ENERGY POLICY IN AUSTRALIA

Since the Abbott-Turnbull government abolished the carbon price, there has been a national policy vacuum created by their inaction. As a result of that negligence, wholesale electricity prices across Australia have doubled. In fact, the only ones congratulating the Turnbull government on their energy policy are the Turnbull government. The recent budget saw this government proudly announce a number of policies that they have lauded as an energy security package. However, like the rest of the measures in this year’s budget, this so-called package is an admission of failure, a signed confession, without actually fixing the problem. As Tony Wood, the Director of the Energy Program of the Grattan Institute has said:

The budget does little more on energy than endorse the government’s deal with Senator Nick Xenophon on corporate tax cuts …

Tinkering with investment in gas pipelines without addressing the issue of domestic market exposure to price rises from the international market is just not enough. Labor has been warning for years about the problems in our gas market. The gas market in this country is broken. I urge the government to adopt a permanent national interest test for the gas market so that Australian businesses and households are at the front of the queue. If the Turnbull government were really serious about energy security in this country, they would also swallow their partisan pride and join Labor in supporting and adopting an emissions intensity scheme, an idea that we know many in the coalition would support but is banned because of the activities of the hard Right inside the Liberal’s parliamentary party. This act would put downward pressure on power prices and send the signal that investors are crying out for to renew our ageing electricity infrastructure. Emissions intensity schemes are supported by a vast majority of industry and experts from across the political spectrum, including the Climate Change Authority, BHP and the New South Wales Young Nationals.

While the Turnbull government is proposing, but not guaranteeing, $110 million for a solar project in Port Augusta, they are threatening to throw $1 billion at the Adani Carmichael mine in Queensland. This is a true indication of this government’s priorities. If this government were indeed serious about jobs then they could have supported the Australian car industry for half the price and produced 40 times more jobs than the Galilee Basin is projected to do, even on the most generous of assessments.

This is not really about jobs. This is nothing more than a national party boondoggle, and it is doing nothing for our industry or our environment. The big four banks have now ruled out funding, or withdrawn funding from, the Queensland coal project, and that speaks to the fact that this project struggles to stack up financially.

There continue to be very deep environmental concerns. Only today the government has had to quietly axe a number of environmental conditions protecting vulnerable turtle species just to keep this project on track. This is despite the minister promising some of the strictest environmental conditions in Australian history—nothing more than rhetoric, and rhetoric that has not been lived up to with deeds from this government. It is easy to meet environmental standards when you just scrap the inconvenient ones, but that does not make it right. It casts yet another shadow over this Adani project and this government’s energy security policy.

Protecting and creating jobs is important. It is crucial for our communities and crucial for our country. That is why Labor wants to see an orderly transition from fossil fuels accompanied by support for workers, rather than having to react to the decisions of multinationals made on the other side of the world, as we saw at Hazelwood. It is also why I am shocked that those opposite can talk about jobs and growth while at the same time facilitating the loss of over 3,000 jobs in the renewable sector. They are setting this country up to be a technology taker, not a technology maker. In the future, when renewable energy has come to dominate energy markets around the world, this coalition would have us still relying on an energy sector that is running out of lifespan.

There is nothing sensible or pragmatic about the Turnbull government’s energy policy because they do not have an energy policy. ‘Pragmatic’ must mean more than just a lack of progress. It must mean acknowledging realities, building this country’s future, and making the big decisions that need to be made to secure our renewable energy industries and the jobs and growth that will flow from that investment.

22 MAY 2017.