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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8406

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (20:07): I did want to raise the fact that the opposition at least talked briefly about the science. Senator Macdonald did touch on the science in relation to the clean energy bills and the fact that the science shows that the climate has changed; it has changed over—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Aeons.

Senator SINGH: millennia. What Senator Macdonald missed when talking about the science was that in the current Holocene—that is, the present warm period that we are in—a lot of the change in the climate has been caused by humans. That is why we are in the situation we are in and why we are trying to do something about it. According to Professor Will Steffen, one of the climate commissioners, one trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is of human origin. That means something like 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been caused by humans. Yes, the climate has changed, and it has changed because of our contribu­tion to it. That is why we are trying to do something about it. That is why we are trying to ensure that our climate and our ecosyst­ems—including the Great Barrier Reef, which Senator Macdonald touched on—are protected into the future and that our ecosystems remain in the equilibrium in which they need to remain.

As Senator Macdonald said, other nations in the world are not acting as fast as he would like or all of us would like. But if we all had the attitude that others are not acting and therefore we should not act, if we all had the attitude of putting our heads in the sand and not doing anything about this global issue that has no boundaries—the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that has in part been caused by humans does not have boundaries—or if we did not have the attitude of leading as a developed nation in our Asian region then we are not setting an example for other countries to do something about this issue. In the meantime, they are actually doing something about this issue; they are acting. Even India and China are acting on the issue of carbon in the atmosphere.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Order! Senator Singh, you have the call.

Senator SINGH: Senator Fierravanti-Wells was obviously not here earlier this evening, nor last Thursday, or she would have realised that her Senate colleagues have wasted much of the time of this in committee debate on not asking questions. In fact, every time Senator Macdonald gets on his feet, he eventually get round to his question or he spends at least half of his time talking about the fact that he is not getting enough time to ask questions, without asking a question!

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr Chairman, I rise on a point of order. Under standing order 116 this is a time to ask questions of the minister. This senator has spoken several times and never asked a question. She and her colleagues have guillotined debate on this issue and prevented the opposition from having a proper opportunity to discuss it. Mr Chairman, I suggest that you draw her attention to the standing orders and require her to ask a question, if she has one, or sit her down so that those who do have questions can ask them of the minister.

Senator Polley: Mr Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I do not think there is a point of order. As Senator Macdonald has demonstrated on many, many occasions, he comes into this chamber and has quite a lengthy preamble to—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Polley, you are now debating the issue. You are not addressing the point of order. There is no point of order. But I do take this opportunity to remind all senators of the question that is before the chair, and that is the question which all senators should be addressing their remarks to. I am happy to apply it, if that is what the Senate wishes. Senator Singh.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I am happy to ask a question of Senator Macdonald: does he believe in climate change? That would be the first decent question to ask. Does he actually believe in doing something about it that would lead to a low-carbon future in this country? In relation to being in committee and the opposition having an opportunity to ask questions, the opposition have wasted so much time on not asking questions. They are not getting into the detail of the clauses in these bills because they have not done their homework. They do not understand the degree of detail in these bills so they have chosen to gloss over the in committee stage by frivolously grandstanding and giving second reading speeches rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of what we are here for, which is to look at the detail of how these bills will work in reality when they become legislation tomorrow.

Senator Macdonald did touch on the science. In relation to the slight touch on the science that he made, we are here to try and reduce carbon pollution. If we do not try and reduce carbon pollution, the world risks serious effects from climate change. He seems not to care about the rest of the world, only Australia. Therefore, it does not matter that other parts of the world are not acting as fast as they should be—and, in light of that, Australia should not be acting. But Australia itself faces acute risks from not acting on climate change. Australia is a very hot and dry continent. This means that, among the world's developed countries, Australia itself faces acute risks. Studies have indicated that warming of more than two degrees Celsius will overwhelm the capacity of many of the natural ecosystems in Australia to adapt. With that level of warming, for instance, the survival of the Great Barrier Reef, which Senator Macdonald referred to earlier—

Senator Joyce: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I do have some specific questions which require specific answers.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: But what is your point of order?

Senator Joyce: What we have here is not a question being answered. There is nothing Senator Singh has said yet that is addressing a question.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: There is no point of order.

Senator SINGH: I have actually addressed the issues that Senator Macdonald raised in relation to the science in his earlier questioning in this place. I have tried to explain to him the science because clearly he does not understand the science.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator Wong: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. It is disorderly to continue interjecting. The opposition have been listened to in relative silence for most of this debate. I listened—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator Wong: See? They are even interjecting now.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: I accept the point of order. I am calling all senators to order on a regular basis. I would ask all senators to cease interjecting. Senator Singh, you have the call.

Senator SINGH: As I referred to earlier, Senator Macdonald and Senator Joyce raise the fact that we are in committee and that they are running out of time when in fact it is them who have not asked their questions every time they have been on their feet. They have instead wasted so much time having speeches in the second reading debate—

Senator Ian Macdonald: That is an outright lie. Get her to withdraw that.

Senator SINGH: We can go back through the Hansard and have a look.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: I am not sure what you said then, Senator Macdonald, but I will just ask senators again to come to order.

Senator SINGH: As I said earlier, regardless of the fact that carbon pollution has an effect on the entire planet, Australia itself is at acute risk. If it is only Australia that those opposite care about in relation to this issue then at least for the sake of Australia they should be supporting the bills in front of them, because Australia, the Great Barrier Reef and the ecosystems in this hot and dry continent are at grave risk if we do not act. I support that by again going back to Professor Will Steffen, the director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, who has provided on umpteen occasions a lot of peer reviewed evidence as to why we need to be acting on climate change and why we need to be giving incentive to those large polluters to change their current practices to, in effect, change our economy, the same as has already been done in the EU and a number of other parts of the world.

I refer those senators opposite to the Climate Commission's website because it talks about carbon pricing being not a new concept but something that has been in place in parts of the world for a number of years. In fact, in the US, when they were dealing with acid rain back in the mid-1990s, they introduced a price on acid rain pollution, which was passed in 1995, to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants. The pollution dropped by three million tonnes by 2002. That is a clear example of how putting a price on pollution does actually work and how it has already worked in another part of the world. This is not a new thing. The opposition are making it a bigger deal than it really is. Yes, it is a major piece of reform for this nation, but it is something that so many parts of the world are acting on and getting on with. Why? It is because they believe in the science. I think the stumbling block here comes back to the fact that those senators opposite do not believe in the science and they do not believe in what those peer reviewed science reports are telling us.

If we were to go back through some of the things that Senator Macdonald has said, that seems to be fairly much the case. I know he said earlier that he does believe in climate change, but I do not know what that actually means. I think it means that he just believes the climate changes and we all keep rolling along. He does not believe that human input has something to do with—

Senator Ronaldson: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. Now that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate is here, I just wonder whether he could give us some indication as to whether this filibuster is going to keep going on. There are a number of us who want to ask some questions—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Ronaldson, if you are going to interrupt a speaker you must do so on a point of order. You cannot do so to simply ask the manager—

Senator Ronaldson: I am just asking whether this is going to be the norm for the rest of the night.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Ronaldson, there is no point of order. Resume your seat.

Senator SINGH: I think it is necessary to remind the opposition that the vast majority of economists understand the best way to spur the action necessary to both preserve our environment and remain competitive in a low-emission future is the package currently before the Senate. It is necessary also to remind the opposition that the overall architecture of the clean energy package is similar to the emissions trading scheme that the coalition, under the direction of John Howard, once were in favour of and supportive of. To come in here and continue to be so negative and fear mongering and misleading in relation to the package in front of you has to be for no other reason than for political gain, for gain in the poll, for trying to ensure that you are misleading the public in the hope of votes rather than actually standing for anything on principle or standing for anything of meaning when it comes to this important piece of reform.

We know that Senator Cormann, for example, is not a senator of principle anymore since his backflip from being supportive in 2007 of the CPRS or an ETS to now not being so.

Senator Colbeck: Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. Senator Singh accuses the opposition of misleading the Australian people for votes and yet that is exactly what she did at the last election. She was elected on the back of a lie.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Colbeck, you cannot interrupt another senator speaking unless you are rising on a point of order. There is no point of order.

Senator SINGH: I will end on this. What tomorrow will bring to the Australian community and especially the Australian business community is confidence for businesses who are wanting certainty in relation to this new piece of economic reform. It is good for this nation. It is good for our children. It is good for the environment. And it is good for this parliament to get on and start moving forward, accepting the science and accepting the fact that we need to act on climate change.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Marshall ): Before I give the call to Senator Joyce, you have a point of order, Senator Fierravanti-Wells?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Can I just have some direction here. I asked the minister a series of very specific questions in relation to the impact on health services. I also have a series of questions in relation to aged care, other specific matters—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Is there a point of order, Senator?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Can I just ask: is the minister now going to answer my questions? And then, when she has finished, will I be interrupted by yet another person on the other side or will she answer all my questions this evening?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, that is not a point of order and that is not a matter for the chair to determine.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: When am I going to get an answer to my questions?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Joyce, you have the call.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Fierravanti-Wells interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Order! There needs to be less chatter across the chamber. Senator Joyce, you have the call.