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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5661

Senator BOSWELL (2:24 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. In view of the Prime Minister’s statement overnight in the United States in relation to the proposed emissions trading scheme, ‘It is an even greater difficulty at a time when the global economy is under great global financial stress,’ my question is: does the government remain absolutely committed to the 2010 start for its emission trading scheme?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Thank you to Senator Boswell for the question. This government absolutely understands the challenges that are posed by the global financial crisis, which is why we are seeking to maintain and pass our budget measures to retain a budget surplus which will be a buffer in those circumstances. On the issue of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, I note that the Prime Minister has also reiterated, whilst overseas, that the government’s intention—‘ambition’ I think was the word used—is to have the scheme commence by 2010. That is the election commitment.

Senator Abetz —It’s an ‘ambition’ now, is it?

Senator WONG —Senator Abetz, I think you will find those words may have been used before. You may not have been paying attention—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, resume your seat. When the interjections cease, I will call Senator Wong to continue her answer. I call Senator Wong.

Senator WONG —I think the opposition should perhaps listen to what has been said between July and now on this issue. As the Prime Minister has said, our ambition is as it has always been, and the government has not changed its position. I will say this, though: the government is proceeding in a methodical and careful manner on this issue. We have made that very clear.

Senator Johnston interjecting—

Senator WONG —I will take that interjection, Senator Johnston, because this is the sort of scaremongering and division we see from the opposition, who are not able to rise to the challenge of climate change—something the Australian people want.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, address your comments to the chair.

Senator WONG —What the Australian people want to know is whether the climate change sceptics, who ensure that those opposite—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, resume your seat. Senator Wong, continue.

Senator WONG —The question, of course, is whether the Leader of the Opposition is actually able to manage those climate change sceptics on the other side who do not want to do anything, who in 11½ or 12 years of government did nothing on climate change and now choose to run scare tactics on this issue. The question will be whether or not they are up to the responsible economic task of responding to climate change. So, in response to Senator Boswell’s question, I say—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, resume your seat again. Both sides of the chamber should be quiet so that Senator Wong can be heard. Senator Boswell obviously has an interest in this issue and needs to hear the answer.

Senator WONG —Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying, this government is proceeding, as we have been clear about, in a methodical and careful manner when it comes to designing the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We are consulting extensively with the community and business on the green paper propositions. We put out a comprehensive green paper in July, which sketched out in great detail the proposed design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. And we have been clear that the Treasury is undertaking one of the largest modelling exercises in Australia’s history, designed to provide a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of introducing a carbon price. The implications of this modelling will be taken into account when setting the emissions reductions trajectory and scheme caps. Of course those opposite do not understand taking this sort of approach. They do not want to understand it because, fundamentally, they are still not up to the task of tackling climate change. They are still at the point they were before the last election, where famously one of the senior government sources was quoted as saying, ‘We had to pretend we cared when it came to the issue of climate change.’ Until you take a responsible approach to this significant economic challenge—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, address your comments to the chair.

Senator WONG —the Australian people will know you are simply not up to it.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Not only did Senator Wong completely ignore your direction to speak through you and not directly to the chamber but I have an objection to being pointed to continuously by this minister.

Senator Chris Evans —On the point of order, Mr President: I would like to bring to your attention that opposition senators have consistently this week taken spurious points of order and have not even bothered to declare what their point of order is. I am not sure whether this is because they have run out of questions or are seeking to delay the process of question time, but I ask you to require senators when they rise to indicate what their point of order is rather than delay the process of question time by making speeches or accusations.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —It is very difficult to hear a point of order, to hear an answer or to hear a question if people constantly interject.

Senator Minchin —Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Macdonald was very clear about what his point of order was. It was that Senator Wong not for the first time but repeatedly, and as she has today, has directed her remarks across the chamber and not through you.

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

Senator Minchin —That is a very clear standing order, constantly breached by those opposite, including by Senator Faulkner, who directed our attention to the rules and then attacked Senator Brandis across the chamber. I would ask you to direct ministers to direct their remarks through the chair.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I draw to the attention of all senators that issues raised in question time should be directed to the chair—your comments, you remarks and your questions.

Senator WONG —What I will say is this: this government understands that the costs of failing to take action on climate change are greater— (Time expired)

Senator BOSWELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Ambition is not a word I have heard in this debate, but can Senator Wong tell me the difference between ambition and an absolute commitment? Is there a difference? If you are going to go ahead with this, have you done any modelling on the ETS, with the renewed financial difficulties around the world?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —First, in relation to the 2010 start date, the government has been absolutely clear about our views on that. They are consistent with those taken to the Australian electorate prior to the election. I hope that those opposite, when the bill is presented to the parliament subsequent to the white paper, will recall that this in fact was very clearly something the Australian people were aware of prior to the last election.

In relation to the modelling, as I have previously indicated, the government, in addition to the economic modelling being provided through the Garnaut report, is undertaking one of the largest modelling exercises in the nation’s history in order to very carefully and methodically work our way through these issues prior to the development of the white paper. We are approaching this carefully and methodically. But we are absolutely clear that, as Professor Garnaut reminded us recently in his report, the costs for this country of failing to act on climate change are greater— (Time expired)