Energy Take Note of Answers

I thank my colleague opposite for his contribution. I had the pleasure of visiting Germany, in fact the part that was the old East Germany, with my colleague, who proudly talked about the benefits of the socialist system over there. I had a great trip and I learnt a lot about the socialist republic there. One of the things about a free liberal pluralist democracy, such as we have here—particularly in the Liberal Party—is that rather than central control, we actually encourage people to bring a diversity, a plurality, of ideas to any debate. When we consider a topic, rather than people just lining up and accepting the direction from an external agency or a particular head of power, we encourage people to engage with it intellectually, to debate it and to come up with the best position for our nation. That is the basis upon which the Liberal Party and the National Party, in coalition, have governed. If you look back through Australia’s history, many of the best developments in our nation have been developed through a robust process of engaging.

It is no different with the Finkel review. Dr Finkel clearly, as a senior scientist, has a very informed and important voice in this debate. As policymakers in this place representing our communities—the consumers of electricity, whether residential or industrial; the producers of electricity; and those people who are involved in the retailing of electricity—there is a range of voices that we need to consider in making decisions around the policy directions.

I come to this debate as somebody who has a background steeped in systems engineering as an experimental test pilot. I was deeply suspicious of the advertising brochures that were often proffered, in my case to the Defence Force I used to work for, saying why a new idea or a new product was going to be the best thing since sliced bread. One of the jobs in the test environment was to examine those claims based on the facts—to work out what are the constraints around this, what are the things we are trying to achieve, what is the performance—and then, based on transparent, quantifiable facts, to present a brief to the decision-maker to decide whether or not they should invest in that particular piece of equipment or the direction a modification might be going.

So as I come to this whole debate around energy, I look at it through a fairly simple prism of systems engineering, which is: we do have some constraints that we wish to meet. Our objective is to have low energy prices. One of the things that has kept Australia engaged in the international economy for decades is the fact we have been able to have low energy prices, which means our standard of living, driven off good wages and other things, has made us a First World country. But the low energy price has underpinned that, and so low energy cost has to be one of the key targets that we have.

Reliability is clearly another target. I am a South Australian. I was there in South Australia through some of the blackouts that we have had. Regardless of the trigger event for those blackouts, you need to look at the system from a systems engineering perspective. You need to understand the inputs, the outputs and the interconnections where the failure modes are of a system. What we have seen—again, Dr Finkel’s report talks about this—is that renewables, whatever you think of them—whether you like them or loathe them, the fact is there are considerations around the nature of the supply of electricity interfacing with a system that was designed, built and established on baseload power that outputs at consistent frequency. This means there is additional engineering work, therefore cost, that is associated with integrating renewable energy into our network. One of the concerns I have to date is that ideology has pushed the rapid uptake and the subsidising of renewable energy without actually taking into account that additional engineering work, and that is one of the costs that should be borne by that sector if it is to proceed.

Clearly, the other objective we have is to meet emissions targets in terms of our international obligations. So put those three things together and what this report provides is an important voice into the discussion we need to have as a nation. First and foremost, we need to ask: how do we redesign a system that will provide reliable and affordable power while also working within the constraints of meeting our climate obligations? First and foremost, we need to be looking at ways we can have baseload power that is affordable and reliable. (Time expired)