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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2095


Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (14:07): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister advise the Senate as to why good energy policy is essential for business competitiveness, job creation and economic growth?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:07): I thank Senator Duniam for his question and his strong interest in ensuring that energy policy across Australia is focused on ensuring that households and businesses can enjoy energy that is reliable and affordable. The Turnbull government knows and appreciates that, just as having lower taxes for Australian businesses helps to inspire economic growth, business growth, employment growth and wages growth, having more reliable, more affordable energy can help to inspire further economic growth, business growth, jobs growth and wages growth. And we do this because our track record demonstrates the fact that we have delivered more than 420,000 additional jobs across Australia as a result of sound policies to create confidence and spur on that investment.

We've seen some 17 consecutive months of jobs growth across Australia—the longest consecutive period of jobs growth on record. That is why we are determined to continue to deploy the types of policies that build confidence and build an incentive to invest in growing Australian businesses, invest in growing Australian jobs and therefore invest in creating wages growth. Already the Turnbull government has delivered a number of reforms in the way in which the retail energy market works to ensure that customers, whether they be households or businesses, get access to information so they can choose the lowest-cost option for their power generation, and to ensure that gas supply is secured, importantly, for businesses right across Australia, guaranteeing that those businesses can invest with certainty, knowing that the gas necessary for their operation is secure, and placing downward pressure on network costs, which can ensure that the gaming of the system ends and that we deliver the lowest possible cost regime for energy markets across Australia.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Duniam, a supplementary question.

Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (14:09): I thank the minister for his answer. I wonder if he can further inform the Senate of the importance of the National Energy Guarantee in bringing about a more affordable energy system?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:09): The National Energy Guarantee that the Turnbull government is working to deliver will see real benefits for Australian businesses. It would see an estimated 23 per cent reduction in wholesale prices, which would see small, medium and large Australian businesses significantly benefit and therefore be better equipped to invest, to grow, to create more jobs and to deliver higher wages. For example, a local supermarket could save almost half a million dollars a year under the modelling undertaken demonstrating the benefits of the National Energy Guarantee. A small business such as a cafe could save several hundreds of thousands of dollars, while an energy-intensive manufacturer could save almost half a million dollars.

You need only look at the alternative, which is where companies such as BHP have highlighted that the result of the blackout in my home state of South Australia cost them an estimated $100 million. Indeed, they have ongoing costs because of higher electricity prices. The essential aspect for us is to make sure the NEG is delivered, because we know from the modelling it will increase reliability and affordability. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Duniam, a final supplementary question.

Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (14:11): Finally, I wonder if the minister could update the Senate on the path forward for this important national energy reform?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:11): The Energy Security Board which recommended the development of the NEG which has been adopted by the Turnbull government has been undertaking a thorough consultation process. The outcome of that consultation process and their design will be taken to the next COAG energy ministers' meeting in April, next month, and that will help to undertake and deliver further design work for the guarantee.

Importantly, we look forward to cooperation from the states and territories at that next meeting of the COAG Energy Council. We've already enjoyed support from Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, but an important change of dynamic at the next meeting is that, rather than the South Australian Labor government led as it was by Jay Weatherill coming along and playing politics with the NEG, there will be a new government wanting to be constructive in the development of the NEG. We have seen a constructive approach from other Labor governments; we didn't see it in SA. Thankfully we have seen a change there that will help to ensure sensible energy policy is delivered into the future.