Grievances: Energy policy

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) (14:02:39) — Today I rise to grieve for every single Victorian, every household and every business that is struggling with crippling energy prices and crippling gas and electricity prices, thanks to the incompetence and lack of action from this Andrews Labor government. We have seen it time and time again — a government that will back ideology over affordability for all Victorians and certainly over security of gas and electricity.

Last week was the perfect opportunity for the Premier to actually sign up with the industry, sign up with the right side of the argument and come together on a very important policy to kickstart the gas industry in Victoria. We have given the Premier every opportunity to follow our lead to kickstart the gas industry in Victoria. This is something that industry has been calling for. It is something that Rod Sims from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been calling for. It is something that the chief scientist, Alan Finkel, has been calling for. Everybody is calling for it. Even Blackout Bill Shorten, who wants a 50 per cent renewable energy target, is calling on the Premier, his colleague, to get on board for more gas. But what do you think we are hearing from the Premier?

Mr R. Smith — Nothing.

Mr SOUTHWICK — Doughnuts. That is what we are hearing from this man: an absolute doughnut. In fact last Sunday on Insiders the Premier was asked some very important questions about gas. He was asked what he was going to do about gas, and in fact he said:

There is not a problem with supply —

no problem at all —

there is sufficient supply.

‘There is no problem’ — a claim that was rebuked by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and Ernst & Young. Also the Premier said Malcolm Turnbull:

… wants to frack everywhere, except on the North Shore, I’m sure.

So again he is just pushing the problem onto everyone else but himself. But there was one last important question. This was the last important quote from what was said on Insiders by the Premier:

… there are no proven or probable onshore conventional gas reserves.

This has been directly rebuked by Lakes Oil, which has said since this statement by the Premier on Insiders that there would be at least 10 per cent of gas supply for Victoria if only the Premier would get on board and do something — if only this lazy Premier would get off his backside and actually do something. But what is he doing? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

This claim that there is no proven or probable onshore gas has been repeated in this Parliament many times. In fact yesterday it was repeated in ministers statements many times. Our Treasurer and new Minister for Resources in fact said that the government has:

… invested $42.5 million to assess the potential of onshore conventional gas, as we know that there are no proven or probable … reserves in Victoria.

Let me just get this right, because this is the Treasurer. This is the Treasurer, who is meant to be responsible for our money, saying, ‘There’s no gas there, but we’re going to spend $42 million of taxpayer money looking for it. There’s nothing there. However, let’s take the taxpayer dollar and get our lead scientists in Victoria scouting around on a witch-hunt try to find this stuff’. Come on — either we have gas or we do not have gas. Either the Treasurer is going to spend the money or we have not got it. The only gas that that lot has is a lot of hot air. There is a lot of hot-air policy from that lot.

And it has been repeated. It has been repeated by the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and by the Premier, as I said, on Insiders and again in Parliament yesterday. I just want to quote the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change. She said yesterday:

Let us set the record straight. There are no current proven or probable onshore gas reserves in Victoria …

The minister went on to say that if we were to find any:

… it would take at least five years to bring gas to the market …

Again that has been rebuked by industry. They say that if they were allowed to actually get going, we would be able to get gas within 12 months — not five years, but 12 months — but the way the Labor Party have been acting on this stuff, we will never see it. We have the Labor moratorium up until 2020, and we know because of the green votes they are looking for that they are trying to out-green the Greens and outflank the Greens. The Northcote by-election is coming up. They are doing everything to be greener than the Greens, and we know that by 2020 they are going to kick the can down the road again.

There goes the minister out of the chamber; she knows very well. They know that this minister, this Premier, this Treasurer and this government will kick the can down the road and we will never see gas in Victoria. We will not see it in Victoria under the Labor Party. The only parties under which we will see gas in Victoria are the Liberal and National parties. They are the only parties right now that are going to present an option leading into next year for every Victorian to say, ‘If you want affordability of energy, of gas and electricity, you must vote for the Liberal-Nationals coalition. If you want ideology, if you want your gas locked up forever, if you want higher electricity prices, if you want further closure of coal-fired power stations, if you want to pursue ideology, then vote for Labor and vote for the Greens’. They are the same lot, and we absolutely know it.

Businesses and individuals are screaming for some type of policy from this government. When we announced this policy, the Leader of the National Party, the Leader of the Opposition and I went down to Alba Cheese, which is in the electorate of the new Minister for Industry and Employment. We went down to his electorate in Tullamarine. This is a family-owned business which has faced a 150 per cent increase in power bills. There are 50 staff employed in this business. They have been going since 1982, and they are suffering from a $10 000 to $25 000 price increase each and every month. This is a business that is doing some great things, bringing local milk in from Gippsland, turning it into great product and exporting that product, and they cannot expand because they cannot pay their gas bills. The only way they can do that is having this government get on board with our policy to ensure that we get gas happening in Victoria. That is the only way we will do it.

There is Shane from AKD Softwoods. I had the opportunity of visiting Shane with the member for Polwarth. Shane has had his gas bill increased by $1.5 million in the past year. He is producing timber products for most of our housing stock. We talk about the affordability of housing, but this business, AKD Softwoods, is one of the largest timber producers in Australia, certainly in Victoria. If it has a $1.5 million increase on its gas bill, well, guess what? Housing has just got a lot dearer because this government is doing nothing — absolutely nothing.

We have seen it also with Rob Priestly, who I visited in Shepparton. He also heads up the Committee for Greater Shepparton. He says that gas bills are spiralling out of control. He has seen his gas bills go up by $200 000 per year as a drycleaner. This is again a small business that is supplying lots of others in the hotel industry and the restaurant game, and he is being attacked by high prices. He says it is not just his business but across the food bowl of Shepparton. All those businesses and all the agricultural businesses have been attacked by higher power and gas prices.

We are hearing it from businesses, but it is not just businesses. The Geelong Advertiser talks about residents urging the Victorian government to lower electricity bills. We have heard this. What a disgrace. Geelong Grove retirement community village resident Kelvin Govenlock said that he was lucky to have some money saved to pay his bills, but there were a number of his friends in the nursing home who do not put the lights on at night and are not running their heating because they cannot afford their energy bills. This is what we have got with this government, which is making ridiculous policy that is hurting retirement villages, hurting pensioners and hurting Armstrong Creek resident Jan Johnson, who also says:

We’re in Australia, not a Third World country, and you expect these things to be seamless. You expect government to look after you in terms of these things, not do nothing.

Not do absolutely nothing, like this government has.

What have we heard from industry? When our policy to kickstart industry with more gas was announced, it was to ensure farmers are rewarded by getting a royalty back and, importantly, there is a right of veto for farmers to say no. Lastly, any gas that is found in Victoria is to stay in Victoria for each and every Victorian to benefit. That is a great policy that this government should get on board with. That is a great policy so that we can see the Premier doing something, not nothing, which he continually does.

What have we heard? The Australian Industry Group says that Victoria needs community consensus to secure the future of gas and welcomes the Victorian coalition’s important announcement. Its Victorian head, Tim Piper, today welcomed a range of ideas in the Victorian opposition’s new gas policy. He said that with sensible protection for landowners and a regulatory regime all Victorians can be confident that the community and environment will be protected and that our conventional gas resources should be able to be developed.

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (VCCI) Mark Stone said:

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry today welcomes a policy from the Liberal-Nationals supporting onshore conventional gas exploration on a case-by-case basis.

The VCCI and Mark Stone said:

… the moratorium on onshore conventional gas exploration until 2020 was putting Victoria at a disadvantage and should be removed to allow for exploration on a case-by-case basis.

He then said that Victorian manufacturers use about 30 per cent of natural gas and they are being disadvantaged the most, as are industries like universities, hospitals, cold storage, aluminium, pharmaceuticals, paper packaging, food processing, building materials — the list just goes on.

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association’s Dr Malcolm Roberts said:

Unlike Labor, the opposition has recognised that Victoria has a gas supply problem and that more supply is desperately needed to put down pressure on prices.

He also said:

… the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had warned that Victorians were already paying a 25 per cent premium … due to the restrictions …

Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute said that the Premier says there is no gas, the energy minister says there is no gas and the Treasurer says there is no gas.

Jon Faine said:

Will we find onshore conventional gas if we go looking for it?

Tony Wood said:

Well, look, I think the answer to that question is that because the gas prices on the east coast of Australia were in many cases not that long ago relatively low priced … there was not an incentive to go looking for more gas onshore. Secondly, we did not have the export market that provided the justification for finding more gas. All that has changed.

Jon Faine said:

So what was dismissed as not viable in the past was dismissed because gas prices were low, and the same deposits might now be viable because gas prices are much higher.

Tony Wood said:

Exactly. It’s a bit like you will go find some more if you think the price is high enough, but if it is too low, you will not bother.

That is why industry is supporting this, that is why business is supporting this and that is why our side will.

I will finish with the scaremongering from this sleazy government that says, ‘We’re not interested in fracking’ and ‘This is going to be a slippery slope to fracking’. Let me say that the only people talking about fracking are these lazy government ministers and this lazy government. The previous Labor government allocated 73 licences for coal seam, shale and tight gas exploration and approved 23 fracking operations. But wait — there is more. From 2006 it issued 10 fracking permits. Hang on! Who was in government during that period? Labor was in government. Which members were in the government? The Premier was in the government that issued 10 fracking permits. He was the health minister. He was in the cabinet. Who else was there? The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change was around the table, and I suspect the Treasurer was there as well. They were there, and they had a vote.

I seek leave to table these documents.

The SPEAKER — There is no ability to table documents. You can make them available to the house.

Mr SOUTHWICK — I will make them available because we have issued a number of posts — ‘Cheaper gas, no fracking’.

The SPEAKER — I warn the member about the use of props.

Mr SOUTHWICK — Sure — ‘Cheaper gas, no fracking’. We will keep cooking with gas. Every single one of our posts talks about our policy being a policy for cheaper gas and more gas, but no fracking. The only frackers are the government members.