SPEECH: Federation Chamber – PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – Energy

Jun 21, 2017

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (16:26): Well, what a ridiculous contribution from the member for Fairfax. It takes a special effort to make Clive Palmer look like a good representative for the seat of Fairfax, but he achieved it. It is also a sad indictment on his organisation that he could not even get a Queenslander to second it. I know they are in trouble tonight in the State of Origin, but they are in trouble in the Federation Chamber right now. But I have got good news for the member for Fairfax. I am a bearer of good news for once. What is the action item for this motion? It is calling for a full, independent and transparent inquiry into why the cost of electricity in Queensland has doubled. Well, I have good news for you; it has already occurred. It is called the Finkel review, which looked into why electricity prices in this country have increased so markedly over the last few years, and it has an answer. The answer from the Finkel review is this slide. This slide, that is part of the government briefing pack that went to those on the other side, shows that wholesale electricity costs have more than doubled since 2013. They have more than doubled since 2013. What has caused it?

A government member interjecting

Mr CONROY: I have got news for you. That is post the repeal of the carbon tax. It is taking out any impact of the carbon tax. The wholesale energy price on 1 July 2014, when the carbon price was repealed, was $58. It is now $130. The cost of electricity generation in this country has more than doubled under their watch, not just in Queensland but around the country. This goes to the myth behind this whole mess.

Mr Ted O’Brien interjecting

Mr CONROY: I have got news for you, Sunshine, Queensland is part of the National Electricity Market. So prices across the entire NEM have doubled in the last three years. And why have they doubled? Because of the uncertainty around climate change and energy policy. Do not take my word for it; I am not asking those on the other side to take my word for it. That is from the Australian Energy Council, the peak industry body for energy generators. The electricity generators have said that the cost of energy policy uncertainty in this country under their watch, under their incompetent government, is $50 a megawatt hour because of the uncertainty.

Instead of rational economic policy driving their policy and instead of rational economic theory it has been driven by the member for Hughes, the member for Warringah and all the other dinosaurs in their party room who are writing this policy. This is the nub of this debate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hastie ): Order! The member will resume his seat. I know it is a spirited debate, and the member of Shortland is an A-league interjector himself, so I am giving you plenty of rope, but keep it orderly, please.

Mr CONROY: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; you are ruling with an even hand there, and I appreciate that. I am happy to take interjections because it shows just how intellectually bankrupt they are. They are intellectually bankrupt. The truth is that wholesale energy prices have doubled under their watch because they cannot arrive at a rational energy and climate change policy—and they have one in front of them right now: a clean energy target. That is not ideal from our point of view; we would prefer an emissions intensity scheme because the cost of abatement under an EIS is lower and, quite frankly, I suspect the impact on electricity prices would be greater under an EIS, but, nevertheless, we are prepared to compromise, in an effort to get a bipartisan settlement and take the politics out of this, and embrace a CET. But the Prime Minister and his minister for energy cannot get it through their party room because the member for Hughes and his allies control the party room. We saw a ridiculous party room meeting last week. With due respect to my colleague the member for Port Adelaide, over there sits the real shadow minister for energy and climate change, the member for Hughes. He led the party revolt last week in a three-hour party room meeting, where 22 speakers spoke in opposition to a clean energy target—because they are economically bankrupt. They have no idea about economic policy. They would rather go back to the glory days of the late 19th century, where we had industrialisation.

The truth is that industry desperately need policy certainty. They are crying out for policy certainty. They need a fair signal to drive investment and they have said, and the modelling confirms, that, if you have certainty, you will drive a wave of investment in the energy sector that will reduce electricity prices against a business-as-usual case. If those on the other side are really interested in getting electricity prices down—and they should be if they want to represent their communities for once—they should be embracing a clean energy target or an EIS to provide certainty to industry and let industry do what they are best at: investing in new generation around this country. But they have walked away from that.

Instead, we have this proposition that somehow the federal government is going to get into the business of building power stations in this country. That is a very suspect notion. I will be very interested to see what the Australian Energy Market Operator comes forward with at the end of the year. I know the member for Dawson is very keen for a new coal fired power station in Central Queensland or northern Queensland. That will only ever be built with billions of dollars of government subsidies—because that is what they are about over there. They are the party of subsidies. To be frank, that is the only way that a coal fired power station will ever be built in this country again. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the experts in energy forecasting, have come forward with what industry says it costs to build a new power station in this country. They have gone to the banks and the generators and said, ‘What will it cost to build a new power station in this country?’ What do the generators say? For coal fired power they think it would be around $130 to $150 a megawatt hour. That is what the generators are saying. What do they say about a new wind power station? It would be $55 to $60 a megawatt hour. That is what is being built right now.

Mr Craig Kelly: And the storage!

Mr CONROY: I will get to that in a minute. For large-scale PV farms, it would be about $80. We had testimony from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the government body tasked with looking at these issues, before the house energy committee. They said you look at those costs and you add on a price for storage. It is fair enough to add on a cost for storage to compare apples with apples. Guess how much it is? It is $20 a megawatt hour. So, for reliable, dispatchable wind power, with storage, you are looking at $75 to $80 a megawatt hour versus $150 for coal fired power—and that is unsubsidised. That is without a RET and without any government subsidy.

Government members interjecting

Mr CONROY: That is without a RET. The nub of this debate is that those people on the other side are not worried about the environment—but the environment should not drive this debate; economics should drive this debate, and the economics is very clear. A new coal fired power station will not be built in this country without massive subsidies that taxpayers, working class families and pensioners in my electorate and the electorates of my colleagues over there, will pay for. Quite frankly, that is a disgrace, but it is symbolic—

A government member: And you represent the coalminers!

Mr CONROY: I proudly represent the coalmining communities. Coal has a good future in this country. Metallurgical coal will have a strong future in export and our existing thermal coal fired power stations will have a life ahead of them. But what is worse than talking about coal power is lying to coal workers and that is what those on the other side are doing. They are lying to coalminers and saying, ‘Nothing has to change. We can keep doing what we have done for the last 150 years and nothing has to change.’ That is what those on the other side are doing; they are lying to workers. What is worse is those lies will lead to greater costs to households in this country and to taxpayers, greater costs than they have to be and that is the nub of this matter. The truth is the government has abandoned any claim to economic credibility. Policy is being driven by the member for Hughes and the Deputy Prime Minister. It is being driven by the remnants of the old DLP. The Liberal Party no longer believe in markets because if they believed in markets—

Mr Craig Kelly interjecting

Mr CONROY: Well you are representing their policies right now, member for Hughes, because those policies are a rejection of market economics, a rejection of a free market and are instead embracing a command-and-control policy that would do BA Santamaria proud. That is what they are doing. That is what they tried to do under the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, and that is what they are doing right now.

I am prepared to debate energy policy and electricity prices uphill and down dale with these jokers on the other side any day because the facts are on my side, the economics are on my side, the industry is on my side, and—guess what—the workers on my side too.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before I call the member for O’Connor, the members for Fairfax and Hughes are on the cusp of a warning. I want that noted.

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