Senate debates

Thursday, 10 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, 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]; In Committee

10:13 am

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I withdraw that and note that Mr Palmer abstained from the vote in the House of Representatives because he has a conflict of interest. I have called many times for the Palmer United Party senators to abstain from the vote because of the clear conflict of interest. The nickel refinery in Queensland operated by Mr Palmer's company had a substantial carbon price bill to pay—many millions—which was settled only a few weeks ago, prior to his new senators coming here. I think there should have been a discussion here about the actual impact of the extent to which taxpayers' money is now going to be taken out of their pockets to support the government's scheme. And what we are now seeing is a reward to the big polluters—$18 billion is going to be left in the pockets of the big polluters and the community is going to have to pay through other means.

I want to return to the point of the schedule of funding for ARENA for the minister to explain something to me. Now we have a situation where ARENA is going to have only $89 million next year and $57 million the year after, in new funding—although, they will have the funding they set aside for their existing projects. Given this really substantial cut in the funding for ARENA and given the dates on which the current board members lose their positions—I understand the contracts for two board members run out on 30 June and the final two are on 15 July—I ask the minister, now that the Senate has made its position clear that it wants to keep the Australian Renewable Energy Agency: will the minister make sure there are board appointments so that the agency can continue with the level of funding that it will now have?

I would like to ask specifically about the level of funding. If it turns out that any of the projects that have already been approved do not proceed, will ARENA be able to keep the funding that is freed up as a result of projects not being able to proceed? I would like to have a clear answer on the board members. Are they going to be re-appointed or are other people going to be appointed? Secondly, on the issue of existing projects, will any funding savings from those be retained in the organisation? Thirdly, with this schedule of cuts, have you had any discussions with ARENA about taking this money from them? And what will it actually mean in terms of investing in the early research and development ARENA was set up to do?

I want to now move to the amendment that the Palmer United Party has, which is related to guaranteeing that—

The CHAIRMAN: That amendment has not as yet been moved. We are dealing with the first amendment.

I will wait until somebody turns up to move it and I will return to discussing the first amendment. I want to ask the minister some specific questions. A lot has been said about the supposed freeing up of industry from the ending of carbon pricing, and I want to ask the minister about its impact on Hydro Tasmania. Last week, Hydro announced that they would be scrapping 100 jobs in Tasmania—10 per cent of their workforce. They have gone on to say that their last annual report attributed $140 million of their profit entirely to the price on carbon and that it would have been even higher for the financial year that has just finished. Will the minister now confirm that that revenue stream to Hydro Tasmania will be gone? Can he further confirm, as Saul Eslake, one of their board members, has stated that 81c in every dollar of Hydro's profit goes to the state government? And will he confirm that this means the $112 million that went to the Tasmanian government for schools, hospitals, concession payments et cetera will now no longer exist? Will he confirm that abandoning the carbon price will lead to direct job losses in Tasmania? This is clearly what the impact will be from ending carbon pricing in Tasmania.

I want to come back to the emissions trading scheme itself and ask the minister: have you had any representations from the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry or any other peak business group asking you to retain an emissions trading scheme? Have you had any representations from business groups saying that they would support the retention of an emissions trading scheme if it went to flexible pricing immediately, and therefore the European price would bind at $7 to $9 or thereabouts? Having seen reports today that the government has ruled out emissions trading as something that it would even consider, I ask: has the government told that to these business groups or is it in conversation with them about allowing the purchase of CER credits, currently trading at 16 euro cents—25c, or thereabouts, Australian?

I think it would be extremely useful to get some answers in relation to those particular matters, because today is the day that Australia goes backwards—absolutely backwards. If we lose our price on carbon, we are going to be seen as a backward country in a global context. We are going to be seen as being on the wrong side of history, because every other major economy is now looking to the 2015 global treaty. With so many countries now involved in emissions trading and in various forms of carbon pricing, carbon taxing and other measures, Australia is going to be left on its own, and you are going to have answer to future generations. In fact, this summer, as extreme weather events set in around Australia, people are going to be seeing you in the context of having rewarded the big polluters and as having passed the cost to the community—cost in terms of lost infrastructure and cost in terms of absolute loss, not only of infrastructure but, of course, of people's lives. That is the absolute issue we have before us here in this parliament today. It is one of those moments in history that matter, where a country chooses the past or the future, where a country chooses the big end of town and the vested interests of the old order or the future—the new industries, the new economy, the innovation and the investment in education and new technology. This is why I am pleased that we are keeping the Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority, because we need good, sound assessment done with rigour on new projects and on climate science and policy. I ask as a final question on the Climate Change Authority and in this context: how many board members of the Climate Change Authority have resigned to date? What is the process for appointment of new board members?


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