Senate debates

Monday, 2 December 2019


Climate Change

10:36 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move general business of notice of motion No. 314 standing in my name for today, relating to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Wong moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of the Senate, namely a motion to provide that general business notice of motion No. 314 be called on immediately and be considered until 12.20 pm.

Let me say: it has been 10 lost years on climate since the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens formed an unholy alliance against effective climate action. Contrary to what they tell us thereabout, the Liberals have delivered higher power prices and the Greens have delivered higher emissions. Partisan pointscoring has been prioritised over fundamental policy change. That the Libs do this is disappointing, but obvious; Labor is their main opponent. But what is not well understood is that the Greens political party also see Labor as their political opponent, and their policy approach on climate reflects this.

The fact is: Labor's record as a party of progressive reform and a party of action on climate presents a political problem for the Greens. Unlike Greens political parties in other countries, which try and find a constructive role alongside mainstream social democratic parties, the Australian Greens simply want to attack Labor's electoral support and gain their electoral support from progressive voters by attacking the ALP on climate change. This was on display when they voted with the coalition to defeat Labor's CPRS 10 years ago, and we saw it again at this year's federal election when they promoted the anti-Adani caravan as an opportunistic tactic to boost their Queensland Senate vote. They got their Queensland senator back, but they also got Scott Morrison. The question for the Greens is whether they place a higher political priority on winning votes by tearing down Labor or whether they're prepared to support action on climate change. We need to learn from this experience.

We worked hard to achieve bipartisan consensus on climate legislation 10 years ago. The Liberals punished Malcolm Turnbull for putting the national interest ahead of short-term political interest and replaced him, and consensus evaporated overnight. But let's remember two brave women: Judith Troeth and Sue Boyce, Liberal senators who crossed the floor on 2 December 2009 in the national interest, firm in their support for action on climate change. If the far Green senators had voted with Labor, the carbon price would have passed the parliament and we would have had a transformational climate policy. The Greens' decision has had disastrous and long-lasting consequences for Australia's ability to respond effectively to climate change. Our annual emissions are projected to climb to 540 million tonnes by 2020 and to keep rising to 563 million tonnes by 2030. By voting to defeat the CPRS, the Greens political party voted against cumulative additional reductions of Australia's emissions by 218 million tonnes over the last decade—218 million tonnes over the last decade! As a result of this trajectory, we will see emissions rising until at least 2030.

The rationale the Greens gave for voting against the CPRS was that its targets were inadequate and that transitional assistance for emissions-intensive industries was too generous. But just two years later they voted for the Clean Energy Future package, which had the same emissions targets for 2020 and more assistance for the emissions-intensive industries. The clean energy package provided more transitional assistance than the CPRS for the coal-fired power generators—I'm unsurprised they don't want to hear this—for the steel industry and for the coalmining sector. So why did the Greens support legislation that was browner? The only explanation is that their political calculations changed.

Labor doesn't seek to avoid responsibility for our part in what we have seen over the last 10 years. We were on the right side of the debate, but we know we made mistakes, one so significant it destroyed a Prime Minister. The coalition decided to politically weaponise climate change rather than engage in responsible policymaking, and that has come at great cost to Australia—for example, we have a dysfunctional energy market as a consequence. These realities will come home to roost for Scott Morrison.

We, as a country, must pursue action on climate even though it has come at a great price, politically, over the past decade. That is Labor's commitment. It is time for all members and senators and all parties to put aside their short-term political interests and work together in the national interest. It is still my hope that we can realise how hard reform is and learn that we cannot keep making this issue a pitched battle. We must find common ground. We cannot make it an either-jobs-or-environment choice, because it isn't. The people who follow us in this place will not thank us for the time we have wasted, and they will condemn us if we continue to neglect the future they inherit.

10:42 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

The government will be voting against the suspension because the Senate unanimously determined—at Labor's initiative—that this morning we should be debating the Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017. This is the bill that we are meant to be debating this morning. It wasn't us who listed this, because we respect the fact that non-government senators determine what is debated in private senators' time. However, what the Labor Party is now proposing is to vary the business. That is precisely the basis for why we voted against the previous motion. It is only fair to all senators who've prepared themselves for this debate on the Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017 that this be the bill that is dealt with.

Let's not pretend that this has got anything to do with Labor wanting to pursue more effective action on climate change. This is all about Labor wanting to beat up on the Greens. This is all about a tiff between the Labor Party and the Greens—and I see Senator Di Natale nodding. This is just the latest political stunt by the Labor Party. How do we know this? It's because the Labor Party has already been successful in having precisely the same topic as the topic of this motion listed for debate later today as part of the MPI. Labor are clearly so embarrassed by their Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017 that they're desperately trying to avoid debate on it. If they had any commitment to what they've asked the Senate to list for debate this morning, they would have proceeded with it.

Clearly, Labor is no longer concerned about rising inequality. That was the sort of thing that Shorten was trying to deceive the Australian people about in the lead-up to the last election. Now, under Mr Albanese, they're no longer concerned about rising inequality, so they no longer want to pursue this particular piece of legislation. They're prepared to prioritise a political stunt, trying to flesh out a tiff between Labor and the Greens, ahead of dealing with what, last week, they were telling us was an important piece of legislation.

When it comes to climate change, our government is absolutely committed to effective action on climate change. We are committed to effective action on climate change in a way that is economically responsible, and we absolutely stand by our decision 10 years ago to vote against Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme—so called, because it would not have helped reduce global emissions; it would have just shifted Australian emissions into other parts of the world where, for the same level of economic output, emissions would have been higher. So the world would have been worse off, the global environment would have been worse off and Australian jobseekers would have been worse off. So Australians would have been asked to make a sacrifice for no impact on global emissions at all. In fact, arguably, emissions would have been higher, because we would have made it harder, for example, to produce LNG here in Australia, and, of course, for every tonne of emissions from Australia producing LNG, we are able to displace five to nine tonnes of emissions in China and the same level in other economies around our region. We would have made it harder for Australia to help reduce global emissions, because we would have made it harder for ourselves to attract investment in expanded LNG production and exports into those countries. We would have made it harder for ourselves to keep the aluminium industry here in Australia, which is environmentally more efficient than those aluminium businesses in the other parts of the world. That would have led to higher emissions than would have been the case for the same level of economic output here in Australia.

There were many flaws with Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The Greens at the time were quite right in joining the Liberal and National parties in voting that disastrous piece of legislation down. But let's just be very clear: this is a debate for later today during the MPI. This is not a debate we should be having during private senators' time, given Labor advised the Senate on Thursday—and indeed the Senate unanimously agreed in the placing of business—that it wished to place on the agenda for this morning the Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017. That is the bill that we're ready to debate here and now, and that is the debate that we should be getting on with instead of having one Labor stunt after another.

10:46 am

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

When Anthony Albanese was elected Leader of the Labor Party, he said he was interested in fighting Tories. Well, he's given up on fighting Tories; he's now fighting the Greens. We've got the Liberals, a climate-denying, climate sceptic party that's in bed with the coal, oil and gas industries, and what are the Labor Party doing? Turning their attention to the Greens. We had half the country on fire last week. We have had the east coast burning. We have had people losing their homes. We have had horrific loss of life. Do you know what the response was from the Labor Party? Again, they joined the Liberal Party: 'Now's not the time to talk about climate change.' Well, the first time since those fires that the Labor Party has decided to talk about climate change is not to attack the government; it's to attack the Greens.

Melinda and Dean have a property that was destroyed. They've got leftover items from their northern New South Wales home. They've got a piece of burnt corrugated iron out the front. Do you know what it says? It says, 'Mr Morrison, your climate crisis destroyed my home'. What's the response of the Labor Party? 'It's the Greens' fault.' Well, how about, rather than looking to the past, you look to the present and actually decide what you want to do now? The Australian people don't give two hoots about a fight that happened 10 years ago. Why don't you go back to the Dismissal, for God's sake? Let's go back to the ALP-DLP split! Things would have been different if the ALP and DLP hadn't split! People care about what happens now. What they want to know is what you stand for.

If you are so desperate to have a carbon price introduced, let's get together and work on one. Let me remind you that we were the only party that took a carbon price to the last election. You are so desperate to talk about a policy that would have put a price on carbon. Well, let's work together and put one in. Let's do what the Australian people want us to do: let's price carbon so we can phase out coal and get on track to addressing the climate crisis that faces us. But, no, you're not interested in doing this; you're interested in a distraction. You're interested in whitewashing the legacy of Australia's first female Prime Minister. In 2010, after we defeated a terrible piece of public policy, we got what was described by the International Energy Agency as 'template legislation'. We got a price on carbon, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the establishment of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. We got all of those things in place working constructively with Australia's first female Prime Minister and working constructively with the crossbench. We introduced legislation that, for the first time, brought down pollution. We had pollution come down, we had investment and we had model climate policy. And you want to talk about the past? Well, if the Labor Party hadn't torn itself apart with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd fiasco, maybe Tony Abbott wouldn't have been effective in turning down that carbon price. Maybe we would still have a carbon price if you had your shit together and you actually worked cooperatively—

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

I withdraw. The question is this: what do we do from this point on? In the lead-up to the last election, I reached out to then opposition leader Bill Shorten. We met privately, and I said clearly and explicitly, 'We want to work together to get climate policy back on track.' Well, what did we hear? Crickets—we got crickets in return. I've met with Anthony Albanese and said to him: 'It's about time you focused your attention on the Liberals. We want to work together, and let us get climate policy back on track.' And what do we see? We reach out to the Leader of the Opposition and say: 'Let's work together on climate policy; let's recognise who the real enemy of climate change is in this place. It's the coal-hugging Liberals. It's the Liberal Party who are more interested in doing the bidding of their big corporate donors.' And what does the Leader of the Opposition do? He attacks the Greens. I say to Anthony Albanese, 'Remember, you're supposed to be here to fight the Tories not the Greens.' We have said we're prepared to work with you. How about you work with us?

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Order! For the notice of the chamber, I'm going to go to the member of the ALP who moved the motion. I'll call for one more government speaker. And then, as the movers of the motion, I'll give a member of the opposition a third opportunity to speak, if they rise. It will be Senator McAllister and then Senator Canavan.

10:52 am

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

This is a motion that asks this chamber to reflect on the performance of this parliament in managing energy policy and climate policy over the last decade. And it's not surprising that, once again, speakers from the coalition and speakers from the Greens combine to shut this down. They combine to say, 'Oh no, we don't want to talk about this.' And I wouldn't want to talk about it either, because the history is shameful. Ten years later—10 years after we had a chance to put in place a lasting, comprehensive, whole-of-economy approach to deal with both energy and emissions—energy policy is in a shambles. Emissions are going up and the government's own data shows that there is no sign of those emissions coming down. Prices are going up. Families are feeling it. And every day of delay means that the businesses which ought to be investing in new capability, in new energy infrastructure and in clean energy infrastructure that will provide good, secure jobs for Australian workers aren't investing, because there is no policy in place. And it is to the eternal shame of those sitting opposite that they've been unable to deliver this over the last six years.

It's not terribly surprising, in their case, because climate is the thing that continues to divide. They cannot reach an agreement. Only this weekend Malcolm Turnbull was out talking to the faithful, urging them to ignore Scott Morrison's advice that they all be quiet Australians, urging them to speak up and urging members of the Liberal Party to stand up for their values in relation to climate action. But I don't see that happening. I don't see this being resolved because this is the issue that divides the coalition party room. This is the issue that they can't fix, and this is why energy prices will continue to remain too high and our emissions will continue to go up and up: because they are a shambles.

But why don't the Greens party want to talk about this? The Greens party have never wanted to talk about this. The Labor Party are quite happy to talk about the things that go wrong. We have an open conference. Everyone can rock up and everyone can see it on television. When we do a review of our election performance, we put it in the public domain because we believe in openness. We think democracy thrives on openness: not so the Greens. I challenge everybody in this place to name one occasion—just one occasion—when a member of the Greens political party has admitted they were wrong. I ask you to really rack your brains and think about whether those smug, self-entitled individuals down there have ever conceded they were wrong about a single thing. They certainly aren't conceding today that they missed the opportunity 10 years ago. In fact, they double down on it. They double down on it despite the fact, as Senator Wong pointed out, they were willing to vote for essentially the same set of arrangements just a couple of years later.

And why is it that the Greens pursue the strategies that they do? It's not pure. They are a political party. This is a group of people who used a whiteboard to strategise their spontaneous walkout on Senator Hanson. This is a group of people engaged in a kind of political game playing that is unparalleled in this place. And what do they want when it comes to environmental issues? What do they want when it comes to climate issues? They want these issues to remain hot and unresolved because that's the way that they can attack the Labor Party. It's best for them if Labor doesn't land solutions to these challenges. It's not good for the environment, it's not good for Australian households and it's not good for Australian business, but it is good for the electoral prospects of the Greens.

A more self-interested, shameless group of people promoting their own interests over the national interests I have never seen. This chamber is subjected to vitriol from that end of the chamber repeatedly, day after day after day. Senator Di Natale stands up here and asks us, 'Why don't you attack the Liberal Party?' I'll tell you why: because just every now and then, after 20 years of daily attacks on the one progressive party capable of legislating real change on climate, we return fire. We need to learn the lessons from the past. It is not enough to say, 'That's all in the past. Can we just all play nicely and get on with the future?' Some measure of reflection— (Time expired)

10:57 am

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I am a little bit torn on this motion. Part of me would love to spend the next few hours debating this issue. Part of me thinks: let's spend the whole week debating this motion, because this motion fundamentally defines the difference between our two political positions in this place. On that side, there is not a problem in this country that the Labor Party do not think can be fixed through a tax. That is their principle. Every time an Australian hears the mention of the words 'carbon price', they must always remember that what the Labor Party are proposing—and, certainly, continue to propose—is a tax on the Australian people. When it comes to the problem of house prices in this country, the Labor Party propose a tax on those who want to invest in housing through negative gearing. When it comes to a budget problem that the Labor Party have because they want to spend so much money and because they want to keep spending money, they propose a tax on older Australians—a retiree tax. And when it comes to the problem that it might be a bit too hot outside, once again the Labor Party support a tax to try and fix it. That is the fundamental difference between our two sides. We don't think taxes solve problems; we think they create more problems than they solve, and the Australia people agree with us.

In saying all that, I don't think we should debate this motion for two hours in this place because the time to debate something in the Senate that happened 10 years ago was 10 years ago. That was the time to debate this. We had a long debate on this 10 years ago. I think it was one of the longest debates in the history of this place. Why do we need to rekindle this 10 years later? This government is not focused on events that happened 10 years ago; this government is focused on what we should do for the next 10 years for the Australian people. And the fact that the Labor Party have come into this place in the final week of parliament, when we have four days left to do things in 2019 for the Australian people, and, instead of wanting to talk about the next 10 years, they want to talk about something that happened 10 years ago just shows the bankruptcy of the modern Labor Party movement. They have no plans for the next 10 years. They don't know what they're going to do post their unexpected loss in May this year.

This just shows all Australians, leading into Christmas, that the Labor Party are all over the shop right now. What they're doing by coming in here and debating something from 10 years ago is showing that their obsession with what they call a carbon price—their obsession with a carbon tax—is like an old unrequited love from years gone by. They always return to it. It's like a high school sweetheart: they might have romances with other people but the Labor Party always return to a carbon tax and a carbon price. They always come back to it. They cannot get over this obsession with imposing taxes on Australians' electricity bills.

I heard Senator Wong earlier say there was apparently some unholy alliance between the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens on this vote 10 years ago. She forgot to mention there was another participant in that alliance, the Australian people. The Australian people have clearly voted against a carbon price for the last 10 years. The Labor Party have taken a carbon tax or a carbon price to every election over the last 10 years and have been defeated every time. Sorry, I forgot: the Labor Party actually took to the 2010 election a policy of no carbon taxes. Remember that? It was, 'No tax on carbon; no price on carbon under a government I lead', and that is the only one where they got a sort of half victory.

The Australian people are on the side of those in this chamber who don't want to impose a higher tax on the electricity prices that people pay. They don't support it for their own reasons, of course—we on this side believe that people should be helped with living costs, not have taxes imposed on them—but also they don't support it because higher electricity prices—a price on carbon, a carbon tax—put thousands of jobs in Australia at risk. The fundamental problem for the modern Labor Party is in their name. They no longer represent labour. They no longer represent the worker. They no longer stand up for jobs. Every time a test comes for them to stand up for coalmining jobs, to stand up for manufacturing jobs or to stand up for forestry worker jobs in Victoria right now they go missing. They go absolutely missing and depart the field. So for those Australians who want to have work, a strong manufacturing industry and jobs in well-paying industries like the mining sector there's only one choice now, because the Labor Party, despite their name, no longer stand up for them, no longer fight for them and will always sell their jobs out to the Greens. The reason we're having this debate is that the Labor Party are losing votes to the Greens. They have to have their preferences. They always sell out the working industries of this country.

11:02 am

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

It is outrageous that today, the 10th anniversary of the Greens voting with the Liberals to block any meaningful action on climate change, a decision that has led to complete policy inaction in this area and the record high power prices we see today, the government would try to stop this debate. As we come to the end of the parliamentary year, today marks the day 10 years ago that the Senate voted down the Labor government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills. Let me briefly recall what happened at that time for the benefit of those too young to remember those events and also for our friends at the end of the chamber, who perhaps have chosen to forget.

When Labor came to office in 2007 it pledged to take effective action against harmful climate change. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, called a climate summit, at which he described climate change as 'the great moral challenge of our generation'. Labor's problem was that we did not have a majority in this Senate, not even with the support of the Greens—and one might have thought they could be counted on with these bills. So, in that parliament, any legislation tackling climate change had to have bipartisan support. That should not have been too difficult, since every leader of the Liberal Party up to that point had accepted the reality of climate change and the need for Australia to take action against it. John Howard, Dr Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull—they all accepted those two facts. Even so, it took two years of negotiation for Senator Wong, the then Minister for Climate Change and Water, and her opposition counterpart, Ian Macfarlane, to reach agreement on legislation to put a price on carbon. That legislation embodied the best scientific advice of that time, which was that the best way for Australia to fight climate change was to put in place a market mechanism—those opposite say they are the party of the market; they were not in that instance—that created incentives for businesses and households to reduce the use of carbon fuels and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's go to Dr Martin Parkinson's recent comments, in the last couple of days, on this point. Only a few days ago, Dr Parkinson reminded us that the last decade of policy turmoil could have been avoided and that, 'Had only the Greens decided not to lay down with the Liberal Party in a marriage of cynical convenience, Australians would today be enjoying lower power prices.' He said that, in fact, 'electricity prices for households have risen 45 per cent over this time and 60 per cent for manufacturers'. Dr Parkinson has directly linked this with the Senate's decision to block the scheme at that time. Unfortunately, I won't have time to go into the government's total inaction on that, because I actually want to come back to our friends at the end of the chamber. Dr Bob Brown, the then Leader of the Greens, announced at that time that the Greens would oppose the bills. In defending their position, the Greens put forward two arguments. The first was that the bills did not go far enough and the second was that Labor had not tried to negotiate better bills with the Greens. That was their complaint. That was what Dr Brown complained about. They fell for the political trap of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Why? Because they are a party of all care and no responsibility. That is the problem with the Greens.

I want to turn to a bit of political theory—particularly, Jean-Pierre Faye's book Le Siecle des ideologies. In that very interesting book, which I would recommend that people read, he describes the 'horseshoe theory'. In political science, the horseshoe theory asserts that the far Left and the far Right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another and, in fact, are not at the opposite ends of a horseshoe but they are close together. I do recommend his book. It is quite interesting and probably quite relevant to the current situation in the British election, because it also goes into why the far Right and the far Left are anti-Semitic. It is actually a very interesting book.

I have pages and pages on the Greens and their litany of problems and how they are in fact are a party of all care and no responsibility, but that will all have to wait for another day. (Time expired)

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Wong—that is, to suspend standing orders—be agreed to.