Keep our energy in public hands!

In Question Time, Abigail asked the Energy Minister about Labor's refusal to admit their love of privatisation - this time in relation to the state's energy assets.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (14:18): My question without notice is to the Minister for Climate Change, Minister for Energy, and Minister for the Environment, and Leader of the Government in the upper House. Given that Cameron O'Reilly is on the record as being fervently in favour of energy market privatisation, is his appointment to lead the report in relation to the New South Wales Electricity Supply and Reliability Check Up a case of motivated reasoning around Eraring and an admission that NSW Labor has no real intention of bringing energy assets back into public hands?

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Minister for Climate Change, Minister for Energy, Minister for the Environment, and Minister for Heritage) (14:18): I thank Ms Abigail Boyd for her question. The short answer is no, but the longer issue that she raises is very important. I take the opportunity to thank Cameron O'Reilly and Veronika Nemes. There is a woman involved in this report, who does not ever get named and who did an excellent report for the Government. The energy check-up was about doing one thing and one thing only, and that was making sure that the renewable energy transformation in New South Wales is back on track, that we can rein in costs, that we can make sure that we can deliver on time and that we can actually do the work that is needed to reduce emissions and get renewable energy into the ground as quickly as possible. That is something that Opposition members used to care about, but now they spend their entire time interrupting me while I am speaking. But that is fine. That is what they used to do. The point, though, is this an extremely important report. It makes 54 recommendations. It was done in eight weeks, with a lot of consultation. I invite all members of the House to read the first 20 pages of that report because they will find the history of energy in New South Wales and the impact of privatisation that has occurred.

The Hon. Jeremy Buckingham: A disaster.

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: It is a rolled-gold disaster. Every part of the renewable energy transition is made harder by the ridiculous privatisation that happened because of members opposite. Four coal-fired power stations and three energy distribution networks were sold. All of it is costing more money and making it harder for us to do what we must, which is to move to renewable energy as quickly as possible. Cameron O'Reilly did a good job of being honest, up-front and clear about the giant challenges we face over the next few years. We are trying to deal with coal-fired power coming out of the system at the same time as we are trying to get as much renewable energy in as possible. That is not a straightforward thing. We are going from a few baseload power stations, whose energy is easily transmitted into infrastructure that already exists, to many hundreds of different sources of power. It is extremely exciting. It is something we can absolutely do, but it is no mean feat.

The Government's response to the O'Reilly report is extremely important. One of the key pieces is that it is a strategic priority for the Government. We will use all the levers of government not only to deliver renewable energy faster, whether it is through the planning system or not, but also to do that work the communities hosting this infrastructure need, which is about transport, housing and support, as it rolls out. The Cameron O'Reilly and Veronika Nemes report was a very good report. It made 54 recommendations, and the Government has accepted most of them. Basically, we are just getting on with the job of rescuing the road map to a renewable energy future, which was left in a bit of a mess by those opposite.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (14:21): I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for her response. My question was quite targeted. Will the Minister elucidate whether the New South Wales Government has any intention to increase the share of public ownership of energy-generating assets within the New South Wales energy network?

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Minister for Climate Change, Minister for Energy, Minister for the Environment, and Minister for Heritage) (14:22): I am happy to answer that. The short answer is yes. Hopefully, the member would have seen that the Government made two big announcements this week. One was about the $1 billion for the Energy Security Corporation, which will be in the budget. It is entirely new public investment to deal with firming, storage, batteries and co-investment. This is exactly what the member is asking for. Are we buying back the coal-fired power stations the State used to own? No. Unfortunately, that horse has well and truly bolted. It would not be worth the millions of dollars it would cost for no impact on getting renewable energy in the ground.

I do not know the position of those opposite. They had James Griffin out. They had Damien Tudehope out. They had Mark Speakman on for nine minutes on Sky News last week. I highly recommend it if you want to understand the position, which is "Keep the lights on. Maybe just don't do anything. Let's just pretend that reliability isn't an issue." My two take-homes today for all members are to read the first 20 pages of the Cameron O'Reilly report and to look at Mark Speakman's nine minutes because they will see the Opposition trying to find and explain a policy that makes zero sense.


Read Hansard for the transcript here.


Abigail later took note of the Minister's response in Question Time's Take Note Debate. 

Abigail said: 

I take note of the answer given by the Minister for Energy to my question regarding energy and the O'Reilly report. The Chris Minns Government's announcement that it would commence talks with Origin Energy to extend the life of Eraring Power Station beyond 2025 came as no surprise. Prior to the election, and prior to any consultant's report, the new Premier had been indicating his desire to keep Eraring open beyond 2025. That is par for the course for this inordinately business-friendly, economically and environmentally conservative Labor Government, which is always ready with a fossil fuel subsidy to keep the criticism at bay. Apparently, a negative Minerals Council campaign is a greater risk than climate collapse in the cost-benefit calculations of the Chris Minns war room, so let the fossil fuel subsidies flow.

Obsessed with appearances, as the Premier is, the Government was careful to try to cover that predetermined outcome with a veneer of credibility—step up the consultants. As we heard through the most recent round of hearings into the Government's use and management of consultants, the process by which the New South Wales Electricity Supply and Reliability Check Up was conducted was a sham. It is a well-thumbed playbook, and one that the people of New South Wales are rapidly becoming well-acquainted with: Settle upon a controversial policy position and ship it out to a gun for hire to launder and deliver back to the Government with all the fanfare of seemingly independent advice. But the advice of Cameron O'Reilly was far from independent. We heard evidence that the procurement process was unashamedly stacked in favour of him winning the contract.

The inquiry heard evidence that price was a determining consideration in deciding which firm, of the three nominated firms approached to provide a quote, would win the tender: Boston Consulting Group, EY Port Jackson Partners and Marsden Jacob. Little wonder that it was awarded to Marsden Jacob, which was the only firm of the three to have signed up to the standard commercial framework that limits the price charged for consulting work. It is almost as if those managing the procurement were looking for an excuse. EnergyCo and Department of Planning and Environment officials were a little cute with the truth as we interrogated whether they knew which Marsden Jacob partner would be leading the work when they sought the tender. The truth was that they knew it was going to be Cameron O'Reilly all along, and that was why the firm was approached in the first place.

Why go to those lengths to secure the recommendations of Mr O'Reilly? What was it in his CV that made him so indispensable to that project? Could it be his longstanding support of and commitment to the privatisation of the energy network and the formation of the National Energy Market, as evidenced in his master's thesis as well as public opinion pieces arguing the same? Could it be his affiliations with the New South Wales Labor Party, having previously worked as a staffer to a Labor Minister? Or was it his experience working for the fossil fuel industry lobby group, the Energy Retailers Association of Australia, and his longstanding opposition to the New South Wales renewables road map? To be clear, the Australian Energy Market Operator modelling of the 10-year electricity sector reliability forecast has shown that shutting Eraring could be more than offset by an accelerated transition to firmed renewables and orchestration, with zero threat to supply. The only threat to that plan is a lack of courage from the Chris Minns Government.


Read Hansard for the full transcript here.

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