Senate debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


Suspension of Standing Orders

12:31 pm

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

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to climate change.

What we've seen today is the total and complete capitulation by Malcolm Turnbull to the hard right of his party and to his big coal donors—a total, complete and utter capitulation by a cowardly and spineless Prime Minister, who doesn't have the ticker to stand up to the pro-coal lobbying side of his own party and stand up to the likes of the Nationals, who are more interested in doing the bidding of Gina Rinehart and the mining lobby than they are in standing up for their rural constituents. We've got the Nationals over there who are basically in this place doing a three-year long job interview so they can nick off and do the bidding of the coal and gas industry. Let's see who is part of the coal and gas industry in this country? It's a who's who of the National Party and the Liberal Party: Mark Vaile, John Anderson and Ian Macfarlane. Of course, Labor's not immune. They've got Martin Ferguson on the other side.

Do you know what today is, Mr President? It is payday for those fossil fuel companies who have given millions of dollars in donations to all sides of politics for one reason: to get an energy policy in this country that serves no-one other than the big fossil fuel companies. This plan that the government has announced today will result in the death of the Great Barrier Reef. It will kill the Murray-Darling Basin. It will kill the jobs that rely on them. It will drive up pollution and it will drive up power prices.

The evidence is very clear. The energy regulator made it abundantly clear what would happen if the government had the courage to take on those big network companies: we would actually make some progress in bringing down power prices. The experts have made that abundantly clear. Yesterday, the ACCC said that power prices are so high because of market concentration. What we have got is a handful of energy generators who are milking Australian consumers dry and we have a government who says: 'We want you to have more of it. We want you to keep shafting consumers in the way that we've just shafted the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.'

Imagine what Alan Finkel would be thinking right now? There he was bending over backwards to write a plan, with riding instructions from this government so that all he could come up with was a plan so narrow that it would have meant more coal in the system by 2050 than business as usual—but at least there was some incentive for clean energy. But Malcolm Turnbull has turned around to the Chief Scientist and said, 'Well, stuff you. We don't want a bar of what you are presenting us. We don't believe in science. We don't believe in what is absolutely crystal clear and what the business community is telling us and what the general community wants. What we want to do is keep propping up the business model for our coal and gas mates'. That's what this plan is.

This is a plan written by the coal and gas industry that shafts the people that the Nationals over here say they stand for—people living in regional areas, farmers, regional communities. So, instead, what do the Nationals want to do? They want to open up more farmland for coal seam gas. They want to see more of their constituents having to fight those big gas companies who want to frack land, contaminate their water and, ultimately, turn Australian farmland into an industrial-scale wasteland. Why do they do it? It's because they're in the pocket of the coal and gas industry., and they get those big cheques coming in. That's why you see Barnaby Joyce taking international flights with Gina Rinehart rather than—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Di Natale, could you refer to members in the other place by their correct titles. I've allowed you on more than one occasion now to refer to members incorrectly, so please refer to members by their correct titles.

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

That's why we see the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, flying around the countryside with the likes of Gina Rinehart—because he's more interested in doing the bidding of the mining and gas industry than he is in looking after farmers.

The bottom line is that we have thousands of jobs that are being sacrificed right now because of this government's commitment to the coal and gas industry. We're losing that great innovation here—it's going overseas—because we're locking ourselves into the sinking ship of fossil fuels. That's what it is. And it's a huge tragedy, because this could be a good news opportunity for Australia. We could be talking about bringing in jobs and investment and making sure that we've got a pathway for those people in regional communities. Instead, this government has locked us in into rising power prices, job losses and skyrocketing emissions. This is a disgrace, and the Prime Minister should hang his head in shame.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It would be helpful, Senator Di Natale, if you could provide in writing the words of your motion.

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

I'm happy to do that.

12:37 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Another stunt from the Greens, with all of this confected outrage from Senator Di Natale, pretending to be the friend of working Australians—this wealthy medical practitioner who lives in inner-city Melbourne and retreats to his hobby farm for the weekend, with every gesture, every posture of a left-wing hipster, pretending to be a champion of working Australians. Well, Senator Di Natale, I'll tell you what working Australians want. They want affordable energy electricity prices and they want reliable supply. That's what they want. And there is only one political party represented in this parliament that will give it to them—and that is the government parties of the Liberal Party and the National Party.

Senator Di Natale, you spoke about an announcement. There has been no announcement. So your entire speech is based on press speculation that you have, no doubt, tried to trick up into a speech. However, I can tell you, Senator Di Natale, having come from the government party room a short while ago where this matter was discussed, that I am expecting the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Mr Frydenberg, to be making some announcements in the coming hour or so. When those announcements are made, contrary, Senator Di Natale, to what you have just so foolishly asserted, you will learn that the announcements the government is making—which, out of courtesy to the Prime Minister, I will not be anticipating in these remarks—are informed by science, are informed by engineering and, more particularly, are informed by the most experienced experts in the field. But, as I say, out of courtesy to the Prime Minister and Mr Frydenberg, I won't be anticipating in this speech anything that they may shortly be about to say. What I can also tell you, Senator Di Natale, is that when the announcement is made—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Di Natale?

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

I have a point of order, and it relates to addressing senators by their correct name. I have heard Senator Brandis consistently refer to me as Senator 'Di Na-ta-lay'. I know Senator Brandis prides himself on his diction, but my name is 'Di Na-ta-li', not 'Di Na-ta-lay'. So if he would like to refer to me by my proper name I would be most appreciative.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Di Natale. You have made that very clear, and I think the Attorney-General has heard you.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I have. And I mean no offence, Senator Di Natale, but that is just the way I pronounce the English language. I am sorry if my pronunciation is imperfect. In any event, Senator Di Natale, I can assure you that when the announcement is made you will discover that what has fallen from your lips in the last few minutes is completely wrong. And you will be ashamed, Senator Di Natale, when you learn on whose advice and guidance the policy measures about to be announced have been based.

Senator Di Natale, if I may address you and the Greens, we know the political game you have been playing—and if I may say so you've been playing it pretty well. You have got the Australian Labor Party on the run, because you are in a competition with them for the inner-city green hipster vote, and you are winning. You are taking the Labor Party to more and more extreme positions every day. It probably does the Greens a lot of good, but it is devastating for the Australian Labor Party. Unfortunately, it is also a recipe for bad policy. The ultimate victims of your political strategy, driven by ideology—and, as the Prime Minister unkindly said the other day, driven by idiocy—are the Australian people themselves.

We will be announcing a suite of measures the effect of which will be to reduce electricity prices and guarantee reliability of supply. I know, Senator Di Natale, you have a problem with that, but the Australian people don't have a problem with that, because that is what they want. They want their electricity prices reduced and the reliability of their supply guaranteed, and that is precisely what the effect of the measures the Prime Minister is shortly to announce will be. They are informed by science, informed by engineering and informed by economics, but avoiding like the plague the ideology that drives you. We are not interested in Green ideology, Senator Di Natale; we are interested in outcomes. That is what the Australian people are interested in too. So when the next election comes around in about 18 months or so, there will be a stark choice: the Green-Labor Party alliance, with higher electricity prices and insecure supply, or the government's policies, with lower prices and secure supply. (Time expired)

12:42 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

After those very unkind remarks by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I feel like changing Labor's position on this suspension. However, I think for good reasons the Labor Party will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders today. I point out that it seems like at the beginning of every Tuesday of every sitting week we have a suspension motion by the Greens party on the issue of the day, to chew up time without much notice—probably 10 minutes notice to other parties that they are moving a suspension.

From Labor's point of view, it is premature to have a debate on a motion that condemns the government's latest energy announcement when that announcement hasn't actually been made. Don't get me wrong—we can debate for hours the failure of the Turnbull government on energy policy, and we would look forward to debating that. We would look forward to debating the dumping of the work of the Chief Scientist at the behest of the former Prime Minister. For four years this government has trashed energy policy and turned itself inside out, fighting amongst themselves on climate change and energy policy. It hasn't been able to govern in the national interest, putting the interests of Australians first. I think it is fair to say we will all suffer from that, not just those of us in this place but generations to come. Looking at the different positions the government has had on energy policy, I remember the time when the Prime Minister supported a price on carbon, an EIS and a CET, and now all of a sudden he is walking away from all of that because the former Prime Minister and his supporters in the coalition party room not only hold the government to ransom; they hold the whole country to ransom and they are still stuck in a vortex where they're discussing whether the science of climate change is actually settled yet.

We will need to see the detail of the next iteration of the government's energy policy prior to debating it in this place. As I said, the Prime Minister has had a number of positions. We don't hold much faith that this new policy will last any longer than those that have come before it. We want to see a responsible energy policy put in place. We want to reach agreement. We have offered to talk with the government on the clean energy target through our own preferred mechanism, through an EIS. We did that very early after the Finkel report came out. That was us prepared to compromise, but, unfortunately, the government have refused to talk with us because they haven't actually settled the issue between themselves. We want to see households given relief from the rising cost of bills. We want certainty in the policy so that the investment strike ends and, importantly, so that Australians can get their fair share of the jobs that are being developed in the rapidly expanding global renewable energy industry. All of that is for debate.

I note the Greens have all of Thursday morning as time for private senators' bills and business. We could spend the whole morning debating the policy once the actual policy has been released and we have the detail of that policy. We are not at all scared about debating the policy. We welcome debate on the policy. There are a range of mechanisms within the Senate through which we can pursue that this week—MPIs, urgency motions, questions, senators' statements, the adjournment debate and, indeed, all of the time on Thursday morning. There is more than enough time. However, our job here is also to progress legislation on the Notice Paper, whether we agree or disagree with that legislation. That is the job we have been asked to perform by the Australian people. This wastes that time. It wastes time for debate on other important bills. It is premature in terms of being able to debate seriously and honestly the policy that this government may or may not have finally resolved for themselves—for the time being, until it is nobbled by Tony Abbott again. But the form being used and the mechanism being used by the Greens to suspend the program today to have this debate, prior to a package being released, is not appropriate, and we won't be supporting it.

12:47 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate that this is becoming a pattern for the leader of the Greens—at kick-off on a Tuesday afternoon to seek leave to move a motion and, when it is denied, to then follow through with a suspension of standing orders, the outcome of which I think we can all predict. This has become a pattern which has disrupted the working of this place, disrupted government business time. There are many forms in this place to address issues that colleagues wish to put a focus on. Obviously there is question time. There is matters of public importance. There is matters of public interest. There is general business time. There are a range of forms in this place for colleagues to avail themselves of. That's the first point—that this is not the time, this is not the opportunity, to seek to ventilate these issues.

The second point I wish to make is that the leader of the Greens is seeking to debate matters which are yet to be put into the public domain. It is a matter of record that the government have agreed to 49 of the 50 Finkel recommendations and that we are going through our internal processes to look at other matters that Mr Finkel touched upon. And, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate alluded to, it is highly likely that we will have more to say in the coming hours. This would be an odd time to have a debate, when the chamber is not in possession of what the government has to say later today.

I also think it's worth just pausing for a moment to reflect on what the government has done on the issue of energy. We're absolutely seized of the importance of reliability, the importance of affordability and the importance of meeting our international commitments. Since we've been in government, we have abolished the carbon tax, which is the single most significant thing to address affordability, and I don't hear calls from the community for that to be reintroduced. We have, obviously, made our commitments in Paris, which we intend to honour. We have put in serious work with the energy retailers. As a result, consumers have been written to advising them that there are better deals available and that they should take advantage of those, and many Australians have done just that. We have also taken steps in relation to the domestic gas supply to ensure that that is met and that there is downward pressure there. We instituted the Finkle review, and, as I mentioned, we've adopted 49 of the 50 recommendations. The Finkle review recommendations went to COAG. They then went to the energy ministers, and the energy ministers collectively adopted 49 of the 50. We now have an internal process underway which we'll have more to say about shortly.

On this side of the chamber, we don't take a theological or an ideological approach to energy policy. We look at the engineering. We look at the economics. We already have a plan which is before the Australian people, and we'll have a little bit more to say very soon about the next iteration of that. The Greens have not made a compelling case for the suspension of standing orders this morning. There are forms in this place to address issues, and we will all have the benefit of what the government has to say a little later today.

12:52 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We have heard clearly from the former Prime Minister himself, Tony Abbott, on progress at today's party room: the clean energy target has definitely been 'dropped'. You can see who's in charge here. Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister, is back running the show over there on the other side. And, of course, what have we had announced? The National Energy Guarantee, the NEG. I'll tell you who's been negged and who's negging. It's Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister, negging Malcolm Turnbull. Do you know what a neg is? It's a trick. It's designed to undermine somebody's confidence. This is exactly what is going on inside the coalition party room right now.

The former Prime Minister spent 10 years trying to destroy climate policy in this nation. Ten years on, he delivers another wrecking ball right through the renewable energy industry and right through households who have done the right thing by putting solar on their roof and embracing clean energy to bring down their power bills. This is an attack on Australians right across the country. Malcolm Turnbull has capitulated. He's been negged by Tony Abbott, and it's going to be Australians, householders and businesses that suffer. This is a terrible day for climate change, for the planet and for householders who want lower bills. Nothing announced today is going to reduce people's power prices. That is the only guarantee we've got.

12:54 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm outraged at this policy. I'm outraged that George Brandis can call what we are trying to bring this Senate's attention to a stunt. This is about the future of the planet. This is about the future of our children and our grandchildren, and he has the audacity to call it a stunt.

I'll tell you what a stunt is. A stunt is the Prime Minister's weak attempt to pretend to this country that he is doing something about climate change and that he is doing something about power prices. He isn't. He's just pulling a stunt to try to appease Mr Abbott, who thinks climate change is good for this planet and who is a laughing stock around the world. Mr Abbott is the guy who wants to throw goats in the volcano. He's not the one who is trying to undermine how the globe responds to climate change. Mr Turnbull is fully owned by Mr Abbott and big business, who want nothing but to make a few short-term profits at the risk of future generations. That's what this debate is about.

All the coalition can say in response to this motion is, 'This is a stunt,' because they don't want to own up that they have completely capitulated and they don't want to own the fact that we will never meet our Paris targets now. We will not. They have handed climate change policy totally to Mr Abbott. The flat-earthers of this country should hang their heads in shame rather than come in here and try to justify their appalling policy. They are setting us back decades and are condemning this planet.

12:56 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We Greens make absolutely no apology for bringing this motion to suspend standing orders to the Senate at this time. Tackling climate change is the most significant thing we need to be doing in the world today, and it is absolutely critical that this parliament realises the urgency and the importance of dealing with climate change. The announcement that is being made today is setting us so far back in that it's propping up support for coal, gas and oil and destroying our country's ability to move forward to an energy supply that is clean and green.

I feel like I am living in an alternative universe. I studied climate science 37 years ago; it was 1980 when I first learned about the then newly emerging science of global warming. In those 37 years, that science has become clearer, more stark and absolutely more disturbing in terms of the impact climate change will have on the planet and on the peoples of this planet. We know that we can move forward. There is an absolutely positive future for Australia as part of the global community dealing with the challenges of global warming. It is a future in which we won't be looking down the barrel of increasing heatwaves that are going to kill thousands of Australians over the coming decades and we won't be looking down the barrel of more extensive fires. It won't be a future in which we're unable to grow food in our community. Today's announcement trashes that positive future that we could be looking forward to.

12:58 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will start by observing that there is, of course, some irony for opposition senators in having the Greens bring this motion to suspend standing orders today. Senator Gallagher outlined our general objection to this repetitive procedural technique to drag the Senate off the order of business that has been established and the discourtesy that that approach represents. But on the substance of the matter the Greens bring forward today I will make this observation: we would not need to be having this debate today if you had brought yourself to vote for the CPRS when it was brought into this chamber so many years ago. There have been many opportunities in the last decade for you to support a serious emissions trading scheme proposed by a Labor government committed to tackling climate change, but you squibbed it. You squibbed it for a range of reasons, but my deepest suspicion is that you did so because it was electorally convenient for you to maintain a point of differentiation with Labor. And, if that meant throwing away the one opportunity that you had to establish a coherent, global approach to tackling emissions reduction in the country, that was a sacrifice you were willing to make. It was a sacrifice you were willing to make for absolutely base political reasons, and you ought to be reminded of it every time this chamber comes back to climate change.

I have spent a decade of my life fighting for rational climate change policy. I am horrified at the debate this nation has gone through over the last 12 months and I am genuinely surprised to see a coalition government unable to commit to even basic principles of policy design around the National Electricity Market. It has been hopeless; it has been embarrassing. But I will say this: the Greens have not helped. You have spent a decade trying to politicise this for your own purposes, and that has been at the expense of serious policy debate in this country.

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And it is no good laughing and calling out, because everybody understands this to be true.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Rhiannon, you have 14 seconds in which to conclude.

1:00 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Today, 17 October, will be remembered as the day when this country, under Turnbull, turned its back on the Paris agreement. It is the day when 2,000 people came to Bondi Beach, standing together to stop Adani.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Rhiannon! Point of order, Senator Williams—although the time for the debate has now concluded.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why does Senator Rhiannon refer to the Prime Minister as Turnbull? This is totally unacceptable. This is a common thing we complain about: the Greens' lack of respect for people in this place and the other place.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Williams. Senator Williams reminds us all that we need to address people in the other place and, indeed, in this chamber by their correct titles, positions or names.

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Di Natale to suspend standing orders be agreed to.