Senate debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Carbon Farming Initiative Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading

6:48 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Watch out Australia as the Abbott government's wrecking ball hits us once again. This time it will hit our environment. It will hit our children's and grandchildren's future. The wrecking ball has already been through our economy and our social security systems and now it is the environment's turn with this pathetic deal the Abbott government did behind closed doors yesterday with the Palmer United Party. Or perhaps it was done a couple of weeks ago when they had the two-day meeting up in Brisbane with Senator Cormann, as the media would have us believe. The best the voters of Australia will get to understand this bill is a handful of speakers who oppose the bill in this Senate tonight. There is no transparency and no openness, just a sneaky deal with the Palmer United Party as the Abbott government wrecking ball now hits our environment.

Just yesterday we saw the Abbott government make this dirty deal with Clive Palmer and the Palmer United Party. Senators in this place do not know what deal was struck. Certainly the Labor Party does not know what deal was struck. But I do know that deals are never one sided, because that is why you make a deal—to benefit both parties. We have no idea what the benefit is to the Palmer United Party. We can speculate, but we have no evidence before us because the deal was done in secret.

I say once again that it will not be a one-sided deal. I think the only reason the government is saying that it is a good deal is because it means it can tick something off the very short list of commitments it gave to the Australian people before the election. It is only a good deal in that regard—that it meets an election promise. It is one of few. You could count them on one hand. Make no mistake—the Labor Party knows and I know that this is not a good deal for our environment. It is not a good deal for my children and it is not a good deal for my grandchildren and future generations of Australians. It is the most shocking deal you could deal out to our environment.

The Palmer United Party has traded $2.55 billion of taxpayers' money for a report that could have been done by a high school student with access to the internet. It has done this deal in secret with the government and that deal is not transparent or open and it will cost—and has cost—the Australian taxpayers $2.55 billion. We hear in this place every day from this government about how it has to be fiscally responsible, and yet it has done this secret deal with the Palmer United Party that we are signed up to without our consent, that we know nothing about and that impacts generation after generation of future Australians. I say: it is a shame and a disgrace. The Abbott government is showing itself to be a government of big surprises—of constant surprises—and now a government that does these dirty deals with anyone that will take it up.

There will be no public scrutiny of this bill—none—other than the handful of speakers on this side of the parliament who will vehemently, loudly and continually protest this bill. There will not be a public inquiry, as there would normally be through Senate processes. There will be no opportunity for a Senate committee to call before it experts who have a different view than the government's political will; or environment groups who will have a different view to the government's political will; or farming groups—who the Abbott government keeps trying to tell us they represent—will have a different view; or business groups who have a different political view to the government. They will not be invited to have scrutiny over this bill, because no-one other than Mr Clive Palmer has been given scrutiny.

I, for one, know that that is not nearly enough scrutiny of something that is going to cost Australian taxpayers $2.55 billion and will impact on the lives of future generations of Australians—a secret deal done behind closed doors. The Palmer United Party, Labor believes, has been dealt a pup. Mr Abbott and certainly the environment minister, Mr Hunt, today have ruled out ever introducing an emissions trading scheme. I heard Minister Hunt this morning say in the media that he will never introduce an emissions trading scheme. And so what is that deal that Mr Clive Palmer has not only made on behalf of himself and the Palmer United Party but for all Australians who will not be given an opportunity to see true scrutiny of this bill. I remember when Mr Palmer stood next to Al Gore, promising an emissions trading scheme, but obviously that was a stunt. I might point out that Mr Palmer at that time went on and on about his wish, his desire, to introduce an emissions trading scheme. In fact he wanted to reintroduce the emissions trading scheme which Labor had but which he and the Abbott government trashed in this place. This is someone who now holds in his hand the future of our environment and future generations of Australians. That is clearly not good enough. It is not good enough that the Senate not to have proper oversight of this bill and not to be given time to scrutinise this bill. There is no need to be rushing this bill through the parliament—no need at all. Certainly, a responsible government—an adult government, which the Abbott government clearly is not—should be open and say, 'This is a significant expenditure of taxpayers' money and we will be open to scrutiny.' But they are not saying any of that. They have done their deal behind closed doors, and so be it. Perhaps over the next couple of months as the policy is rolled out, we will start to see all of the elements in that deal.

That dirty deal has been cooked up by Minister Hunt, Mr Palmer and senators in this place who will support that bill. It is hopelessly flawed. Direct Action will still pay billions in taxpayers' dollars to big business to reduce their pollution, rather than making the polluters pay. I am sure you will hear in this place tonight speaker after speaker who is opposed to this bill make that point. That point cannot be argued—it is the truth and it is what this policy does. Mr Abbott's promise to include safeguards that prevent any reductions in carbon pollution being offset by increases in carbon pollution elsewhere in the economy has been exposed as nothing more than a mirage. What we end up with is a situation where Mr Abbott will hand billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to some polluters, while others will be free to increase their pollution levels with impunity. We will have a scattergun effect across the country. There will be no thought-out policy and no clever strategy—just giving away tax payers money with gay abandon. That is what this deal is ultimately about.

As Labor has said over and over, since the inception of the direct action policy we have not had any experts come out and support the policy. Expert after expert has agreed that Direct Action has no chance of achieving meaningful reductions in Australia's carbon pollution levels. That is because we do not have a government in power right now that is genuinely committed to reducing our carbon footprint. We have had minister after minister in the Abbott government stand up and say they do not believe in climate change. What we have in the Abbott government is a bunch of climate sceptics who realise the Australian public are way ahead of them on protecting our environment, our community and our way of life. They figure they have to do something, and so they have developed this 'no direct action' policy, which is supported by absolutely no-one other than themselves, like many other of their policies.

You will hear, I am sure, senators who oppose this bill stand in this place and say, 'Australia will look foolish,' and there is no doubt about that. We were once leading the world in this area; we were ahead of our time; we were bold and charging ahead. All of that has gone. We are chickens, we have run off and we are risking our environment and our future to a policy which is supported by no experts at all. When we go to international forums, we will continue to look foolish. Let us see the government front up to those forums and try and convince world leaders that this is a good policy. For example, let us see what will happen at next month's in G20. We know that countries such as the US and China have very serious plans in place to tackle climate change, and what do we have? We have a joke of a plan—a 'no direct action' plan is what we will front up with; a scattergun plan and a plan which will waste $2.55 billion worth of taxpayers' money. It is a secret plan got up in a deal with the Palmer United Party, headed up by Mr Clive Palmer. Maybe at the G20 we will get to hear a bit more about this plan, because we are certainly not going to hear very much of it tonight in this place—because the deal, in secret, has been done.

In relation to the Palmer United Party amendments, Labor of course respects the work of the Climate Change Authority and has been very firm about keeping the Climate Change Authority in place and not allowing the Abbott government to trash the Climate Change Authority. But what all of us who believe in climate change agree on, no matter what our political persuasion, is that we simply do not need another report. We certainly do not need another report to describe what is happening in the rest of the world. We need action, and we have seen this failure by the Abbott government to take that action. We need an emissions trading scheme and we need it now—not a report but action, and we need that emissions trading scheme.

Instead, what do we have? We have a farcical situation where the Climate Change Authority will be asked to do another report, and it is farcical because we already know, without the report being written, what the outcome will be. The environment minister has been very clear and has told us that he is not going to introduce an emissions trading scheme. If the need for an emissions trading scheme is the conclusion the report comes to, as no doubt it will, it is not going to be implemented anyway because the minister has been very clear in the media that he is not going to do it. So what the point of this? The point is that it is part of the deal that Clive Palmer struck. We do not know the rest of the deal, but we know he struck that bit. Instead of the ETS Mr Palmer insisted that he was going to force the Abbott government into introducing when he had that huge fanfare with Al Gore and made all of those promises, which he has now broken, following in the footsteps of the Prime Minister, I might say—following the broken promise pathway—Minister Hunt has said there will not be an emissions trading scheme introduced. So why put the Climate Change Authority to the bother of doing a report? And, as I said, we do not need another report; we need action.

Just today, we have had a report from RepuTex, who confirmed that the deal done yesterday between Mr Palmer of the Palmer United Party and Mr Abbott at best will deliver 20 to 30 per cent of the emissions reduction that is needed to get Australia to the five per cent target by 2020. Yet, as usual—and, again, I heard him say this himself—Mr Hunt is categorically stating that we will meet our targets. Somehow Direct Action will achieve this, or perhaps it will happen by magic. Maybe he has a wand that he can wave to get to the targets or maybe they can reinvent the figures. We can all be a bit creative with figures. Perhaps that is how he will get to the targets, because the report today by RepuTex says that this deal simply will not.

This is a devastating report by RepuTex. It confirms that the secret deal, the dirty deal done by the Abbott government and the Palmer United Party, led by Mr Palmer, announced yesterday, is utterly hopeless for Australia's future. It just shows the inability of the Abbott government to be a forward-looking, bold government. It is a wrecking-ball government as it takes its wrecking ball to our environment on behalf of future generations of Australians. For that, it should be ashamed. What it means is that, just to get to the five per cent target, the Australian government—Mr Abbott—is going to have to spend, on Ken Henry's estimate, $4 billion to $5 billion per year between now and 2020. Or else it means—and this is, I suggest, the more likely outcome—the Prime Minister is going to have to give up on any substantial attempt to reduce Australia's carbon pollution. Perhaps he will pretend that we do not have the problem that we currently have, because we know that the Abbott government is very good at inventing things that do not exist. The Carbon Farming Initiative has been trashed, and we now have a new acronym: one for the Emissions Reduction Fund—so many acronyms, but so little action from the Abbott government in partnership with the Palmer United Party.

The report from the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee was damning of the direct action policy. The report finds that Direct Action is no substitute for Labor's comprehensive climate change policies and is unlikely to be successful by any indicator you care to put forward. The Senate committee recommended that the government not proceed with the Emissions Reduction Fund, as it is fundamentally flawed. The committee made that recommendation on the following grounds: there is no legislated limit, or cap, on Australia's emissions in line with emissions reduction targets; there is insufficient funding to be able to secure enough abatement to meet Australia's emissions targets now or into the future; and there is a lack of robust safeguard mechanisms with stringent baselines and penalties for exceeding those baselines. Even the government's own department is not confident of Direct Action, repeatedly telling Senate estimates that they were unable to confirm that the policy will reach its targets. Once again, the Abbott government—in a dirty deal with the Palmer United Party—present us with a deal which is fundamentally flawed, and which will harm our environment and future generations of Australians.


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