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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1014

Senator COLBECK (2:14 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Was the minister consulted about the government’s decision both to set up and then to scrap the inquiry into its emissions trading scheme?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —It is interesting that when they confront the issue of climate change, this challenge which requires a whole-of-economy reform, those opposite want to come back to process politics and playing games with this issue, just like they did for years in government. As the Treasurer has said, it was quite clear from the way in which those opposite were playing politics on the issue of the terms of reference of that inquiry that it would not be helpful for that inquiry to be continued. As I have also said, we will be moving in the Senate that this legislation, the draft legislation that I will be releasing shortly, be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics for consideration. We think it is important—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Had Senator Colbeck wanted to know this information he would have asked a question about it. His question was very deliberate: was the minister consulted in the setting up and then the disbanding of the inquiry? That is all we want to know and we would appreciate it if the minister could answer the question asked of her.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order: what we have now is simply a point of order taken on the basis that a Liberal senator on the other side thinks that Senator Wong is not answering the question. I ask those on the other side to raise their point of order with what that point of order in fact is because that is not easily discernible from the diatribe that comes from the other side. If you are going to raise a point of order it is important that you state what the point of order is so that we on this side can address it appropriately. I understand it could mean a point of relevance. If that is the issue, I will address that: Senator Wong is being relevant to the question, is being on point and is dealing with a very serious matter.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, you have one minute and three seconds to address the question that has been asked.

Senator WONG —In relation to the inquiry, the Treasurer has made clear the government’s position. He wrote to the parliamentary committee and proposed an inquiry. As a result of the way in which the inquiry had been misunderstood, including by those opposite who used the opportunity to open up the debate again as to whether or not we should have an emissions trading scheme, the Treasurer then asked that the committee reconsider that reference. Obviously, the committee’s decisions are a matter for the committee and the Treasurer has outlined the position from the government’s perspective.

Senator COLBECK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Senator Wong obviously did not understand whether she was consulted or not or whether the chair of the committee was consulted or not. He certainly had a different interpretation from his Treasurer. Will the minister support a Senate inquiry into the government’s emissions trading scheme which contains precisely the same terms of reference as the inquiry announced by the Treasurer on 12 February this year and instruct government agencies to cooperate with the inquiry?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —We await the opposition’s agreement with the Greens on the terms of reference for the inquiry. I have not seen it as yet—I have not seen the agreement. I do find it interesting that we have senators Boswell and Joyce saying they will not support an emissions trading scheme and, meanwhile, the Liberal Party and the coalition are coming to an agreement with Senator Milne about terms of reference. It will be a very interesting terms of reference, may I say. We will certainly consider the terms of reference that the Liberal Party and the Greens put up. I would like to know, of course, whether it is a joint position of the coalition or only the Liberal Party.

Senator COLBECK —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer the minister to the Prime Minister’s pre-election promise to introduce an emissions trading scheme by 2010 without disadvantaging our export and import competing industries. Does the minister deny that the government scrapped its proposed inquiry because it now realises its ETS policy will cost jobs and kill investment?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The answer to that question is no. The government is absolutely clear that this is the responsible thing to do for both the challenge of climate change and in order to create the jobs of the future. Unlike those opposite we are not going to take a position where we continue to duck the issue of climate change, as occurred over the last 10 years. There may be those on the other side—and they are gradually exerting more influence—who simply do not want action on climate change and for whom this has become one of the ways in which Mr Turnbull is undermined, but the reality is that we on this side of the chamber understand it is the responsible thing to do to both support today’s jobs and build the jobs of tomorrow.