Motions - Clean Energy Target


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:22): I am so delighted the Labor Party have raised this subject for debate this afternoon. I can't for the life of me understand why they would want to do it. This debate highlights that the Labor Party federally have no policies whatsoever to address the crisis that is confronting Australia. In Queensland, the state that I represent and that I will refer to often in my presentation, naturally enough, the Labor Party are all over the ship on energy policy. The only thing that's clear from the state Labor government in Queensland is that they own the generators of electricity in Queensland. They have been gouging the market, selling electricity—generated by coal-fired power stations—at enormous profit, simply to prop up the Queensland state budget which, because it is run by the Labor Party, would otherwise be in real crisis. From a Queenslander's point of view, there are very high electricity prices. Why? Because they are gouged by the electricity generators of Queensland, owned by the state government, providing huge profits to the state government, who are trying to balance their budget at the expense of Queensland households.

You wouldn't think it could get worse in Queensland, but it can. The Palaszczuk government have indicated that they want to have 50 per cent of Queensland's power in renewables by 2030. For one thing, that provides them with a real problem with balancing their budget, because renewable energy means less coal-fired energy and it means that there will be less revenue going to the Queensland budget. But for consumers in Queensland—for mums and dads and for small businesses—it means that the price of electricity will skyrocket again. In my own home town of Ayr there was a blackout for about five hours a couple of weeks ago. I don't think it was lack of supply. It was probably for some maintenance, but I suspect it's the Queensland government acclimatising us to the fact that, under their policies, Queenslanders will eventually suffer the same fate that the South Australians suffer under the Labor government there—having no power in the hottest months of the year. And for Queenslanders, and particularly where I come from in the north, having no power in the summer months will just be horrendous. This is what you can expect from state Labor governments in Queensland and around the country following the lead of the Labor government in South Australia, where the lights are simply turned out.

There is a fallacy around that renewable energy is cheap. I'm pleased to say that in the north there are a number of renewable energy projects. The Kidston Solar Project has $54 million of subsidies from the Australian taxpayer via the Clean Energy Foundation and another almost $9 million from ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. So, regarding suggestions that renewable energy doesn't cost you much: it might not cost you much because taxpayers are subsidising it. There is the Ross River Solar Farm proposal, with $20 million from the CEFC. There's the Kennedy Energy Park, with $18 million from ARENA. This doesn't fit into the same category, but there is the Moranbah solar farm which Adani are going to do. That has no subsidy at this time. There is the Collinsville Solar Farm, with a $60 million subsidy from CEFC and $9.5 million subsidy from ARENA. There is the Pentland Bioenergy Project feasibility study, with another $3 million from ARENA. They are just a few renewable energy projects in North Queensland. Forget about Australia! Imagine the taxpayer subsidies of the clean energy proposals across the nation.

I want to repeat an explanation that a constituent gave me: 'Renewable energy has nothing to do with reducing energy prices; its sole purpose is to assuage the middle-class guilt of the inner-city intelligentsia.' That is not a bad description from that constituent. People who live in a completely different world to the rest of Australia think that they have to do something, so they think this renewable energy will be good for the planet.

Let's have a look at how good it will be for the planet. I do hope that there is a Greens senator around who might come and tell me where this argument is wrong, because I keep raising it. I keep asking the Greens to tell me where this scenario is wrong, but, apart from abusing me and calling me names, they never answer the question. The question is this: Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's total carbon emissions. I will repeat that so that anyone who might be listening to this can understand that: Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's total carbon emissions.

If Mr Shorten and Ms Palaszczuk have their way, they are going to reduce those emissions by a small amount. Let's say 50 per cent of our power comes from non-carbon sources; what we're going to do to help the world is reduce Australia's 1.2 per cent of emissions by 50 per cent. I asked Dr Finkel this question: if you reduce Australia's carbon emissions by 1.2 per cent, which is down to zero, what impact will that have on the changing climate of the world? His response was 'virtually none'. Whilst the Labor Party and, as my constituent said, the inner-city intelligentsia with their middle-class guilt feel good about this, it's not going to make one iota of difference to the changing climate of the world—yet it will cost Australians.

You know, Australia used to have a competitive advantage. It was never in the price of our labour. Certainly our labour was skilled, but the price of labour made us relatively uncompetitive around the world. The one competitive advantage that Australia had was cheap, affordable, regular and reliable power. Why was that? Because in Australia we are blessed with huge reserves of high-quality coal and we can get electricity cheaper to Australian manufacturers. Korea Zinc's Sun Metal was encouraged to set up a zinc refinery in Townsville about 30 years ago. This was one of the reasons they set up in Townsville in Australia. Rather than doing what lots of others have done and take the zinc concentrate back to Korea, they set up in Townsville where the zinc was mined. Why? Because they could be guaranteed cheap coal-fired energy for a long period of time. Regrettably—and I know Sun Metal have looked at this with regret in years gone by—that agreement ran out and now they're being forced to pay enormous prices for the huge amounts of power they use, which makes it very, very difficult to compete in the world.

We emit less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. Even if we stopped all emissions from Australia—that is, shut off every electric light, stopped every car moving and didn't allow South Australia to run all of these dirty diesel generators—it would make virtually no difference. If we shut Australia down completely and saved 1.2 per cent, according to common sense—and if you want a better authority than common sense, go to Dr Finkel, who said this—it would make virtually no difference to the changing climate of the world.

My friend and colleague Senator Williams had some research done on Australia's position on coal-fired power stations compared to other countries in the world. I'll say this slowly so some of the Greens and Labor senators can absorb it. Let me give you an example. This research talks in units of power. Australia has fewer than 73 units of power—that is, units of coal-fired power generation. There are 73 from Australia. What has China got? China has 2,107 units. Australia has 73. When we get the coal-fired, base-load power station in North Queensland, which I am confident will come with a change of government in Queensland at the next election, we will go up to 74 or 75 units of power. According to the Labor Party and the Greens, this is going to destroy the world. Australia will then have, say, 75 units of power; China has 2,107; Germany; 155—double what Australia has—Japan, 119; Russia, 358; Poland, 178; South Africa, 108; Ukraine, 112; United States, 783; Again, I relate these figures to Australia. United States has 783; Australia, with its one new coal-fired power station, has 75. Can I ask the Greens or the Labor Party speakers who might be following me in this debate, how does having one new low-emissions, high-quality coal-fired power station in Australia have any impact whatsoever on the changing climate of the world?

I know it is popular for the Greens to say, 'You're a dinosaur; you don't accept that the climate is changing.' Of course I accept that the climate is changing. And I always give the obvious, exaggerated example that once upon a time the world was covered in ice and now it isn't so, clearly, over time, the climate does change. I accept that the climate changes. But, Australia's carbon emissions, if carbon emissions are the problem—I say if they are, but I don't go to that debate—then Australia emits 1.2 per cent. If Labor and the Greens' policies are to be implemented, that might come down by an infinitesimal amount. But even at 1.2 per cent, Dr Finkel confirms that it has absolutely no impact on the changing climate of the world.

There's a lot of misinformation that goes around about carbon emissions and electricity prices. I like energy minister Senator Canavan's description of Westpac bank. When Westpac said that they didn't want to get involved in coal—for one, Adani had never asked them for any money. When we look into it, why Westpac were a bit concerned about the Queensland coalfields opening is because Westpac owns several mines in the Hunter Valley and they own the Newcastle Port, so they don't want any competition. Senator Canavan was so right when he said that Westpac should go back to its old name of the Bank of New South Wales because clearly it was more interested in its New South Wales coal and port investments than it was in the future of Australia.

A lot of comments have been made about AGL, who want to shut down a power station that is making considerable contributions towards the power that we currently have. If Liddell power station, which is owned by AGL, is closed in 2022, the authority has identified an additional shortfall of 1,000 megawatt hours to the Australian grid from 2022 onwards. Fortunately, the government is trying to arrange or assist a buyer to take that project on. But we wonder why AGL is so, what I might call, bolshie about its energy network and the huge money it's made over the years from coal and other energy supplies. Then we read in today's paper that one of their senior executives is a mouthpiece for the ALP. She was, as I understand it, on the board of GetUp! and, no doubt, influencing, very substantially, policy of AGL. I just hope that the shareholders in AGL understand that this company, which has made squillions out of energy supply, most of which was from coal-fired power stations, is now taking the GetUp!-ALP-Greens' line to their business. I suspect that their business will start to fall, and I hope shareholders are aware of that and might be interested in that.

The whole energy market is ridiculous at the moment. In all of my time in the Senate—and that's been a long while!—power supply, energy supply and costing have been matters for state governments. Why? Because the state governments own the transmission lines and the generators. That's been the case, but we now have state governments refusing to allow us to tap the enormous reserves of gas under the ground in Victoria, in South Australia, and now, I understand, in Western Australia, along with the Northern Territory—all Labor governments. There's gas there, but they won't even let it be discovered.

Fortunately the coalition government saw a national crisis coming and said, 'We've got to do something about this because the states are not.' The coalition government has taken the lead in trying to keep the power supply flowing. We've mandated a certain amount of what the Labor Party would allow to be exported gas. That will now be used on the domestic market to help try and bring prices down. The Commonwealth government has put pressure on the generators—in my case, that's the Queensland state government—to reduce their generating profits by stopping gouging the market and bringing it back to something that is reasonable. These initiatives had to be taken by the federal government because state Labor governments were incapable of dealing with these issues.

I have a lot more I want to say on this particular subject, but I've run out of time. I again thank the Labor Party for nominating this as the topic for debate today. I couldn't have asked for a better debate myself. It just shows the people of Australia that the Labor Party has no interest. They're captured by the inner-city Greens intelligentsia, they're trying to assuage their consciences, and what they are doing is putting up prices for ordinary Australian families, making power almost unreachable for many Australians. Unless the Commonwealth acted, as it has done, this would have got worse. Congratulations to Mr Turnbull on his leadership and initiative in this area. (Time expired)

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