Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi has asked the government whether its National Energy Guarantee (NEG) is a carbon tax by stealth.
Business is crying out for policy certainty and Australia simply can’t afford another period of policy paralysis. Denying consumers the opportunity for reliable, affordable energy is unacceptable and Senator Bernardi says something needs to be done.
In Senate question time, the South Australian Senator didn't get any very satisfactory answers to his questions about the NEG.
In fact the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Simon Birmingham (pictured), was unaware that Senator Bernardi had introduced a bill into the Senate to remove the blanket federal bans on even mere consideration of the construction of nuclear power stations in Australia.
To see Senator Bernardi's questions to the government, click the box below. The government's responses are printed further down the page.
ANSWER TO QUESTION #1
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:38): The short answer to Senator Bernardi is no; they are not correct in any such claims. Ultimately the NEG is not a carbon tax. It does not put a price on emissions. It is not an emissions trading scheme. What the NEG does seek to do is put in place a unique condition, working through the retail environment, that addresses reliability concerns whilst ensuring that Australia meets its emissions reduction targets, and it seeks to do that in a context that puts downward pressure on prices over the long term. It is a technology-neutral approach. It doesn't seek to pick any winners. It is an approach that ensures that investment flows to those areas of the energy-generation market that can best guarantee stability and reliability whilst ensuring that Australia meets those emissions reduction targets.
ANSWER TO QUESTION #2
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:40): The NEG itself operates in a technology-neutral way. Senator Bernardi would know that there are other restrictions that exist in relation to investment in nuclear generation in Australia. They don't sit within the NEG.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Macdonald is right that the coalition side of politics has long indicated a position that it is open in terms of the way in which energy could be generated but that we recognise that the lead time in terms of investment in infrastructure, such as any nuclear generation opportunities, is such that the uncertainty, given the lack of openness from those opposite, would prohibit anybody from making such investment decisions or pursuing such an option in the future. So the NEG itself operates in a completely technology-neutral way. It is, indeed, other impediments, and most notably those opposite, that get in the way of what Senator Bernardi proposes. (Time expired)
The PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi, a final supplementary question.
ANSWER TO QUESTION #3
Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:42): I've not seen the bill that Senator Bernardi speaks to. Of course, the government gives full and proper consideration to any proposal that comes to this Senate, and I'm sure that that bill will receive the full and proper consideration of the government as well. But I would make the point—and it has been made by many people over the years; I particularly remember former Prime Minister Howard making the point on a number of occasions, and I think former Senator Minchin has made the point over the years, too—that, ultimately, the economics are a challenge, in terms of investment in nuclear, and those economics are of course particularly prohibitive, so long as the alternative party of government in Australia basically denies any investment certainty to anybody who wants to consider such a proposition.
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