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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7922

Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:43): Reflect on question time today, where a number of questions were put to the government to provide details on their NEG; their new energy policy. It is a policy, may I say, that's taken the Liberal National Party nearly five years to arrive at—five years to arrive at this. That's the big question that they won't answer and it's probably the question that they can't answer. But we can. We got this policy this week—this National Energy Guarantee—because Mr Tony Abbott, our ex-Prime Minister, gave a speech last week and ignited the culture wars within the LNP by talking about offering goats to volcanos and how climate change was rubbish. That is why we got a policy from our current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, this week. It is a policy that is so vague on details that it beggars belief.

After five years, Attorney-General Brandis told us today that the experts tell us all we need to know. They tell us that it will provide energy supply guarantees, reliability, lower prices and lower emissions, and even meet our Paris Agreement commitments. If this policy is so good and it's so obviously the solution in front of us, why has it taken five years for the government to deliver it to this place?

I'll tell you why: this is a half-arsed policy designed to save Mr Malcolm Turnbull's political bacon. This is not designed to provide reliable power. This is not designed to provide cheaper power. This is not designed to lower emissions. This policy is a compromise with the far right in the LNP led by Mr Tony Abbott—and, may I say, don't stop there. That's still quite a shallow interpretation, because Mr Tony Abbott and the far right, and our friends in the National Party, have been running a pro-coal agenda, an agenda to subsidise coal to keep dirty, uneconomic coal-fired power stations going for another reason. If you'd gone out and listened to the One Nation press conference the other day, you'd have seen what that reason was. This half-arsed energy policy won't meet our Paris Agreement commitments and that will increase uncertainty in the long-term investment horizons that are necessary for us to continue to roll out renewable energy, something that we know is popular in Australia. We know it will create jobs. We know it will reduce emissions. But that doesn't matter. This is actually about solving a political problem for Mr Malcolm Turnbull.

Don't just take it from me. An excellent article in The Conversation today by John Quiggin, professor in the School of Economics at the University of Queensland, said:

The most important thing to understand about the federal government’s new National Energy Guarantee is that it is designed not to produce a sustainable and reliable electricity supply system for the future, but to meet purely political objectives for the current term of parliament.

Those political objectives are: to provide a point of policy difference with the Labor Party; to meet the demands of the government’s backbench to provide support for coal-fired electricity; and to be seen to be acting to hold power prices down.

It really makes me sad, angry and frustrated after my party has been campaigning in here for 10 years to get a proper policy to tackle climate change, which is a price on carbon. Even the Grattan Institute, which has been fairly glowing in its support for this policy, this NEG, said this morning that a price on carbon is the best policy, that this is second rate and that, in fact, there would be no need for emissions intensity guarantees or reliability guarantees if we had a price on carbon. We brought that in nearly 10 years ago. We campaigned and we got it legislated after 2010—gold standard, the world's best climate package, with a price on carbon and money allocated to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ARENA and the Climate Council to drive innovation and investment in renewable energy. We were on our way. We were on our way to do more than meeting our Paris targets. We were global leaders in action on climate. How sad and embarrassing that we have slumped to where we are today!

For five years we've had policy chaos. We've had uncertainty in business investment. Even the coal-fired power companies have been calling for the government to get its act together. But it took a speech from Mr Tony Abbott to trigger this policy that we have before us today. Well, we are going to need detail. We're going to need detail on how the emissions intensity scheme within this is going to meet our Paris Agreement commitments. We are going to need detail on how the NEG is going to be integrated into our NEM, our wholesale network, and how Western Australia and the Northern Territory are going to be brought under this scheme. We're going to need details.

It's just not good enough that the government would come out with such a big policy announcement with absolutely no detail on how it is going to work. That's not going to solve the problems with business uncertainty on investment. And we're going to need details on how we're going to meet our Paris Agreement commitments when we go back to the COP21 negotiations and the global economies agree on the further cuts in emissions, the reductions, that are necessary to tackle dangerous global warming. And we have got this half-arsed, half-baked policy in front of us here today. It's just not good enough. It's not good enough for future generations of Australians. We should do better.