Bills – Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy price Relief Plan) Bill 2022 – Second Reading, 15 December, 2022

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (15:03): What are the most terrifying words in the English language? I’ll tell you: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ They’re terrifying, as President Reagan once said. He could easily have been speaking about the Labor Party’s plan to cap energy prices, as well as all the other increased regulation they want to implement in the sector. This is a government solution almost guaranteed to worsen the very problem it purports to solve, as was observed in the sixties and seventies with the fuel price caps. I don’t know if anyone recalls that—you are all a bit too young in here—but, if you do, there you go.

The United Australia Party, of course, stands with consumers and business owners who are bearing the brunt of skyrocketing energy prices and, of course, we want to see prices come down. We wholeheartedly support the $1.5 billion of temporary bill relief measures for those in need but we do not support the price caps or any increased regulations in the sector.

High energy prices are not simply the result of a war on the other side of this planet, like the Labor Party would have us believe. They are a product of self-inflicted, systematic deterioration of our energy sector over many, many years. It is actually hard to see how the Labor Party’s naive market intervention will make any real-world difference whatsoever. The government’s proposal has already created enormous uncertainty in the market, as we all know. It will almost certainly cause energy investment to constrict, which will limit gas supply even further, making energy shortages more likely to occur. For what exactly? Prices are still predicted to rise in the next two years, by the government’s own account, by many, many hundreds of dollars.

The long-term solution, and there is a long-term solution, to higher power prices is not more government intervention in the market. That’s ridiculous. It is not billions of dollars in tax subsidies or anything else. The long-term solution to high energy prices is greater supply. It’s basic high school economics. I learnt that in year 8. We must also get rid of red and green tape.

Senator Scarr: Hear, hear!

Senator BABET: Basic economics—thank you, Senator Scarr. We must allow the private sector to produce. We don’t need more government intervention; we need less government intervention. The government, let’s be honest, couldn’t organise a beer in a brewery. That’s what they couldn’t do. It is very clear what is happening here. The government is determined not to use the coal and gas we have and the government is determined to stifle the opening of new coal and gas projects. In fact, there are 89 coal, oil and gas projects sitting in a construction pipeline—excuse the pun. These projects either have been publicly announced or are in the feasibility stage and are worth around $274 billion to the national economy. They would also create nearly half a million jobs and provide decades of secure energy supplies.

But the government are determined not to use the coal or the gas we have. They are determined not to open up gas fields. And if that’s their plan, if that’s their vision, then the only way to lower energy prices in the long term is to add nuclear power to the mix. The United Australia Party does not accept the flippant responses of government ministers whenever the suggestion of nuclear power is raised that, ‘Oh, it’s too hard,’ or ‘It’s too expensive,’ or ‘It’s too difficult.’ That is what we are told. Well, it is not too hard. There is a middle ground, a place where different ideas meet and the Australian people benefit. What is too hard, though, is watching the average Australian suffer under massive cost-of-living pressure and skyrocketing energy bills while a very real, tried, tested, safe and proven solution is staring us right in the face.

Australian consumers, Australian businesses and Australian manufacturers deserve reliable, abundant and cheap energy. Without cheap energy, we will see a decrease in our standard of living. That is just a fact. It will happen. Irrespective of whether or not this bill passes today, and we all know it is likely to pass, the United Australia Party asks the government to initiate a genuine study on the costs and benefits of nuclear power. It should analyse emissions, the cost to users and the cost to government.

The Labor Party’s 12-month price cap mechanism is a short-term cure that will be worse than the disease. We need a permanent solution to keep prices down. The UAP took a nuclear policy to the election because we’re committed to the long-term future of our country. The time for an honest debate on nuclear power is now. We need to plan for stable power prices into our future without the need for repeated emergency relief measures.