Energy, 8 September 2022

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:54): My question is to Minister Wong,
representing the Prime Minister. Can the minister name one country in the world where a higher share of solar and wind power has led to lower electricity prices?

Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:55): Thank you to the senator for the question. I would say to him that it is not a highly contested position by most who look at the energy market in Australia that the cheapest new form of generation is clean energy. In fact, there is a live market experiment for that, and that is the state of the electricity market today. We had four gigawatts exiting, one coming in, during the life of the previous government. Those are the figures that I recall. Senator McAllister will tell me if I’m wrong. They reflect the lack of certainty in the market, as a consequence of the failure of those opposite to deal with their internal divisions, as is the case today.

Senator Canavan: Madam President, a point of order on relevance: this is becoming a pattern from Senator Wong—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Canavan, I don’t need the statement. What is your point?

Senator Canavan: My point of order on relevance is that the question was clearly about whether a country in the world has experienced lower prices. Yet Minister Wong, as I said—it is a pattern—is going back to talk about the previous government’s record, nothing to do with the question.

The PRESIDENT: I do believe that the minister is being relevant. It is a broad topic and she is within the realm of the question.

Senator WONG: Senator Babet, I’m happy to ask the minister I’m representing whether there are examples around the world of what we also see in Australia, which is that renewable energy is the cheapest form of new generation capacity. That is an unremarkable proposition—a proposition that is shared by those who manage our electricity system as well as the business community. I respect that Senator Canavan is very clear in his interjections about his views on this issue. They’re not shared, as I understand it, by the remainder of the coalition. But we see, as do business, benefit to Australian consumers from certainty that enables the investment in renewable energy in order to ensure that we have a system that has greater supply and relatively lower prices.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a first supplementary question?

Senator BABET (14:58): The minister just now referred to renewables as the cheapest form of energy. In June this year the Australian Energy Market Operator found that, on a per capita basis, in 2018-19 Australia added four to five times the solar and wind generation of any of the European Union, the USA, Japan or China. If Australia is installing more of the so-called cheapest forms of power— (time expired)

Senator WONG (14:58): I’ll try and do my best. I’m not sure where you got to at the end of the question. But I think I understand the argument of the question, and if I don’t then I’m sure the senator can follow it up with a supplementary question. But the proposition that we can simply stay with the old coal-fired power electricity generation and that that’s going to give us cheaper energy is just no longer the case. And do you know how we know that? It is because no private sector entity wanted to invest in the new coal-fired power.

An honourable senator interjecting—

Senator WONG: Well, the private sector.

An honourable senator: Only Senator Canavan.

Senator WONG: I know Senator Canavan did! But my point is that the market showed us. Senator Babet, I do recall that in your first speech you talked about the benefits of the free market. What I’d say to you is that the free market has spoken on this. The free market has spoken on this, and it hasn’t gone down the path Senator Canavan wanted.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a second supplementary?

Senator BABET (15:00): Last year the Biden administration banned
the import of key solar panel material from China based Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. because it was involved with the forced labour of Uighurs in China. Will the government take similar action to restrict the importation of solar panels made from forced labour from the CCP?

Senator WONG (15:00): That is a very good question, Senator Babet, one about which I am deeply concerned, as is everyone on this side. That is why we went to the last election with a position to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act and regulation within our economy, because whether it’s from Xinjiang, as the senator has referenced, or elsewhere in the world, you know from the work that Walk Free and others have done that forced labour, which we regard in our heads as something of the past, is something of the present. We should do what those opposite failed to do in government—in fact, they voted against provisions to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act here in Australia. We should be clear about ensuring that we require companies to be far more careful in assuring their supply chains and that we do not allow our purchases unknowingly to condone forced labour anywhere in the world.