I would like to kick off where Senator Dastyari started. I look forward to that very constructive, positive alternative approach to bringing down power prices, because to date I have seen nothing. I have seen a history lesson—raking over the coals of history; pardon the pun—in this debate. There has been talk of every position the government has had when it comes to energy policy, focusing on the past rather than actually talking about what they would do as an alternative government as the people who aspire to sit on this side of the chamber. It’s all about history; it’s not about the future, it’s all about division and political pointscoring. It is not about solving the issues that face the Australian community.
After sitting here for the last 20 minutes or so, one interesting observation I can make is that with Senator Roberts on one side saying our policy does not go far enough and on the other side and at the other end of the spectrum Labor and the Greens saying we don’t do enough, maybe we have some balance there. Maybe we are approaching things the right way in the interests of the majority of Australians, people who pay power bills and who are struggling to pay those power bills. The point I want to make is this: it’s all about certainty. It is about providing that environment of certainty for those who generate the electricity, the market players. They need to be able to invest their money with some certainty so we can plan for the future. It’s about having a reliable energy source. It’s about having certainty, and knowing that when we flick the switch the lights are going to come on, the factory can start operating at 6 am or whenever it opens up and the jobs are going to be there. It is also about certainty about the price, that we are not going to see incredible increases into the future.
My colleagues have gone over history a little bit already. Every time we talk about energy, I like to talk about a bit of history from my perspective. In my home state of Tasmania, there is a great publication known as the Hobart Mercury newspaper. They published an article on 20 October 1981, a little while ago, entitled ‘Coal-fired power best option’. It was written by a gentleman by the name of Wayne Crawford. It says: ‘Tasmania’s environmental lobby has expressed preferences for coal-fired thermal power generation over construction of more hydro power dams. The director of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Dr Bob Brown, said yesterday that if there was to be a new power station, then coal-fired thermal was the best centralised option we have.’ He then went on to say, that the conservation movement regarded a coal-fired thermal station as ‘manifestly better than more dams.’
Later on in the article, it talks about cutting back the consumption of power, because that’s the answer. It is not about catering to the demands of a growing society where we have more people living in our communities. It is about cutting back on demands. Dr Brown said, ‘The environmental movement believed that if Tasmania’s electricity’s consumption now’—at that point in time, ‘is the highest per capita in the world, it could be cut back by 15 per cent through an energy-saving program.’ There would also be no need for new power schemes. I’m not a big fan of that idea. Given the way the world is going, with the demands society has, increasing technology and the like, we should be catering to those demands, and we can. We have the resources, we have the technology, we should be catering to it.
Later on in the article, it says that the coal-fired power station would ‘provide more jobs over a longer period’ and could be built more quickly than a hydro scheme and would give the state more flexibility in its power generation. I won’t go on about that too long but I think it is great to just reflect on that a little bit. It was the former Australian Greens leader, former Senator Bob Brown, who was being talked about earlier today by my good friend and colleague over there, who advocated for more coal-fired power stations and no more renewable energy in the form of hydro power. It was only a year or two later that we had the Franklin Dam dispute, which saw halted the construction of a dam which would have saved Tasmania the energy woes that we went through a couple of years ago. But, as I say, that’s all history.
Going back to the question of certainty—giving energy certainty around the investments they can make, having the ability to know that we will have dispatchable base-load power when it is needed—I heard Audrey Zibelman say that the current situation is not sustainable if we are to actually tackle the cost of power. When we look at situations like the one we had in South Australia and other situations on the National Electricity Market—where demand is far outstripping supply with intermittent renewables—the options for the market operator, Ms Zibelman, to pursue are limited. She pointed to gas-fired power generation and the high cost attached to that, and she used the words that this was ‘the most inefficient way of doing it’. So Ms Zibelman, being one of the contributors to the policy, the plan that’s been set out here that has been announced by the government, has found a way to provide that certainty. I think that is a great thing.
I want also to talk about the issue of cost—the savings that have been discussed here and the aim of bringing down the price of power. The Energy Security Board has indicated to us that the savings could be in the order of $100 to $115 a year. That’s a lot of money. When the Community Affairs Committee considers things like reductions in welfare support, many on the other side of the chamber will point out that reductions of 50c cents or $1 in support payments to people make a massive difference when they have a stretched income. So why is it so bad to find a savings in one’s power bill, even if it as little as Senator Dastyari and others have said—50 cents? They are the same people who in these debates say that the welfare reforms that have been proposed, which have resulted in some reductions to people who depend on those payments, will stretch the budget—but, no, we shouldn’t pass on a saving in any shape or form when it comes to the household power bill!
I, like most other Tasmanians, have seen a massive increase in my power bills. It’s not as big an issue for me as it is for many other Tasmanians. I happen to be a member of the Australian Senate and I’m paid very well—and that’s on the public record. My winter-quarter power bill was $3,000. The more recent bill was $2,900—and I don’t think that’s because power prices have gone down; I think it’s because I’ve been encouraging my three boys to turn the lights out more. But this is the thing: power bills are so significant in my home state, where we have largely renewables based energy generation. We have a plan to actually bring down the cost of power. We are talking about ways that will impact on the cost of power for households and for businesses. We will be able to continue to support businesses and manufacturing, so that people can pay their bills.
We talk about subsidies for renewable energy as well. Labor’s plan would see $66 billion in subsidies paid to support renewable energy generation. Where does that come from? It comes from either the taxpayer or from energy users, the consumers. Someone is going to pay; this money doesn’t just appear. And that’s what Labor are proposing—unlike our plan, which removes those subsidies. Senator Paterson, earlier in the debate, highlighted the comments made by proponents of renewable energy. Coming from a state where renewable energy is generated as much as it is, it is great to hear that that it is one of the cheapest forms of energy in Australia. There is the case made to remove those subsidies. So why does the opposition cling to this need to prop up this sector of the energy generation industry with subsidies to the tune of $66 billion?
Yesterday, one of my colleagues from Tasmania, Senator Singh, claimed that that money should go to supporting the 28,000 jobs that could be developed in the renewable energy sector. That’s a lot of money for each of those jobs. That is $66 billion of your money, Mr Acting Deputy President, either as a power user or as a taxpayer.
We do have a plan. My friends on the other side have, as usual, wanted to go over the history of how we arrived here, rather than being constructive and positive about the future—though I note Senator Dastyari did promise there would be a positive alternative approach taken by Labor when it comes to reducing the price of power. I look forward to that coming out in the near future while this debate is on foot, because we can’t consider things in isolation. They are all inextricably linked—affordability, reliability and meeting our international obligations.