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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5339

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (10:03 AM) —I do not know; it is always amazing—ta-dum! We are talking here about the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and a related bill. There is obviously a sense of people wanting to do the right thing, to move ahead and to try to get to a position where we can move towards using renewable energies. But we have to do that in a manner that does not put at risk the nation’s employment capacity or put extra cost on the farming sector, especially, and on working families or put at risk jobs in the aluminium and cement industries and in a whole range of other industries.

We were promised a proper decoupling of the bill. At the moment we do not have that. We have very much a hybrid form of decoupling. The aluminium industry has still not been properly dealt with. We see that the print media has been dealt with, and we know why that is: they were always going to be out, and good luck to them. Silica industries have been dealt with. But a whole range of other things have not been dealt with.

I heard Senator Fielding say something about the opposition having no backbone and that we are missing in action. That is interesting coming from a person whom you can never actually find when negotiations are required. He is just missing, full stop. It is like trying to talk to someone in North Korea: you know they are there, but you do not know what they are up to.

What the coalition is doing is in good faith trying to get a resolution on this issue. We obviously have huge problems with the emissions trading scheme, which will be an employment termination scheme and mean the destitution of regional economies. It will just be a new tax whereby Mr Rudd will be found in every facet of people’s lives. Wherever there is a power point, there will be a tax by Mr Rudd. Mr Rudd will be perched in every shopping trolley as there will be a new tax on the overheads for food. If you want to go on a holiday, Mr Rudd will be in the plane with you because there is a tax on aviation fuel. Everywhere you go and in everything you do, Mr Rudd will have a position in your life. What this will achieve we do not know because it will not actually change the climate.

We want to see whether these negotiations that are supposed to be held in good faith are concluded by the end of the committee stage of these bills and have actually dealt with the promise that the Labor Party made—that is, that there would be an authentic decoupling of the renewable energy target from the emissions trading scheme. If there is an authentic decoupling and the key industries have been dealt with, both the Nationals and the Liberal Party will do what they can to support this. But if there has not been an authentic decoupling, we will have a problem.

I know what the Labor Party are doing: they are using this as a form of wedge politics. They will basically go out there and say, ‘They won’t pass renewable energy.’ I suppose the argument for us to explain to the Australian people is that what they did in their CPRS, in their cunning little plan that will make our economy RS, was enmesh things from their renewable energy target with the emissions trading scheme so that you have to pass both in order to get either. That would be defaulting on the agreement they made before the Australian people that they would be fair dinkum in their decoupling of this bill. That is the negotiation process going on at the moment, and I commend Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Hunt in their valiant attempts to try to bring this to a conclusion.

Our main concern is for carbon-intensive, trade-exposed industries, such as the food-processing sector, especially dairy. Dairy in its current form will have a huge cost put on it. It is not, by the definition delivered, a trade-exposed, emission-intensive industry. Regardless of that, the farming sector will be lumped with a huge new cost. They cannot hand it on through the retailers, because they will just lose market share, so the only ones who will pay will be the farmers. These people are already doing it extremely tough. Remember, farmers have the problem at the moment, especially in the dairy industry, that retailers are extracting a huge margin, but the price at the farm gate keeps going down.

It will be interesting to see whether the government wanted to ever truly grasp the nettle on that issue. I think that is something that all Australian people want to know: why are the farmers getting less when we are paying more at the checkout and, apparently, everything is fine? It is not fine. People are being exploited; farmers are being exploited. This issue has never been dealt with. There are not the courage and the conviction to take on the powers that be and the substantial union membership that is involved, through such things as the SDA. There is a huge flow of income from compulsory union fees via the major retailers, Coles and Woolworths, to the SDA, which, ipso facto, is a support mechanism for the Labor Party. I would imagine there is something approaching $100 million a year in union fees. This is why these people have so much market power and why they dominate the market and the political environment.

With the renewable energy target we really should deal with all forms of energy. The fuel that drives your car is one. With this bill we could move to things such as greater use of biorenewable fuels. We know that the price of ethanol is between 70c and 80c a litre. This is a renewable which would not force the price up; it would force the price down. It is so peculiar that we are looking at including such things as electricity, which will only force the price of the product in one direction, and that is up, but we are not concentrating more on something that everybody wants, which is cheaper fuel. We can do that by greater utilisation of such things as ethanol and biodiesel. That would force the price down. But, for whatever reason, there has obviously been a form of making sure that something that would deliver a benefit to the Australian people and the environment has been avoided in a substantive form.

What we look for as we progress through this issue is whether there will be authentic decoupling of this bill. That is really the crux of why this negotiation process goes forward. The government has said they will do it in good faith. Far from not having any backbone or being missing in action, the government and the opposition—and I think it is good for the Australian people to see this—are at the negotiation table. That is what the Australian people hope to see far more of in this chamber and in the process of the parliament.

The only person who is ever missing in action is Senator Fielding. It is always a mystery where Senator Fielding is off to. In fact, most of the time it is a mystery as to where he actually is. This is a person whose position on an issue changes like the weather—it changes from hour to hour. Maybe he should have changed his position to being open to negotiation as well. The form of negotiation that the Liberal-National coalition is engaged in shows the Australian people that we do not have a belligerent stance on the environment; it is one of trying to arrive at a resolution, except when that resolution gets to a point where you hang people out to dry. You cannot do that—hanging people out to dry for no real effect.

As we move forward with a renewable energy target we have to acknowledge that a lot of people around the world are not, and these are the people we are trading with. There is no sense in just closing down our aluminium industry—having it wander over to China or somewhere else where there will be none of these imposts. Not only would we lose the capacity to employ Australian families, not only would we lose the capacity to earn income domestically; we would become the one who imports the product and contributes to the problem to a far worse extent overseas. You want to make a clear statement about what is important when you want to reduce emissions. What do we do when we get to a position where we say, ‘If the aluminium industry stays in Australia, it is a far better environmental prospect than if it sets up in China, India or Vietnam’? What is the responsible thing to do if we are being completely honest with our approach to the environment? That would be to keep this industry in Australia with the controls that we have.

The Labor Party will go on voicing their moralistic bulwark about the environment. It is a deception, because they are not actually going to do anything for the global environment. They will not change the temperature of the globe by one degree. The impact of any of these propositions is so infinitesimally small. They have no effect on climatic conditions. What they do have a huge effect on is the capacity of working families to go home with cheques in their back pockets, the capacity of people to go to the supermarket and be able to afford the groceries in their shopping baskets and the capacity for them to have a sense of dignity in their lives, where they have some cold, hard folding stuff in their wallets so that they can participate in a comparable standard of living. But we will not do anything for our nation if we move everything we have in this nation to another nation. We just cannot go on like that.

When he became Prime Minister, Mr Rudd said, ‘I want to live in a nation that produces things.’ That was his statement. But now we are seeing all these moralistic laws, one after another, that do nothing more than remove our capacity to be a nation that produces things. To be a strong, successful nation that produces things in its own right, the best thing that Australia can do is advance the ideal of maintaining industry and not losing jobs. We will prove nothing to the world if we come up with these wonderful schemes of which the only effect is to destroy jobs. That will prove to the world that, if you go down the environmental path, you will render yourself destitute. That is not smart. We have seen what has happened in California. They had this wonderful ideal of a green nirvana, but they are broke. That is not a good recommendation to do business that way. People have spoken about Germany, with its renewable energy component, but the price of electricity there has gone through the roof. These are the issues. We have one extremely strong advantage in our nation: we have cheap power. We have to keep that advantage. The benefit of cheap power is that you can pay people more. If you have expensive power, you end up having to employ fewer people or pay people less. The only other alternative is that the industry closes down and goes somewhere else. I do not think that is the alternative we want.

The Labor Party talk about the green economy and green jobs—it is just terminology. When you ask people in the community, ‘Do you know anybody who’s employed in a green job?’ the answer is generally, ‘No, we don’t.’ Yet we are told that there are going to be tens of thousands of these jobs that will just arrive. We are not quite sure what they will be, but they will just arrive.

This renewable energy target legislation would be an open door to wind power, which is fine. It is easy to construct heaps of wind turbines—all across the landscape, everywhere you look: wind turbines. Of course, after a while, they will start to be an annoyance to people. A debate we are having at the moment is that people do not like wind turbines and find them to be a blight on the landscape. Everything has its time and its tenor and things turn against it, but, if wind turbines are all the renewable energy we have, what happens to the geothermal energy in northern South Australia and western Queensland? We have to ensure the capacity to develop that industry as we move ahead.

Why do we want renewable energy? We want to be carbon efficient. One of the most carbon-efficient forms of power is nuclear power. Last night and today, Paul Howes has been out there saying that it is madness that the Labor Party stick to this multiple position. They believe it is morally right to have uranium mines—first they choose an arbitrary number of mines that Australia should have and then all of a sudden they suggest we should have more uranium mines, so we can export uranium to countries all around the world, even to countries that produce nuclear weapons—but we are not allowed to use uranium to produce power in our own nuclear power plants. When will this complete discrepancy in philosophical positions be put aside? It looks like a farce. How can you have your feet in both camps? You either believe that uranium mining and everything to do with uranium is abhorrent and therefore ban mining it and everything to do with it—I would not support that; I think that is crazy—or you say, ‘Let’s take our nation to the forefront of nuclear technology.’ I think that move would be generally supported everywhere. The winds are changing—people are changing their position on this. And it looks even more ridiculous now when the head of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, is screaming at his own party to wake up and smell the roses. He says this is where Labor should be if they want to be relevant. He has even laid down the challenge that either the Labor Party change the agenda or the coalition will change it when we get back into government. When we do, we will have the support of the AWU—we will have the support of half your own side.

I welcome Paul Howes’s contribution to this debate and I look forward to the Labor Party having some form of epiphany, dealing with the nutty Left, getting with the agenda and, if they are fair dinkum about reducing carbon emissions, developing a form of technology that will actually deliver that in spades rather than clinging to a 1954 Cold War mentality which the rest of the world has moved on from. In France, about 80 per cent of the power comes from nuclear power. Our neighbours—countries like Indonesia, India, China and Japan—are all using it, and Japan would have more reason than most not to. We had to get the technology for our latest reactor from Argentina. The United States, Britain, France and a myriad of European countries are all using it. Israel has it. The technology is developing around the world, yet the Labor Party insist that Australia be a world leader on climate policy. It is a crazy position. They talk about being world leaders, yet when the world is racing away from their archaic position they sit back and have internal party discussions about why we should stay mired in about 1954.

The challenge is there for the Labor Party. If they are really interested in reducing carbon emissions they have the potential to do it. There are people in their own party screaming at them to get with the program. Who is holding Australia back from this technology? As Paul Howes rightly pointed out, we can be the Middle East in our generation of wealth from nuclear energy. It would mean immense wealth coming into our nation. We could also embellish it and show how smart we can be as a nation by developing the technology to assist people around the world—to help those in surrounding countries to raise their standard of living by the development of technology from the product that we will most likely be exporting to them. But we cannot do it if we do not have a nuclear energy industry of our own. It is just lazy.

I see Minister Carr in the chamber. He is supposed to be the person leading the world down the enlightened path of doing clever things, but this is just ridiculous. Minister Carr knows in his heart that this is the way we have to go. We cannot just bog ourselves down.

The challenge I lay to the Labor Party today is that if you want to reduce carbon emissions, yes, let us look at renewable energy and do what we can but you must be authentic in your decoupling of the bill. And please get with the program. Change your party’s position and, if it is really important to save the globe, as you want to do, get with the program and bring about nuclear energy. If you do not do that, then you look completely and utterly hypocritical, foolish and perverse. None of the rest of the statements and arguments about being clever, being carbon effective, developing jobs and being a world leader stand if one of the greatest components of reducing carbon emissions is ignored by your own party.