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Monday, 15 September 2008
Page: 34

Senator MILNE (3:54 PM) —by leave—I move.

That the Senate take note of the statement.

I think that it is interesting that the government shares a number of precedents because, of course, it is true that for years the Howard government was able to hide various reports from the public and now we are seeing the quid pro quo with this government doing precisely the same thing. Whether or not it is in the public interest, whether cabinet solidarity and confidentiality are more important than the public interest, is the question in debate here today.

The issue is this: there is no more important policy challenge for Australia than responding to climate change. Absolutely, there is not a more important issue for us to get our heads around. The community has been invited to try to engage this issue through the emissions trading scheme. We have had the green paper leading into a white paper; we have had the Garnaut review and any number of other things. But what is not clear is how the government’s policies are in any way internally consistent. I have been pointing this out from day one. You have the Department of Climate Change saying one thing, the department of resources saying an entirely different thing. You have a discussion about fossil fuel subsidies and the Department of Climate Change says that it is not their matter for concern; it is the minister for resources who should be dealing with that. Yet it beggars belief that you can have a policy position which says that we need to reduce emissions while at the same time giving huge subsidies to the fossil fuel sector. You have endless competing initiatives in the federal government which are cancelling one another out. The big debate around the Wilkins review is about the mandatory renewable energy target. We know that Mr Wilkins supports getting rid of the MRET, or at least incorporating into it carbon capture and storage—low-emissions technologies—so actually undermining, in my view, the integrity of the MRET by pushing it out to be a low-emissions technology target to include the fossil fuel sector.

There are a number of other issues that need to be debated and the concern here is: if you want to invite the public to have a genuine debate about climate change, then you should release the document so that the public can have a debate as informed as it possibly can be. Instead of that we have got a situation where we have documents that are not documents—they are working notes and thoughts. We now have documents that are documents that are now cabinet-in-confidence because they play into government policy down the line. Then we have the public consultation process. Why would the public engage the government’s calls for information, discussion and input to various reviews if at the end of those reviews the public cannot actually see what the review said in the context of preparing policy? Rather, what we are seeing is the government hiding that until they have made a decision in cabinet about what they intend to do about it and then they will selectively release or do whatever they choose to do in relation to it. That is the way it is going to go.

So the general public is now on notice that the government, just like the Howard government, will be selective about what they release. They will ask for public comment but have no intention of taking the public into their confidence in the way that the public might have expected from a government that said they were interested in transparency. I have very grave concerns about the decision of the government not to release the Wilkins review. It is completed. It should be out there. The community has a right to see it. The community has asked to engage climate change, asked to engage the emissions trading system, wants to know about the complementary measures that may be necessary and about the internal consistency of a number of the government’s policies. Here we have an issue with the government putting off any investment in renewable energy for 12 months while putting $500 million into carbon capture and storage. We have a government with draft legislation coming in here absolving the industry of any liability in the long term for carbon dioxide so captured and transferring that to the public.

Here we have a government with $9 billion worth of subsidies to the fossil fuel sector and we have a review which will say, ‘Oh, but we have to have a level playing field for carbon capture and storage,’ whilst pushing the renewables out for years. Here we have a government that delayed the introduction of the green car fund. We want to actually see how all of this fits together. I think the government’s decision is a very clear signal to the community that nothing has changed on the transparency of government front from the Howard government years. As I said before, if you begin this way it is the way you will continue and it will cause problems for the government in the longer term. The community will eventually get hold of the Wilkins review, albeit too late to be able to play into the policy discussion that needs to take place before the government makes its decision—and not be informed after the event of what the Wilkins review had to say about the appropriateness of the government’s climate change policies.

Question agreed to.