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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3897


Senator XENOPHON (4:42 PM) —I voted for a suspension of standing orders this morning because I believe that it is an important issue that we have a debate as to whether standing orders should be suspended. I also wanted to hear the debate and the arguments from all sides in relation to the reasons why the bills that Senator Parry said should be dealt with prior to any other legislation should be so dealt with. In respect of the matters raised in Senator Parry’s motion, two of those bills are currently in the Senate and the rest are not. As I understand it, the Rural Adjustment Amendment Bill and the Tax Laws Amendment (2009 Budget Measures No. 1) Bill are the two bills currently before the Senate and the other bills are in the House. That does not mean that they are not urgent and it does not mean that they ought not to be dealt with. I think it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that the business of the Senate runs smoothly. Obviously that requires the cooperation of all in the chamber, and that is the way this place works—and I think that is an important factor that needs to be considered.

It would be foolish not to consider the context of these bills, and that relates to the government’s CPRS legislation. It is my view that that is the most important piece of legislation this parliament has ever seen in terms of its economic impact, as well as, of course, its environmental impact, on this nation. Unless we get the policy framework and the legislation right, we will end up with a bad piece of policy with significant economic impact but little environmental benefit. That is just my view of the bills in their current form. The government knows my position on that, as do my other colleagues.

It is my view in relation to the CPRS bills that there should not be a vote taking place in the absence of comprehensive modelling of alternative schemes. One of the outcomes—not a majority outcome—from the Senate inquiries into this was that there should be modelling of alternative schemes. I see that modelling as important in the context of framing the debate, giving an opportunity for amendments to be filed and also for having a debate about what the appropriate targets are for the CPRS bills. I agree with the Greens—I do not believe that the targets are adequate. The targets are too heavily conditional. I think that is, in part, a function of the design of the current CPRS.

I note the Minister for Climate Change and Water’s comments in the chamber earlier today that sufficient details about alternatives were part of the government’s green paper on this bill. With the greatest respect to the minister, what struck me about the green paper was what little detail about alternative schemes was included. There certainly was not any economic modelling. There certainly was not a robust examination of how these alternative schemes could be dealt with. On my reading, there was only enough detail of alternative schemes to dismiss them but not enough for the reader to adequately assess them. I think that is a key feature. I cannot help feeling that the government is acting a bit like a used car salesman who will only let you test-drive one car and then insists on you buying it without test-driving any other models. My perspective in relation to the CPRS bills is that I am not buying. I want to look at other models, I want them to be considered properly and I want there to be a debate about what is an adequate target for greenhouse gas abatement.

I also appreciate how unusual it is for the business of the Senate to be taken out of the government’s hands. It is not unprecedented, as I understand it, but it is also quite unusual. I do not think it is something that any of us should do lightly and it is certainly not something I would vote for without good reason. I think it is fair to say that being a crossbench Independent means you regularly get caught in the battle between the government and the opposition. That is the job. Sometimes it is appropriate and necessary to pick a side. In this instance, I want to give the government and the opposition an opportunity to sort out the business of the house. But, having indicated this, I think that it is important that the government and the opposition work hard to work out a way forward. To give them an opportunity to do so, I will not support the opposition’s motion yet—and I emphasise ‘yet’. If there is no movement by either side or by both sides I will not rule out supporting the opposition’s motion as early as tomorrow.

I also want to put this in the context of my views about having an adequate, fulsome and robust debate about the CPRS legislation. I do not think it is reasonable that we are required to vote on the second reading of these bills given that the comprehensive inquiries into them only handed down their reports last week. Recommendations were made not by a majority of senators but by coalition senators and me in relation to modelling alternative scheme designs. This would have a considerable impact on the shape of the debate in the committee stage but also on whether senators would be inclined to support the second reading of the bill in the absence of an alternative approach. I think it is unreasonable for those who are reluctant to support this bill to not have the opportunity to look at an alternative approach. I think that is important.

I do not think it is appropriate at this stage to support the opposition’s motion. I do have very significant concerns about the way the business of the house will be run in the next three to four days, in particular in the context of getting through a number of what the government have made clear are urgent bills with a number of imperatives to be passed for a variety of reasons. At the moment we do not seem to have an adequate schedule or an adequate indication as to when, in the context of the CPRS bills, those bills would be slotted in.

The government, the opposition and my crossbench colleagues all know what my position is. I have been completely upfront with all my colleagues as to what my position is in relation to this. I believe it is important that we work further on the business of the house. I do not want to take the business of the house outside of the government’s hands at this stage, but the government also knows that I think the nature and policy imperatives of the CPRS bills are critical and that it is important to have an emissions trading scheme that is effective, that delivers environmental outcomes and that does so in a way that is economically responsible. That is the main game. That is something that we need to be focusing on. I do not believe that ramming through a vote on the CPRS bills’ second reading stage this week would achieve that. At this stage, I cannot support the opposition’s motion but I may well be amenable to doing so either tomorrow or on Wednesday morning.