Senate debates

Monday, 7 July 2014


Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 [No. 2], Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2], Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013 [No. 2]; First Reading

1:01 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

To me this is an issue about process. I can indicate that I did not support the carbon tax because the former government had a reverse mandate not to introduce it. When Malcolm Turnbull was opposition leader, we jointly commissioned Frontier Economics to come up with an alternative emissions trading scheme and I think it stood the test of time in terms of the predictions made about the revenue recycling, the waste inherent in what the previous government had put up.

But the issue here is: do we deal with these bills this week or do we deal with them next week? That is what the issue is. Do we deal with them in a rush this week, or do we wait for a committee process to determine the nuances and the intricacies of these bills, particularly given the new schedule that Senator Milne referred to? I think it would be a prudent thing to do to ensure that we deal with them next week. There is no question that we need to have these bills dealt with in this sitting fortnight, but the immediate question is whether we deal with them this week or next week. Having them dealt with separately, I think, would be preferable from a procedural point of view.

In terms of abuse of process, I must say—and I think Senator Madigan has been consistent on this as well—I have been in this chamber when the ALP and the Greens voted for the guillotine where we rammed a whole range of bills through with little or no debate. That was absolutely and fundamentally wrong. It is very important that we on the crossbench try and ensure that that does not happen again. I was not party to it and I do not want to be party to it.

If my colleagues on the crossbench decide to have these bills dealt with this week, my plea to you is: at the very least, please let's make sure there is sufficient debate in the committee stage, because I have been in this place when they rammed through legislation and there was no committee stage or it was truncated. You do not get to ask those key questions in the committee stage about the intricacies of the bills, about how they work. That is very important. So, if we are going to deal with them this week, then let's sit as many hours as we need to so that no senator, no party, no individual is deprived of the right to ask key questions about these bills, because they have wide implications.

Let's look at the broader picture. It is this: both major parties have a bipartisan commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by a fairly modest five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. How do you best achieve it? That is one of the questions here. I believe that direct action, a second-best option, with modification, might work.

I agree with Senator Wong that the best, most effective and efficient way of dealing with climate change, of reducing greenhouse gases, is by having an efficient emissions trading scheme. I would like to quote from an opinion piece published last week in the New York Times by Henry Paulson. Henry Paulson was the Secretary of the Treasury from July 2006 to January 2009 in the United States for George W Bush. We are not talking about a left-winger. We are talking about a deeply conservative man whose position was this:

The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response.

He goes on about the risks of not having an effective response. He says:

When I worry about risks, I worry about the biggest ones, particularly those that are difficult to predict—the ones I call small but deep holes. While odds are you will avoid them, if you do fall in one, it’s a long way down and nearly impossible to claw your way out.

That is the sort of thing we need to be careful of. When you hear an arch-conservative saying we need to have an efficient market response to climate change, that is something that we need to look at very, very closely. Mr Paulson went on to say:

The nature of a crisis is its unpredictability. And as we all witnessed during the financial crisis, a chain reaction of cascading failures ensued from one intertwined part of the system to the next. It’s easy to see a single part in motion. It’s not so easy to calculate the resulting domino effect. That sort of contagion nearly took down the global financial system.

We need to have a sensible and a considered approach.

Can I also say this about the debate in relation to the carbon tax. Whilst I did not support it, let's put this in perspective. Two-thirds of the reason why power prices have gone up in this country is because of network charges. Successive governments at a state and federal level have been asleep at the wheel with respect to our National Electricity Market and the power of the Australian Energy Regulator. The regulator does not have enough powers to tackle the cost-gouging that we consumers are facing when it comes to electricity prices in this country. We have had a narrow debate—that the increased prices are all about the carbon tax. Of course the carbon tax is a key factor, but two-thirds of the power prices are due to a whole range of other factors, including where network charges have been gold plated and where consumers and businesses have been taken for mugs. We need a commitment from the government. That is why the Palmer United Party, Senator Muir, Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Day can play a key role to ensure that the government pushes a reform agenda to make sure the regulator has the power to hold big power companies to account for the price gouging which has been occurring for so long.

For our manufacturing industries, power prices are a real and significant factor, but for the government to rip $400 million from the Automotive Transformation Scheme is a much bigger factor for manufacturing in this country, and that is on top of the $500 million taken out of promises made by the former shadow minister, Ms Mirabella.

The Australian government, for reasons I cannot fathom, has decided to send a contract for the building of two Navy supply ships worth up to $1.5 billion to South Korea and/or Spain. It will not even allow Australian companies to tender. How is that good for our manufacturing industries? We are not even allowed to have a fighting chance, to tender for those jobs. We need those jobs more than ever, with the demise of Holden, Ford and Toyota removing original automotive manufacturing from this country. We need those jobs and that is why this government must be held to account. So I will not be lectured by this government on manufacturing jobs when it is not even allowing Australian industry to tender for a $1.5 billion contract. There is something that we need to do as well. It is not that simple; it is nuanced.

So if eventually there will be a suspension of standing orders, which I understand the government is proposing to move, and we deal with these bills this week—that is not my preferred course, but if we do—I urge my crossbench colleagues: for goodness sakes, do not do what the ALP and the Greens did in the previous parliament when they rushed things through and gagged debate. We need to have a decent debate on this. That is what this parliament is about. We have a job here to hold the executive arm of government to account. We owe that to the people of Australia.


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