Monday, 7 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 [No. 2], 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], Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013 [No. 2]; First Reading
Mr President, congratulations on your appointment. The opposition will be asking that you put the question separately on the procedural element of this motion, 'that these bills may proceed without formalities', and I wish to speak to that procedural motion.
We have a particular issue here before the chamber about the whole consideration of the important elements of the carbon bills. We all know that there is major interest in this process. We read in the media every day that this is going to be the most important element that comes—
We read in the media about the interest that has been placed on this process. We have now heard that there is going to be a meeting of the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee this afternoon to consider the process. We all know that, in the last sitting of this chamber, there was a motion passed by this Senate that there would be a consideration of this package of bills through the environment committee. There was a process put in place that there would be a report provided to this place on 14 July to allow there to be consideration of these issues. That process has not occurred.
We are here today, on the first sitting day of a new Senate, and we have a whole range of people in this place who have not had the opportunity to have any consideration of this legislation. The process that this Senate put in place was that there would be a committee process where we would have the opportunity to consider the range of issues that have occurred over the last period of months. We are not only looking at issues that were previously discussed in this place. The situation internationally and also nationally has changed considerably around the whole issue of this legislation about carbon pricing and the process that we are going to put in place to look at this significant range of legislation. That process has not occurred. There has not been the opportunity for people to put forward their views. There has not been the opportunity for people to listen to the range of views that we know are held, that continue to be held and that continue to be examined.
It is so important that we start together in this place with appropriate consideration of the legislation that is before us. We talk nobly about what should happen in this place. We heard this morning about the independence of the Senate and how important it is for every single senator to understand fully, to question and to be involved in the votes that they will take on legislation before the chamber. I do not believe, the opposition does not believe and many people in the community do not believe that that is allowed by the current process of bringing forward this package of legislation today, without a recommendation from the committee that was charged by the Senate to consider it, without an opportunity for people to have current evidence before them, although I know the government will say that there has been considerable process around these carbon bills.
It is important that there is considerable effort put into looking at this legislation that we have. It is not simple. It is complex. There are a range of issues here that we all need to understand and consider before we vote. There needs to be the opportunity in this place to have the process. We do not think it is appropriate, in the first matter of core business before us, to say: 'We'll bring the whole carbon tax legislation before this place, we will expect that that process will take place and we will go straight into the full debate without having the evidence from the committee that we set up.'
We consider that this is an important element of the operations of the Senate. We believe it is important for all of us to have the time and the opportunity to hear from not just each other across the august chamber of the Senate. It is not just a debate for us in this place. The important thing is that when we come here we come here we come with the information, concerns and support or otherwise of the people in the wider community who care deeply about this issue. Only this morning, outside this parliament, we had the opportunity to meet with a whole group of young people who have a passionate concern about the future of our environment and the future of carbon pricing in Australia. I believe that every senator in this place was provided with an invitation to go and meet with these young people about this legislation. We had that opportunity to go down there this morning. Some of us took it, and what we heard from the people there was that that it was our decision but their future.
We need to ensure that those voices are heard in this place, through the whole range of the committee process. That has not been completed. We have not had that process concluded. And yet we are here being asked to accept a blanket proposition from the government which says that the bills have to come through straightaway. I do not believe that has given us the chance to have the debate we need to have, not just here but outside.
I think that to do duty to our job as senators, to do duty to our process, we need to ensure that we have further opportunity to consider what has been said by the community. Other people will have more comments, but I do not believe, as a member of this Senate, that the process that we have taken to date has given due consideration to the role of the Senate. The Senate committee process, which is the background to what we do, has not been allowed to function fully. There was no attempt to talk to community members. I think it is important that we understand that what we are being asked to do is actually shortcutting the process. What we have been asked to do by the government today is to cut through, to shortcut the process, to ensure that the debate does not reflect the wider information that we must have before we come to this place. It is not a worthy process to rush this through in this way. It is not a worthy process to dismiss the concerns of people in the community who want to hear this debate fully. It does not fulfil those same promises that we heard earlier today about ensuring that this place actually does listen and care and that when we come into this place we do not just bring our own personal opinions; we bring consideration of committee process and recommendations that we have come to expect.
In terms of the process that Senator Heffernan has just outlined, indeed the role of all the senators is to ensure that they do listen to the community. However, the process yesterday was not about the bills that are in front of us. The community meeting that we went to this morning was. The whole process of that community meeting of young people from across the country was specifically on the bills that the government now wants us to rush in to debate straightaway.
I have heard the comments from across the way that we have had an election. Indeed we have. We are all aware of that election. But, just because we have had an election, the role of this place does not stop. If you think back to the discussions we had less than an hour ago, when we were swearing in the new Senate, it was said that we were going to ensure that the Senate would be a place where there would be independent, full debate. That is our job. What the government wants us to do now, as the first element of the business for the new Senate—and many senators have not have the opportunity to be in debates about this before—is to rush through a debate on bills for which we have not had the most up-to-date committee recommendations.
Getting committee recommendations should be the way we work. I think that would be evident to all of us. Those of us who have been lucky enough to be here for a while should have seen it in practice. The new senators would have heard about the way the Senate operates, which ensures that there is the opportunity for people to have information. We have a committee structure, in which committees are tasked to go out with legislation and seek the opinions of the people in the community on that legislation. The committee's job is to consider that evidence, have it all recorded and then come back into this place with recommendations.
We all know that, in legislation processes, many of us use the committee reports as the basis for what we are going to say. We look at what has gone on, we look at the submissions that have been received and we look at the concerns. We most particularly do not rely on things that have happened exclusively in the past. When the government brought forward these bills to the last Senate, we recommended that, before they be considered, they would go through the committee process. The committee process crossed over the conclusion of the last Senate and the beginning of this Senate. We now are faced with looking at legislation to be debated in this place. We had a Senate committee process in place which was considering this legislation—the standard process. The standard process is that the committee has the opportunity to present its report and then, on the basis of that report, we then flow into the debate in this place.
That is not an unusual situation. The way that that operates is clearly identified in the standing orders. So it is particularly important that, when we move into this first debate, we have the authority of the standing practice of the Senate behind us so that we move forward with confidence. That can only enhance the debate; it does not delay the debate. We have no intention of delaying the debate. I remember many times in this place when senators on the other side were making passionate declarations about how important it was for us to have the committee process in place. We heard that. We were reminded of our job, our responsibility to ensure that Senate practices were put in place. I but ask the same thing: if we are going to have legislation brought into the chamber, it is our job to expect that we have all the information available to the senators, that the committee process be fully concluded and that we would have the opportunity to give due consideration to those processes. It is not an unusual request; it is certainly not a groundbreaking request. It is simply asking that the process of the Senate run as we expect it to, the process of the Senate run as it should do and, in fact, the process of the Senate run as it does best—providing information for senators to consider what is important in the legislation, providing opportunities for the senators to ask questions about the legislation and providing opportunities for the senators to respond to their responsibilities as senators in this chamber.
Let us just be very clear about one issue here. What this government is seeking to do is to have the carbon tax repealed. That was the bipartisan position of Prime Minister Gillard and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, at the 2010 election. We were promised there would be no carbon tax in 2010. Then, in 2013, Prime Minister Rudd and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, were once again on a unity ticket—and I have exhibit A here: a Labor Party brochure authorised by George Wright, in which he tells us, 'Kevin Rudd and Labor have removed the carbon tax.'
So why on earth is my good friend Senator Moore—recently resworn as a representative of the people of Queensland, having been elected on the policy of removing the carbon tax, and her colleagues before her having been elected on a policy of never having a carbon tax—now standing here seeking to frustrate the will of the Australian people? I do not think anyone could argue with the proposition that the carbon tax was one of the key issues at the last election.
The reason the Australian people wanted to see the back end of the carbon tax was that they knew it was impacting on their cost of living—$550 for the average household in Australia each and every year. And, courtesy of the Greens-Labor majority that used to preside in this place, the carbon tax ratcheted up yet again on 1 July to increase that impost on Australian families even further. And, if the cost-of-living impost is not bad enough, we know it destroys jobs. The carbon tax is a blot on the economic landscape of our nation. It attacks the cost of living of families and it is destroying jobs as we speak.
We all know the example of Fuji chemicals, which wanted to set up in Australia with $1 billion worth of infrastructure capital investment and 150 jobs, as an ongoing concern and replacing imports. They decided to set up in China instead, simply because of the carbon tax. Do you know what they will do in China? They will emit more greenhouse gases in their production than they did in a pre-carbon tax environment in Australia. And that is where you see the absolutely perverse environmental outcome of the carbon tax. Not only does it destroy Australia's economy and the cost of living; it actually ensures that clean production companies in Australia have to move offshore to countries where they do not have as strong an environmental regime as we do in Australia.
Opposition senators interjecting—
This is the classic lose-lose scenario that was inflicted upon the Australian people by the Australian Greens and the Labor Party in that marriage that they undertook with Senator Bob Brown and Prime Minister Gillard.
Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting—
I do not know what the Labor Party interjections are about. I refer to this brochure again: 'Kevin Rudd and Labor remove the carbon tax.' If we were to believe the very policy on which Senator Moore got herself re-elected to this place—that is, the carbon tax had been removed—sorry; what are these bills doing here? The carbon tax, we are agreed, still has to be removed. It is still on the legislative books, is it not?
We, as an opposition, said to the Australian people: 'If you elect us on 7 September, we will have as the very first item of business in the new parliament the repeal of the carbon tax.' And we lived up to that promise. Prime Minister Abbott introduced the repeal of the carbon tax as the very first item of business in the new parliament. So it should be no surprise to those opposite that we, as the very first item of business in this new Senate, would seek to ensure the repeal of the carbon tax.
I say to those opposite: you had your fun last month. Yes, the dead hand of the old Senate reached out and attempted to control that which will happen in the new Senate. And that is why the motions were moved to seek to delay the will of the Australian people.
I have been asked: is this a measure that is frustrating the government? More importantly, this measure, or the motion moved by those opposite last month, was frustrating the Australian people. It is frustrating the Australian economy. It is frustrating the world's environment to boot. So in every possible respect—
You said that the carbon tax was being removed, on Labor Party funded brochures. Your own union may well have funded this brochure.
The fact that we are seeking to put this up as the first item should be of surprise to nobody. We said we would do so if we were elected. The Labor-Greens Senate majority frustrated us in that endeavour. We now have a new Senate, more reflective of the will of the Australian people generally on 7 September, taking into account the quirks of Western Australia. We have a situation where we as a government want to introduce this legislation as a matter of absolute urgency to get this blot off our economic landscape. People are quite rightly concerned about their cost of living. Today the Senate has the opportunity—
So why did you campaign to abolish the carbon tax, not only in 2010 but in 2013 as well?
As I have already pointed out to Senator Cameron—he who will interject but never listen—the carbon tax applying in Australia is in fact perverse in relation to the world's environment. Europe discovered that themselves when they closed down their relatively clean aluminium smelters only to see them pop up again in Africa and elsewhere where the environmental regimes were not half as good as they were in their pre-existing foundries and smelters in Europe. As a result, the world's environment was worse off. The same is happening in relation to Australia. With great respect to Senator Moore, it is not as though this is a debate that has fallen out of the sky just today; I think it has been around very strongly for a number of years. In fact, so strong was the sentiment in the Australian community that Labor promised no carbon tax in 2010. They promised that absolutely.
Then, when they realised the vehemence with which the Australian people despised the carbon tax—because it was impacting on the cost of living; it was destroying their jobs and having a perverse outcome on the environment—the Labor Party rushed around at the 2013 election to say, 'No, nothing to see here. We've already removed the carbon tax.' We know that the carbon tax has not been removed. Just as the Australian people were misled before the 2010 election—that there would be no carbon tax—so they were misled by the Australian Labor Party in 2013 with the assertion that the carbon tax had already been removed.
The simple fact that we have to introduce this swathe of bills, some nine of them, indicates that the carbon tax regrettably is still alive and well. And, each day that this carbon tax continues, it will continue to have an impost on the cost of living for every single Australian, and it will continue to destroy jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector—
especially in the manufacturing sector, Senator Cameron, which you know. It continues to have a perverse outcome on the environment. We as a government are determined to—
Senator Cameron interjecting—
We as a government will seek to prosecute those issues on which we were elected and in particular this impost on the economy which we believe was brought to us as a result of that marriage between the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens, something about which former Senator Mark Bishop had words to say, quite rightly. He is no longer with us, regrettably, but I am sure he is ably replaced by Senator Bullock, and I wish him well.
I conclude my remarks by saying that we as a government are anxious to remove this impost for the Australian people; noting that, in its removal, we will be delivering on the promises made by Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott, in 2010, and by Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott in 2013.
Don't worry, I will be speaking on the suspension of standing orders and the upending of the Senate rules which no doubt you will do next.
I thank Senator Milne for allowing me to speak first. I will not be too long. There are a number of things in that stream of hyperbole which I think require a response from the Labor Party. Firstly, Senator Abetz says, 'People are concerned about the cost of living; this carbon price is a dreadful thing for cost of living'. What about the GP tax—that promise that you broke? You did not tell people that you would be introducing a $7 GP tax. As I recall, it was, 'No cuts to health; no cuts to education.' People care about the cost of living. What about the tax on pharmaceuticals, the increased co-payment, making it more expensive for people to get medication? Do you reckon that has an impact on people's cost of living? What about fuel excise? This is one for Senator Williams. What about the increase to fuel tax? That is also not something that was discussed before the election. Some might describe it as a carbon tax on steroids. What about the cuts to pensions? They might be something about cost of living—the cuts to pensions that the Prime Minister so arrogantly pretends do not exist. The thing about this government is that not only—
Senator Abetz interjecting—
I will take the interjection from the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He said, 'No cuts.' You tell that to Australia's pensioners. You are going to reduce the amount by which their pension increases from what it is now into the future. You tell them, 'Actually, love, that's not a cut. I'm going to take money back to the government, which is how I get a saving in my budget, but I'm not even going to do you the respect of acknowledging that it is a cut to your pension.'
Finally, there is the deregulation of university fees, making it harder for disadvantaged Australians and kids from working-class families to go to university. When Senator Abetz comes in here and cries about the cost of living, I hope everybody in this chamber and everybody who might consider this debate will think about the cost-of-living measures, the cost-of-living imposts, the increases to the cost of living of Australians, particularly middle- and low-income Australians, that the government are seeking to impose with their budget. Worst of all, they told lies before the election about whether they would do that.
There was a lot of talk about mandate in the contribution from Senator Abetz. Where is the mandate for the GP tax? Where is the mandate for the increases to the fuel excise? Where is the mandate for increases to the pharmaceuticals co-payment? Where is the mandate for cuts to the pension? Where is the mandate for putting university education out of the reach of so many Australians? If you want to talk about mandates, Senator Abetz, maybe the government should come in here and talk to Australians about why they lied to the Australian people and told them there would be no change to pensions, no cuts to health and no cuts to education.
Senator Abetz also talks about the manufacturing industry. A government whose Treasurer stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and goaded Holden to leave wants to talk to us about manufacturing jobs? The government, who ripped assistance away from the car industry and ensured that we have an end to the auto manufacturing industry here in Australia, want to come to this chamber and tell us that we have to get rid of the carbon price because that is better for manufacturing jobs, after demonstrating that they have no concern for manufacturing workers and their families. I think Senator Abetz said in his speech—and the Hansard will correct me if I am wrong—that the carbon tax had destroyed the Australian economy. If that is the case, what has this government done in terms of ripping away manufacturing jobs? What has this government done in terms of the hit on low- and middle-income earners, the hit on families, the hit on vulnerable Australians and the hit on elderly Australians? Let's get a bit of reality into this debate.
The Labor Party has made very clear: we support an emissions trading scheme. That is our position, and that is a floating price. With all of the word games and props that Senator Abetz uses, he glosses over that fact. We support an emissions trading scheme, which is what we went to the election with in 2007—a mandate which those opposite deny. We support an emissions trading scheme, like John Howard used to in 2007, like John Hewson does and like all sensible economists do, because it is the cheapest way for our economy to respond to climate change. It is the cheapest way for us to address this issue. Unlike those opposite, we do not believe it is a reasonable position, an ethical position, to say to Australians, 'It's all too hard. We don't want to do anything about climate change.' That is what this government wants. That is the position of this government. It is not the position of the Labor Party.
I rise to draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the new Senate, sworn in a matter of a few hours ago, is being asked, if the government has its way on this, to deal with a complex set of bills which go to the heart of addressing global warming and bringing down greenhouse gas emissions. Having listened to Senator Abetz, it makes it even more important that we do not deal with these in the rush that the government wants. This is a matter where, in 50 years time, people are going to look back on what this Senate did and say, 'How is it possible that, given what they knew at the time with regard to climate science, given that they knew at the time that we were reaching tipping points beyond which there is no return, given they knew at the time that ocean acidification is simplifying marine ecosystems, given that they knew that the West Antarctic ice sheet was collapsing, given that they knew glaciers were retreating, and given that they knew that extreme weather events were killing people all around the world and here in Australia, they swore in people in the Senate and within hours wanted to bring on a complex set of legislation and vote down the only effective policy that this parliament has had to bring down emissions?' Every minute that we stand here under the current legislation, greenhouse gas emissions are coming down. That is the fact of the matter. Look at the electricity sector; look at the sectors that are covered.
As for shutting down manufacturing, as Senator Williams talks about, let me tell you: hollowing out the manufacturing sector is the legacy of the Howard and Costello years. Hollowing out the manufacturing sector and undermining investment in further education are the legacies of those years. In 2006, there was the opportunity at the height of the boom to actually invest in education and in transitioning the economy. And what did they do? They gave it out in tax cuts, left, right and centre—manna from heaven. Remember the debate? Rivers of gold; manna from heaven—they gave it out in tax cuts to people, instead of investing in public transport, in education and in the kind of infrastructure that the future demanded.
But now we are in a situation where Senator Abetz tells Australians that there is a carbon tax. There is not. We have legislation in this parliament which is an emissions trading scheme. That is what is the law in Australia as I stand here and speak. It is operating as a fixed price for three years and then transitioning to flexible pricing as of 1 July next year. So it is a lie to say to the Australian people that we do not have an emissions trading scheme. We do. The architecture is passed. Everything is in place. The Climate Change Authority was set up to recommend to the parliament the level that we should set for ambition, and, when that recommendation was made, the parliament was supposed to put that into the legislation to enable flexible pricing. The linking with the European Union has already been done. The expectation is that we will be at flexible pricing, linked to the European Union, next year. We could actually go to it now if we chose to do so. But the fact of the matter is: we already have an emissions trading scheme.
As to this notion that it is a blot on jobs: well, contrary to what Senator Abetz says, in the news today we hear that Californian company SolarReserve's CEO, Kevin Smith, has said that it will not be investing in Australia because of the wind-back of climate framework policy. Around Australia today, we have a huge rollout of renewable energy and jobs because people can see that this is where the innovation is, this is where rural development is, this is where rural jobs are, around Australia. Communities are embracing renewable energy, putting solar panels on their roofs and doing what they can with energy efficiency.
It may come as a shock to the coalition to learn it, but most people are actually anxious about the future because of global warming. If you had picked up the paper over the weekend you would have seen that Kiribati, a country in the Pacific, has just bought land in Fiji so that it can transfer its entire population. What does that say to this parliament? These are our Pacific island neighbours who are already impacted on by sea level rise and by saltwater incursion. They have young people sitting there in their country knowing that it is rapidly reaching a point where they can no longer live in that country. As to Tuvalu, as early as 2006, on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, up got their leader and said to the global community: 'Who will take my people?' Is Australia going to start recognising that we are driving environmental refugees around the world because of extreme weather events, because of sea level rise, because of storm surge and because of saltwater incursion? These are the issues that we should be talking about, particularly here in this Senate.
There is a need for everybody in the Senate—and, I would say, especially the new senators—to understand the architecture of the legislation and how it works. Did the new senators, for example, know that there has been a schedule added to one of the bills—schedule 5 added to the main bill—which removes the funding substantially from ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency? This parliament set up the Australian Renewable Energy Agency so that there would be a continuum between early-stage research and pilot-stage rollout of projects through to commercialisation under the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They were a package. And the idea was that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation profits would flow back into the Renewable Energy Agency and fund early-stage research. So it became a circular thing, where the community was not having to pay for the early-stage research—in fact the rollout and profit from those projects was.
Does anyone here actually understand that, by repealing these bills, the government has chosen to forgo $18 billion in revenue over the forward estimates? The Prime Minister is saying to the people of Australia that he will not take it out of the pockets of the big polluters; he will in fact take it out of the pockets of the community in co-payments for going to the doctor; he will take it out of the pockets of the community and pensioners; he will take it out of the pockets of the community when it comes to health and education. Whilst people have talked about the co-payments, not a lot has yet been said about the millions being taken out of health and education to the states.
Speaking of the states, how many people here realise that Tasmania has had a major windfall gain because of our emissions trading scheme? Hydro Tasmania has made substantial amounts of money—$70 million is going into the Hydro because of carbon pricing, and that goes into the state budget by way of a dividend paid into the state budget. Stopping that means that Tasmania—which is already under the pump economically, which people realise—will have fewer nurses, police and teachers.
It is coming out of the pockets of big polluters; that is where the money is coming from. That is my point. It is coming out of the pockets of big polluters because the big polluters are being asked to internalise the real cost of their pollution, and that is why we are saying: why should the community have to pay with their lives?
Why should the community have to pay for the extreme weather events? Who pays for the massive destruction of infrastructure? Who paid for the aftermath of the Queensland floods? I will tell you: the community did, through their taxes. Billions went in that so-called one-off flood repair levy. But we said at the time that a permanent fund should be set up and the big polluters should pay into that permanent fund, because every year Australians have to pay for extreme fires, for floods and for drought relief, and that is going to go on and on. We are going to see more extreme weather events, and the community is going to pay with lives and with infrastructure, and they are already paying. If you look at the so-called savings that you are supposedly going to be making, and then you take from that the cost of cleaning up after these extreme weather events, and ask people: 'How much are your insurance premiums these days if you live in an area vulnerable to flooding, to storm surge or to fire?' you will find that, if you live in Roma, the savings that you supposedly are going to make from the repeal of a carbon price are nothing compared with the fact that you cannot even afford insurance anymore because of your vulnerability to flooding. That is the reality around Australia, and that is why I think we need to stand here and go through these bills and have people actually understand the connections between all of the elements of these pieces of legislation. The future depends upon it.
We went out and spoke with some young people this morning, and I can tell you that they are representative of young people right around the country. They get the climate science. They know the world is changing. They also know that it is their future, that they and their children are going to inherit an earth that has been seriously depleted by species extinction, for a start, and extreme weather events. They know they are going to inherit a world with more conflict. The Pentagon has already acknowledged that global warming is going to be a major driver of conflict and is now part of military planning in the United States. That is why we are saying: do not rush this. Australia is not a dictatorship; it is a democracy, and the Senate is a house of review. We should be reviewing this legislation and pointing out the lies that have been told about carbon pricing. It has always been a lie to say that we have a carbon tax in Australia. We have an emissions trading scheme that is legislated; it is in place now and it is linked to the European Union. And we should be keeping that carbon price.
Senator Lambie interjecting—
I am pleased that Senator Lambie has raised the issue of pensioners. Part of the design of carbon pricing was that people on low incomes and pensions were overcompensated for the flow-on cost of carbon pricing. We structured the compensation to overcompensate people on low incomes. What is more, we did something that was innovative, and that was raise the tax-free threshold. The tax-free threshold in Australia used to be $6,000. We have raised the tax-free threshold to $18,000 and it will go to $19,400. That means people around Australia on low incomes benefit hugely. Everybody, and particularly those on low incomes—part-time workers, students and the like—benefits from the fact that they have now got a higher tax-free threshold. That was part of the design.
It is important that we have a full and informed debate on how the package worked. Why did we need $10 billion going into renewable energy, which the Greens negotiated? It was because the carbon price was not going to drive the transformation to 100 per cent renewables as quickly as possible. That is why we added the Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to the architecture to support a transition to a low-carbon economy. The Climate Change Authority was an important part of the architecture. It was based on what they do in the UK, where they recognised that they needed an expert body to recommend to the parliament the level of ambition that would be required to meet their obligations as part of a global community trying to constrain global warming to less than two degrees.
The Greens will stand here and argue absolutely for the retention of our emissions trading scheme and the retention of action on global warming. Frankly, it is a global disgrace that we are behaving as an isolationist, inward-looking, selfish country in the global community. Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, is calling a global summit asking countries to put a higher level of ambition on the table and acknowledging the disaster that is climate change. And this weekend we had scientists reporting that we are very close to having a massive burst of methane going into the atmosphere because of the thawing in the Arctic. That will set us back a very long time in terms of urgency and what needs to be done.
By keeping the scheme we have got, we have a trajectory which we can increase and we will be able to do it in a way that does not have massive dislocation in the economy. But the longer you leave action on global warming, the longer you do not do what is necessary, by the time you get around to doing it the trajectory will be so steep that the dislocation will be huge. We have already seen the risk associated with investment in what will be stranded assets. I have absolutely no doubt that the coal ports up and down the Queensland coast and the coalmines currently being proposed in the Galilee and Bowen basins are going to end up as stranded assets because the world is going to have to move and very fast.
It beggars belief that the Parliament of Australia, a nation which prides itself on its global responsibility, would abuse the processes of the parliament and race in here on the first day of a new Senate and try and drive through legislation that will impact on every person who comes after us. This seems to be part of a game the coalition wants to play. The Prime Minister ran around Australia saying Whyalla would be wiped off the map, and Barnaby Joyce said a roast dinner would cost $100 and the like. All of it was untrue—unsubstantiated nonsense has been out there. That is why we need to make a considered and thoughtful judgement. It really will be a situation where, in 50 years time, people will look back at who was in here now and ask themselves: 'Why did those people vote the way that they did in full knowledge? Were they so selfish that they didn't care about future generations? Were they so ignorant that they didn't read the science and understand what it meant? Or were they just involved in playing cheap political games?' People in here have to recognise that on this package of bills, on this issue, they will be judged. We will all be judged for the positions that we take.
Former Prime Minister Rudd decided in 2010 to abandon what he then called 'the greatest moral challenge of all time'. And it is. It is an intergenerational equity issue and it is a justice issue. He was right. In abandoning that in 2010, he turned the 2010 election into a climate election. I can tell you, Mr President, the 2016 federal election will be a climate election in Australia. That is because the rest of the world is not going to tolerate what Australia is doing. We will see not only the Chinese but also the British and the Americans entering into all kinds of bilaterals, which will give them enormous economic advantage, recognising that the main source of growth at the moment is innovation in the clean energy economy. Australia will be left behind as a rust-bucket economy because we are looking back to an old, resource based dirty past as the rest of the world is investing its best brains in a clever, innovative and educated future. That is why this choice today is about the past versus the future and that is why the Greens are firmly placed here on the side of the future.
We accept the Climate Change Authority's recommendation that we need a 40 to 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The community is rapidly coming to understand the costs of not acting on climate change. The cost of acting is far less and people are now seeing that this is an equity issue. Why should $18 billion be kept in the hands of the polluters and taken out of the pockets of the community? That is what people are asking and that is the question that has to be answered. But it is because of the fact that so many lies have been told, because there is an attempt to abuse the processes of this parliament, that we are saying here that we will absolutely not support these bills being taken together. We ask that the questions of proceeding without formality and the bills being taken together be put as separate questions.
To me this is an issue about process. I can indicate that I did not support the carbon tax because the former government had a reverse mandate not to introduce it. When Malcolm Turnbull was opposition leader, we jointly commissioned Frontier Economics to come up with an alternative emissions trading scheme and I think it stood the test of time in terms of the predictions made about the revenue recycling, the waste inherent in what the previous government had put up.
But the issue here is: do we deal with these bills this week or do we deal with them next week? That is what the issue is. Do we deal with them in a rush this week, or do we wait for a committee process to determine the nuances and the intricacies of these bills, particularly given the new schedule that Senator Milne referred to? I think it would be a prudent thing to do to ensure that we deal with them next week. There is no question that we need to have these bills dealt with in this sitting fortnight, but the immediate question is whether we deal with them this week or next week. Having them dealt with separately, I think, would be preferable from a procedural point of view.
In terms of abuse of process, I must say—and I think Senator Madigan has been consistent on this as well—I have been in this chamber when the ALP and the Greens voted for the guillotine where we rammed a whole range of bills through with little or no debate. That was absolutely and fundamentally wrong. It is very important that we on the crossbench try and ensure that that does not happen again. I was not party to it and I do not want to be party to it.
If my colleagues on the crossbench decide to have these bills dealt with this week, my plea to you is: at the very least, please let's make sure there is sufficient debate in the committee stage, because I have been in this place when they rammed through legislation and there was no committee stage or it was truncated. You do not get to ask those key questions in the committee stage about the intricacies of the bills, about how they work. That is very important. So, if we are going to deal with them this week, then let's sit as many hours as we need to so that no senator, no party, no individual is deprived of the right to ask key questions about these bills, because they have wide implications.
Let's look at the broader picture. It is this: both major parties have a bipartisan commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by a fairly modest five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. How do you best achieve it? That is one of the questions here. I believe that direct action, a second-best option, with modification, might work.
I agree with Senator Wong that the best, most effective and efficient way of dealing with climate change, of reducing greenhouse gases, is by having an efficient emissions trading scheme. I would like to quote from an opinion piece published last week in the New York Times by Henry Paulson. Henry Paulson was the Secretary of the Treasury from July 2006 to January 2009 in the United States for George W Bush. We are not talking about a left-winger. We are talking about a deeply conservative man whose position was this:
The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response.
He goes on about the risks of not having an effective response. He says:
When I worry about risks, I worry about the biggest ones, particularly those that are difficult to predict—the ones I call small but deep holes. While odds are you will avoid them, if you do fall in one, it’s a long way down and nearly impossible to claw your way out.
That is the sort of thing we need to be careful of. When you hear an arch-conservative saying we need to have an efficient market response to climate change, that is something that we need to look at very, very closely. Mr Paulson went on to say:
The nature of a crisis is its unpredictability. And as we all witnessed during the financial crisis, a chain reaction of cascading failures ensued from one intertwined part of the system to the next. It’s easy to see a single part in motion. It’s not so easy to calculate the resulting domino effect. That sort of contagion nearly took down the global financial system.
We need to have a sensible and a considered approach.
Can I also say this about the debate in relation to the carbon tax. Whilst I did not support it, let's put this in perspective. Two-thirds of the reason why power prices have gone up in this country is because of network charges. Successive governments at a state and federal level have been asleep at the wheel with respect to our National Electricity Market and the power of the Australian Energy Regulator. The regulator does not have enough powers to tackle the cost-gouging that we consumers are facing when it comes to electricity prices in this country. We have had a narrow debate—that the increased prices are all about the carbon tax. Of course the carbon tax is a key factor, but two-thirds of the power prices are due to a whole range of other factors, including where network charges have been gold plated and where consumers and businesses have been taken for mugs. We need a commitment from the government. That is why the Palmer United Party, Senator Muir, Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Day can play a key role to ensure that the government pushes a reform agenda to make sure the regulator has the power to hold big power companies to account for the price gouging which has been occurring for so long.
For our manufacturing industries, power prices are a real and significant factor, but for the government to rip $400 million from the Automotive Transformation Scheme is a much bigger factor for manufacturing in this country, and that is on top of the $500 million taken out of promises made by the former shadow minister, Ms Mirabella.
The Australian government, for reasons I cannot fathom, has decided to send a contract for the building of two Navy supply ships worth up to $1.5 billion to South Korea and/or Spain. It will not even allow Australian companies to tender. How is that good for our manufacturing industries? We are not even allowed to have a fighting chance, to tender for those jobs. We need those jobs more than ever, with the demise of Holden, Ford and Toyota removing original automotive manufacturing from this country. We need those jobs and that is why this government must be held to account. So I will not be lectured by this government on manufacturing jobs when it is not even allowing Australian industry to tender for a $1.5 billion contract. There is something that we need to do as well. It is not that simple; it is nuanced.
So if eventually there will be a suspension of standing orders, which I understand the government is proposing to move, and we deal with these bills this week—that is not my preferred course, but if we do—I urge my crossbench colleagues: for goodness sakes, do not do what the ALP and the Greens did in the previous parliament when they rushed things through and gagged debate. We need to have a decent debate on this. That is what this parliament is about. We have a job here to hold the executive arm of government to account. We owe that to the people of Australia.
This is a matter which brought me to politics in the first place, so I am very pleased to speak on these bills today. As much as Senator Abetz would like us to believe that the Australian government has a mandate to bash these bills through without comment, I would remind him that the Australian people have seen fit to hang the numbers in this chamber; that we have the largest ever assembly of crossbenchers, people who have not yet had time to read the bills, let alone critique them and come to an informed view, which is why we engage in committee processes in the first place; and that although Mr Abbott does control the numbers in the House of Representatives—which is why we have seen debate there approach the proportions of a sham—the Senate works very differently and thank goodness it does. We have the most diverse upper house probably in the history of the Federation and, given the importance of the bills we are dealing with, the very least we could do is pay the committee the respect it deserves and give it the time to produce and table its report.
I will be very clear: this is one bill on which I have made up my mind. The most important issue facing this parliament today and facing other parliaments and assemblies around the world is what kind of policy we bring into the age of climate change. We have committed ourselves already to dangerous climate change and to dangerous degrees of global warming. The question now is whether we plunge on and commit ourselves and our children to catastrophic climate change, where societies' ability to adapt to what is coming down the line will be overwhelmed.
We have also heard Senator Abetz and others on the government benches adopting this very thin veneer of pretending to care about climate change, but the cat was let out of the bag by the fact that they are still happy and content to adopt a five per cent target, which is so brazenly at odds with what the scientific community has been telling us for decades. It should be treated as no more than a sham. That is why the government's direct action policy should be seen for what it is: a policy designed by people who could not care less whether or not it works because, through some strange artefact, the government appears to have decided that what the weather is doing at the moment is some kind of socialist conspiracy.
How utterly bizarre! How could otherwise intelligent, reasonable legislators, educated people, somehow bring themselves to believe that NASA, CSIRO, the Hadley Centre and the Bureau of Meteorology have got it wrong and Lord Monckton somehow got it right? I should not address him as a lord. The House of Lords have asked that he not be addressed as a lord, so I will not. They believe that somehow people like Andrew Bolt have got it right and that the global science community have somehow become engaged and enmeshed in a socialist conspiracy? What are you people huffing in your party room, if that is where you have got to?
These acts should stand. The government would rip $18 billion out of the economy—out of direct transfers to vulnerable Australians, out of energy efficiency throughout the business community and out of changes to the tax scales to protect people who can least afford increases in electricity prices. Bear in mind that the overall impact, more or less, is as Treasury predicted: equal to about a third of the cost impact of the GST when it was introduced. Those who were unable to pay for that were compensated—indeed, as Senator Milne reminds us, were overcompensated.
Even more importantly, the carbon tax would transfer some of that money from dirty industry to the clean energy industries of the future. The package was not perfect but it is a lot better than what this current government proposes to do, which is simply to throw a wrecking ball through it. You will be throwing a wrecking ball through Australian industry. While those on the other side of the chamber bemoan the demise of manufacturing in this country, they are setting out to systematically sabotage the clean energy sector, which has extraordinary manufacturing potential for Australia, particularly for my state of WA, which has been dubbed 'the Saudi Arabia of sunlight'. All this shows that the government simply cannot be taken seriously.
This is policy designed by people who have managed to persuade themselves that the most serious public policy issue facing this country in the 21st century simply does not exist. How nice that must be for you, to wake up in the morning simply believing that it is not there, it is just not true and it is just not happening. You wake up, you tighten that blindfold around your eyes and you come into parliament to try to persuade the rest of the country that, simply because you have deluded yourselves into believing this is not real, we should believe it and go that way as well. It is real and it is, indeed, an uncomfortable and an inconvenient truth. But it is the truth. You cannot argue with the weather; you cannot debate the composition of the atmosphere.
You bring forward these repeal bills. However, the Australian Greens are of the view that they should be debated and that the committee should be allowed to report. We are strongly of the view that the new crossbenchers and the other senators on the back bench of the Labor and Liberal-National parties should be given the opportunity, given the gravity of these measures, to read the bills and to analyse exactly what it is that you are proposing to do, to form a considered view and then, I would hope, to consign these repeal bills to the dustbin of history. As Senator Milne mentioned previously, people will be looking back at these debates. They will be asking how on earth Australia became the first and only industrialised country in the world to roll back a functional carbon price instrument.
I am a little tired of being accused of being a socialist for being one of the ones promoting a flexible pricing instrument to deal with this public policy question. That is straight out of the Karl Marx playbook—that you would have a market instrument to sort out the most efficient and most rapid way of restructuring electricity markets around the country, driving industry and householders towards more efficient consumption of energy, thereby lowering electricity bills and eventually eliminating them when the renewable energy infrastructure is completely in place. You have somehow established in your own minds that a floating market instrument as one component of public policy for dealing with this issue is somehow a socialist initiative. How utterly bizarre. You have completely taken leave of reality.
That is not the only thing: the Australian Greens believe that one of the most important components of the clean energy package, which the coalition also proposes to wreck, is the construction of and investment in the next generation of renewable energy power stations, such as solar thermal plants. Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Wright were buoyed over recent days with the announcement that Alinta, themselves a very substantial fossil player, are now undertaking a feasibility study into converting a section of South Australia's power grid into a dedicated solar thermal plant. That fires the starting gun for me. I think we are going to beat you, Senator Wright. I think the goldfields in WA will be the first to get one of those built. We look forward to the competition.
Senator Waters interjecting—
Senator Waters might like to step up for the western part of Queensland. Our continent is drenched in sunlight and this is the fuel for the power stations of the future. You can try to roll it back all you like and maybe you—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—will be successful today, Senator Abetz. Maybe you will succeed through these procedural shenanigans to have these bills brought on and rammed through. But I do not think you are aware of just how rapidly the electricity sector is changing. What has been posed as this so-called death spiral of the black-power generators in the network business, at least on the east coast of Australia, is in fact the sign of an industry being born, an industry that we desperately need to perform and outperform expectations, as it has been doing.
You can sit there and study your repeal bills. You can craft your speeches about toxic taxes and rehearse the same tired talking points that got you through last September because people genuinely believed your campaign of fearmongering—that Whyalla would be wiped off the map, that people would be priced out of their homes and that electricity bills would go through the roof. None of it happened. That is why it did not work when it came to the Western Australian by-election. The talking points no longer worked. The stale lines that you were rolling out meant that the combined vote of the coalition collapsed by another five per cent. It was not a glitch, not the kind of bump that always happens in by-elections. It was the continuation of a long-term decline in the Liberal Party vote. It was 50 per cent of the Western Australian vote a decade ago. Now it is 34. And we knocked another five per cent off you while you were out there flailing your arms about, talking about the toxic carbon tax. The Greens recorded their strongest ever vote in Western Australia in the Senate.
The reason it is not working anymore is that the fear campaign was exposed as hollow. Whyalla is still chugging along pretty nicely. Alinta is now proposing solar thermal in South Australia. The off-grid miners are first in the queue in Western Australia to eliminate their diesel fuel bills and their gas bills by building solar plants at their mining operations. The politics have changed, the policy has changed and the air is warming around us.
All I can do is urge the crossbenchers to join with the Greens in opposing this motion, in taking time and giving these bills due consideration because, in my view, there will not be a more important set of bills that we deal with, certainly not in this term of parliament. We cannot be the first country in the world to roll back a functional carbon price that is actually changing the structure of electricity markets, at least on the east coast. It is driving down emissions in the electricity sector and we are finally seeing that economic tipping point of the next generation of renewable energy technology and the increasing economic advantages of eliminating your fuel bills—coal, gas and oil. The penny is finally dropping that that revolution is here.
If you think you can hold that back with these votes today, you are mistaken. Maybe you will manage to cost us five years, as Australian industry slips further backwards down the curve, outcompeted by the United States, the Chinese and the Middle East—they also have a fair amount of sunlight there. Is that really what you are after? You will not be able to say that you were not warned. You went into this with your eyes open. I look forward to committing to the vote: proper, due consideration of these bills rather than this reckless, headlong rush that you are engaged in on behalf of your donors in the coal, oil and gas industries.
The question now is that the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.
The question is that the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] be read a first time.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a first time.