Monday, 14 July 2014
Consideration of Legislation
For the benefit of the House, since I do not believe that the motion to do with the Clean Energy legislation was circulated in time, I will read it so that the House knows what we are doing. I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the following occurring in respect of the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, the True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, the True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, the Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, and the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014:
(1) the bills being presented and read a first time together;
(2) one motion being moved for the second readings of the bills together and debate continuing without delay;
(3) at the conclusion of the second reading debate one question being put on any amendments moved to motions for the second readings and one question being put on the second readings of the bills together;
(4) if the second readings of the bills have been agreed to, messages from the Governor-General recommending appropriations for any of the bills being announced together;
(5) the consideration in detail stages, if required, on the bills being taken together with a single debate taking place on any amendments moved, and (a) one question being put on any Government amendments, (b) one question being put on any amendments which have been moved by opposition Members, (c) any necessary questions being put on amendments moved by any other Member, and (d) any further questions necessary to complete the detail stage being put;
(6) at the conclusion of the detail stage, one question being put on the third readings of the bills together; and
(7) any variation to this arrangement to be made only by a motion moved by a Minister
This motion is a debate management motion to ensure that the House of Representatives can deal expeditiously with the Carbon Tax Repeal bills that were not passed by the Senate last Thursday as the government had anticipated. It is not proposed that the government entertain a long debate in this parliament about the repeal of the carbon tax. Obviously last year's election in September was an election referendum on a mandate to repeal the carbon tax. The coalition was successful at that election, making it perfectly clear that the Australian public expected the carbon tax to be repealed. The Labor Party and their allies in the Greens and the Left in general decided to thumb their nose at the will of the Australian public, to ignore the mandate that the coalition had achieved in the election and to, bizarrely, decide to cling to a policy that has been one of the most unpopular in history, based on a lie, at the election in 2010 that there would never be a carbon tax introduced under the Labor Party. In fact, the quote was, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'.
I anticipate that the House of Representatives will today, because of this debate management motion, pass this package of carbon tax repeal bills together—seven related bills in addition the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014. The Minister for the Environment will outline to the House some of the measures that we will be introducing in this bill that are amendments to the original bills, which have been agreed with the other crossbench members in both this House and the Senate.
I would then anticipate that these bills will go to the Senate and be dealt with expeditiously there. The Australian public deserves nothing less. They have voted to abolish the carbon tax. Labor and the Greens have decided to cling to the carbon tax. The fact that they choose to do so only indicates how they remain in denial about both the result of last year's election and, more importantly, how much the Australian public did not support their policies in government. If they wish to keep clinging to them and if they wish to remain in denial, then they will remain in opposition for a long period of time.
I therefore would commend the suspension of standing orders and this motion to the House, so we can get on with the business of getting rid of the carbon tax once and for all.
Needless to say, we oppose this suspension of standing orders. There is no better way to sum up our opposition than the number 595. That is, 595 bills were passed through this House during the last term of parliament; that was in a House no less challenging than the Senate is now for the government and the opposition. We need to be very clear why we are back here this afternoon debating this suspension. Why we are back here is because this government could not organise a pig to be dirty. If there was a pig here and a mud puddle there, this government could not organise that pig to be dirty.
The chaos of last week was a window into the dysfunction of this government. It was an absolutely clear window into the dysfunction of this government. The agenda of this government is based on two things: broken promises on one hand, which sums up their budget to a T, and massive overreach on the other hand. The Prime Minister cannot find a road back from his massive overreach, his hysterical campaign about carbon pricing and his hyperbole and ridiculous claims about the impact of carbon pricing on households and on businesses. We see a Prime Minister who has a budget that is literally dissolving before his eyes. Exemplified by last week, he finds himself completely incapable of sensible, calm and methodical negotiation with crossbench members of parliament and senators.
Let us just recap the events in the Senate last week. We had a guillotine motion or as the member for Sturt, parroting the member for Grayndler, calls it: a debate management motion. We had a guillotine motion in the Senate to guillotine some of the most complex pieces of legislation for a new Senate, with new senators in both major parties and—perhaps more importantly—new senators on the crossbench. We had a committee that had a piece work to do over a period of about 2½ weeks, which was to draw out these questions that tripped up the government last week and to seek input from stakeholders.
But no, that committee was given the axe. Then, in absolute high farce, we had a guillotine culminate in a filibuster. The new chair of the environment committee was humiliated into having to ask questions of a cabinet minister, such as: 'What is an ETS? What is an emissions trading scheme?' That was so that Senator Abetz and a whole bunch of other government ministers, which I think included the Minister for the Environment, could sit out in the corridor outside—okay, not the Minister for the Environment; he was not even involved in those negotiations—trying to cobble together a deal with the Palmer United Party to deal with these ridiculous claims that the Prime Minister has made time and time again.
We know why and how we reached that position; it was because this government had not thought about the impact on business. This government had simply not thought about the impact on business of the variety of amendments that were being trucked around by the government or by Palmer United. They simply have not owned up to the litany of falsehoods peddled by this Prime Minister about the impact of carbon pricing on household budgets. At the end of the day, the rush, the guillotine, the chaos and the shambles we saw last week were all about trying to make sure that the Prime Minister could make the press conference date to announce something he simply was not able to deliver.
This Prime Minister assured Australian households that the carbon tax and the carbon pricing mechanism would force prices up and up on absolutely everything. He then promised, of course, that repealing the carbon tax would force prices down and down on absolutely everything. That was not just on electricity and gas but on everything, like on groceries, airlines and the prices of a house. That was on absolutely everything. But we know that that is just not true. You can ask the retailers; ask Woolies, ask Coles, ask the airlines or ask anyone else who the Prime Minister—then the Leader of the Opposition—verballed as having to raise their prices in the face of the carbon pricing mechanism. They have now said, 'Look, we never did. We never had to. As a result, we are not going to drop prices now, in spite of what the Prime Minister has said.'
The reality of the impact of the carbon pricing mechanism was exactly as we said it would be. There was a modest lift in electricity and gas prices that was completely covered by the household assistance package for pensioners and for lower and middle income households, either through family payments and/or a tripling of the tax-free threshold. Those prices would be significantly lower if the government swallowed its pride and accepted Labor's amendment to introduce an emissions trading scheme now.
For example, the power price impact in my state and the member for Sturt's state, South Australia, of the carbon pricing mechanism was about 4.6 per cent. Treasury has advised us that if the ETS—which we will again move this afternoon in this House—were adopted, then those prices would be reduced by about three-quarters so that the impact of a carbon price mechanism under an ETS framework would be about one per cent of power prices. That is more than covered by the household assistance package, changes to pensions, changes to family payments and the tripling of the tax-free threshold.
But this process that ended in such shambles and such utter chaos in the Senate has exposed the Prime Minister's litany of falsehoods that he peddled around the country about the impact of the carbon price mechanism. That is why, again, we have the member for Sturt come in and seek to gag debate on this important question. There are very serious questions now before this parliament. There are very serious questions that Australian households are asking themselves. There are critically important questions that Australian business is asking itself. We have seen the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and a range of other organisations out over the last few days asking, 'Where is this going? As the AIG, what are my members going to be required to do in relation to the ACCC with these amendments?'
We do not know. The member for Sturt is trying to gag this debate without the government even circulating the amendment that will indicate, first of all, what businesses will have obligations to the ACCC under this amendment and, secondly, what price reductions this Prime Minister is willing to guarantee to Australian households. I suspect we know the answer to both of them and it will be a damp squib—a damp squib that exposes the falsehoods that were peddled month after month, year after year, by this Prime Minster when Leader of the Opposition about the impact of carbon pricing.
Last week the government promised to be an adult government. This government that promised a calm, methodical, cabinet-based approach to decision making cobbled together these amendments—we still do not know which of them they support—based on 15 minutes of discussion. We then saw the Minister for the Environment and Senator Abetz, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, conduct a press conference where they were either unwilling or unable to explain to the Australian people and to Australian business quite what the impact of the amendment that they had agreed to was—what businesses, what sectors of the economy, were going to be covered by these amendments that impose obligations on business vis-a-vis the ACCC. The Minister for the Environment could not answer that question at the press conference that he conducted with Senator Abetz on Thursday. The Minister for the Environment said on Adelaide radio on Friday that airlines and grocery retailers like Woolies and Coles would be covered by these amendments but he was then contradicted very clearly by lawyers who work in this area. We do not know which is right. We have a whole lot of people out there saying it is just electricity and gas; we have the Minister for the Environment on Adelaide radio saying it is airlines and retailers as well. We do not know, because the member for Sturt comes in here and tries to gag the debate without even circulating the amendment that, it would appear, they have stitched up with the Palmer United Party. This is the government that would not do deals with crossbenchers stitching up with the Palmer United Party a deal that is critically important for Australian business and critically important in terms of whether or not Australian households think that this Prime Minister can deliver on the guarantees he made time and time again, to the point of nausea. We want to know what those amendments are. This parliament deserves the opportunity to debate those amendments. This gag must be opposed. No wonder Australian households are beside themselves; no wonder Australian business organisations have spent the last 96 hours up in arms about this amendment. It is time that this parliament saw the amendment and had a serious debate about this government chaos.
In July 2007 there was also an announcement about action on climate change. It is headed, on the ABC website, 'Howard announces emissions trading system', and the report says:
Prime Minister John Howard says the Federal Government will introduce a new 'cap and trade' emissions trading system.
That was the mandate upon which both sides of parliament were elected in 2007. The report then says that the then federal environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, 'says the carbon emissions trading scheme will be comprehensive', and it continues:
'It will cover 80 per cent of all emission outside agriculture and about 55 per cent of total emissions in Australia,' he said.
The scheme is set to be up and running by 2011.
That is the hypocrisy and cant from those opposite about respecting mandates. What they do not respect is science. What we on the side of the House respect is the information provided by the global experts and the need for us to not pass on that responsibility for future generations. When I was a young kid—it was a long time ago—from time to time you would see people toss rubbish out the window of their car. People had a view then that someone else would come and clean it up—someone else would fix it up down the track. That is not good enough today. There is no way that my own son or the kids of members of this parliament would even think about the concept of just throwing something out the window and leaving it for someone else to clean up. That is precisely what those opposite want to do.
There is a price on carbon pollution. What we are saying as a parliament is that if we get rid of the price on carbon without any climate change policy in place, we will leave the fixing up of the mess to future generations. That is simply not good enough. It has been a while since this parliament has sat in July, and there is a reason for that. An ordered parliament, when it has new senators, gives them, and the parliament, time to settle in. The arrogance of those opposite is writ large—they assumed that people would just go along with them and tick the box. Then we saw the chaos of last week when we had, perhaps for the first time ever, a gag and a filibuster as part of the same process on the same day. The Minister for the Environment has foreshadowed moving amendments that do not come from his cabinet and that do not come from his party room—they come from the Palmer United Party. That is where the amendments he is going to move come from. This is not a case of the tail wagging the dog—it is a case of the PUP tail wagging the dog.
Those opposite have been humiliated by their lack of performance last Thursday. In terms of the processes of this parliament, Labor managed a parliament last time around in which we did not have a majority in either House. We treated people with respect; we engaged in constructive discussion. We were prepared to have discussions with the coalition, as well. What we have here is a motion moved by the Leader of the House, where amendments are foreshadowed that people have not even seen. What a disgrace of a process this is! Those opposite were so addicted to moving suspension of standing orders every day in opposition that, when they got into government, they have forgotten that they are the government. They are supposed to govern. If you have a proper process, you do not need to suspend standing orders when you are the government. Those opposite remind us each and every day that they had a plan to get into government, but they certainly do not have a plan to govern.