Senate debates

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Carbon Pricing

3:27 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to the carbon tax.

I would also like to make a few points relating to the discussion we have just heard, but I will come to that in a moment. Earlier in question time, I asked what was, I think, a very light-hearted question, but I was asking that question to make a serious point. I was asking the question because it appears that we have entered a political environment where facts simply do not matter anymore. Whether it be climate change or poker machine reform—something that I have been involved with in the recent debate over the government's proposed legislation—it seems that facts simply do not matter. We are in an environment where one side can fabricate a position, it can put something forward, that seems so utterly preposterous and yet they are not called to account and they continue to do it.

Earlier this week during question time, we heard a comment from Senator Brandis about the recent changes at Fairfax. He, through his question, made the connection between the changes at Fairfax and the carbon tax. We can have disagreements in this place over whether acting on climate change at this point in time in the way that we have is the most appropriate thing to do. I am happy to engage in that debate. I think it is a good debate to have and I think the Australian community at least deserves it. But to debase the public debate in such a way that you make some of the most asinine, incredible and outrageous connections to something like a shake-up that is occurring within the newspaper industry and the carbon tax serves no-one's interest. It serves no-one's interest in this parliament and it certainty does not serve the public's interest. We heard a speech from Senator Brandis a little earlier where he made the statement that the Greens' policy was to license journalists. That is simply wrong. The facts do matter. Facts are important, and people need to be called to account.

The past is not something we should romanticise too much. I know I am new to this place and I also know that there has always been vigorous debate in this place, but I think we have entered a new phase—a phase where facts simply do not matter. I do not think that is good for our democracy and it is certainly not good for our parliament. I attempted to make a point by asking a question in a light-hearted way to simply highlight the fact that our public debate has been debased—in fact some questions are outrageous—and that people do need to be called to account. The idea that somehow carbon pricing legislation is connected to a shake-up in an industry which has undergone major change, largely through changes in telecommunications—the ways we communicate, the internet and so on—really does not serve to advance the public interest. I asked that question in the hope that we highlight how ludicrous that is. It is important we do that because if we do not we will continue to have a disengaged community, a disengaged public, and that is bad for our democracy.

I was less interested in the response from the minister than I was interested in highlighting how important it is to get some civility, some reason and a much more rational public debate, where we can debate the issues at hand—that is, the issue of carbon pricing legislation, the model we have chosen, the impact it will have, where the rest of the world is heading and our role in that. That is the reason that the question was put in the way it was put.

Question agreed to.