Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Future Submarine Project; Order for the Production of Documents
I seek leave to amend general business notice of motion No. 775 standing in my name for today, concerning an order for the production of documents relating to the future submarine project, before asking that it be taken as formal.
So the amendment is to paragraph 2, to change the date with respect to the minister being required to attend the Senate to make a statement from 28 March, being tomorrow, to 10 May 2018. Is leave granted for Senator Patrick to amend the motion?
I move the motion as amended:
(1) The Senate notes that:
(a) on 12 February 2018, the Senate agreed to an order for the production of documents directed at the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Industry, for the Australian Industry Capability Plan submitted by DCNS (now Naval Group) to the Department of Defence in its response to the Future Submarine Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP);
(b) the order followed a lack of clarity as to the minimum level of Australian industry involvement expectations of Government for the Future Submarine Project;
(c) on 15 February 2018, the duty minister tabled a letter in response to both orders for production claiming public interest immunity and stated that release of the document would:
(i) affect the commercial interests of Naval Group, and
(ii) adversely affect Australia's international relations, and advised the Senate that the Government was awaiting the outcome of an Information Commissioner Review into freedom of information (FOI) exemptions claimed over the same document;
(d) it was conceded by government in 1992, that the fact that a freedom of information request for information has been or could be refused under the FOI Act is not a legitimate basis for a claim of public interest immunity in a parliamentary forum;
(e) on 25 June 2014, the Senate passed a resolution declaring that declining to provide documents or answer questions on the basis that an FOI request has been made for the same information is an unacceptable response, is not supported by the FOI Act and shows a profound lack of respect for the Senate and its committees;
(f) a Senate claim of commercial confidentiality must be carefully advanced and claimed narrowly so as to recognise the public interest that lies in openness and transparency on this very important project;
(g) the claim that the release of the documents will affect international relations is not properly made out and is flawed (and has not even been advanced by the Department of Defence as a concern in the Information Commissioner Review) because the document which is · the subject of the order is a document of a French-law Public Limited Company, not a document of the French State; and
(h) orders for the production of documents are a key Senate tool used to ensure effective oversight of Government, and must be responded to by Ministers with utmost consideration, care and accuracy.
(2) The Minister for Defence be required to attend the Senate at the conclusion of question time on 10 May 2018 to make a statement, of not more than 20 minutes, addressing why the Minister:
(a) has advanced a claim showing a profound lack of respect for the Senate;
(b) offered a broad confidentiality claim that does not correctly balance the public interest in knowing what DCNS promised, in respect of Australian industry involvement in our largest ever Defence project; and
(c) has advanced a claim that releasing the document to the Senate would affect Australia's international relations knowing that this claim is inconsistent with the position of her own Department.
(3) Any senator may move a motion to take note of the Minister's statement, and any such motion may be debated for no longer than 1 hour, and have precedence over all other government business until determined.
On 14 February, the government made a public interest immunity claim and noted that the Information Commissioner is also conducting a separate review of a freedom-of-information request for the same documents. The government maintains this position and does not believe that a further statement to the Senate by the Minister representing the Minister for Defence Industry is necessary at this time.
The process of the Senate seeking to inform itself and the process of citizens to gain access to information through FOI are very different. Some of the public interest immunity and FOI exemptions are similar—I concede. I note that they do have different thresholds, but they are definitely separate processes. Refusing to table documents on the grounds that a decision on FOI is still pending is not appropriate. I also note that the public interest immunity claim of the minister—that is, damage to international relations—is in disagreement with her own department.
The Greens will be supporting this motion. We support increased transparency across the board but particularly in relation to matters of defence. We would say that we probably have a philosophical disagreement with the Xenophon party in the sense that we'd actually like to see the documents and the logic behind having these very expensive submarines in the first place. But, nevertheless, we will support the intent of this motion.
Senators, I believe that concludes the discovery of formal business.
I inform the Senate that 8.30 am today two proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result I inform the Senate the following letter has been received from Senator Siewert:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The need for Australia to phase out existing thermal coalmining and coal-fired power stations, commit to no new coalmines and make sure coal reliant communities are fairly transitioned into new and meaningful employment.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
This is a matter of public importance to many in the Australian community but particularly those in my own state of Queensland. It is time to put the community first, ahead of the interests of the coal corporations. Everybody knows that the coal corporations, many of them offshore entities and their front organisations, have been donating millions of dollars to the two parties of the establishment for many years now. It is clear that this perversion of the public policy process is holding back our communities from the opportunity to effectively, fairly and appropriately transition to an economic future that works for our entire nation, and particularly for regional communities.
Just recently, the Boom andBust report in 2018, commissioned by CoalSwarm, The Sierra Club and Greenpeace, tracks the use of power plants globally. It shows that coal-fired power demand continues to decline, primarily due to government regulations and policy changes in China and declining financial and policy support in India—the two most populous nations on the planet, of course. Yet, in this place, we see the coalition government, certainly with the support of the Labor Party in terms of the government in Queensland, continue to back the Adani Carmichael mine and continue to back the potential opening up and expansion of a whole new, massive thermal coal deposit in the Galilee Basin. Until we can get a clear policy commitment that recognises the need to phase out existing thermal coalmining and coal-fired power stations and a commitment to not open up any new thermal coalmines, we will continue to have regional communities being torn in different directions and will continue to have the threat of public resources being put towards stranded assets at great public cost that will not deliver a viable economic future for our communities and will certainly not deliver the energy prices, the energy certainty and the energy policies that all of our community needs.
The Greens, of course, have campaigned for many years with significant success at getting our country and countries around the world to transition to renewable energy. Despite the massive and incredibly dishonest propaganda campaign from some in the corporate media who are backing the coal lobby and the fossil fuel lobby, it is clear that this transition to renewable energy has assisted in keeping prices down from where they would otherwise have been. If it hadn't been for the extraordinary vandalism of this current government in destroying the carbon price signal that was put in place by the previous Labor government with the strong support and encouragement of the Greens, we would have far lower energy prices now, with much lower carbon emissions as well. We would be further down the track of transitioning to an alternative future that provides stable, secure, sustainable jobs for people in our regional communities.
Indeed, the parts of the climate package that the Greens were successful in having adopted under the previous government—particularly the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA, with its support and assistance for new renewable energy projects—have delivered thousands and thousands of ongoing jobs as well as construction jobs. They have delivered an expansion in reliable energy. With further investment in this area, we can effectively transition, but not until we can get a clear recognition of the need to get that basic commitment to not opening up new coalmines and instead to properly investing in industries and employment in regional communities. Those industries and opportunities are there already. Some of the existing jobs, particularly in areas like tourism, are put at risk by the continual attempt to turn a blind eye to the major environmental impacts that come from not winding back our fossil fuel emissions as quickly as possible. We're seeing this continually, in all parts of the country, and certainly in Queensland—for example, in Northern Queensland, where people have to pay massively higher insurance premiums because of the reality of more severe weather events coming down the track. We need to transition, and the sooner we do it the better it will be for the Australian people. (Time expired)
Let me explain why the Greens' policies are causing so much damage to our environment. I'll make it very clear so that everyone can understand. Let's look at fuel levels and bushfires in national parks. We've seen so much country locked up and left. And, when you lock country up and leave it, what happens? The rain falls, the grass grows, the fuel levels get higher and higher, the lightning strikes, or the fire starts for some reason, and, once you have more than 150 tonnes of fuel per hectare, and once you have more than 50-kilometre-per-hour winds and a more than 40-degree day, the fire is uncontrollable. Take the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, a very sad event: 90 million tonnes of CO2. But these are the Greens: 'Lock up the country, leave it and burn it.'
Twice now in the last six years I've seen the Pilliga scrub, up near where I live, burn from end to end. And they're doing a survey now and wondering why 90 per cent of the koalas are dead. There has been a 90 per cent reduction in the population of koalas in the Pilliga scrub. At our farm, we're very pleased with the great koala populations we have. They don't die, they don't get burnt, because we graze the country; we keep the fuel levels down and look after them. But these are the Greens: 'Lock up the country.' We were talking yesterday about forests and the milling jobs in Victoria. There are national parks everywhere. Take the red gum forests down the river. They will burn and they will destroy those forests as sure as I am talking to you now. Why? It's because they'll take them from forestry to national park, and they won't allow the stockpeople to run their cattle and graze the country and keep the fuel levels down, and then the savage, severe fires will start off and burn like all blazes, destroying the forests from the native grass seed on the ground up into the crowns of the trees, killing the trees. And this is called conservation, Greens-style!
Let me go on. Remember when they wanted to have the big carbon tax. This is a classic. They said, 'Let's put this great big carbon tax on Australian industries.' Look at the cement industry. I remember the figures well. In Australia, we produce 10 million tonnes of cement a year. When we produce a tonne of cement, we produce 0.8 of a tonne of CO2. So, for our 10 million tonnes of cement, there's eight million tonnes of CO2 from producing that cement. In China, they produce one billion tonnes of cement a year, roughly, but, for every tonne they produce, it's 1.1 tonnes of CO2. So let's tax the crikey out of Australian industry with a carbon tax, an emissions trading scheme or however you want to do it, and shut down the cement industry in Australia. Instead of getting those 10 million tonnes produced here in Australia for eight million tonnes of CO2, we'll shift it to China, where the 10 million tonnes will produce 11 million tonnes of CO2, another three million tonnes, for the same product. This is conservation, Greens-style!
Six months ago I went to the Library here for information. When you have a coal-fired generator, one generation unit is one unit. If you go to Bayswater or Liddell, you'll see four cooling towers. They are four-unit generators. Just recently, there have been how many new coal-fired generation units constructed around the world? The answer is 621. There are 621 units under construction or just completed. Let's go through some of those figures. For example, in China they are constructing 299 new coal-fired power generation units to add to their 2,107 units. Those 299 units will produce an extra 677 million tonnes of CO2. Australia produces 550 million tonnes, holus-bolus, in the whole economy. The extra coal-fired power generation units being built in China will produce more CO2 than the whole of Australia.
The Greens have to get their heads around this. These coal-fired generators—guess what they're going to burn. They're going to burn coal—c-o-a-l. Do they burn brown, dirty coal from China or less productive coal from Indonesia, or do they burn a more efficient, black coal from Australia? That's the question. No. You want to shut down every coalmine in Australia, let all these coal-fired generators be built around the world and let them burn less efficient coal, putting out more emissions. This is crazy. Let's look at the coal-fired generation stations being built: 132 extra in India, an extra 288 million tonnes of CO2; 10 in Japan; 22 units being constructed in the Philippines; 34 units being constructed in Vietnam, to produce another 67 million tonnes of CO2. But no; the Greens say, 'Do away with coal.' There is a Green religion going on. They want to stop our live exports of animals, sending beef producers and lamb and sheep producers into poverty. This Green religion is a very simple religion. It says: 'Come follow me, and I'll lead you to the land of poverty.' That's what it means.
It means expensive electricity. Renewable energies are good. They go on, supposedly, forever. But take one wind turbine—just one, three megawatts. If it spins eight hours a day, 365 days a year, it produces all those renewable energy certificates at $80 a certificate. We—and, when I say 'we', I mean everyone who is hooked up to the electricity grid: this building, the abattoirs, the manufacturers, the widow pensioners—pay $700,000 a year to each wind turbine before they sell one watt of electricity. That is $700,000 in subsidy, and everyone who is hooked up to the grid is paying for it. The retailers have to charge it. You wonder why these foreign companies are coming here and setting up all these big wind turbines. It's because they can earn so much money, take the money back home to their country, and we suckers are paying for this, and we think we are changing the planet.
As Dr Finkel told Senator Macdonald at Senate estimates, we can abolish all of our emissions in Australia, the whole lot—we can't abolish them all, because three people breathing in a year actually produce a tonne of CO2—and it will make no difference to the planet whatsoever. The Greens and those opposite have to realise one day that we don't have a tent over our country. There is not a tent over Australia. We are actually linked to the world when it comes to the atmosphere. But you want to put all these costs on and shut down our coalmining industry. I just can't understand why the CFMEU, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, ever give money to the Greens-Labor Party. I can never work that out. Construction—the Greens hate it. Forestry—the Greens hate it. Mining—the Greens hate it. Energy—'Cut out all the mining jobs for the workers from the CFMEU.' It is unbelievable that that union has paid so much money to the Greens and those opposite, the Labor Party. We've got Mr Shorten, who hates coal when he's in—
Senator Farrell interjecting—
You'll get your chance in a minute, Senator Farrell. Interjections are disorderly. Why does he hate coal when he's in Melbourne for the Batman by-election—
Senator Farrell interjecting—
I thought he was going to make a pretty good leader, but now I think Senator Wong's better. But, don't worry, there will be others coming behind. There's another maiden speech coming up today. They won't want to sit on the back bench for long, I can assure you, Senator Farrell. One today has been used to sitting down the front. Remember before, when you stepped aside for Senator Wong. You took a bit of a holiday from this place—
Dear, oh dear! Is it any wonder Senator Wong sacked him? Fair dinkum! And to think the bloke took leave from this place to give Senator Wong a leg-up in the leadership! However, I go back to the real issue: coal. The Greens religion, which those opposite support totally, is: put the electricity prices up, drive our industries overseas, shut them down. I don't know why they don't like workers. I don't know why they've got such a set against workers. The dear old Labor Party! Do you remember: the Labor Party was started by the shearers under the Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine in Queensland? Who are the shearers in the parliament now? There's Andrew Broad from the Nationals in the other chamber and John Williams from the National Party in this chamber. Those people opposite wouldn't know how to load a handpiece, let alone how to knock the wool off a sheep. You're not the workers party; you're the unions party. They are getting a free ride, and now you're turning your back to it. You'll be up here, supporting the Greens' motion today—supporting it all the way through—promoting the Greens religion, sending the country broke and sending the jobs overseas. That's what it's all about.
We know how they're joined at the ankles. We know that Labor and the Greens are sharing their preferences. I wonder if things will change when the leadership changes. I wonder if they'll change. When Senator Keneally is leading the opposition in government, I wonder how it'll look then. I reckon it'll probably look a fair bit better, although I don't know.
We're not going there. I want to go back to New South Wales and back to this issue of coal. Buy our cleaner, inefficient coal in Australia or buy the dirty coal from overseas. There are 621 units of coal-fired power generation being constructed around the world now, and somehow the Greens, with their colleagues the Labor Party, are going to change the planet. As Senator Cormann said this week, they are dreaming—they are simply dreaming. As Dr Finkel said, you're not going to change a thing. Three humans breathing produce one tonne of CO2 in the year. The 1.5 billion people breathing in China produce as much CO2 as the nation of Australia does as a whole. No, I shouldn't say that; you'll put a breath tax on us. That'll be next, with all of your taxation going forward. This is a stupid Greens religion, and it needs to be knocked on the head.
No, you didn't, Senator Williams. It's always really important to find something in any of these motions with which you can agree. In this afternoon's motion from the Greens, the last sentence is one we can support, which is to:
… make sure coal reliant communities are fairly transitioned into new and meaningful employment.
Indeed, that's a key element of Labor policy. We accept, and our policies are clear on the fact, that, through the massive changes that will have to happen, we need to move into an area of production that looks much more clearly at green production of energy and we need to look at renewables much more. Our policies are there, they're clearly on record, and we talk about our commitment to ensuring that we have a renewable energy source in this nation.
But this particular motion, which says we'll just cut down coal straightaway—no more approvals—just does not meet the reality test. There's a lot of work that has to be done and not just from on high in government, and certainly not just through the NEG, the fabulous 24-page document that doesn't give us much detail at all. What we need to do is ensure that communities understand the value of a green future and understand the value, the work opportunities and the future of renewable energies. We need to work with communities that now are featured in and focused very seriously on the coal industry. We need to ensure that they feel part of the changes that will take place and that must take place.
This just-transition clause is one on which we need to concentrate and on which we can be united right across this chamber. But going into long, deep diatribes about the value of coal, lugging lumps of coal into the parliament area and talking about this issue will not make for a just transition. It will not ensure that we have the information available to us so that we can plan into the future and we can put in place the kinds of policies that many people have spoken about in this place over many years. In terms of our future, we acknowledge that that must happen. In terms of working together, that's where there can be effective processes and effective movements that engage with people locally and look at the people who have the knowledge. We had the beginning of that. We had the government's Finkel review, the one that we strongly supported. The Finkel review spent months travelling around our nation, talking with people about the different forms of energy and talking with communities about how they felt about energy in their communities, how they felt about their futures. It acknowledged the vulnerabilities and the fears of many people in many communities who felt that their way of life, their history and their families' futures were being put at risk and that they did not understand the change. That's the difference in which we can all play a part. We can play a part in ensuring that the transitions in the future are understood, and that people are part of those processes and don't feel as though they are being victimised, demonised or labelled.
We have spoken many times in this place about how we need to look at having an effective energy future for our country. This is not just for our country; this is part of an international debate. We are not only talking about the impact that's happening in our own nation; we are part of an international struggle, an international focus that must look at getting the best possible future. This includes the best production of energy, engagement with communities and moving to a place where there is an effective, efficient focus on renewable energy. Senator Williams doesn't seem to be particularly active in this transition. He doesn't seem to want to be part of the process. Good shearer that he is, we need to ensure that he's part of the focus as we go into the future. In terms of Labor Party policies, we have said consistently that we acknowledge there has been a history of coal in our nation, and we are proud of that history—we have worked with the people who are in those communities working in the production of those elements, and in the way that has provided energy for many people over decades—but that time is passed. We need to work at combining the coal industry, while it continues, with the renewable energy industry into the future.
The process that we have in front of us doesn't take into account the need to have that cooperation, the need to have that engagement. It doesn't ensure that we look realistically at where there is need for continuing coal production or look at each proposal for the development of new production across the existing processes in place. Do they meet the environmental standards that we have in place? Do they meet the kinds of issues that communities need to keep them strong and to ensure that there is effective employment and the long-term building of communities, which has been such a feature in my home state of Queensland? You can go through the coal areas in Queensland and see communities that have been vibrant, that have been developed over the years: they have set up their own hospitals, their own schools, their own community networks. That cannot be just wiped out with a single movement, as much as some people think it can happen. There are work opportunities so that we do not actually victimise or demonise a whole element of our community. And if we do go down that track, we'll be back here fighting across the chamber and not being able to get the real work done.
There does seem to be agreement on many of these issues in this place. There's an acknowledgement that renewable energy can, and will, work, but there seems to be a legacy somewhere that refuses to see that these can work together. The legacy sees that it's going to be an open battle. It does not need to be that way, but that seems to be the reaction we had to the Finkel review. All the work that was done by Professor Finkel and his team, which looked at putting those things in place and looked at the future, was seemingly dismissed by the government when they threw that report out and came up with their own proposal. We still haven't seen all the details of that proposal, and, until we see the details, we're going to have people—those people who will be immediately impacted by any changes that come down—still lost, still confused and still unaware about where they and their communities fit.
This motion doesn't actually address what we need to do in Australia. It makes a straight comment with all the rhetoric about how we have to move immediately and not have any more coalmining in this country. It makes that flat point, immediately taking the offensive and immediately dividing—not trying to build an argument or to build a community, but just dividing it—and then the way that we need to have a just transition is tacked on to the end of it. I would value this discussion much more if we led with the second part of the statement. If the Greens, who put this forward, led with, 'We need to have the just transition', then we could work on it—and there is the willingness to do that. But why begin with the attack, other than to make a political statement? Why not go straight to the fact that there is commonality of purpose and commonality of understanding—
Honourable senators interjecting—
and I'm wondering when the commonality of understanding will allow me to finish speaking! Nonetheless, in terms of where we're going to go in this place, we will have the opportunity. There will be further debates in this place, there is nothing surer. We had almost the same debate last week, with probably much the same speakers taking probably much the same points. But as long as that debate is solely in this place, we will not be able to move forward. This discussion needs to be out in the communities that will be the focus of the change. These discussions need to be had in the coalmining areas of our nation. It doesn't matter which state—Queensland, in particular, or New South Wales or Tasmania—wherever there are existing coalmines, we need to have a very open discussion with those communities. We need to work out what the future is going to be and put forward the strong arguments and the actual realities of renewable energy. This is no longer some pie-in-the-sky idea that people are able to do in academic areas. Renewable energy is an active, vibrant industry which will be able to promote employment and maintain communities.
That will be the focus of our discussion—the maintenance of respect and the need for effective communities—rather than once again taking philosophical positions, refusing to have open discussion, refusing to have any kind of communication. By blaming and labelling, we ensure that people continue to feel that they have no place in the argument, that they will not be respected and that, once again, from on high, they, their families and their futures will be ignored. Again, there'll be this growing displacement—this growing fact that parliaments and governments do not understand the needs of real communities across our whole nation.