Hansard - Federation Chamber 14/06/2017 Parliament of Australia
Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (18:42): We have an energy crisis in Australia. One of my questions to the minister is: are you unable or unwilling to put an end to this policy paralysis and do something meaningful about it? The Finkel review deserves full and fair consideration. It deserves better treatment than those opposite have been giving it today. The direction we take on energy policy will have major implications for all Australians—implications for the security of the network, for the reliability of the network, for the affordability of the network and for our transition to clean modern energy generation fleets. We are in transition. We cannot deny that. There might be some in the Liberal party who want to deny that, but they are in the minority. Australians are not ignorant of the realities of climate change and the need for us to lower our emissions. But lower emissions do not mean we have we have to endure higher prices for electricity and gas. Lower emissions and lower prices can be achieved, if only this government would sit down and talk about it. Minister, will you engage in meaningful dialogue? All the Liberals want to do is bicker among themselves, and accuse Labor of putting ideology over reality. Well, ideology is not at the centre of Labor policy on energy and environment—reality is at the centre of Labor's policy on energy and environment. Reality is at the centre; the reality of higher prices for electricity and the reality of climate change, meaning we must lower our emissions.
Now let us talk about coal—because that is all that this government, at least some sections of it, seem to want to talk about. They want Australians to believe that Labor is anti-coal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Labor is not anti-coal. I am a coalminer's daughter: I know the value of coal to Australia and I know the value of coal to my electorate of Paterson in the Hunter Valley. Many people in my electorate work in coalmines, many work in electricity generation, and many jobs in my electorate rely on reliable and affordable energy supply. Jobs are uppermost in my mind. But I cannot wish away what the owners of the electricity generators are saying: that coal-fired power stations will close. They just will. We know that is a reality. They are ageing and they are approaching their use-by date. But we have to get organised. This government has to get some energy into its energy policy. Coal will still have a terrific place in our energy mix and our export landscape—there is no doubt about that. But our reliance on coal will be reduced—and there is also no doubt about that. The only doubt is in the government's mind, about how they are going to take us forward into the future.
Our focus now has to be on how we make that transition from coal-fired energy to clean energy. What will the children of those power workers and coalminers be doing in the future? That is the critical thing. And what will those workers themselves be doing? And how will we ensure that that transition is just—just for the workers in the industry and just for the communities they live in?
Business groups, environment groups, unions, industry—these stakeholders all believe that the worst outcome for energy consumers and suppliers would be the absence of any credible and enduring energy and climate policy in Australia, which is what we currently have. The status quo is really, really hobbling us. Without reform, we will endure higher prices, reduced security, lost investment opportunity and stubbornly high emissions. We need careful review and considered decision-making that leads to the return of stable investment, affordable prices and reliable supply as we reduce emissions.
The Prime Minister's idea to subsidise new coal has been comprehensively rejected. The facts are: it would increase emissions, it would increase power prices, and taxpayers would be left footing the bill. You cannot have a clean energy target that defines new coal-fired power stations as 'clean energy'. The experts have all said: it is uninvestable; it is not clean. The Prime Minister needs to stare down the destabilisers and climate change deniers in the Liberal Party and back a plan for more renewables.
Labor welcomes the release of the Finkel review. We will carefully consider the recommendations.
My other question to the minister is: will you take the offer that was made to you today by the Leader of the Opposition for meaningful dialogue to correct this impasse that has been going on for too long now in Australian politics? Australians are depending on it. It is our future. The responsibility sits squarely on your shoulders. We are offering to meet you and to have meaningful dialogue on this. Will you come to the party and talk about the real solutions that can be achieved with the Finkel propositions?