Monday, 3 March 2014
Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading
I thank senators for their contributions to the debate on this bill to abolish the Climate Change Authority—and, when I say 'contributions', I mean there were very extensive, detailed contributions by a very large number of senators in this chamber. One might have been tempted to say that there was a bit of a filibuster going on—
'No, no, no,' say the opposition. But anybody who has been watching the process here in the Senate since the last election would know the opposition have been proceeding at a snail's pace on legislation which people across Australia expect the parliament to pass sooner rather than later.
Just to remind the chamber: the coalition went to the last election with a very clear policy to scrap the carbon tax. The reason we took that policy to the last election is that the carbon tax is pushing up the cost of electricity, it is pushing up the cost of living, it is pushing up the cost of doing business, it is costing jobs, it is bad for the economy and it would be in the national interest to scrap it. Scrapping the carbon tax would help bring down the cost of electricity. It would help bring down the cost of living. It would help bring down the cost of doing business. Bringing down the cost of doing business in Australia will help create jobs. It will help protect jobs—in the manufacturing sector in particular. The Labor-Green carbon tax has driven down our international competitiveness. Scrapping the Labor-Green carbon tax will help us improve our international competitiveness, it will help us grow the economy more strongly and it will help create jobs. We should get on with it as a matter of urgency.
In fact, the Australian Labor Party has an opportunity today to end this filibuster once and for all: to get out of the way and let the government proceed with implementing the mandate we received at the last election. I remind the chamber again that a number of senators on the other side of the chamber—a number of Labor senators—also went to the last election promising to scrap the carbon tax. In fact, Senator Pratt went to the last election in the great state of Western Australia suggesting that Labor had already scrapped the carbon tax. Since then, Labor has been trying to put all sorts of qualifiers on that promise. Senator Pratt has been trying to suggest that there were all sorts of qualifiers to that promise, but in the pamphlets that Senator Pratt circulated in Western Australia in the lead-up to the last election there was no fine print: no qualifier. They said, 'The government'—the then Labor government—'has scrapped the carbon tax.' It will be interesting to see how Senator Pratt approaches this issue in the lead-up to the next Senate election in Western Australia, which will take place in just a few weeks time. I know that people right across Western Australia will look very carefully at what Senator Pratt has to say about what is essentially an anti-WA tax which is hurting businesses and families across Western Australia.
The Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill is part of the package of bills delivering on the government's commitment to repeal the carbon tax and to remove all of the unnecessary bureaucracy associated with it. The current economic environment demands greater rigour in the spending of public money. So, as well as strengthening the economy by taking costs out of the economy by scrapping the carbon tax, getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy such as the Climate Change Authority will help us repair the budget. One of the other challenges that we have inherited from the previous government is a budget in very bad shape with $123 billion worth of projected deficits over the forward estimates and $667 billion worth of debt if the government does not take any corrective action.
Abolishing the Climate Change Authority will make a contribution to the government's cost-saving reforms. The abolition of the authority is expected to result in a saving of $22 million over the forward estimates, which will help us repair the budget mess we have inherited. This saving is justified because, with no disrespect to the staff of the Climate Change Authority, the Climate Change Authority is not needed. The authority was created to perform the principal function of providing advice around the operation of the carbon tax. Without a carbon tax, the need for a separate body to do this is gone. Furthermore, the authority is currently tasked with providing advice on related climate change policy matters concerning the Carbon Farming Initiative, the renewable energy target and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme. The government is well placed to receive authoritative advice on climate change matters from other, existing, government bodies. Essentially a level of unnecessary double-up is happening at present. That is part of the waste that developed under the previous government. The Bureau of Meteorology, for example, advises the government on climate trends and climate science. The CSIRO advises on climate science as well as the environmental effects of climate change and the most appropriate and effective technological and scientific responses to climate change. We have an entire Department of the Environment dedicated to providing the government with authoritative advice on environment and climate change policy.
The Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill allows the government to deliver on its commitment to the Australian people in the lead-up to the last election, and this is a government that delivers on its commitments. We will continue to press ahead with this legislation until such time as it passes the parliament. Our promise was to abolish the carbon tax to reduce cost pressures on households and businesses, to boost economic growth, to increase jobs and to enhance Australia's international competitiveness. The government is also abolishing the carbon tax because, essentially, it does not work. There is a fundamentally better way to reduce emissions than through a tax which is essentially just an electricity tax.
Australia will reach its bipartisan emissions reduction target of five per cent by 2020 through the government's Direct Action Plan. An essential element of that plan is the Emissions Reduction Fund. The fund will provide incentives for abatement activities across the Australian economy, rather than pushing up prices. The government is clear in its intention that the repeal of the carbon tax will take effect from 1 July 2014. The abolition of the Climate Change Authority will take place on the earlier of a date to be proclaimed under the legislation or six months after the date on which the abolition act receives royal assent. This will give an appropriate amount of time for the Climate Change Authority's operations to be wound down.
The government has a clear mandate to repeal the carbon tax and abolish all of the associated unnecessary bureaucratic functions. The opposition and the Australian Greens should respect the wishes of the Australian people. As the Prime Minister has said, the Australian people have already voted on this bill. Now the Senate finally gets its chance. We will abolish the carbon tax, stop unnecessary spending and fulfil our election pledge. I commend this bill to the Senate.