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Electricity - Pricing Structure

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Tags: Energy Efficiency, Cost of Living

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, Dr Broad might like to make a closing contribution so I will keep my comments relatively concise.

If there was an award in this place handed out for tedious repetition - the Standing Order 151 Award - it would undoubtedly go to Mr Barnett. Six times that I counted he talked about the Labor Party's internal challenges, the Labor Party's state conference challenges, and it took him a good 10 minutes when he first got to his feet to even come to the fact that we have a motion before us that relates to his portfolio.

It struck me that he was struggling to infill and provide a coherent vision for energy policy on this beautiful island of Tasmania. I would have liked to hear - and I guess this is the mystery question in this debate so far: how can it be that this minister so strongly championed, until a short time ago, policy that is very much like what is contained in this motion? My recollection is that Mr Barnett was all for effectively cutting the cord. All for Tasmania leaving the National Energy Market. Then something happened a couple of months ago. I feel like he has gone off to an energy ministers conference under a federal government that has much more focus on renewables, and actually has an energy policy, and he has been mugged or something. I cannot understand why there has been a sudden reversal.

We need to have the sort of politics where a minister or a member - or even yourself, Mr Speaker - if there is a situation that arises where we have had a position and we change it - or we have had a position and we know we were wrong - we can just come in and say, 'Yes, I was wrong', because that is the grown-up thing to do. I always taught my kids to fess up. It is much easier.

A member - He pretends he did not hold the position for four years. It is incredible.

Ms O'CONNOR - I know, and that is where the bafflement from my point of view comes from. It is a completely different read on reality. Tasmanians know that the biggest champion of the policy that is outlined in this notice of motion put forward by Mr Winter was, in fact, minister Barnett until a few short months ago, and we have not had honesty about that. There is a whole story being told to the Tasmanian people about delinking from the mainland by this Energy minister who suddenly does not have that position and has not had the courage to be upfront about it with the people of Tasmania. It is poor and also completely unsurprising.

I am quite amused - and it has come up a fair bit - that it is really clear that on 21 May this year the Tasmanian Liberal Government realised we had a federal government, because before 21 May this year, you did not hear a peep out of these ministers on actions the Morrison government took that shafted Tasmania. Not a peep. When the Abbott government ripped up the carbon pricing framework, Hydro Tasmania overnight was about $70 million a year worse off, as I recall it - $70 million a year gouged out of Hydro's bottom line because the troglodytes in the Abbott government smashed up the carbon pricing framework - silence from the Liberals on that. Silence.

Mr O'Byrne - They cheered it on, did they not?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, they cheered it on. In fact, one year they had the hide to present an alternative budget. It was probably the last one they did. They forgot the black hole that was in Hydro's budget, that they had supported. Silence from the then premier, Will Hodgman, when in the first Abbott budget more than $1 billion was cut out of the state's health funding over 10 years. Not a word. We are still paying the price for that first Abbott budget - in health and education, and indeed in housing. Perhaps the greatest perfidy was when the Morrison government stitched up changes to the GST distribution to try to shore up votes in Western Australia, which has become a mendicant state. A terribly failed effort at the last federal election to shore up votes in Western Australia that ripped Tasmania off in the years ahead. Silence about fundamentally the end of horizontal fiscal equalisation, knowing that Tasmania will be ripped off.

Every day now in question time there is some acknowledgement that we have a federal government in Canberra never heard of for the previous eight years.

Mr Speaker, there is nothing to disagree with in this motion. The Greens are very comfortable supporting it.

I note that at the Tasmanian Liberal State Council there was an acknowledgement that the levers to put downward pressure on power prices are held by this Government. That is just a statement of fact.

This motion acknowledges rising power prices - power increases of up to 12 per cent. We know this is one part of the terrible cost of living pressures that Tasmanians are experiencing now, from their power bills to their rents, to the food they buy, the petrol they put in their cars, to the costs of transport more broadly. The cost of living pressures on the people of our island are enormous, and they are growing. It is really good to see that there is a focus on cost of living from Labor, and it has evoked a response from Government, which has talked more about cost of living in recent times because of the pressure coming from Labor over power prices. That is good.

The motion notes the advice from Treasury and Finance that in the event of volatility in the National Electricity Market, the Government retains the ability to reintroduce previous policy instruments, one of which Mr Barnett introduced not much more than a year ago to put downward pressure on power prices. What is wrong with the Government starting work to implement a pricing structure so that Tasmanians pay Tasmanian prices for Tasmanian power? I cannot see that there is anything fundamentally wrong with that. The issue here is that we either have an economic regulator or we have an economic regulator part-time and sometimes parliament intervenes through a legislative instrument, tipping down power prices, or we do not have an economic regulator. This motion does not really go to the substance of that, but why would you not do the work within government?

The minister has been talking about Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation for more than three years now. We have been asking who will pay for Marinus? When the state goes to the Commonwealth with its hand out and says, 'You pay for Marinus', and the Commonwealth rightly turns around and says, 'We are not paying for all of it', ultimately we know the flow on effect will be on people's power bills. The money has to come from somewhere and this minister has not made the case for Marinus Link. He has had at least four years to sell that story and I do not think Tasmanians are buying it.

There is great scepticism when Marinus Link comes up in conversations that I have out and about in the community in various parts of Tasmania. People think it is a chimera, a pipe dream. The money has not been secured. The case has not been made. We know that on the mainland, 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 genuinely do not know about that. However, the mainland is steaming ahead with its own renewable energy investments and sometimes I wonder if Marinus will become redundant even before the first sod is turned.

As Greens, we worry when you have a minister talking about an island of this scale being the Battery of the Nation. That is delusional. The future of renewable energy is in a broadly distributed energy generation network where you have wind, solar, geothermal, some hydrogen, as long as it is green hydrogen that is not cooked up by coal or oil. So, this notion that an island of the scale of Tasmania could be the Battery of the Nation is just propaganda.

Of course, we need to increase renewable generation but we also need to answer the question about what is in it for the people of Tasmania. What is the benefit to the people of Tasmania from Marinus Link? What is the benefit to the people of Tasmania from not having a coherent energy strategy or coherent policy around where you put wind turbines? What is the benefit to the people of Tasmania by industrialising the north with transmission lines and wind turbines everywhere? Why is there no conversation with the Tasmanian people about where they would like to see wind turbines?

I personally love wind turbines. I love birds more but I do love wind energy. Why is this minister and this state not going up and having a chat to Chris Bowen about more generation in Bass Strait? Why are we not putting turbines offshore, out of migratory bird pathways, so that you do not have the impacts on communities? We know that communities get alienated when corporations come in and say, 'We are just going to put all these turbines here'. No conversations, all just stitched up. There should be conversations with the people of Tasmania because they are the key stakeholder here.

Yes, we need to contribute to bringing down emissions on the mainland, and we already are. Yes, we can do more. The question that has never been answered by this minister is: what is the benefit to Tasmania from Marinus Link? Who pays for it, from 200 per cent renewable? This minister has not made the case for it. I would be interested to hear if there are any new developments or any certainty around funding, rather than just announcements.

We will not be opposing this motion. We encourage Labor, as part of its cost of living focus, to also look at those other cost of living factors affecting the lives of Tasmanians and think about the things we might all do together to bring down that cost of living across various parts of household and individual expenditure. The wording of this motion is not something we can disagree with fundamentally. On that basis, we will not be opposing it.