Senate debates

Monday, 18 October 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Climate Change

3:36 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Gallagher today relating to climate change policy.

In question time today we again saw how hopelessly divided this government is on the question of action on climate change. In observing the government during the answers that Senator McKenzie gave to a series of questions, and then Senator Birmingham as well, what was patently clear was the chasm that stands not just between the National Party and the Liberal Party but within elements of the National Party and elements of the Liberal Party.

I notice Senator Scarr is sitting there, ready to have his turn speaking. I'm sure that Senator Scarr, someone who would regard himself as a modern Liberal, would probably be horrified to hear the views of the other two Liberals who are in the chamber, let alone those of Senator Rennick, the one whom they all want to disown. The reaction on the faces of Liberals was there as they had to listen to Senator McKenzie bang on and on and ramble all around the countryside about the Nationals' position on net zero emissions and climate change. It's no wonder that so many Liberals regard the National Party as the mad uncle who turns up to Christmas lunch. They are so embarrassed by their National Party coalition partners and the resistance that they have put in place year after year to taking action on climate change and to grabbing the economic opportunities and the jobs that await a country like Australia.

What has become clear over the last few days, and was reinforced in question time today, is that the National Party has become the antijobs party of Australian politics. For years they've been going around crowing and saying how much they care about jobs in regional Australia, ignoring the fact that they have cheered on big mining companies who have casualised their mining workforces and brought in labour hire in droves, undermining wages and undermining working conditions. They are a bit sensitive about casualisation.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, please resume your seat.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy President, on a point of order: on many occasions you have correctly brought me to order, in terms of this section of business, to make sure that I have confined my remarks to the actual answers to questions, which is the subject of this section. I note that there was no discussion of casualisation of the workforce in the mining industry or of some of the other matters that Senator Watt is touching upon, so I ask you to bring him to order.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Scarr. As you know, this is a broad-ranging debate. I have been listening carefully. I will remind Senator Watt to take note of the answers given by Senator Birmingham to questions put to him by Senator Gallagher.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

We are always interested to see how sensitive Liberal and National senators from Queensland are when their selling out of mining workers through casualisation and labour hire is raised. And here comes Senator Canavan, the biggest sellout of the lot—the man who likes to raid his fancy-dress drawer, put on his coalminer clothes, smear a bit of dust on his face and come down to Canberra and sell out those very coalminers by backing in the big mining companies over casualisation and labour hire year after year. Senator Canavan and the National Party are so worried about jobs in regional Queensland that they have assisted the big coalmining companies to casualise their workforce and bring in labour hire year after year, and they do nothing about it.

Senator Gallagher's question to Senator Birmingham was all about the cost of the LNP's plan for dealing with climate change. We already know that that cost involves the thousands of jobs which have already been lost across regional Queensland and regional Australia as a result of this government's failure to put forward policies about climate change and renewable energy. We already have seen thousands of jobs that should be going into places across regional Queensland be sent offshore by the National Party because they just can't come to grips with the present, let alone the future. And we've learned over the last few days, from comments from various National Party members, that that is not the limit of the cost of the LNP's climate change plan. It's not good enough for the LNP to send thousands of jobs offshore rather than see them grow in regional Queensland and regional Australia; they also want to put in place a $250 billion coal fund. They want to give mining companies $250 billion of taxpayers' money to prop them up. These are profit-making companies to whom they want to give $250 billion worth of taxpayers' funds. That is $10,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia that they want to hand over to big profit-making mining companies.

Senator Canavan wants to impose a mortgage tax on every Australian rather than do something positive about creating jobs through renewables. He's been reported in the media as saying, 'If we just have to jack up mortgages by a few percentage points that's not a big price to pay.' He wants every man, woman and child in Australia to pay more for their mortgages—and again, Senator Scarr is embarrassed by his National Party colleagues—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Watt. Senator Scarr, on a point of order?

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In fact, I'm very enamoured with my National Party colleagues—far from embarrassed! Once again, there was no discussion in terms of taxes on mortgages in question time, and I ask you to bring Senator Watt to order, or the debate will be extremely broad ranging over the course of the next 45 minutes.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Scarr. The question was about net zero, and Senator Watt is talking broadly about climate change and net zero. So he is still within the scope of the question.

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, we know the Liberals are sensitive to the National Party's crazy ideas.

Finally, we've learned in the last couple of days that the Nationals want to have a $20 billion rort fund. They've already got the spreadsheets drawn up in Senator McKenzie's office; they're ready to go, colour coded and all! It's rorts, mortgage taxes, coal funds and jobs lost across Queensland.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Canavan, are you seeking a point of order?

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was, but it's a little redundant now.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Then please resume your seat.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do make a point of order, and draw your attention to—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Canavan, please resume your seat, thank you.

3:44 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt did indeed broadly range over a number of matters during his contribution to the debate, but did try and connect them in some way to Senator Gallagher's question of Senator Birmingham. At the outset, can I say that there is no greater champion for regional Queensland than Senator Matt Canavan. He is recognised in Central Queensland by the people who live there, by the people who voted at the last federal election, as a champion for that region, for those businesses and for those jobs. That's why he's in the position he's in today, and it is absolutely no surprise whatsoever to me that Senator Canavan is advocating for the region and advocating for the livelihoods of those Queenslanders who he stands up for every single day. That's what Senator Canavan does, that's what we expect him to do and that's what the people of Queensland voted for him to do, and what they will vote for him to do again come the next federal election.

We've got to look at some facts in this debate around climate change and net zero. The fact of the matter is that Australia's emissions are at their lowest level since 1990. Emissions in Australia in 2020 were more than 20 per cent lower than in 2005, which is the benchmark baseline under the Paris Agreement. Since 2005, we have reduced our emissions faster than Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA. We're on track to beat our 2030 Paris target of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent. On a per person basis, that's a reduction of 48 to 49 per cent. And we've done that on the basis of a policy that is technology not taxes. That is the pathway forward. That's the responsible pathway forward for the Australian government and for the Australian economy—technology not taxes.

You will not see this government adopt an overly ambitious, reckless plan—reckless target, I should say, without a plan—for 2030 that will cost jobs in our regions, that will decimate our regions. You will not see that coming from this side of the chamber. One of the reasons you won't see that coming from this side of the chamber is people like Senator Matt Canavan and the National Party, representing their constituents in regional Australia. What you will see is a reasonable, proportionate response to the realities of the world. That's what you will see: reasonable and proportionate.

There is no doubt that the world is changing in terms of its demand for its energy sources, so it's absolutely fit and proper that the government prudently and soberly consider a long-term plan in relation to net emissions. As part of that plan, you only have to look at our technology road map to see what needs to be part and parcel of it. It includes appropriate investment in industries such as the hydrogen industry—blue hydrogen, green hydrogen. We have to work with our trading partners, and there are great Japanese and Korean partners who we have been engaging with—today, yesterday, over the past 12 months—who have been engaging with great Australian companies in relation to hydrogen investment in this country, and that's the pathway where we can achieve milestones in the longer term in a prudent fashion. At the same time, our coal industry, where we produce some of the best quality thermal coal in the world, will continue to supply coal-power plants in our region. At the same time, our gas industry—the Gladstone LNG project and other great gas projects—will continue to provide energy sources to the world, continue to do that effectively based on the efforts, the enterprise of great Queenslanders and great Queensland companies.

We are having a debate on this side of the chamber, and the National Party is an important part of that debate—as are all of the views and considerations put forward by members of the Liberal Party. They will be considered soberly, and, at the end of that process, we'll have a reasoned, proportionate plan tied to a target. It won't be a reckless proposal that will hurt regional Queensland and hurt regional Australia. It will be considered, and it will be based on technology advances not taxes. Technology not taxes. (Time expired)

3:49 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the answer given by Minister Birmingham to the question asked by Senator Gallagher, who's still here in the chamber. Sometimes my breath is just taken away by the crazy statements that I hear coming from those opposite, who have been in government for eight years—eight years already! They've had three terms in government. They've had 493 weeks to have the kind of debate of which Senator Scarr has just said, 'We are having a debate in this house, on this side of the chamber.' After 493 weeks and 21 energy policies—they're on the cusp of the 22nd—they're still having a debate. That's not leadership; that's a joke.

Senator Birmingham, in his defence of this failure in climate policy, actually commenced his answer here in the chamber this afternoon, in response to Senator Gallagher, by saying, 'We will not leave regional and rural communities behind.' I've got news for him: he's left them behind. For those 493 weeks, they know that they have been left behind, and they know that they are being taken for granted by this National Party set of representatives who come to Canberra, who are here to look after themselves and who have jettisoned the good interests of the people of regional Australia—people who are dying at a higher rate than their cousins in the cities because they have no access to proper GPs or any health care. The regions have well and truly been left behind by this government, which does not deserve another term.

If there's anything that the last three years of the Morrison government have taught us, it's that the Prime Minister is prepared to spend any number of taxpayer dollars to keep his spot in the Lodge. But he's a miser when it comes to NDIS staffing levels. He was a miser when he refused to reintroduce JobKeeper during the most recent lockdowns, when businesses across the great state of New South Wales, which I represent, were getting absolutely slammed. But, when it comes to buying voters or buying the compliance of his coalition partner, Mr Morrison has shown that he's willing to spend as much as $20 billion to try to keep this rabble, which considers itself the Australian government, loosely cobbled together. Twenty billion dollars—that's the sum that it's reportedly going to cost the taxpayers of Australia in order for the Nationals to stay in the cart with Mr Morrison. The Nationals are finally being bought off, despite their continued ignoring of the science and their failure to back climate change. This all should have been figured out eight years ago. We've had eight long years of government, and here, at two minutes to midnight, with the horses bolting off to Glasgow, we've got $20 billion of discussion underway because Mr Morrison's found that he actually can't work with his coalition partners, so he's going to buy them off and grease the re-election of his government by using billions and billions of dollars to buy votes.

Farmers throughout New South Wales have struggled through adverse weather, including bushfires, tornados and droughts—all caused by the rapidly changing climate. The National Party have continued to bury their heads in the sand while farmers, agricultural business owners and investors in that sector in Australia have actually seen what's going on and have tried to get this out-of-touch National Party rump on board with reality. Senator McKenzie's in here saying, 'It's great. We've had a 75-year effective partnership with the Liberal Party.' This is not a partnership; it's a debacle. It's delivered for Australia what Senator McKenzie described today as the poorest people in the country, the most marginalised people and the most vulnerable people. It's been 75 years of a supposed partnership—it sounds more like a toxic relationship—that is not delivering for the people of Australia, and $20 billion of good Australian taxpayer funded money should not be invested in some sort of fanciful way to appease the National Party, who don't even represent the people in this nation who live beyond the Great Dividing Range. They've sold their votes in an easy lie, rather than face the hard truths that—(Time expired)

3:54 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a senator from the National Party here today, I can say that there are a lot of people upset with us. Gee, we are not flavour of the month down here in Canberra! Today, everybody's at us. The press are all over us—we're doing all these terrible, evil things. I suppose my message back to the people of Central and North Queensland is: that's the way I like it. If we're doing things that are making people down here in Canberra upset, we're probably doing something good for you, because—I tell you what—the people down here in Canberra are not on your side. They're always trying to find ways to kill your job, to take away your industries, to deny opportunities for people in regional Australia. So you can take it as a given that, if people in Canberra are upset with the National Party, the National Party are fighting for you. That is the test, and, boy, are we meeting that test this week! Everybody is angry with us. Everybody is upset with us.

As I say, that is the way I like it, because I don't come to this place to make friends. I don't come down to Canberra, leave my family and have to go back through quarantine—that's the way it works now—to make friends in Canberra. That's not why I'm here. Other people might be interested in doing that; I don't care. I don't care that the restaurants haven't been open here in Canberra, because I don't care about making friends. I'm here to fight for people's jobs. I'm here to fight for people's futures. I'm here so that families in Central and North Queensland can have a future for their children working and living where they live. I don't want people's kids to have to move to a capital city just to get a job. That's why I fought for the Adani mine. There are 2,000 people working at that mine right now. It's about to export coal into a market that is absolutely desperate for coal right now.

Let's judge people on how good they have been at predicting things in the last few of years, because we were all told a few years ago that the Adani mine had no commercial case, it was never going happen and there were going to be robots. Do you remember that, Senator Roberts? Robots! There were going to be robots, or Indians maybe, sometimes, working as miners. Well, go out to Carmichael now. When has any Labor senator turned up there? Go out and meet the 2,000 people who have jobs, thanks to the fight and effort that we put in. That's what I and many of my Nationals colleagues are continuing to do here.

We learned today that this whole idea that we should sign up to net zero is actually because the US and UK want to us do it. That's apparently why we've got to do it. We didn't get a vote. There were a lot of concerns about the US presidential election last year. There were allegations of dead people voting and other people voting. There were no allegations that Australians voted. I don't think anybody here got a vote. But apparently now, because the US wants us to do it, we've got to do it too.

Well, I don't know if that's true, but what I do know is that signing up to net zero would be a massive sellout of Australia's interests. How would we build anything anymore under a net zero target? How are we going to build another Adani mine, given the demand for coal is through the roof? Everybody wants our coal. There is enough coal out there in the Galilee Basin for another five mines that can employ another 15,000 people if we have the guts to open them up. How are they going to do that if we sign up to a net zero target, because what will happen. We've all seen this before.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells, I'm not saying anything about your heritage here, but you've been here a while. You know how it works here in Canberra. If we set a net zero target we will weaponise the bureaucracy here in Canberra, which is not on your side. They will take an inch and run a mile, and anyone who wants to build a mine in this country need not apply because they'll have to offset all their emissions. What does that mean? They'll have to pay people to plant trees or do other things to get to this net zero. When they have to pay that—guess what?—that is a tax. That will mean a tax on every mine built in this country. It will mean a tax on every dam built in this country, because farming creates emissions too. There will even be a tax on airports. If you want to build an airport at the Great Barrier Reef to open up a new island for tourism, that will attract a tax. Already overseas courts in the UK have stopped airports because the UK government signed up to net zero. That has happened, and that is about to be our future. Our future is about to be what the UK is getting right now, which is petrol lines and energy shortages. They can't even feed themselves, because—guess what?—in the ultimate irony, they don't have enough carbon dioxide. They're running out of carbon dioxide, because you need gas to make that, and they now get all their gas from Putin, who's not giving it to them. This is madness, and we should put a stop to it.

3:59 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always a pleasure to speak after mortgage-tax Matt Canavan and talk about North Queensland and Central Queensland. It's where I have spent the last couple of weeks before coming back to Canberra. I've been in Gladstone, Emerald, Townsville and Mackay, all the way up to Bamaga and Cape York and, of course, in my home town of Cairns. In Gladstone they're talking about hydrogen and in Townsville they're talking about the minerals that you need to power renewable energy. In Cairns we already have hydroelectric power and renewable energy projects.

Those people over there don't stand up for the regions. They're not standing up for the national interest. They're not listening to what people are saying in regional Queensland, because if they were they would understand that people in regional Queensland want the job opportunities that will come from making a decision and a plan around net zero. It is self-interest that drives the National Party. It is self-interest that drives the Liberal National Party in Queensland. We know the job opportunities that we are losing because this government has failed to back renewables in regional Queensland. They are going missing. Those jobs are going overseas. People in Queensland are missing out on those jobs because this government has failed to deliver a plan and a target for net zero.

We're not talking about hypotheticals here. The government literally vetoed a wind farm in Far North Queensland which would have created 250 jobs. They stood in the way of 250 jobs because it was against the government's energy policy to create jobs in renewable energy. We know that the increase in insurance prices, the increase in severe weather events, drought and rising sea levels are all going to happen in regional Queensland. It's happening right now. Then there's the impact on the Great Barrier Reef and the jobs that rely on the reef. Those are also in regional Queensland.

When you have those people over there talking about the fact that they stand up for the regional areas of our country, what they really mean is they stand up for themselves. They stand up for their own political interests. We've seen that time and again. What we expect from our government is for it to govern for our whole country, and a pathway to net zero is significant to every Australian, know matter where they live.

The past eight years have shown us that in Scott Morrison we don't have a leader who is willing to fight for us. He's weak and unable to act in the national interests. He's more interested in making hollow announcements than actually delivering when things are tough. What about the backbone of these so-called moderate Liberals who aren't prepared to step up and show any leadership? Where are they on this? I'll tell you where they were about half an hour ago. They were voting with the Nationals against net zero. They've always sat next to them in parliament, they've always voted with them, they're in government with them, they're in cahoots with them and they're still so silent on this important issue.

The pantomime of the last few weeks and the last eight years has been about avoiding responsibility and accountability in every corner of this government. It's quite cute, isn't it? The Nats pretend that they aren't even members of the government and so they're not responsible or accountable for the fact that after eight years Australia has no climate policy. They're in cabinet. They have the Deputy Prime Minister. There are ministers in the National Party. But apparently it's not up to them to govern the country. Then we have the Liberals on this side, who conveniently are able to pretend they're not responsible for the Nationals and so it's nothing to do with them and they're not responsible or accountable for the fact that there hasn't been a climate policy for the last eight years. They are in government. The Liberals and the Nationals are in government. The Prime Minister is the leader of the government. But, according to him, it's not up to him to lead the country. Minister Angus Taylor said today, 'The Nationals' interest is aligned with the interests of the Liberal Party.' But the problem is that neither are interested in the national interest. After eight long years of this Liberal-National government we still have no climate policy. It's clear whatever deal gets cut, whatever $20 billion pork-barrel fund gets created, the only way to fix this mess, the only way to get action on climate change, is to get rid of Scott Morrison and his entire Liberal-National government at the next election.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Green, I remind you to refer to those in the other place by their correct titles.

Question agreed to.

4:04 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 Foreign Affairs (Senator Payne) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

The UN climate summit in Glasgow is coming up in a matter of weeks. Australia is being left behind. I asked the foreign minister: why is Australia keeping company with petro states like Russia when so many other nations have agreed to strengthen their 2030 targets? The US, the UK, the EU, Canada, South Africa Norway, South Korea, Japan, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and so many others have agreed to do so, and yet the government are allowing the pathetic Nationals junior coalition partner to dictate their climate policy and they're having a squabble about 2050 while the rest of the world is talking about 2030 and while the science is saying we need strong 2030 targets. It is the ultimate coalition response to be talking about something that is irrelevant and 30 years out of date, when in fact we need to talk about strengthening our 2030 targets if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

The science says we have to triple our targets here in Australia to have any hope of meeting the 1½-degree aspiration from the Paris climate summit. That would mean we could save what's left of the Great Barrier Reef, protect our farmland from worse extreme weather events and more drought and protect our people from more severe and more frequent bushfires. But this mob are too in hock to big mining and the coal and gas industries to actually take the science seriously.

The International Energy Agency says that we can't have a single new piece of coal, oil or gas infrastructure opened if we want to stick with 1½ degrees. I asked the minister why, according to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, there are 72 new major coal projects proposed in Australia and 44 major gas projects planned in the coming years. How on earth are you going to stick with a net zero target for 2050, with new coal, oil and gas happening? What an absolute farce. They're having this dangerous distraction about 2050 while they use public money to open up more coal, oil and gas, meanwhile ignoring the science on the table that says 2030 is what we need to tackle. We need strong science based targets. Shame on this government. I cannot wait to see the back of them.

Question agreed to.