All changes made to the description and title of this division.

View division | Edit description

Change Division
senate vote 2019-11-12#1

Edited by mackay

on 2019-11-15 16:28:38


  • Bills — Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019; Second Reading
  • Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019 - Second Reading - Agree with the bill's main idea


  • <p class="speaker">Tim Ayres</p>
  • <p>In the time that's left to me&#8212;last evening I had some things to say about both the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019, and the character of the government's failed approach to energy policy. I'd just say this afternoon that Labor's support for the bill is conditional on the improvements that will be the subject of amendments in this place to prevent the partial privatisation of energy assets. We know from decades of experience that public services and assets don't get better after privatisation, they get worse. One of the principal drivers of the sustained rises in energy prices over the course of the last couple of decades has been a failed approach to energy privatisation. It hurts communities and families and it spells job losses&#8212;particularly in regional communities and in good, quality jobs&#8212;a decline in the quality of services, higher prices and knock-on effects for local economies.</p>
  • <p>The Senate inquiry into this bill heard evidence that, unless a government owned corporation is in genuine competition with another government owned corporation, the country risks privatisation occurring in the event of divestment. The Queensland government raised similar concerns to the inquiry, with their submission setting out three different ways that the bill in its current form allows possible privatisation to occur. The first one is the situation set out by Dr Emerson, where a divestiture order could force a government owned electricity generator to be divested to a private corporation due to government entities not being in direct competition with one another. The second pathway allows for state governments to elect to proceed with privatisation in the case of a divestiture order. Thirdly, organisations that are not state authorities but which hold public assets would be able to divest to private companies. In the case of Queensland, Energex and Ergon Energy are both subsidiaries of government owned corporations that currently hold public assets.</p>
  • The majority voted in favour of a [motion]( to agree with the bill's main idea, which means the senators can now discuss the bill in more detail. In parliamentary jargon, they voted to read the bill for a [second time](
  • ### What is the bill's main idea?
  • The bill [was introduced]( "to implement a legislative framework consisting of new prohibitions and remedies in relation to electricity retail, contract and wholesale markets." You can learn more about these new prohibitions and remedies in the [bills digest](
  • <p>It's unacceptable to Labor for this bill to contain any provision that clears a pathway to privatisation of government owned electricity generators. Our amendments to the bill remove those loopholes and protect against the privatisation of national or state assets in electricity. This is the only way that Labor will support the passage of the bill. There needs to be zero prospect of any state owned asset being privatised if it's forcibly divested.</p>
  • <p>Secondly, Labor has moved additional amendments because we're concerned that the bill in its current form puts workers at risk, in the event of divestment, of losing their protections and entitlements under the Fair Work Act. The transfer-of-business provisions under the Fair Work Act are designed to protect workers when a business changes hands from one company to another. This acknowledges that, when an employer buys or sells a business, the sale may affect the employment and entitlements of the employees already working for the business and seeks to make this transfer as fair as possible.</p>
  • <p>Under the transfer-of-business provisions, workplace instruments that covered employees of the old employer continue to cover those employees employed by the new employer, which means that workers can transfer across on their existing award or collective agreement entitlements and be assured that their pay and conditions and, critically, their redundancy pay that they rely upon for security and to live and feed their families will be the same when the business changes hands. This transfer of entitlements and protections only comes into effect if a connection exists between the two employers.</p>
  • <p>That's why we're moving this amendment&#8212;to ensure that workers affected by divestment have all the protections they deserve under the Fair Work Act. We will always act in the interests of workers' rights, workers' wages and workers' job security, and we will only proceed with this bill on that basis. Labor will support the bill on the basis that the privatisation amendment and the workers' rights amendment are adopted. We're pleased to see that the government has adopted these provisions.</p>
  • <p>I will take the opportunity to say that we're very sceptical about the broader benefits of this legislation. What really needs to occur in this country is for the people in decision-making positions in the government to approach the issue of energy policy with some moral seriousness. They are responsible for the administration of energy policy at the Commonwealth level and through the COAG mechanisms. They have a responsibility to ensure a future for the energy sector, with more renewable energy, not less, with more energy security, not less, and with lower prices for consumers and businesses. That means government need to adopt a serious energy policy for the future of the country, something that this gang over here has so far refused to do.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Jordon Steele-John</p>
  • <p>In contributing to this legislation debate this morning on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019, I cannot escape the context of our collective communities suffering across the nation today. We have, as we sit here, over 100 fires burning across New South Wales and Queensland, as well as fires burning on fronts in South Australia and in my home state of Western Australia. There have been more than 200 homes destroyed so far by these blazes, and many more buildings, including schools, have been affected in some of the worst-hit communities on the mid North Coast. More than 600 educational institutions, including TAFEs, will be closed for the rest of the week. We have an entire state which has been placed under a state of emergency. More than 20,000 people have been evacuated, and ADF personnel are on stand-by to assist in evacuations across the states of New South Wales and Queensland. Just as I entered the chamber, a catastrophic fire warning had broken out in the New South Wales region of Thunderbolts Way. And we have tragically seen three lives lost and many more injured.</p>
  • <p>I cannot think of a clearer definition of a moment of national crisis and emergency than that which we are now in. All across our country, people are fighting to defend their homes and their communities. Over a million hectares of habitat, some of it pristine and virtually irreplaceable, has been lost, burning in regions that have never burned before. The Bureau of Meteorology informed us this morning that this is the first day in Australia's historical record where not a drop of rain has fallen on any section of our ancient continent.</p>
  • <p>We know that these are not normal events, that this is not a natural disaster that we are in the grip of but is being driven by climate change. We know that climate change is being exacerbated by the burning of carbon emissions, the primary culprit of which is coal. Coal is the villain of the piece, yet what has the government dragged into this chamber this morning? It is nothing less than a friendless brain fart of a piece of legislation which seeks to invest the government with the power to keep open and running clapped-out, aged infrastructure that contributes to this climate disaster. It is driven by the dual factors of their ideological clinging to this old way of doing things, this old way of generating power, and the fact that they are bought, sold and funded by megacorporations which are still seeking to make profits from this industry, even though they know it is coming to the end. These are corporations without a shred of moral fibre, whose compasses long ago were cast overboard. These are organisations who, in the full knowledge that they will not exist in a financial capacity within the decade, are simply positioning themselves to do the equivalent of ripping the copper wire out of the walls before they leave the joint to burn down. That is being facilitated this morning by a so-called opposition.</p>
  • <p>I was very interested to hear yesterday members of the opposition talk in eloquent terms about how they see themselves now as a constructive opposition. It is an absolutely incredible thing to watch the Albanese Labor opposition metamorphosise from an oppositional political grouping into something more akin to a kind of governmental constructive-feedback working group: 'We won't oppose you on anything, really; we'll just tweak here and tweak there, and as long as you listen to us, ScoMo, and give us a bit of a win, we'll just kind of let you get on with it.'</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sue Lines</p>
  • <p>Senator Steele-John, I remind you to refer to others in the other place by their correct title.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Jordon Steele-John</p>
  • <p>I thank you for that reminding, Madam Deputy President. I cannot think of a more profound dereliction of duty in this moment of national crisis than to seek actively to make a problem worse. That is what this legislation does. We know that coal is at the core of the climate crisis. We know that these national events are not normal, that we are right now living in the midst of a climate emergency, yet this government brings in legislation that seeks to keep the culprit in business, that seeks to bend the powers of the Australian government to that shameful&#8212;shameful!&#8212;purpose.</p>
  • <p>We in this place cannot quite grasp what it is like to be on one of these fire fronts today, what it is like to live in the knowledge that tomorrow your home might not be there. Thousands of members of our community are right now engaged in that fight to defend home and environment against these fires. They are heroes for participating in that practice, but they are being let down this morning by this government and this legislation. It's not enough that fire chiefs couldn't get a meeting with the relevant minister. It's not enough that our Prime Minister has turned down international assistance and ruled it out. It's not enough that he and this government continue to prospect even greater sources of carbon to open up, like those in the Beetaloo Basin, pursuing environmental vandalism with a zeal that borders on perversion. But, on the very day when we are in the grips of this, you bring this legislation in, you propose to make the problem even worse by stopping, you know, not necessarily the most community-minded organisations&#8212;I mean, these are privately run power entities; they're hardly going to make the Christmas list of the most charitable organisations, the warmest and cuddliest, but even they know they want to get out of the business of this dying industry.</p>
  • <p>You've been confronted with the facts and you're trying to get away from them. You're trying to use the powers of the government to bend reality to fit your distortion that you have crafted because of decades of taking corporate donation, corporate donation, corporate donation again and again and again until you can't see the world past the green blindfold you've put on.</p>
  • <p>Beyond the issue of whether or not it is right, proper or consistent for a Liberal government to be&#8212;I mean, really, we do see in this piece of legislation the absolute fallacy of the idea of the hand of the free market and how quickly the Liberal Party is willing to abandon those notions whenever it doesn't fit the narrative. It really is an absolute joke, the amount of times you people come in here and preach the benefit of the free market&#8212;ridiculous an idea though it is&#8212;and yet here we have a circumstance in which certain markets are clearly trying to transition and you are putting the powers of your Liberal administration in the way. I would laugh, but that type of hypocrisy is par for the course in this place.</p>
  • <p>The feverish attempts that this government has made in the last two days to escape the reality of climate and the emergency that it has created is a national disgrace. You have written off the legitimate concerns of communities on the fire front, the lived experience that what is happening in these communities is not normal. You have disregarded it as merely&#8212;what were the words the Deputy Prime Minister used the other day, the 'woke thinkings of inner city latte-sipping hippies'? What an absolutely disgraceful contribution. What an absolutely petty, small statement to make on a day like that. The man might as well go outside and proclaim the sky is purple as declare that there is no link between climate and fire.</p>
  • <p>You have been told that this would happen, that this link existed. The major parties in this country have been told since 2006 that their continued addiction to fossil fuel donations, that their continued advocacy for these industries, would lead to exactly the natural disaster that we are now in the grips of. You have been told again and again and again and again, and you have utterly failed to act.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Murray Watt</p>
  • <p>You had your chance and you blew it.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Jordon Steele-John</p>
  • <p>I will take the interjection&#8212;</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sue Lines</p>
  • <p>Senator Steele-John, stop. Senator Watt. Senator Watt, I'm calling you to order. Please continue, Senator Steele-John.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Jordon Steele-John</p>
  • <p>I take the interjection, through you, Madam Deputy President, from the rather excitable senator from Queensland, Mr Watt. Now he is carping, as the Labor Party are so prone to do, in relation to their much-vaunted 2007 proposal of an emissions trading scheme. Let me tell you, Senator Watt, via you, Madam Acting Deputy President: the reality of the proposal that you put forward was that it did absolutely bloody nothing to address climate change. It was crafted by the very corporate interests who have taken control of both sides of this parliament for the last two decades. It was thoroughly&#8212;</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sue Lines</p>
  • <p>Senator Steele-John, thank you. Senator Smith?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Dean Smith</p>
  • <p>I just remind the senators who are busy interjecting with each other that, while on one level they're trying to bring attention to the seriousness of the challenges that face our country at the moment, their actions and their commentary in the Senate betray them on that. Perhaps they might want to reflect a little bit more broadly&#8212;</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sue Lines</p>
  • <p>Thank you, Senator Smith. Interjections are disorderly. I have called the senator concerned to order. I would ask all senators to be respectful. The senator has the right to be heard in silence. Senator Steele-John, some of your language is a bit borderline. I haven't pulled you up, because it's not unparliamentary according to the code, but I think you can probably do better. Thank you.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>