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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7930

Senator DASTYARI (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:15): I have to say to my good friend Senator Roberts: you are nothing if not consistent. You've come into this chamber consistently, you've had a consistent view and you've maintained that view. I don't believe anything I say or do will be able to change your view. Nonetheless, I will give it a go because we live in hope, Senator. I hope that by the time you leave this Senate your views on this issue will have evolved and changed. I suspect by next week they won't have.

Senator McKim: Was that a valedictory speech?

Senator DASTYARI: I'll take that interjection. The interjection was, 'Was that a valedictory speech?' I don't believe it was. I understand the tradition for valedictory speeches is they are not cut off at 20 minutes. I believe it will be an exciting four or five hours when and if Senator Roberts delivers a valedictory speech in this chamber. He will take some of the Americans on for time.

What we have seen is a government that will hold, and has held, every single different possible position when it comes to the issue of climate change and the issue of tackling the energy crisis that Australia is facing. It is true that any pressure or ability to lower prices is something that should be welcomed, but I just want to say that the gap between what has been promised and what is being delivered by this government is astronomical. Again, while people under financial pressure should welcome and do welcome anything that's going to make their lives better, let's put this in perspective.

We heard Senator Brandis refer to the government's own experts yesterday. The government's own experts came out overnight and were talking about something in the vicinity of 50 cents a week being saved—50 cents a week! I said this morning that this is soft serve savings. This is enough money to buy a soft serve ice cream. Actually, I have to correct the record: it's not enough to buy a soft serve ice cream. A soft serve ice cream at McDonald's is now 60 cents—it's not even 50 cents any more. I'm as shocked as you are, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams! I can see it in your face. That's where things are at after the big promise and the big process we've gone through. The government has held every single position at a different point in time and the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, has done the same.

Just a few weeks ago, we were told by the Prime Minister that a clean energy target—these were the Prime Minister's own words—'would certainly work'. They were the Prime Minister's own words. The minister, Mr Frydenberg, from the other place, told us that a clean energy target would reduce electricity prices. He went on to say that Dr Finkel has shown his mechanism is to reduce emissions and, increasingly important today, ensure the stability of the system as it undergoes dramatic change. The recommendation at the heart of the Finkel process and at the heart of the Finkel report, was this idea that we were going to have a clean energy target. It's not good enough for the government to say 'we adopted everything else'. The government adopted all the easy stuff, and the one that was going to make the most significant difference, the clean energy target, was the one part of the process that wasn't adopted. Just in the last parliamentary session, we were told that the answer to Australia's energy needs was to keep the Liddell power station open, a coal-fired power station; words that, surprisingly, in this session of parliament don't even pass their lips. In the last session of parliament, it was all about Liddell, Liddell, Liddell. Now, it's not. It sometimes feels strange to be on this side of the chamber, arguing some of these points when normally these are arguments made by those on the other side of the chamber. The idea that a commercial company makes a commercial decision not to go ahead with a power plant for the sole reason that they don't believe it's in their commercial interests to do so, and to have a centre-right government turn around and say 'no, they should be forced to keep it open' because of ideology, when the economics of it aren't even stacking up, is, I think, somewhat concerning.

The problem with the government's energy politics is they just haven't caught up with the reality that is the future of energy economics. Let's remind ourselves: 10 years ago, there was a bipartisan consensus over the need for an emissions trading system of some kind and for climate action—10 years ago that consensus existed. Under Prime Minister Howard and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Turnbull—that's right, the same gentleman who is now the Prime Minister of Australia, and Mr Howard was the Prime Minister then—the political contest was about which party would do more on climate change. This was in the lead-up to the 2007 election. Within 10 years, Australia has some of the world's highest power prices and some of the world's worst pollution per capita.

I want to touch on the issue of the clean energy target, because I think the Finkel report really outlined the significance of having a holistic approach that looks at including these types of measures. The Finkel clean energy target renewables would have been around 42 per cent of our total generation—42 per cent of our total generation. Mr Finkel—as I know you are aware is the Chief Scientist and about as nonpartisan as one can be—recommended a clean energy target because it would keep power prices lower, cut pollution and create jobs in renewables. Yesterday, the PM not only turned his back on his own Chief Scientist and a clean energy target that had the support of groups across the community but also on the renewable energy industry. The future of energy innovation and science in this country has paid for the forfeit of the coalition party room troglodytes. The Prime Minister has come up with a policy that will strangle renewable energy investment in jobs in this country and, instead, has embraced former Prime Minister Abbott's vision of where to head on these matters. The Prime Minister has, in his very typical way, gone with the worst possible option, walking away from a clean energy target. And what has happened as a result of this? Investors are in the lurch. As much as the government likes to pretend that somehow there has now been some certainty created, no certainty has been created by a haphazard policy that has simply been reached in a bid to settle the quarrels within the conservative side of politics. It's left investors in the lurch, it's certainly left business in the lurch, and it's made the job for Australia of reducing our emissions much more difficult.

The Finkel review noted that, even under the chaotic business-as-usual scenario modelling by Finkel, renewables would have made up nearly 40 per cent of generation capacity. Under the government's plan announced yesterday, renewables will make up just 28 per cent of power generation in 2030 and 36 per cent under the most optimistic proposal that can be put forward. Indeed, there may be no additional renewable energy capacity built beyond what is driven by the existing renewable energy target, which will cease in 2020.

We, on this side of politics, have been offering bipartisan support to the government for months on proper energy policy. Suddenly, without proper notice, we are expected to support the latest thought bubble from the government, without modelling and without appropriate research. The government doesn't want to have bipartisanship on this issue. They don't want to have that. What they want to have isn't a settlement across Australia; they want desperately to find a settlement within their own party.

Just to touch on what a Labor government would do and what a Shorten Labor government would do: there is a recognition that we have to modernise the energy market laws to give more power to consumers and we have to create renewable energy zones to drive investment. We need to change the Clean Energy Finance Corporation investment return benchmark so they can invest in more generation and storage projects. And, while the government is so tied up fighting with itself and blaming everyone else, Labor has to focus and will continue to focus on a positive alternative to tackle power prices. I thank the Senate for debating this issue.