Monday, 22 August 2011
Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011, Carbon Credits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011, Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill 2011; In Committee
The opposition does support Senator Xenophon's amendment. We think it is important that there be appropriate organisations tasked with undertaking this review. I have listened to the minister carefully, and he has said that Senator Xenophon's amendment does not provide for what the terms of reference are or how the review would be undertaken. Of course we need to understand that Senator Xenophon's amendment to mandate that the review be undertaken jointly by the CSIRO and the Productivity Commission does not stand in isolation; it is an amendment to the existing clause 306 of the bill. The government themselves are proposing that this review occur and that it be a review into the operation of the act and the regulations and other instruments made under the act. They have already set out to some extent the broad framework of what the review would be expected to do. They have set out that there will be public consultation, they have set out that there will be a report and they have, thankfully, set out that that report will be made public and tabled in the parliament. They have set out the time lines for the review, which is the subject of subsequent amendments, and of course they have set out that there will be further reviews. So they have set out almost everything in relation to this review process except who is to undertake it.
If I am correct in what I think I heard the minister say, he indicated that the Climate Change Authority will be tasked with undertaking this review and that that was the intention of the government. The minister is nodding, so I take it that I did hear him correctly. I appreciate the minister telling us who the government intends to undertake this review; of course that is not stipulated in the bill. But of greater concern is that the Climate Change Authority does not at present exist. The structure of it is not at present known; exactly what its powers, remit, skills et cetera will be are not currently clear. The CSIRO, from a scientific standpoint, and the Productivity Commission, from a regulatory and economic standpoint, have proven track records. They have known skills and a clear ability in working together to undertake a review of a scheme such as this one. That will require a mix of scientific understanding and an appreciation of best practice and lowest cost regulation, which the Productivity Commission of course has.
The minister was critical that the amendment does not specify how the two are to undertake it together. I would have thought that they are grown-up organisations and that, just as at present, it is open for the minister of the day to stipulate someone to undertake the review. Under the current framework of the bill, the minister of the day could ask Mickey Mouse to undertake the review and that would comply with the bill. He has indicated that it will be the as yet unestablished Climate Change Authority that will undertake the review. Were the Climate Change Authority to have been in operation for a period of time, or were it in fact to be in operation full stop, we might be comforted by that information. But I am not comforted by the information when I do not know fully how that authority is going to work. Its establishment is probably to be the subject of future debate by this place, unless it is to be established purely under the executive powers of government.
We know CSIRO and the Productivity Commission have independence; we know they have integrity; we know they have capability; we know they have experience; we know they have the skills; we know that we can have confidence in the work that they produce. They are the sensible bodies to look at something as complex as this scheme and to provide sound advice on how it will operate in the future and on how this parliament may wish to consider improving it in the future to get the type of outcomes to which we all aspire.
With all of that, the opposition is strongly supportive of Senator Xenophon's amendment here, and we would hope that the government might reconsider or, if not, that the Greens might see some benefit in these proven expert bodies being tasked to undertake this very important function and review.