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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8297

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (12:39): I have a few brief remarks. Just to make the point again: what the government is introducing is a massive new tax, a massive new bureaucracy and, of course, a merry-go-round of money. For the government to try and tell us that a massive new tax, a massive new bureaucracy and a merry-go-round of money is somehow a market based mechanism beggars belief.

The minister tries again to perpetuate this myth that somehow there has been an inconsistency in approach. Let me just again place on record, very succinctly, that the world and Australia's national interest since August 2007—when it comes to action on climate change and when it comes to Australia's contribution to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions—have changed.

Senator Singh: The science hasn't changed!

Senator CORMANN: Well, the scientific challenge—

Senator Singh: The science hasn't changed, Senator Cormann!

Senator CORMANN: Could I finish. The challenge of climate change is still there to be addressed, but we actually have to make a judgment on whether what is on the table is going to make a positive difference or whether it is going to make things worse.

Here is the crux of the argument: in 2007 there was a general expectation that countries like the US and others would introduce cap-and-trade emissions-trading schemes. There was a general expectation that there would be an appropriately compre­hensive global framework around pricing emissions agreed to in Copenhagen—and, of course, Copenhagen was a complete failure. And you need not go any further than the assessment of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as to what his views were about the success or failure of the Copenhagen conference.

All throughout 2008, 2009 and 2010 we had the Garnaut review report; we had the government's green paper and white paper; we had a number of parliamentary inquiries; and we have a clear public understanding, and the understanding in this parliament, of what a price on carbon in Australia would do in the absence of an improvement in an appropriately comprehensive global agree­ment to price emissions. All throughout 2008, 2009 and 2010, in the context of a lot of public debate, in the context of a lot of discussion, Senate inquiries and House of Representatives inquiries and policy debates within the various parties, there clearly was an increased and improved understanding of what a price on carbon in Australia in the absence of a price on carbon imposed by most of our trade competitors would (1) do to Australia's national interests, in terms of the impact on our economy, on jobs, on costs of living, and (2) have on the impact on global emissions. Of course, the conclusion after those processes all throughout 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 was that, in the absence of an appropriately comprehensive global agreement to price emissions, that in the absence of countries like the US and others deciding to price emissions in their countries through an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax, it was not in Australia's national interest to impose a price on carbon outside of such a framework.

If you look at all of the comments on the public record, whether from me or others, all throughout 2008, all throughout 2009, all throughout 2010, you will find that our position in 2008-09 was that we should not make a judgment on Australia's decision on a carbon pricing regime before Copenhagen. Indeed, the position when Malcolm Turnbull was our leader was 'not before Copenhagen'. Our position was that, if the government was going to put this legislation to a vote before Copenhagen, we would vote against it—and indeed we did. We voted against the government's legislation—together with the Greens, I might add. The Greens were sitting there right next to us voting against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, initially in the House of Representatives in late June 2009 and then in the Senate on 13 August 2009. I remember the day well! We voted against the Carbon Pollution Reduction scheme—that is, the coalition, Senator Xenophon, Senator Fielding and the Greens. We all voted against it because we all shared the view that what the government put on the table was not effective action on climate change. It was a scheme which, in the coalition's judgment, was just going to push up the cost of everything, cost jobs and put Australia under pressure without doing anything to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. And of course, the Australian people are entitled to believe that after a lot of backwards and forwards, after a lot of toing and froing, our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, came to the same conclusion—because not only did Prime Minister Gillard tell then Prime Minister Rudd to kill the CPRS, not only did she tell him not to go ahead with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme; she also, of course, went to the last election with the most emphatic promise of them all, with the most emphatic promise any Prime Minister could ever make, when, looking the Australian people straight in the eye, through the barrel of a camera, in that memorable Channel 10 moment, in the morning, five days out from the election, she said to the Australian people:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

The reason she said that is that no doubt at that point in time Prime Minister Gillard, like the rest of us, realised that it was not in our national interest to impose a carbon tax in Australia when our trade competitors in other parts of the world were not doing the same. All we are doing is making higher-emitting businesses in other parts of the world more competitive than even the most environmentally efficient equivalent businesses in Australia. That is what the debate is all about.

So, Minister Wong, you can come in here and quote from my first speech as much as you like, but you know very well that the world has changed over the past four years. You know very well that the debate on Australia's national interests, in the context of carbon pricing, has changed.

Senator Thistlethwaite: The climate has not changed.

Senator CORMANN: I will take that interjection because this is at the core of the Labor-Greens lie. You want people to believe that your tax is going to do something to improve the environment. It will not. You are painting this picture of how we have disastrous prospects of rising sea levels, floods, droughts and this and that. But your tax is not going to do a thing to stop a single flood, a single drought or to stop sea levels from rising. In fact, arguably, your tax will make it worse to the extent that it will make environmentally efficient businesses in Australia less competitive than more-pollut­ing businesses in places like China and encourage the shifting of economic activity from Australia to other parts of the world. You have reduced economic activity in Australia—and your Treasury modelling assumes that economic activity in Australia will be lower than it would be without a carbon tax—but you will have shifted it to other parts in the world where the same level of economic activity will result in higher emissions. So, the world is no better off. That is what this is all about.

Your government, Senator Thistlethwaite, wants to make Australian businesses less competitive so that higher-emitting business­es in other parts of the world can take market share away from them. Your carbon tax aims to reduce emissions—no, it will not reduce emissions; they will continue to go up—compared to what they would have been without a carbon tax in a way that increases emissions, arguably by more, in other parts of the world. What is the sense of that? There is no sense in it.

The reason this is a legitimate thing for us to assess is that we are not alone in this world. Look at what is happening in other parts of the world. Canada has just said that there is no way they are going to go down this path. The US has made it very clear that there is no way they are going to have a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme. And I do not believe that Barack Obama would go back on his word in the same way that Prime Minister Gillard has. I am prepared to give you a guarantee that Barack Obama is not going to put emissions trading scheme legislation forward.

Let me address another Labor-Greens lie. The minister keeps coming in here and saying: 'Well, China is making all these efforts. China is doing so much better than anybody thinks they are.' That is just not true. It is a complete fabrication. You do not need to look any further than the govern­ment's own modelling.

Senator Wong: I rise on a point of order concerning relevance. I do understand that we have a wide-ranging debate, but how is this germane to what is before the chamber? We have had a second reading debate and we have amendments yet to be moved. Does the opposition not want to move their one amendment and have a debate about that?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Boyce ): There is no point of order. Senator Cormann, ensure that your remarks are germane to the legislation before us, please.

Senator CORMANN: Of course there is no point of order. There is a minister who is touchy about the fundamental and inherent flaws in this carbon tax. I understand why the minister is touchy. She is very embarrassed by the fact that she has to push through a carbon tax that the government knows will do nothing to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

I will conclude on the point I was making before the minister rudely interrupted me. The minister wants us to believe that somehow China is making huge efforts to reduce emissions. Back in 2008, only three years ago, the government thought that by 2020 emissions of CO2 in China would go up to 16.1 billion tonnes. Do you know what figure the government now thinks CO2 emissions will go to in China in 2020? It will be 17.9 billion tonnes of CO2. So, over the past three years there has been a deteriora­tion to the tune of 1.8 billion tonnes of CO2 in the government's expectation of what will happen in China with CO2 emissions. That figure is three times the total volume of CO2 emissions in Australia, which puts into perspective what we are talking about here.

This government is all spin. There is no honest policy and there is no honest factual information; it is all spin. The government comes in here and says that China is making all these efforts, when over the past three years its expectation of what will happen in China by 2020 has deteriorated—it has gone backwards. The government's expectation of what will happen with CO2 emissions in China is now worse than it was three years ago, whereas Australia continues to meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol—whether it was the Howard government or the current government. We are doing our bit. We are doing what we committed to do. So don't give us all of this false rhetoric, Minister. Give us some facts.