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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 8794


Senator XENOPHON (10:42 AM) —I cannot support the government’s motion, and I would urge every member of the Liberal Party not to support this motion either, for a number of very important reasons. There is no more important piece of legislation for the economy and the environment of this nation than this package of legislation and we need to get it right.

If we go down this path, we will create a massive wreck of our environment and of our economy. I am grateful for Senator Milne’s contribution because she has made a very salient point about carbon sinks. If this deal provides more money for carbon sinks, it will mean more water going out of the Murray-Darling Basin—more interception. It will create absolute chaos for an already dying river system. It will be the death knell of the Murray-Darling Basin.

I say that to my South Australian colleagues, each and every one of them, and to Senator Birmingham, in particular, who has been an outspoken advocate, through his committee work and in this parliament, for the Murray-Darling Basin. This will be the death knell of the Murray-Darling Basin if we go down this path, because this backroom deal cannot be unravelled after this legislation is passed. It cannot be unravelled. When it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin, we have an opportunity to get it right—to revegetate the basin and to get the whole issue of water rights on the right track—but this deal will actually make things worse for the Murray-Darling Basin. I cannot accept that any opposition member who is concerned about the basin will want to go down that path. This is a train wreck coming our way unless we pause and refer this matter to a Senate committee to look at the ramifications of this deal to ensure that we get it right.

My position is clear: I believe we need to have decisive action on climate change. To the sceptics out there, to Senator Bernardi for instance, who I have a lot of regard for personally, my plea is to think of this in terms of risk management. Unless they are 101 per cent sure that they are right and all of those scientists are wrong, then we need to manage the risk, and managing the risks involves having a responsible emissions trading scheme, one that will actually work and deliver real cuts to greenhouse gases and do so in an economically responsible way.

Mr Acting Deputy President Trood, you were at the Liberal party room meeting yesterday, as were all of your colleagues. I am concerned that the coalition said a few months ago that the modelling by Frontier Economics indicated that their approach was cleaner, cheaper, greener and smarter. It has come to my attention very recently that the opposition leader, Mr Turnbull, has commissioned further modelling from Frontier in relation to the scheme, and I believe that modelling was carried out by the same modellers used by the government at Monash University. I have not seen that and, as I understand it, neither has the Liberal party room. How can coalition senators make a decision as fundamental as this unless they have all the facts before them? I have not been able to obtain a copy of that report. I requested it this morning in an email to the opposition leader, Mr Turnbull, and I hope I will receive it. How can you in good conscience vote on the most important piece of legislation, in terms of its environmental and economic impact on this nation, without getting all the facts before you? How can you do that? How can you agree to go down a path without having that information before you?

I think you need to ask the question of why that report has not been released to you. I understand it has been confirmed by the opposition leader, Mr Turnbull, this morning in the media, but the government rejected it. I would have thought that the joint party room should have seen that report. How can you have a debate in the absence of that information? If that report shows that the government scheme will impose an even greater impost on the economy than first thought then surely you should have that information before you. It beggars belief that it is not something the Liberal party room would demand before a vote was taken on such a crucial piece of legislation. For goodness sake, have all the facts before you prior to making a decision that will affect this country irrevocably.

Senator Milne is right that, once we lock into this scheme, that is it. Do not think you can go to the next election saying, ‘Oops, we made a mistake, but we can modify it so that small businesses won’t be slugged with massive increases in electricity prices.’ I predict it will be in the order of 40 to 60 per cent. The Frontier modelling says 25 per cent over the next three years with the government scheme compared to five per cent with the Frontier scheme, but that is based on the assumption that the rest of the world comes on board. Those price rises will be much, much more. So does the Liberal Party want to be the party that has abandoned 750,000 small and medium enterprises in this country? Because that is what you will be doing if you go down this path. For goodness sake, you need to have the facts before you. It is a bit like being sold a house by a land agent who will not show you an expert report that says the house is full of white ants, because that is what you will be doing.

I have got great concerns about this particular motion. If we go down this path then you will be locking in a policy disaster. You will be locking in a disaster that cannot be undone. You will be locking in low emissions cuts that will damage our environmental credentials and, just as importantly, you will be causing a train wreck for the economy. I would urge members of the Liberal Party not to support an extension of hours. The only honourable way out of this mess is to actually inquire into the changes proposed as part of this deal. This deal has made a bad CPRS even worse. We have Senate inquiries over tax measures of several hundred million dollars, or over even smaller measures in the millions of dollars, that are referred to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee all the time. We are now talking about billions and billions of dollars in terms of this particular deal to change the CPRS. How can you in good conscience not allow this to go to the Senate economics committee for the thorough scrutiny it deserves? How can you go ahead with this particular deal without seeing the modelling that your leader, Mr Turnbull, has commissioned for himself but has not shown to his party room? How can that be?

That is why I would urge members of the Liberal Party to do the right thing in terms of the most important piece of policy this country has ever dealt with. You cannot fix it up later. Once this bill receives royal assent, there will be billions of dollars worth of hedging contracts in the electricity sector that will be signed.


Senator Milne —That is right.


Senator XENOPHON —Not only is that right, Senator Milne,  but it is frightening because you cannot reverse it. You will be subject to billions and billions of dollars of compensation. We will have an emissions trading scheme with little environmental gain and enormous economic pain. That scheme will be the laughing stock of this region and indeed the world.

I would urge members of the Liberal Party not to support this motion for extended hours. The right thing to do and the only thing to do is to insist that you are given full information from your own leader as to what this scheme could do to Australia’s economy. If this motion is successful, I dare members of the Liberal Party to guillotine me, members of the crossbench and the National Party if we are asking relevant questions, not filibustering, about this scheme—its economic implications, what it will do to the environment and what the latest deal that has been cobbled together will do to the Murray-Darling Basin. If the Liberal Party wants to do that and wants to be known as the party that guillotines and abandons every small and medium enterprise in this country, then that will be on your head, not on mine. This is a case where I do not want to say, ‘I told you so,’ in years to come. I do not want to be proved right on this. This is do or die when it comes to Australia’s economy and the environment and I urge you to reject this motion to extend hours.