Energy, 27 October 2022

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:47): My question is for the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Minister Wong. The Australian Energy Market Operator released a report which concludes that the closure of the Liddell coal-fired power station will increase electricity prices even further next year. Australian families are already struggling to pay their power bills, and they are reeling from the news in the budget this week that power prices are set to increase by 56 per cent. Given that the experts are now revealing that the closure of coal-fired power stations will increase people’s power bills, will the government commit to keeping the Liddell coal-fired power station open to give Australian families, who are struggling right now, cost-of-living relief?

Senator WONG (South Australia—Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:48): There is no doubt that the problem in the energy grid, particularly the exiting of supply which has occurred over the last nine years, is one of the factors contributing to higher energy prices. It’s one of the factors. I know the senator may have a different view about this, but it is very clear from advice from energy market operators and energy market suppliers that the cheapest form of new energy is renewables. I know those opposite, in particular, have such difficulty with that, and their difficulty with it has contributed to the mess and chaos that we have seen in energy markets in this country to date. I know that the senator is concerned, as we all are, by rising energy prices and the impact that has on family budgets. What we—

Senator Rennick interjecting—

Senator WONG: I’ll take the interjection from Senator Rennick, who just asserted that renewables are more expensive. That falsehood is one of the reasons why energy markets are in such a mess. Under you, four gigawatts of dispatchable capacity exited the system and you put one gigawatt in. Anybody who understands basic supply and demand knows that if you reduce supply there’s going to be an effect on prices; that is the case. We may not agree on everything, Senator Babet, but I do agree with you that this requires urgent attention. We believe on the basis of the advice from the industry, so this is—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Please resume your seat, Senator Wong. This question is from Senator Babet. He is one of our crossbenchers. He gets very little opportunity to ask questions because it’s on a shared basis. I would ask all senators to give him the respect he deserves and that the answer be heard in silence.

Senator WONG: Senator Babet, I know one of the things people seek is a solution which may involve taxpayers putting in subsidies to keep open facilities which are not commercial. What is really required is a transformation of our electricity sector so we put more supply into the system and transform the grid.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, first supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:50): Minister, the Prime Minister, when asked about surging power bills this week, said that we are in this position because of external factors like the war in Ukraine. How is it that, a generation after the Soviet Union was defeated, we are so dependent on Russia or anyone else for our energy needs?

Senator WONG (14:51): There are a number of factors which are affecting energy prices. The point about—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! I remind all senators once again that this is a question from Senator Babet, and I ask you to allow him to hear the answer.

Senator WONG: Senator Babet, the effect of the illegal and immoral war in Ukraine is not so much an effect on Australia alone but an effect on global energy markets. What is occurring is we have a number of factors which are affecting our energy market and global energy markets, and, of course, contributing to inflation.

Senator Rennick interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rennick!

Senator WONG: In relation to our energy markets, we have, as I said—

Senator Rennick interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rennick, I have called you to order a number of times. I shouldn’t have to keep
doing that.

Senator Rennick interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rennick! This is not your opportunity to answer back. I’ve called you to order. I
expect order.

Senator WONG: The war in Ukraine is affecting global energy markets. That is driving inflation and also
increasing energy costs, and if you speak—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator WONG: Oh my God! (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, second supplementary?

Senator McKenzie interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKenzie! Order! I have Senator Babet on his feet, waiting to ask his second

Senator BABET (14:53): This week, the green German government has pulled down wind turbines to expand a coalmine across Europe. Coal-fired power stations are being reopened and there are 300 new coal-fired power stations being built around the world right now. Why don’t we join the rest of the world and build new coal-fired power stations so that Australian families, businesses and manufacturers can have cheap power bills once again and we can save our standard of living?

Senator WONG (14:53): We share your desire to reduce energy prices. I would say in relation to coal-fired power here in Australia is that the market has not funded investment in new coal-fired power. The market has made a decision.

Senator Canavan interjecting—

Senator WONG: I know Senator Canavan wants taxpayers to fund it, but the market has chosen not to invest in more coal-fired power generation because the market has made an assessment that renewables are cheaper.

In relation to Germany, I am well aware of what is occurring in Germany. It has been part of the discussion
between their foreign minister and I and also discussions at the Foreign Ministers Meeting at the G20. Europe is doing the right thing, seeking to reduce reliance on Russian energy. We support that because President Putin is looking to weaponise energy supply, so it is the right thing to do for the European Union and, in particular, Germany to look to make themselves more resilient in the face of that weaponisation. (Time expired)