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Wednesday, 20 June 2012
Page: 3879

Carbon Pricing

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:00): Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to her answer in Senate question time yesterday where, in response to a question from Senator Cormann on whether the government is negotiating any last-minute changes to its carbon tax legislation, she replied:

The last time I looked, the clean energy future package, including the carbon price mechanism, had passed the Senate. If Senator Cormann is aware of a way that we could retrospectively amend a bill after it has passed the Senate … I am sure he could tell me about that.

I seek clarification from you, Minister, that your answer is still correct and no further changes will be made to the government's carbon tax legislation.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:00): The government laid out its plans in its clean energy package, which was announced some time ago. The government has brought forward legislation reflecting the clean energy package. That legislation has passed the parliament. That remains the position of the government. There are obviously other aspects of the clean energy package which are yet to pass the parliament, which I mentioned yesterday in the answer to which the senator is referring. I think there is legislation in relation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and other aspects of the clean energy package which obviously have to be legislated.

But the government has made its position clear. The reason the government's position is clear is that what we have put forward is an economically sensible package—a package which recognises that we want to shift to a lower polluting economy, a clean energy economy, but we want to do it at lowest cost to Australians. I again remind the chamber that those opposite, including the senator who asked me a question, support a five per cent reduction by 2020. That is what Mr Abbott has signed up for—the same emissions reduction as the government. The difference is your plan will cost more. The difference is you will impose more tax—$1,300 per household every year—in order to fund your policy, which will not work. We have a policy which will cost the economy less and which is connected with a tax reform package which will deliver a tax cut for every Australian earning under $80,000 a year, a tripling of the tax-free threshold. It is of itself a worthy reform. As I have said, it is good for second income earners, good for workforce participation and a good economic policy in its own right, and one of the key mechanisms by which the government will deliver assistance under its package, which is opposed by those opposite.

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:02): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to reports today that the government has bowed to pressure from the member for New England, Mr Tony Windsor, for last-minute changes on LPG and the costs of landfills that affect local councils and their ratepayers. Will the minister confirm that there will be no changes, and will there be any change in relation to regulations which will not require changes to legislation if Mr Windsor is to have it his way?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:03): First, in relation to landfill, which is one of the issues that was raised, I would make the point that, despite the scare campaign of those opposite, the vast majority of landfills in the majority of local councils in Australia will have no liability under the carbon price. It is the case that the Clean Energy Regulator has found that, based upon current information, about 34 out of 559 local governments will be liable. Those landfills big enough to be liable will never have to pay for emissions for waste deposited prior to 1 July 2012 and those—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order that goes to direct relevance. The question was carefully phrased to ask whether there were changes not requiring legislation in relation to landfills. All the minister has done is recite the existing policy in relation to landfills. The question was about whether there were to be changes to that policy. That is what Senator Williams is interested in knowing and it is the only aspect of this issue to which the question was directed.

The PRESIDENT: I believe the minister is answering the question, and the minister has 22 seconds remaining.

Senator WONG: I was asked about two issues and I am responding in relation to one of them. I was going to go on to say that in relation to landfill the government has made rules deeming landfill emissions in 2012-13 to be zero. So there will be no obligation to buy and surrender carbon permits in the 2012-13 year. In relation to LPG and LNG— (Time expired)

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:05): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that at the last federal election the member for New England, Mr Windsor, gained a 62 per cent primary vote, and given that the ReachTEL poll conducted overnight in New England found that Mr Windsor's primary vote is currently at 24 per cent, isn't this just a blatant political decision to prop up Mr Windsor and nothing to do with correcting the gaping flaws in this toxic carbon tax?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:06): I know that Senator Joyce must be very upset that someone else has got preselection from the seat of New England despite the fact he is such a genius that he should have been parachuted into the lower house—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I know you were distracted, Mr President, but all parts of an answer are required to be directly relevant. The opposition entirely accepts that a minister may provide context. The opposition entirely accepts that the early part of an answer may—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Brandis is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator Brandis: The opposition entirely accepts that a minister may build up to an answer by addressing the topic in the broad. We acknowledge that that does not breach the direct relevance principle. However, for a minister to address the question that was asked by Senator Williams by talking about another senator's disappoint­ment at allegedly missing out on preselection for a seat cannot possibly have even a contextual bearing on the question asked.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on the point of order. I would have thought it was questionable whether or not the supplementary question was in order, but the senator went directly to the question of polling, political activity in the seat and the chances of Mr Windsor in the next election. Effectively, it was an attack on Mr Windsor—a member of the other house. Quite frankly, the senator answering the question, Minister Wong, responded in kind, which was in a political context about the issues involved in the primary question. If you ask a political question, you get a political answer. It is a bit hard to then squeal if you do not like the answer.

The PRESIDENT: You did note correctly that I was, unfortunately, distracted by something that needed to be raised with me. I was not therefore completely listening to everything that was proceeding. The minister has 48 seconds remaining. I draw the minister's attention to the question and I will now listen closely to the answer that the minister is giving.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr President. I am certainly not offended by the fact that you were not listening to me with your full attention. I understand.

The PRESIDENT: I did not say I was not listening.

Senator WONG: I accept that maybe it did not merit it. But I make this point: the entire point of the question was a political point about the member for New England. The National Party should be upfront about that and not pretend that there was any point to this question other than a political point. There is a bit of sour grapes over the fact that Senator Joyce, who is demanding a lower house seat, does not have one.