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Thursday, 19 October 2017
Page: 8083

Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:14): I think senators may know about the Rorschach ink-blot test—the psychological test, very popular in the sixties, where you show the respondent a blot of ink and they tell the psychiatrist or the psychologist what they see there. It is the subject of a very funny joke with a good punchline, but it's a little bit too risque for the chamber so I'm not going to repeat it. But the point of the joke is that, with the Rorschach ink-blot test, you can pretty much look at it and see anything you like, and I'm starting to think that this eight-page policy released by the coalition is a little bit like the ink blot and, much like the ink-blot test, a lot of the reactions to this National Energy Guarantee tell us as much about the respondents' energy-policy id as they do about the plan itself.

The first issue, I suppose, is whether or not people viewing these eight pages consider that they contain any sort of carbon price. The briefing note said, 'Some electricity retailers will not be able to meet the required emissions profile, while others will overachieve, and therefore a secondary exchange'—which sounds a little bit like an emissions trading market—'will occur between retailers to balance their portfolios.' So that is what is in the eight-page glossy.

Energy minister Frydenberg was asked about this: 'Is it like a carbon tax?' He said: 'Two letters: N O.' Asked the same question, the CEO of the Australian Energy Council, Matthew Warren, answered, 'Of course.' David Uren, a commentator in The Australian newspaper and an economist, says:

The proposed emissions guarantee is the carbon tax you get when you ask a regulator to design one …

So there is quite a lot of disagreement from respondents when they look at that particular ink blot.

Will there be price reductions? Senator Brandis has been extremely keen in this chamber to reassure everybody that there will be a price decrease and that that will be in the order of $115 a year per household—a big call, because that's not actually what nearly anybody else is willing to say. Asked about the same question, Dr Schott, who Mr Brandis has been so keen to rely on, said:

… I don't think anybody can guarantee a price reduction …

Mr Pierce, Chair of the AEMC, when asked about it, said: 'Well, there's a range of reductions you might see. It really depends on the scenario that you model.' The Prime Minister, according to newspaper reports, has repeatedly refused to guarantee a price reduction. I think that what he has told the other place is that savings are 'likely'. 'Likely'? He's refusing to guarantee any sort of price reduction until the regulators conduct more modelling. Mr Morrison, of course, always fierce, defends the $115 annual savings estimate. He's on the same page as Mr Brandis. But what you can see is a very wide range of views, and they seem to depend a great deal on just how keen you are to defend the government's record, as opposed to how keen you might be to engage with the actual facts that are on the table.

Is this a plan for coal or is it a plan for renewables? Senator Reynolds said that it will introduce new technologies based on science, and she went on in her later remarks to say that they'll be transitioning in a sensible way to renewables. The renewables sector says that this requires us to place an artificial cap on the amount of renewables that would come into the system, while Mr Christensen from the National Party says that the test of this is that the NEG will only work if it enables investment in coal-fired power, preferably in North Queensland, and he calls on the government to directly invest, to provide public funds, to build a new coal-fired power station.

How can there be this much confusion? How can so many respondents look at the same ink blot and come up with such different answers? The truth is: it's because this is a half-baked plan. There is no detail. And, as my colleagues in this place have pointed out repeatedly, eight pages is no real substitute for an actual policy. Dr Finkel produced 200 pages. When Labor introduced our carbon pricing approach, we had an 800-page analysis. I had the good fortune to work in part on the Garnaut review from a state government perspective—only a little bit—and it was thousands of pages. This isn't a policy. It's a joke.