Electricity – Price structure | Tasmanian Green MPs
Mrs O’CONNOR (Clark – Leader of the Greens) – Mr President, Dr Broad may wish to make a final contribution, so I will keep my comments relatively concise.
If there was a prize in this place awarded for tedious repetition – the Rule 151 prize – it would undoubtedly go to Mr. Barnett. Six times I counted he talked about the internal challenges of the Labor Party, the challenges of the Labor Party State Conference, and it took him a good 10 minutes when he first got up to even come to the fact that we have before us a motion concerning his portfolio.
I was struck by the fact that he struggled to fill in and provide a coherent vision of energy policy on this beautiful island of Tasmania. I would have liked to hear – and I guess this is the mysterious question of this debate so far: how is it that this minister has so strongly defended, until recently, a policy that much like the one contained in this motion? My recollection is that Mr. Barnett was all for effectively cutting the cord. All for Tasmania by exiting the national energy market. Then something happened a few months ago. I feel like he went to a conference of energy ministers under a federal government that has a lot more emphasis on renewables and actually has an energy policy, and he was mugged or something like that. I don’t understand why there was a sudden reversal.
We need to have the kind of policy where a minister or a member – or even yourself, Mr President – if a situation arises where we have had a position and we change it – or we have a position and we know we were wrong – we can just walk in and say, “Yeah, I was wrong,” because that’s the grown-up thing to do. I have always taught my children to confess. It’s much easier.
Member – Claims he didn’t hold the position for four years. It’s incredible.
Mrs. O’CONNOR – I know, and that’s where my perplexity comes from. This is a completely different reading of reality. Tasmanians know that the greatest advocate of the policy outlined in this notice of motion presented by Mr Winter was, in fact, Minister Barnett until just a few months ago, and we have not been honest in this subject. There’s a whole story being told to the Tasmanian people about disconnection from the mainland by this Minister for Energy who suddenly doesn’t have that position and hasn’t had the courage to be upfront about it with the people from Tasmania. It’s poor and also completely unsurprising.
I’m quite amused – and it’s quite come back – that it’s really clear that on May 21 of this year the Liberal government in Tasmania realized that we had a federal government, because before May 21 this year you haven’t heard a sound from these ministers about the actions taken by the Morrison government which have undermined Tasmania. Not a word. When the Abbott government tore up the carbon pricing framework, Hydro Tasmania lost around $70 million a year, if I remember correctly – $70 million a year was taken from Hydro’s bottom line because the Abbott government wrens destroyed carbon pricing. framework – silence from the Liberals on this subject. The silence.
Mr O’Byrne – They applauded him, didn’t they?
Mrs. O’CONNOR – Yes, they applauded him. In fact, one year they had the opportunity to present an alternative budget. It was probably the last they did. They forgot about the black hole in Hydro’s budget, which they had supported. Silence by then Prime Minister Will Hodgman when, in the first Abbott budget, more than $1 billion was cut from state health funding over 10 years. Not a word. We are still paying the price for that first Abbott budget – in health and education, and even in housing. Perhaps the greatest treachery was when the Morrison government made changes to the distribution of the GST in an attempt to shore up votes in Western Australia, which had become a beggar state. A horribly failed effort in the last federal election to shore up votes in Western Australia that snatched Tasmania for years to come. Silence on fundamentally the end of horizontal fiscal equalization, knowing that Tasmania will be ripped off.
Every day, during question time, we recognize that there is a federal government in Canberra that we have not heard of for eight years.
Speaker, there is nothing wrong with this motion. The Greens are very comfortable supporting him.
I note that in the Liberal State Council of Tasmania, it has been recognized that the levers to exert downward pressure on electricity prices are held by this government. It is only an observation.
This motion recognizes rising electricity prices – electricity increases of up to 12%. We know this is part of the terrible cost of living pressures Tasmanians are currently facing, from their electricity bills to their rents, to the food they buy, the petrol they put in their cars , and more broadly transport costs. The cost of living pressures on the people of our island are enormous and growing. It’s really good to see Labor focusing on the cost of living, and it’s prompted a response from the government, which has been talking more about the cost of living lately because of the pressure from Labor on electricity prices. That’s good.
The motion takes note of Treasury and Finance’s advice that, in the event of volatility in the national electricity market, the government retains the option of reintroducing previous policy instruments, one of which was introduced by Mr. Barnett just over a year ago to put downward pressure on electricity prices. What is wrong with the government starting to put in place a pricing structure so that Tasmanians pay Tasmanian prices for Tasmanian electricity? I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with that. The problem here is that either we have an economic regulator, or we have a part-time economic regulator and sometimes Parliament intervenes through a legislative instrument, lowering electricity prices, or we do not have economic regulator. This motion doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter, but why don’t you do the job in government?
The minister has been talking about Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation for over three years now. We asked who will pay for Marinus? When the state goes to the commonwealth with its outstretched hand and says, “You pay for Marinus”, and the commonwealth rightly turns around and says, “We don’t pay for everything”, at the end of the day we know that the flow of effect will be on people’s electricity bills. The money has to come from somewhere and this minister did not defend Marinus Link. He’s had at least four years to sell this story and I don’t think Tasmanians are buying it.
There is great skepticism when Marinus Link pops up in conversations I have in the community in various parts of Tasmania. People think it’s a pipe dream, pipe dream. The money was not guaranteed. The deal was not done. We know that on the continent, states and territories are investing in renewable energy, big battery technology. We have Snowy Hydro. Mr Barnett can say that Snowy Hydro and Marinus are complementary. I really don’t know. However, the continent is forging ahead with its own renewable energy investments and sometimes I wonder if Marinus will become laid off even before the first turf is turned.
As Greens, we are concerned when a minister refers to an island of this size as the Battery of the Nation. It’s delusional. The future of renewables is in a widely distributed power generation grid where you have wind, solar, geothermal, some hydrogen, as long as it’s green hydrogen that doesn’t is not cooked by coal or oil. So this idea that an island the scale of Tasmania could be the Nation’s Battery is just propaganda.
Of course, we need to increase renewable energy production, but we also need to answer the question of what’s in it for the people of Tasmania. What is the benefit to Tasmanians of Marinus Link? What is the advantage for the people of Tasmania of not having a coherent energy strategy or a coherent policy regarding the location of wind turbines? What is the advantage for the people of Tasmania to industrialize the north with transmission lines and wind turbines everywhere? Why is there no conversation with Tasmanians about where they would like to see wind turbines?
Personally, I love wind turbines. I like birds more but I like wind power. Why won’t this minister and this state talk to Chris Bowen about increasing the generation in Bass Strait? Why don’t we put wind turbines offshore, away from the paths of migrating birds, to avoid impacts on communities? We know that communities become alienated when companies come in and say, “We’re just going to put all these wind turbines here.” No conversations, everything is just sewn. There should be conversations with Tasmanian people because they are the main stakeholder here.
Yes, we must contribute to reducing emissions on the continent, and we are already doing so. Yes, we can do more. The question this Minister has never answered is: what is the benefit to Tasmania of Marinus Link? Who pays, from 200% renewable? This minister did not plead in his favour. I would be interested to hear if there are any new developments or certainty regarding funding, rather than just announcements.
We will not oppose this motion. We encourage the Labor Party, as part of its cost of living target, to also look at these other cost of living factors that affect the lives of Tasmanians and think about the things we could all do together to reduce this cost. life in different parts of the household. and individual expenses. We cannot fundamentally disagree with the wording of this motion. On this basis, we will not oppose it.