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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 271

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:37): by leave—I move:

(a) the following matter be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by the first sitting day in March 2014:

The Government’s approach to addressing carbon pollution including the provisions of any bills introduced into the House of Representatives in the remaining sittings of 2013 which repeal the carbon tax, with particular reference to:

(i) the impact of the Carbon Tax Repeal Bills on Australia’s ability to systemically address climate change,

(ii) the impact of the bills on Australia’s carbon pollution cap,

(iii) the ability of the Government and the Australian people to receive expert independent advice following the abolition of the Climate Change Authority,

(iv) the fiscal and economic impact of the Government’s ‘direct action’ policy,

(v) the capacity of the Government’s approach to meet the carbon pollution reduction target of 5 per cent,

(vi) the impact of the Government’s approach on any consideration of the full target range of 5 to 25 per cent,

(vii) the effectiveness of the Government’s approach to deliver carbon pollution reductions consistent with Australia’s international commitments,

(viii) the capacity of the Government’s approach to reduce carbon pollution adequately and cost effectively,

(ix) the technical issues that arise for measuring abatement under the Government’s approach, including additionality, establishing emissions baselines for emitting entities and long-term monitoring and reporting arrangements,

(x) the ability of the Government’s approach to encourage long-term business investment in renewable energy,

(xi) the impact on, and interaction with, the Carbon Farming Initiative, and

(xii) any other related matters; and

(b) in undertaking the inquiry the committee must have regard to the Climate Change Authority’s ‘Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions - Targets and Progress review: final report’, due in February 2014.

I make the following points in relation to that. We have an important opportunity in this motion to do what the Senate has traditionally done, which is to ensure proper scrutiny of legislation. The reason we are moving this as the opposition is twofold. Firstly, we do want to expose direct action for the fraud that it is. It is a fraud. It is a slogan and, whilst Senator Cormann might say that it has been canvassed thoroughly at the election, it has been a slogan and a pamphlet and even then you still cannot be consistent on it. Already you are changing what you say it will do and how it will work.

It is ridiculous to suggest that the Australian people have been provided with full and frank details of what direct action would be. In fact out of Senator Cormann's own mouth we heard that because he read out of his little brief the process of a discussion paper and a green and a white paper in relation to direct action that the government was proposing. That is actually where they will demonstrate the detail of what their policy will mean. But they want the Senate to vote on the legislation that removes all of the architecture around an effective response to climate change before they tell Australians what the alternative is. We think that is a fraud. That is an utter fraud not only on the Australian people but also on the processes of this place.

I have been here for a number of years now and I have participated in committees both in opposition and, as minister, had to deal with committees whilst in government and can I say this: we have had a number of bills only introduced yesterday—eight or nine—and magically we have the government saying they want the package passed before Christmas. It is, I think, incumbent upon the Senate to ensure that there is proper consideration of this very large and complex package of legislation and the alternative that is proposed to replace it before the Senate is asked to vote on it.

It is patently clear from the contribution of Senator Milne that on this issue the opposition and the Greens do not agree, and I want to put on record why it is we would like our motion supported and the bills and direct action referred to a committee. It is because they deal with the same issue. It is because the issue that the Senate has to consider is what is the appropriate and effective response to climate change for the nation. The Senate should not be asked to consider one side of the coin, one side of the equation—that is, the passage of the legislation on the government's timetable—without knowing what the alternative policy is that the government propose to put in place and that the government have not even issued detail on.

They have not even been prepared to put forward the detail of their policy. They are still going through a process of developing it. It is frankly ridiculous, inappropriate and undemocratic for the Senate to be asked to vote on legislation before the government is prepared to be transparent and upfront with the Australian people about what they will replace it with.

I also note that the Australian Labor Party's position is consistent with the position of a number of the environmental groups and I note, for example, the WWF has said how important it is for the government to present its alternative climate policy to Australians, how important it is for the alternative to be repealed. I note, for example, that the Climate Institute calls on the parliament to put the repeal legislation as well as the government's alternative through full and rigorous parliamentary scrutiny, including Senate committee investigation, before making any changes.

The motion before the chair moved by me on behalf of the opposition is consistent with the views expressed by many environmental stakeholders, but I make a more important point: it is absolutely consistent with the approach this Senate has taken time and time again. We have not in this Senate—

Senator Cormann: You want to send it to the references committee.

Senator WONG: Senator Cormann wants to interject—how many inquiries did Senator Cormann have on the carbon pollution reduction scheme? How many inquiries did he have? And now he wants to ensure that there is no inquiry in relation to this legislation and its alternative and he wants a vote before Christmas after having—was it two years of inquiries? Two years of inquiries, they had, in relation to a price on carbon. The hypocrisy is dripping off the walls of this chamber.

But I come back to the salient point: this Senate has never allowed a government to put legislation through without the Senate having proper opportunity to consider it. Everyone in this chamber knows that if this motion is not passed, what the government will seek to do is have a quick and dirty inquiry, if one at all.

I urge senators, including the crossbench, to consider that precedent. It is an important principle that the Senate for many years has adhered to, and that is we apply proper scrutiny to legislation. These bills and direct action being the flip side of the legislation being absolutely germane to the decision to repeal or not repeal should be referred for proper scrutiny to this committee in accordance with my motion.