Simon BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (17:38): I rise to support the arguments put so eloquently by my colleague Senator Fifield and by other colleagues-Senators Abetz, Cormann, Joyce and Nash-that the Senate should deny the government’s move that these carbon tax bills proceed without formalities and that the Senate should deny the government’s move that these bills be taken together. I do so because we have seen an absolute failure of the parliamentary scrutiny process to date, and this is the only opportunity we have. This chamber is the only thing standing between these bills and their becoming the law of Australia.
This chamber should give these bills full, thorough and proper parliamentary scrutiny. If that means taking a pathway that differs from what we usually do when we consider packages of legislation then we should do that to ensure we have proper scrutiny. Have these bills had had any decent scrutiny in the other place? No, they certainly have not. They were subject to a gag order. They were subject to what is politely described as ‘time management’. How much consideration in detail did these bills have? Just a few hours last night. That was all they had for what we in the Senate paraphrase as the ‘committee stage’. When it came to looking at the detail of the legislation, they had just a few hours last night in the House of Representatives.
That is just not good enough for a package of this size and of this scale and with the impact it will have on the Australian community. This is a vast package. As Senator Joyce highlighted when he brought the whole pack of legislation into the chamber, we are talking about 19 separate bills totalling more than 1,100 pages of new legislation. That, of course, is before all the explanatory memoranda that go with it are added on. It is a vast and sweeping package with vast and sweeping implications.
The other place rammed it through. The government, combined with their cohorts from the Greens and the crossbench, provided just a few hours of consideration in detail last night, and that was all we saw. Yes, there has been a parliamentary inquiry into this-a joint select committee that Senator Cormann and I had, dare I say, the misfortune of serving on. Frankly, it was a farcical process that did not stand true to what we in the Senate would expect as proper committee scrutiny of legislation.
It took just around three weeks from the motion to establish the committee to the committee’s reporting. Within that time just six days, including a weekend, were provided to the Australian people to make submissions on this vast, sweeping package of more than 1,100 pages. The Australian people nonetheless responded. More than 4½ thousand people made submissions during that process. Yet, overwhelmingly, those submissions were not only ignored by the Labor Party, the Greens and the Independents but actually silenced. They were not accepted as submissions. They were not published as submissions in the usual way. They were locked out of the process.
I am just happy that the coalition members of that select inquiry at least took the time to look at the submissions, took the time to read them and took the time to quote from hundreds of them in the committee’s report. Equally, the farcical inquiry into these sweeping bills did not get the chance to hear from them. No. Again, the numbers on this committee were nine Labor-Green-Independent members against five coalition members. The Independent was Mr Windsor, who developed the legislation, and the Greens were Senator Milne and Mr Bandt, both of whom, with Mr Windsor, served on the multiparty committee that developed this legislation.
So it was the proponents of this legislation who dominated the inquiry into it and obviously came to a predetermined outcome. They were the ones who set where the committee would go and who it would hear from. Despite requests from the opposition that the committee travel to Mackay in Queensland-your home state, Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce-and hear from the industries and the workers in Mackay and the people of North Queensland their views on this carbon tax that will have an impact on the mining industry and other industries, including the tourism industry that is so important to that state, the Labor Party and their cohorts said no.
We saw a request from Mrs Gash-another member of the committee, from the other place-for the committee to travel to the Illawarra to hear from stakeholders in her region who were concerned. Frankly, it is not that far for the committee to go there from Canberra. But no: again, the Labor Party and their cohorts on the committee said no. We had a request from Senator Cormann that the committee travel to Perth, a city where, of course, the concern about this tax proposal is very real and where there are many, many industries that are worried-particularly, of course, Australia’s mining industry, which has such a foothold in Perth. Again the Labor Party and their cohorts said no. Where did they decide they would take evidence on this legislation? You may be surprised to learn that we had two days of hearings in Canberra, one day in Melbourne and one day in Sydney-a really great representation of Australian viewpoint!
Senator Payne interjecting–
Senator BIRMINGHAM: A broad representation indeed, Senator Payne-quite astounding. We saw that with this legislation, of such sweeping effect, the parliamentary inquiry into it did not get outside the Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra triangle. It is just outrageous. If any part of this parliament should be outraged, of course, it should be the Australian Senate. It should be the place in which the states, with their equal representation, deserve to have a fair say heard-where the smaller states, the more distant states and the more disparate regions are meant to get their voices heard. Yet they were silenced throughout that inquiry process.
So, yes, we do seek to deny leave for these bills to proceed without formalities, we do seek to deny leave for them to be taken together and we do so because the parliamentary committee process has let us down, because the House of Representatives has let us down and because the government has let the Australian people down. Therefore we want to make sure that this Senate does not follow suit and let the Australian people down again. I fear the Senate will. I fear that the Labor-Greens majority that is in here nowadays will ultimately want to steamroll it through the Senate as well-that ultimately they will apply a gag in this place and deny the opportunity for full and thorough scrutiny of every bit of this vast and sweeping legislative package. But we will try to stop them and we will try to ensure that there is proper consideration.
In looking at the consideration that happened in the other place, I took the opportunity to look at what some of the Labor MPs from my home state had to say about these proposals in the other place-those members who spoke on the carbon tax package. There may not have been much consideration in detail-there was very little, as I said just last night-but many members took the opportunity to give speeches in the second reading debate, and I thought it was interesting to look at what some of those members said. Mr Georganas, the member for Hindmarsh, said:
… the world is moving on this issue. This includes, of course, not just the UK, Europe, Canada, South Africa, South Korea and very large blocks within the United States; it includes China …
He may think that, he may say that and he may be able to come up with certain isolated examples, but to suggest that Canada is moving on this issue when in fact the re-elected government of Canada has stepped right away from implementing any carbon-pricing regime, has made it very clear that it has no intention of doing so and is tied emphatically to the type of action that the United States takes-a country that equally has no desire and is not likely to implement a nationwide carbon price-is just utterly misleading. He cites South Korea, a country where, yes, legislation for carbon pricing may have been introduced into the parliament but where it has been deferred; it was deferred in the face of widespread public criticism. He cites the United States, where, of course, we know that even the regional state-based schemes are shrinking back and shrinking back. California is basically the only place anybody can cite with any credibility now, and it has a scheme of minuscule scale compared with what is proposed for Australia. And, of course, he cites China. The government loves to keep citing China, but the evidence of the committee inquiry demonstrates that China’s emissions keep going up and up and up. They have no nationwide carbon price in place. When it comes to carbon pricing, we are talking at best about the tiniest regional programs at very small, trial-scale level that obviously are nothing like what this government is proposing here.
Let me turn to some other comments of Mr Georganas. There is one that I think is a doozy of a comment. Mr Georganas said in his contribution in the other place on these bills that the Labor Party has been the ‘party of consistency’ on this issue-the party of consistency!
Senator Payne interjecting–
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Payne asks whether he said it with a straight face. Unfortunately I have not gone back to get the video footage to see whether he said it with a straight face.
Senator RONALDSON: They are consistently inconsistent.
Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Ronaldson is correct: they are consistently inconsistent. This is the party that under Mr Rudd stood for an ETS until Mr Rudd changed his mind after Copenhagen and said it was not the time for an ETS. Then Ms Gillard rolled Mr Rudd, and she stood against both an ETS and a carbon tax. In fact, as we all know and as many people have said already in this place and in this debate, Ms Gillard uttered those immortal words, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.’ She uttered them just days before the election. She did have a climate change policy: it was for a citizens’ assembly. That was her climate change policy. Then, of course, after the election-after she had cobbled together a government with the support of the Greens-she changed her mind again and decided that she was for a carbon tax. So for Mr Georganas to suggest that Labor has been the party of consistency really does beggar belief.
Mr Georganas did indicate that we have heard that people will be worse off as a result of the carbon price flowing on to consumers but, as many Labor MPs did, went on to try to say that nine out of 10 households will receive compensation. Nine out of 10 will receive compensation, but it does not get away from the fact that, on the government’s own estimates, three million households will be worse off under this proposal. At least three million will be worse off on the government’s own estimates, and their modelling is highly optimistic about the extent of international action. They can model quite precisely what extra money will end up in the pockets of households, but the modelling is very imprecise about what the extra costs will be for those households. In fact, they need only be two per cent wrong in those costs for millions more households to be worse off as a result of this proposal.
It was not just Mr Georganas; we had Mr Zappia, the member for Makin, who also made a contribution-another member from my home state. He also sought to claim that other countries were taking action, although he gave an interesting list of countries. He said:
Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland and the UK have all had an indirect or direct tax system that impacts on industries in those countries … So it is not as though we are acting in isolation …
Phew! Regardless of the accuracy or not of his comments, I am relieved to know that the Australian economy, with its competitors from around the world, is at least in line with Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland and the UK. There is nothing wrong with any of those countries, of course. But, by and large, with one or two small exceptions, their economies hardly resemble the industrial mix and the mining mix of the Australian economy. This is not comparing apples with apples, Mr Zappia-far from it.
Mr Zappia also pointed out that the Productivity Commission noted that 89 countries that represent 80 per cent of global emissions and nearly 90 per cent of total GDP are already acting. He failed to point out that the Productivity Commission made extremely clear that no other country in the world has an economy-wide ETS or a carbon tax in place-no other country has anything like what this government is proposing.
Ms Rishworth, the member for Kingston in South Australia, also spoke on these bills. She said she was:
… proud that it is this Labor government that is bringing forward a … plan to tackle climate change; a plan that will ensure that we reduce our carbon emissions …
Let me deal firstly with her pride. If she is so proud of it, why did she not take it to the election? Is she is so proud of it, why does she not take it to an election? If she and all of those 72 members of the Labor Party in the House of Representatives are so proud of this proposal, why do they not have the courage of their convictions and take it to an election? Let the Australian people have a say. Let the Australian people say whether they are proud of their Labor representatives for introducing this. She said it is:
… a plan that will ensure that we reduce our carbon emissions …
Unfortunately, that is just not true. It is a plan that will ensure that Australian companies spend billions of dollars buying permits from overseas to meet a target to reduce emissions. Australia’s emissions will keep going up under this plan. Australia’s emissions will be more in 2020 under this plan. It will not reduce our emissions at all. It is misleading to say so. What this plan actually facilitates is simply a multibillion-dollar transfer of funds by Australian companies into international carbon credits, many of which are of questionable operation or questionable value. It will facilitate the transfer of funds. Those Australian companies, if they can afford to actually purchase those credits, will then continue to emit within Australia. Australia’s domestic emissions will keep going up and those companies will pass the cost of purchasing those permits onto their consumers, which will ultimately mean that Australian households will pay more as a result. Ms Rishworth also said:
It will mean that 500 of Australia’s biggest polluters will pay for every tonne of carbon pollution they emit into our atmosphere.
But it is not just 500; there are sweeping changes in these bills that relate to fuel arrangements. Everybody who uses fuel for off-road purposes will face increased prices-tens of thousands of businesses around Australia will face increased prices. So it is not just the 500-in the refrigerant sector alone, hundreds more will face increased prices because of the treatment of certain gases. We know that, in fact, tens of thousands of businesses will directly pay increased prices and every Australian business will pay increased prices as a result of the flow-on effects.
Mr Champion, the member for Wakefield, spent basically his entire speech talking about anything but the government’s carbon tax legislation. I will not rehash his comments about various coalition MPs and others who were the focus of his contribution. But, right at the end of his contribution, he said:
We are going to implement this practical solution to a practical problem. I think on 1 July next year everybody will shrug their shoulders and just get on with a prosperous economy and an increasingly efficient and green society and economy.
It is hardly a practical solution; it is a great big money-go-round-money goes round and round; billions of dollars go in, billions of dollars go out and the government is left with a multibillion-dollar deficit at the end of it. It is quite a remarkable situation-the government is introducing a multibillion-dollar new tax but will actually end up with a deficit of $4 billion-plus over the forward estimates period.
I would not want Ms Ellis, the member for Adelaide, to miss out as I roll through the South Australian Labor MPs. She argued it was reasonable:
Following the election where it became clear that no party had the numbers on the floor of this parliament to … change-
the policy that they had. I would have thought that perhaps they could have mustered the numbers on the floor of the parliament for their citizens assembly as there have been plenty of other talkfests. We had two of them just last week. Ms Ellis ultimately also cited some of the same points such as ‘only 500 companies’ and ‘reducing Australia’s emissions’-points which I have already countered.
Lastly, there was one South Australian Labor MP who did not speak in the debate-Mr Butler, the member for Port Adelaide. I wonder why Mr Butler did not speak. Senator Cormann might know because he joined me in visiting some of the extremely emissions intensive industries that are located in Mr Butler’s electorate of Port Adelaide-businesses like Adelaide Brighton and Penrice that will face enormous bills under this carbon tax. Mr Butler, like so many Labor MPs, just did not have the courage to say why he wants to impose this cost on them.