Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

BILLS - Coal-Fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2017 - Second Reading

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (10:42): I feel as though I've heard this debate many times and I think we'll find some of the allegations and cross-allegations listed in Hansard over and over again over at least the last 10 years. Labor has long recognised that Australia needs to transition to clean forms of electricity generation. Our ministers in previous governments Greg Combet and Tony Burke, and now the shadow minister, Mr Mark Butler in the other place, have argued consistently that we do need to have a strong commitment to renewable energy. We have a strong set of policies, which are all on the record, which talk about why we need to have a commitment to achieve 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. That's consistent with the commitments and statements we made under the Paris accord. That is clear. We understand that we have to move energy production in this country. We need to work with community, with science, and with people in this place to ensure we don't have statements like we just heard, which completely debunk any kind of positive discussion or argument about how we can make this change.

We recognise the importance of ensuring this transition is a just one. We talk so much about the fact that we need to work with communities-particularly the communities that Senator Macdonald I think referred to in his contribution-that have been relying on the coal industry for over a century. You cannot make decisions about our community without engaging with them and ensuring that we have a just transition. We won't let coal power workers and communities be left behind, as we, a parliament, a government, actually tackle climate change. The inevitability of this transition is recognised. Finally, I think, we can say together that the inevitability of the transition is recognised by the energy industry and, as a result, the planned and managed phase-out of coal-fired power is something the industry accepts and includes in its forward plans. The head of the Australian Energy Council, Mr Matthew Warren, has previously said that new coal-fired power stations in Australia are 'uninvestable', a view held widely by companies and put about clearly in the finance sector. Put simply, the debate about what Australia's energy future looks like has really been won not in this place but in corporate boardrooms and communities across Australia.

Australia's energy future is one that is increasingly renewable, increasingly flexible, increasingly distributed and increasingly high tech. We are never going to go back to the old 20th century model of a central coal plant and passive customers; even if we try to put our climate change obligations to one side, which I believe I've heard debated in this place, we mustn't, we shouldn't and we won't. The fact is that renewable energy is the cheapest form of new electricity generation, and storage and energy management technologies are seeing advances and cost reductions that mean a reliable, affordable renewable energy system is well within Australia's grasp.

The current debate about energy policy isn't about a coal-fired future versus a renewables future. Though I believe that debate will continue to happen in this place, that is not the real debate. We must have a renewables future. The real debate is really about a well-managed transition versus a transition that is chaotic and costly, which is what the approach of the Turnbull government is delivering.

That does not mean that Labor are supporting the bill that's before this place this morning, the Coal-Fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2017. We don't believe that it's a sensible bill. We don't believe that it actually engages in the debate we need to have. The debate we should be having in this place includes the questions: how can the transition to clean energy be best managed? What policy framework best delivers a clean energy future whilst safeguarding reliability and affordability-that is, not denying that affordability and reliability can occur but actually safeguarding reliability and affordability? What must governments, at every level, do to ensure coal power workers and their communities see and are part of a bright and prosperous future? How can we ensure that renters and those in community and social housing can access the benefits of solar and battery systems?

We must also talk, in this place and in our communities, about how we are going to be part of the ongoing international discussion that is clearly outlined in the sustainable development goals-the sustainable development goals that our nation, with many others, signed on to with great protestations of faith two years ago. At least four of these goals are a core part of this debate and what we should be talking about in this place. We have goal 7: affordable and clean energy. That's what this debate is about-affordability and clean energy. It's also about industry, innovation and infrastructure: working with the people who have the skills, the ability and the finance to make sure we have the infrastructure, the innovation and the science that will ensure we have the strong, clean renewable energy future we must have. We must also talk about sustainable cities and communities-that is, ensuring strong, secure and effective energy processes so that people are not struggling, on a daily basis, with energy costs. We also need to have responsible consumption and production. Nothing is more central to this debate than responsible consumption and production-again, understanding the importance and the essential nature of energy in our community.

Goal 13 is climate action. I do believe that any debate about whether there is a link between carbon emissions and climate action should be over, though every now and then you hear echoes in this place about whether it is still open for debate. We know that there are people in the parliament that will continue to deny, continue to say that there is no link. Even if they don't understand the science, they believe that even if Australia took action it wouldn't make any difference, so why should we do anything? We have very clearly the partnerships for the goals for it to actually come together. These things provide the framework about which we can put our debate, about which we can make our policies and how we can bring communities along with us, so it's not just Australia involved in this debate but that it's debated internationally.

I think there are things in the bill we've got before us that overstep the mark. In their enthusiasm, the people who drafted the bill have been caught up into debates that are not really clear. The bill is not carefully worded. Its full consequences can't be known. The bill states that the Commonwealth must not provide financial or other support in connection with the refurbishment of coal-fired power stations. What does that exactly mean? Does it include the processing of approvals and licences or other regulatory processes? Does it include public research funding through universities or the wonderful CSIRO into technologies that might be used in connection with a future coal-fired plant refurbishment to reduce carbon emissions? What about the carbon price?

Even though the Greens voted with the Abbott Liberal opposition against Labor's carbon pricing scheme in 2009, they claim that they do support a carbon price. You must know that a carbon price provides a financial incentive for the refurbishment of coal-fired power plants to lower their carbon emissions and carbon pollution. Would this bill that's saying that there shouldn't be any engagement in this way make a carbon price unlawful because it would provide other Commonwealth support for the refurbishment of coal-fired power plants? The bill says the Commonwealth must not assist the transfer of ownership of a coal-fired power station. How about the regulatory processes that may be triggered by a purely private transfer of ownership? Is this bill saying that the usual regulatory functions of government should not apply to coal-fired power stations, simply because of the emission intensity of coal power? In certain circumstances, that is exactly what this bill would seem to deliver. These questions need to be asked and they need to be answered. We can't just have a flat political statement that people don't like coal power stations. We need a legislative framework that will respond to the needs that we have. The wording and the drafting need to respond to the real questions.

We've heard much about where this debate should be, and we heard Senator Macdonald wax lyrical about the strong reactions of the government. A strong admiration and respect and love of coal, which led to people bringing lumps of coal into this place, seem to still be the dominant features of the Turnbull government's approach to renewables and coal. Labor fought in 2014 and 2015 to block the government's then attempts to get rid of the renewable energy targets, which are the key element of what we have in our current system about renewable energies and our process. We have put our policies into the public domain. People know there's a strong commitment from Labor to renewable energy but there is not the same trust, the same acceptance and the same knowledge that the government has that same commitment to an effective renewable energy future.

Recently, Senator Di Natale talked about the issues around the Liddell plant in his contribution to the debate in the Senate. Two large coal-fired power stations have closed, with the federal government refusing to help workers and the communities deal with the impacts. This refusal goes directly against the obligation of the governments to deliver a just transition under the Paris accords. This was the opportunity for governments across the world to sign up to the Paris accords for a future that would see a transition from a coal-determined process to one that looked openly at renewables. A part of that has got to be bringing the workers and the communities along with the decisions so that there is what we talk about very openly, a just transition.

We know that industries across this country have been crippled by policy uncertainty and that the government have been key to delivering this uncertainty. You just know that no matter how many statements are made by this government about their commitment to renewables, there is this ongoing push within the government from certain individuals, who are very open in their views, that this will not happen, that somehow we in Australia have this special form of coal that is clean and that our clean coal doesn't need to be considered as the coal industry. In fact, as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President Fawcett, the government has made very clear that they believe clean coal should actually be considered as renewable energy.

Within this space, this means that industries-the very people on whom we rely to work towards effective scientific change and to bring innovative practices as per the Sustainable Development Goals about innovation and production and the very people upon whom we rely to develop our industries-are confused and, in fact, crippled by this uncertainty from government.

We know, and we've talked about it in this place before, the Finkel review. The government came to this place and suggested that they would have the Chief Scientist look at the whole issue of energy and our future. The Finkel review, on which $1.7 million was spent, then came up with recommendations and, after six months of these considerations, the government rejected much of what Finkel said. We had statements in this place calling for communities, scientists and people in this place to work together, to have a common aim and a common acceptance into the future, and the government said no. Instead of taking up the recommendations put out by Finkel, which had come through after many months of consultation all across the country-at Senate estimates we found out how many organisations and how many people with whom Professor Finkel spoke-we had the review and the recommendations, and then the government decided to take another road to the future. This was, obviously, one that was looking to a new future and that was looking very carefully at where we were going, and now we're concentrating on the National Energy Guarantee.

Again, we've talked many times in this place about the National Energy Guarantee. It came out as a very, very small document; one that could be easily read because there wasn't much in it. Now, as time goes by, and after the last round of Senate estimates, a bit more detail is being built around the National Energy Guarantee. But we've been able to find out that the scheme has been estimated to cut utility-scale renewable energy investment by a massive 95 per cent compared to today's level. Today, a report has been released which says that the NEG will deliver no additional renewable energy investment at all. If that is the result and if that is the planned future by this government, how can we be confident that we will see any just transition-a just transition to renewable energy, a just transition for workers and a just transition to security in our country? It just doesn't add up.

Labor continues to be committed to finding a cross-party framework to support the badly-needed investment to transition our energy sector and to deliver reliable and affordable energy. But we can't sign a blank cheque and we won't support a policy that strangles rather than supports transition to clean energy.

When it comes to the government's NEG or, indeed, to today's Greens bill, the real devil is in the detail. Neither the government nor the Greens bill have given enough thought to this or enough detail for us to be certain that they have an effective future for our country in their sights. That's why Labor won't support this bill and why we can't commit to a barely-thought-out NEG. We are interested in serious answers to the country's serious problems, and we just can't rely on short media grabs that talk one way or the other about what the magic result is going to be.

In Bangkok, in February this year, there was an international meeting based on the Sustainable Development Goals, looking at goal No. 7, which is the one around affordable and clean energy. This was an attempt to put a benchmark on what is happening across the world now. People from all over the world, people from all levels of industry, people who really understood not only the way energy should operate but the impact of energy on communities, came together at this meeting in Bangkok. This was a prelude to a further meeting which is going to take place in New York later this year where we will look clearly at an understanding that energy is inextricably interlinked with the whole sustainable development goal agenda, which is focused on poverty eradication.

Sustainable development goal No. 7 was the first ever universal goal on energy. A high-level political forum on sustainable development later this year will be considering SDG7 along with a range of other goals that look at what is happening on energy in our community. That forum will be occurring in New York. I'm really hopeful that Australia will be present at that meeting with information about what we have achieved-not short answers but clearly thought-out policy about how our nation is going to be part of the international response around the need for clean, safe energy for everybody, not just in Australia but around the world. This conference will be important. When Australia does go to that particular conference, I am truly hoping that we will not be having confusion about what our progress will be and lingering doubts among people across this chamber about whether there will be a renewable energy future. I am hopeful that we will be part of a global response so that we will be able to have respectful debates in this place but bring our community along behind us so that a just transition to renewable energy will occur in this place and across the communities and we won't be leaving anyone behind.

Debate adjourned.