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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11287

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (5:29 PM) —I rise in this debate to support the second reading amendment that was moved by the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning of the debate today on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]. The Leader of the Opposition outlined in great detail the alternatives, the improvements and the amendments which would make a flawed scheme much better. That goes to the nub of this debate and why we are debating this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation now. In the time available I will cover some of those areas that you would naturally expect are particularly relevant to my electorate of Casey. Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, as the member for the adjoining seat of Menzies, you will understand because we have very similar electorates.

The first point of the amendments and the point that the Leader of the Opposition made and has been making consistently, as we all have, is that finalising legislation ahead of Copenhagen is foolhardy. That should be self-evident to the members opposite. The Copenhagen conference will be over in less than 50 days. For the Prime Minister and the government to finalise the design of an Australian emissions trading scheme ahead of that conference is foolhardy. They are determined to do so. In that context the opposition has put forward significant amendments which would very much reduce the damage that this rushed scheme, if finalised before Copenhagen, would have on the Australian economy. At present, the United States has legislation that has been through their House of Representatives and is entering their Senate. The Copenhagen conference will determine, you would hope, the shape or the beginnings of a shape of a global agreement. There have been lots of attacks from those opposite about the issue of climate change. All of us want to see an environmental improvement and reduction in emissions, but the obvious point is that this can be effective only if it is done globally. Those opposite know that in their heart of hearts. They know it very well.

The Leader of the Opposition this morning gave a good example with respect to coal, and I will come back to that. But if Australia acts alone ahead of a global agreement it not only damages jobs, investment and exports but actually exports emissions, and those opposite know that. In fact, the one export those opposite will be assisting is emissions. Many have said that when you export emissions you simply transfer them from one country to another, quite obviously; it has no effect on total global emissions. Of course, that is right. There are circumstances, as my colleague the member for Farrer would know, where if you transfer emissions from Australia to another country you can actually increase global emissions because the very production in that other country may not be as clean as it currently is in Australia. But those opposite know that, and that is why finalising this legislation ahead of Copenhagen is foolhardy. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned the example of coal. If there is a reduction in coalmining here and a corresponding increase in another country, the emissions are transferred. In some cases they may be increased because of the technology that is not used in those other countries.

Our amendments that have been put forward this morning—and they are the subject of good faith negotiations at present—would fix a number of very obvious flaws. I will not, in the time available, go through all of those, but I will focus on two in particular. One is the treatment of agriculture. The previous speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary for Water, defended the treatment of agriculture in the government’s legislation before the House. The government is proposing that agriculture be included down the track in around 2015. We have said agriculture should not be included. We know from the US legislation that they will not include agriculture. For those opposite to think that the US legislation will not have a major influence on the final design of a global agreement is, of course, ridiculous. We know the US legislation will not include agriculture. We are saying agriculture should not be included, but on top of that we are saying the agricultural sector should have access to the offsets that will assist and encourage them in environmental improvements and practices.

The other area where we have made some major recommendations by way of amendments is to do with electricity generation and specifically price rises in electricity costs. I want to focus particularly on the small business sector. The small business sector is not subject to any compensation under this legislation. What this legislation proposes is sharp rises that will affect them deeply. We have put forward an alternative model that we think is better. It will have less of a price effect on small business but it will have a good environmental outcome. We have said to the government that they should consider this, but if they, after releasing all their material and in consideration of those negotiations, do not agree with this path then they are duty bound to produce an alternative that will not harm the small business community in the way their current legislation does.

I have mentioned agriculture. My electorate of Casey includes significant agricultural areas and agribusinesses that are the backbone of the rural area in the Yarra Valley. The number of small businesses in the outer east and in the Yarra Valley is significant and I will always stand up for those businesses, which are the backbone of that local economy. Across Australia we have more than two million businesses employing around four million people. They are the backbone of the national economy. In the electorate of Casey those small businesses—a diverse range of businesses stretching from the metropolitan areas out to the rural areas—are the backbone of that local economy.

In conclusion, the government should consider these amendments. The government should be accepting these amendments. The government should be acknowledging that its legislation is flawed and if passed unamended will severely damage the Australian economy. The reason that the government is not finalising this after the Copenhagen agreement is the same reason why this government does so many things. It is the price of the Prime Minister’s vanity. I note the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister is at the table. He would see this up-front and personally on a daily basis.

Mr Byrne —What’s that? Do you want me to make a comment on that?

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —The price of the Prime Minister’s vanity is very high, very high indeed. We have seen over nearly the last two years the government seeking to implement a range of measures that they had spoken about before the election. It has been nearly two years since the election and we have seen Fuelwatch, we have seen GroceryChoice and we have seen them try to reform employee share schemes. Compared with the legislation that we are dealing with today, those were minor matters, but nevertheless matters on which the government demonstrated incompetence. I say to those opposite that they would know that on something much bigger, where the detail is much more important, the track record of this government speaks for itself. Those negotiations are ongoing. The amendments that have been moved in the second reading amendment that embody the suggestions of the opposition are something that the government should take seriously. If they do they will improve what is a flawed and rushed piece of legislation.