This government gagged debate on it’s “Big Stick” Legislation, being too afraid of defeat on other legislation to allow the matter to be debated.
This is the speech I prepared on the issue.
Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2018
Deputy Speaker I rise to speak on this legislation.
This legislation is of real importance to my state of Tasmania.
It demonstrates just how out of touch this government is with the interests of ordinary Australians, with the interests of the people of the state of Tasmania, people who of course want lower electricity prices, but it the same time wanted government that deals with climate change, is not afraid of the potential of renewable energy, and invests in the future.
This is the legislation which the government seeks to introduce its “big stick”.
If the matter was not so serious, if the matter was not of such importance to our futures, the environment, and to the future of Tasmanian state-owned assets, the so-called big stick approach could be simply laughed off, a demonstration of how the party of free enterprise has strayed so far from its roots towards dictating to the market what should or shouldn’t happen.
In my home state Tasmanians understand that renewable energy can be reliable, it should be cheap, it can support and encourage industry, and it can be the source of significant state pride.
Tasmania was the leader in the development of hydroelectricity and hydro industrialisation through the 1920s through to the 1960s.
Whilst the single-minded development of hydroelectric capacity in Tasmania in the late 1970s and early 1980s ultimately led to the development of the environmental movement, there is no doubt in my mind that the now hydro Tasmania can be and is a leader in renewable energy, and environmentally sound, ethical and a community leader.
Successive state governments since the late 1990s have heard the very clear message from Tasmanian electors that our state-owned electricity assets, whether in generation, transmission or retail are not for privatisation.
I say again – these assets are not for sale. The dams, the generators, the poles and wires are part of our state identity, are not for sale, not now or in the future, and certainly not by the direction of this chaotic incompetent government.
This government’s chaos and incompetence is particularly centred on the politics of climate change and energy policy.
It has failed to take real action on climate change. The government has been so chaotic that it is had multiple policies on energy within a single month, with energy policy providing a lightning rod for dissatisfaction with the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
This is the same government that spent a significant portion of the year telling the Australian people that power prices were a significant problem and time and time again failed, when tested, to provide a sensible solution. What they have produced is an ad hoc mix of shouting, posing as argument, cherry picking of ACCC recommendations, arbitrary threats of intervention against private and state-owned electricity generators and retailers, thought bubbles and slogans.
A big stick is not a policy.
A big stick is not sensible economic management. Declaring that Australia will meet its climate change targets in a canter does not make it so.
This government is deluded and the Australian people know that to be the case.
We were told by this Treasurer and by the now Prime Minister that the national energy guarantee constituted sound energy policy.. But they were unable to adopt the national energy guarantee without their party falling apart.
That party remains divided, with a former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now sniping from the sidelines, having discovered his resolve, his policy purity and his ability to argue, seemingly for something that he believes in.
But what do we see with a current Prime Minister?
We see a Prime Minister who, as Treasurer, championed the solution offered in the national energy guarantee but who now shuns it.
We see a Prime Minister who was unable to provide leadership and certainty with respect to policy on energy, have now supports thought bubble policy which actually discourages investment in the energy market, a policy which could lead to economic instability.
The policy has at its heart, supposedly drawn from a model and competition policy using the remedy of divestments, a power to order the breakup of private companies.
This is a completely unprecedented policy. It was not recommended by the investigation undertaken by the ACCC. It is remarkable to learn that that share Rod Sims did not request the powers. At a recent Senate estimates he revealed that he first learned of the legislation in the newspapers.
The formal position of the competition regulator is that ordering divestments or breakup of companies is not required to address cases of market abuse.
It goes without saying that conferring a power on a government to breakup companies has the potential to deter investment across the economy. Jennifer Westacott quoted in the Australian Financial review 4 December 2018 has indicated “this will do nothing to solve high power prices for families and businesses struggling to pay their bills today”
Industry holds grave concerns about the powers, despite proposed changes now incorporated within this bill. Innes Wilcox of the AI Group has implored the government to re-embrace the NEG to give industry the investment framework it craved which would in time bring down power prices.
Ignoring the advice of the ACCC and choosing to head down a path that threatens breaking up electricity companies will not cut electricity bills. This watchdog has described this power as extreme and is warned against the option. This legislation has the potential to make things worse, perversely creating even more uncertainty and discouraging new investment in the energy sector.
Instead of this crazy authoritarian approach, this Venezuelan style approach, Labor proposes a different way to solve the dual problems of climate change and energy policy.
Of course we need a rational competition policy. But more is needed.
We can deliver a coherent and consistent energy policy.
We have a stable united team promising real action with respect to energy, real action with respect to climate change and long-term certainty with respect to economic policy and, in particular, energypolicy.
A Shoren Labor government will double the original investment in the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an additional $10 billion in capital for the CEFC over five years from 20 1920
Labor will provide $5 billion in capital is future proof our energy network, building and upgrading Australia’s energy transmission and distribution’s systems
Labor will implement a suite of measures to help Australian businesses improve their energy efficiency and cut their power bills.
Will provide 1000 grants of up to $20,000 to Australian manufacturers to help them reduce their energy usage for example through energy management systems and data gathering and analysis
We will allow arena to support a broader range of energy efficiency projects, not just projects with renewable energy involvement
Will develop new training programs for energy managers and consultants and accreditation systems are energy auditors
We will improve state and territory energy efficiency initiatives through COAG.
Tasmania, in particular, it needs certainty with respect to energy policy so as to facilitate the battery of the nation project.
This project will drive investment in renewable energy, in particular pumped hydro, exploiting Tasmania’s unique advantages in topography and access to reliable high-quality wind resource.
Investment in a system which uses wind and hydro for storage and/or firming means that the capacity of the Tasmanian electricity network can be used for best advantage to drive investment in industry, the potential for export of clean renewable energy across a new interconnector and significant Tasmanian jobs.
Instead of sending a consistent, coherent message with respect to certainty and policy, this chaotic and unstable government, through the introduction of the big stick threatens investment, particularly long-term investment necessary to sustain projects like battery of the nation.
But there is a more sinister motivation behind the government’s divestments legislation.
The energy minister, a minister without an energy policy confirmed that state governments, in particular the State of Queensland were on notice.
He made it clear that the divestment power would be used to privatise publicly owned power assets.
We do know that privatisation is at the core of this government’s remaining economic agenda.
It is a key part of the coalition’s DNA.
This Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer famously promised the people of New South Wales that electricity privatisation would mean cheaper power.
We know that privatisation of electricity generation under successive Liberal state and federal governments has been a disaster. This hasbeen a continuing disaster which has resulted in power bills skyrocketing.
Instead of blaming investment in renewables for problems in the electricity generation and retailing sectors, this government needs to own up to the fact that its ideology, its reckless privatisation ideology, has led to the exploitation of consumers across Australia.
The Prime Minister said in November 2015 “the efficiency gains through privatisation of the New South Wales electricity network or place downward pressure on electricity prices”
Instead, New South Wales consumers know that their power bills have been going up and up and up under state and federal Liberals.
We’ve heard time and time again this shouting Prime Minister accusing the Labour Party of being on the side of the big energy companies. They pretend they are going after the big energy companies but these are the companies that the Liberal party in South Australia Victoria and New South Wales enriched through their reckless privatisation.
It is a supreme irony that the coalition now pretends to be the friend of the consumer, the friend of battling families, complaining about the behaviour of private companies that they gave control of essential services to.
Tasmanians know that our state-owned electricity assets are not for sale and this government should be told in no uncertain terms, just as we told a previous Liberal State government “hands off our hydro”.
The Liberals aren’t content with what they have done through privatisation to wreck the South Australian Victorian and New South Wales energy markets. It’s in now quite clear that they have Queensland Tasmania Western Australian Snowy Hydro and Northern Territory in their sights.
Already we have heard the Premier of Queensland and the leader of the opposition in Queensland acting promptly to defend state-owned electricity assets.
Will Hodgman and the Liberals in Tasmania need to do the same – call out this government for their incompetence in creating a system which exposes our state-owned assets to divestment.
This government has no idea with respect to energy policy. It has failed to engage with energy policy and now simply seeks to turn its back on rational market-based investment driving increased adoption of renewables.
No state, Tasmania, Queensland or Western Australia should face the threat of the sale of state-owned assets for reasons driven solely by a failed ideology of privatisation.
The energy companies should be in competition and the competition regulator should ensure that that competition leads to reduction in power prices.
It is quite clear, on the authority of the experts that investment in renewables, in particular firmed renewables such as battery of the nation, is the cheapest form of new energy generation capacity, able to reduce power prices in the long-term.
This government is out of touch.
It has lost its way. It has resorted to slogans and shouting instead of calm, rational, evidence-based policy.
Tasmanians will not stand for this big stick legislation.
It threatens Tasmania’s iconic power generation assets and should be rejected.