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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 9923


Mr COMBET (CharltonMinister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (17:22): I rise to support the motion in the terms moved by the Leader of the House. Today the government introduced 18 bills as part of the Clean Energy Future package. Of course, these bills will be debated concurrently and ample time will be made available in the period during which the House is sitting in coming days for members to have their say about those bills. It is entirely appropriate to establish a joint select committee in the terms that have been moved by the Leader of the House and on the basis of the structure that has been proposed by the Leader of the House as a manner to deal with this general policy question, which has, of course, been considered by this parliament on many occasions in the past.

In fact, the first inquiry that considered a response to climate change was conducted in the Australian Parliament in 1994—no fewer than 17 years ago. There have been no fewer than 35 parliamentary committee inquiries looking at the issue of climate change and the policy responses that are appropriate in the better part of the last two decades. It has been exhaustively discussed and debated; there have been successive and numerous committees of inquiry of this parliament having a look at this issue in considerable detail. Indeed, the Clean Energy Future package at the centrepiece of it is a carbon pricing mechanism, which is an emissions trading scheme. The first review of emissions trading by an Australian government was in 1999—no fewer than 12 years ago.

There was extensive policy work undertaken by the former Howard government. Those sitting opposite at present were members of that government. The most notable work was undertaken by Professor Peter Shergold—it was exhaustive—and he concluded that pricing carbon was the best approach. It formed the basis of a policy that the coalition took to the 2007 election, a policy that bears remarkable resemblance to many of the features of the government's Clean Energy Future package. It is not possible for those opposite to say that they are unfamiliar with the policy issues, that they have not participated in quite extensive public policy research work, evidence-gathering and stakeholder consultation over recent years, because the fact of the matter is that for the better part of 10 years the coalition have been actively engaged. So, too, have many other parties within this parliament, including, of course, the Greens and Independent members of this House, who have been very actively engaged, particularly over the last 10 months, in consideration of these issues.

There have been numerous inquiries external to the parliament and related to the policy development process. Professor Ross Garnaut has conducted and completed two major reviews on Australia's best policy options for tackling climate change. The government's Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, which includes representatives of the House and of the Senate, met for nine months to consider the development of the Clean Energy Future package. The coalition were invited to participate in the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, and, of course, they refused. Notwithstanding all of this period—the many years of policy development and policy discussion; the 35 parliamentary inquiries into this area of policy; all of the work of the Shergold review conducted for the Howard government; and the detailed policy, including on emissions trading, that was taken to the 2007 election by the coalition—the coalition have now come to a position where they oppose this policy principle.

Indeed, the talking points that were adverted to in question time today—they were distributed amongst members of the coalition—are quite instructive because they demonstrate the abandonment of market principles in formulating their policy response to this issue.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr COMBET: If we go back only two years, under the leadership of the member for Wentworth—and the shadow minister for emissions trading, as I recall it, may well have been the member for Goldstein at the time—the coalition entered into agreement with the government about the terms of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr COMBET: I can only go on what I have been told. We understand it was considered by the coalition party room and there was agreement on this matter. In fact, I was involved directly in the discussions with the then Leader of the Opposition and the member for Groom from time to time about the nature of that consideration.

At that point in time the Liberal Party were still adhering to market principles in the formulation of economic policy—something, of course, that is fundamentally important and has been a guiding set of principles to the development of economic policy reforms in this country for many, many years. Where are they now? They have retreated to protectionism and xenophobia—absurd subsidies that will do nothing to deliver a price incentive in our economy to cut pollution and drive investment in clean energy. The coalition spent a long time going around the buoy on these policy matters over a very lengthy period of time.

The joint select committee is an entirely appropriate way for the parliament to consider the legislation that has been put forward here in the context of all of the history that I have outlined of the consideration of this particular policy issue. It is appropriately structured, it will consider evidence from various stakeholders—people from the community, businesses, non-government organisations and others who may wish to come forward, make a submission and provide evidence—but it will also be informed by the history that I have pointed to. The coalition members of that committee—those who may be appointed to the membership of the committee by the coalition—could well represent much of the understanding of this policy over recent years. The government members will be well versed in these policy matters. Members of the Greens are proposed, and an Independent member of parliament is proposed, in the structure of that committee.

This is an effective, efficient and appropriate way for the parliament to proceed to examine these bills in a time frame, reporting by 4 October, which also allows adequate opportunity for proper consideration of these matters, the conducting of the inquiries that the committee may wish to pursue and the taking of evidence and submissions. It provides an adequate opportunity for the bills to be properly considered and for all of the history of the evidence and consultation to be taken into account in formulating a report by the proposed reporting date of 4 October, which is in several weeks time. It will be an efficient way for the parliament to deal with the important consideration of these bills.

It is difficult to understand why those opposite would not recognise that that is an appropriate way of dealing with it, although, when one considers the fact that they have already made up their mind and have campaigned on the basis of fear, misinformation, misrepresentation and outright deceit, it is not surprising that all we are going to experience and hear from those opposite is delay, 'no', delaying tactics, and opposing everything the government puts forward to deal efficiently and effectively with these issues in appropriate transparency and accountability. So it is not surprising at all to see the resistance to the motion by the Leader of the House, because we all know that the coalition's mind is made up. It does not matter about the merits of the case. It does not matter about the science. The scientific evidence is absolutely clear that climate change is occurring—that warming is occurring—yet the Leader of the Opposition criticises scientists and will not accept the scientific evidence.

It is also absolutely clear that the most important way of responding to this very diabolical challenge, from a domestic economic and environmental standpoint, is to rely upon a market mechanism for dealing with this. That is the evidence. That is the opinion. That is the fact of the matter. That is what has been submitted by numerous economists for a considerable period of time. It was the subject of consideration by the shadow minister in his thesis 20-odd years ago—the importance of market mechanisms. Yet what do we hear from the opposition? They are not fairly prepared to consider the policy merits of a market mechanism in dealing with this issue. They are not prepared to engage. They are not prepared to be part of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, which would have afforded them the last nine months of policy involvement to be engaged in the policy design. They did not want to be involved in that. They now do not support the establishment of a joint select committee for dealing with this particular issue. They have never at any point in recent months been prepared to engage constructively on the policy question. All that they are about is tactics of opposing, of saying no and of refusing to cooperate. That is again informing their approach to the issue of the motion that has been moved by the Leader of the House.

There is a fair deal of hypocrisy in all of this as well, because, albeit I was not a member of the House at the time, I was certainly conscious from my engagement in the political processes of the way in which the Howard government often dealt with pieces of legislation and the way in which they approached their responsibilities when they sat on this side of the House. Many, many times debates were gagged on a number of bills, particularly by the current Leader of the Opposition in his then role as the Leader of the House. Debates were gagged on Telstra privatisation bills, on the Work Choices bill, on anti-terror laws, on migration amendments, on fuel tax bills, on other fuel tax legislation, on tax law amendments, on a new business tax system, on petroleum resource rent tax legislation and on the Australian Research Council. All of this is evidence of the hypocrisy engaged in by those opposite. If they wished to play a constructive role, they would support the motion that is before the House, engage in an efficient way in the consideration of these bills and contribute constructively to the business of this parliament. But all we see is negativity and opposition. I commend the motion to the House.