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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4187

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (13:46): I rise to oppose Senator Abetz's motion to suspend standing orders in order to defy the will of the Senate. We have just had two votes in the Senate, where the majority of senators have said they want the carbon tax repeal bills dealt with separately and they do not want them brought on in contravention of a Senate decision that they will not be debated before 14 July, when the Senate committee reports. We have just had those two votes, and we have got Senator Abetz absolutely thumbing his nose at the majority in the Senate, who said that that is what they wanted to happen. As we have just seen, suddenly we have the government coming in here wanting an urgency motion for this repeal package to take precedence over all government business. If this suspension is successful, the motion would be to have the repeal package brought on and given precedence. Well, the Senate did not agree to it.

I remember when I was first elected to this place and the then Prime Minister John Howard had a majority in both houses. He treated the Senate with contempt. He changed the Senate committee procedures and made it almost impossible to get up a Senate committee investigation into anything. We went for years without being able to get a Senate inquiry into a number of issues. Now, on the very first day of the new Senate, we have Senator Abetz and the Abbott government defying the will of the Senate as has been expressed—not just once, but twice, in the two motions just voted on. The majority said that, no, they do not want to be pressed, pushed and bullied into this by the Abbott government. Just because the Prime Minister went out and said that Whyalla would be wiped off the face of the map did not mean to say it happened. It did not happen. He went out and said that an emissions trading scheme was a tax. It was never a tax. It is not a tax. It was a fixed price of an emissions trading scheme, and that remains the case.

So the wind has gone out of the sails of Senator Abetz today. He thought he could come in here and bully the new Senate into doing exactly what the government wanted. He thought he would be able to rush out there and say, 'We don't run a democracy. We're in charge. We're going to bully the Senate into doing what we said it should do.' Well, no; the Senate just voted differently. The Senate does not want these bills to take precedence over everything else, nor does it want standing orders be suspended to enable it to happen. It just voted twice to the contrary. That is what should be respected. Those votes say that those bills cannot come on before 14 July. That is how it should be.

This is a really important matter of principle for this period of government and this new Senate. If we get to the point where the government feels it can bully people into changing a vote that they have just made, that it can come over here and try to push people into doing things which they had clearly made a decision not to do, then how are we going to end up in this Senate? I come back to the fundamental point, and that is: this Senate should have the opportunity to debate these bills separately, to debate them when the Senate committee reports. The date for reporting was 14 July. During that time, we will hear from more people. Today 59 economists came out pointing out what the Prime Minister does not understand, and that is that climate change is an economic issue. Sir Nicholas Stern, a leading global economist, years ago was pointing out that the costs of acting are far less than the costs of not acting. Economists everywhere are talking about the costs of the destruction of extreme weather events and the likely changes, the idea of non-trade tariff barriers being erected around various economies and Australia being punished, the risks associated with nonaction. All of those things are economic. That is why we have President Obama wanting climate change on the G20 agenda. It is why other countries want it on the G20 agenda.

Senator Williams interjecting

Senator MILNE: Contrary to Senator Williams's view, President Obama would love to have an emissions trading scheme, but he is blocked by the Tea Party and others who share Senator Williams's views. If it were up to President Obama, there would be an emissions trading scheme in the United States. What he has done with his policy now is to enable that at the subnational level. But do not allow this government to bully the Senate into changing its mind. We will not be suspending standing orders to allow the government to try to get around the decisions that have been made.