Electricity Generation/Supply | QUESTION TIME


Excerpt from Question Time transcript 2 March 2017

Mr MARSHALL ( DunstanLeader of the Opposition) (14:04:22): My question is to the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy. Does the minister stand by his statement on radio this morning that, when the government takes back South Australia’s electricity generation assets, load shedding ‘won’t ever happen again’?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( CheltenhamPremier) (14:04:39): I think the real question is: does the Leader of the Opposition stand by the member for MacKillop’s remarks when he said ‘Privatising ETSA was for the benefit of—

The SPEAKER: Point of order.

Ms CHAPMAN: The Premier opened with, ‘I think the real question is’. That is clearly debate and we need to start to discuss another matter.

The SPEAKER: I think a minister is allowed just a little bit of licence at the opening of the question—all ministers, that is, except the Treasurer. That is very close to a bogus point of order, but I will let it go on this occasion. Premier.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The whole question is predicated on essentially purchasing back assets. Does the Leader for the Opposition stand by the member for MacKillop’s remarks when he said that privatising ETSA was for the benefit of South Australia or, indeed, the member for Stuart’s remarks when he said that privatisation of ETSA was a necessary step? This is the guilty party. They are addicted to their former decision of—

The SPEAKER: Premier, splendid debating points. Could we have some information relating to standing by the minister’s remarks on radio this morning?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: What we know is that South Australians have been put in a position for its electricity market which has been created by the sale of each of the various components of it to private companies—private companies owning the transmission assets, the distribution assets, the generation assets and also the retailing arrangements for the electricity trust of South Australia. Worse than just the sale of those assets was the way it was privatised. It was privatised in a way that severed the relationship between South Australia and New South Wales in an attempt to drive up the price of those assets.

The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: Back your shadow minister. Back him up.

The SPEAKER: The Treasurer is called to order and warned. The question was about, as I understand it—

Mr Marshall: Load shedding.

The SPEAKER: Well, nationalisation leading—

Mr MARSHALL: The question was whether or not the minister stood by his claim this morning that there will be no further load shedding in South Australia. We haven’t been near that issue so far.

The SPEAKER: I thought there was a prelude to that where there was some discussion of taking back the asset leading to load shedding.

Ms CHAPMAN: I am happy to read it, ‘Does the minister stand by his statement on radio this morning that, when the government takes back South Australia’s electricity generation assets, that load shedding—

The SPEAKER: So, it was about nationalisation leading to whether or not there would be load shedding after that happened.

Ms CHAPMAN: That was the statement: ‘It won’t ever happen again.’ That was the statement he made—

The SPEAKER: Would the deputy leader be seated. I think the leader misled me in his point of order, and his remarks come very close to misleading the house by his representation of what was in the question. The Premier.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What we saw this morning was an example of an opposition who have got caught out. They thought they would sneak in here and make a few points about electricity, and we were prepared to have a full debate, a debate that will occur throughout the course of this afternoon because we will debate anybody anytime on this question. And the deputy leader—

Mr Marshall interjecting:

Ms CHAPMAN: Not only is this matter irrelevant—

The SPEAKER: The leader is called to order. I would like to listen to the Premier for about 30 seconds before I rule.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Ms CHAPMAN: Point of order, sir, if I may, and it’s not just a question of relevance. The Premier is reflecting on a debate in relation to a matter that is currently before the parliament and about to resume after question time.

The SPEAKER: The opposition asked the question. If they were concerned about pre‑empting the outcome of the debate, they wouldn’t have asked the question. Would you like to withdraw the question?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: I can help the deputy leader perhaps with a legal concept, one she would be familiar with: it’s called a consciousness of guilt. The Liberal Party is returning to the question of privatisation because they know that the people of South Australia will hold them to account for their decision. They will hold them to account.

When you talk about taking back control of these assets and taking back control of the electricity system, there is only one reason why we need to contemplate such a proposition and that is that those opposite sold these assets and sold the control of our electricity system. Then when we are promoting year after year, for the best part of a decade, the solutions that would allow this National Electricity Market to operate effectively, they are scotched at every turn—the sabotage of national electricity policy.

It was this government that commissioned the Garnaut report. It was taken over by a federal Labor government when all of the states and territories at that point were Labor and combined together to commission that most important report. The single element that was at the heart of that report is that the world is changing. It will be a carbon-constrained future, and those jurisdictions that act first will minimise the cost for their jurisdiction and also gain the benefits for their citizens as they seek to adopt new technologies and to find a vision for a low-carbon future for their communities.

It is those opposite who stood trenchantly against that policy perspective. They have tried to destroy it at every turn and that is why we are contemplating taking back the charge of our energy system. It will lead to a more secure supply. It will lead to cheaper energy prices—

The SPEAKER: The Premier’s time has expired.

Mr MARSHALL ( DunstanLeader of the Opposition) (14:12:31): Supplementary to the Premier: can he explain whether there will be load shedding after he has implemented his strategy?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( CheltenhamPremier) (14:12:39): What we will be doing in South Australia is taking back control of our energy system. What will happen when we implement our policies is that South Australia will have control of its own destiny. What won’t be happening, if we get our way, is that a national energy operator will be running a local energy system in South Australia that leaves a power station at Pelican Point, one of the most efficient gas-fired generators in the nation, idle causing a blackout in South Australia.

Our policy objective will be to ensure that that absurd state of affairs does not continue. How can one seriously suggest that a system that permits those things to happen lawfully is anything other than a broken national electricity market? That is what we will be advocating for. Our changes will be directed at that matter. Of course, it would be desirable if we could have an outbreak of common sense at a national level and that there was national policymaking to assist us in that regard. If those opposite, instead of abdicating their responsibilities to Canberra, stood with us and stood for South Australia for once, we may be able to achieve something.

Mr MARSHALL ( DunstanLeader of the Opposition) (14:14:01): My question is to the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy. How will the minister deliver his commitment that there will never be load shedding following the implementation of the government’s plan?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( CheltenhamPremier) (14:14:13): No, this is between you and me. This is about your lack of leadership and your inability to actually debate this issue.

I was responding to the cacophony of noise when I chose to respond to the question because I am pointing out what this is fundamentally about. It is leadership and the lack of it. It is about the future or the past. It is about self-sufficiency or kowtowing to Canberra. It is about a clean energy future or a party which is addicted to coal. This is a party led by a man who, on one of the most important public policy issues facing our state, wants to abdicate that particular policy to Canberra.

Let’s just analyse that. What we are talking about is the state-based renewable energy target. The Leader of the Opposition wants to abolish it and say, ‘Canberra will handle that.’ At a point in time in the state’s history when it is widely regarded that energy policy is amongst the most crucial issues facing our state, we are seeking to stand up and take responsibility, and those opposite are seeking to— This is a critically important debate. It is one where the South Australian government will stand up on behalf of South Australians. I won’t be lectured to by somebody who in 2012 said to me, ‘A premier who doesn’t have the same focus on renewables as the former premier.’

Mr MARSHALL ( DunstanLeader of the Opposition) (14:17:33): My question is to the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy. Given the minister’s commitment, will the government be taking over responsibility for providing guaranteed service level compensation payments in the event that load shedding occurs?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( CheltenhamPremier) (14:17:48): Mr Speaker, you will see in the coming weeks the policy position of this government in relation to energy. We said on the first day, when we responded to that completely unnecessary blackout, that it was both unnecessary and it demonstrated that the National Electricity Market was broken and that we would be taking charge of our energy future. That is the vision we set for South Australia, and I must say I have been gratified with the—

Mr MARSHALL: Point of order, sir: I ask that you bring the Premier back to the substance of the question as to whether or not the government of South Australia will be taking up responsibility for service level compensation should load shedding occur.

The SPEAKER: Well, we’re clear on what the question is. Premier.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: I am addressing the plan. It was said that when you reveal the plan, the preference was— I am explaining the policy formulation of the plan.

This is entirely germane. When we set out that ambitious goal to be self-sufficient in relation to our energy needs in South Australia, I was incredibly heartened by the way in which industry responded and, frankly, by how some of the national institutions responded to us in seeking to achieve that objective. We have been doing some very detailed analysis and work. It was well advanced before we made that call, but it will now be the subject of a detailed plan that will be revealed to the people of South Australia in due measure.

The SPEAKER: Could the Premier perhaps turn his attention to the question about compensation?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: I will address all of these issues, Mr Speaker. All of the matters that will be addressed in the plan will be fully explained and discussed—all of the questions, including questions of nationalisation of our former assets, the way in which this will affect reliability, cleanliness and security of supply. All of those matters will be addressed. I will say this about the question of compensation, the primary responsibility for compensation which exists in a system which is entirely owned by private sector operators is on the heads of those private sector operators.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 14:20 :19 ): My question is to the Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy. What is the minister’s response to claims by the Minerals Council of Australia that the ‘push to renewable energy without transitional arrangements has led to a power price crisis that is deterring investment in South Australia’?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( CheltenhamPremier) (14:20:34): It is no surprise that we hear from the Minerals Council of Australia because they have their man in the Prime Minister’s office. The adviser on energy now in the Prime Minister’s office comes directly from the Minerals Council of Australia. Those opposite do not actually understand that what is going on here is that coal-funded taxpayers’ levies are being funnelled into a slush fund which is then being used to influence public opinion as these coal-fired generators want to run these things right into the ground to make sure they extract every dollar out of them.

Forget security in the National Energy Market, forget reliability, forget price, forget cleanliness, they are interested in their dollar, and that is what is driving policy in this nation, because the Prime Minister is hanging on by a thread. He has been totally captured by the coal lobby and those on the other side of the house have been implicated in that design.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 14:21 :33 ): A supplementary question: given the Premier’s answer, what does he or the minister who was actually asked the question have to say about the Minerals Council of Australia saying that there is a lack of reliable and cost effective supply of electricity in South Australia that has cost the mining and minerals processing sector $357 million in lost output?

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL ( CheltenhamPremier) (14:21:57): The orthodox answer to that is that when the huge cyclone knocked out the transmission network— It wasn’t Katrina, but ‘the cyclone slightly slower than Hurricane Katrina’ we shall call it from this point onwards. In fact, so devastating was it that at the Bureau of Meteorology, the forecaster there who had had 40 years’ experience said he had not seen a weather system like it, and they get very excited about these things. I was less excited about it, but they were very excited about the super cell cyclone that was causing twin cyclones ripping through—

An honourable member: Seven.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: Seven, in fact—ripping through the middle of our state, severing the backbone of our transmission system, setting off a cascading series of stoppages which led to the statewide blackout. That is what caused the losses. That is what fundamentally caused the losses. To suggest that it was anything other than that is simply mouthing the propaganda that emerges from the coal lobby. The truth is that any reliable expert will tell you that coal is not the future. Indeed, don’t take my word for it: take the word of the Australian Industry Group because it simply is not going to be part of our future. The Australian Energy Council said:

While lower emissions coal-fired power stations could be considered theoretically, there is no current investment appetite to develop new coal-fired power in Australia. 

The Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox said:

The problem with coal comes down to its affordability, the emissions it puts out, its flexibility, and most importantly its bankability. And you cannot find any serious investor who is looking to invest in coal at the moment given the economics behind it. 

The head of a company that owns coal-fired power stations in Queensland said—

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: A point of order, Mr Speaker: I ask you to bring the Premier back to the substance of the question which was not about coal: it was about the Minerals Council’s claim that the mining industry has lost $357 million.

The SPEAKER: That is a bogus point of order, and you are fortunate not to be departing. If the opposition is unhappy with ministers’ answers, you are not to take bogus points of order or make impromptu speeches or interject. You will point out to public opinion and to the media that you regard the minister’s answer as evasive or the minister did not answer your question.

The Hon. J.W. WEATHERILL: The head of CS Energy, Martin Moore— a company which owns coal-fired power stations in Queensland, says he:

…certainly has no intention of building any coal-fired power plants — 

You would have thought he would know about that—

…And it would surprise me greatly if there was any more coal-fired technology was built in Australi a…c ommercially the numbers don’t stack up. 

So, coal is the past, renewable energy is the future, and I think the overwhelming majority of public opinion says, ‘Whatever the challenges of renewable energy, just get on and fix them because renewable energy is the future, and we want a national electricity market that accommodates us.’