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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4179


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (13:09): This is a matter which brought me to politics in the first place, so I am very pleased to speak on these bills today. As much as Senator Abetz would like us to believe that the Australian government has a mandate to bash these bills through without comment, I would remind him that the Australian people have seen fit to hang the numbers in this chamber; that we have the largest ever assembly of crossbenchers, people who have not yet had time to read the bills, let alone critique them and come to an informed view, which is why we engage in committee processes in the first place; and that although Mr Abbott does control the numbers in the House of Representatives—which is why we have seen debate there approach the proportions of a sham—the Senate works very differently and thank goodness it does. We have the most diverse upper house probably in the history of the Federation and, given the importance of the bills we are dealing with, the very least we could do is pay the committee the respect it deserves and give it the time to produce and table its report.

I will be very clear: this is one bill on which I have made up my mind. The most important issue facing this parliament today and facing other parliaments and assemblies around the world is what kind of policy we bring into the age of climate change. We have committed ourselves already to dangerous climate change and to dangerous degrees of global warming. The question now is whether we plunge on and commit ourselves and our children to catastrophic climate change, where societies' ability to adapt to what is coming down the line will be overwhelmed.

We have also heard Senator Abetz and others on the government benches adopting this very thin veneer of pretending to care about climate change, but the cat was let out of the bag by the fact that they are still happy and content to adopt a five per cent target, which is so brazenly at odds with what the scientific community has been telling us for decades. It should be treated as no more than a sham. That is why the government's direct action policy should be seen for what it is: a policy designed by people who could not care less whether or not it works because, through some strange artefact, the government appears to have decided that what the weather is doing at the moment is some kind of socialist conspiracy.

How utterly bizarre! How could otherwise intelligent, reasonable legislators, educated people, somehow bring themselves to believe that NASA, CSIRO, the Hadley Centre and the Bureau of Meteorology have got it wrong and Lord Monckton somehow got it right? I should not address him as a lord. The House of Lords have asked that he not be addressed as a lord, so I will not. They believe that somehow people like Andrew Bolt have got it right and that the global science community have somehow become engaged and enmeshed in a socialist conspiracy? What are you people huffing in your party room, if that is where you have got to?

These acts should stand. The government would rip $18 billion out of the economy—out of direct transfers to vulnerable Australians, out of energy efficiency throughout the business community and out of changes to the tax scales to protect people who can least afford increases in electricity prices. Bear in mind that the overall impact, more or less, is as Treasury predicted: equal to about a third of the cost impact of the GST when it was introduced. Those who were unable to pay for that were compensated—indeed, as Senator Milne reminds us, were overcompensated.

Even more importantly, the carbon tax would transfer some of that money from dirty industry to the clean energy industries of the future. The package was not perfect but it is a lot better than what this current government proposes to do, which is simply to throw a wrecking ball through it. You will be throwing a wrecking ball through Australian industry. While those on the other side of the chamber bemoan the demise of manufacturing in this country, they are setting out to systematically sabotage the clean energy sector, which has extraordinary manufacturing potential for Australia, particularly for my state of WA, which has been dubbed 'the Saudi Arabia of sunlight'. All this shows that the government simply cannot be taken seriously.

This is policy designed by people who have managed to persuade themselves that the most serious public policy issue facing this country in the 21st century simply does not exist. How nice that must be for you, to wake up in the morning simply believing that it is not there, it is just not true and it is just not happening. You wake up, you tighten that blindfold around your eyes and you come into parliament to try to persuade the rest of the country that, simply because you have deluded yourselves into believing this is not real, we should believe it and go that way as well. It is real and it is, indeed, an uncomfortable and an inconvenient truth. But it is the truth. You cannot argue with the weather; you cannot debate the composition of the atmosphere.

You bring forward these repeal bills. However, the Australian Greens are of the view that they should be debated and that the committee should be allowed to report. We are strongly of the view that the new crossbenchers and the other senators on the back bench of the Labor and Liberal-National parties should be given the opportunity, given the gravity of these measures, to read the bills and to analyse exactly what it is that you are proposing to do, to form a considered view and then, I would hope, to consign these repeal bills to the dustbin of history. As Senator Milne mentioned previously, people will be looking back at these debates. They will be asking how on earth Australia became the first and only industrialised country in the world to roll back a functional carbon price instrument.

I am a little tired of being accused of being a socialist for being one of the ones promoting a flexible pricing instrument to deal with this public policy question. That is straight out of the Karl Marx playbook—that you would have a market instrument to sort out the most efficient and most rapid way of restructuring electricity markets around the country, driving industry and householders towards more efficient consumption of energy, thereby lowering electricity bills and eventually eliminating them when the renewable energy infrastructure is completely in place. You have somehow established in your own minds that a floating market instrument as one component of public policy for dealing with this issue is somehow a socialist initiative. How utterly bizarre. You have completely taken leave of reality.

That is not the only thing: the Australian Greens believe that one of the most important components of the clean energy package, which the coalition also proposes to wreck, is the construction of and investment in the next generation of renewable energy power stations, such as solar thermal plants. Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Wright were buoyed over recent days with the announcement that Alinta, themselves a very substantial fossil player, are now undertaking a feasibility study into converting a section of South Australia's power grid into a dedicated solar thermal plant. That fires the starting gun for me. I think we are going to beat you, Senator Wright. I think the goldfields in WA will be the first to get one of those built. We look forward to the competition.

Senator Waters interjecting

Senator LUDLAM: Senator Waters might like to step up for the western part of Queensland. Our continent is drenched in sunlight and this is the fuel for the power stations of the future. You can try to roll it back all you like and maybe you—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—will be successful today, Senator Abetz. Maybe you will succeed through these procedural shenanigans to have these bills brought on and rammed through. But I do not think you are aware of just how rapidly the electricity sector is changing. What has been posed as this so-called death spiral of the black-power generators in the network business, at least on the east coast of Australia, is in fact the sign of an industry being born, an industry that we desperately need to perform and outperform expectations, as it has been doing.

You can sit there and study your repeal bills. You can craft your speeches about toxic taxes and rehearse the same tired talking points that got you through last September because people genuinely believed your campaign of fearmongering—that Whyalla would be wiped off the map, that people would be priced out of their homes and that electricity bills would go through the roof. None of it happened. That is why it did not work when it came to the Western Australian by-election. The talking points no longer worked. The stale lines that you were rolling out meant that the combined vote of the coalition collapsed by another five per cent. It was not a glitch, not the kind of bump that always happens in by-elections. It was the continuation of a long-term decline in the Liberal Party vote. It was 50 per cent of the Western Australian vote a decade ago. Now it is 34. And we knocked another five per cent off you while you were out there flailing your arms about, talking about the toxic carbon tax. The Greens recorded their strongest ever vote in Western Australia in the Senate.

The reason it is not working anymore is that the fear campaign was exposed as hollow. Whyalla is still chugging along pretty nicely. Alinta is now proposing solar thermal in South Australia. The off-grid miners are first in the queue in Western Australia to eliminate their diesel fuel bills and their gas bills by building solar plants at their mining operations. The politics have changed, the policy has changed and the air is warming around us.

All I can do is urge the crossbenchers to join with the Greens in opposing this motion, in taking time and giving these bills due consideration because, in my view, there will not be a more important set of bills that we deal with, certainly not in this term of parliament. We cannot be the first country in the world to roll back a functional carbon price that is actually changing the structure of electricity markets, at least on the east coast. It is driving down emissions in the electricity sector and we are finally seeing that economic tipping point of the next generation of renewable energy technology and the increasing economic advantages of eliminating your fuel bills—coal, gas and oil. The penny is finally dropping that that revolution is here.

If you think you can hold that back with these votes today, you are mistaken. Maybe you will manage to cost us five years, as Australian industry slips further backwards down the curve, outcompeted by the United States, the Chinese and the Middle East—they also have a fair amount of sunlight there. Is that really what you are after? You will not be able to say that you were not warned. You went into this with your eyes open. I look forward to committing to the vote: proper, due consideration of these bills rather than this reckless, headlong rush that you are engaged in on behalf of your donors in the coal, oil and gas industries.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Abetz has moved a motion that has been requested to be divided into three components. The question is the first component of the motion, that these bills may proceed without formalities.