Question Time: Tomago Aluminium and Energy

February 14, 2017

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (14:15): My question is to the Prime Minister. On Friday, a supply shortage in coal-dependent New South Wales meant power was cut to Tomago, Australia's largest aluminium smelter, in my electorate. Yesterday, the CEO of Tomago said:

… the way the energy system is working at the moment, it is dysfunctional.

What we saw on Friday was a genuine system-security risk. When will the Prime Minister stop blaming renewable energy and admit that he has an energy crisis on his hands, a crisis which is hurting the largest private— (Time expired)

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:16): The Minister for the Environment and Energy, whom I will invite to add to this answer, has just drawn to my attention a statement by the Australian Energy Market Operator from 10 February about New South Wales's electricity supply, in which it states, 'AEMO can also confirm that residential load shedding was not required at any point'—quite to the contrary of what the member for Port Adelaide just said.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Frydenberg: Another lie! Another lie! Another lie!

Mr TURNBULL: The member for Port Adelaide said residential load shedding was required—

The SPEAKER: The Minister for the Environment and Energy will come to the dispatch box and withdraw.

Mr Frydenberg: I withdraw.

Mr TURNBULL: The member for Port Adelaide said that there was residential load shedding in the state, and here we have a statement from AEMO, of which he must have been aware, saying that was not the case.

As far as Tomago is concerned: it is a large base load customer for electricity in New South Wales. It is the practice with large base load customers to, by agreement, load shed—for which they are rewarded at times of very high peak demand. It is the way in which big customers like that—aluminium smelters being the biggest, obviously—are able to provide stabilisation and balance to the grid.

What was put to us by the member for Port Adelaide is contradicted by AEMO. He is not here to defend himself or explain his misstatement, but it just shows how the Labor Party is deluded about energy. I will invite the minister to add to that answer.

Mr FRYDENBERG (KooyongMinister for the Environment and Energy) (14:18): Unfortunately, we are seeing a pattern of mistruths and obfuscation by those opposite. Yesterday, those opposite sought to portray the Prime Minister and me as blaming renewables for last September's blackout—

Mr Dreyfus interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Isaacs is warned.

Mr FRYDENBERG: when we actually went out in writing, and in numerous interviews, saying that that was not the cause and that the cause was the storm.

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order?

Mr Burke: On direct relevance. At the end of the answer, the Prime Minister was specifically on the topic. Since the Minister for the Environment and Energy stood up, it has had nothing to do with the question that was asked—a very specific question from a member of parliament asking about a major employer in her own electorate.

The SPEAKER: I am listening carefully to the Minister for the Environment and Energy. Before I call him, I will just say, on the point of order, that the minister is entitled to compare and contrast to a point, but this question referred specifically to issues in New South Wales. He needs to come back to that in the remaining 45 seconds.

Mr FRYDENBERG: The facts are clear that Tomago, as the Prime Minister said, make up around 10 per cent of New South Wales's demand. Their contract with AGL, I think, goes back to 1991. There is a provision, when the prices go high, for AGL to enter a relationship to reduce the supply to Tomago. The key point is that the member for Port Adelaide said there was residential load shedding. In the press release at 7.30 pm on 10 February, he said that did not happen. This is a consistent pattern. You have been found out: mistruths and misleading the parliament again and again.

Mr Burke: Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER: The minister has concluded his answer. Manager of Opposition Business, I think it is best that we move on.

Mr Burke: Mr Speaker, let me just make a point of order.

The SPEAKER: Okay. I will hear the Manager of Opposition Business.

Mr Burke: He made a very specific unparliamentary allegation of deliberately misleading—

The SPEAKER: He did not use the word 'deliberately'.

Mr Burke: When you claim that it is again and again, it is a big stretch to claim that it is accidental. Those sorts of reflections should be withdrawn.

Mr Dutton interjecting

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection persistently interjects, particularly when I am hearing points of order.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER: The reason the Leader of the House cannot hear him is that he is often interjecting with him! I am trying to inject some lightheartedness, but, in seriousness, I will have no choice but to take action on the next interjection by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. The Manager of Opposition Business's point is on the use of the term 'misleading'. He might find it undesirable—I may well myself—but the Practice and the Hansard are littered with that term being able to be used. It is only out of order when 'deliberately misleading' is used. That has been the case under many speakers, and it has been the case in questions that have been asked. There have been many questions—we could take the time to dig them out—asked by the opposition using the term 'misleading' that I have not ruled out of order.