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Speech: 'Big Stick' Energy Bills

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 12 Nov 2019

I rise to speak to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. We know that this government will use the power in this bill to keep coal-fired power stations operating for longer. This is all about funnelling taxpayer money to coal-fired power stations. We also know that the future is in renewable energy—the future of our country, the future of our planet and all those who live on it, the future of our young people and the future of those who need a just transition from coal into long-term sustainable jobs.

Just last week I was in Newcastle listening to the community around the Hunter, the experts and local government. Everyone there understands the need to transform our energy systems from dirty polluting ones to clean renewable ones. Everyone is talking about transitioning out of coal. But all of the energy of this government is directed towards keeping clunky, old, outdated and polluting coal-fired power stations open. They are so beholden to coal and coal barons that they have shut their eyes to what's coming. The future is renewable, and the time is now to grab this opportunity and run with it. We could be leading from the front on renewables in this country, but here we are debating legislation that will keep us firmly stuck in the past.

Liddell, in my home state of New South Wales, is the eighth most polluting coal-fired power station in the country, emitting 7.8 million tonnes of pollution per year. It is an environmental catastrophe, a health disaster and a complete failure of policy by this government to look to the future. When I visited Liddell, more than two years ago now, the workers and the company were already saying that they wanted to see that station shut down. They told me that this power station is 1960s design and technology. It was a battle to keep it going every single day. They recognised then what the government still cannot: Liddell and other coal-fired power stations must close to move to clean, green renewable energy.

The federal government's inability—or unwillingness, rather—to stick with any semblance or skerrick of a climate policy is truly astounding. Coal-fired power stations, such as Liddell, have been operating without modern pollution control technologies and they have been allowed to get away with it for years and years. Nowhere else would this kind of destructive technology be allowed to operate, given its immense cost to the planet and its disastrous consequences for the people who have no choice but to breathe in the pollution it creates. By extending a lifeline to coal-fired power, this bill takes away from the lives of thousands of people who will suffer health problems from pollution in the Sydney Basin if these coal-fired power stations are allowed to continue to operate for decades to come. It also takes away from the millions who are already facing the consequences of the climate crisis.

Coal combustion is one of the biggest sources of pollution in New South Wales. The particles emitted can enter the bloodstream and enter the lungs, and winds drag these particles to major pollution centres in the Sydney Basin. It's quite indisputable that coal is also one of the biggest contributors to the climate emergency we are in now at this very moment. As New South Wales burns in catastrophic bushfires and is under a state of emergency, it is reprehensible that this government will take public money and hand it over to coal-fired power stations. It is truly reprehensible. The science is indisputable. Coal is one of the leading causes of warming of our planet. There is a direct link between digging up and burning coal and the climate crisis that is seeing unprecedented bushfires across New South Wales.

Do you, the government, understand that you are actually failing people? You are failing the people who have lost homes, lives and loved ones. The job of the government is to protect people, and you're completely and utterly failing in that responsibility. You have to face the reality that, by propping up coal, by not acting on the climate crisis, you are part of the problem. You are making things worse. By burning coal and through the impact that it's having on the climate emergency, of course we know that there is an increasing risk of frequency and intensity of bushfires. We also know that it's making fire seasons longer and more dangerous. You have to face up to this reality and face up to this truth. Don't blame and vilify people who point out the truth to you.

The Mid North Coast of New South Wales is a place that I called home for many years. It's where I lived and worked. It's where my children grew up. It is being ravaged by raging fires. My friends there tell me that they thought the end of the world was coming. My heart goes out to all those who are again today facing this prospect of a catastrophic fire. Stay safe. We send you solidarity and strength. We also want to send the same solidarity and strength to the fireys, the emergency services and the volunteers who put their own lives at risk to protect us, our environment and our community.

We need real action to move away from fossil fuels so we can protect people and the planet. By doing nothing, you are failing our communities. To be frank, if this doesn't wake up this Prime Minister and this government from the climate stupor that they're in, I'm not sure what is going to. But, then again, it's not really a surprise for anyone, is it? This government is so beholden to the coal lobby. It is a loyal servant of the coal lobby. Even energy companies want to shut down coal-fired power stations, because they know that the future is in renewables. They know this polluting, old, clunky, breaking-down technology is on its way out, and it's only a matter of time before Australia has to reckon with this.

Renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity. With the right policy New South Wales, and even Australia, could become a renewable energy superpower, but years of bad policy between the New South Wales government—that's my home state; I have to point it out—and the federal government have made sure that we remain stuck in the past. Our grid is still largely a set of wires out of coal mines. The government now needs to build the grid out to where the sun shines and where the wind blows. Renewable energy can unlock the potential, creating clean energy jobs, but this bill will get in the way of the progress that we desperately need. If the government is genuinely concerned about market concentration, as it says it is, then the government should be moving to strengthen the ACCC. The Competition and Consumer Act should be reviewed to introduce divestiture powers across the economy. The ACCC has said that this bill won't lower power prices, and, even if it does, the effect will be so small as to be negligible.

If the bill were just about electricity prices, as some in the government wish to claim, the government would have accepted Greens amendments that made clear that the bill could not be used for the purposes of forcing a company to keep an asset such as Liddell running beyond its accepted life, but they did not. We know this bill has one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is to keep one of Australia's dirtiest power stations open. The Greens will not stand for this. We oppose this bill and will continue to oppose all attempts to keep Australia stuck in the past. The future is renewable and it is coming, whether you like it or not. One day you will run out of roadblocks. We will make sure of that. The only way is to have a plan, just transition to renewable power, with jobs and safety for coal dependent communities and everyone else.


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