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Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Page: 9123

Carbon Pricing

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:01): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. I refer to the minister's statement yesterday that it is 'wrong to assert that Treasury modelling of the government's plan depends on the United States putting a price on carbon by 2016'. I also refer to page 111 of the government's carbon tax modelling, which states:

The modelling assumes comparable carbon pricing in other major economies from 2015-16 …

How does the minister reconcile her statement yesterday with this statement from the government's own carbon tax modelling?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:02): I am pleased to take yet another question on modelling on a bill that has already passed the chamber. I would refer the senator to—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator WONG: When they have finished, Mr President, I am very happy to answer the question.

Senator Ian Macdonald: You're so precious, Penny!

Senator WONG: Yes. My mother always told me that—very precious.

I refer the senator to page 32, table 3.1, which sets out the assumptions in the international global action scenario. It refers to the fact that the assumption is:

… from 2013 to 2015 uncoordinated global action, no trade in permits, differentiated carbon prices. From 2016 onwards, countries trade, either bilaterally or through a central market.

That is a very different thing to the assertion that the opposition is making that the modelling assumes an explicit carbon price through an emissions trading scheme in place in the United States.

I also refer to the Prime Minister's answer yesterday which made it very clear—and I think my answer reflected this—that there are—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, continue.

Senator WONG: The Treasury modelling makes two key assumptions about international action. The first is that countries meet their low-end pollution reduction targets for 2020. That is, in the context of Australia, the same bipartisan commitment to which the opposition has already committed. The second is that countries have access to international abatement. Treasury officials have indicated to Senator Cormann and others that the assumption is low-end pledges— (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:04): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given President Obama's statement that the US will not introduce a carbon tax, nor even take part in an emissions reduction treaty unless China and India are included, and given that the Canadians have rejected any form of carbon pricing and that Japan and Russia will not take part in the second round of the Kyoto protocol, isn't it a fact that the assumptions in the government's carbon tax modelling are now totally discredited?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:05): The answer to the second part of the question is no. On the answer to the first part of the question, I refer the senator to President Obama's press conference on 16 November, where he stated:

… we can meet the commitments we made in Copenhagen and Cancun.

The point is: we assumed in the modelling that countries would do precisely what the President has said the United States will do. We have assumed precisely what the President has said the United States will do. If the opposition are asserting that this is a question about explicit or implicit carbon prices, I would make this point: if you say direct action imposes a carbon price then you impose a carbon price. Your policy does too. What we are saying is that we assume the United States will do what they said. (Time expired)

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:06): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. If the United States, Canada, China, India, Japan and Korea are not the major economies referred to in the government's modelling document, can the minister tell us which economies she would nominate?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:06): Yet again Senator Abetz asks me a question which makes a false assertion. Implicit in his question very clearly is that the United States will not meet the pledges it made. That is the implicit proposition in his question, because the assumption that the government is making in its modelling—as Treasury has explained to senators on the other side—is that the United States and other major economies will meet the commitments they made at Copenhagen and Cancun. Surprise, surprise! What did President Obama say on this issue when he visited Australia? He said that the United States would meet the pledges it made at Copenhagen and Cancun. So yet again we have those on the other side asking questions which assume nonfacts. What they cannot abide is not only that the legislation has already passed the Senate—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order: my point of order does not go to direct relevance. It goes to standing order 73(4). Very frequently in the last year or so this minister has been in breach of the prohibition not to debate the question in answering it. The standing orders say:

(4)      In answering a question, a senator shall not debate it.

The PRESIDENT: Order! On my right, I need silence. Senator Brandis is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator Brandis: We accept that, in challenging assumptions that a question makes, a minister may be relevant and within the prohibition of that standing order. But this minister has gone beyond challenging the assumptions and is explicitly debating the question, and I ask you to bring her to order.

Senator Conroy: Mr President, on the point of order: that is truly one of the most absurd claims that Senator Brandis has made. They constantly interject. Their questions are constantly broad and they try to define themselves when they take their points of order. They constantly change the goalposts because they just cannot get their act together on their taxes committee. This is a spurious point of order and I urge you to reject it, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. I am listening to the minister's answer and I draw the minister's attention to the question and the fact that there are seven seconds now remaining.

Senator WONG: As I said, the question contained an assumption which was incorrect. It is a pity that the coalition do not like that being pointed out to them. (Time expired)