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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8262


Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (10:04): Well, we have the usual menu of opposition attacks on this policy that we have heard for years now. Here we are in the committee stage. We have one amendment from the opposition. They have yet to move it. All they are doing is making the same political points over and over again that they have made for years.

Senator Abetz: No. We're asking questions.

Senator WONG: They say they are asking questions. They are not interested in the answers. They are in large part the same questions they have asked for the last year. Really it comes down to this: the opposition just want to say no. They just want to vote no. It is all a complete pretence from them that they have any interest whatsoever in the detail of this legislation. They do not. They do not have any interest in the policy, as is evinced by the fact that they are putting forward a policy that seeks the same environmental outcome at a higher cost to Australian business and to Australian taxpayers. Let us pause there and remember: this opposition want the same reduction in emissions from Australia that the government has pledged, but the opposition want Australian business and Australian families to pay more to achieve that reduction. The position of the opposition only has to be said to be demonstrated to be utterly ridiculous.

I am very happy to answer some of the questions which have been put, but I will again say—and I will make this point in every contribution: move your amendment; have the debate on the amendment; vote on the amendment. Senator Xenophon has some amendments. They should be moved and debated. What we saw from the opposition in the last four hours on Thursday—and what I predict we will continue to see—notwithstanding all the complaints about the shortness of time, was more of the same, more of what we saw in the 63 hours of debate on the CPRS, what we have seen in the last year, what we have seen in question time, what we have seen in the some 30-odd inquiries on climate change and in particular the many which have occurred in the last parliament and this parliament: the same series of questions that they have no interest in the answers to, because they do not believe that climate change is real. Certainly Senator Abetz does not, and he does not believe that we should do anything about it. Bizarrely he seems to want us to tax Australians more to try and pretend to do something about it, but that is the economics that seems to be running the opposition at the moment. I was asked about Coogee Chemicals' proposed investment. I refer the senator to the statement put out by Minister Combet today, which made a number of points. The first is that, because we are committed to proper support of Australian industry as we transition from a very high-polluting economy to a clean energy economy, which is a very large economic transition—we agree with that; we have been saying that for many years—we have a $9.2 billion Jobs and Competitiveness package, which is designed to address the issue of competitiveness to which the senator referred in his question. For industries that are highly emissions intensive, which would include, I am advised, activities like methanol product­ion, the assistance to be provided starts at 94.5 per cent. Let us just pause for a moment and understand what that means. That means that 94.5 per cent of their carbon liability under the package would be dealt with by the issue of free permits. Remember also that those free permits are against an average efficiency baseline—in other words, to look at the efficiency of the particular process as it exists. That in builds an incentive for people to be more efficient, because if you are actually more efficient than the average you can retain free permits over and above that. Mr Combet has told us:

The fact is that a highly‐efficient methanol producer like Coogee Chemicals is likely to end up with no net carbon price liability under our industry assistance arrangements, so they will not be at any disadvantage compared to their international competitors.

On the basis of information provided by the company—

Senator Cash interjecting

Senator WONG: I know you do not like it, Senator Cash. Perhaps if you listen, you might learn something. He said:

On the basis of information provided by the company, due to the expected efficiency of the proposed new facility, Coogee Chemicals would be entitled to more than 100 per cent of its carbon price liability in the form of free carbon permits.

Let us be clear. That is the advice that the minister has provided the chamber and I, as the minister representing him, provide the chamber with to put a little bit of clarity in the scare campaign that the opposition are engaging in.

I also make the point that it is not the case on the government's policy that assistance under this package is simply withdrawn after five years. There is a review process during which regard will also be had to the state of international action in the relevant industry sector. So that deals with that issue.

We go on and on about the Treasury modelling. Really there is one point that the opposition cannot get away from. They cannot get away from the fact that the Treasury modelling, the people who advised Peter Costello, have made it very clear in public modelling that we can grow our economy, that we can grow jobs, that we can grow income and that we can reduce emissions from what they would otherwise be with a carbon price. It does not matter how many times the government says that, the opposition simply do not want to accept it, so they ask the same set of questions over and over again. They simply cannot deal with the fact that those are the findings of that modelling.

I was asked about Australian coal. I covered that in great detail on Thursday with I think Senator Macdonald. We talked about the coal package that the government has in place. We talked about the fact that what we were looking at was a small number of very gassy underground mines and, therefore, the government has in place an assistance package and a coal abatement technology package as well that are designed to recognise those matters.

I also went through on Thursday with the senator—and I appreciate that Senator Abetz was not in the chamber and may not have had an opportunity to hear it, or maybe he did not wish to—the increase in investments in resources, including in coal, over the last three years. When we talk about the effect on the economy—and in the face of what is really quite a shameless fear campaign from those opposite—I invite senators to look at the actual investment numbers. It is sort of a question of: which proposition do those facts support? Which proposition does the money support? The investment demonstrates that the market recognises that they can continue to make money with a carbon price. So, despite Senator Abetz, Mr Abbott and others saying that the sky is going to fall in, the reality is that we see continued growth in investment in resources, including in coal, which really puts paid to the sorts of propositions that the opposition are putting.

I was also asked about the procedural arrangements. We have had years of debate on this issue. We had some 60 hours of debate on the CPRS. We have had numerous Senate inquiries. I have been asked questions over and over again by the opposition. The reality is that no amount of debate will change the minds of Senator Abetz or Senator Bernardi. They are vehemently opposed to a carbon price. The Labor Party have been trying to get a carbon price through this Senate for some years now. We were not able in the previous parliament and we look forward to the Senate finally taking the responsible step that it ought to have taken, finally doing what is right, and passing this legislation. I invite the opposition and Senator Xenophon to do the normal process in committees and move their amendments and speak to them.