security.

I say to senators that we in the Australian Greens understand the political imperatives behind ramping up fear of attacks by terrorists or other hostile forces on the Australian people and on our infrastructure. We understand what has been a bipartisan approach, in effect, by the Labor and Liberal parties in this area. But I say to the Labor and Liberal parties: don't turn a blind eye to threats to national security and threats to our infrastructure posed by a disrupted climate that is caused by humans emitting greenhouse gases, which continue to rise and have been rising for the last couple of hundred years.

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to our country's way of life. It is a threat to everything we do. It is a threat to the way we work, live and play. It's a threat to our health system and our education system, the way we support people with disabilities, our transport systems, our energy systems, our road networks and our ports. It is a threat to our way of life. It's driving mass displacement of people around the world, and we're not immune to those displacements here in Australia. The displacement, for example, of the Syrian people was driven, at least in part, by an unprecedented drought between 2007 and 2013. It displaced a large number of Syrian people from the country in Syria to the cities, which made the cities unsustainable and ultimately led to a mass displacement of Syrian people, which caused Australia, under then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, under pressure from the Australian Greens, to create a special intake of 12,000 Syrian people. They were displaced in part by a drought that we know was more likely to have occurred as a result of climate change.

So, while the Australian Greens are comfortable with supporting this legislation and will be supporting it, we need to understand that this government has been putting the blinkers on and has effectively considered the threat posed to our country's infrastructure by terrorism and hostile forces as the only threat worthy of legislation of the type we're debating today. That paradigm, that mentality, lets down our country. It lets down our people and it lets down the very infrastructure that the government purports to want to protect.

The outcomes from the two Senate inquiries that are currently running, thanks to being advocated for and moved by the Australian Greens, will make very interesting reading. At some of the hearings, we've discovered that, within the departmental bureaucracy of this country, there is significant acknowledgement and concern about the threats and risks posed by climate change to our infrastructure and to our way of life. The problem we've got is that that acknowledgement does not seem to percolate through to the highest levels of government. That's a real problem for our country and it's something that the Australian Greens will continue to advocate for and will continue to drive debate on in this place. If we were to not do that, if we were to join the rest of the Senate in staying silent on the threats and risks caused by climate change, ultimately we would be letting the Australian people down.

This bill and the materials associated with it make it very clear that foreign involvement in Australia's critical infrastructure creates risk. You can't read this bill, and the materials associated with it, in any other way. So I want to place on the record that this is one of the reasons—certainly not the only one—that the Australian Greens are proposing the nationalisation of some infrastructure assets that are currently in private hands. For example, we need to start returning Australia's electricity grid to public hands The privatisation of much of our energy generation infrastructure and much of our electricity transmission infrastructure has been an abject failure. It's failed to deliver system reliability, it's failed to play a meaningful role to date in bringing Australia's emissions down and it's failed to deliver reliable electricity at the lowest possible cost to the Australian people. That's why we're proposing to begin returning some of our energy infrastructure assets into public hands by nationalising the five privately owned interconnectors.

As a senator from Tasmania, where we've learned in just the last few days that the state government is engaged in legal action against the owners of Basslink over the outage a couple of years ago that's been discussed at length in debate in the Senate, I say that Basslink, being privately owned, has not delivered for Tasmania. Senators would be aware that, when Basslink was first proposed by Hydro Tasmania back in the late nineties and ultimately the early 2000s, the Greens advocated against Basslink. We said we should be investing in making Tasmania energy self-sufficient. Having 100 per cent renewable energy was a legitimate aspiration for Tasmania prior to Basslink, which, of course, just provided another lifeline and another market opportunity for the dirty brown coal generators of the Latrobe Valley. We said that if we could embed 100 per cent renewable energy into all the goods and services that we produce in Tasmania it would give us a massive competitive advantage over the rest of the country and the rest of the world. We didn't support that investment and the $90 million-plus per annum that Hydro Tasmania is still paying as a facility fee.

If we'd been heeded back then, we wouldn't have had the energy crisis that Tasmania has had. The batteries nearly ran flat and the dams nearly ran empty because of the incompetence of the Hodgman Liberal government and the then energy minister, Matthew Groom. Instead, we could have shown Australia and the rest of the world what leadership on renewable energy looks like. Of course, history shows that Hydro Tasmania, despite some internal contention, went ahead and recommended to government that Basslink be put in place—and, as I said, that threw a much-needed lifeline to the dirty brown coal generators of the Latrobe Valley. That drove Australia's emissions profile up and it drove Tasmania's emissions profile up—when we have the best network of hydro-electric power in the country, renewable energy and ultra-low emissions that we could have actually used to drive prosperity, wellbeing and competitive advantage for our state.

So we make no bones about it. We want to see the five privately owned interconnectors in Australia nationalised, returned to public hands, because neo-liberalism and laissez-faire capitalism have abjectly failed the people they purport to serve. That failure is for a number of reasons but ultimately one of the key drivers has been a failure to price in the environmental and social impacts that are delivered by the private companies who own infrastructure and other assets under the current system of laissez-faire capitalism. Of course we need to price in things like carbon, environmental toxins and social harm, and the Australian Greens are very determined to keep working and advocating for those things to happen.

As part of that, as I said, we want to make sure that we begin renationalising, or, in some cases, simply nationalising, many of the energy assets that exist in this country. If the government is so concerned about the foreign ownership of and foreign influence on infrastructure assets, perhaps the government needs to ask itself whether or not it, on behalf of the Australian people, would be better off owning those assets itself. We in the Australian Greens have asked ourselves that question, and we have answered that question with a resounding yes.

Many pieces of infrastructure in this country that are currently in private hands would deliver far better returns for the Australian people if they were put back into public hands and public ownership. The infrastructure in this country was created by the blood, sweat and tears of Australian workers, and its privatisation has abjectly failed to deliver for the people that it was supposed to serve. It's time for a mature debate in this country about the ownership of our infrastructure, the risks to that infrastructure of foreign ownership—which this legislation, in some ways, is designed to mitigate—and, most crucially, whether or not that infrastructure would be better off in public hands.

We call on the government and the Labor Party—who, to date, to my knowledge, haven't intervened or participated in this debate—to get on board with the discussion, because it's beyond time that we had this conversation in Australia; it's beyond time that we had this conversation in this parliament. As with so many other things, like the issues of a royal commission into banks and a federal anticorruption authority, it will be the Australian Greens that will drive the debate and, in having that debate, will ensure that we consider the ultimate public good.

If we can remove the interests of corporations and other vested interests that impact so grievously on our political conversation in this country, if we can remove consideration of corporate profits and consideration for the people who are the corporate mates of so many Labor and Liberal people in this country—and that, I acknowledge will be a very hard ask—if we can do the job we're supposed to do, which is to act in the interests of the greater public good, if we can have a respectful conversation and bring the Australian people along with us, then I have no doubt that we will land in a place where we will see much of the infrastructure that's been privatised over the last few decades returned to public hands.