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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8528

Senator RYAN (1:51 PM) —Here we are again debating the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills three months and a few days after the Senate first rejected the legislation. I think this timing belies the true agenda of this government. While our debate today is about the carbon pollution reduction scheme bills—all 13 of them—it is important to outline what this debate is not about: it is not about climate change and it is not about the human impact on it, whether in absolute terms or by degree. This parliament can no more unilaterally change the climate than it can make it rain, for Australia represents such a small percentage of the world’s carbon and other emissions that it is nothing more than extreme hubris to think that we alone can determine this issue.

This is a debate about these bills and Labor’s ETS, not a debate about the science of climate change, and it is important that we begin from this principle as the government seeks to conflate these two issues, not for the purposes of informing debate but to limit it, and for brazenly partisan goals. These bills were rejected by all the non-government senators in this place just over three months ago—they are truly friendless—and nothing has changed. These bills still have all the flaws they did three months ago. The government has artificially created the timeline we face here today, firstly, by insisting that the vanity of our Prime Minister comes before our national interest as he sought legislative approval for his flawed ETS before Copenhagen and, secondly, in its efforts to intimidate the Senate with the threat of an early election. The first excuse has been destroyed by the failure of Copenhagen. Despite all the rhetoric and desperate attempts to claim otherwise, the lack of a legally binding document for consideration by countries and governments and the fallback to nothing more than a statement of intention belies the fact that there was not previously—and there is now—no need for Australia to act unilaterally before the rest of the world. The second excuse is so immature that it is not worthy of a response in this place.

The Senate has a duty to protect the people from governments intoxicated with their own power and righteousness and, just as it has stood in the way of previous dominating executives convinced of their own brilliance, it will continue to exercise this power of review. Indeed, this is all the more important as we know the Labor Party exercises its power as a monolithic block. Just as it constrains internal debate by factions and deals, it seeks to constrain debate in this place with false timelines.

What has also happened is that the rhetoric of the climate change alarmists has become more extreme—I hasten to add that it is indeed a minority who fall into this camp—and there are many Australians who have legitimate concerns about this issue. But this debate is increasingly dominated by a noisy and belligerent minority at the expense of a rational debate about the problem and the consequences and our ability to address these. Listening to these extremists every week, every month, the consequences of not passing these bills becomes greater—centimetres of forecast sea level increases become metres and fractions of degrees become calamitous increases in temperature. But what they do not say is that these bills will achieve nothing. None of these alleged scenarios will be avoided by the passage of these bills this week. It also betrays another aspect of the agenda of those who might be termed ‘climate change extremists’: to create a crisis, to scare people and to frighten them into silence.

Last week the Prime Minister raised the spectre of that great historic example of scientific intimidation—the suppression and trial of Galileo—when he said in the other place, ‘It is as if we are back at the trial of Galileo.’ But the reality is that Galileo was persecuted for challenging conventional wisdom and the powers that be. He challenged prevailing wisdom. The Prime Minister, the minister and the alarmists among us have more in common with Pope Urban VIII and the suppression of alleged heretical views than they do with scientists challenging the status quo, as they seek to belittle, sideline and attack anyone who raises an alternative view or question. The label ‘sceptic’ is the modern expression of the Middle Ages accusation of being a heretic. Your views will not be considered, regardless of their merit. But this pales into insignificance when considering the language used by a small number of extremists in this debate. For some proponents of radical action on emissions to use the term ‘denier’ and subtly or otherwise attempt to conflate the Holocaust with this debate is offensive in the extreme. It belittles the greatest abuse of alleged science in the history of mankind as well as the millions of Holocaust victims. It simply has no place in this debate or any other of this sort.

I remain open to changing science. In an area where technology and knowledge is developing as quickly as this, it cannot be deemed by a government or any institution as settled—other than to suppress its further development. I do not claim to make a definitive statement on climate science, but I know that any attempt to suppress debate can only constrain its future development. Indeed the Australian people do not react well to being told what they may or may not think or discuss or to any attempt to limit or circumscribe debate about an issue like this, and it will do its proponents no favours. The great gift of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment was that knowledge became contestable. It is a hallmark of human progress and we should not resile from this principle in this or other debates.

I highlighted earlier that these bills still contain all the flaws that they did just over three months ago. These bills represent a massive tax grab—tens of billions of dollars will be stripped out of the hands of Australians with no offsetting tax cuts elsewhere. The size of government will radically grow. This bill and these taxes will ensure that the government has indeed created for itself a new tax base to fund its profligacy and the debt it has accumulated in only two short years. But it will come at the expense of millions of Australians choosing to spend the money they have earnt in the way that they choose; it will come at the expense of economic activity; it will come at the expense of jobs; and it will be handed to whomever the government deems worthy of support, assistance or compensation.

This is partly justified on the hope of these so-called ‘green jobs’. I outlined in my last speech on these bills just over three months ago some of the research that has been undertaken on the true cost of these so-called green jobs. While the government can create jobs through subsidies, mandates and direct employment, these all come at a cost of the jobs of others. They have come at the expense of other jobs unless they add to overall employment. But we do not hear of these costs or of these job losses because they are hidden from public view. Imposing indirect costs on all to benefit a few is a path we abandoned years ago. We know that it failed; we know that hiding the costs of such programs is unfair; and we know that it hits the weakest in our job market and in our community. The mere adoption of the language of the market does not make something a market solution. We have spent decades unwinding the influence of government over such basic decisions in our economy and our community, and Australia and Australians are unquestionably better-off for it. But these bills represent a massive reversal of that. These bills will fulfil the aspirations of the Prime Minister and place government at the centre of the economy, as he put it earlier this year. These bills open up the opportunity for government patronage and preference to a degree this country has not seen since the days of the Tariff Board. If decisions about commercial viability of projects and businesses are to come down to the government providing assistance or exemptions from general laws then, quite simply, we have got the framework wrong.

Sadly, it appears that decades of misadventure and miserable failure in this regard, particularly by the Labor Party, have not taught this government any lessons. Furthermore, these bills, once passed, will have great impediments on their future amendment or repeal, for the bills create a personal property right and, as we know in this place, section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution limits the power of the parliament to the acquisition of property on just terms. The institution of a scheme such as this without detailed consideration of this particular issue is, quite simply, irresponsible. We should give much more serious consideration to the prospect of binding future generations to such a degree. Our knowledge is not perfect; this scheme does not—

Debate interrupted.