Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Regulations and Determinations

Product Emissions Standards (Excise) Charges Regulations 2018, Product Emissions Standards (Customs) Charges Regulations 2018; Disallowance

4:47 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move notices of motion Nos. 2 and 3, standing in my name, together. I also indicate that I intend to address my remarks to both motions.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Product Emissions Standards (Excise) Charges Regulations 2018, made under the Product Emissions Standards (Excise) Charges Act 2017, and the Product Emissions Standards (Customs) Charges Regulations 2018, made under the Product Emissions Standards (Customs) Charges Act 2017, be disallowed.

I rise to talk about these disallowance motions before the Senate in respect to legislative instruments which I will summarise as the product emissions standards, customs and excise charges, regulations 2018. They were registered on 12 June 2018 and tabled in the Senate on 18 June 2018. These regulations prescribe the amount of levy or charge to be imposed on the import or manufacture of emissions controlled products, essentially off-road engines like those in boats, dirt bikes, ditch diggers, mowers, chainsaws and small generators. In essence, they are the carbon tax on whipper-snippers, lawnmowers and outboard engines that were identified at the very passage of this bill and yet they were blithely championed through and sponsored through in the absence of a great deal of information and supported by people who said they had nothing whatsoever to do with the climate agreement reached in Paris. They were wrong.

The initial focus of these new assessments and certifications will be on non-carbon emissions such as sulphur and nitrous oxide. But, as the years pass, the real focus will turn to carbon dioxide emissions, to squeeze fewer and fewer emissions out of these products by tightening fuel-burning efficiency standards and ensuring that only the cleanest products and technologies can ever make it into the Australian marketplace.

These costly new assessments and certifications will be carried out by new emissions regulators and our future carbon commissaries. For this privilege, a levy will be charged by these commissaries on a cost recovery basis on the products assessed and certified, which will flow on to customers that just want to go about their business. This is a carbon tax by stealth. The new charge or levy will be set at 0.45 per cent of the value of each product made or imported. There is a value threshold, or a ceiling, of $20,000 to which the 0.45 per cent rate can be applied. This is to prevent high-value items being charged an assessment levy well beyond the regulatory costs of administration.

These regulations are a small part of a whole family of new red and green tape regulations coming down the pipeline. They're being foisted on Australian businesses and consumers in a thinly veiled attempt—you could even say the veil has been completely removed—to implement a carbon tax by stealth. It is a Turnbull government carbon tax instead of the more explicit Gillard-Greens carbon tax that we got six years ago. The Gillard-Greens carbon tax was comprehensively rejected by Australians, with all its paraphernalia and bureaucracies, at the 2013 election. But, due to a hostile Senate at the time—especially, if I may say, an erratic and spoiling Palmer United Party—egged on and propped up by an opportunistic ABC and other media cheerleaders, the Abbott government failed to abolish all or enough of the government bodies and legacy infrastructure that were shields for big climate. It failed to abolish or sufficiently gut the Rudd government's Renewable Energy Target, and we are all paying the price for that today. Nor had the Abbott government sufficiently made the case for zero emissions reductions or even more modest ones in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference in late 2015. Instead we've noticed in the last couple of days that Australia will be one of the only countries in the world to be legislating the Paris climate accord targets. This is an extension of that, because the disallowance relates to a bill in which the Paris climate accord is expressly mentioned.

All of this is costly and unnecessary, because even if Australia stops emitting any noxious fumes or carbon dioxide—even our Chief Scientist says it will make no difference at all to the global temperatures; it will make zero difference to the climate. Yet we are now faced with the very real prospect that there is going to be a tax on our whipper snippers, our lawnmowers, our leaf blowers and our outboard motors, and coming soon will be a tax on our farm machinery and a tax on cars—another tax on cars, I should say—all while this government says it's not true.

The consequences of these emissions policies have already crippled our electricity sector. It has saddled us with a weather-dependent and non-performing renewable energy sector. It is driving away the efficacious base load power sources like coal. Despite the rhetoric of the government, they are not technology agnostic or technology neutral in our electricity sector because they refuse to remove a blanket prohibition on nuclear power in this country. It is a power source that has been rolled out all over the world. The new generation of nuclear reactors for power are absolutely safe. You would have to defy the laws of physics in order to have something go wrong with them. They're not my words for it; I've met with experts in this field. They are being built and developed and rolled out all over the world, and Australia—with perhaps more uranium than any other country in the world—is, sadly, shutting our industry down. We're not even allowed to have a debate about it.

That proves just how dangerous this green ideology is. The one source of base-load power that can provide emissions-free electricity is nuclear, but they will not countenance it. We know there's an ideology here, and we know the ideology will disadvantage Australian citizens, and not only in the electricity sector, because that only accounts for 30 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. They're dressing it up in these bills by saying, 'You could harm your health by mowing your lawn.' Believe it or not, that was in the explanatory memorandum. They're saving people from developing terrible diseases from mowing their lawn. It beggars belief. This is about tax. This is about going ahead with a controlling ideology that seeks to enslave the world, and that is the climate scam.

The coalition's proposed National Energy Guarantee, which is in effect an emissions intensity scheme—a type of carbon tax by any other name—in our electricity sector, tries to minimise supply costs and unreliability, but subject to certain emissions targets. This is all about emissions. It is by definition not technology neutral, as I've explained. As the Energy Security Board's modelling predicts, there will be no cheap, reliable base-load power entering our market, because it dare not, unless there are very special circumstances provided for, such as massive subsidies. The proposal is: the government will probably subsidise that which was previously efficient but was made inefficient and uneconomical through government subsidies of another technology. Because that has had this impact on base-load energy, the government will now be forced to subsidise that. It's a catch 22 of idiocy, if I can put it like that. It is a recipe for disaster. It's a massive offshoring of Australian business, economic activity and jobs, and everyone behind it needs to look the people who lose their jobs in the eye and say, 'It was my fault.' I'm prepared to look them in the eye and say, 'I don't want to be a part of this disaster.'

But, not content with having knotted out our electricity sector and our energy sector, which, as I said, is responsible for around one-third of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, the focus is now turning to the specifics of the regulations around this motion. It's turning to emissions in other areas, such as the agricultural sector, particularly livestock. We know that livestock emit methane or carbon dioxide, so they're a target. We know that the transport sector is a target, particularly trucks and freight, and it's only a matter of time before cars are targeted. There were discussions by the energy minister, about 18 months ago, floating cars. He was forced to back-pedal and deny it, but this bill, from which these regulations emanate, allows for cars to be included in the future. We know that it affects on-road engines of the smaller variety—so light vehicles—and non-road spark engines, as I've mentioned, and marine engines. That's outboards, so every fisherman who wants to get a new outboard engine is going to be on the hook for paying a little bit more, because their old one is emitting too much.

That brings in the question: how does the second-hand market work? Will there be any market? Will you be able to sell your second-hand outboard motor? It will be deemed to be not compliant with the new regime. We're going to see it in blower vacs, chainsaws and small generators. And, might I add, this was justified by the government at the time on health grounds. People could develop respiratory illnesses from being too close to their outboard engine or their lawnmower. I just wonder how many people have been hospitalised from the fumes of lawnmowers. Perhaps, if they fall over and the lawnmower runs over them, they might get hacked up, but I'm yet to hear of someone hospitalised because of the fumes from mowing their lawn. That's how they justified it.

These regulations deal with the latter group of engines that I mentioned—the non-road engines and equipment—but they do create a part of a new bureaucratic architecture upon which the emissions from these non-road engines and equipment can be reined in and controlled, whether they're made here or overseas. It is part of a creeping rollout of a carbon tax by stealth. They'll call it a national emissions standards regime or they'll call it a National Energy Guarantee, but, however you want to dress it up, it is all about emissions and putting a price on carbon dioxide, a price that every Australian is going to pay, a price that is going to damage and impact the ability of people to live comfortably in this country that is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Somehow it's okay for us to utilise them, or dig them up and ship them somewhere else for use, but we're not allowed to use them in our own country.

It is a shameful indictment, I believe, and the effect of it will be felt very significantly in the years and decades to come, because there is a complete lack of will from both of the major parties to discuss the reality of what we're dealing with. They have all drunk the climate Kool Aid; they're not prepared to buck the system in which the United Nations gives us lectures. In pursuing these emissions trading standards—or these emissions intensity schemes or carbon tax by stealth—in order to get to the Paris climate accord agreement, they ignore the fact that Russia hasn't signed up, the United States has walked away and China and India are not subject to it until 2030, so good luck getting them on board. So 55 per cent of the global economy and the emissions-generating industry in the world is not signing up to the stuff that we're about to legislate about and that these regulations directly apply to, notwithstanding the statements from former Senator Malcolm Roberts, who said they didn't, when he was here supporting this legislation.

People need to understand what's going on here. The wool has been pulled over our eyes. The Australian people comprehensively rejected a carbon tax in 2013, yet here we are, scarcely five years later, and a coalition government is introducing an emissions intensity scheme in the form of their quaintly named National Energy Guarantee—it's like Safe Schools, if I could put it like that. Now we've got another carbon tax, an emissions intensity scheme, applying to people's weed-whackers, lawnmowers, leaf-blowers and outboard engines. These are things that add value to people's lives.

I don't mind saying that the Conservative Party has no time whatsoever for this new regulatory architecture. It is a massive bureaucracy that is being put in place to operationalise Mr Turnbull's long-held ambition to be celebrated on the world stage and to have a carbon tax. Remember, Mr Turnbull wanted to support former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme. In fact, he crossed the floor to vote with it. He said he would never lead a party that wasn't as committed to action on climate change as he is. Well, he's actually got his wish. He's got his wish, but it's going to cost every single Australian. Saying that he's slightly less bad than the opposition doesn't cut the mustard in looking after the national interest.

We need to disallow these regulations because they will have an impact on every Australian. We know, despite the protestations of the government when this was introduced, that this is all about complying with the Paris climate accord, an accord that, as I said, 55 per cent of the world's emitters of carbon dioxide are not at all engaged with. Yet Australia is about to put in place one plank of emissions intensity trading in the form of the National Energy Guarantee. The second plank, applying to a whole range of other engines, is in the form of these regulations. There will be a third plank, and that third plank will be in the agricultural sector. Then it may animate some in the National Party, who will say, 'Hey, we're sticking up for it.' But these regulations today can equally apply to farm machinery, to tractors and to off-road vehicles, all of which can have an impact on farmers. I'd ask them to think very carefully before supporting these regulations, because they are opening Pandora's box in respect of increasing bureaucracy and costs for all those involved.

It is going to drive up prices of emission-controlled products and it will drive down the range of products available. If you have any doubt, there was some modelling done on what it would cost Australian consumers if we were forced to comply with emissions criteria for motor vehicles similar to those they have in the European Union. The estimate is about $5,000 per car. We know that many of the motor vehicle manufacturers in the European Union were scamming their figures—they were just making them up and rigging the software system—so there was no material benefit. Yet it's coming down the pipe that these emissions standards will be put in place in Australia, and we'll all be paying more for it. In effect, we are stifling our country and choking the productive mass of our industry with green tape for absolutely zero gain.

As I said, these regulations are part of complying with the Paris climate accord. I believe, and the Australian Conservatives believe, we should walk away from the accord. We should never have signed it just a week after President Trump was actually elected in the United States, because that was one of his strongest election promises. Our competitors have virtually no constraints on their emissions, and we're going the full monty into it. We have put in place two of the three planks that will attempt to control our economy and put government at the centre of almost everything for absolutely zero environmental or climate benefit.

We've spent a decade debating the futility of these measures. Every time common sense seems to prevail, there seems to be a new attempt to impose these big taxes by stealth. I urge the Senate to disallow these regulations because I know that no amount of legislative and regulatory measures that attempt to enact the Paris creep will benefit our economy. Our economy stands at a crossroads. Government is already applying too many onerous costs, too many compliances and too many regulations on the people that are making a productive contribution to our way of life. I urge the government and I urge the Senate to disallow these regulations in the interest of all Australians.

5:08 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bernardi will be unsurprised to know that we are not supporting this disallowance. I know in his contribution he thought he had us. I think it was just after, 'We reject the Paris agreement,' that perhaps we slipped away from you, Senator Bernardi!

In terms of the process, the Labor Party actually supported the primary legislation which led to these regulations. There were three bills in the package that came through that led to the regulations we have: the Product Emissions Standards Bill 2017, the Product Emissions Standards (Excise) Charges Bill 2017 and the Product Emissions Standards (Customs) Charges Bill 2017. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't again say that I continue to be concerned that we're required to pass primary legislation and then, several months later, we actually have the regulations which bring in the detail of the primary legislation. So there were those bills, and there was one other that went with it, which was the Product Emissions Standards (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2017. We had the debate in this place and I think very similar arguments were raised in that debate, Senator Bernardi, as those that you've raised on the regulations. I think I remember some of those clauses—particularly the ones about the health issues.

The bills were directed to allow:

… the Minister to prescribe products as emissions-controlled products and make rules relating to those products …

and set emissions standards, as the regulations have detailed. Products include, and I won't run through the list that Senator Bernardi has—he has a particular love for the weed blower—non-road petrol engines, lawnmowers, leaf blowers and outboard motors. Those particular products were itemised. The bills also enabled exemptions, penalties, certification, and trigger compliance and enforcement.

So these were brought through to a number of areas where there was going to be some regulation—and there is. There is a regulation process in the development of what came after months of consultation with industry, with health. Certainly, we know the health impacts of these particular products were studied. There was a great deal of evidence provided that there could well be health impacts with the use of non-road petrol engines and the other products, with people breathing in the fumes. There was concern about the emissions, but they came forward and said that the bills would come through, that the excise and charges bills will also allow charges to be imposed on imports or, if applicable, domestic manufacture of emissions control products. Any pre-existing products that people had were exempt from the process, and we talked about that when we had the primary legislation debate. Labor supported the legislation. We said it was a step forward. We hoped that there would be movement towards creating greater awareness in our community about the needs, towards educating people so that they would understand how this would actually work, and towards gradually building up more knowledge and awareness of how all of these products could have an impact on our environment and on people's health.

We have got to the stage where we have regulations to spell it out. Again, this is based on making sure that there is awareness and there is education and discussion with people who both produce and use these products. It's a wide market; it touches people across our community. The regulations will have to be made public. We'll get discussions going around them. But we, as a party, are standing by the fact that in this case—and, sadly, only in this case—the government is moving to bring in some regulation and ensure that there are processes where there is an indication that we will move forward with emission reduction targets that will make a genuine difference.

Senator Bernardi, in his arguments—these are the same arguments that we have heard in debates in this place for a decade. As he said, there are people who feel that it's perfectly appropriate to take no action, to do nothing here in Australia, to ensure that we have no commitment to be part of the global response to the issues around climate change. It's very clear that Senator Bernardi and his party fit into that area. I know I'm not verballing him; I think my point is a fair one. The Labor Party have been arguing, both in government and in opposition, that it is an absolutely essential element that people in Australia are part of a global response. The Paris accord? Absolutely that was one which we signed up to as a nation. We regret the fact that there has not been more action taken by the government. We have consistently argued that there needs to be more action taken. That is a diametrically opposite position to that supported by Senator Bernardi. This debate this afternoon is on one small element of that process, but it actually reflects the core of the whole debate.

We believe that actions must be taken to be part of our response to global warming, to climate change; other people believe we don't have that role. We think these regulations that are coming through now will take a small step, sadly only a small step—actually, in some ways it's good that a small step has been taken. That's why Labor will be opposing this disallowance. We believe we've had the debate around the primary legislation, which actually has no implementation value if it doesn't have the regulations attached to it. It would be passing strange if we came into this place and supported the legislation and then supported this motion. Maybe Senator Bernardi was waiting for some Damascus-like conversion on this side, where we would suddenly 'understand' and that our longstanding public commitment to having an effective response and having an emissions trading process would somehow disappear during that period.

For us, sadly, that didn't occur, Senator Bernardi. We will be maintaining our support for this legislation and the supporting regulation. We will continue to argue that we have to do more. We have said, and our shadow minister, Mr Butler, has said consistently in the other place, that there needs to be more ambition around this process. We need to have more action, more engagement with the community and more engagement with people who are working so hard in industries across our country and internationally to come up with better ways to see where we can have a stronger response and stronger action. Given that, my job this afternoon is to reinforce the position we took when the legislation came through, to support the action that the government has made and to hope for more into the future. But we will absolutely be rejecting this disallowance motion and calling for more action into the future.

5:15 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

In relation to these notices of motion for disallowance, I can advise the Senate that the government's view is that the Product Emissions Standards Rules give effect to the Product Emissions Standards Act, which was passed through this chamber last year. Disallowing these rules will block a significant outcome which has been more than 10 years in the making with a $1.7 billion benefit in avoided healthcare costs. These rules set standards for the import and sale of new two-stroke engines, but they don't impact existing owners. These products can contribute up to 10 per cent of pollution in urban areas. The rules are about maintaining clean air for all Australians. They have been in effect since 1 July this year, and disallowing them at this point would cause industry a great deal of uncertainty and would come at a significant cost. The standards are fully cost recovered, with the vast majority of funding coming from a 0.45 per cent levy on the value of imports, which equates to 90c on a $200 imported lawnmower. The levy regulations enable the levy to be calculated and then recovered. If they're disallowed we would be left in a position where those standards would not be able to be enforced.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the disallowance motions, as moved by Senator Bernardi, be agreed to.