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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8312


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (13:44): I thank Senator Milne and note the comprehensive answer that she just gave. It probably does go at least partly to the point I was making before that Senator Milne is desperate to be the minister in this debate. In this instance she gave a good and detailed answer about how the Climate Change Authority will work and about how the targets may be set. I note that she confirmed, in response to Senator Xenophon, the possibility, and it may well be a remote possibility, that the Climate Change Authority could recommend a target below the five per cent target that has been agreed to by all sides. It is an interesting revelation. It is quite possibly a revelation that is not likely to ever come into play, but it is an interesting revelation nonetheless.

I particularly note the comments that Senator Milne made at the end of her contribution, when she said that the Greens gave great consideration to the capacity of a future government to change the targets and whether that was a risk within the establishment of the Climate Change Authority, and that they were confident that the way the legislation was structured and the way the authority was structured minimised that risk. That is an area that should be of some concern to individuals. It is all very well to have expert authorities, but we all know that expert authorities do not always get it right. We know there are often circumstances where people expect the government of the day to act. It does seem as if the Greens have deliberately gone about setting up a structure, and have elicited the support of the Labor Party in setting up a structure, that does its best to remove the capacity of the parliament to chart the nation's own destiny, or certainly the capacity of the government. The parliament in the end obviously has the capacity to amend legislation if the support is there in both chambers, but for governments of the day it is noteworthy that the Greens sound like they take it as a source of pride that they have managed to get the Labor Party to structure this in a way that removes the capacity of future governments to make decisions that they think are necessary without significant change to this legislation.

I have a question that relates to this area of targets that we have been examining, which Senator Xenophon put us on. I will ask it and, if the advisors are able to give the parliamentary secretary a clear answer, that is fine. If they are not, I am happy for it to be taken on notice pending the debate resuming later in the day and Senator Wong's return. It relates to clause 17(2). There was a discussion with Senator Joyce late last week about clause 18(2), which is the annual reduction of 12 million units that occurs if there is not agreement to the regulations that are tabled in the parliament. The minister's response then was that the 12 million unit reduction was to achieve a steady reduction towards the five per cent target. In clause 17(2) the default mechanism formula for the initial year is described as total emission numbers for the eligible financial year beginning on 1 July 2012 minus 38 million units. My question is about how that 38 million unit figure is derived. I note that it is not evenly divisible by the 12 million units, so it is not simply a figure that maintains the flat trajectory that the 12 million units per annum does. How did the government come up with the 38 million units and why is that figure seemingly unrelated to the annual step down beyond the fixed price period of 12 million units?