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Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Page: 8661


Senator FERGUSON (12:31 PM) —I am in a rather unique position, having started to make this speech last night prior to any knowledge of proposed amendments and, now, having seen those amendments, I can move on. Can I say first of all that seeing those amendments has not made me any happier. Having had last-minute notice of them, having seen them at 10 o’clock and having tried to decide what was in them, the only people I feel really sorry for, apart from ourselves, are senators opposite, particularly the climate sceptics opposite, of which there are many. I will not name any but there are plenty. They have not had the opportunity to see what these amendments mean either, yet after five or six weeks of protracted negotiations we are expected to understand in five minutes what these negotiations have brought forward. My opposition to these bills remains the same as it was. My position has not changed from last night now that I have actually seen the amendments.

The bullying by the Rudd government to have this legislation in place before going to Copenhagen, before knowing what the rest of the world is doing, cannot lead to well-informed and well thought out legislation. There are only a couple of people who have spent a lot of time on this legislation trying to nut out amendments. The one thing I will say about the proposed amendments is that if it were not for the insistence of the coalition we would still be debating a bill that was totally unacceptable. It was only on the insistence of the coalition and through Ian Macfarlane that we were able to get some agreement and some changes which make an impossible bill slightly more palatable—but, I am sorry to say, still not palatable enough for me.

I have only just heard of the Prime Minister’s press conference where he said this is a deal for just this week. What is so bad about the deal that it would not still be on the table if it were next week? What is so bad about the deal that it would not still be on the table if it were next February? Either the government is not genuine in committing itself to the changes that have been made to the initial legislation and is just trying to buy and bribe some support from the opposition or else the government is not genuine in its offers. To say it is this week or never is one of the worst examples of blackmail I have ever heard.

The Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, has falsely claimed that Australia cannot go to Copenhagen without this legislation in place; that she cannot go to Copenhagen, together with the Prime Minister, without having this legislation in place. What on earth are all the other countries of the world doing in going to Copenhagen without legislation in place? None of them has legislation in place, except some European countries. America has not, China has not, India has not and Canada has not, yet Senator Wong says we cannot go to Copenhagen without having legislation in place. The head of the United Nations climate change agency, Mr Yvo de Boer, stated clearly that there is no expectation or requirement that Australia have legislation in place to participate in discussion at Copenhagen.

I mentioned last night that I tend to speak more with the people in my own community than with those in other communities, and all of the people in that community have urged me not to support this legislation. It may be different in other areas. It may be different in some urban areas. I happen to live in a rural town in a rural area where in fact there is uniform opposition to this legislation being passed prior to Copenhagen and the decision of the rest of the countries of the world as to what they will do in relation to climate change—if in fact they do anything in relation to climate change, because I am quite sure that some of them will not.

This government is interested more in image than in effective and responsible legislation. The treaty that is being presented in Copenhagen includes a requirement for industrialised nations to commit 0.7 per cent of their national economic output to a UN controlled fund to compensate for less developed nations. Having spent some time at the UN and seen how they handle money and what they do through some of their aid programs, I cannot think of a worse place for us to contribute 0.7 per cent of our economic output than to a UN controlled fund.

The mood in the Australian community is changing. It is changing in a way that we did not expect two years ago, when in fact there was almost universal support for action against climate change. Two years ago, before the 2007 election, people were saying, ‘You must do something about climate change.’ They believed wholeheartedly that any changes in our climate were directly related to human activity. I was very interested to read the poll from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry last weekend in which public views echoed business concerns. The survey was commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland and released by ACCI, and was undertaken by Galaxy Research over the weekend. We find there is a change taking place in the Australian community. For a start, people are realising that the imposition of this CPRS is the introduction of a new tax—nothing more, nothing less. It is a question of who will pay. This poll found that 71 per cent of the 1,000-odd people polled believe that the CPRS will raise their electricity prices and that 49 per cent believe there will be job losses. If we move in isolation when the rest of the world is not moving at all, 49 per cent of Australia’s population now believe there will be job losses. An even more staggering figure is that 82 per cent of those surveyed do not believe enough information has been provided about the CPRS and 54 per cent now, more than half the population, believe Australia should delay the introduction of a CPRS until after Copenhagen. This is a distinct change from the views held by people a couple of years ago. The results of this Galaxy poll parallel ACCI’s survey of investor confidence in October which found that 47½ per cent of businesses considered that the CPRS will have negative impacts.

We need to take into account the changing views of the Australian population, as they find out more and more about these proposals being put forward by the government. It is fair to say that, until people start to get some information, they will say, ‘Of course, we have to do something about climate change; it is terrible.’ In fact, we have had climate change for 50 million years. It has not all been human induced, I am sure. Suggestions of recent times that the world is actually cooling and not getting hotter is something that most of our media and certainly the climate change alarmists do not want to see put into the public arena. We have a Prime Minister who says that climate change is the biggest moral challenge of our time and anyone who questions this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme he calls heretics or deniers. Yet he is not willing to take on the advice or the concerns of interested groups and those whom the scheme will affect most.

According to this government, if you are not in support of their legislation, you do not care about the environment at all and are in favour of environmental destruction and are morally lacking. I spent a big percentage of my life farming. Farmers are the original environmentalists. Of course there were some who did not look after their properties and some who were careless. But in every walk of life there are some who will not do the right thing in relation to the environment. We have been environmentally conscious for the past 50 years. We now have no-tillage and are trying to preserve topsoil. Yields are increasing. Throughout my lifetime the original environmentalists have been farmers. They are the ones who rushed to join Landcare programs. They are the ones who spent voluntarily when there was no incentive to plant more trees and do other things on their properties. They are the environmentalists. They are among the strongest opponents of this CPRS.

The other flaw in this scheme is that it effectively ignores voluntary action and energy efficiency. I believe that the actions of individuals, businesses and community groups who develop their own initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions provide significant benefit to our community. They are worthy of recognition and encouragement.

I have not had a chance to look in detail at the amendments that have been agreed to. We just simply have not had time to read them. I have been contacted by a number of businesses, such as the National Lime Association and Adelaide Brighton Cement, which operates a lime plant in Angaston and supplies industries such as mining, steel, paper, agriculture and water treatment in the region. I just do not know whether these new amendments have satisfied these people because we simply have not had time to find out. Yet we are expected to come into this chamber and debate these amendments without discussion with all of these people. It is absolutely impossible in the time frame that has been suggested to debate these bills and get through the committee stage. The time frame includes sitting late hours—maybe up to Saturday, we have heard.

This is no way to run a parliament. This is no way to look at what is possibly the most life-changing bill that has been presented to this parliament, certainly since the introduction of the GST and probably even further back than that since such an important bill has come before this chamber. I do not believe that it should be given the cursory treatment that this government expect us to give it. They have had five or six weeks to negotiate amendments between the major ministers and shadow ministers concerned and we have two or three days for senators to put forward their amendments.

I know the Greens have an enormous package of amendments and they have every right to make sure that those amendments are debated at length, in the same way that Senator Xenophon and others have a right to question and debate the amendments at length. I do not share the Greens’ views. I share their concerns, but I do not share their views. They have a right, however, to put their amendments in this place and to have time to debate them at length. That is the role of this house. That is why we have such a proud record in the Senate of making sure that we look minutely at legislation which, in many cases, has gone through the lower house either by guillotine or with a very short debate.

I will not be supporting these bills, as I said last night, because I do not believe that we should be discussing them before Copenhagen. Had these bills been presented in February, after Copenhagen, I might well have voted for them, but I will not vote for them when we do not know what the rest of the world is doing and we do not know whether we are going to disadvantage Australian industries and exporters.