Senate debates

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bills

Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011, Carbon Credits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011, Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Bill 2011; In Committee

12:13 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

I am worried by this statement of the government, supported by the Greens, that the Climate Change Authority is the body to undertake this review. This really is a case of putting the cart before the horse. We have the amazing situation where the government is proposing that a review of a bill that it hopes to have passed by the Senate today will be undertaken by an authority that is not yet in existence.

Senator Xenophon interjecting—

Senator Xenophon says it is not satisfactory at all. This is an authority that is going to be brought into existence as part of the government's planned carbon tax package. It is on the record that the opposition will be opposing the carbon tax package, and in opposing the carbon tax package we will be opposing the establishment of this Climate Change Authority. Understandably we think it is unsatisfactory to agree to a proposal that a review will be undertaken of the operation of this bill, or act if it is passed, and of the operation of the carbon farming scheme by an authority that we will fight and hope to stop being established. That would of course leave meaningless the minister's promise that it will be the Climate Change Authority, because we hope that it will not be there. We hope it will not be there because it is part of some $400 million worth of administration that the government is proposing to create under the carbon tax regime. This is one of the great and amazing things about the government's carbon tax package. Such is the money-go-round that is the carbon tax package, it is going to establish a climate change authority and a raft of other regulatory bodies that just over the life of the forward estimates will churn through $400 million of taxpayers' money in administrative costs for the carbon tax. Anybody who pauses to think about that should be gobsmacked and horrified. This comes on top of the forward estimates costs for the continuing operation of the existing Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and so on. All up, we are talking about more than half a billion dollars in regulatory and administrative oversight for these schemes over the forward estimates—$400 million alone specifically identified within the carbon tax package that the government has released.

All Australians could find better ways to spend that sort of money. The opposition certainly believes that it could find better ways to spend that sort of taxpayer money. Taxpayers could find better ways to spend that sort of money rather than having to part with it in a tax in the first place. So it is anathema to us that we would be asked to agree that this review be undertaken by a new regulatory body, a new statutory authority, that is going to be part of, frankly, squandering some $400 million of taxpayers' money on a bigger bureaucracy. That is where the carbon tax is leading us to—this great giant new bureaucracy that churns money around. It takes in around $9 billion a year in new tax revenue for the government, spits some of it back out to households and to industry and churns up $400 million of it over the forward estimates in new public servants, new authorities, new regulators and new carbon cops out there on the beats—all of these bodies put in place just churning the money around as only this government is capable of doing.

Despite putting in place the new $9 billion a year tax, the government will still manage to lose money on it. They will still manage to run a deficit on it, as only they can do. Once they have churned all that money around through their giant new bureaucratic arrange­ments and they have spit it out to those they think most worthy, not only will they leave millions of Australian households worse off and thousands of Australian businesses of all sizes struggling and thousands of Australian jobs in jeopardy and send billions of dollars overseas for the purchase of carbon permits but also eventually they will increase the size of the deficit to fund all of this activity. That is the madness of the scheme they are proposing. It is the madness of the scheme that will be debated in this place during the second half of the year.

We think that it makes no sense at all to agree that the review of the Carbon Farming Initiative should be undertaken by a yet-to-be-established, yet-to-be-proven, yet-to-be-tasked, yet-to-be-staffed regulatory body—an authority which is yet to be given the time to establish their expertise and which is part of this carbon tax money-go-round and part of this great big new $400 million expenditure in bureaucracy by this govern­ment. It is particularly ridiculous to do so when the skills are already there in existing agencies to do the job properly. The skills are there in CSIRO to provide a rigorous and thorough examination of the scientific issues in the carbon farming legislation, the matters of permanence we have just debated, the impact on the water tables and water flows, the impact on biodiversity that we have debated already and the environmental and scientific impact. Quite clearly, CSIRO already has the skills and expertise to undertake the review we are talking about in best practice regulation, in lowest cost regulation, in ensuring that this scheme does not have perverse or adverse consequences to overall abatement targets and measures and in ensuring that, should the carbon tax have gotten through, it operates in a sensible way with the carbon tax regime. We think that obviously the policy skills and the independence of the Productivity Com­mission is equally the right place and has those skills already in place to be able to deliver on this.

Why on earth you would propose sending it off for review by an untested, unknown, unestablished authority is beyond me. This is a very sensible amendment of Senator Xenophon's. It will ensure that the most able people to provide the most independent of advice and review are the ones who do so and give advice back to the government. That is why we support this. It is very disappointing to hear not just that the government will not be supporting it but equally that the Greens will not be supporting it. I would have thought that they would want to see the type of rigour and robust approach that we know CSIRO and the Productivity Commission can achieve. I would have hoped that they would have seen the wisdom in this. Frankly, I believe that at one stage in another parliament they would have, but they now are in a situation where most of the detail on these things is probably worked out behind closed doors with the government. Most of the agreement on 'We'll let you have this amendment but we don't want to see any of the other amendments go through' is done behind closed doors with the government rather than, as perhaps they once did, going through and seeing sensible amendments for what they are and then supporting sensible amendments, particularly sensible amendments like this one that only go to improving the long-term integrity, credibility and operation of this carbon farming scheme. It is an amendment that should be supported and it is a disappoint­ment to see that it does not appear to have the numbers in chamber to enjoy support.

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