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Monday, 15 September 2008
Page: 32

Senator MILNE (3:40 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

There were actually two documents requested. One was the document to which the minister has referred and the other was the Wilkins review.

Senator Sherry —No, that was to me—a separate one.

Senator MILNE —Through you, Mr Deputy President, Senator Sherry advises that his is a separate document, so I will just comment on Senator Carr’s explanation in relation to Minister Ferguson. I find it very interesting that, suddenly, what was a report is now the working notes and thoughts of a person in the department to somebody outside the department, and now does not constitute a document that is relevant to the return to order. It would be timely and appropriate for the government to reveal which person working in Minister Ferguson’s office or department thought it was appropriate to be circulating to the business community an alternative view about the emissions trading scheme, the nature of the free permits or otherwise and the targets or anything else pertaining to the government’s green paper.

As we know, the whole point of this—and it is clearly known outside the government—is that Minister Ferguson is doing everything possible to undermine a stringent emissions trading scheme in Australia, and that is, of course, because of his close association with the coal industry and in particular with the Business Council of Australia. We know that they are absolutely opposed to anything rigorous in terms of a target or in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact the Business Council of Australia said that the most they could possibly live with was a 10 per cent reduction on 1990 levels, and of course Professor Garnaut was not even prepared—the government has not responded yet—to force the business community of Australia to their ambit position. An even weaker position was put up in terms of zero, five or a maximum of 10 per cent reduction.

I think it is very interesting to note that the way the government has chosen to get out of releasing this information is to say that it was working notes and thoughts and that it was released by someone in the department or the minister’s office to someone outside of the department without authority. I would hope the government is now going to tell us what action has been taken in relation to that. As the information was circulated in the business community, were they told it was the individual thoughts of one person, that it had no authority and no imprimatur of the minister, the secretary or anyone else? Is it common practice for someone in the department to circulate to the business community an alternative model apart from what the government supposedly wants in its discussions with the business community?

There is someone here clearly seeking to undermine the minister whose position is even slacker than that of the Minister for Climate Change and Water. It seems to me that we have had a greenhouse mafia working in the bureaucracy and in ministerial offices for a very long time. They are still there in the bureaucracy and that is why it would be very interesting to know who in Minister Ferguson’s department is actively undermining the government’s position on emissions trading.

One thing that I would say to the government in relation to this is: yes, you can vote with the opposition in this house to withhold reports such as the Herzfeld report on the pulp mill; yes, you can suddenly decide that a report is not a report but the notes and thoughts of a person inside the department who does not have the imprimatur of the government—and we are going to hear in a minute why we cannot have the Wilkins review, no doubt; and, yes, you can continue to make up reason after reason to keep documents out of the public arena. But once you start on that slippery slope that is the way that you are going to continue. We heard a whole lot of rhetoric when the Prime Minister came to power about more transparency and openness. There is no evidence at all to suggest that that is going to be the case.

Once you get people in departments actively undermining ministers and circulating information to the business community for them to use against the government, it is in everybody’s interest to know whether this is a one-off and what action the government has taken in relation to this matter, and for the government to clarify for the parliament what erroneous information was given to the business community. In other words, the thoughts that were put on paper that undermined the government’s case ought to also be disowned by the government in the context of this debate. It is a most unfortunate set of circumstances. I will be interested to know when we move for other documents to be released whether they are suddenly going to be reinterpreted as the working notes and thoughts of a person who had no right to be distributing that material.