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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 9919


Mr PYNE (SturtManager of Opposition Business) (17:07): I rise to speak on the motion by Leader of the House to establish the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation. The opposition will amend this motion and we will oppose this motion. We will vote against it even if our amendments are carried for the simple reason that the change to the climate and the need to have a carbon tax, according to the government post the election, is the most important crisis facing the country, so vitally important that it requires a broken promise from the Prime Minister to try and bring a bill into this parliament and pass it before the end of the year, to gag the debate and to truncate the process of this parliament which has established a selection committee process and a number of House committees.

So vitally important is this legislation that the Prime Minister said before the election, 'There will be no carbon tax under any government I lead' and the Treasurer said before the election that the suggestion that there would be a carbon tax was a 'ludicrous proposition being put by the opposition'. What did we see after the election? We saw that promise junked by this Prime Minister and this Treasurer in very short order following the forming of this government. We have seen since that time a complete inability of the government to explain to the Australian people why we must have a carbon tax that will push up the cost of living, export our emissions as trade exposed industries move to overseas destinations, export jobs, attack the steel industry and the coal industry and, more importantly, put up the price of every good and service across Australia thereby pushing up the cost-of-living pressures that Australian families are already facing.

The government came in here today, having trashed the selection committee process and the House committee process, expecting this opposition and this parliament to establish a joint select committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future legislation. Why are they doing this? They are doing it because they know that the selection committee would refer these bills to the five specialist committees of this House that exist to scrutinise government legislation. This is a package of 19 bills—not one bill, 19 bills; more than 1,000 pieces of legislation—from a government that has been unable to answer questions in question time about the detail of this carbon tax legislation that we have routinely exposed over months. The government decided that it is very important that the specialist committees of this House are not given the opportunity to scrutinise this legislation. On this side of the House our view is that it is very important for the specialist committees of the House to scrutinise this package of 19 bills to try and finally get some answers for the parliament and the people who want to know the detail.

The Australian people could quite rightly assume that this is a government that is flying blind. This is a government without a rudder. It is a government without a captain who has authority and without a rudder to guide the ship. The whole purpose of the House committees that the selection committee is responsible for is to scrutinise government legislation to ensure that the legislation reflects the government's promises. The Australian people expect an opposition and an entire parliament to properly scrutinise these 19 bills, but this government has decided to truncate that process. This government has decided to trash the selection committee process.

The crossbenchers have routinely stood up for the process of the selection committee. The crossbenchers stood in this House two sitting weeks ago on a Thursday morning and voted against sensible opposition motions to refer bills and to ask the member for Dobell to come into the House. One after the other they stood up and said the most important reform in this so-called new paradigm—they agreed on it with the Leader of the House and me after the last election—was to establish a selection committee process and a committee structure that would have specialist committees. Why this is so relevant is that we are now debating a joint select committee designed to truncate the selection committee process and the House specialist committees. That is why the opposition will not support it.

Out of the goodness of my heart I facilitated an early start of the parliament at midday today to allow these bills to be introduced. Yet again I made the mistake of believing that the government was acting in good faith. But that is done; the bills have been introduced. Now there is an opportunity for those bills to sit on the table for at least a week, as is the normal process in this parliament. Bills of such importance should sit on the table for at least a week to give the shadow minister, the back bench, the government and opposition members the opportunity to formulate their ideas about such significant legislation.

Let us remember that this carbon tax will change our economy in a more fundamental way than any other change since Federation. Yet the government is gagging the debate and truncating the process of referrals to specialist House committees. The government should have allowed the bills to sit on the table. It should have started the debate next week. The selection committee should have had the opportunity to refer these bills to the specialist committees of this House for proper scrutiny so that the parliament does not make the inadvertent errors for which this government has become famous. One mistake after another has been made by the Labor government, whether under the prime ministership of the member for Griffith or under the current Prime Minister's watch. So I have absolutely no doubt that there will be mistakes in this legislation. There will be mistakes; the government is famous for it. It is probably the most incompetent and inept government run by a group of the most inept and incompetent ministers since Federation, and that includes governments which have previously been described that way. Unfortunately, three members who have been described that way are sitting on the front bench of the government today—and aren't they looking as if they are embarrassed about this legislation and the performance of the government?

There are five specialist committees that the member for Flinders wanted to refer these bills to: the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics; the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts; the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry; the Standing Committee on Regional Australia; and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. Those committees would have had the necessary skills of members of both sides of the House—certainly there would be opposition members with the necessary skills—to scrutinise the most fundamental change to our economy in Australia's history. But this government said they would truncate that process and instead establish a joint select committee with the most ludicrous composition of a committee that I have ever seen.

The composition of this committee as proposed by the government would see the government having five members, the opposition having four members and the crossbenches having three members. I know that the government frontbenchers cannot count—I know the Leader of the House struggles with his arithmetic—but if we look at the composition of this parliament we find that in the House of Representatives 48 per cent of members are Labor members, 48 per cent are coalition members, 0.7 per cent are Greens members and 3.3 per cent are Independent members, including the member for O'Connor, who was elected on a coalition platform. In the Senate 40 per cent of the members are ALP members, 44.7 per cent are coalition members and 11.8 per cent are Greens members. The DLP is having another run in the park—they have 1.3 per cent of the members of the Senate—and the Independents have 1.3 per cent. In both chambers 45 per cent of the members are Labor, 46.9 per cent are coalition, 4.4 per cent are Greens, 2.2 per cent are Independents, 0.4 per cent are DLP and 0.4 per cent are independent National Party. So on any measure the composition of this committee that is proposed by the government—five members of the government and three members of the cross benches, giving them eight members; and four members from the opposition—is patently ludicrous. The opposition is to have 33 per cent of the members of this joint select committee, yet it represents 47 per cent of the members of both houses. I know the Leader of the House has rigged a few elections internally in the Labor Party over the years and has rigged a few outcomes, but this really takes the cake.

Mr Albanese: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. He should withdraw and apologise. You cannot accuse someone of fraud.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Leader of the House has made his point. The member for Sturt would assist the House if he withdrew that allegation.

Mr PYNE: I withdraw unreservedly.

Quite clearly this is Sussex Street comes to Canberra. This is Tammany Hall comes to Canberra. This is the kind of jackboot democracy we have come to expect from this Leader of the House and this government. We will be moving an amendment to this motion. Our amendment will be that, in paragraph 2, omit:

… two members of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or Whips, one Greens member …

and substitute 'three members of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the opposition whip or whips'.

That amendment would much more accurately reflect the make-up of the parliament. It would reflect five members of the government, five members of the opposition and two crossbenchers—one Greens and one non-aligned member. That amendment would at least make an attempt to properly reflect the composition of both chambers, and certainly the opposition would regard that as the kind of amendment that should be supported by the crossbenches. Hopefully, the government would see the merits of a composition of this joint select committee that was made up of five members of the government, five members of the opposition, one Greens member and one non-aligned member. That is the amendment that I will be moving at the end of my contribution.

In terms of the precedence for this, it is patently transparent that no joint select committee has been put together in this place that so inaccurately reflects the make-up of the parliament. When the CPRS bills were investigated by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, there were three members of the ALP, four members of the coalition and two independents in 2009. There have been other examples in recent times where there were much better reflections of the chamber. So I ask the crossbenchers and even the government to support that amendment to this motion.

But I reiterate: if the government were being honest about their carbon tax legislation, their plan for a carbon tax, their change of policy and their breach of faith with the Australian people, they would do what John Howard did. John Howard changed his mind about a goods and services tax, so John Howard announced the policy. He held an election. He won the election. He received a mandate for a goods and services tax. He introduced the legislation. There were inquiries which lasted months—120 days was the length of the inquiry under the goods and services tax. The legislation was then voted on and passed in both houses. That is the process of a Prime Minister who has authority. That is the process of a Prime Minister who has confidence in their own ability and their own argument. He was prepared to take the goods and services tax to the people and ask the people to determine whether they wanted it—and the people said yes. He received a mandate and he introduced a goods and services tax.

This government changes its mind in the dead of the night, decides to introduce a carbon tax, breaks a fundamental promise made to the Australian people before the election and then expects the opposition to support it. We will not. I move the following amendment:

(1) Paragraph 2, omit "two members of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or Whips, one Greens member", substitute "three members of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the Opposition Whip or Whips".

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Robb: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that the motion be agreed to. To this, the honourable member for Sturt has moved an amendment. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.