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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5710

Senator IAN MACDONALD (5:20 PM) —In speaking on the Save Our Solar (Solar Rebate Protection) Bill 2008 [No. 2], like Senator McEwen, I welcome the opportunity of comparing the Liberal Party’s approach to the environment with that of the Labor Party. We only have to go back to the days of the saving of Fraser Island by a Liberal government or the saving of the Great Barrier Reef all those decades ago by a Liberal government. When the last Labor government was in power, they had not even heard of the word ‘greenhouse’. Mr Keating’s government had no program addressing greenhouse gas emissions. It took a Liberal government to set up the world’s very first Greenhouse Office. That was an initiative of a Liberal-National Party government, particularly of Senator Hill, the then environment minister. The Labor Party, for all their bleating now about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, in their last term of government did absolutely nothing about it. It took a Liberal government to start us on the path to negotiating for a Kyoto outcome, as the Liberal-National government did.

You only have to look at the Natural Heritage Trust payments to the environment: the largest environmental program ever in the history of this nation. Already, after 10 short months, we see the new Labor government slashing up to 40 per cent off the funds available to community groups and natural resource management agencies that are doing the work on the ground of protecting our environment.

We have the saga of the Murray-Darling Basin. I hear a lot about this from Senator Wong and others these days, but what did they do in the 13 years that they were in government? Nothing. They also obstructed the Liberal-National government at every turn and encouraged their Victorian Labor colleagues in the state government to wilfully go against what the Howard government had proposed for saving the Murray-Darling Basin.

And just as recently as this last week, Mr Garrett has given approval for a pipeline which will steal water out of the Murray system and take it over the range to feed the toilets and water tanks of the good citizens of Melbourne. They are stealing water from the Murray-Darling to put it into Melbourne because the state Victorian government has been too incompetent and inefficient to consider other means of providing the water that that city needs. I would love one of the Labor speakers to explain to me how they can be so concerned about the Murray-Darling system when they are allowing their state counterparts in Victoria to steal water from the Murray River and take it over the range into Melbourne. It is an initiative of the Victorian Labor government, but it is Mr Garrett in this parliament who had the ability to stop that with his powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, but he failed to do it. He acted quickly to give permission.

He did not act so quickly in addressing the issue of the greatest environmental disaster that Queensland is likely to see in the future, and that is the Traveston Crossing Dam proposed by the Queensland state Labor government. While Mr Garrett has been so quick to make decisions to allow his Labor mates in Victoria to take water out of the Murray and while he is so quick to stop a lot of developments along the Queensland coast—it did not take him long to make decisions then—when it comes to an action by his Labor mates in the Queensland government to perpetrate the greatest environmental diaster we are likely to see on the Mary River, he is finding it very difficult to make a decision.

I will tell you why he cannot make a decision: it is because he is under pressure from his Labor mates in Queensland. Mr Rudd and Mr Swan come from Queensland. They used to run the Queensland Labor government. Mr Rudd did. They have all the tentacles out there. The Queensland Labor government do not want Mr Garrett to knock this off, because what are they going to do for water for Brisbane in dry times? Because they have been so incompetent in recent years in managing the water supply in South-East Queensland, they are having to embark upon this quite stupid and quite ridiculous proposal of damming the Mary River at Traveston Crossing. It is great for us to compare the Liberal government’s approach to the environment with that of Labor.

The Liberal government had some programs for assisting country people to have solar power out in the stations. What happened? The Labor government slashed them. We had a good program to help Indonesia save its forests as a real contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What happened? The first initiative of the Labor government was to slash that program. How dare they feign any interest in global warming and climate change when they slashed these programs.

It is similar with the issues surrounding the bill that we are discussing today. The Labor government, without any warning, took away the solar rebate from those mums and dads—a teacher, perhaps, and a plumber; two partners—with a combined income of over $100,000; $52,000 each. They were the people who were interested in doing their bit in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They were looking for the subsidy. What did the Labor government do? Without any warning, it brought in this means test, which effectively meant that many Australians are financially precluded from getting solar panels.

I am very surprised at the figures that the department produced to the committee hearing after first of all refusing to even attend the committee hearings on the instructions of the Labor minister. But they eventually turned up, because they were threatened with a summons if they did not turn up.

Senator Wortley —They were always going to turn up.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Isn’t that right? Why didn’t they turn up? It was only after they were threatened with a summons from the Senate that they turned up. I do not blame the department; they received their instructions from the minister. But they eventually turned up and had these statistics. I cannot wait for estimates. Let me now put them on notice that I cannot wait for estimates just to see how these figures are running. That was a good program, and again the Labor Party has slashed it.

We hear all this talk about an emissions trading scheme—the one that Senator Wong is in charge of. She obviously has no idea how to manage it. She has let the genie out of the bottle on that. They have put out this green paper, and I have not heard a person yet—except some in these radical environment groups—who has any confidence in the green paper and any confidence that the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong, or the government can handle this. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this is a dog of a proposal.

I heard the other day about a zinc refinery up my way in Northern Australia. If this emissions trading comes through in the way that Senator Wong and Mr Rudd are proposing, they will become unprofitable. What will they do? They will move to China, where they will be able to employ people at a much cheaper rate. All of those people at the refinery in Townsville will be without a job. This is at the behest of a party that claims to be interested in working families. Not only will the jobs be exported offshore but, more importantly, they will go to a country that is about half as efficient as Australia, which means, in other words, that they will pump out twice the amount of greenhouse gas to get the same end product. I have not yet heard China indicating when it is going to bring in an ETS.

The whole stupidity about the Labor government’s approach is that they will tax Australia out of existence, tax workers’ jobs, for the thought that they—Mr Rudd and Senator Wong—can be world heroes by leading the world. Australia produces less than 1.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; and it does not matter what we do in Australia, we will not make one iota of difference to the changing climate of the world. Yet the Labor government for political reasons are determined to carry on at full strength.

If they were really serious about greenhouse gas emissions, what about clean nuclear power? There are no greenhouse gas emissions at all there. That would mean of course that we could do something for the changing climate of the world. Let us ask the Labor Party what their view is on that sort of energy. I know that they think it is okay to have uranium from three mines being mined and exported but to have uranium from the fourth mine does not seem to be equally acceptable. The Labor Party are all over shop on this but, if they are serious about carbon emissions, there is an answer. Why won’t they even have a look at it? I am not advocating it particularly but I am advocating looking at it. It should be in the mix, but the Labor Party seem incapable of doing that.

I do not want to say too much more. I know that many other people want to have a say on this and I have spoken a couple of times on the report. It is a very good bill. I congratulate those in the coalition who have promoted this bill. It will bring some transparency, some parliamentary control, to the solar rebates. I think that it is a good way to deal with it. I think that it will address all of the problems that have been identified by Senator Birmingham and Senator Williams, who spoke before me, and it is a piece of legislation that I would urge support for.