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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1414

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (11:20): It is a great shame that we have to speak to this matter today in the chamber, but there are many issues that seem to be confronting us with this new government that seek to undo the visionary work and to pull apart things that were established during the 43rd Parliament for the greater good of this community and, certainly in the long term, with a vision for all Australians, not just an expeditious view of the moment but a proper, mature and adult view of our responsibility to the future.

In 1990, an aspiring environmental lawyer by the name of Greg Hunt put the finishing touches to his honours thesis. It was titled A carbon tax to make the polluter pay and its conclusion was to propose the wide use of pollution taxes as a means of both raising revenue for environmental agencies and compelling polluters to decrease their emissions. Oh how the mighty ideals have fallen.

While the coalition pretend their farce of a policy that is Direct Action is a 'no regrets' solution, we all know that they are kidding themselves. Deep down there is at least one of them who must regret it—the minister for Wikipedia himself. It is rumoured that on the particularly quiet nights in Canberra you can hear him crying, overcome by the shame of his complete about-face. Day in, day out he tries to sell a policy designed by a Prime Minister who is on the record as describing climate change as 'absolute crap'. It is enough to drive one to tears. The very fact that the minister put in charge of dismantling Labor's market-based solution wrote an honours thesis advocating for one exposes this government's climate change policy as a sham.

The government is deceiving the Australian people on climate change. It is deceiving this parliament and it is also clearly deceiving itself. Action on climate change requires a market-based solution, and Labor's emissions trading scheme is certainly the most effective means of delivering it. Business knows it, the public knows it and—though he is loath to admit it—the environment minister himself knows it.

So I call on the coalition: if you really want to stop the waste, stop wasting this parliament's time by moving to repeal the most effective means of reducing carbon emissions. The coalition would do well to work with Labor—the real adults in the room—to move from a fixed price to an ETS by 1 July 2014. Future generations will not look kindly on this coalition government for dismantling our nation's commitment to develop a sustainable economy through market-based solutions, especially when its alleged policy alternative is nothing more than a glint in the environment minister's eye. It is a 'trust me' stance from someone who cannot even be trusted to stand by his very own words.

We have already seen on display in this parliament the fact that the government does have a trust deficit. They promised to stop the boats and buy the boats, but all they have done is hide the boats. They promised to end the waste, but instead they have spent close to $1 billion extra each week since coming to office and have removed all parliamentary oversight of how much more they can spend. There is no limit on their credit card now—so much for a budget emergency.

They promised that Australia was open for business, but instead they have blocked investment into the struggling GrainCorp and left Qantas and Holden flapping in the breeze. While I am sure that Qantas appreciates the airfares for Mr Abbott's flight to Johannesburg, it is not exactly going to cover the hundreds of millions of dollars shortfall in revenue or make up for the coalition's inaction.

For a government that promised to be the adults in the room, they are certainly acting like toddlers in the midst of a tantrum. The coalition's economic impotence has been on prominent display during its short time in office, and it is on display again here today in their efforts to replace Labor's comprehensive market-based solution with their own 'watch this space' command and control, white elephant Direct Action policy. It is laughable to think the coalition is demanding the repeal of Labor's solution to climate change with nothing more than a thought bubble as an alternative. No green paper, no white paper—nothing. Just, 'Trust us. We know what we're doing.'

But here we are, nonetheless, at this point. Labor has separated the government's legislation to give the coalition a chance to recover at least a shred of credibility on climate change by retaining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority. We do so because the nation demands action on climate change, and the initiatives of the CEFC and the CCA, though complementary to it, are not bound by the retention of a price on carbon.

I just want to put on the record some of the commentary that came out of the very short Senate hearing into the CEFC to make this point even more clearly. 'Rather than ''crowding out'' the private sector, the CEFC was ''crowding in'' banks that would not otherwise lend'. These were the words reported by Peter Hannam in his article 'Victim of a changed climate' in the Sydney Morning Heraldon 30 November. Jillian Broadbent, who is the chair of the CEFC, said to the committee, 'When you have a $10 billion fund, you can … have a discussion with the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank. If you did not have a $10 billion fund … you were just there to have a powwow.' That is the impact of having the CEFC. Similarly, to show how short-sighted this current Liberal government is, I want to put on the record John Hewson's view that the scrapping of the CEFC, along with the carbon price, was merely short-term politics. He says, 'It's not necessarily an economic or business position. It's a political position.' And it is a very bad political position.

I do not think that Jillian Broadbent could be declared as a great friend of Labor. Her role is as a specialist consultant for the Anglo-South African investment bank, Investec, and she actually said, 'I think we probably all know more Liberal Party people than we do Labor people,' when she was speaking to the Senate inquiry. She also made this statement, which I think is absolutely telling: 'If the bipartisan mood existed, everyone would be very excited about what the CEFC was doing.'

The problem is not with the CEFC or with the CCA. The problem is with the bloody-mindedness, the ideological bent, the denial of fact and the absence of a care for the future that is on show, with shame, for all to see in the legislation that is being pushed through this parliament by this shameful government that we are having to call to account today. The CEFC was doing its job of providing low-cost capital to stimulate investment in emission reduction, and the CCA needs to continue to do its job of providing independent advice to the government on the best climate change mitigation initiatives. You would think these two issues alone would easily garner bipartisan support but, as is too often the case with the Abbott coalition, you would be wrong. Put simply, this is not a government that sees climate change as a threat. It is not even a government that accepts the science of climate change, as my colleague in the Senate, Senator Lines, has just made so clearly evident in her speech. This government appears wilfully oblivious to the fact that consensus among climate scientists now is at 97 per cent. I do not know about you, Madam Acting Deputy President, but when I took home a test, having got 97 per cent on it, I used to be reasonably happy. I did get upset occasionally when I would get the reply, 'But what happened to the other three per cent?' There is a difference being on the 97 per cent side of the equation and deciding, as a government of a sovereign nation, to line up with the three per centers. There is something terribly wrong.

In 2009, the coalition walked away from climate change by electing a climate change sceptic leader, who is on the record saying he is 'hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change'. That was on the 7:30 Report on the ABC. Needless to say, it leaves little hope that this parliament can reach a bipartisan consensus when the coalition is led by someone who seems to have wandered far away from the truth and has perhaps just departed a flat earth society convention.

The Climate Change Authority's brief, to provide expert independent advice on climate change mitigation initiatives, is hardly revolutionary stuff. Labor set up the authority to ensure both the government of the day as well as the Australian public have the most comprehensive advice on how to expand Australia's renewable energy industry. It is chaired by a very reputable person, the former head of the Reserve Bank, Bernie Fraser, and it has a board of considerable expertise, consisting of highly qualified scientists—including Australia's Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb—economists, academics and professionals—just as the Australian people would expect: the most celebrated in the land gathered together to help us face the most significant challenges of our time. As a statutory body at arm's length from government, the CCA is able to provide an important independent voice to assist Australia's actions to mitigate the effects of climate change, without fear or favour.

But, perhaps, that is where the real problem lies for the Abbott coalition, because we have seen already this is a government addicted to secrecy and intrigue and seemingly obsessed with abolishing sources of independent advice which they cannot tamper with, distort or intimidate before they give their advice. Indeed, the government's first act in office was to sack senior public servants who had the temerity to do their job—that is, to provide frank and fearless advice for the government of the day. Sacking departmental heads Andrew Metcalfe, Don Russell and Blair Comley—as well as giving marching orders to Martin Parkinson from next year—clearly demonstrates the exact value the government places on frank and fearless advice. That is clearly none. What a dangerous stance to take—a government that refutes science, rails against fact and ignores or dismisses independent advice.

The Abbott coalition is trying to intimidate public servants and entire departments into submission. They do not want independent advice; they want an echo chamber. Greg Hunt is on the record stating his desired avenues for advice are from august bodies: the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and the environment department. But these are all bodies which are subject to government funding. Under the government's plan, they can censor, bury and distort findings from these departments at will. They have already gutted the funding for the CSIRO in a clumsy and very short-sighted effort to disrupt the work of some of our top scientists who are in the midst of producing critical research to benefit the nation. How can public servants at the environment department and the Bureau of Meteorology keep the public properly informed when their jobs are under constant threat from a government that seeks to remove anyone who dares to hold them to account?

The Abbott coalition has already dismantled the Climate Commission and is now going for the last body which still has the ability to publish independent advice, all because they do not like the headlines generated by its findings. This is the Abbott carbon con—dismantle the bodies that provide independent advice and smother all departmental advice before it sees the light of day. And it is not just departments. We have seen recently on display the coalition, in conjunction with sections of the press, running a campaign of intimidation against the independent national broadcaster, the ABC, for daring to publish reports that Australia spied on Indonesia. From the Prime Minister down, the coalition has criticised the ABC, with government ministers calling for its privatisation, break-up or funding to be cut—all for fulfilling its public duty of informing the public. Clearly they are not content with censoring the Public Service; they want to censor the press as well.

But, of course, when we take more than a moment to assess what passes as climate change policy in today's coalition, you can almost pity the government for wanting to hide its shame. A Fairfax Media survey of 35 economists found that only two economists supported the coalition's Direct Action plan—that is a fail on anybody's watch—and one of those was a self-declared climate change sceptic. Australian economist Professor Justin Wolfers, of the Brookings Institution in Washington and the University of Michigan, said:

Direct Action would involve more economic disruption and have less environmental payoff than a trading scheme—

BT Financial's Chris Caton added:

Any economist who did not opt for emissions trading should hand their degree back—

so clear is his message about how wrong the Direct Action policy is! The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found:

Emissions trading systems provided the lowest cost for reducing carbon pollution among the different approaches available—

But what would the OECD know by comparison to this government, who know everything, are the font of all wisdom and are not in need of independent frank or fearless advice as they have got it all figured out so we should just trust them! Somehow that does not ring true. Another claim from the OECD saw it dismissing Direct Action as a policy that 'entails higher costs to society per tonne of carbon dioxide abated—in many cases, substantially higher'.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have also both questioned the viability of the direct action scheme. It is getting to the point where you have to think that they are very brave to even speak up and say anything at all in opposition to this new rule of government that we are seeing. The Ai Group bravely states that the direct action policy is 'unlikely to produce any meaningful reduction in carbon emissions'. And I suppose that is okay if you are not here to do meaningful things. If you are here to play the game of being in power, that perhaps is an explanation of why you might follow the path of direct action. The Business Council of Australia says that 'direct action is likely to put a very high impost on Australian taxpayers'. That is very concerning. That is intolerable—that is, not only pulling apart well-informed policy, agreed policy by experts, but to also put a burden on Australian taxpayers.

In the muddy mess that is the coalition's Direct Action Plan there is only one thing that is clear: it clearly fails even the most cursory of inquiries. By the government's own admission, direct action is a command-and-control scheme that places the government front and centre. Greg Hunt is on the record stating:

The Government will simply buy back the lowest cost abatement instead of having to tax the whole economy.

And Tony Abbott claims direct action will operate as:

… a fund enabling the government to buy the most cost effective means of reducing emissions through a tender process.

The Liberal Party, the self-proclaimed party of capital, has lost the economic plot.

When one considers the coalition's direct action absurdity, comments made by Malcolm Turnbull come to mind.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! I remind you to address members in the other place by their correct titles.

Senator O'NEILL: The member for Wentworth comes to mind:

… we know that picking winners is hard enough for the private sector, and well nigh impossible for the public sector. We know that when tax revenues are handed out to one firm or industry they come at the expense of all the other firms and families that paid that tax.

With direct action, the Abbott coalition is going to attempt to pick winners. It is paying a subsidy to its most preferred polluters at the taxpayers' expense, all at an extravagant cost for no meaningful reduction in carbon emissions. It is game-playing of the most dangerous kind—that is, with the future of this country. In so doing, the Liberal Party is abandoning any credible claim as the party of capital; it is now, very clearly, the party of economic vandalism.

Stewardship of our great nation requires governments to have the vision to deliver policies that ensure our way of life is sustainable. From my home on the Central Coast, I can see the ocean as I look up towards Newcastle and down the coast to North Head. I cannot help but take in the sheer beauty of my surrounds. In this, I am sure I am joined by hundreds of thousands of residents who also call these places home, places that are at risk from climate change. Increased temperatures will alter our landscape and our natural environment and impact on our flora and fauna.

Considering the Abbott coalition's approach to climate change, it is little wonder it has systematically moved to close down, censor or intimidate independent sources of advice and information. This is at the heart of its decision to abolish the Climate Commission and to shut down the Climate Change Authority. Labor will vote against this shambolic policy, and we will not allow the coalition to silence expert advice— (Time expired)