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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8052


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (12:40 AM) —Have we agreed to speeches being incorporated? Has anyone seen them?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McLucas)—Senator O'Brien has incorporated his comments. Leave was granted.


Senator IAN MACDONALD —Was leave granted by Senator Alston?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Yes.


Senator IAN MACDONALD —I have no objection, if that has been done. I saw on the list that Senator Mackay was going to incorporate her speech. I was not aware that Senator O'Brien was going to do that. I have no objection to that, provided we have a look at them first.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Leave was granted by Senator Alston.


Senator IAN MACDONALD —Not having had the opportunity to hear or read Senator O'Brien's speech, I am unable to comment on what he might have said about this matter. I must say that I am somewhat surprised that Senator O'Brien and the Labor Party generally might be opposing the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2002 by proposing the sorts of amendments which I have seen brought forward. The hour is late and those senators who are interested in the bill will understand what it is all about. I do not need to repeat what has been said or what the actual bill that the government is moving is all about.

I want to spend a little bit of time on the proposed amendments. I know that we will do that in detail in the committee stage of the debate but I want to make the government's position quite clear. The government's position is that we will not be accepting any of the amendments that come forward for reasons that I will elaborate on during the committee stage of the debate and I will briefly touch on here. This amending bill is all about fixing up some administrative errors that occurred when this bill was dealt with in a similar vein and in a similar fashion at the same time of night a couple of years ago. It was amended on the run and as a result it had all sorts of unintended consequences that have inhibited the proper application of the act. This bill was meant to fix those administrative errors so that the scheme put in place could run its course and could be dealt with appropriately.

Senator Allison has raised some issues and I am sure Senator O'Brien and Senator Mackay have too, although I have not had the opportunity of seeing their speeches. I suspect that they feel passionately about some aspects of renewable energies and that is good. There will be time to debate that at some other appropriate moment, but it is not now. This bill fixes a couple of relatively simple but far-reaching and very consequential elements of the act. If they are not fixed, it means that the renewable energy regime that is in place will start to crumble and fall apart. The reason for that is that two years ago at this hour we were doing amendments on the run and people were not thinking about them properly. As a result the act does not work properly. It needs to be fixed tonight and that is what the government's legislation intends to do.

Some of things that Senator Allison spoke about and that no doubt Senator O'Brien and Senator Mackay have spoken about, although I again say that I have not seen what they have said, will be taken up in the review of operation that was included in the original act. That stated that after two years of operation there would be a very thorough and full review of the act, and section 162 of the original act sets out the sorts of things that would be looked at. Some of the amendments before us deal with that review. We want to add a few things but I will go into those in detail in the committee stage.

There is to be a full review that will look at all aspects of the renewable energy regime to see if there is a better way of doing it. That will start, I am told—and Dr Kemp has announced this publicly—early in January, it is hoped. I understand that Dr Kemp has written to everybody, seeking input into the review and into the terms of reference. Anything anyone wants to look at—the sorts of things I heard Senator Allison talking about—will all be matters for attention in that review. The Democrats and the Labor Party are more than welcome to be involved, and I know that they will be involved, in that review.

That is not what this bill is about tonight. What we are trying to do tonight is to fix errors that we made as a Senate a couple of years ago because we did not give full attention to amendments that had been made on the run. For that reason, the government will not be accepting any of the amendments. If the consequence of that is that the Democrats join with the Labor Party to impose their amendments, or if the Labor Party join with the Democrats to impose their amendments, the government will not accept them. If the bill is carried through like that, the government will not be accepting them in the other place. I hope Senator Allison is listening to this. I might pause while she finishes her conversation, because I really want to emphasise this point: if unacceptable amendments are imposed—and they are all unacceptable to the government—this bill will not go forward today. That means that the regime that we all put in place, with the best expectations, will falter and fail.

I am told that the consequences of this legislation not passing tonight are that the renewable energy trading system established by the act is at considerable risk. If it is not passed, the effect will be that the whole renewable energy trading system will be subjected to unnecessary investor uncertainty surrounding what is and what is not an eligible renewable energy source. Anticompetitive behaviour in relation to product rollout of solar waste heaters will continue to occur. There will continue to be unnecessary constraints on the regulator to administer the legislation appropriately, thereby exposing the government to potential legal risk. Together, these consequences lead to suboptimal performance of what is the world's leading renewable energy initiative at this time. Senator Allison and Senator O'Brien will know that the rest of the world is copying the Australian government on renewable energy initiatives.

In December 2000, the Senate made numerous last-minute amendments, as I have mentioned, to the legislation; and the consequences of that were not fully appreciated. I beg the Senate not to repeat that process tonight. The bill before us is administrative in nature. The statutory review is just weeks away. That statutory review is the proper vehicle for a thorough and comprehensive analysis of future policy underpinnings of the mandatory renewable energy target. Pre-empting the review process, in the absence of any robust analysis and consultation with the affected parties, is likely to mean that this chamber will, regrettably, repeat the mistakes of the past—and, if it does that tonight, it will do so knowingly.

I do not decry, Senator Allison, the points you have raised. As I say, there are appropriate times and places to deal with them and I am sure the same applies to Senator O'Brien, although I hasten to add that I have not seen or read his comments, as they have not been made available to me. However, if there are sensible proposals, there is an opportunity to deal with them. This is an administrative bill and it needs to be passed to make the scheme work. If it does not pass, there will be consequences which will mean that the whole regime will start to crumble. I ask senators to consider that in the way they address these issues tonight.

I point out that the Labor Party apparently now have some amendments. They were on the Senate committee that looked at this bill and came back with a recommendation that the bill be passed. The Democrats put in a minority report dealing with some recommendations which, with respect, whilst they may be sensible, are not relevant to this particular bill. But the Labor Party came back and recommended that the bill be passed. What has changed? Furthermore, in the other chamber the Labor spokesman said, `We're all in favour of it. No amendments, no problems, good idea; let's go for it.' If I can get his actual words, I will read them into the Hansard. What has happened between the time when the Labor Party looked at the bill in the House of Representatives and tonight? They understood in the House of Representatives that this was simply an administrative bill, fixing up a few errors that the Senate had made, and that all of the other issues that might concern people would be dealt with in the review which is to start just weeks away. They understood when the bill went through the House of Representatives that if we did not deal with this tonight, we were going to put renewable energy in Australia back 12, 18 or 24 months. Mr Kelvin Thomson said:

The government's proposed amendments represent an improvement to the MRET scheme and Labor will be supporting them ...

That statement is quite clear. There is no suggestion of amendments there, with respect to the shadow minister, Senator O'Brien. What has changed? We are all flabbergasted. We want to get these administrative bits fixed up, so let us look at the substantive issues in the review. It was always intended two years ago, when we dealt with this, that there would be a full and complete review of the issue.

There is talk about targets. Again, that is a matter for the review. The government's belief, from talking with people who are in the industry, is that the targets being proposed are simply not achievable. We would love to see them achieved but they are simply not achievable. Whether they are or whether they are not, these are really matters for the review to look at. But we just cannot agree to an amendment tonight which says, `These are the targets whether you like them or not' and `These are the targets whether you can do them or not.' We want the review to look at the targets fully and properly with all the right support so that we can work out what are the right targets to have, what should be mandatory and what should not be mandatory. Again, I plead with the Democrats and the Labor Party to consider this matter, to move forward with the administrative bill and to deal with these other issues, that are no doubt quite appropriate, at a later stage.

I have not mentioned Senator Brown's contribution. It is late at night and I do not want to go into it. It has very little to do with the bill. Senator Brown just continued the old Marxist-Leninist approach of attacking anyone, particularly people who are not here to defend themselves. Yesterday he attacked Kate Carnell and today he is attacking Dr Robin Batterham, a very distinguished Australian. He is imputing ill motives to both of those people but he does it when they are not here to defend themselves. It is typical of the sorts of actions you come to expect from the people who masquerade as a Green party. All they really are is a very un-Australian, Socialist Left, Marxist-Leninist group hiding behind a Green facade. It has nothing to do with the bill before us. It is just another opportunity for Senator Brown to malign people who cannot be here to defend themselves. Yesterday I was appalled that even Senator Brown would make the personal, vindictive and vicious attacks that he made on Kate Carnell and tonight he attacked Dr Robin Batterham. He blamed Kate Carnell, when she was the ACT Chief Minister, for not supporting some Green motion in the ACT assembly about some forest in New South Wales. Why is that strange? Of course, the motion that Senator Brown talked about yesterday had nothing to do with the ACT; it was all about New South Wales. Senator Brown thought that was bad.

Senator Brown then blamed Kate Carnell for being employed in the forest industry. He called it the woodchip industry. In fact, she is employed by the sustainable native forest industry, one of the most sustainable industries in the world. Why she would be maligned for that I am not sure. Senator Brown then went on to use all the emotive words that he usually uses about the Styx Valley. He forgot to mention that 68 per cent of public forests in Tasmania are in reserves. Ninety-eight per cent of high-quality wilderness forests in Tasmania are in reserves. Sixty-eight per cent of old growth forests in Tasmania are in reserves. In fact, 86 per cent of Tasmania's old growth forests that are on public land are protected. Kate Carnell has been to the Styx Valley. In his personal attack yesterday, Senator Brown was suggesting she had never been there. She has been there a number of times. He went on with all the sorts of usual attacks that he does when people are not here to defend themselves. As best as I can do at this hour of night in the couple of minutes that are left to me, I just want to put on record again that this un-Australian behaviour should be unacceptable in this chamber.

Senator Brown was misquoting Ms Carnell about an article she wrote in a paper. Senator Brown described it as `dropping incendiaries with napalm-like material'. This is all the sort of emotive stuff that might get him a vote or two in his Socialist Left, Marxist-Leninist group—a vote behind the masquerade of the Greens. Of course, if you look at the article you will see that what Kate Carnell was writing about was a very controlled, ordered and planned burning of the forest to ensure that the fires have little or no impact on the surrounding coupes, buffer zones or informal reserves. She sets out quite clearly how very necessary all that is. Senator Brown talked about the Styx Valley's ecosystem being destroyed. He forgot to mention that the Styx Valley has been logged for 100 years and there is still that ecosystem that Senator Brown now says has to be preserved and saved.

And so the whole speech went on. I wish I had time to properly defend these people who are not in this chamber to be able to defend themselves. When it comes to people who have made a contribution to Australia, put Kate Carnell and Dr Robin Batterham against Senator Bob Brown and I know who most Australians would pick at any time. Dr Robin Batterham and Kate Carnell are very distinguished, capable Australians who have made a great contribution. They are learned; they are honourable. Dr Batterham is a very distinguished scientist and neither he nor Kate Carnell deserves the vicious sort of personal attacks they get in this chamber when they are not here to defend themselves. I wish both of those people all the very best. I desperately hope someone like Kate Carnell could come into this chamber to replace Margaret Reid, but that is a matter for the ACT division of the Liberal Party, not me. The Senate would be a far better place if someone of the calibre of Kate Carnell were in this chamber.

This is a serious bill before us. I do, again, urge the Labor Party to consider what this bill is all about. I know Senator O'Brien understands the forests. He comes from Tasmania. He is involved with the workers there, the people who are desperate to make sure this industry proceeds in the sustainable and careful way that the Tasmanian government is currently managing the forests. It is very important that we address this fully. I plead with Senator Allison—if getting down on my knees would help, I would do that—because it is so important that this administrative bill goes through tonight. If it is amended, that is the end of it. I have briefly mentioned the consequences. I know the Labor Party were briefed about this by Dr Kemp and his office. They know the consequences of this. This is why they agreed to it at the briefing, they agreed to it in the Senate committee report and they agreed to it in the House of Representatives. Why the change of opinion now?

We know you are green; we know you are genuinely concerned about the environment—so are we all. But this is not the bill to use to make those points. This is an administrative bill that really needs passing tonight so we can fix up the regime that this Senate unintentionally messed up—if I might say that—when it was dealt with before. We have got to fix these administrative areas. Let us deal with the substantive issues, which Senator Allison has raised, during the review which is about to start in less than four or five weeks.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.