Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Clean Energy Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Household Assistance Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Tax Laws Amendments) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Fuel Tax Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Customs Tariff Amendment) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Excise Tariff Legislation Amendment) Bill 2011, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment Bill 2011, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Unit Shortfall Charge — General) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge — Auctions) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Unit Issue Charge — Fixed Charge) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (International Unit Surrender Charge) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Charges — Customs) Bill 2011, Clean Energy (Charges — Excise) Bill 2011, Clean Energy Regulator Bill 2011, Climate Change Authority Bill 2011; First Reading

5:38 pm

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

I rise to support the arguments put so eloquently by my colleague Senator Fifield and by other colleagues—Senators Abetz, Cormann, Joyce and Nash—that the Senate should deny the government's move that these carbon tax bills proceed without formalities and that the Senate should deny the government's move that these bills be taken together. I do so because we have seen an absolute failure of the parliamentary scrutiny process to date, and this is the only opportunity we have. This chamber is the only thing standing between these bills and their becoming the law of Australia.

This chamber should give these bills full, thorough and proper parliamentary scrutiny. If that means taking a pathway that differs from what we usually do when we consider packages of legislation then we should do that to ensure we have proper scrutiny. Have these bills had had any decent scrutiny in the other place? No, they certainly have not. They were subject to a gag order. They were subject to what is politely described as 'time management'. How much consideration in detail did these bills have? Just a few hours last night. That was all they had for what we in the Senate paraphrase as the 'committee stage'. When it came to looking at the detail of the legislation, they had just a few hours last night in the House of Representatives.

That is just not good enough for a package of this size and of this scale and with the impact it will have on the Australian community. This is a vast package. As Senator Joyce highlighted when he brought the whole pack of legislation into the chamber, we are talking about 19 separate bills totalling more than 1,100 pages of new legislation. That, of course, is before all the explanatory memoranda that go with it are added on. It is a vast and sweeping package with vast and sweeping implications.

The other place rammed it through. The government, combined with their cohorts from the Greens and the crossbench, provided just a few hours of consideration in detail last night, and that was all we saw. Yes, there has been a parliamentary inquiry into this—a joint select committee that Senator Cormann and I had, dare I say, the misfortune of serving on. Frankly, it was a farcical process that did not stand true to what we in the Senate would expect as proper committee scrutiny of legislation.

It took just around three weeks from the motion to establish the committee to the committee's reporting. Within that time just six days, including a weekend, were provided to the Australian people to make submissions on this vast, sweeping package of more than 1,100 pages. The Australian people nonetheless responded. More than 4½ thousand people made submissions during that process. Yet, overwhelmingly, those submissions were not only ignored by the Labor Party, the Greens and the Independents but actually silenced. They were not accepted as submissions. They were not published as submissions in the usual way. They were locked out of the process.

I am just happy that the coalition members of that select inquiry at least took the time to look at the submissions, took the time to read them and took the time to quote from hundreds of them in the committee's report. Equally, the farcical inquiry into these sweeping bills did not get the chance to hear from them. No. Again, the numbers on this committee were nine Labor-Green-Independent members against five coalition members. The Independent was Mr Windsor, who developed the legislation, and the Greens were Senator Milne and Mr Bandt, both of whom, with Mr Windsor, served on the multiparty committee that developed this legislation.

So it was the proponents of this legislation who dominated the inquiry into it and obviously came to a predetermined outcome. They were the ones who set where the committee would go and who it would hear from. Despite requests from the opposition that the committee travel to Mackay in Queensland—your home state, Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce—and hear from the industries and the workers in Mackay and the people of North Queensland their views on this carbon tax that will have an impact on the mining industry and other industries, including the tourism industry that is so important to that state, the Labor Party and their cohorts said no.

We saw a request from Mrs Gash—another member of the committee, from the other place—for the committee to travel to the Illawarra to hear from stakeholders in her region who were concerned. Frankly, it is not that far for the committee to go there from Canberra. But no: again, the Labor Party and their cohorts on the committee said no. We had a request from Senator Cormann that the committee travel to Perth, a city where, of course, the concern about this tax proposal is very real and where there are many, many industries that are worried—particularly, of course, Australia's mining industry, which has such a foothold in Perth. Again the Labor Party and their cohorts said no. Where did they decide they would take evidence on this legislation? You may be surprised to learn that we had two days of hearings in Canberra, one day in Melbourne and one day in Sydney—a really great representation of Australian viewpoint!

Senator Payne interjecting—

A broad representation indeed, Senator Payne—quite astounding. We saw that with this legislation, of such sweeping effect, the parliamentary inquiry into it did not get outside the Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra triangle. It is just outrageous. If any part of this parliament should be outraged, of course, it should be the Australian Senate. It should be the place in which the states, with their equal representation, deserve to have a fair say heard—where the smaller states, the more distant states and the more disparate regions are meant to get their voices heard. Yet they were silenced throughout that inquiry process.

So, yes, we do seek to deny leave for these bills to proceed without formalities, we do seek to deny leave for them to be taken together and we do so because the parliamentary committee process has let us down, because the House of Representatives has let us down and because the government has let the Australian people down. Therefore we want to make sure that this Senate does not follow suit and let the Australian people down again. I fear the Senate will. I fear that the Labor-Greens majority that is in here nowadays will ultimately want to steamroll it through the Senate as well—that ultimately they will apply a gag in this place and deny the opportunity for full and thorough scrutiny of every bit of this vast and sweeping legislative package. But we will try to stop them and we will try to ensure that there is proper consideration.

In looking at the consideration that happened in the other place, I took the opportunity to look at what some of the Labor MPs from my home state had to say about these proposals in the other place—those members who spoke on the carbon tax package. There may not have been much consideration in detail—there was very little, as I said just last night—but many members took the opportunity to give speeches in the second reading debate, and I thought it was interesting to look at what some of those members said. Mr Georganas, the member for Hindmarsh, said:

… the world is moving on this issue. This includes, of course, not just the UK, Europe, Canada, South Africa, South Korea and very large blocks within the United States; it includes China …

He may think that, he may say that and he may be able to come up with certain isolated examples, but to suggest that Canada is moving on this issue when in fact the re-elected government of Canada has stepped right away from implementing any carbon-pricing regime, has made it very clear that it has no intention of doing so and is tied emphatically to the type of action that the United States takes—a country that equally has no desire and is not likely to implement a nationwide carbon price—is just utterly misleading. He cites South Korea, a country where, yes, legislation for carbon pricing may have been introduced into the parliament but where it has been deferred; it was deferred in the face of widespread public criticism. He cites the United States, where, of course, we know that even the regional state-based schemes are shrinking back and shrinking back. California is basically the only place anybody can cite with any credibility now, and it has a scheme of minuscule scale compared with what is proposed for Australia. And, of course, he cites China. The government loves to keep citing China, but the evidence of the committee inquiry demonstrates that China's emissions keep going up and up and up. They have no nationwide carbon price in place. When it comes to carbon pricing, we are talking at best about the tiniest regional programs at very small, trial-scale level that obviously are nothing like what this government is proposing here.

Let me turn to some other comments of Mr Georganas. There is one that I think is a doozy of a comment. Mr Georganas said in his contribution in the other place on these bills that the Labor Party has been the 'party of consistency' on this issue—the party of consistency!

Senator Payne interjecting—

Senator Payne asks whether he said it with a straight face. Unfortunately I have not gone back to get the video footage to see whether he said it with a straight face.


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