Speeches

COMMUNITY ENERGY

August 24, 2020

I rise with genuine pleasure to talk about this motion. I thank the member for raising it, because this is about empowering communities to reduce their power prices and also to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Those are both laudable and eminently achievable.

This is happening all around the world and I'm really proud of previous efforts by Labor governments to support this initiative. For example, in the last Labor government, the Rudd-Gillard government, we allocated significant amounts of funding to empower communities to grab renewable energy opportunities. We had the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we had the $3.2 billion ARENA, we had one $1.2 billion for businesses to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and, very specifically to this motion, we had the $100 million Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, the $200 million Community Energy Efficiency Program and the $40 million Remote Indigenous Energy Program. Those last three funds, $340 million in total, were directed at empowering communities to seize their energy futures by investing in renewable energy, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce power prices.

Well, where are we now? The Australian Energy Market Operator has found that there will be 15 gigawatts of coal-fired power which will retire over the next 20 years. Matt Kean, the Liberal New South Wales energy minister, has stated only as recently as last week that four of the five current coal-fired power stations in New South Wales will retire over the next 15 years. I represent the great seat of Shortland in the Hunter region and we are literally the powerhouse for the nation. Four of the five power stations in New South Wales—the four that are due to retire over the next 15 years—are in my electorate and the neighbouring electorate of Hunter. We contribute 25 per cent of the total power production in the entire country. But those four power stations are reaching the end of their technical lives. The companies have set closure dates for three of the four. AGL has said that Liddell will close in 2023, Bayswater in 2035, Eraring—the biggest power station in the country—in 2032, and AEMO has found that Vales Point is likely to retire in the second half of this decade. So we have a massive hole in our energy market which must be filled.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has confirmed what every other independent expert has found, which is that the cheapest form of new power to replace it is renewable energy—solar and wind—made 100 per cent reliable, backed up through pumped hydro storage and batteries. That is the future. But the people who are holding the future at bay, who are standing up against the future, are the reactionaries in the current government. I won't call them liberals, because they're not liberals. They are reactionaries. They are the last vestiges of the DLP holding back the future.

What have we seen in the last year? Renewables energy investment has fallen off a cliff. In the last quarter only three projects reached financial closure. Investment is down 50 per cent from where it averaged in the 2019 calendar year. A study by the Clean Energy Council and the UTS found that 11,000 jobs will be lost in the industry over the next two years due to this government's policy vacuum. This government, which has presided over the national economy for seven years, has had 19 energy policies in those seven years. How can you invest in an asset that has a 40-year pay-back span when the policy is changing more than once a year? In fact, in one two-week period, it had three different energy policies. I've seen greater stability in third-world juntas than we're getting out of the mob that is in power now!

The tragedy is that, as a result of the power games they're playing—the fact that they're being held hostage by fossils like Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly in their party room, who reject the science of climate change—it is households that are paying. Households are paying more for their power than they need to because those opposite aren't supporting investment in renewable energy. It's the planet that is suffering, because we're not reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as fast as we can. We're also losing out on the massive economic opportunities of our becoming a renewable energy export super power. We would still be one of the greatest exporters of energy in the world. We would just be exporting renewable energy through hydrogen, through DC underwater cables and through energy intensive manufacturing, through low-energy prices, in aluminium smelting and steelmaking.

This is the future if we invest in renewable energy. Those opposite will stand condemned by history because they are standing in the way of that. They reject the science on climate change. They reject market economics. All they're interested in is lining the pockets of their mates.

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