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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1031

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (13:27): I think it is important, at the beginning of the very short, curtailed consideration in detail that we have, to frame exactly what is at issue in this House, or what was at issue in a very formal sense had my amendments been ruled in order, and that is: there are points of agreement between the government and the opposition and there are points of difference.

The point of agreement, as much as the minister might seek to resist this point, is around the termination of the carbon tax. This was a position that the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, enunciated, as clearly as possibly could be the case, before the last election—that the termination of the carbon tax would happen next year. As it happens, now we have a measure of clarity about the government's position—I say only 'a measure of clarity'.

We would actually have terminated the carbon tax on the same day, 30 June next year. The difference between the government and the opposition in this debate is not the termination of the carbon tax but what replaces it, and that is the debate that would have been had had my amendments been ruled in order, because very clearly before the election we indicated that Australia should move as quickly as possible, on 1 July next year, to an emissions trading scheme—not to the raft of policies that the minister would seek to introduce to an emissions trading scheme.

The minister and others of the government have sought to equate a carbon tax with an emissions trading scheme and, in doing so, you are either trying deliberately to mislead the community or you simply do not understand the fundamental economics of the two models. They are profoundly different. The carbon tax operates without a legal limit on carbon pollution and instead uses a price mechanism to seek to control the behaviour that is being targeted—in this case, the emission of carbon pollution. An emissions trading scheme is quite different. The discipline is not provided by price; the discipline is provided by a legislative cap on carbon pollution which then lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate within that cap. Importantly, it lets business work that out rather than the minister or his office or his bureaucrats here in Canberra picking winners, like the one he was trumpeting in the newspaper this week in the Latrobe Valley as the project that deserves billions and billions of taxpayers' dollars.

We know so little about this replacement policy, which is why I—and, in different words, the member for Melbourne—moved amendments to get much greater clarity from the government about quite what it is their policy entails, because no-one has a clue. If you talk to environmental stakeholders or business, no-one understands what is involved in the Liberal Party policy, because the truth is that it was a policy which, as the member for Wentworth described, was devised as an environmental fig leaf—

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr BUTLER: before the member for Kooyong was here. It was devised as an environmental fig leaf to cover the fact that the member for Wentworth had just been defenestrated by the member for Warringah on the condition that the Nick Minchin forces insisted upon—that he move over from being a supporter of an ETS, which he was through to 2009 after campaigning on it in 2007, to being a climate sceptic, someone who would junk the previous consensus started by his mentor, John Howard, and continued by Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. I feel great sympathy—

Mr Frydenberg: Mr Deputy Speaker, under the new standing orders, I have a question for the shadow minister.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Will the shadow minister take an intervention?

Mr BUTLER: No. I feel some sympathy for the minister because I think that—and I think generally stakeholders think so too—he is a person who takes climate change very seriously. He has dedicated a good part of his career to environmental issues but now has this stinking, dead albatross hanging around his neck called Direct Action. It is like getting Senator Cameron out to sell Work Choices. We know the minister does not believe this is going to have any effect on carbon pollution. We know that he is desperately trying to deal with the fact that survey after survey and economist after economist says it will not reduce carbon pollution. Alan Kohler said this morning that Treasury has estimated that the government's policy will cost $10 billion per year.

Mr Frydenberg: False!

Mr BUTLER: Show us the incoming government brief and we will know whether it is false. All we have to go on is suggestion because that is the only thing that comes out of this government.