Senate debates

Monday, 2 December 2013


Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, 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, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013, Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; First Reading

6:04 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills may proceed without formalities, may be taken together and be now read a first time.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, the opposition ask that you put the question separately on one of the procedural elements of the motion that the minister has moved, and that is 'that these bills may be taken together'.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, just so we are clear: do you want to debate that portion of the motion under standing order 113?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Correct, and I am requesting that that question be taken separately.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As you realise, I am obliged to do that. So let us break it up into the three elements. The first element was 'that these bills may proceed without formalities'. That is the question I now put.

Question agreed to.

The second motion is 'that these bills may be taken together', and now, Senator Wong, you can speak to that motion.

6:05 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition oppose the debating of these bills together and will subsequently be seeking to have a separate and specific debate on two very important elements of this package. Let us be very clear about what this government is doing. The Senate is being asked in very short order to debate 11 bills, which include not only the clean energy legislation repeal but also the abolition of the Climate Change Authority and the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. In the opposition's view, this is a debate which the Senate ought to have as separate debates, particularly on those two bills, because they are of such importance that they deserve the proper scrutiny of the Senate.

It is the case that on occasion the Senate does choose to take bills together, but let us be very clear what this government is proposing. Let us be very clear why this government is choosing to bring these bills forward together as a package. It is because they want to limit debate, limit scrutiny, limit consideration. You can see that by the way in which they have sought to handle this debate to date. We had what I describe as a quick and dirty committee investigation, committee inquiry, by the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, referred on 14 November, report by today—one day's hearing on the package of 11 pieces of legislation. It is the case that the Senate, as the second chamber, as the chamber in this parliament which I believe does such important work in terms of scrutinising, debating and properly considering legislation, should ensure that all of these bills are properly debated, properly scrutinised and subject to the proper consideration of the Senate.

The opposition is not going to be party to, as a government is proposing, the whole of the architecture that has been established by this parliament to address climate change being swept away in one fell swoop following a very limited number of hours of committee consideration and, as importantly, no real examination of the consequences of the government's proposed actions. The opposition have made our position very clear. We do not support doing nothing on climate change, and that is the government's position. Just as importantly, I think it is critical that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority's role and function be properly debated by this chamber. It is a blind, narrow, ideological approach to this issue which we have from those opposite. We know they have that, we know that the Prime Minister's position is that climate change is 'absolute crap', we know that that is his position. And we know that the actual content of the government's policy is in fact to do nothing on climate change. That is the reality. But I want to turn to why we think it is important, separate to the debate on whether or not we should address climate change through pricing carbon, that the Senate needs to focus on two very important institutions that this package of bills seeks to remove.

I turn first to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Notwithstanding the fact that we had such a narrow and limited time for investigation by the committee in relation to these bills, there was some very important evidence given on 26 November by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation which got some press. I think it is important for the chamber for us to consider that evidence and take the opportunity to consider the merit of abolishing it. I turn to some of that evidence. First, evidence was taken that the CEFC has funded projects which involve over 500 megawatts of clean energy generation capacity installed or supported covering renewables and low-emissions technology. Second—and this is one of the most important aspects of the evidence which was given—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is delivering abatement at negative cost, that is, benefit to the taxpayer of $2.40 per tonne of carbon dioxide abated, net of government cost of borrowing. What that means when people talk about negative cost is that taxpayers actually make money out of this. So not only is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation achieving abatement at the lowest cost possible, they are making money for the taxpayer. In fact, it will cost the taxpayer money if the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is abolished.

I will be honest with the chamber as one of the ministers involved in establishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation on behalf of the previous government. This is a far better result than even we anticipated. If you had said to me at the time that we were looking to establish this that you could achieve results at this sort of cost, at this sort of economic and financial cost to taxpayers, I would have said that was optimistic. They have performed beyond expectation. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is investing across a broad range of technologies, including wind, solar, bioenergy, energy efficiency and lower emissions technologies. It has conducted active discussions with 37 proponents for $4.5 billion worth of projects and initial assessment of a further 142 projects representing 179 projects and $14.9 billion worth of opportunities. The CEFC is funding projects in regional and rural Australia. Co-financing is integral to the CEFC strategy: through matched private sector funds of $2.90 for each one dollar of investment, the corporation has been able to catalyse over $1.5 billion in non-CEFC private capital, that is, investment by the private sector leveraged by the corporation, not investment by the taxpayer, although the taxpayer obviously is getting the benefit of it.

In summary, the evidence showed that, first, the corporation is delivering all of the presumed benefits; second, the commercial approach taken by the corporation has meant that the presumed negatives of such a fund have not been realised; third, the CEFC has exceeded its expectations and is delivering substantial abatement while making a return for the taxpayer; fourth, and critically, it will cost the taxpayer more to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation than the taxpayer will save. I repeat, it will cost the taxpayer more to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that it will save. That is such an important piece of evidence which demonstrates why it is so important that we have some proper debate around the abolition of that particular entity.

I know what the government will say. Senator Abetz's views on the climate science are well known: he does not accept the science. I disagree with that but I respect his views. He does not accept the science. But in fact this is not actually the issue, and it would be good in this chamber, which does have such a long history and proud reputation as being a chamber that does scrutinise legislation, if we could get beyond some of the rhetoric when it comes to climate policy. The government ought to explain very clearly why it is that they want to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; leaving aside our differences of views about pricing carbon, why it is that a party that believes in the market can be so blindly ideological as to want to shut down a corporation which is actually making taxpayers money out of abatement. Why is it that they would possibly want to do that? We will be subsequently moving to ensure that the Senate has the opportunity to debate fully and properly the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

It is really quite clear from the evidence and also from the public statements that the government's approach on the CEFC is really driven by ideology rather than practicality, by ideology rather than pragmatism. If you are killing off an entity simply because it was something that your predecessor had put in place and because you simply want to abolish everything that is actually making money for taxpayers in delivering abatement—not only at a lower cost but also at a benefit to taxpayers—it would seem very strange that you would continue down that path. Really the only reason for the government doing so is they have a clear ideological position against anything that, frankly, has the words 'clean energy' or 'climate' in it.

In relation to the Climate Change Authority, I do want to make some points about why it is that the opposition, hopefully with the support of others in this chamber, will be seeking that that is also separated out. I think one of the great tragedies of the way in which the climate debate has proceeded in recent years is that those opposite as well as those who deny the science and who want to undermine the science always try to ensure that people never look beyond today. They have a debate that is only ever about today, it is only ever about what is happening now. They try to avoid as much as possible having a discussion, having a debate or taking responsibility about what will happen in the future. As I have said previously in this chamber, climate change fundamentally is an argument about whether or not this generation of Australians, this Senate chamber, this house will choose to take responsibility for something that is occurring that will have its worst consequences long after we have left this place. Some would call it intergenerational equity, others would just say it is taking responsibility now so that our children and grandchildren do not have to.

I think the importance of the authority is that it is the statutory body which tries to lift the gaze; it actually tries to get members and senators in Parliament House not only involved in the public debate, it also tries to make us look beyond today and tomorrow and really look to the consequences of unmitigated climate change for future generations. It is a body that seeks to rise above the politics of the day, and that was why it was established. It has members who are well known and well regarded by both sides of politics, eminent Australians like Mr Bernie Fraser, who one could—the senator is chuckling there. It is interesting, isn't it, that someone who has held positions under governments of both political persuasions could be the subject of ridicule by the Leader of the Government in the Senate in that way. So the Climate Change Authority is chaired by Mr Bernie Fraser. It has ex officio members including Professor Chubb; Dr Lynne Williams, who is a well-known public servant and academic; and Mr John Marlay, who I think is still a non-executive director of Boral and other companies; as well as Ms Heather Ridout, Professor Clive Hamilton and a range of other individuals.

And what does the Climate Change Authority do? It essentially delivers independent expert advice; it engages stakeholders in the gathering of information and enabling a better policy debate; it undertakes extensive and rigorous research and analysis, and presents transparent and practical reports. It also conducts reviews of key climate change initiatives. The first two points in the summary of its brief include Australia's emissions reduction targets, carbon budgets and caps for the carbon-pricing mechanism, and progress towards meeting Australia's medium- and long-term emissions reduction targets. I am sure Senator Milne can talk at greater length about this, but the point I make, particularly in relation to those two aspects of the work of this statutory authority, is this: it is, by its very nature, designed to try to ensure that governments of the day and the Australian community are informed about the medium- and long-term issues and challenges of climate change. By its very nature it is seeking to ensure that we do not simply have a debate that is trapped in the hurly-burly of politics now; it looks to the way in which climate change not only will affect this nation and the rest of the world over the years to come, but also what the options are for Australia around how we manage that, what are the responsibilities we must take.

I, for one, think this was one of the significant improvements of the clean energy package, the introduction of the authority, because it—that is, the expansion of its remit—does ensure that we have an independent body, a body independent of government, that can make sure the Australian people and the Australian people's representatives are informed as to the merits of different policy options and as to what actions will be taken.

We on this side of the chamber believe it is critical that we have a proper debate on the legislation that is before the chamber. There will be a lot of talk, I am sure, in the contributions to come about mandates, and I would make a couple of points. In 2007, both parties of government went to the election promising an emissions trading scheme. I sat in this chamber and watched Senator Abetz, you, Mr Deputy President Parry, and all of those who are now on that side, vote against that mandate on at least two occasions and then change leaders because you did not want to honour that mandate. We on this side have made very clear our position when it comes to climate change. We have made it very clear that we do not agree with doing nothing, and what the government is proposing is a do-nothing option. We on this side of the chamber also believe that this chamber—this Senate—is charged with ensuring that we properly scrutinise and debate legislation, and this is not an occasion where we believe the sort of truncated process that we have seen in the committee—the limited time for committee consideration and the limited information on the alternative, which is direct action—is appropriate.

In conclusion, I want to make some points about direct action which are germane to the procedural debate we are engaged in. This is a government that wants to get to a vote and limit scrutiny of these bills in part because they really do not want to tell Australians what their policy is. Their policy is a slogan. Their policy is a pamphlet. They are not even releasing details of what will constitute their policy until after this debate. If you listen to the unfortunate Mr Hunt—the walking exemplification of what happens when you turn your back on everything you have previously said and believed in—he has made it very clear he has a long way to go when it comes to policy detail. He has a long way to go, but this government is demanding that this Senate vote on all of these bills in a job lot without being prepared to put on the table precisely how their policy will work. That says something very clear about the agenda of the Abbott government.

We do not agree that all of these bills should be taken together. We believe there should be separate debate on two really important statutory bodies not only because of the evidence we have heard today, but because the function and role they play in the clean energy package merits a discussion. Certainly, before they are abolished, this chamber should exercise its responsibility and ensure that the merits or otherwise of this are debated fully.

6:25 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

We have just witnessed the ultimate government change denier in this place. To not acknowledge that the Australian people voted in relation to this package of bills is breathtaking: breathtaking in its political stupidity, from the Australian Labor Party point of view but, even more importantly, breathtaking from the economic point of view. We know what the carbon tax has been doing to our nation. So bad was the carbon tax that before the 2010 election the Labor Party went to the Australian people, hand on heart, and said, 'There will be no carbon tax.' If the carbon tax was such a good idea why didn't they promote it? But after the 2010 election, having promised no carbon tax, they introduced it. Even worse, in the 2013 election campaign they put out brochures such as the one I hold, saying, 'Kevin Rudd and Labor remove the carbon tax.' That is what they said before the 2013 election. They are now being given the opportunity to actually remove the carbon tax and what are they doing? They are voting in the exact opposite direction to ensure that the carbon tax remains in place.

What we have seen from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is typical of an opposition that is frustrated by the will of the people. They are using every measure and standing order available to try to delay the inevitable. The Australian people voted loud and clear. If there was any issue that was up for discussion, not only in the 2013 election but since the 2010 election—for the full three years—it was that there should be no carbon tax. The Australian people knew what the issues were, and this package of 11 bills seeks to implement the government's policy. Now we have this lame excuse that there are two aspects of this package that need to be considered separately. The Leader of the Opposition in effect gave a second reading speech on both those bills. The reason why we are moving to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is outlined in the second reading speech. It is there for all to see. Very simply, setting up a government bank with $10 billion—that is 10 thousand million dollars of borrowed money, underwritten by taxpayers—to invest in high-risk ventures should be a thing of the past in this country.

What is more, we were upfront with the Australian people. Unlike those opposite, we were upfront and said: 'If we are given the mandate on 7 September we will abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.' Nothing could have been clearer. We said it and we are seeking to do it, and who now stands in the way but the Labor Party which promised no carbon tax and then promised they would get rid of it? Now we are giving them the opportunity to vote and they oppose it. Similarly, in relation to the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill—why are we putting that forward? Because if you remove the carbon tax there is no real need for this authority, the principal role of which is to provide advice concerning the ongoing operation of the carbon tax. You abolish the carbon tax but you still want the Climate Change Authority, whose task was to advise on the carbon tax.

Senator Pratt interjecting

Senator Pratt interjects—a person who campaigned against the carbon tax.

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30

I am in continuation in relation to the opposition's stunt of trying to split the package of bills which would finally remove the much-despised carbon tax from Australia. Before dinner, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate suggested that there were two particular bills that needed separate consideration. I ask a very simple question: are the Labor Party going to vote differently on the other nine bills? Does that mean they are going to support the other nine bills but oppose these two that have been plucked out, it seems quite randomly, by the ALP? The deafening silence from the other side tells us everything we need to know: this is a stunt. There is no intention to vote differently in relation to the other nine bills, so why separate them out and why say that they need to be treated differently when you are, it would appear, going to vote exactly the same way?

We saw crocodile tears being shed by the Leader of the Opposition, who, whilst in government presided over the raw abuse of power and the guillotining through the Senate of the carbon tax—which they promised they would not introduce—and over 200 other bills, in concert with the Australian Greens.

Now, all of a sudden, the Leader of the Opposition believes all these issues need to be considered in greater detail. Can I remind this place and the Australian people—and I am sure the Australian people do not need reminding—this debate about a carbon tax started within the body politic of Australia before the 2010 election. Before the 2010 election, the Liberal-National Party coalition and the Labor Party promised the Australian people there would be no carbon tax. One party went back on that promise and we know which party that was. It was the Australian Labor Party, in one of the greatest acts of betrayal on the Australian electorate ever perpetrated by a government.

But not content with that betrayal they went to the 2013 election with a brochure and a policy, saying, 'Kevin Rudd and Labor removed the carbon tax.' That is simply false. We are still under a carbon tax. Job destroying as it is, punching holes in household budgets, ensuring that we do not get as much investment in this country as we so desperately need, the carbon tax is still here. Everybody knows it, yet Labor went to the election in 2013 saying that they had already removed it. Now they are being given the opportunity, in 2013, to actually vote for the abolition of the carbon tax and what are they doing? They are doing the exact opposite of what they said. They have form here; this is not just a one-off. They did that before the 2010 election and after the 2010 election. Now, in reverse, they are doing it before and after the 2013 election.

Then we had the nonsense from the Leader of the Opposition in this place asserting that, somehow, financial prudence required the continuation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That from the discredited finance minister, who personally presided over $100 billion worth of budget deficits! She comes into this place and purports to argue matters economic. I do not think so, especially not when we said to the Australian people up-front that we would be abolishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Indeed, we said in the second reading speech that, setting up a government bank, with $10 billion—that is, $10,000 million—of borrowed money, underwritten by taxpayers, to invest in high-risk ventures should be a thing of the past century. You would have thought that the Labor Party would have learnt their lesson when it comes to government banks. But it does not seem that they have. The wheel keeps turning and round and round they go, never learning the lessons of history.

Let us have a look at the other bill that, one assumes, Labor and the Greens would seek to excise from this debate and that is the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. Once again, we said up-front before the election that we would be abolishing this authority with all its associated costs. We have had a longstanding commitment to abolish the Climate Change Authority for one very simple reason: it is not needed if you abolish the carbon tax. Of course, that is why Labor do not want to abolish this authority, because they want to keep the carbon tax. They want to keep the carbon tax, despite having said in brochures that they had already removed the carbon tax. Why on earth would Labor want to debate the continuation of this authority when they said that they had already abolished the carbon tax? Because the principal role of the authority is to provide advice concerning the ongoing operation of the carbon tax. We very simply say that, without the carbon tax and without this role, the need for a separate body to do this and other things will be gone.

But let us be clear: the bill also provides that the other, limited functions of the authority that might be required in the future will continue and be undertaken by the Department of the Environment. It is all very clearly spelt out and, as a result, exposes the contribution by the Leader of the Opposition for what it is: an absolutely hollow smokescreen to try to cover up a very transparent attempt just to delay and frustrate not—might I add here—the government's agenda but the people's wishes. The people actually voted for the abolition of the carbon tax.

Then we heard this nonsense from the Leader of the Opposition that both parties went to the 2007 election suggesting there should be a price on carbon. The answer to that is yes, but, as is always the wont of the Labor Party and the Greens, they left out a vital aspect. That was that we would act in concert with the rest of the world in relation to carbon pricing. After the Copenhagen summit was such a rip-roaring success, it was deemed by us that we would oppose and not be supportive of a price on carbon. It is job destroying. It is punching holes in household budgets to the tune of $550 per annum. So, by voting for this package of legislation, those opposite can redeem themselves with the Australian people. They presided over one of the highest increases in cost of living ever perpetrated on the people of Australia and they also presided over a huge increase in job losses.

We know what the carbon tax does: it punches holes in household budgets and it costs jobs. You ask any manufacturer that makes cars in Australia. It is a reverse tariff. Every Australian-made car has that component of carbon tax built into its price that no imported car has. Or there is the example of Coogee Chemicals, which was going to invest $1 billion in Australia, create 150 permanent jobs and provide either export earnings or import replacement of billions of dollars throughout the life of the plant. The carbon tax was the straw that confirmed to them that they should not be building in Australia. Where did they go? To China, where the CO2 emissions will be twice than would have occurred in a pre-carbon-tax Australia. That is why we have consistently said that the carbon tax was bad for jobs, bad for investment, bad for the economy and, perversely, bad for the environment.

Let me debunk the other falsehood asserted by the Leader of the Opposition: that we do not have an alternative policy. I am sorry; yes, we do. It is called the Direct Action Plan. We had it there at the 2010 election and for three years the Labor Party and the Greens tried to destroy it, day after day, month after month, year after year—and do you know what? They got no traction. They spun their wheels. The Australian people said, 'Yes, there is a better way to fix the environmental issues.' We said we could achieve the five per cent target through our Direct Action Plan, a plan that will ensure that the countryside actually looks better and has more trees, that our soils will be more fertile and that we will be able to assist in innovative technologies to help reduce carbon emissions—all good, practical environmental suggestions which can work and will work without such a job-destroying tax as the Labor Party have now committed themselves to.

Let there be no suggestion that ours is a do-nothing policy. It has been out there for three years and Labor and the Greens tried to pull the wings and the legs off it—and it still flew and the Australian people voted for it. We were told by Senator Wong that we did not want to tell the people about our policy. My goodness, we were out there selling it and the Labor Party and the Greens were out there trashing it—or they attempted to and failed. Now they have the audacity to say that we do not have a policy in this area. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year, the Labor Party sought to trash our policy position.

Now the Labor Party in particular have a choice to make. They can continue to frustrate the passage of this legislation—and, sure, the government will be upset. But do you know who is going to be even more upset? It is the Australian people and the huge swag of people who voted for the coalition for the very first time in their lives at the last election. The reason they did so? Sure, it was manifold—there was the border protection issue; there was the economic management; there was the pink batts problem; there was Building the Education Revolution; there was the internal squabbling. There was a host of reasons why the Australian people decided to change the management of this country, but it would be fair to say that the key issue, the standout issue, was the carbon tax that Labor promised not to implement and then did.

Now we are here having a repeat of this debate, after they went to the 2013 election promising that they had already removed the carbon tax. No, they had not. Now they have a chance and guess what? They are going to vote against these measures. They have learnt nothing from their betrayal of the Australian electorate in 2010 and nothing from the consequences of their 2013 election defeat.

I make these comments in sorrow for the once great Labor Party, which used to look after the interests of households, families and the average worker. They have deserted them in the vain pursuit of a green ideological elite which rank-and-file Labor voters are repudiating. They did so at the 2013 election, they did so in state elections right around the country and they did so in municipal elections right around the country, yet here we have the Labor Party and the Greens still in lockstep.

The Labor Party would have some shred of credibility in this debate for separating out the bills if the next speaker could tell us whether they are actually going to vote differently in relation to these 11 separate bills. So if they are going to wave the other nine through and just seek to tarry on the last two that Senator Wong mentioned, there might be some credibility. But the Leader of the Opposition gave us no indication that the Labor Party would cooperate with the will of the Australian people and wave the other nine bills through. That is what exposes this tactic as a simple political tactic designed to frustrate the will of the Australian people.

7:45 pm

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

I rise tonight to support the motion put forward by Senator Wong to say that the bills ought not to be debated together but should be separated out. There was a very good reason for this. It is not about voting differently from the Greens point of view. It is about actually separating the issues and giving the coalition some opportunity to change their own mind. That is the critical way I would present this.

I want to go back through the history of why you would separate these out into three separate packages of bills. Currently we have an emissions trading scheme in Australia. It is legislated and it is operating as an emission trading scheme with a fixed price period for three years, designed to go to flexible pricing in 2015.

Why is it that there was a fixed price period for an emissions trading scheme? The reason goes back to the debate we had through the parliament from 2007 onwards right through to 2009, when the former Labor government's legislation was defeated. That was because, if you have an emissions trading scheme—a cap and trade scheme—you have to put in a cap and you have to make a determination of what appropriate cap that should be. That means: what level of emissions reduction is appropriate for Australia, the highest per capita polluter in the world? What is the appropriate cap for us in a world where we are trying to constrain global warming to less than two degrees? What is the burden share of the global task that it is appropriate for Australia to shoulder? Therein lies a fundamental difference of opinion, back in 2007, 2008 and 2009, of this parliament.

Whilst the Labor Party and the coalition agreed to a target of five per cent emissions reduction on 2000 levels, with the possibility of going to 25—that was the agreed target then—the Greens pointed out that in 2007 at the Bali United Nations Convention on Climate Change, at the COP, it had been agreed that developed countries like Australia needed to reduce their emissions between 25 and 40 per cent on 1990 levels, because that would leave headroom for developing countries to be able to continue to develop. In other words, we shoulder the responsibility for the historical contribution of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to enable the developing world to be able to develop.

That was the agreement. So an agreement by both the coalition and Labor back in 2007-09 to stick with a five per cent emissions reduction target flies in the face of what was a globally fair share. The point I make is that it was never going to be resolved at the political level as to what is the appropriate target for Australia. So when the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee was formed it was agreed that we needed a mechanism to depoliticise the target that would be set—the cap that would be set—for an emissions trading scheme. So the link between these bills is this: it was decided to legislate an emissions trading scheme, set a price and set up a climate change authority whose job it was to take into account the latest science and take into account what other countries were doing and make a recommendation to the Australian parliament on what the cap should be when Australia moved to flexible pricing.

So the climate change authority was an important piece of infrastructure to de-politicise the targets for emissions trading. It was modelled on the experience in the UK, where they had set up a climate council that had enormous respect through academic institutions, the community and broadly across Europe. It was the job of the climate council in the UK to recommend to the UK parliament what an appropriate level of emissions reduction would be for the United Kingdom. It was headed up by some extraordinary scientists, including an Australian, Robert May. I want to pay tribute to the work he has done globally in the context of addressing climate change.

It was that new piece of infrastructure—or institution—that was a huge improvement on what we had before. The worth of it was demonstrated this week when at the hearing into the abolition of these bills the Investor Group on Climate Change, giving evidence, said that with all the political shenanigans going on the investment community has to have a sense of what is really the task at the global level in terms of emissions reduction and what is the sort of parameter that Australia might have to be engaged in in bringing down emissions so that they can plan their investment strategies accordingly.

Mr Nathan Fabian, from the Investor Group on Climate Change, said quite clearly that they had really valued the draft report of the Climate Change Authority, which said that there are two scenarios that Australia should consider: one is reducing emissions by 15 per cent, by 2020; the other is reducing emissions by 25 per cent, by 2020. To go from that at 2020 up to 45 to 50 per cent by 2030 is a huge jump in a decade. The Climate Change Authority has that role.

I believe that when the coalition goes out into the community and talks about 'Axe the tax,' the community has no idea that encompassed in that slogan is the abolishment of a new and important institution that has really just begun its work. It has brought down a draft report and will bring down its final report in February next year. The timetable that had been established was for it to take—and it is now taking—submissions on its draft report, bring down its final report in February, make that recommendation to the parliament and have the parliament decide whether to accept that recommendation and incorporate it as the cap so that we can go to flexible pricing in 2015. That was the timeline, all set out and understood. In the meantime, the linkage with the European Union had been determined to start in 2015. That is the way the institutional structure was meant to come together, with the recommendations to the parliament to set the cap, and then go to flexible pricing in 2015. That is how it fits together, but I do not believe the community has any idea that the excellent work of the Climate Change Authority and the report that they have brought down is included in the abolition of these institutions.

If we were to vote for the abolition of these institutions we would not get the final report of the Climate Change Authority next year, which is making the recommendation on the appropriate cap. The Climate Change Authority has embraced the notion of carbon budgeting—that there is a limited carbon budget we can put to atmosphere—and Australia's appropriate contribution in terms of that budget. It is not an unlimited budget. We have already gone through a large quantity of the emissions that have been catered for in that budget. That is why we should be looking at this and saying that we are dealing with three separate things here: one is the Climate Change Authority, one is the emissions-trading scheme and one is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That came out of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee as well.

The reason it was set up is this: the Greens secured $10 billion to go into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to fund renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean-energy technology. This is because the price was not going to be high enough in the current emissions-trading scheme, the fixed price period, to drive the transformation in renewable energy at the scale that will be necessary to see the kinds of cuts by 2030 that I just spoke about. In the 45 to 50 per cent range of emissions cuts on 2020 levels, you need to have large-scale renewables and heavy investment in energy efficiency to give yourself a chance to meet that. To get those large-scale renewables built, you need to have an attractive carbon price that will make those large-scale renewables competitive with old fossil-fuel models. That was not going to happen on a $23, $24 or $25 price. That price is based on a 550-parts-per-million scenario and not a 350- or 450-parts-per-million scenario, which are the ones you need for a safe climate.

We recognise that you need not only a carbon price with an emissions-trading scheme but also complementary measures—that includes the renewable-energy target, which already exists, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It would enable co-financing and the convening of financial institutions and so on to get money out the door to build large-scale renewables in the necessary time frame. That is how these institutional structures fit together and how they are interrelated. That is why they need to be looked at separately. What is interesting is that absolutely no-one has been able to make the case for the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This corporation have spent less than $550 million—because some of that fund came from the low-carbon fund—and they have leveraged $2.2 billion in private-sector investment. That means jobs across Australia as well as emission reductions.

We heard from Senator Abetz that this is vain and ideological, but I would suggest the only vanity and ideological bent here is from Senator Abetz and the coalition. Some of the projects that clean energy finance corporations have invested in are the Taralga Wind Farm, the Macarthur Wind Farm, the Moree Solar Farm and Sundrop Farms at Port Augusta in South Australia. Their current portfolio mix is 56 per cent in renewables, 30 per cent in energy efficiency and the remainder in clean technology. They have 179 projects in their pipeline, with a project value of $14.9 billion. That is investment in Australia; that is jobs in Australia; that is clean energy for the future.

Senator Abetz said that the carbon price has meant there is not as much investment as we should have had. In fact, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is leveraging huge amounts of investment and the role that it is playing as the convener, as a co-financier, cannot be underestimated. It is giving the banks and financial institutions the confidence to now go and invest in the technologies of the future. What we are seeing here with this attempt to rush through a repeal of these acts is condemning Australia to a rust-bucket economy, because it is saying that, as the rest of the world moves to reduce emissions, Australia is going to go in the opposite direction, which means we will lose any competitive advantage from the sun and the wind—great resources that we have in abundance here in Australia. We are going to lose that competitive advantage.

Already we have seen that Beijing and Shanghai last week started their emissions trading schemes, and on 10 December Guangdong province, with 100 million people, will start its emissions trading scheme, linking up to a national Chinese emissions trading scheme in the near future. Just as California and China are moving to emissions trading, Australia is going backwards, condemning this country to shoring up the old fossil-fuelled economy when we should be moving to the transition to the clean economy.

I think the reason we need to split these bills up is for the coalition to be able to stand up and explain to people in depth what is wrong with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, because there was no evidence given to the committee to support the abolition. In fact, all the evidence from the investors, the NGOs and the whole business community was to recognise what a fantastic job the Clean Energy Finance Corporation have done. From the board level, with Jillian Broadbent as the chair, through to the executive officer, Oliver Yates, and the whole staff, they have done an amazing job. I want to hear, and I think the Australian people deserve to hear, from the coalition exactly what is wrong with an organisation which is creating jobs, leveraging private sector investment, reducing emissions and making money for the government. What more could you ask from an institution? It is a raging success.

So I would suggest the only vain and ideological position on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is the one being adopted by Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I would like to have them explain to the Australian people why they will not support the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and I am hoping that separating out these bills will give the coalition an opportunity to rethink its position on maintaining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority, because Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, has asked Australia to put on the table, by September next year, an increased level of ambition to go into negotiations for a global treaty in 2015. Those global treaty negotiations are now on. The one institution in Australia that is now best positioned to give sound advice to government in relation to the appropriate contribution Australia can make is the Climate Change Authority. To the suggestion that the Department of the Environment has those skills, I respond by suggesting that a large number of those skills were lost as so many people lost their jobs in the Department of the Environment and the department of climate change. We as a nation will have to step up. We have made a fool of ourselves in Warsaw; that cannot continue. The environment minister said that climate change was going to be central to the G20. We took over the chair of the G20 yesterday. If Australia is going to chair these global institutions and play our role in negotiating a global treaty, we have to have the level and depth of expertise somewhere, and it is no longer in the bureaucracy; it is in the Climate Change Authority. It was in the department of climate change; it is now in the Climate Change Authority. That is why it simply cannot be abolished.

I would call on the coalition, through this debate, to regard those issues separately. They had better have a rationale for getting rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ending the role of the Climate Change Authority pending the G20, the Ban Ki-moon summit next year and the negotiations going into the COP in Lima next year, leading into the COP in Paris in 2015, when the global treaty is meant to be negotiated. I do not think Australians are going to be very impressed with a government that is saying to the rest of the world that Australia has become a laggard and a shirker and we are not going to play our role or live up to any kind of global responsibility.

That is why the bills need to be split. That is why they need to be debated separately, because this can no longer be a debate of cheap slogans. Let us have the debate about the merits of these institutions and the roles that they are playing and get across the detail. If you have a sound argument, let us hear it, but it has to go beyond, 'Axe the tax,' and, 'We said the Australian people voted for this.' I do not think the Australian people know that encompassed in the slogan, 'Axe the tax,' is getting rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and renewable energy investment or getting rid of the only institution which is giving independent advice on the appropriate level of effort from Australia on behalf of future generations. That is why these bills should be split and the debates held in that way.

8:05 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with Senator Wong that we need a proper debate on this issue, and I support the proposition that a debate on this issue is absolutely important for the future of climate change analysis in this country. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority are two important organisations in this country. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is supporting business to invest in the technology of the future, low-carbon technology, and the Climate Change Authority is providing the analysis and overview about how we are going in relation to our various targets.

The reason why the coalition want to walk away from the Climate Change Authority is quite clear: that Direct Action will not stand up to any scrutiny or analysis whatsoever when it comes to delivering what it is claimed to deliver. The Climate Change Authority is a threat to the coalition policy, because it would analyse the failures of this so-called Direct Action policy and make it clear to the Australian public that it is an absolute con job of a policy.

There are 11 bills. When you look at the scope of those bills and you see what is happening with this Direct Action policy it is about the coalition walking away from the science that underpins the need to do something on climate change. It is about walking away from future generations, because future generations will pay the price of inactivity in relation to climate change, not only in this country but around the world. It is about walking away from market mechanisms and the economics of climate change that is clearly supported by almost every economist of any standing in this country and certainly by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists in this country.

The coalition's position is a victory of politics over science. That is the reality. It is about playing politics with scientific endeavour. It is about playing politics with the future of Australian children. It is about a victory of short-term policy over long-term policy. When it comes to trust, you only have to look at the coalition's position over the last 10 weeks—flip-flopping on education, flip-flopping on investment, flip-flopping on every issue of substance that comes before us.

Senator Birmingham interjecting

I am not surprised that they do not want to face up to science. Senator Birmingham used to believe in climate change. He used to believe that there were real issues to be dealt with, but he has subjugated his beliefs to the absolute nonsense of Direct Action. Senator Birmingham, if you believed in the science, you would take on board—

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I remind senators on my right that Senator Cameron has the right to be heard in silence. Senator Cameron, I remind you to address your remarks through the chair.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I apologise, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will do that. Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Birmingham has certainly abandoned his claim to believe in the science by adopting this so-called Direct Action policy and getting out there being a warrior for so-called Direct Action. When you look at the science, every organisation of any standing in this country says that there is a problem that has to be dealt with. There is the CSIRO, the pre-eminent scientific organisation in this country, part of the top 10 scientific organisations in the world, and what do they get for saying there is a problem that has to be dealt with? Massive job cuts by the coalition. The Bureau of Meteorology—again, eminent scientists; again, leaders in their field—say that there are huge problems with climate change in this country. The Australian Academy of Science overwhelmingly take the view that this is a problem that must be dealt with.

I can foresee the same thing happening here as happened to the scientists on the public payroll in Canada. The scientists with the Bureau of Meteorology or the CSIRO will suffer the same fate as the scientists in Canada. They will be told, 'You are not allowed to speak out on this issue. You will subjugate your scientific thought for the political correctness of the government.' That is what I think we will see here in terms of the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

You have to wonder why we are doing this. Do we want to abandon the children of the future? Do we actually want to accept that there is a reality out there that has to be dealt with? I have to go to the pre-eminent scientific analysis on that, and that is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They have put out a clear position. But, before I go to that, let me take up one issue that Senator Abetz raised in his contribution. He said that the coalition were supportive of a price on carbon only if the rest of the world moved. Let me provide you with a bit of refreshed memory in relation to the coalition. Former Prime Minister John Howard set up a task force to look at the issue of climate. That task force was chaired by Peter Shergold and commissioned by the Prime Minister in 2007. That task force said that the cost of delaying action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would far outweigh any short-term benefit of not acting. This was the coalition's task force, the Shergold task force. I will quote what they said so we can understand where Senator Abetz is coming from. The Shergold report said:

After careful consideration, the Task Group has concluded that Australia should not wait until a genuinely global agreement has been negotiated. It believes that there are benefits, which outweigh the costs, in early adoption by Australia of an appropriate emissions constraint. Such action would enhance investment certainty and provide a long-term platform for responding to carbon constraints. Combined with Australia’s existing domestic and international work on technology development and cooperation, including the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, it would position us to contribute further to the development of a truly comprehensive international framework.

So there is the Howard government's adviser. This is the Shergold report saying unequivocally, 'Don't wait, don't hang around. The cost will be more if you hang around and do nothing. If you want to be part of developing a truly international framework then Australia has to play its part.'

Following the release of the Shergold report, as it became known, the Howard government promised to introduce an emissions trading scheme if it were to be re-elected at the 2007 election. Mr Howard would later describe his decision thus:

We had bitten the bullet on emissions trading with the Shergold report released on 1 June rapidly being turned into clear policy. This was the agenda of an active government so policy-confident and by no means spent and exhausted after 11 years of power.

This was in Mr Howard's personal and political autobiography Lazarus Rising. So let us not fall for the re-invention of the coalition's position on this. Let's not fall for a change of history by the coalition. Quite clearly, they supported a price on carbon. Quite clearly, they supported doing this prior to a truly global response emerging.

It was not just the Howard government that was looking at these issues. If you look at the Australian Bankers Association at the time, they said:

Climate change has considerable economic, social, environmental and business risk. Continuing uncertainty is disrupting the efficiency of existing markets as well as creating difficulties with regard to financing terms and investment decisions. Australia needs leadership and early action to provide business investment, operational and market certainty. It is important for Australia to take action now and minimise the impacts of uncertainty.

This was at the time the coalition was supporting a price on carbon. The ABA went on to say:

Climate change also presents considerable opportunity. Trading, product creation and ancillary services including risk consulting, funds management, legal and accounting should be developed as export services regionally and globally. It is important for Australia to take action now and take advantage of the opportunity to position itself as a carbon hub within the Asia Pacific region.

I am afraid for the Australian Bankers Association that we are not going to be a carbon hub. If this legislation gets through we will be a carbon joke. We will be an absolute carbon joke because no-one believes that Direct Action can deliver.

Why are we doing this? If you go to the IPCC, they say clearly that there are observed changes in the climate system—

…that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed; the amount of snow and ice has diminished; sea levels have risen; and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

That is from the scientists. And in relation to the atmosphere, they say that each of the last three decades have been successively warmer at the earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850. 'In the northern hemisphere, between 1883 and 2012 it was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1,400 years.' They go on to say that we will have warmer and/or fewer cold days and nights, warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas, warm spells and heatwaves, the frequency and duration increasing over most land areas. And on and on it goes.

Over the last two decades the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass. Glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide. So on it goes: the sea level rising, the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide increasing. What is the response to that by the coalition? It is a joke. It is so-called Direct Action. No-one of any standing has supported this policy either as an economist or as an environmental scientist.

Then they want to take away some of the positive aspects that have been put in place to try to deal with what John Howard recognised had to be dealt with, and that is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is headed by Ms Jillian Broadbent, a very well-respected business person, who conducted the review. When she sent her letter of transmittal to the responsible ministers she said the establishment of a $10 billion fund dedicated to invest in clean energy—

…will capitalise and leverage the flow of funds for commercialisation and deploy renewable energy, low emissions and energy efficiency technologies. In this way we will be preparing and positioning the Australian economy and industry for a cleaner energy future.

I am afraid the coalition do not want to position the Australian economy to a cleaner and more energy-efficient future. They want to take us back to a position where we are solely reliant on carbon-intensive industries. Ms Broadbent goes on to say that after the CEFC's establishment, after 15 months of operation, they have acted with commercial rigour and have avoided excessive risks. It is absolutely untenable for the coalition to get up here and argue that this is about creating a bank and that it is all going to go into disaster. The CEFC have acted absolutely impeccably in terms of their operation. They have adopted a conservative approach to building their investments. They have given the taxpayer a return while reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. They have acquired what is described as 'positive externalities' to demonstrate how any project successfully addresses market barriers.

They have funded projects involving 500 megawatts of clean electricity generation. That is the equivalent of one unit at Liddell coal-fired power station. It is a massive amount of energy. Their total portfolio of $536 million has delivered $2.2 billion in value. They are delivering abatement at negative cost, $2.40 per tonne of CO2 abated compared to what would be probably $80, $90 or $100 for every tonne they try to abate under direct action. This is so far superior to the coalition's Direct Action policy that you wonder how anyone with any sense, any understanding of the science or any understanding of the economics could walk away from the Climate Energy Finance Corporation.

So it is delivering, if you look at some of the case studies—new wind farms in Taralga, the Macquarie Wind Farm in Victoria, Victoria's Portland wind farm expansion, the Moree Solar Farm, chicken manure and organic waste being reused to power and heat establishments, the tomato farm solar innovator, the GBES biogas and cuts to the grid energy use and on and on it goes. The CEFC should be congratulated for the work they have done. We should ensure that they stay in place because this is about doing something practical in addition to a price on carbon, and that is absolutely essential.

As for the Climate Change Authority, as I have indicated, what that is about is that the coalition does not want someone independent analysing the failure of Direct Action. That is what it is about, because Direct Action is destined to fail. Every analysis of Direct Action clearly indicates that you will not meet your abatement targets; that the cost will be over the top; that you will have to employ thousands of public servants to actually manage it; that those public servants will not be in a position to understand the projects that they are going to dole money out on; that by far, business will have the inside knowledge on it; and that there will be an information asymmetry in the public service trying to deal with this. You know that every report that has come through over the last few years about direct action-type policies, that is paying people to take on a project and do a certain outcome, has not delivered. It just has not delivered. If you look at what Direct Action will result in, it will be a fiasco.

We are entitled to stand here and say that millions of Australians voted for the Labor Party, millions of Australians want action on climate change and millions of Australians want us to ensure that children will get a decent future, and the Labor Party will not abandon those who voted for us. We are determined to make sure that our children have a future.

8:25 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it is important to recognise that this actually is a procedural debate that is occurring here at the moment. You would not have known from the contribution of Senator Cameron that that is the matter which is before the chair—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Or Senator Milne.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Or, as Senator Macdonald points out, the other contributors thus far. The question before us is whether the package of bills be taken together. I would have thought that if there has ever been a package of bills that has been more widely canvassed before an election, or the policy that these bills seek to give effect to, it would be this particular package of bills. I know that those opposite say there is the importance of the need for scrutiny. Of course, absolutely, we agree with that. That is why the government itself referred the package of bills to the legislation committee for inquiry. What the great difference is here to our predecessors in government is that what we are actually seeking to give effect to is an election commitment to abolish the carbon tax and to abolish a number of agencies. The previous government introduced legislation that actually sought to break an election commitment not to introduce a carbon tax. There was an inquiry at that time for that package of legislation as well, an inquiry, I might say, that went for about as long as the inquiry that we instigated. As I said before, the difference was our inquiry was into a package of legislation that actually sought to give effect to an election commitment.

I am not going to detain the chamber any longer because I think it is important that we get to the substantive debate as quickly as possible, but I just did not think that the contributions of Senator Cameron and Senator Milne could go unanswered.

8:28 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Democratic Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will not speak for long on this matter, but I do want to make it perfectly clear where I stand on this debate. Listening to Senator Cameron's contribution, I thought it was a bit rich talking about subjugation of scientific debate to political correctness on the government's policy of the day. Senator Abetz has said that the opposition's decision is a stunt and there is no reason to separate these bills because the opposition intends to vote the same way on all of them. That may be true, but I am not a member of the opposition so I am not sure exactly how they intend to vote on every bill—although I have some idea. I did not support the former government, now opposition, when it sought to ram through whole blocks of legislation in late 2011, including the carbon tax legislation and I have no intention of supporting the coalition government to do the same thing—11 bills together on the Red today. When the ALP, the former government, guillotined legislation, there were howls of dissent from the coalition benches about the antidemocratic nature of this practice; and rightly so. Now we have a chance for the coalition in government to demonstrate a more democratic approach to legislation and I lament the fact that they seem to be employing the same tactics. I said before and I will say again: I do not support guillotines no matter who tries to use them. As I have said, I am not a member of the opposition but neither am I a member of the government. I am a DLP senator and I know how I intend to vote and I do not intend to vote the same way on every bill. I certainly support most of the government's position regarding the carbon tax but I will save that for the coming debate. However, I do not support the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Again, I will go into further detail on my reasons during the coming debate. I will support the opposition in their move to open all these bills to debate because the Senate is a place for scrutiny, debate and argument.

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bills be taken together.