Senate debates

Monday, 2 December 2013

Bills

Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013, Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; First Reading

6:05 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

The opposition oppose the debating of these bills together and will subsequently be seeking to have a separate and specific debate on two very important elements of this package. Let us be very clear about what this government is doing. The Senate is being asked in very short order to debate 11 bills, which include not only the clean energy legislation repeal but also the abolition of the Climate Change Authority and the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. In the opposition's view, this is a debate which the Senate ought to have as separate debates, particularly on those two bills, because they are of such importance that they deserve the proper scrutiny of the Senate.

It is the case that on occasion the Senate does choose to take bills together, but let us be very clear what this government is proposing. Let us be very clear why this government is choosing to bring these bills forward together as a package. It is because they want to limit debate, limit scrutiny, limit consideration. You can see that by the way in which they have sought to handle this debate to date. We had what I describe as a quick and dirty committee investigation, committee inquiry, by the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, referred on 14 November, report by today—one day's hearing on the package of 11 pieces of legislation. It is the case that the Senate, as the second chamber, as the chamber in this parliament which I believe does such important work in terms of scrutinising, debating and properly considering legislation, should ensure that all of these bills are properly debated, properly scrutinised and subject to the proper consideration of the Senate.

The opposition is not going to be party to, as a government is proposing, the whole of the architecture that has been established by this parliament to address climate change being swept away in one fell swoop following a very limited number of hours of committee consideration and, as importantly, no real examination of the consequences of the government's proposed actions. The opposition have made our position very clear. We do not support doing nothing on climate change, and that is the government's position. Just as importantly, I think it is critical that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority's role and function be properly debated by this chamber. It is a blind, narrow, ideological approach to this issue which we have from those opposite. We know they have that, we know that the Prime Minister's position is that climate change is 'absolute crap', we know that that is his position. And we know that the actual content of the government's policy is in fact to do nothing on climate change. That is the reality. But I want to turn to why we think it is important, separate to the debate on whether or not we should address climate change through pricing carbon, that the Senate needs to focus on two very important institutions that this package of bills seeks to remove.

I turn first to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Notwithstanding the fact that we had such a narrow and limited time for investigation by the committee in relation to these bills, there was some very important evidence given on 26 November by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which got some press. I think it is important for the chamber for us to consider that evidence and take the opportunity to consider the merit of abolishing it. I turn to some of that evidence. First, evidence was taken that the CEFC has funded projects which involve over 500 megawatts of clean energy generation capacity installed or supported covering renewables and low-emissions technology. Second—and this is one of the most important aspects of the evidence which was given—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is delivering abatement at negative cost, that is, benefit to the taxpayer of $2.40 per tonne of carbon dioxide abated, net of government cost of borrowing. What that means when people talk about negative cost is that taxpayers actually make money out of this. So not only is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation achieving abatement at the lowest cost possible, they are making money for the taxpayer. In fact, it will cost the taxpayer money if the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is abolished.

I will be honest with the chamber as one of the ministers involved in establishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation on behalf of the previous government. This is a far better result than even we anticipated. If you had said to me at the time that we were looking to establish this that you could achieve results at this sort of cost, at this sort of economic and financial cost to taxpayers, I would have said that was optimistic. They have performed beyond expectation. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is investing across a broad range of technologies, including wind, solar, bioenergy, energy efficiency and lower emissions technologies. It has conducted active discussions with 37 proponents for $4.5 billion worth of projects and initial assessment of a further 142 projects representing 179 projects and $14.9 billion worth of opportunities. The CEFC is funding projects in regional and rural Australia. Co-financing is integral to the CEFC strategy: through matched private sector funds of $2.90 for each one dollar of investment, the corporation has been able to catalyse over $1.5 billion in non-CEFC private capital, that is, investment by the private sector leveraged by the corporation, not investment by the taxpayer, although the taxpayer obviously is getting the benefit of it.

In summary, the evidence showed that, first, the corporation is delivering all of the presumed benefits; second, the commercial approach taken by the corporation has meant that the presumed negatives of such a fund have not been realised; third, the CEFC has exceeded its expectations and is delivering substantial abatement while making a return for the taxpayer; fourth, and critically, it will cost the taxpayer more to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation than the taxpayer will save. I repeat, it will cost the taxpayer more to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that it will save. That is such an important piece of evidence which demonstrates why it is so important that we have some proper debate around the abolition of that particular entity.

I know what the government will say. Senator Abetz's views on the climate science are well known: he does not accept the science. I disagree with that but I respect his views. He does not accept the science. But in fact this is not actually the issue, and it would be good in this chamber, which does have such a long history and proud reputation as being a chamber that does scrutinise legislation, if we could get beyond some of the rhetoric when it comes to climate policy. The government ought to explain very clearly why it is that they want to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; leaving aside our differences of views about pricing carbon, why it is that a party that believes in the market can be so blindly ideological as to want to shut down a corporation which is actually making taxpayers money out of abatement. Why is it that they would possibly want to do that? We will be subsequently moving to ensure that the Senate has the opportunity to debate fully and properly the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

It is really quite clear from the evidence and also from the public statements that the government's approach on the CEFC is really driven by ideology rather than practicality, by ideology rather than pragmatism. If you are killing off an entity simply because it was something that your predecessor had put in place and because you simply want to abolish everything that is actually making money for taxpayers in delivering abatement—not only at a lower cost but also at a benefit to taxpayers—it would seem very strange that you would continue down that path. Really the only reason for the government doing so is they have a clear ideological position against anything that, frankly, has the words 'clean energy' or 'climate' in it.

In relation to the Climate Change Authority, I do want to make some points about why it is that the opposition, hopefully with the support of others in this chamber, will be seeking that that is also separated out. I think one of the great tragedies of the way in which the climate debate has proceeded in recent years is that those opposite as well as those who deny the science and who want to undermine the science always try to ensure that people never look beyond today. They have a debate that is only ever about today, it is only ever about what is happening now. They try to avoid as much as possible having a discussion, having a debate or taking responsibility about what will happen in the future. As I have said previously in this chamber, climate change fundamentally is an argument about whether or not this generation of Australians, this Senate chamber, this house will choose to take responsibility for something that is occurring that will have its worst consequences long after we have left this place. Some would call it intergenerational equity, others would just say it is taking responsibility now so that our children and grandchildren do not have to.

I think the importance of the authority is that it is the statutory body which tries to lift the gaze; it actually tries to get members and senators in Parliament House not only involved in the public debate, it also tries to make us look beyond today and tomorrow and really look to the consequences of unmitigated climate change for future generations. It is a body that seeks to rise above the politics of the day, and that was why it was established. It has members who are well known and well regarded by both sides of politics, eminent Australians like Mr Bernie Fraser, who one could—the senator is chuckling there. It is interesting, isn't it, that someone who has held positions under governments of both political persuasions could be the subject of ridicule by the Leader of the Government in the Senate in that way. So the Climate Change Authority is chaired by Mr Bernie Fraser. It has ex officio members including Professor Chubb; Dr Lynne Williams, who is a well-known public servant and academic; and Mr John Marlay, who I think is still a non-executive director of Boral and other companies; as well as Ms Heather Ridout, Professor Clive Hamilton and a range of other individuals.

And what does the Climate Change Authority do? It essentially delivers independent expert advice; it engages stakeholders in the gathering of information and enabling a better policy debate; it undertakes extensive and rigorous research and analysis, and presents transparent and practical reports. It also conducts reviews of key climate change initiatives. The first two points in the summary of its brief include Australia's emissions reduction targets, carbon budgets and caps for the carbon-pricing mechanism, and progress towards meeting Australia's medium- and long-term emissions reduction targets. I am sure Senator Milne can talk at greater length about this, but the point I make, particularly in relation to those two aspects of the work of this statutory authority, is this: it is, by its very nature, designed to try to ensure that governments of the day and the Australian community are informed about the medium- and long-term issues and challenges of climate change. By its very nature it is seeking to ensure that we do not simply have a debate that is trapped in the hurly-burly of politics now; it looks to the way in which climate change not only will affect this nation and the rest of the world over the years to come, but also what the options are for Australia around how we manage that, what are the responsibilities we must take.

I, for one, think this was one of the significant improvements of the clean energy package, the introduction of the authority, because it—that is, the expansion of its remit—does ensure that we have an independent body, a body independent of government, that can make sure the Australian people and the Australian people's representatives are informed as to the merits of different policy options and as to what actions will be taken.

We on this side of the chamber believe it is critical that we have a proper debate on the legislation that is before the chamber. There will be a lot of talk, I am sure, in the contributions to come about mandates, and I would make a couple of points. In 2007, both parties of government went to the election promising an emissions trading scheme. I sat in this chamber and watched Senator Abetz, you, Mr Deputy President Parry, and all of those who are now on that side, vote against that mandate on at least two occasions and then change leaders because you did not want to honour that mandate. We on this side have made very clear our position when it comes to climate change. We have made it very clear that we do not agree with doing nothing, and what the government is proposing is a do-nothing option. We on this side of the chamber also believe that this chamber—this Senate—is charged with ensuring that we properly scrutinise and debate legislation, and this is not an occasion where we believe the sort of truncated process that we have seen in the committee—the limited time for committee consideration and the limited information on the alternative, which is direct action—is appropriate.

In conclusion, I want to make some points about direct action which are germane to the procedural debate we are engaged in. This is a government that wants to get to a vote and limit scrutiny of these bills in part because they really do not want to tell Australians what their policy is. Their policy is a slogan. Their policy is a pamphlet. They are not even releasing details of what will constitute their policy until after this debate. If you listen to the unfortunate Mr Hunt—the walking exemplification of what happens when you turn your back on everything you have previously said and believed in—he has made it very clear he has a long way to go when it comes to policy detail. He has a long way to go, but this government is demanding that this Senate vote on all of these bills in a job lot without being prepared to put on the table precisely how their policy will work. That says something very clear about the agenda of the Abbott government.

We do not agree that all of these bills should be taken together. We believe there should be separate debate on two really important statutory bodies not only because of the evidence we have heard today, but because the function and role they play in the clean energy package merits a discussion. Certainly, before they are abolished, this chamber should exercise its responsibility and ensure that the merits or otherwise of this are debated fully.

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