Oct 23, 2019

Bills – Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019 – Consideration in Detail – Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (10:53): I rise to support the amendments to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill 2019. This week, Labor’s position has been raised with me. It has changed since the legislation was introduced during the last parliament, and that’s because the legislation has been changed. The Labor Party makes no apology for sticking to our guns on some critical issues regarding this legislation. The Labor Party will always stand up for workers’ entitlements. That is what we have ensured and will ensure through these amendments.

Secondly, the Labor Party regards privatisation of essential assets as something that has proven to not achieve the outcomes that those people who argue that government should just get out of the way—’Leave it all to the market, and it’ll somehow work out!’—think it will. In practice, in part as a direct result of privatisation, we have seen energy prices go up, not down. We have seen, due to a lack of energy policy from this government, prices continue to go up for consumers at the same time as emissions are going up. This government does not have an appropriate energy policy, and this legislation is not a substitute for that.

These amendments deal with critical issues. We said that the original legislation brought forward by the government provided, essentially, a back-door way for the Commonwealth to dictate to state governments that assets should be privatised, in spite of the fact that privatisation of electricity has been a major issue during election campaigns in Queensland, on a number of them; in Western Australia, with the election of the McGowan government; and, of course, in Tasmania, where electricity assets remain in public hands. This legislation, as it stands, dealt with wholesale privatisation and ruled that out. But it left open partial privatisation of assets. Under these amendments, this is what will occur: if there is a divestiture proposed of any public asset, it can only be bought by another public asset. What that does is provide an assurance which Labor has sought. If these amendments are carried—and I expect them to be—Labor will have achieved an outcome that is appropriate.

The second issue is that of workers’ entitlements. We want to make sure that, as a result of this legislation, if divestiture does occur, no worker is worse off. We want to make sure, as a condition of our support, that that occurs. The amendments that we have ensure that the transmission of business provisions in the Fair Work Act apply, so that workers’ entitlements will be transferred without any loss of leave entitlements, superannuation and all the other measures that apply. That is important.

There’s a third issue, which we will also deal with through the Senate inquiry—that is, that some workers’ entitlements aren’t part of award agreements. Some of them are in unregistered agreements; I particularly refer to agreements between the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division and AGL. Both AGL and the union want those entitlements to be protected. So we will pursue that through the Senate inquiry. We will pursue appropriate amendments in the Senate, and I would expect that, consistent with the government’s support for the amendments that we’re moving here, they would be accepted as well.

Labor will always stand up for workers’ entitlements. The government, when it framed this legislation, just didn’t give them a second thought. That’s not surprising, because that’s the attitude that it has—never standing up for workers, never standing up for entitlements. This is the same government that’s presiding over wage stagnation at a time when everyone from the Reserve Bank to the IMF is saying that it’s having an impact on our economy.

I commend these amendments to the House. They’re important amendments. It’s also important that we examine the impact of the legislation prior to the sunset clause kicking in. That’s what the third amendment here does.

Question agreed to.