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SENATE

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18

18 SENATE Tuesday, 14 February 2017 Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (14:15): Minister, what discussions did you have with the Prime Minister prior to setting the 'sensible and pragmatic arrangements' preferencing One Nation above your mates the Nationals? Senator CORMANN (Western Australia—Minister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): I struggle to appreciate how this relates to my portfolio responsibilities, but I note that you have not pulled up the senator on this, so I will acknowledge him in relation to this matter. Obviously, as I have said in my previous answers, these are entirely matters for the WA Liberal Party organisation. Of course I am a member of the Liberal Party in the great state of Western Australia— The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Wong, on a point of order? Senator Wong: It is a point of order on direct relevance. Senator CORMANN: The question was out of order. Senator WONG: The question is in order. I am happy to have a discussion about the standing orders if you wish, but that is not what I am raising. There is only one question. It does not go to the Liberal Party branch in WA. It goes to what discussions this minister had in relation to the arrangements to which he has referred in a public statement with the Prime Minister. The PRESIDENT: I accept your point of order. Whilst it is getting very close to not being relevant, it is in relation to a discussion with the Prime Minister. It is not directly related to his portfolio, but the minister has made statements to that effect. Minister? Senator CORMANN: Let me be very explicit. Firstly, these are matters that are of course entirely within the purview of the WA Liberal organisation. Let me confirm for Senator Sterle, given his great interest in these matters, that I had absolutely no reason to discuss these matters with the Prime Minister because these are not my areas of responsibility at a national level. These are entirely matters for the WA Liberal Party organisation. Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:17): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Ryan. The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill was rushed into the House last week. It aims to cut over $5½ billion from our social safety net. Why did the government combine the paid parental leave and childcare measures with cuts to our social safety net that will hurt single parents, families, students, young people and pensioners? Was it to disguise the real purpose of the bill, which is to rip apart our social safety net? Senator RYAN (Victoria—Special Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (14:17): I thank Senator Siewert for the question. The purposes of this bill have been widely stated and restated by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Social Services, the Treasurer and the finance minister, as well as others, on numerous occasions. There has been a significant savings challenge left to this government, not only to bring the budget back into balance but to fund the legislated spending measures left in place by the previous government. It was issue number one. The second point is that the government made clear, and stands by, as Senator Birmingham has so effectively outlined, the view that child care in country this country needs to change to support people, primarily women, being able to get back to work. That is something that this government is exceptionally proud of. As a father— many people in this room have young children—I can say that for the people I know who are not as fortunate as me being able to change the child care system to ensure more people can get back to work is a positive for this country. Thirdly, as was outlined yesterday, this government is committed to the delivery of the NDIS, but, unlike the previous government, we are committed to paying for it. So the savings measures that are being put in place are to leave the billions of dollars of funding gap left in place by the previous Labor government, who printed bumper stickers and named organisations but did not find a way to pay for these critical services. The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, is there a supplementary question? Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:19): When did the government decide to put these savings into the proposed NDIS savings fund? Isn't this a form of blackmail and pressure on the Senate? Senator RYAN (Victoria—Special Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (14:19): I am tempted to give the one-word answer 'no', but it does require some explanation. I cannot speak to when a determination was made to put it all into one bill, but it is not a matter of blackmail to pay for new government measures. What is a sign of absolute irresponsibility is to make promises and have no way of paying for them or to put them onto future generations of Australians. It is a moral issue that this budget be balanced. It is CHAMBER

Tuesday, 14 February 2017 SENATE 19 a moral issue that when we come out with new spending measures we find ways to pay for them. It is not blackmail to say that when I care about something I am going to do something about it rather than just printing more bumper stickers without finding a way to pay for it. The PRESIDENT: A final supplementary question, Senator Siewert? Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (14:20): Will the government now admit that their attempts to rip $5.6 billion out of our social safety net are dead in the water and withdraw their omnibus legislation? Senator RYAN (Victoria—Special Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (14:20): It is not up to me to make a comment on the withdrawal of the bill. That is in the province of another portfolio minister. But I emphasise again that people do not judge politicians or the political class by virtue of what we say we care about. They are going to judge us by what we do. The problem is that that people opposite never find a way to pay for anything. You just want to put it on future Australians as you run up billions and billions of dollars of debt. We spend $10 billion a year on interest. That is more than the cost of the NDIS when it is fully active. That is interest that you and your Labor mates accrued when you ran up the debt when you inherited the most stable set of financial accounts in the western world. Renewable Energy Senator FAWCETT (South Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:21): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training representing the Minister for Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister explain the impact on South Australian households and businesses of the state's heavy reliance on intermittent sources of power generation? Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Education and Training) (14:22): I thank Senator Fawcett for his question. Of course he is interested, as am I, in energy security in our home state of South Australia. As Senator Fawcett would well know, last Wednesday at least 40,000 households and businesses in Adelaide lost power. This was at a time when South Australia had insufficient electricity generation within the state, as we were supplying only two and a half per cent of demand, due to low-wind conditions. The wholesale electricity spot price in South Australia, which had been averaging about $100 per megawatt hour, was regularly hitting the market cap of $14,000 per megawatt hour. The Australian Energy Market Operator is investigating this incident and will provide its report to the government shortly. But of course this outage follows numerous other incidents, over months and years, of blackouts and brownouts. In particular, there was the state-wide blackout on 28 September, and there were further blackouts in December affecting some 200,000 customers, and others in recent months. The state-wide blackout was estimated to cost South Australian businesses some $367 million. It particularly affected significant industrial operators, like BHP's Olympic Dam, Arrium at Whyalla and Nyrstar at Point Pirie. It affected manufacturers, like Michell Wool, who identified a $300,000 rise in the contract price of electricity— and, as they said last week, 'We've shut down two or three times; it was cheaper than paying the power bill'. It affected small businesses, like franchisees of a Royal Copenhagen business at Henley Square, who said, 'We're losing ice-cream hand over fist as soon as the power goes off'. It does not matter if it is a small business, a big business, a pensioner or a student—everybody in South Australia is suffering as a result of this mismanagement of the electricity market in South Australia, the lack of generation capacity and the instability that has been created in that market. The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Minister. Senator Fawcett, a supplementary question. Senator FAWCETT (South Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:24): Will the minister inform the Senate what the Turnbull government is doing to respond to concerns about energy security and affordability? Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Education and Training) (14:24): We are absolutely prioritising energy security—ensuring the lights stay on and the power stays on—to support households and businesses. In the wake of the state-wide blackout, we have commissioned and brought to action the Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who will shortly deliver his blueprint for security at the national electricity market. We have commissioned and made sure that the Australian Energy Market Operator is stabilising the system by ensuring two gas-fired units are operating at all times, to ensure that there is more stability within the system. We are seeking to address challenges of how to integrate more distributed and intermittent energy sources, such as wind and solar, into the system. We have opened a new round of $20 million for pumped hydro and storage technologies to respond to the challenges posed by intermittent sources, which comes on top of $100 million already invested in storage technology by the CEFC and ARENA. We are also investigating the deployment of CHAMBER

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