Matter of Public Importance
House of Representatives, 9 March 2023
In Australia, the last six Liberal leaders have lost their jobs, one way or another, because of climate policy. We saw the Howard government thrown out in 2007 in part because of inaction on climate. We saw the Morrison government turfed out in 2022 because of inaction on climate. We saw the double defenestration of Malcolm Turnbull because they just couldn't cop his approach to climate change. As Malcolm Turnbull has put it, the Australian Liberal Party ‘is not capable of dealing with climate change.'
It doesn't have to be this way. If you look around the world, everywhere except Australia and the United States, conservatives are taking action on climate change. The UK conservatives have committed to a fully decarbonised power sector by 2035 and a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, have established the UK Green Investment Bank and have put policies in place that, if Coalition members opposite were sitting in the House of Commons, they would have all voted against.
Instead, those opposite, in this place, brought to us 22 failed energy policies. They saw four times as much dispatchable power leave the grid as come back in. If those opposite want to know their failures on climate, they need look no further than the crossbench, where the members for Wentworth, North Sydney, Mackellar, Kooyong, Goldstein and Curtin are now Independent. Those opposite have decided to put in place the member for Fairfax has their climate spokesperson. Trent Zimmerman has said, 'There's a driving desire in the communities I represent for greater action on climate change,' and yet the coalition has gone from climate deniers to nuclear fanatics faster than uranium decays into thorium.
There are lots of questions about nuclear—its cost, its safety, its location—but the big question is: if you're such fans of nuclear power, why didn't you do anything about it in nine long years in office? Those opposite are voting against their own safeguard mechanism. They're voting against a 43 per cent emissions reduction target. They're voting against a tax cut for electric vehicles. They're voting against electricity price relief. Business are shaking their heads. You've got the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry all saying: 'Why on earth is the coalition living in the dark ages?'
We have seen the member for Fairfax choosing the Hiroshima peace park and Fukushima power plant as the backdrop for promoting nuclear energy as the panacea to Australia. This snollygoster thinks that the answer to Australia's power problems is nuclear, and perhaps this is the member for Fairfax's lowest moment in politics—which is, frankly, saying something for a bloke who lost an election to Clive Palmer. The coalition are living in Peter Pan's Neverland. They'll never support real action on climate change, because they don't want to grow up.
We on this side of the House took action to take some of the sting out of higher power prices. We weren't willing to have Australian businesses go to the wall and pay wartime gas prices because of Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. We've seen evidence of the impact of those changes. The AEMO quarterly report said:
Following these announcements, ASX Cal23 electricity futures prices fell steeply for each of the mainland states through to the end of the Quarter …
Treasury analysis reported that forecast wholesale electricity prices have dropped by 44 per cent in Queensland, 38 per cent in New South Wales, 32 per cent in South Australia and 29 per cent in Victoria.
This is the record of those opposite. First, they helped create the problem with their decade of energy policy chaos. Second, they kept power price increases a secret until after the election. Then, third, they tried to block direct energy bill relief for households and businesses. That is the coalition's trifecta. If those opposite had their way, households would be paying $230 more on their power bills than they would otherwise have to. That is why the coalition are the parties for higher power prices. Households would pay $230 more in power bills if they had had their way last December, when we brought back the parliament in order to put in place direct energy bill relief, which will put downward pressure on power prices and downward pressure on inflation.
We're working with the states and territories on the delivery of the energy bill relief package, working with their timetable to ensure that the relief is in the May budget and starts flowing not long after that. Those opposite are complaining about when the energy bill relief will flow, which is a bit rich given that they didn't want any electricity bill relief at all. Their view is that there should be no direct relief to households.
We on this side of the House are committed to the power of renewables. In Denmark, offshore wind is providing a vast share of the energy needs of that country. Australia has a much larger coastline and there is much more potential for us to benefit from offshore wind. Just one spin of an offshore wind turbine produces as much energy as 24 hours of rooftop solar. Not even Vladimir Putin can stop the wind blowing and the sun shining.
Those opposite seem to think that we can't have renewables because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. They must be flabbergasted that they can get water out of the tap when it's not raining outside. It must be a real mystery to them. It turns out that batteries can do for the grid what tanks do for the water system. Advances in battery technology are going to benefit Australia and allow Australia to develop an industry that will benefit the world. With half the world's lithium, we have huge potential to be a major battery producer. We've embarked on a major task of revamping the Australian energy generation system. Right now, renewables are just 30 per cent of production, and under our plan they will be 82 per cent by 2030. That will make electricity cheaper, because the marginal cost of renewables is close to zero. But it will also make us less vulnerable to geopolitical threats.
We saw right here in the ACT, which is 100 per cent renewables, that we were the only jurisdiction last year where electricity prices went down. They went down by one per cent but still went down. That is because the ACT, at 100 per cent renewables, was not vulnerable to Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.
We know that, if we don't act on climate change, Australia is the advanced country most vulnerable to the effects of unchecked climate change. Estimates from scientists suggest that the atrocious Black Summer bushfires we saw in the summer of 2019-20 could become the norm by the 2040s and that summer 2019-20 could be a good year by the 2060s. That's if we do nothing, and that is why it is in Australia's national interest to act on climate change abatement.
We know our Pacific neighbours are vulnerable. You won't hear members of the Labor Party, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, making jokes about how climate change affects the Pacific. That had a real geopolitical impact on Australia's influence in the Pacific because climate change has a real impact in the Pacific.
We know, if we don't act, that the dangers of volatility in Australia's electricity grid could cause crises bigger than the 1970s oil crisis. That's why Labor is committed to an EV charging network, to community batteries, to the Marinus Link, to restoring the Climate Council of Australia, to our energy apprentices and to ramping up the safeguard scheme. We are working with business and we are working with the community in order to ensure that Australia tackles climate change and puts downward pressure on power prices. Those opposite, after nine failed years and 22 failed energy prices, have now become the hucksters of Australian politics. The former climate change minister, who is as miserable as a bandicoot, sits there spruiking nuclear and failing to move with the times—failing to acknowledge the benefits of the renewables revolution for Australian households.