Senator BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (17:39): I rise to take note of this Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Clean Energy Future Legislation advisory report on the clean energy bills and the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011. I am pleased to speak after Senator Milne because after listening to her you would be forgiven for believing that this inquiry and this process was one of sweetness, light and harmony, that there was great general agreement and that it was all conducted in the spirit of proper parliamentary scrutiny. But unfortunately that is not the case. This was in fact the most farcical of inquiries into and the most farcical of parliamentary processes about the most sweeping of legislative reforms.
In the other place they have just voted, I understand, on 19 bills comprising 1,100 pages or more of legislation. These 19 bills are meant to have been assessed by this one report. Senator Milne is correct that this was a report by a joint select committee, but it was a select committee that was given just three weeks to undertake this inquiry. It reported on Friday to not just this chamber but the House of Representatives, who have voted on this legislation just today-such has been the rushed process of this amazingly huge package, with its enormous impacts on every aspect of the Australian economy and Australian life.
So we had an inquiry with a farcical time line that had to report in a ridiculously short period of time. Then there is the membership of this inquiry. Senator Milne had the gall to attack the membership of Senator Cormann’s inquiry, which took months to consider aspects of the carbon tax proposal and had the opportunity to do so in far more detail than this committee. Senator Cormann’s committee, the Senate Select Committee on Scrutiny of New Taxes, had places on it for crossbenchers, including the Greens, as I understand it, who refused to take up their position on Senator Cormann’s committee inquiry. This committee, however, was structured with nine members from either the Labor Party, the Greens or the Independents, all of whom were supporters of the carbon tax package to start with. The Greens and the Independent member sat around the multiparty committee table drafting this package with the government, so nine members of this committee were integral to the drafting of the package. That compares with five coalition members. The committee had a Labor chair and a Greens deputy chair, contrary to the usual practices of this place. So for Senator Milne to stand here and criticise Senator Cormann’s detailed and thorough analysis of the carbon tax when compared with the rushed approach of this very stacked committee beggars belief.
Let us look at submissions. Despite there being just six days for the Australian public to have a chance to make submissions about these more than 1,100 pages of legislation we saw more than 4,500 people respond and do so. Over 4,500 Australians made submissions to this inquiry in just the six days that they were given to get them in. Tragically, because of the limited resources available in such a short period of time to consider these submissions, it was the case that very few of them were accepted as submissions. Despite the arguing of the coalition, the Labor and Greens majority joined up to ensure that most Australians were silenced in this.
However, I am pleased that throughout the coalition dissenting report we have done our best to go through the thousands of submissions that were not accepted as submissions and that were not published on the parliamentary website. We have quoted from them extensively in the 134 pages of the coalition’s dissenting report to ensure that the voices of all of those Australians were heard, because they were certainly not heard during the hearings.
Senator Milne talked about the coalition having gone to South Australia and to the Illawarra and elsewhere to talk about the steel industry. This committee certainly did not go to any of those place. This committee did not get out of the Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra triangle. Despite requests from the coalition to have hearings in a regional centre like Mackay or in the Illawarra or in Perth so as to hear from those on the other side of the country, all of those efforts were blocked as the government sought to keep the tightest of control on who appeared at this committee, who gave evidence and who had the opportunity to have a say on this carbon tax legislation. It was indeed a farcical inquiry.
I am reminded of a statement from a previous opposition dissenting report to this place that we quoted in our dissenting report. It said:
It is outrageous that only one week was allowed for the committee to receive submissions … To make matters worse, hearings were scheduled in the week following the closing date for submissions, which did not allow enough time for the committee to properly consider the more than 5000 submissions received.
That of course was the report of Labor dissenting senators on the Work Choices inquiry. Those words were correct then; they are correct now. The only problem is that they are correct about the Labor government’s handling of this legislation and their consideration of a fundamental reform. This shows the hypocrisy that reigns amongst those opposite. But that is hardly surprising, given that, as this report highlights, the entire carbon tax package examined in this report is built on a lie, the mistruth that the Prime Minister took to the last election that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. There is no getting away from that as a key issue that drove the enormous response, the enormous reaction of Australians, to this inquiry and saw more than 4½ thousand of them make submissions and argue passionately against this tax, argue passionately about the ramifications of this tax or at the very least argue passionately that they wanted a say on this tax. That is of course fundamental to this. They want a say on this tax. That is what they have been denied, but it is what the coalition is intent upon giving them.
The coalition also highlights in this report just how out of step with the rest of the world this proposal risks making Australia. We have highlighted the range of action that is or is not being taken in other countries, but certainly it is a reality that, overwhelmingly, countries are not applying a carbon-pricing regime anything like either the tax that applies in the first years of this legislation or the trading scheme that applies in the latter years of this legislation. We have highlighted that, even in World Bank surveys of global carbon market participants, 90 per cent of respondents indicate that they do not believe there will be a legally binding treaty in place to deal with global emissions anytime soon. So we will see the perverse situation where next year, in 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol expires, Australia will go in the opposite direction to the rest of the world and actually apply a carbon tax for the first time. We will enter a period next year when there will be no ongoing globally binding treaty in place and Australia will be the one out there with an enormous carbon tax.
Those assumptions are built into all the Treasury modelling. I know they are issues that Senator Cormann examined in detail in his report as well-the false assumptions on which the Treasury modelling on this carbon tax are based. They are false assumptions that the world will deliver, that countries that have made pledges under the Copenhagen Accord will all deliver on those pledges. But, worse than that, it seems Treasury has modelled that beyond 2020 countries will all apply the same emissions reduction approaches as Australia, an 80-per-cent-against-business-as-usual reduction-an enormous assumption to make, an enormous gamble to take with the Australian economy, with absolutely no proof to justify that this is where the rest of the world is going.
Worse still, we see that, even with the carbon tax, all of the evidence indicates that the Treasury modelling-even stacked and flawed as it is, with those false assumptions-shows that emissions will keep going up. In terms of actually achieving the outcome that this legislation is meant to achieve, we will still see Australia’s emissions rise from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes in 2020, an increase of 43 million tonnes over the period to 2020. We will still see Australia’s emissions go up, and the only way, either in the short term or the long term, that it will achieve anything is through massive multi-billion-dollar reliance on overseas permits, which we will see Australian companies spend billions to buy. They will pass on those costs to Australian consumers, but Australian consumers cannot be compensated because of course the money will never go into government coffers.
That is the final area I will highlight today which the dissenting report outlines-that is, the enormous cost of this proposal to Australia, not just to Australian jobs but particularly to Australian households and to the cost-of-living pressures for all Australians. These are serious issues about which Australians are rightly concerned. Four and a half thousand people or more made their voices heard. Unfortunately, the government has chosen not to listen to them. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.