Matters of public importance - Coal

December 05, 2018

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (16:05): I admire the member for Hinkler's passion and I admire his commitment to operating in a fact-free zone, which the last five minutes demonstrated. I'll begin where he finished, which was with the cost of power and what the cheapest form of new generation in this country is. If I'm given a choice between relying on the rantings of the member for New England or on the Australian Energy Market Operator, I'll rely on the Australian Energy Market Operator, who has stated unequivocally that the cheapest and most reliable form of new power in this country is renewable energy backed up by pumped storage and gas. Don't take my word for it; don't take the word of environmental groups for it; take the word of the Australian Energy Market Operator, who said that renewable energy, firmed up with pumped hydro, is the cheapest replacement for the eight coal-fired power stations we're going to see retire in the next 15 to 20 years. That's the fundamental issue.

We've got a lot of coal-fired power stations that have done great service to the nation and are retiring. They must retire; they are falling apart as we speak. If you want cheap power, reliable power and cleaner power, renewable energy is the answer. That's what the Australian Energy Market Operator has stated unequivocally, and that's why Labor has called for the NEG, and it's why Labor has agreed with the vast majority of stakeholders who've said the NEG is the answer. So, while the member for Hinkler and the coalition stand with Alan Jones and the tinfoil-hat-wearing brigade over there who refute climate change, we stand with the Energy Council and AIG. We stand, ironically, with ACCI, BCA, BlueScope, the Energy Users Association, APPEA, the Clean Energy Council, Energy Networks Australia, the Smart Energy Council, Solar Citizens, the ACTU, the former Prime Minister Mr Turnbull and the current member for Curtin. They've said that the NEG is the right energy policy.

For all the crocodile tears over there about protecting consumers, the great tragedy is that they have been the architects of skyrocketing electricity prices because they haven't had stable climate and energy policy over the last 5½ years. In fact, in a 14-day period in August, would you believe, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the government had four different energy policies? Not in five years, not in three years, not in three months but in 14 days they had four different energy policies.

Mr Giles: Pretty agile.

Mr CONROY: It's very agile, as the member for Scullin comments. Who paid the price for this policy agility? It was households and businesses, because, in the two months after they junked the NEG, when the climate change deniers had their little revolt over former Prime Minister Turnbull, wholesale energy prices rose by 122 per cent and future prices rose by 20 per cent because they junked the NEG, opened up another abyss and came up with this incredibly stupid divestiture policy. It is a policy that will increase energy prices, a policy that will increase policy uncertainty, a policy that will hurt households, businesses, workers and the entire nation, and they can't even get that right, because they faced a little minirevolt from the member for Curtin, and that led to headlines today like 'PM retreats on energy "big stick"'. We had another one that said 'Libs' abject surrender'. Even when they come up with an incredibly stupid and short-sighted policy, they can't stick to it for more than a month or two at a time. So the big stick, as has been commented upon, is now a little toothpick, but it's a little toothpick that has dire consequences for the energy sector. We heard today, for example, that the way it has been clumsily constructed could lead to forced privatisation in Queensland and potentially in Western Australia as well.

If those opposite want to fight an election on forcing the states to privatise their power companies, I'm very happy to fight that. Ultimately, we'll stand on the side of the consumers and say no to more privatisation and no to more power price increases, which their policies have driven. Unfortunately, I don't expect it actually to be taken to the election. We have another five or six months before that, so I'm expecting at least four or five energy policies from the government before we get to 18 May. We will see what comes out of this. The member for Grey is up next, and he will come up with the novel scare campaign about South Australia and everything else. For once, I urge them to actually listen to the experts rather than the naysayers on climate change.