Senate debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

National COVID-19 Coordination Commission

3:30 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission.

I rise to take note of the answer given to my question to the Minister for Finance, representing the Prime Minister. I asked about the little fossil-fuel cosy group that the government has appointed, and is paying with taxpayer funds, the COVID commission, and I asked initially how they can be confident that conflicts of interest with this fossil-fuel buddy group aren't going to dominate the recommendations of this body? There are no guidelines that pertain to how conflicts of interest are to be disclosed or managed. We learnt yesterday that in fact special advisers to that commission, who can be co-opted or appended, don't even have any obligations about disclosing or managing conflicts of interest. On top of that, we know that the commission's advice to government will be treated as cabinet in confidence. So we don't know what rules they're operating under, we don't know how they're managing conflicts of interest and we don't even know what they're advising the government to do. I asked the minister: 'How can you be confident that they're putting the public interest ahead of their own private interests or the interests of the industries from whence they hail?' The minister is confident that they can manage those conflicts.

Well, is it any wonder that we still don't have a federal anticorruption watchdog—despite it being nigh on a year and a half since this government reluctantly promised to deliver one—when this government thinks that flagrant potential for conflict of interest can just be somehow managed as the commission's own responsibility? They don't even want to put any guidelines in place.

It is no wonder that the public think that this government is completely opposed to transparency and accountability and that we desperately need an anticorruption watchdog. The reason for this of course is that the fossil fuel industry has been very busy under the cover of COVID. As has been collated by a group called fossil fuel watch, there have been 14 requests to cut environmental laws or corporate regulations; there have been 11 requests for tax cuts and concessions—and, might I say, more tax cuts and more tax concessions—and there have been 12 requests to fast-track projects. But the minister says these conflicts can be managed. The appointees on the commission don't have any guidelines. They don't apparently have any criteria on which to base their recommendations to government, or, if they do, we won't be told that either. And we won't be told what their advice to government is.

I think it's pretty obvious what their advice to government is going to be. A bunch of people up to their necks in the fossil fuel industry, now getting paid by the taxpayer, will no doubt recommend to the government that the economic recovery out of the COVID crisis is in fact yet more fossil fuels.

We're about to start the fire season again, and we just saw the worst bushfires in history. But this government has forgotten all about its inept handling of that crisis. And it has forgotten all about the real underlying crisis that will still be on foot when the COVID crisis is dealt with, and that's the climate crisis. And yet it puts in charge of an advisory body a bunch of people that want to make the climate crisis worse, to make more money for themselves and their industries and their shareholders! But we don't need conflict of interest guidelines! Everything's going to be fine. Go back to sleep, folks. We've already seen that a gas-led recovery is being proposed by the so-called minister for emissions reduction—the biggest misnomer in history!—and it's no wonder, when you look at the make-up of that COVID commission.

We are concerned that, whilst this government has been laudably paying attention to the health experts in dealing with the COVID crisis, they are ignoring the climate experts in dealing with the climate crisis. Why is it that scientists are sometimes good and sometimes to be ignored? Unfortunately, I put that question to the minister, and he chose to answer a different aspect and conveniently ignore that question altogether.

But we do not need a so-called gas-led recovery. Gas is a dirty fossil fuel. It wrecks farmland. It destroys underground water. It frequently dispossesses First Nations and traditional owners. That's why I've had a bill in this place for nigh on 10 years to give people the right to say no to it.

Then, finally, I asked about the obscene amounts of payment that these folk are receiving. But it's meant to be okay because it's not a quarter of a million dollars in salary that this guy, the chair of the commission, is receiving, for six months; it's only in expenses. The minister somehow think that makes it better—that the chair is receiving a quarter of a million dollars, in expenses only, to do a job, when this government is proposing dumping people back down to $41 a day, below the poverty line, in September, and it won't even support a million casual workers on JobKeeper. The priorities of this government are abundantly clear. It's government by the rich for the rich.

Question agreed to.