National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022

I was a member of this parliament during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, and I learned very quickly how to recognise when the government became desperate when it was trying to force a bill through both houses of parliament. Extraordinary and extreme claims were made, and the desperation was palpable.

Disappointingly, that’s what we saw recently from the Minister for Industry and Science when, in desperation to get Labor’s rushed National Reconstruction Fund legislation through the parliament, he resorted to using our key defence pact AUKUS as a political pawn, a bargaining chip. In my view national security, and the role of AUKUS in our national security, should be above politics. Clearly for this Labor government, it is not; it was absolutely shameful. Even with what I’ve seen in previous Labor governments, this really surprised and profoundly disappointed me, particularly when the minister himself never mentioned the word ‘AUKUS’ once during the introduction of the bill. Obviously, it wasn’t a priority at that stage; if it had been, the minister would have certainly made much of that in his introduction of the bill, but the minister didn’t mention national security once. Not once! So I’m wondering how much of the initial $5 billion and overall $15 billion for the National Reconstruction Fund will actually be quarantined for defence on the back of the minister’s comments. It’s a very good question to ask. The minister has not provided any of this detail.

There are those of us who actually take national security very seriously and know that AUKUS was the work of the former coalition government. I am possibly the only daughter of a World War II war-widow in this place who understands how important national security is, what the cost is to Australian families, why we take it seriously and what was fought for.

AUKUS builds very strongly on our existing relationships with the United Kingdom and the United States. The reasons for this are clear, given how significantly the security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region have grown. AUKUS builds further on the three nations’ longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties. For Australia, the first initiative under AUKUS was the eight nuclear powered submarines. There will be a concentration on cooperation around a range of existing and emerging security and defence capabilities designed to enhance joint capability and—the most important thing—interoperability. Speaking of interoperability, it is critical. I have seen firsthand through the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program just how much emphasis is placed on interoperability in any given theatre of operation.

For instance, RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, in 2022 saw approximately 1,600 Australian Defence Force personnel join 26 international partners in exercises held across training areas in and around the Hawaiian islands and Southern California from 29 June to 4 August. The Rim of the Pacific Exercise is a biennial international military exercise hosted by the Commander, US Pacific Fleet. The ADF was really committed, and it was a substantial commitment, with the ships Canberra, Supply and Warramunga, the RAAF P-8A Poseidon aircraft, a submarine, mine warfare and clearance diving capabilities, and a joint landing force led by the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, accompanied by personnel and capabilities from across Australian Army units. RIMPAC, as we know, aims to be the premier joint combined maritime exercise and enables Australia to strengthen international partnerships, enhance that interoperability piece, and improve readiness for a wide range of potential operations—something that is becoming more and more critical in our regions.

The interoperability piece is critical. The original plans for AUKUS was to focus on cybercapabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and additional undersea capabilities. I was recently briefed on the cybercapabilities and issues both here in Canberra by our defence members and in Edinburgh. Given that AUKUS is a historic opportunity for the three nations, working with like-minded allies and partners, aimed at sharing our shared values and promoting security, it is very important. But this is a Labor government. During the Rudd- Gillard-Rudd years it never built one ship, and if the government were really serious about AUKUS in relation to this bill and anything else, it should be focused on energy security. After all, energy security is national security. Given those challenges in the Indo-Pacific, surely, energy security should be at the top of the government’s priority list, even with this bill.

AEMO’s recent 2022 electricity statement said there is an urgent need for additional dispatchable power and projects. As we know, gas continues to play a critical role, but there are questions around whether there will be shortages of gas and shortages of energy. Again, given Labor’s very rushed energy price-cap legislation just before Christmas, putting price caps on energy, we know this will have an impact on gas exploration, extractions, plans, investment and future manufacturing. We know that the Victorian Labor government has demonised gas. Genuinely, Labor does not see gas as a critical and transitional energy—which it is. Labor’s much-hyped plans for renewable generation transmission and storage are not delivering. I remember the minister for energy at the AFR energy and climate summit saying we will need to install 40 seven-megawatt wind turbines every month until 2030, more than 22,000 500-megawatt solar panels installed every day—that’s 60 million by 2030—and 10,000 kilometres of transmission lines and corridors. If the decision is green hydrogen, I actually saw a map that showed that it would require 25 per cent of Australia’s landmass, regional areas, to be covered by solar panels. Then there is the wind turbine issue as well. AEMO’s latest report on the state of Australia’s energy grid is a clear warning that the Labor government’s energy policies are failing. The report shows Labor’s rush to bring on the early closure of power stations and delays to the Kurri Kurri gas plant as key drivers of the deterioration in the grid stability since the coalition was in government. Under Labor, Australian households and businesses are not only being hit with higher energy prices but now they are being told to brace for potential blackouts as well.

As I said, energy security is national security. How on earth, as a nation, can we deal with national security challenges when we’re facing in our own region a lack of reliable, affordable and dispatchable power? Even in Western Australia, which sits outside the national energy market, we’re facing power shortages. The state government has plans to shut down all coal-fired power by 2029. Even the privately owned Blue Waters power station may close as well. Combined, this will take 1,440 megawatts of baseload power out of the system. Dr Steve Thomas, the shadow minister for energy, recently belled the cat when he said:

The current plan cannot be delivered by 2029, and it cannot supply the state’s power needs.

He went on to say that the WA state Labor government has no plans for storage of renewables at night and that building battery storage to last overnight will cost at least $7 billion, twice the cost of the state government’s entire transition plan budget. Steve Thomas also highlighted that in the transition process the WA state government will also have to change its ageing gas generation fleet from peaking stations to baseload, just try to keep the lights on. But the Labor state government doesn’t have sufficient gas stations to deliver both baseload and peaking power.

In recent month we’ve seen 100,000 tonnes of coal imported from Newcastle in New South Wales to Collie —unprecedented. This is an up-to-date figure of $19.5 million in a WA taxpayer funded grant given to Collie coalminer Griffin Coal. Griffin supplies Blue Waters Power Station and South32’s Worsley alumina refinery, and this is manufacturing of alumina from bauxite. The viability of Premier and Griffin are in the firing line through the state Labor government’s decision to shut down all of those power stations by 2030 but without other sources of reliable, dispatchable and affordable power. I recently read that a former director of WA’s state owned energy retailer Synergy said blackouts are inevitable in WA and the state’s key energy grid is headed for disaster under the McGowan government’s plans.

But we also know that under the NRF that the unions have plans to install union officials on the board—a bit like union controlled superannuation fund boards—and they plan to steer. That’s what they said, that they plan to steer the NRF investments in a similar way to the union controlled super fund boards. We know that the unions are totally opposed to independent experienced directors on the NRF boards. And we know that Labor has backflipped on superannuation, on lower mortgages. The Prime Minister said ‘life will be cheaper under me’ on the $275 promise of reduced power prices, and there’s every chance that the Labor government will roll over on union demands over time. Of course, we don’t want to see this just become the next honey pot hive for Labor and its union bosses.

Australian people know they can’t trust Labor when it comes to union control of the Labor government, whether it’s the ABCC, through the CFMMEU, or the extreme changes to the industrial relations laws affecting small and medium businesses. For the first time, we have unions in small businesses, in our doors, through enterprise bargaining, through union demands to charge bargaining fees for non-union members. Of course it’s reported that total union contributions—we can’t be surprised—to Labor at state and federal levels rose from $13 million to about $16.7 million ahead of the 2022 election. I think the CFMMEU delivered about 25 per cent of all contributions to Labor, so it is no wonder that those decisions are made—
Mr Hogan: Paying the piper.
Mrs MARINO: Exactly. And now we know the way ahead. We had a very good meeting last night, with the Parliamentary Friends of Trucks, Trailers, Transport and Logistics, and we certainly heard from that industry about the issues they’re facing. They are concerned for many reasons about the proposed increase in the fuel excise tax and what that will do to their businesses. There was one business that indicated the cost of their electricity, given they are in that space, has gone from over $400,000 to over $1 million. They are in the refrigerated space. Labor is looking to revive the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which, as we know, will affect 35,000 small owner-operators in the trucking industry.

What we are facing as well is one of the world’s highest carbon taxes, and we’re waiting for Labor to backflip on legislated tax cuts ahead. I think that’s something that none of us would be surprised to hear. So there are many reasons that I have concerns about this particular bill, but, I must admit, I was surprised and disappointed to hear the minister’s reference to AUKUS in promoting this bill.