I will respond to the comment that has just been made that there’s only one party who will defend the Australian people. I can think of no better words to use than those of someone who is probably one of Australia’s recognised pre-eminent journalists when it comes to foreign affairs and defence matters—someone who has been critical of my own side of politics.
He has written in the Australian just this week:
The Albanese government is coming apart in foreign policy, national security and defence. It has become incoherent and indecipherable. It consistently tries to hide basic information, can’t maintain cabinet unity or policy consistency, its ministers frequently contradict each other and often seem to have no idea what they’re talking about.
I think that describes the fact that, in relation to the issue that was raised by my colleague Senator Paterson that we’ve just been hearing about from those opposite, the government was caught flat-footed in terms of responding to the High Court decision. As they said, the court made a ruling and the government needs to respond to that and respect it, but the fact is that a government that governs well anticipates these possible outcomes and actually plans what they will do in order to respond to them.
So the comments by Mr Sheridan not only in this area but particularly in the area of defence and national security are, I think, apt, and the Australian people would be well served by looking not at what is said but at what actually happens. I come back to Mr Sheridan and another part of his article, where he says:
The government started off well—
and he’s mentioning here China but security issues generally.
Albanese made strong, substantial speeches in opposition.
But now it looks as though those were purely designed to neutralise national security as an election issue.
So it’s important to look at what the Albanese government does, as opposed to what it says.
Can I come to the other issue that was raised by coalition senators at the start of the debate, which is the funding of the Environmental Defender’s Office.
My colleagues mentioned Mr Joel Fitzgibbon. As a former staunch and very high-profile member of Labor governments, he has criticised this funding. Why has he done that? He has done it for a number of reasons. He has mentioned the fact that it kills jobs and investment, but why is that investment important? That investment is important because when I speak to constituents in South Australia, my home state, the No. 1 priority—and the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 priorities—they raise with me is the cost of living, and central to that is the price of electricity.
Far from the reduction of $270-odd dollars that was promised by this government multiple times before the election, South Australian prices have gone up, on average, by $512 for households and $1,310 for small businesses. That’s 24 per cent for households and 29 per cent for small businesses. That is hurting people. It’s hurting the ability of small businesses to remain viable and employ people, and it’s hurting households. That’s not to mention mortgages and other things.
Part of the reason those prices are going up is that, more and more, gas is becoming one of the baseload power sources in the market, and supply is constrained. According to the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the east coast may well run short of gas as soon as 2024 because of supplies being constrained. This could force prices to spike, increasing electricity bills, and cause gaps in the energy market.
Why is this happening?
Partly it’s because groups like the Environmental Defenders Office, now with money from the Albanese government, are taking action against groups like Santos, a good South Australian company that for many decades has been responsibly providing the nation with energy. Its Barossa gas project, off the Northern Territory coast, was stopped in its tracks. Even though Santos had followed all of the requirements, according to the well-proven and established regulations, for consultation, it was stopped by the Environmental Defenders Office taking action on behalf of a group within the Tiwi Islands.
This government is not good for Australia’s defence, nor is it good for the cost of living.