Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Environment and Communications References Committee; Report
I rise to speak on the Environment and Communications References Committee report into the Direct Action Plan. While we utterly reject the recommendations of the Labor Party and the Greens in this report, one of the things that has been most disappointing is that this inquiry was supposed to be into the Direct Action package. A precursor to the Direct Action package was the very loud and clear policy platform on which the coalition went to the last election, and that was that we were intending to abolish the carbon tax.
They may well have a majority report, but the greatest endorsement that any of us in this place can get is to have the majority support of the Australian people, and that is what we received in September last year at the election. The coalition was told very clearly by the electorate, as were the opposition and the Greens, that the electorate wanted the carbon tax abolished. Notwithstanding that, I think one of the most important issues that we need to put on the table right here and now is that this debate has actually been about climate change. It has not been about Direct Action; it has not been about the abolition of the carbon tax. It seems to have become a debate about climate change.
The fact of the matter is that the government differs from the opposition and the Greens in the way that it believes that climate change can best be tackled. Our view is that, instead of imposing a $7.6 billion economy-wide tax that hinders business and does nothing for the environment, there is an alternative way in which we can achieve the outcomes that all of us in this place seek to achieve—that is, to have a cleaner energy future, to have a low-carbon future and to make sure we deal with the obvious impacts which we all talk about and that could potentially occur because of climate change.
Turning specifically to the Senate inquiry, there were many, many submitters who represented hundreds of thousands of businesses and employees. I noted that in the majority report there was some suggestion that no-one supported Direct Action as a credible means to deal with climate change. I would beg to differ. I think there were a number of people who supported Direct Action and I also think it is very premature for us to be making comments about what Direct Action can achieve, how much it is going to cost and what it can deliver, because nobody has actually given it a chance. I think we need to put on the table that this is not a debate about climate change; it is a debate about how we are intending to address the issues and the consequences of climate change.
I put on the record some comments from the submitters who gave evidence during the Senate hearings. The Australian Industry Group said that they, 'Do not support any decision on additional targets at this time.' The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies provided evidence saying:
The burden borne by Australian industry under the previous Governments Clean Energy package placed Australian mining and exploration industries at a significant disadvantage to our competitors. For the exploration and mining industry it was a financial penalty without any meaningful opportunities to contribute to Australia's response to climate change.
The National Farmers Federation said:
The NFF does not support the carbon tax due to the significant flow-on impacts to agriculture.
I have to put on the record some comments of Professor Ross Garnaut when he was responding to Senator Williams, who asked him about the implications of increasing the carbon tax to cover diesel fuel and the fact that diesel fuel would add an extra $515 million to the costs of road users. He asked Professor Garnaut if he supported that policy, and Professor Garnaut responded that he did. The truckies of Australia will be delighted to hear that!
In conclusion, we were very disappointed that the debate really did not focus on the potential positives and benefits that could be achieved by the direct action policy. I think that, if we had actually focused a lot more on trying to work our way through the potential benefits instead of focusing on the fact that we were having a debate about climate change, who believed in climate change and who was a climate denier, we may well have ended up with a report that we all possibly could have agreed with.
I would like to thank the secretariat for the huge amount of work that they put into this; it was a big hearing and a big inquiry. They had to do a lot of travel. I would also like to thank them for their outstanding work and their diligence during this inquiry. I would also like to say that the deputy chair of the committee, Senator Williams, endorses my comments in thanking them.