Thursday, 15 December 2022
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the arrangement of business for this sitting being as follows:
(1) a Minister presenting the Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022;
(2) following the Minister's second reading speech, debate continuing immediately;
(3) the time limits for the second reading debate being 10 minutes for the Minister and first Opposition speaker, and five minutes each for all other Members;
(4) the bill proceeding through all stages without interruption;
(5) the second reading debate concluding no later than 11.15 am, and questions being immediately put on any amendments moved to the motion for the second reading and on the second reading of the bill and any message from the Governor-General under standing order 147 being announced;
(6) if required, a consideration in detail stage of the bill, with all government amendments to be moved together, all opposition amendments to be moved together, and any crossbench Members' amendments to be moved as one set per Member, with:
(a) one question to be put on all government amendments;
(b) one question to be put on all opposition amendments;
(c) separate questions to be put on any sets of amendments moved by crossbench Members; and
(d) one question to be put that the bill [as amended] be agreed to;
(7) any question provided for under paragraph (6) being put after no more than 10 minutes of debate on each set of amendments, unless a Minister sets a further period of debate;
(8) at 12 noon, any remaining questions required to conclude consideration in detail being put with no further debate;
(9) when the bill has been agreed to, the question being put immediately on the third reading of the bill;
(10) following the third reading of the bill, a Minister moving leave of absence for all Members;
(11) following resolution of the leave of absence motion, a condolence motion being moved and debated on the deaths of Queensland Police Constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold, and Mr Alan Dare;
(12) at 1.30 pm, or when no further Members rise to speak, if earlier, provided that a message from the Senate has not been received in relation to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022, the House suspending until the ringing of the bells;
(13) the condolence motion on the deaths of Queensland Police Constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold, and Mr Alan Dare, standing referred to the Federation Chamber;
(14) when received if the House is sitting, or upon resumption of the sitting after a suspension, any message from the Senate relating to the bill being considered, and no further business being considered, after which the House immediately adjourning until 10 am on Monday, 6 February 2023;
(15) the only business to be conducted during this sitting being as provided in this motion;
(16) standing orders 31 and 33 being suspended for this sitting; and
(17) any variation to this arrangement being made only on a motion moved by a Minister.
This motion will provide for the arrangement of business in the House for today's sitting. There will only be two items of business for today: the first, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022, which the Treasurer will introduce immediately after the passing of this motion, if it passes; the second, as the Speaker has foreshadowed, a condolence motion relating to the brutal murders on Monday of Queensland police constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold, and Mr Alan Dare.
The proposed motion allows for debate on the energy price relief plan bill until midday today, which is the latest we can pass the bill in order for it to be before the Senate when the Senate begins sitting at 1 pm, as it is scheduled to do. I want to thank members of the House who have engaged so constructively with the government in relation to both the substantive legislation we are here to debate but also the procedural arrangements that are contained in this motion to facilitate passage of the bill and provide the Australian community with the price relief that it so desperately needs.
The arrangements in relation to the bill will be as follows. The Treasurer will introduce the bill. The second reading debate will continue immediately after the introduction of the bill. The Treasurer and the first opposition speaker will be given 10 minutes to speak. All other speakers will be given five minutes, to allow for as many speakers as we can get through in the allotted time. If the second reading debate hasn't concluded by 11.15 am, all remaining questions to complete the second reading will then be put.
If the second reading is agreed to, we will move immediately to consideration in detail, with amendments being moved and dealt with as follows: one block for the government, one block for the opposition and one block per crossbench member. The question will be put on each block of amendments after 10 minutes of debate on each block, and, if consideration in detail has not concluded by 12 midday, all remaining questions to complete the passage of the bill will be put.
As I've indicated, we will then move to a motion moved by the Prime Minister relating to the deaths of the young Queensland police constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold, as well as Mr Alan Dare. It's anticipated that that motion will be followed by the Leader of the Opposition, and other members will then be able to give statements to that motion until 1.30 pm, at which time the motion will be referred to the Federation Chamber for further statements when we come back next year.
When that motion has been dealt with at 1.30 pm, the House will then suspend until the ringing of the bells. The House will remain suspended while the Senate considers the energy price relief plan bill. If there are no Senate amendments to the bill, the House will resume after completion of the Senate debate and then immediately adjourn. If the senate does amend the bill, the House will resume to consider any Senate amendments to the bill and, after that, will then adjourn without debate.
We don't undertake this process lightly. It's not done lightly. It's done against the backdrop of the most serious global energy crisis the world has seen at least since the mid-1970s, an energy crisis driven by a brutal invasion by Russia of Ukraine, and an energy crisis that is playing out in every single economy on the face of the planet. We might, over the course of today or this motion, argue the political toss, but I think every single member in this House knows how hard this crisis is hitting our nation, hitting Australian households, hitting Australian manufacturers and hitting other Australian businesses. We have the clearest advice that, if the parliament does not act now, prices will climb even higher and households and businesses will suffer even more.
As members know full well, this parliament is convening to action a plan that was negotiated with state and territory governments exhaustively over many weeks and agreed last week at the National Cabinet meeting on Friday. It was agreed by all National Cabinet members, Liberal and Labor alike, as important and urgent, involving complementary action, particularly by the Queensland and New South Wales governments, one Labor and one Liberal, both containing the black-coal generators in the National Electricity Market, including action by the New South Wales parliament. It's a plan that the energy agencies have been involved in intimately and have advised all of us is needed urgently, particularly because the default market offer is in its final stages of preparation. The Australian community now rightly expects us to do our job and to deliver the plan that was agreed at National Cabinet.
The Manager of Opposition Business has put about a slightly different view over recent days. He says he wants a committee not to deliver the plan; he wants a committee to muse on this, to consider it further and maybe to return to it in February when, as we know, the default market offer will already be locked and loaded. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, at least on this side of the House, given the former government failed to land a single energy plan from 22 different attempts. That will not be our approach. This plan has been worked through exhaustively, agreed by all state and territory governments, Labor and Liberal alike, and now it needs to be implemented. We cannot let the nation continue to be held hostage to the coalition's internal divisions on energy policy, which have paralysed the energy transition for a decade.
Recalling parliament and dealing with a bill in a single day is not usual. We understand that. The Prime Minister and his National Cabinet colleagues have stressed that this extraordinary global energy crisis requires extraordinary, determined and urgent action. But, as those opposite know, this procedure might be unusual, but it is far from unique. Last parliament, 19 different bills were introduced and passed through both houses of parliament in a single day. A number of them, admittedly, were related to the COVID response, and we supported that. But those opposite will remember that one of them dealt with that hoary old chestnut, a favourite of the coalition, the Australian Building and Construction Commission. It was introduced and passed through both houses of parliament in a single day. In the parliament before that, four bills were dealt with—introduced and passed through both houses of parliament—in a single day, as the Prime Minister reminds me, one of them dealing with strawberry contamination. But, interestingly, one of those bills, in 2019, was also about energy assistance. That was a bill to introduce one-off payments to help concession card holders and pensioners with energy prices. That was not to deal with a once-in-a-generation global energy crisis, mind you; instead, it was to get something through in time for the member for Cook to call a general election—always playing politics, always dealing with these things for partisan advantage instead of the national interest.
Australia needs this bill passed urgently. The Australian community expects the parliament to do its job and to implement the Australian government's side of the bargain struck at National Cabinet last week. This motion will ensure that we do just that.
I move, as an amendment to the motion moved by the minister:
That all words in paragraphs (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), (11), (15) and (17) be omitted and the following be inserted:
(1) new paragraph (1A) as follows: "that as the first priority for the House there be a condolence motion in relation to the deaths of Queensland Police Constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold, and Mr Alan Dare";
(2) at the start of paragraph (1) as follows: "as its second item of business,";
(3) new paragraph (3) as follows: "that the question on the second reading of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022 not be put until such time as every other Member wishing to speak on the question has spoken for up to 15 minutes as provided for under standing order 1";
(4) new paragraph (4) as follows: "that any question put during the consideration in detail stage of the bill not be put until such time as every other Member wishing to speak on an amendment has spoken for up to five minutes as provided for under standing order 1";
(5) new paragraph (5) as follows: "that Question Time be conducted from 2 pm to 3.30 pm or until such time as 22 questions have been asked and answered, whichever is first"; and
(6) new paragraph (6) as follows: "that after Question Time or when no further Members rise to speak, if earlier, provided that a message from the Senate has not been received in relation to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Energy Price Relief Plan) Bill 2022, the House suspending until the ringing of the bells".
The opposition is moving this amendment for very important reasons. The first element of this amendment is that, as its first priority, this House should be dealing with a condolence motion on the deaths of Queensland police constables Rachel McCrow and Matthew Arnold, and Mr Alan Dare—that we ought to spend our time on that as our first priority, reflecting the priorities of the Australian people, before we then turn to the other matters that the government has brought before the House.
There is no other word for it; the government's approach to this bill has been absolutely appalling. It is seeking to treat this parliament as a mere rubber stamp for the executive government. Let's be clear just how bad this process has been. This government came to power with a promise to reduce energy prices by $275. For more than six months it did nothing to give effect to that promise; indeed, in its own budget it said that electricity prices would go in the opposite direction and increase by 56 per cent, and gas would go up by 44 per cent. This government did nothing during parliament's scheduled sitting period, which concluded on 1 December, more than six months after it came to government. It sat on its hands for six months. Nothing for six months, and now all of a sudden this is urgent. All of a sudden we had the Prime Minister announcing that parliament would be reconvened to consider this bill. He said that it was urgent, but of course the details of the bill were not provided. The bill was not provided until 8.45 pm last night.
We know from the Prime Minister's own announcement that the details of reductions or rebates in relation to consumer electricity bills will not be finalised until National Cabinet meets in March next year. And, of course, we've got the other element, involving empowering the minister to make a code, and of course this raises very significant issues to be considered by every member of this House of Representatives. Every one of the 151 members of this House of Representatives is required to turn their mind to this issue. What process has the government followed to allow members of this House to turn our minds to this issue? The bill was provided to the opposition at 8.45 pm last night. This is an absolutely appalling process. No time to weigh up the complex issues, no time to seek feedback from affected stakeholders, no time to get advice from independent experts.
Let's just remind ourselves what the normal process is in this House. The normal process is that a bill is introduced by a minister, and then there is at least a week allowed before the bill goes to a second reading debate. Very often, on an issue like this, there would be a parliamentary committee inquiry by either a Senate committee or a joint committee. All of that is a very good reason. It is to allow time for issues to be examined and considered, and for affected stakeholders and citizens to put their view. That is the way that a parliament in a liberal democracy should work. This is not the Russian Duma. This is not a rubber stamp on executive government, but that is how it is being treated by this government.
Of course, they are also proposing incredibly short time periods. Our amendments to this suspension of standing orders would at least allow for normal times for the second reading debate and for consideration in detail, as compared to it being dramatically compressed and guillotined in the appalling process that this government has now that this government has now proposed. This takes the House of Representatives to a new level as a rubber stamp on the actions of the executive government.
There are very serious issues that the parliament needs to consider here on the merits of the bill before it. What is the nature of this unprecedented intervention in a market? What will be the implications for perceptions of sovereign risk for those wishing to invest in Australia? What will be the implications for future investment in the resources sector and across the broader economy? What will be the implications for the supply of gas, and whether these measures will in fact reduce supply and do the exact opposite to what the government is claiming it is aiming to achieve? These are important questions, and the way the government is asking the parliament to consider these is to produce a bill at 8.45 pm last night—
The answers to these questions are not yet known, and that is why this parliament has a well-accepted method for dealing with complex issues. Of course it can be done in a rapid fashion, but what this government is proposing is absolutely ludicrous.
We might all remember when the Prime Minister and the current Leader of the House, when in opposition, used to talk about how important the role of parliament is. This is what the Leader of the House said in 2019: 'There is a process that happens with legislation that, I have to say, does matter.' It does matter that members have the opportunity to read legislation, a very sound point which this government is now completely ignoring. What did the Prime Minister say in March in Tasmania? He said:
In terms of legislation that comes before the Parliament, quite often, it's just aimed at dividing people and being tricky . And I call it 'wedgislation' rather than putting the national interest first. … I want proper processes. I want to consult people.
That is what this Prime Minister said in March of this year before he was elected. He is doing the exact opposite with the appalling, atrocious and ill-considered process that this government is using to deal with this bill. That is why we have put this set of amendments to the motion to suspend standing orders that has been moved by the acting Leader of the House. The set of amendments that we have moved would allow for a proper second reading debate, a proper consideration in detail. It is still a process that is very far from adequate but it would at least make some improvements on what is an atrocious and cavalier way to ask this parliament to deal with matters of great complexity; matters that go to confidence by investors; matters that go to whether, in fact, this bill will work to achieve its outcome, its objective, and there are very real reasons to doubt that it will do that; it will in fact have the opposite effect. These are the kinds of matters that the parliament should be considering. The process being carried out here is atrocious; it is the precise opposite of the rhetoric that we heard from the Prime Minister and the Labor Party prior to the election, and that is why we have moved amendments to the motion to suspend standing orders in the form that we have.
I rise to second the motion for these very important amendments. This is the most hypocritical, deceitful government we have seen in this country in decades. Pre-election, as the Manager of Opposition Business just said, the then opposition were going to have a new parliament. It was going to be more transparent, it was going to be more democratic, processes were going to be followed properly, and how hypocritical has that been? The first thing this government did when they came into this chamber as the government was change the standing orders to basically gag debate. That was one of the first pieces of legislation that they changed, to gag debates with a new standing order, which they have used on multiple occasions.
The other thing that the government have done at great expense is today. Look at the process today. This is exceptionally important legislation. These are fundamental changes to the way certain parts of our economy and the energy market operate. As the Manager of Opposition Business said, no-one saw this legislation until eight o'clock last night. There is confusion even within the government ranks about how this legislation is going to work, and we come in today at great expense and we are going to get gagged after two hours. This is not a proper process.
I say this especially to the crossbenchers and I say this especially to the Teals, who say that they were voted into this chamber to for more transparent and better parliamentary processes in this chamber: I can tell you right now, if you support what is before the parliament today and do not support these amendments, you are not about more transparency. You are not about better processes. You are not about second reading processes. You are about gagging debate and that is what you will be supporting if you don't support our amendments.
The questions about the legislation are profound. The deal done with the Greens, no-one understands. How is that going to work? Worse than that, even worse than this government gagging the debate in this chamber, is they have been deceitful to the Australian public about what they were going to legislate. Look at the IR legislation—very important legislation. Did they ever mention that before the election? No, they never spoke to the Australian people, to Australian businesses and to Australian workers about the legislation that they were going to introduce into this chamber as one of the first things they did. Now, of course they didn't do that; they were paying back their union masters on that as well. Again, that wasn't about transparency. There was no transparency to the Australian people about that process. There was no transparency about what their agenda was on that as well.
To go back to the legislation we're talking about today, the legislation the government is looking to pass today needs a larger debate and a longer debate than a couple of hours. We have a lot of history in this country—I'm old enough to remember how well the interest rate caps worked in the Australian financial markets back in the 1980s, when that failed the capital markets. How well did the wool floor price work back in the eighties when they were trying to put a cap on the price of wool? That failed as well. There is great debate that needs to happen on this legislation. There is potential for market failure because of this. This will have great ramifications for investment into the energy markets in Australia, especially the gas and coal markets. This potentially has great ramifications for the prices of Australians' energy bills as well. And the best the government can give this chamber is two hours to debate it. It's a shame on the process of the parliament.
I finish by making an appeal to the crossbenchers and the teals. As I said earlier, you came into this chamber promising greater transparency, better process and to give this chamber more chance to debate and have a say on legislation. If you support this bill today and do not support our amendment, you are hypocritical to the reasons that you got voted into this chamber and are basically just kowtowing to those opposite.
I stand strongly to support the amendment as put by the Manager of Opposition Business.
I want to very briefly speak to the crossbench in relation to what I think is a very important element of this particular amendment, and that is that, given the tragedy that we have seen in Queensland and given the precedence of what has taken place here in this parliament over a long time, I believe that the most important element of business before the House today is to conduct a condolence motion now.
There is no attempt to delay the bill; I'm happy to give every commitment that the time lines will be met. But the precedence of this House and the way in which this House has conducted its affairs in the past—and I conveyed this to the Prime Minister yesterday—is that this House should deal with the most important matter before the House, and that is to recognise the tragic circumstances in Queensland. This is not a delaying tactic; we give that undertaking. I would ask the teals to consider that element of the amendment, which I put to them most sincerely. I think, out of respect to the circumstances and to the loss of life there, this House—as a matter of precedence, and given the way in which this House has conducted its affairs for a long time—should deal with that element of business as a priority before other business comes on.