Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

MOTIONS - Energy

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:15): As you well know, there are very few certainties that come before this chamber, but this afternoon the arguments that Senator Xenophon put forward about the concerns in our community about our energy situation-and in particular the impact on consumers, businesses and the broader economy and the need for urgent and effective sponsors-I think, come as close to certainty as we have ever had in front of us.

I listened with great interest to the arguments that Senator Xenophon put forward and, in his contributions, he was focusing very clearly on the impact of gas supplies and gas prices. While that was not one of the leading processes in the Finkel report, I think it could be easily picked up in the response that we, in this parliament, make to the recommendations of the Finkel report. Having survived the years of where there has been such furious debate in this place-alluded to by Senator Paterson-about the way people bring pre-acknowledged and predetermined positions and are not prepared to compromise, we have not seen a great deal of compromise on this issue over the last few years.

I am concerned by the final element of Senator Paterson's proposal, which was: whatever the government comes up with must be the right answer, and that everybody in the chamber-ergo, everyone in the community-must agree with that, not question it, not look at how we can move forward. We have to agree, absolutely, with what the government of today says will be our future.

I do not agree with that proposal. I do not believe that that is what the impact and the expectation of the Finkel process has been. It seeks ongoing consideration, research and activity around the issues to develop a plan into the future, to which we sign absolutely, and we should all make every effort to ensure that it is effective and meets the needs of the community.

To make an expectation that absolutely everything that is determined at this time must be without any change-and I did like the use of the verb to 'quibble'-or quibbling and that that will be the way we are going to move forward automatically reinforces the divide. It reinforces the space where there will be the kind of debate that we have suffered from in this place around the issue of the best way to look at energy, the best way to respond to not just Australia's need-though I do note Senator Xenophon's proposal is looking particularly at a crisis in Australia.

As I have said many times in these discussions over the last few years, we are not only looking at Australia in this process; we are looking at our world and how it responds to the dictates of the pressures of climate change, of us living on this planet together, while maintaining our lifestyles, which is very important, and our effective use of energy. Together, we have to fulfil commitments to ensure that we do have a future, not just here but across the globe, which is where international agreements come into play. We must ensure that Australia takes a leading role in those international discussions so that we are part of a worldwide response.

I was heartened today by some of the responses by Senator Brandis in question time-and that is not something I say a lot. However, I was heartened today when he said that the government would be relying on the science. That is something that is very valuable to hear because consistently, in past debates, the role of the science has been debunked. The role of science has been dismissed and used almost as an argument for not responding-instead of listening to and working with the strong scientific evidence that we have, there has been a desire for personal reasons and needs to actually debunk the science. There is a big difference between questioning and actually strongly questioning, demanding effective research and demanding stringent investigation, and there is a big difference between that approach and debunking and dismissing. I think that one of the many lessons we need to have learned over the last few years is that this movement to debunk, dismiss and attack scientific processes has been wrong. That has actually coloured a lot of the debate and has caused great pain and concern not just in the scientific community but, I think, in our wider community as well. So I was really pleased to hear Senator Brandis say that the approach of the government is going to value the science and listen to the science.

We did have a very strong step in that direction by the agreement of the federal government and all the states and territories to give our Chief Scientist and the extraordinarily highly credentialed team that supported him through the conducting of the review the very serious but responsible and appropriate task to undertake an independent review of exactly where our community is at the moment in terms of our energy needs and where we need to move forward. The fact is that that review was conducted in a rigorous way and an engaging way. The approach that the Finkel team took to this review is the way we need to continue. They placed absolute importance on the science and ensured that they got the best possible research positions, the best possible knowledge and the international awareness of what the science is in evidence to their review.

What they also did was open the process to the community, the business groups and across the whole of the country so that it was not only located in certain regions. The Finkel review ensured that they heard evidence from people who were concerned about these issues all across the nation and gave them the opportunity to be involved. People were not excluded. They were not told that this was the business of other groups or of people who may have credentials or particular experiences. This particular review was placed in the situation where everyone had the opportunity to be involved, and they took that opportunity. Hundreds of submissions were received by the review and all were published. Meetings and discussions were held with groups across the country-groups that often in the past have not talked to each other. I think the message this review process gave us is that there is an opportunity to engage in debate and discussion without degenerating into abuse and disgust. That is something I think would be a model for how we go into the future with this process. They actually did that by asking for the advice and asking for the engagement.

I began this contribution by saying there are very few certainties in any debate, but one thing that is certain is that people across Australia are concerned about our energy situation. They are concerned about where energy in the future will be obtained so that we are able not only to maintain the goals that we have now but to improve and have greater access to the kinds of things we all value. The certainty is that people are concerned about increasing prices of power. There is no argument about that. Mr Acting Deputy President, no matter how you look at the figures and no matter which graphs you use, it is clear that energy prices have been rising. It does not do us any credit to talk about whether they rose more quickly 10 years ago or now, or what the expectation is in the future. The fact is that energy prices are growing. That is putting greater pressure on families and individuals. As we heard from Senator Xenophon's contribution about his interaction with a range of businesses, it is also putting extreme pressure on businesses that actually provide jobs and economic opportunities for people across the country. So the certainty is that people are concerned about the source of power and the cost of power.

It is always a position of debate when we get surveys about whether people are concerned about climate change and renewable energy. People can pull out graphs and survey results all over the place and argue about what is fact. But what I can say is that my own perception is that people across the community are concerned about a genuine clean energy future. They are concerned about the impact of energy use and different sources of energy, the impact on climate change and about a clean environment in our country. And that does not matter whether you are talking with people in Central Queensland in my state or the power areas around Gladstone, Mackay and those areas, or whether you are talking in capital cities.

I think there is an open discussion going on around the issues and the impact of different forms of energy on the environment. Instead of actually taking that out of the debate we are having through this process and putting it into a separate box, this should be central to the debate that we are having around our future. If we keep these issues separate or if we deny that these are real and important to people, we are closing down experience, we are closing down knowledge and, I believe, we are closing down a really integral part of how we are able to plan into the future. As I said, we are actually changing the impact we would have as international citizens in this place.

Senator Paterson, in his contribution, went through the various recommendations of Finkle. I think what we have seen is, across a range of different groups in the community, people have responded in a positive way. Consistently, when you look at quotes from a number of the major industry groups, the major unions and from ACOSS, you see that there is a willingness to consider what has been put before us. I think that is a very positive step. There is a tendency for all kinds of reasons to rush to judgement, particularly if you think that somebody has said something that you agree with and you can actually join in concert with that and say, 'Naturally, this was the right result because I agreed with it.' Or, if you do not agree with it, you can rapidly jump into an attack mode and say, 'This is garbage. There's no way this will work. We won't go down that track.'

The thing about which I have found the most hope in the debate we have been having in the last couple of days is: it does seem to be, across the board, an approach that says let's have a good hard look at what the Finkle review has said and let's see how we can move forward with it. It certainly is a major move forward. I really like this quote. I am worried about cherrypicking quotes from all around the place, but I am going to use this one because I think it sums up a little bit of a view about where we are at the moment. It is from Matthew Warren from the AEC. He said on the ABC:

Right now, we couldn't do it worse if we tried. We're making everything worse. We're making prices higher, reliability more unreliable, and we're not delivering the emissions we're required to deliver.

As a snapshot of an assessment about where we are, that actually is a pretty strong warning that there has to be change.

When we look at some of the other responses, the common theme is: let's have a reasonable consideration of what is before us and see what the next steps are going to be. I think that is the challenge for all of us. If we do this, we will consider and look very clearly at the recommendations around the issue of the clean energy target. It is a different approach and is, actually, one that is not in the current Labor Party policy. I am really pleased that I have heard Mark Butler, our shadow minister in this space, and also Bill Shorten speaking very publicly that we will actually consider this different option and see how it could work. With the Labor Party policy which we took to the last election, about which we were very sure, as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, we are not going to say, 'Just because Finkle has recommended something different, we are going to close our minds to this particular aspect of the recommendation.'

In terms of our own approach, there has only been the one element that we have questioned at this stage, and that is around the use of the term 'clean coal' and whether it can actually go under the heading of renewable energy. And that debate will continue. But it is certainly something that is not new. With the other recommendations which Senator Paterson read into the Hansard record, those areas are things which, I think, now, the Finkle process has given the challenge to all of us as a community and as a parliament. And it is not bipartisan; it needs to be cross party. The term 'bipartisan' belongs to a previous part of history. We now have to engage with a range of representatives that come here with the vote of the population to say that we need to consider what is before us in terms of this debate. In terms of where we take it, we need to look very seriously at some of the arguments that Senator Xenophon has put before us about the issue around gas in this country and the impact on businesses. That is one area that I do not think was picked up as strongly as it could have been in the Finkel review, but we have the opportunity now to include it in the discussions that will inevitably come from looking at it reasonably and with responsibility.

An element that I want to finish with is the expectation of the community. People in the wider community are suffering in their awareness of rising prices and their fear of the future. They need to be able to look with confidence to the parliament that they have elected to respond effectively to the processes that are before us. If we continue to just throw barbs across the chamber and refuse to work together in this area, we are not fulfilling the responsibility that we have from the people who have elected us. We should not add to their uncertainty, vulnerability and anger by not taking up the challenge that is before us now. While not everybody in this country has read the full Finkel review or the submissions that are now public, people in the wider community are caring about the issues. They are reading things in the media and listening to media commentary and they expect us to make a reasoned, responsible judgement about how we go forward. We have a way to go to learn how to do that as we should.