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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 51

Senator FISHER (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Will the minister confirm that the only direct consultation she has had with the general manager of Nyrstar at Port Pirie about the proposed emissions trading scheme was a chance meeting on an aeroplane following refusal for a formal meeting between him and the minister?

Senator Abetz —That is right. Just say yes.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Abetz, the constant interjections from you and the answering of your own questions does not help question time at all. You are answering your own questions, Senator Abetz, so I advise you to cease your interjections.

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Thank you, Mr President. The senator is correct that I did have a chance meeting—it must have been for an hour and a half then—as a result of sitting next to, I think it was, the Port Pirie general manager, and we had a very useful discussion. But I would indicate—and the senator may not be aware—that the Department of Climate Change has engaged on a number of occasions with a great many companies, including in the zinc and lead smelting industries. I also have engaged with a great many Australian companies at CEO level in relation to this issue. We are committed as a government to ongoing and constructive engagement. We are committed to doing that because we understand the importance of striking the right balance.

I would remind the chamber that what we are doing is seeking to put in place precisely what we committed to prior to the election. More importantly to those opposite, we are actually doing what you said you would do. We are putting in place an emissions trading scheme, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which is precisely what your leader, Malcolm Turnbull, when he was environment minister, indicated he would do. As best as I can understand your policy, given the differences of views on the front bench, you are also committed to putting in place a trading scheme.

The reality is that we have had very close consultation with a great many sectors of Australian industry, and we are acutely aware of the issues that a range of industries have raised with us. There are different views amongst the business community, and we in government accept that. Of course, it is unfortunate that those on the other side do not seem to believe that constructive engagement between government and business is a good idea.

Senator Faulkner —It is unfortunate.

Senator WONG —It is unfortunate, and I note that Senator Boswell felt it necessary to write to members of the Business Council of Australia complaining—if that is the right verb—about the position they have taken, including the indicated position of the BCA that their preference was certainty over delay. We do not take the same view as Senator Boswell and those on the other side. We do take the view that constructive engagement is a good thing, and we will continue to do that until we make a final determination on our white paper. But we on this side remember that the Australian people made it clear at the last election that they wanted action on climate change. We on this side recognise what Lord Stern told us and what Professor Garnaut said: that the cost of inaction on climate change will outweigh the cost of responsible action now, and that is the way in which we will be approaching this policy. We will be striking the right balance between the various policy objectives in approaching the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I have said it before and I will say it again: we will undertake this reform in an economically responsible way. We have made that absolutely clear. We on this side know that the cost of failing to act would be greater than the cost of responsible action now.

Senator FISHER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If the minister really is committed to constructive engagement and listening, as she claims, then will the minister commit to changing the proposed assistance formula for emissions intensive and trade-exposed industries so that companies like Nyrstar are not forced to move jobs and operations offshore?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Those decisions will be made by the government in the context of the white paper—that is, whether or not the proposals in the green paper will be retained or be altered. We made it clear that the proposals in the green paper were put out for consultation. That is why they were put out in the level of detail that they were. But, Senator, unlike you, we understand that we have to balance the impact on Australian households; we have to balance the environmental objective as well as the interests of the emissions intensive and the trade exposed. This is a complex reform, which is why we are taking a careful and considered approach to making policy on this issue.