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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5521


Mr OAKESHOTT (7:04 PM) —You certainly know your place as the new kid in town when your speaking slot is right at kick-off time for the major event for the evening. Hopefully we will get to see some of the game later tonight. I have a different view to the previous speaker. The most important issue of the evening is the most important piece of legislation proposed during my short time of eight months in this place and, I suspect, one of the most important pieces of legislation for even the Father of the House, who has been here for over 30 years—the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009. This is a fundamental shift in both environmental management and economic management in this country. It is a reflection of some global truths and some national truths that we need to address. Therefore, I will be speaking about some of the underlying principles and possibly some options to improve the package before us.

Not only am I disappointed that probably everyone’s TV in this place is on a different station, so not many people will be listening, but also I am disappointed at the way this bill is being rammed through this House today and tonight. I think it is an unfortunate reflection on this place that here we have one of the most historic pieces of legislation to go through this parliament and all members of this chamber have been told to talk for no more than 10 minutes each or it will be guillotined. That is not the way to put through historic legislation that the government should be proud of and that the parliament deserves to debate at length. All members have obligations to the community and, from a process point of view, I think this is a disappointing reflection on the government. It picks up on a theme, as this same method was attempted with the fiscal strategy response, with the debacle that that turned into for 48 hours. I once again make the point to the executive that respect needs to be given to this chamber and to this parliament and respect is shown by giving the full speaking time to members and a full opportunity for all members to make a contribution on behalf of their communities.

This is a substantial piece of legislation with over 400 pages and, on a rough count, around 20 completely new concepts, each of which could trigger a debate within this chamber amongst friends let alone amongst adversaries. There is a lot of room for short-term political gains through fear campaigns and for just about everyone in this place to take a preferred short-term political position because of the long-term nature of any benefits of the scheme in the discussion that we are having. But having listened intently to everyone who has debated this topic today—including the Leader of the Opposition, who I thought last night made a considered contribution—I do think the debate so far has not reflected well on the House of Representatives. It has not reflected well on the adversarial style of this chamber. The debate on the detail of the bill has focused on, for want of a better term, kicking the stuffing out of the other side in some sort of poor man’s Gladiators episode where we have the so-called job destroyers on one side and the so-called climate change sceptics on the other. Neither of those is true.

I hope everyone is trying to find a way through this legislation and a way through what is a national and international problem that we face. But, to date, the language used in this debate, from the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Opposition and down, has been more about political positioning than about really dealing with the truths around this scientific problem and the solutions that we could possibly put forward, and this very point is the thrust of the argument that I put before the House tonight. Every now and again something comes along that is too big for the political process and, in all reality, too big for politicians. The climate change issue and our response is an example of such a moment. The battle for the moral high ground, the battle for populist positions, the battle to appease vested interests, the battle for the ballot box and the battle for possible future election mandates all reflect poorly on our collective ability to handle this topic. This language has woven its way into the speeches of everyone from the leaders down and says our collective state of mind is such that, to pinch a line from a movie, we simply can’t handle the truth. If we talk about the truth of this topic, we talk about unpopular problems and unpopular solutions. No-one likes the situation we as a country or we as a world find ourselves in. No-one likes having to be more efficient in the way we behave in life or in business. No-one likes those truths and, as a consequence, no-one likes the process to date. No-one likes the scientific evidence that is in from the IPCC. No-one likes what Ross Garnaut has told us. No-one likes what we are doing this evening—debating changes in charges, excise levies, taxation and possibly more costs to consumers on goods and services. No-one likes this, just like no-one in their right mind likes taking medicine because it means we have a headache or a sickness in our body. We might not like the truth, but we cannot sidestep the truth, and the truth is that we have a headache, we have a sickness and we need some medicine both as a globe and as a nation. It is uncomfortable to admit it and it is uncomfortable taking the medicine, but take it we must. I implore everyone in this chamber to recognise that we need help and I implore everyone to take their medicine. It needs to be medicine, not the political poison that has continued to spew out of this chamber today.

I am extremely concerned about the number of times in the explanatory documents, for example, we see referrals to possible election mandates, as if this is the only prism through which this scheme should be viewed. I am extremely concerned about the number of times the Bills Digest refers to this as a Rudd government commitment, and I strongly agree with one of the final comments made last night by the Leader of the Opposition in his response that this is not a political issue but a scientific issue and an economic issue, and I encourage him to stick to that position and hope that he is being fair dinkum in that view.

With that in mind, let us try and put some heads together on this. Point (a): we have both leaders of both major parties indicating an ETS is inevitable. I have heard it throughout today on a regular basis from backbenchers from all sides that the ‘do nothing’ strategy is not an option. Except for but a few, we have common ground amongst all sides on these issues. This is in step with the vast majority of the international community. Point (b): everyone recognises that this is not just an environmental issue but an economic one. It has as much of a foundation in a shift in our economics as it does in responding to some environmental problems nationwide and globally. Point (c): through logical steps I hope I am on safe ground in saying that the vast majority within this place recognise the underlying principle of a market based response to the greatest natural resource management issue of our time. This scheme is a market based response, so any alternative scheme that may or may not be offered by the so-called neocons—I am not sure what they are referred to in the Monthly—or neoliberals would be and should be mightily similar in its ultimate design and its starting principles. Yes, whilst it is an irony, I hope it is an irony we can all see in a Prime Minister encouraging the market to rip on emissions trading. I would hope this is a point of unity shared across the chamber rather than some cheap debating point about January musings on neoliberals.

Point (d): if we are to accept that we are going to deliver a market based response to this natural resource management issue, as I see it the points of division—if we are being fair dinkum—are not the underlying principles but the politics, which include the many ministerial discretion issues tied into these 400 pages and the many executive government decisions to be taken on some of the key questions within the scheme. If we stop and think about this, why, if we have agreement on everything else, are we not considering what I want to put before the House tonight—the lessening of ministerial power and the lessening of the control of the executive; the lessening of that authority in any future scheme over many of these market based questions; and allowing the market to rip? Why can’t we increase the independence of the decision-making processes and increase the independence of the discretionary processes so that we can truly let this natural resource response do what we want it to do efficiently?

The question that I put before everyone is this: isn’t our role to build a framework based on underlying principles? That has been done. Isn’t it then our role to hand over control of and authority over the detail of that framework so that decisions are made for the right scientific and economic reasons—which is not what seems to be happening to date—rather than for the wrong political reasons? This has been driven home with the backdown by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Climate Change and Water on 4 May when we saw substantial changes to the nature of the scheme. We now have delays. We now have unknown revenue consequences in the financials of three of the bills in here tonight. It is openly stated that the financials are unknown at this stage.

This has been driven home by much of the debate that we have seen today, which has been all about trying to tag the other side. This has been driven home by the media coverage of this issue as some sort of Senate negotiation process, as a possible double dissolution trigger. This has also been driven home by the Financial Review today, which ran what I thought was an excellent story about the different positions that business is taking in its lobbying of government compared to its commentary to shareholders. We are potentially building a scheme that has politicians behaving badly, and business is behaving badly as a consequence because of its influence and the power of vested interests within the political process. This has been driven home by the lack of consideration of security of tenure issues raised by a scheme of such significance.

If this is to fly in the long term—for this to work—we need to bring all parties together. No-one is going to invest in something like this with a divided parliament and potentially a divided community. I would not put a zack into any scheme that potentially, in 18 months, might change substantially. I have heard no discussion about and no consideration of security of tenure issues, which are now getting wrapped up and lost in the political process that we are seeing unfold before us.

There has not been one single mention—none that I have heard—of some of the fundamental concepts that we are supposed to be talking about tonight. They are detailed and difficult concepts to grapple with. I would be interested to have an honesty test on this: how many people have sat down and read this legislation? We would all be in for a rude shock if the truth were to come out.

Some of the concepts that we are debating here to do with market considerations are about who sets environmental objectives. The national emissions trajectory and targets are being set by government. Reporting and compliance is largely a government exercise. The nature of the Australian emissions units—Kyoto units; non-Kyoto units—are all being shaped by ministers and government. The auctioning process is a government process. The cap is a government process, along with any assistance, tax and accounting issues, household assistance, complementary measures, the Climate Change Action Fund, pricing, fixed pricing for a year, leakage, trade exposure and the impacts of global influence and other jurisdictions. Any new scientific findings are the bailiwick of government to deal with, along with the scope and coverage of the scheme, any fuel credits, the management of charges, the ratification reviews, greenhouse gas definitions, greenhouse gas thresholds, emissions covered, the obligation transfer numbers and the liability transfer certificates, the synthetic greenhouse gas destruction arrangements, carbon sequestration rights and reforestation units—including amendments that were passed around today on reforestation units and limits. There has been no consideration, but there should be, of the biodiversity impacts of carbon sequestration and reforestation. Then there are forest maintenance obligations, windfall gain tests, power system reliability tests and caps and gateways. I hope that I have made my point.

We are talking about some fundamental concepts and issues that all of us as of today are leaving in the hands of a minister and an executive. They will have huge power and influence over the running of the market. My argument tonight is that we should be designers and then let the market be independently run and controlled. Tomorrow morning or tonight, depending on when the moment is, I will be moving an amendment exactly along those lines to establish independence for this process. We have a Reserve Bank that delivers monetary policy at arm’s length from government; this concept is no different. There will be a need for unpopular and difficult decisions to be made. A political process based on populism is not the place for those decisions to sit. We will get a lesser outcome as a community if we allow that to happen.

I hope consideration is given to that overnight by all sides. Part of that will be getting rid of some of those divisive issues—the cap setting; the targeting—which are the root cause of the divide in the parliament, and starting to get some unity on the issues that bring us together. It is a market based response. The principles behind it are right. Therefore, we should be able to get a framework out of this place so that we can then, hopefully, for years to come see some good work delivered for the community, for our nation and for the world. I hope that that amendment is considered.

I almost feel like one of the last of the Mohicans in that I think Ross Garnaut is right. It is disappointing that he has been dropped, like a disobedient girlfriend or boyfriend, by the government and that his role and his eminence in delivering a lot of the work over the past 12 months is not reflected in what we are seeing tonight. I feel like I am on a very similar page to him. He commented, I think only last month, that you could go either way on this one now, that it is a ‘one way or the other’ type issue, and that is how I feel. Personally, I could just as easily oppose this scheme as support it. The position I will be taking, though, is to try to get some amendments up to make it a beautiful, wonderful scheme—if that fails, I will still be supporting the legislation, based on the principle that, hopefully, over time, we can improve it. It is not an endorsement of where we are today; it is a hope and a dream—to pinch a president’s line—about where we might take this scheme in the future.

I have consulted widely in my community on this, and there is not a good understanding of the detail contained in the 400 pages. But I think I share a similar view to those who are across it. Tony Doherty, the president of the Manning branch of Climate Change Australia, sent me a very strong email saying, ‘Yep, the current scheme is horrible, but it is a framework that we can work with, and it is much better to have a starting point than to get rid of it altogether.’

I was listening to the member for New England, who ran some arguments very similar to mine. He is opposing this legislation. For the same arguments, I will be supporting the legislation. The government have done good work in building the framework and the underlying principles, but, on the trade-offs, the exemptions, the allocation of various free permits and the five per cent target, we can do better than that as a country and as a parliament. I certainly hope there will be consideration of my amendment when moved. (Time expired)