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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8643

Senator RYAN (9:37 PM) —Earlier today I concluded the first part of my speech on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills by outlining my concerns with these bills creating a personal property right and the implications that would have to future amendment or repeal of the bills because of the constitutionally entrenched protection of private property. 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 promise to address the problem it claims to, and future generations should not be weighed down with the threat of potentially billions of dollars of compensation claims if they need to amend or repeal this scheme.

This scheme represents the single most significant change to our economy in decades. It is a hidden, embedded tax that all Australians will pay but about which none will know the details or the true costs. Indeed, as Terry McCrann has pointed out, it is like a variable GST. It effectively reverses the tariff cuts we have seen in the last three decades but, perversely, it replaces them with a tariff on internal production, for which the government then seeks to pass on compensation to preferred companies and industries affected and to select individuals.

Indeed, it has specific effects in my own state. There are very serious concerns about the stability and future of electricity generation in Victoria. And, with our national electricity market, this will affect most Australians. Respected business commentator, Robert Gottliebsen, comprehensively outlined this when he stated only a week ago:

Within a week of the current proposed legislation being passed, the boards of each of the companies that own the Latrobe generators will meet with their auditors on whether the companies’ debt covenants have been broken. Almost certainly a majority, if not all the boards, will decide to appoint official administrators.

There is a real risk that that is what this legislation in its current form will do, with the associated risk to the security of our energy supplies. This parliament should not be contemplating such a result. The government will not even entrust the people or this parliament with all of the information regarding this. We are asked to take their commitments at face value. I mentioned earlier this afternoon the continued refusal to release the details of the Morgan Stanley report. If this legislation passes and electricity generation becomes unreliable, rather than something Australians—and particularly Victorians—can take for granted, it will rest on this government’s head.

One final issue I would like to raise is that of procedural fairness. This has been covered by a number of my colleagues but it is worth restating. These bills contain extraordinary powers for the government, in the guise of the Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority. It can require companies to keep and produce voluminous records and it can demand information and force questions to be answered—all without the traditional protections against self-incrimination and the right to silence. These are historical freedoms and liberties that this parliament should be loath to whittle away—and most definitely not without a much more substantial level of public security and debate about these specific issues.

I state again: this is not a debate about climate change; it is a debate about Labor’s proposed flawed ETS. The climate is undoubtedly changing, but this is a highly complex issue and the science will constantly evolve. I am not standing here saying that it is not happening, nor that people are not contributing to it, but that I do believe that firm conclusions about the degree of change or our contribution cannot be settled here today or this week.

I am in favour of risk management, both on economic and environmental grounds. Acting to ensure we limit and ameliorate the risk of climate change—anthropogenic and otherwise—and reduce the amount of pollution in our sky and local environment is common sense. I am in favour of good policy to achieve these goals, but these bills will not achieve that. Any such action has to be affordable in order for it to be sustainable, and it has to be a burden fairly shared. I do not believe we should act unilaterally and in a way that hurts our economy. It is important to note that we do not have all of the information required to make these assessments. The Treasury modelling is flawed in its assumptions about international measures and other information has been concealed.

While ‘the economy’ is an abstract term to some, it represents the jobs, businesses, livelihoods and homes of our fellow Australians. And some are hit a lot harder than others—the dairy farmers across Victoria who will pay substantially higher costs despite the government’s claim that some agriculture will be exempt; the workers in the Latrobe Valley; those who work in energy-intensive industries, particularly those who are export exposed; and the thousands of small- and medium-size businesses and their employees who will see costs skyrocket. None of these qualify for taxpayer funded largesse and patronage. This package simply fails the fairness test.

When I buy an insurance policy for my home, I ask myself two questions. Firstly, I ask: does the policy protect me? Secondly, I ask: how much does it cost? This ETS fails on both counts. Firstly, it does not protect us. These bills will achieve virtually nothing in environmental terms. Indeed, the way these bills and the ETS are structured, they could well worsen the problem they aspire to address, by exporting emissions to other nations without our already high environmental standards and safeguards—along with the jobs of fellow Australians. The forecast events that the government claims justify this massive intrusion into every business and home will still occur. Secondly, it costs too much. Put simply, I pay hundreds to insure my home, but not tens of thousands of dollars. But thousands of Australians will lose their jobs on the altar of Australia acting first and millions of Australians will face higher costs and bills—and all for nought, as this legislation does not address the problem it claims to address and has no effect on the other 98 per cent of emissions around the world.

I have not been here long but, while all the decisions we take in this place are important, these bills are likely to be among the most significant in my time in this place—bigger than the GST, which was a once-off transition and transparent in its costs to the Australian people. These bills should not be rushed. They should not be determined on the basis of a deadline set by a government that has constantly shown that politics is more important than policy. We have the time to consider our position further. We have the time to better inform the Australian people of the real costs involved—as opposed to concealing them. We have the time to ensure the burden is fairly shared. The false deadline of Copenhagen has now been blown. We do not need to act now, in the rush of the last sitting hours of this year.