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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8645

Senator FERGUSON (9:44 PM) —My first question to this chamber on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills is: why on earth are we debating these bills at this time? We have a Copenhagen conference, which is going to take place very shortly, in which not one other country is committing to the same sorts of proposals that this government is putting to this parliament—not one other country. In my almost-18 years in this parliament—and I heard Senator Carr talking about his 16 years earlier today—I have not seen more important legislation come before this parliament. We spent some 28 hours debating a regional forest agreement. We spent some 50 hours debating the Wik amendments to the native title legislation. And yet this government would have us debate these most important bills in what is just a matter of a few hours at the end of a session. I cannot believe that this government, or even my own party for that matter, would even consider debating these bills in such a short time. What is their aim? What do they really want to achieve? Do they want to truncate the debate? Do they want the Greens not to be able to put forward their 24 packages of amendments? Do they want there not to be a full debate from the crossbench senators? We are talking about the Senate, where all bills are looked at in far greater depth than they ever are in the House of Representatives.

We are talking about bills that would put into place a scheme that would have absolutely no effect on the world’s environment whatsoever—no effect whatsoever. We are responsible for less than 1½ per cent of the world’s emissions, and yet we would go out there and put into place bills which will say that we are committing Australians in the future to pay in excess, by way of taxes, through a new tax regime—which is what the general population of Australia does not understand—which will affect them forever. Once we put these bills into place, there is no chance they will be repealed—no chance whatsoever, because the compensation that would be liable to be repaid should we repeal these bills would be far greater than this country could afford.

We have a situation where deals are apparently being negotiated, between the climate change minister and the representative of the Liberal Party, which in fact exclude everybody else. There are only a couple of people involved in the deals. And we are expected to fall into line with whatever might be decided. I have not come into this place for the last 18 years to allow such a thing to take place without protesting at both the process and the outcome. As I move around my rural district in South Australia, I cannot find anybody who thinks we should pass these bills—well, that’s not true; there is one person who has approached me who believes we should be passing these bills, because they feel that climate change is a fact and that it is affecting all the things we do in Australia and that, if we don’t show the way, we are letting down ourselves and the rest of the world. But on Saturday afternoon I was at a function where there was a group of rural people and a group of townspeople from rural South Australia. Every single person I spoke to urged me not to support these bills. And, Madam Acting Deputy President, can I tell you: I will not ignore the pleas of those people. I will not ignore the pleas of those people who say, ‘You should not pass these bills.’

I am not sure that, if we decided to debate these bills after the Copenhagen conference, I would have the same view. I will tell you why. I may be wrong—in my 18 years in this parliament, I have been wrong once or twice; I am quite prepared to admit it—but if the rest of the world, if the United States, Canada and all those other countries in the world who have deferred their decisions until after Copenhagen, were to come to an agreement that we should have an emissions trading scheme that affects everybody in the world, then I would probably say, ‘Well, if it’s not going to affect our exporters, if it’s not going to affect our primary producers, if it’s not going to affect all the people I am very close to in Australia, I may consider taking out some insurance.’ But I will only do so on the understanding that the rest of the world, the other countries in the world, are prepared to do the same—and, until they are prepared to do the same, I simply am not prepared to support these bills. And I will not, regardless of what my party might decide or despite whatever other advice I may get.

Debate interrupted.