Monday, 11 September 2017
Product Emissions Standards Bill 2017, Product Emissions Standards (Excise) Charges Bill 2017, Product Emissions Standards (Customs) Charges Bill 2017, Product Emissions Standards (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2017; In Committee
For the benefit of the Senate, the great frustration is that I have an amendment to move. Perhaps someone would like to stand up and make a contribution in the interim. Senator Leyonhjelm is on his way. Senator Leyonhjelm, the committee is considering the Product Emissions Standards Bill 2017. We haven't had any amendments moved.
by leave—I move Liberal Democrats amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8238:
(1) Clause 3, page 2 (lines 17 to 22), omit paragraph (b) (including the note), substitute:
(b) in doing so, to contribute to improving air quality in Australia in order to deliver associated health and environmental benefits.
(2) Clause 7, page 4 (lines 10 to 22), omit the definition of Climate Change Conventions (including the note).
Amendment (1) limits the objective of this scheme to the improvement of air quality, rather than the improvement of air quality or contributing to the Australian government meeting its obligations under climate change conventions. Amendment (2) is consequential to this in that it removes the redundant definition of 'Climate change conventions'.
As I outlined in my contribution in the second reading debate, it may on occasion be appropriate to ban a product because of its detriment to air quality, but products should not be banned just to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Until other major emitters, like China, Russia, India and Brazil, which emit more emissions in a day than Australia emits in a year, are prepared to act to reduce their emissions and not just talk about them, it amounts to economic suicide for Australia to go down this path. No matter what you believe about climate change, economic suicide is just plain dumb.
I just want to place the opposition's opposition to these amendments on record. We believe that the amendments moved by Senator Leyonhjelm run counter to the purpose of the bill and, indeed, remove its legal powers. We are opposing them.
I also want noted that the Australian Greens will not be supporting the amendments of Senator Leyonhjelm. This bill is taking a small step forward in terms of reducing pollution from the technologies that it covers. Senator Leyonhjelm's amendments would, in fact, take us a long way backwards, rather than taking a small step forward.
Senator Leyonhjelm, thank you for your amendments. I understand the intent of your amendments, and I note in some ways the intent of your amendments is not dissimilar to some of the comments that Senator Roberts made in his contribution, highlighting what the actual focus of the bill is. But, in relation to the particular provisions that you seek to omit from the legislation, it is the government's view that, because they provide part of the basis for the constitutional underpinning of this bill—namely, the external affairs power—it is important that the provisions remain as printed.
It is my intention and the intention of the Australian Conservatives to support the amendments moved by Senator Leyonhjelm. I put that on the record. I also understand, Senator Leyonhjelm, that you would like to call a division on this. That being the case, I will lend my voice to the division should it be required.
I thank Senator Bernardi for his contribution. As I was indicating, I did note in the concluding speeches at the second reading stage that Senator Roberts made a contribution that particularly highlighted the types of matters that are sought to be regulated under the Production Emissions Standards Bill. This related to particulates that can clearly be harmful to human health under certain circumstances. They are particulates that we do seek to regulate in other ways. The overwhelming priority and objective of this bill is absolutely to ensure that those particulates, carbon monoxide and others, are controlled in a safe and appropriate way to create a circumstance in which we can have confidence that, whether it be motor vehicles or small petrol engines, which were the subject of some of the discussion, we have standards to ensure their quality and the safety of Australians.
Of course, like all legislation passed through this place, it is important that there also be clear constitutional underpinning for such legislation. In this case, one of the powers upon which the legislation stands is the external affairs power as a constitutional basis for the bill. As a result of that, the government has cited in clause 7, lines 10 to 22 of page 4, definitions of some of the conventions through which that external affairs power is sourced, whilst, of course, also then identifying, within the objects of the bill, the reference to some of those conventions. The circumstances that we have here are such that the government believes the bill needs to stand as printed. (Quorum formed)
by leave—I move Australian Conservatives amendments (1), (2) and (3) together on sheet 8249:
(1) Clause 7, page 5 (after line 4), after the definition of mark, insert:
(a) means a vehicle that uses, or is designed to use, volatile spirit, gas, oil, electricity or any other power (not being human or animal power) as the principal means of compulsion; and
(b) includes a vehicle not designed for use on public roads or not permitted to be used on public roads.
(2) Clause 7, page 5 (lines 7 to 10), omit the definition of product, substitute:
product has the meaning given by subsection (5).
(3) Clause 7, page 6 (after line 4), at the end of the clause, add:
(5) Subject to subsection (6), a product means a thing (including a substance or mixture of substances) that is:
(a) manufactured; or
(b) prescribed by the rules for the purposes of this definition.
(6) A product does not include a motor vehicle.
Note: For the regulation of emissions in relation to road motor vehicles, see the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989.
I won't delay the Senate unnecessarily. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure the government is true to its word in only intending to apply the scope of this bill to whipper-snippers, lawnmowers, outboard motors and other areas it has expressly identified, but expressly excluding vehicles. Vehicles are the highest source of emissions, but the government has sworn off regulating vehicle emission during this term of government. This amendment is to find out whether those are weasel words or a carved-in-stone position for both the government and the opposition.
If the coalition are so clear there is not going to be a carbon tax on cars, despite their consultation underway on noxious emissions, they can support this amendment. Similarly, colleagues in the Labor Party who attacked the government in July for proposing a carbon tax on cars can join the Australian Conservatives today in putting that concern to bed. Similarly, I would say to the Nick Xenophon Team: the auto industry is also advocating for certainty. What better certainty than contractual certainty? That is what we will help. I'm well aware that the Motor Vehicle Standard Act relates to road vehicles. This is the proper place, therefore, should the government wish so, to regulate emissions from on-road vehicles. Due to the act not concerning off-road vehicles, be they tractors, earth-moving equipment, mining equipment and the forklifts prolific throughout warehouses in Australia, they're not necessarily captured by the Motor Vehicle Standard Act. We want to make it absolutely clear that this act that we're debating today cannot be applied to them either.
In short, the Australian Conservatives do not trust a government, this one or an alternative government, responsibly using the minister's power to impose regulations on low-cost goods that might have health-effecting emissions. The government might say that the proper course is disallowance. Well, by its rhetoric in June, when they invoked the ghost of the king of pop Elvis Presley, the only way to ensure a carbon tax on cars is dead, buried and cremated, or the closest thing to it, is to put it in law—that it will not be coming through in this regime. We cannot allow carbon taxation or emissions regulation by stealth, given how hotly contested the political space has been on this topic.
As the government has been clear in the explanatory memoranda and in all the explanations to this, this legislation is to apply to non-road spark ignition engines and products, as defined. There is separate legislation that applies exclusively to motor vehicles in the transport portfolio. This legislation is very clearly only to apply to the non-road spark ignition engines and equipment, as outlined in the explanatory memoranda and elsewhere. Therefore, the government believes this amendment is not necessary and is saddened by Senator Bernardi's lack of trust.
I'm pleased that the minister has had a chance to put the government's position on record. That is a helpful contribution with which we agree. And we also oppose the amendments.
I seek the minister's advice. He said that this bill applies to non-road spark engines—or however you described it. But, Minister, does that specifically prohibit the extension of the regulations to non-road-going vehicles, such as tractors, farm vehicles, off-terrain vehicles or unregistered vehicles? If I recall, Minister Frydenberg said that there was more chance of Elvis coming back than a carbon tax on cars. This would appear to me to be an opportunity for you to impose what is effectively a carbon tax, an emissions standards scheme, on non-road vehicles, which you have specifically said does fall within the gambit of this. Are you with Minister Frydenberg in saying that Elvis Presley is not coming back, or do I hear the warblings of the great man in this chamber?
I'm pleased to advise Senator Bernardi and all senators that you won't be hearing my warblings. That is the last thing you would want to hear. I'm not so pleased to advise, but I am happy to make a ministerial confirmation, that Elvis is dead.
Senator Smith interjecting—
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
I'm sorry to disappoint Senator Dastyari. I think Senator Smith quietly behind me just made reference to 'Suspicious Minds'. Perhaps there are some suspicious minds at play in relation to the intent behind this legislation or indeed Elvis's existence or otherwise. Senator Bernardi, I can be very clear that the government will not extend any provisions under this legislation—should there even be any scope to do so, which I don't necessarily believe there is—to the types of vehicles that you have outlined in your question.
I thank the minister for his assurance and the element of doubt about whether the scope is there to do that. However, to ensure the Australian people can be completely satisfied that there is not going to be an increase in regulation and a carbon tax by stealth and to prevent a more enthusiastic carbon-taxer than Minister Frydenberg and yourself—if that's possible, Senator Birmingham—from assuming the ministerial benches and imposing this by regulation, why is it that the government won't support these amendments, which at the very least will do no harm?
Senator Bernardi, as I outlined, we don't believe that your amendments are necessary. There are quite tight prescriptions within the bill in terms of comebacks to the chamber or to the parliament should there be any attempt to extend the scope or reach of the legislation in any particular way, and we don't see the need to further delay passage of the legislation through adopting unnecessary amendments.
I'm just a little concerned, because you yourselves don't seem to know. So why don't we put a safety net in here? Why don't you support Senator Bernardi's amendments? You are over there tap-dancing all over the show, and it is quite embarrassing for you that you don't know your own bill. When it comes to what you don't know, you are certainly not assuring me or anybody else here or the Australian people. So let's go back to the amendments and put them through?
I indicate that the Liberal Democrats support Senator Bernardi's amendments. Governments can't be trusted. A 'trust me' statement is only as good as today, and governments do change over time. In terms of proof, can I indicate that Elvis might be dead but 'Halal Elvis' is alive! I saw his picture just recently. So you really cannot believe anything that you hear from anybody.
The Australian Greens will not be supporting Senator Bernardi's amendments. Very sadly, Elvis is a very, very long way from the building. In fact, we would like him to be rather closer because I think in terms of vehicle emissions, the government is not currently proceeding at the rate that the Australian community would like it to proceed in order to have cleaner vehicles, but it is clear that they are not covered by this legislation. This is the leaf blower and lawnmower legislation essentially, and I think that it's not realistic of Senator Bernardi to claim that it is.
Let me just confirm that, Minister. Your categorical assurance is that this legislation cannot be used by this government or successive governments to impose regulations on emissions for farm tractors? Not that this government's not going to, but just that this legislation does not allow it to happen.
My categorical assurance is that the government would not ever seek to do so, Senator Bernardi. In relation to what future governments may seek to do, that is a matter for future governments. Of course, there are powers and opportunities for the Senate to deny future governments the potential to do so, were they ever to seek to do so.
What I think we've just experienced is one simple example whereby the minister is prepared to offer an assurance for this government, but not that this legislation cannot be used to impose these emissions standards, or the carbon tax by stealth, outside of the leaf blowers, the whipper-snippers and the outboard motors that have been mentioned. This legislation is in essence a carbon tax opportunity for governments. They can impose additional standards and additional costs on a whole range of vehicles because they are not protected under this act.
Our amendments will simply provide some certainty and some surety and, if the government has the confidence in its own statements that it will not be applied to off-road motor vehicles and other vehicles that I've identified, then they need to support these amendments. If they won't, it means their words are as hollow as the words they've said in the last five or six years. They are as hollow as the words the Labor Party said when they were in government: 'There will be no carbon tax in the government that I lead.' 'There will be no carbon tax on cars,' as the rhetorical flourish from Minister Frydenberg said.
This is an opportunity for the government to impose the equivalent of a carbon tax on vehicles that are not road registered. If the Australian people have any doubt that that is what it is, they have to look at what the minister has said in refusing to rule it out categorically, that this legislation can be used in that manner. And it is a flaw in the legislation, it is a flaw in the bill. But, if the government wants to close that door and say, 'We're not even opening it up,' they will support these amendments. If they fail to support these amendments, not only are they betraying farm communities and off-road enthusiasts, the motor drag racers and a whole range of other people who might cross the green gods in pursuit of enjoyment or economic benefit, but they will be opening themselves up to another headline of the carbon tax by stealth. The carbon tax is coming for your vehicles. They will open themselves up to the accusation in every regional electorate of Australia that the government is going to start taxing their fuel, their vehicles and their recreational vehicles.
I have never said it before, but I wish Ricky Muir were here today. Former Senator Muir would be cheering this amendment on because he understands the importance of recreational vehicles for off-road use. This is—
An honourable senator interjecting—
Yes, with all apologies to Senator Hinch. We could have both of you perhaps. Minister, it's as simple as providing assurances that this is not some sort of secretive stealth deal which you're going to expand; they come for the whipper snippers today and next time they come for something better—an all-terrain vehicle—or they come for something broader like a farm tractor.
Support the chainsaws! We've mentioned the chainsaws already, Senator Di Natale. And, Chair, I would say to you that a chainsaw is a life-saving tool for various people because it allows them to clear debris, protect their homes in high-bushfire-risk areas, cut firewood and do a whole range of different things. Yet how do we know the government is not going to levy what is effectively a carbon tax on chainsaws next? It is done simply by regulation, and for the minister to hide behind the fact that you can just move a disallowance of the regulation or something else is to suggest that they have deliberately left this door wide open.
I think it is an indictment upon the government that they so strongly rule out a carbon tax by stealth on vehicles in the public domain when it is exposed in the Daily Telegraph. Then we have the opposition cheered on by their condemnation of the government's plans, which were revealed by the Daily Telegraph. Yet, once that political benefit is done, they're prepared to walk away from those commitments and not support this very prudent and sensible amendment. The only thing it does is seek to hold the government and the opposition to what their public statements have been. But, of course, they don't want that. They don't want that, because to do so would limit their ability to encroach upon the lives of so many Australians. It would limit their ability to foist a new tax, a new cost, onto everyday Australians. It would limit their ability to put some new regulations on imports and on businesses about what they can sell and the manner in which they can sell.
This is just mind-numbingly foolish, so I'll be disappointed if the government won't change their mind. I think they should be persuaded. I know the minister has been listening intently, but he has a smile on his face, and I suspect that means he's going to disappoint me. Nonetheless, I do believe we have an obligation to hold the government and the opposition to what they've said, and the only way to do that is to see how they vote on these very sensible amendments.
I am sorry to disappoint Senator Bernardi. I understand his arguments. As I did particularly in relation to Senator Leyonhjelm's amendment, I again point out the contribution from Senator Roberts, which highlighted that this is not legislation that seeks to regulate emissions related to climate change matters. It is about emissions related to air particulates. In that instance, it deals with a range of other types of emissions that are clearly and directly harmful to human health, which is why the legislation has attracted broad support across the chamber. Whether it relates to chainsaws, leaf blowers, whipper snippers or tractors, it is in no way about a carbon tax on CO2 emissions. It is about ensuring that carbon monoxide, other chemicals and particle emissions dangerous to human health are regulated in a sensible and consistent way across different categories.
The government has been very clear that the intended application for this legislation is in relation to, particularly, non-road spark-ignition engines and equipment. That is what the government will bring forward in the rules which are made by legislative instrument—that is, disallowable instrument—in this chamber. I refer you to section 51 of the primary legislation, the Product Emissions Standards Bill 2017, which makes it clear that the rules are by legislative instrument, and therefore are disallowable by this chamber. The government has been express in the explanatory memoranda, in the various speeches given, and elsewhere in this legislation about the limits of the application of this legislation. I have been very clear, as I believe has Minister Frydenberg, that the government has absolutely no intention to extend the legislation to tractors or other vehicles. And of course, were anybody to seek to do so at any point in the future, this chamber would be fully within its rights to disallow that. I have absolutely every confidence that, were that to occur, the Liberal Party and the National Party would be proposing and supporting such disallowance.
The CHAIR: The question is that amendments (1), (2) and (3) on sheet 8249, as moved by Senator Bernardi, be agreed to.