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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7871


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (14:15): My question is to Senator 'Brand-arse', representing the Prime Minister.

Government senators interjecting

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sorry, 'Brandis'. That's just how I pronounce it, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Your question, Senator Whish-Wilson?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: A key criticism of the National Energy Guarantee, the NEG, is that emissions guarantee is not linked directly to the absolute emissions needed to meet our Paris targets. I note that a long-term emissions reduction pathway is recommended by the Finkel report. The government has not provided any detail on the actual reduction in emissions that will occur in the electricity sector due to the National Energy Guarantee other than saying it will be in line with Australia's Paris targets, which you have said today. Can the minister inform the chamber specifically of the year-by-year reductions that will be required within the electricity sector to meet this target? If not, why, after five years of energy policy chaos and uncertainty, has this not been modelled and already established?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:17): The position is precisely as I indicated. The National Energy Guarantee has been designed to ensure that Australia does meet its Paris targets. As you know, Australia has committed to a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030 which, as you should also know, represents one of the most ambitious per capita emissions reduction targets of any country in the world. The advice the government has received from the Energy Security Board—Dr Schott, Ms Savage, Mr Pierce, Audrey Zibelman, Paula Conboy, the five people who have more expertise in this field than any other five people in this country—

Senator Wong: Poor old Dr Finkel!

Senator BRANDIS: is that the scheme they have designed, which the Prime Minister announced yesterday, will result in that very outcome. I will take that interjection, Senator Wong.

The PRESIDENT: A point of order, Senator Whish-Wilson?

Senator Whish-Wilson: A point of order on relevance, Mr President. I was very clear. I asked what the year-by-year reductions would be to meet our Paris agreements and I asked the minister to explain, if he doesn't have that answer, why he doesn't have that answer after five years of energy policy chaos and uncertainty.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. I will remind the Attorney-General of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Whish-Wilson, that's what I'm able to tell you. I'm able to tell you that this model has been designed in order to meet the Paris targets, and it will meet the Paris target.

Senator Wong, you interjected before, 'Poor old Dr Finkel'. This is what poor old Dr Finkel, as you patronisingly called that gentleman, Senator Wong, had to say yesterday:

What we now have, and for the first time, is a strategy … We've previously had some tactical responses, we've had some policies to try and bring all these together—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Whish-Wilson, a point of order?

Senator Whish-Wilson: An additional point of order on relevance. Perhaps I could suggest something a little bit different: that Senator Brandis defer to Senator Birmingham if he doesn't know the answer to that question.

The PRESIDENT: That's a matter for the Attorney-General. In addressing the point of order, the Attorney-General did remark that he was giving you the commitment to the Paris Agreement in his previous answer. But, yes, I do take the point that he is now addressing Senator Wong. I would remind the Attorney-General to address the question and not the interjection.

Senator BRANDIS: I'm taking the interjection, as I think I'm at liberty to do. Dr Finkel went on to say: 'What we have now, and for the first time, is strategy. We've previously had some tactical responses, we've had some policies, but by bringing all of these together we're finally taking Australia's energy future, backed up by gas and other elements of the electricity system, into a strategic zone and that's a great thing to see.' We welcome Dr Finkel's endorsement.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Whish-Wilson, a supplementary question?

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (14:20): Mr President, none of us enjoy seeing your rulings being ignored. Minister, as part of the Paris Agreement, next year the world will begin assessing progress towards the Paris target and start discussion around increasing the ambition of every nation's targets. This is called the ratchet effect. It has been reported this morning that the Turnbull government has essentially set a cap on its current Paris target of 26 to 28 per cent by this policy. Is this true? If not, how do you guarantee under the NEG to rapidly increase cuts in our emissions and meet new standards?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:20): Australia's commitment to the Paris targets is as I have outlined to you. I haven't seen the statement made by someone you have referred to this morning. But, as I have indicated to you, the National Energy Guarantee has been designed to enable Australia to meet its Paris targets. As I also said in answer to a question from an opposition senator, by 2030 the estimated proportion of renewables in the system will be up to 36 per cent, which, you would acknowledge, is a significant increase on the percentage of renewables in the system now.

Senator Whish-Wilson, your party and mine have different outcomes. Our objective is to keep electricity prices lower. That is not your objective, and that is a big difference. Unfortunately for the Australian people, you've got the Australian Labor Party chasing you. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Whish-Wilson, a final supplementary question?

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (14:21): David Blowers, in The Conversation today, stated that the National Energy Guarantee is a second-best option and that our previous working carbon price was the best policy option as it avoided the need for a complicated emissions and reliability guarantee. Your Energy Security Board has recommended that carbon credit units and international units could be permitted to meet a proportion of the retailer's guarantee. Minister, have you returned to carbon trading? What proportion of Australian emissions reductions will you allow to be achieved by international carbon credits? (Time expired)

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): No, that is not the case. If you want to quote third-party commentary on the announcement the Prime Minister made yesterday, might I direct you to the overwhelming weight of the commentary, which has been to support, and indeed applaud, the government's decision. In the Fairfax press, the economics writer Peter Martin celebrates: 'Out of the ashes of failed attempts, finally a chance to put the climate wars behind us.' Similarly in the News Limited press, the distinguished commentator Paul Kelly made the observation in his opinion article this morning that the only people who will object to the policy that the Prime Minister announced yesterday are people on the extreme edges of the debate.

That is a very good position for a government to be in. As I said to you before, Senator Whish-Wilson, our objective, of which we are not ashamed, is to keep electricity prices as low as we can get them.