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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4268

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (18:22): As the chamber knows very well, there was a process in place and that process started with the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee having a reporting date of 14 July, next Monday, for the tabling of their report into this package of carbon tax repeal bills. What we have today is a farcical attempt by government senators to change that entire process, all for their own political advantage. This Senate knew its business and it set the dates according to its order of business. Yet the government has come in and, for the purposes of some political stunt, tried to change the process in order to allow these bills to be debated forthwith. The opposition and the majority of senators in this place—as we know because we had this debate earlier today—agreed that the process should stand.

We believe in proper process. We know that, through the committee process, which is an important part of being in the Senate because this is the house of review, there would be a review of the legislation that was before it. What we are talking about here is substantial legislation on what has been described by many, including world leaders, as the most important and compelling issue facing our globe at this time. But this legislation was not even allowed to be put through the process of an inquiry, with public hearings to hear from experts as to its merits, to inform the senators in this place whether it was decent legislation to pass. We were not allowed to have that process occur, despite the opposition senators asking for it and despite its being custom and practice, time and time again, for the Senate committee process of an inquiry, to call for submissions and to have dates when hearings are held.

The government senators would not allow that to happen. Through that process, or lack of process, they were silencing climate scientists, economists, professionals and experts in the field. What did they get in return? They had 59 economists, including John Hewson, coming out today and stating clearly that there needs to be a price on carbon and legal limits on carbon pollution. Those kinds of voices were silenced in the Senate committee process. Labor does not stand for this. We stand very clearly for an emissions trading scheme. The government did not want to hear experts that agree with Labor, experts that agree with an emissions trading scheme, experts that agree that the carbon repeal bills are wrong as they stand and that there does need to be an amendment to allow for an emissions trading scheme to be introduced. I feel very frustrated by the fact that this government has not allowed proper process to be carried out through the Senate committee structure.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Well, why don't you just move your amendments?

Senator SINGH: We know that, despite that, the voices of so many experts in the field have not been silenced. They have come out very strongly in support of what they believe is the right stance. It is a stance based on science, Senator Macdonald, which I encourage you to take up. Take up reading the CSIRO's annual report. Take up reading some of the peer reviewed work by the climate commission that you shut down. Take up reading some of the expert reports by Professor Ross Garnaut—

Senator Ian Macdonald: A real independent fellow, that guy!

Senator SINGH: and from the Academy of Science. The list I could give you could be quite long. I would not be surprised that you have not read one iota from some of those scientific experts.

The thing about science is that is based on evidence, it is based on experiment, it is based on fact. You cannot deny it. On top of that, the type of science we are talking about, climate science, has all been peer reviewed. How can the government completely ignore the umpteen number of scientists that have made it very clear that global warming is occurring, that climate change is real, that we just had the warmest May ever, that we just had the hottest summer ever, that there is a link between natural disasters occurring and changes in our climate? How can you deny it when there is so much scientific evidence in this space? That is why Labor acted when we were in government. That is why we stand by an emissions trading scheme now. And that is why I joined with my Labor colleagues this morning, outside in the cold at the front of Parliament House, with some 200 young Australians who want us to act on climate change. They do not want to see the government's approach of burying their heads in the sand, ignoring scientists and denying them the ability to contribute to Senate committee processes. They want to see our democracy working as it should. For it to work as it should, there should have been an inquiry, with some public hearings and a submissions process, and we should have heard from those experts in the field.

But, of course, the government senators did not want that. It does not fit with their agenda. What fits with their agenda is spending billions of dollars on direct action, on a wing and a prayer that some abatement by the biggest polluters might occur. Throw them some taxpayers' money and hope that they change their behaviour—no legal cap on pollution, just sitting back and saying, 'Here, have some taxpayer money, and let's just hope you might change your behaviour.' That has been thrown out of the water by so many economists and scientists, which is exactly what the government did not want to hear through a Senate public inquiry process. That is why those voices have been silenced. And that, I believe, is a threat to our democracy. If we have a government that is not going to stand by the proper processes of Senate committee structures, what does that mean for our democracy? This is supposed to be the government that is about freedom of speech.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30

Senator SINGH: As I said earlier, there have been some 59 economists today who were united in support for a price and a limit on carbon pollution. I raise this issue today because it is pertinent to what has been debated today here in the Senate—or, at least, the shenanigans that have been carried out by government senators in this place today in trying to stymie the process of a Senate committee in relation to these bills.

I raise the fact that these economists have made this statement today because one of them is the former Liberal leader, Dr John Hewson. He, along with the economist, Geoff Weir, and Australian professors from universities right across the globe have made it very clear today that we need to support a price on carbon and that we need a legal limit on carbon pollution. And that is exactly what Labor's policy is. It is to have an emissions trading scheme where you have a legal limit on carbon pollution.

What is most concerning here is the fact that the government does not seem to understand that, nor care about doing anything about that. This is despite these 59 economists and despite the number of scientists that have also made it very clear that this is the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon pollution in this nation. Of course, we also know these things are being put in place right across the globe.

But in relation to the bills, Labor's position has been very consistent. I know that Senator Abetz—and Senator Cormann, I think it was—and others on that side of the chamber today tried to make out that that has not been the case. It is certainly a furphy for them to try to drum that up now as some way of saving some credibility in their own situation, knowing that they have their own former Liberal leader coming out against their current position. Labor's position was consistent with the position that it took to the federal election last year, and that is that for these bills, yes, we do think that we need to move from a carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme. Unfortunately, these bills that are before us do much more than that.

If passed by the parliament these bills will also abolish any chance of Australia having a formal legal cap on carbon pollution and any chance of us moving to an emissions trading scheme. Therein lies the problem and therein lies the issue before this Senate: the fact that if these bills are passed that is what we will end up with. We will end up with no legal cap, and Australia will go far back in its credibility in tackling global warming. You have President Obama, China, South Korea, Germany and umpteen countries acting to put a legal cap on carbon pollution and then you have Australia just wanting to rip it up completely. That is something that Labor certainly will not stand for. We want to tackle climate change in the most cost-effective way possible and that is why we support terminating the carbon tax if it is replaced with an emissions trading scheme that puts a legal cap on pollution and lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate within that cap.

You would think that that kind of market based mechanism to deal with carbon pollution would be something that the Liberal Party would support. We know, in fact, that the Liberal Party actually did support it. John Howard, when Prime Minister, supported it. Malcolm Turnbull, when Leader of the Opposition, supported it. Christopher Pyne is on the public record supporting it. There are probably umpteen others within the Liberal Party that do support an emissions trading scheme because, let's face it, the vote was very close when they rolled Malcolm Turnbull.

I call on those government senators to let their voices be heard, because this debate is something that is going to affect our nation not only today but for years to come. And that is what I heard today from those young Australians—those young climate action Australians—who gave me this badge when I joined with my Labor colleagues to meet them this morning. Those young Australians wanted us to act on climate change. They do not want to see us end up with nothing, nor do they want to see some farcical policy where we give taxpayer funds to big polluters in the hope that they may change their behaviour, which will lead to some kind of abatement. It is a laughable policy and something without any credibility.

In the time left to me I want to talk a little bit about my home state of Tasmania, because I do come from one of the most renewable-energy-driven states in the country. Something that my new Senate colleague, Senator Lambie, and I have in common is our passion for Tasmania. That is something shared by my Tasmanian Labor Senate colleagues as well. One of those passions is about ensuring we have jobs growth and ensuring that Tasmania has economic advantages into the future. And if there is one area where there has been growth and which could continue to have growth it is in the renewable energy sector. But will all be lost—all lost!—with these bills if they are passed by this Senate.

That is something that the Palmer United Party and the government senators need to take heed of. It was only a week ago that Hydro Tasmania, our energy supplier in Tasmania, made it clear that the repeal of the carbon tax, as well as the uncertainty about the renewable energy target, would mean that they will cut nearly 100 jobs in Tasmania. That is to the detriment not only of Tasmania but of the rest of Australia, to which Hydro Tasmania sells its power through the grid. It is the long-term effect that will continue to affect all the other renewable energy businesses and the investors who want to invest into this space. Hydro Tasmania is a key one for my state of Tasmania.

What we have from the government if the carbon tax is repealed is nothing. There will be no emissions trading scheme in its place; there will be absolutely nothing. That is not good enough for Labor senators. That is not good enough for the Labor opposition. We stand for renewable energy. We stand for the renewable energy target, which will lead to investment into renewable energy jobs and innovation and to the growth of wind energy, solar energy and all the good things that come from ensuring that we create clean energy. That is why we stand for the renewable energy target and for an emissions trading scheme. We want to ensure that there is a legal cap on pollution and that there are incentives that drive change in our economy for the creation of clean energy. That outcome will be achieved only through the architecture that is provided in the emissions trading scheme and by keeping the renewable energy target. I highlight the fact that Tasmania certainly will be disadvantaged by the loss of any legal cap on pollution and of any price mechanism.

I go back to what those 59 leading economists highlighted today in their open letter. We highlighted earlier that Senator Macdonald was not very au fait with some of the science and what some of the experts in this field had said. These peer reviewed experts in their field highlighted evidence that there is global warming, that there is a need to act on climate change, that we did just experience the hottest summer and the hottest May on record and that we need to do something about it, especially in relation to natural disasters but also for the sake of our children into the future. I refer to their open letter because they refer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has made very clear that human influence:

… through activities such as accelerated and large scale burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests, is warming the globe and that the impacts of climate change are being felt across the world. These findings are supported by the leading scientific bodies of the world, including the CSIRO and the Australian Academy of Science.

They are two key bodies in this debate that were not able to share their research with the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, which considered these bills before they came into this chamber for debate. I raise that because those are economists highlighting the work of scientists. There is a link here between the environment and the economy. The link is the real risk and shame that ending a legal cap on pollution, ending a price on carbon pollution, will lead to a real deficit in our economy, a deficit in the sense of the lack of renewables— (Time expired)