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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 3975

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:31 PM) —I am surprised that Senator Parry is not speaking to the motion. Can I just make the point that we gave leave for this motion so as not to waste the time of the Senate with a suspension. I presume that Senator Parry is not speaking to it because he has the numbers. That is usually the reason when people keep it short.

I make the point that this effectively involves two issues. The first is the capacity of the government to order the business and determine the business that the Senate deals with. I am afraid that the opposition have given up on all prospect of ever being a government again, because they have adopted the attitude that seems to forget that there are requirements in this place for governments to be able to operate effectively. By supporting this sort of stunt, they give up, I think, the commitment to a perspective as an alternate government.

But the real issue is the question of whether or not we deal with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills this week. The Senate has known for months that those bills were to be called on. We have had a green paper, a white paper, no end of public discussion and inquiries both by Senate committees and by others that led us to the point of planning for a debate on the climate change and Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills in this sitting week.

It has been clear for some weeks now that the opposition are terrified about debating these bills because they are unable, as on so many other things, to reach a consensus inside their party room. They are deeply divided. The Senate committee reports again highlighted that division. That, quite frankly, is a problem for them. But they have a respon-sibility to the Australian people to come into the parliament and vote on these issues, particularly given that they went to the last election under a commitment to introduce a carbon pollution reduction scheme. They actually went to the last election, even under John Howard, committed to that stance, and they have since walked away from it because they are unable to deal with the divisions inside their party.

This comes down to a question about whether or not the Senate is going to debate the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill this week. We are in a position in this parliament where the government do not have the majority and where the opposition and some minor senators have determined to frustrate the government’s capacity to debate these bills. I have to say, at least to Senator Xenophon, that he was honest about it. He has said quite clearly that he does not want to debate them. I do not support his rationale. He wants more surveys, more inquiries, more reporting, but that is perfectly—

Senator Cormann interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator, we will hear you on the alcopops legislation later in the week. We look forward to you eating humble pie.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Ignore interjections.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Please let me know when you are doing it, because I am going to come and enjoy the show! I did warn you, but I am looking forward to it.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, ignore interjections and address your comments to the chair.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, Senator Xenophon has been open and upfront. I disagree with him; I think he is wrong. But he has at least said: ‘If you force me to do it’—as with this motion today—‘I’m not up for it. I’m not going to vote on these bills or the second reading this week. I am a vote for a deferral. I’m a vote for not dealing with it.’ At least he has been honest. I think it is wrong. I think he ought to take his responsibility to debate the bills this week, but he has been frank about that.

After Senator Fielding’s contribution to the last debate, yesterday, on these matters, I am a little confused about what his position is. I think he is currently a climate change sceptic, which is a perfectly reasonable position for him to adopt if that is his position. But, at the last debate on this matter, Senator Fielding argued that he did not want to be dealing with these bills late at night. The reality is that, if this resolution is carried, we will be dealing with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills late at night at the end of the week because it pushes them all back to that period, rather than dealing with them early in the week when he is fresh and when we are able to deal with them in a non-rushed manner. We could bring them on. But, Senator Fielding, if your position is that you do not want to deal with them this week, say so. Do, for the chamber, the honest thing and say so, because then we will all know where we stand.

Senator Ronaldson interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —No, let us just know where we stand. If Senator Fielding’s position is that he does not want to deal with them this week, that is fine. Make that position clear, and then the government will not persist because we know that we cannot get you—

Senator Parry —Mr President, on a point of order: I did not speak on this so that we would facilitate time for the government to go back to the CPRS today. The Leader of the Government in the Senate is now verballing other senators. He is getting very close to casting aspersions on the honesty of Senator Fielding. Can you please ask him to address the matter so we can actually get on with the business of the Senate?

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Evans, have you finished?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —No, I haven’t; I thought there was a point of order being taken—isn’t there?

The PRESIDENT —I thought you might have finished.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Parry, you may think I am wasting time but that is your business. If you want to speak, speak to the motion; you did not have the courage to do it.

Senator Minchin —Mr President, on a point of order: the Leader of the Government in the Senate should be setting an example for everybody else, and he should direct his remarks through the chair and not directly across the chamber. Will you bring him to order, please.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, you have got 14 minutes and 43 seconds in which to continue, and your remarks should be addressed to the chair.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Thank you, Mr President. It seems the opposition are a little—

Senator Wong —Sensitive.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —sensitive today. I do not know why; I cannot understand why. I was addressing my remarks to Senator Fielding, for the reason that he will get the vote on this. I have addressed my remarks to Senator Xenophon; he has made his position clear. I expect him to support the opposition on this resolution—as he indicated yesterday he would if the government did not agree to delay the bill till August. We are not agreeing to delay the bill till August. We made it clear that our position is that the bill ought to be debated this week. That has been known for months. We would ask him to consider that. But he has made his position clear. Senator Fielding did not make his position clear in the longer term. Yesterday he supported the resolution. His argument was that he did not want to be dealing with it late at night. Well, if his position is that he is not going to support dealing with the bills this week, what I would say to him is: say so. Be honest, be upfront and say so. Then we would all know where we all stand.

The same argument goes for the opposition. If what they are saying, as we all know it is, is that they are too scared to deal with the CPRS this week then they should have the honesty to say so. Do not push the bill back to be the last bill debated this week, knowing that it is your intention, as Senator Barnaby Joyce has made clear, to talk it out—to filibuster. Surely, now, after all the argy-bargy; surely, on the Tuesday of the last week, you could at least work up the courage to be honest, to speak to your bill and say, ‘We are doing this because we do not want to deal with the CPRS.’ That is why you are doing it. Be honest, say so, and we can all get on with it. But what we have now is this facade that if this passes then the implication is that we will deal with the CPRS later this week. If that is the case, that is great. I will move a motion on sitting hours that allows us to complete that bill this week, and we will sit any hours that the Senate requires to do that. We will sit Thursday night, Friday and Saturday. If you are honestly saying to us, ‘We are just moving it to the end because we think the other bills are more urgent,’ and if the sorts of statements made by Senator Parry yesterday are to be believed then the opposition will support a motion on sitting hours that allows us to deal with it. But if, as we all know, this is merely a rather unsubtle tactic to ensure that we do not get to the bill then let us be honest; let us not rely on fake emails or subterfuge; let us just say that the position of the Liberal Party is: ‘We are too scared to deal with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme this week. We are too racked by division. We want to put it off until some time after the end of the year—next year sounds good—because it is all too hard.’

As I understand it, Senator Xenophon’s position is ‘August’, Senator Fielding’s position is unknown, and the opposition’s position is ‘on the never-never’. This government is ready to debate the legislation on its CPRS scheme. There has been extensive consultation. There has been a green paper. There has been a white paper. Everyone has known that the debate is coming on. So if people are not prepared to debate it now, you have got to wonder why. And the only explanation for the opposition is that they cannot reach any consensus. The leader does not feel secure enough to take on people like Senator Cash whose views are from the flat-earth side of the opposition and who do not believe—as Senator Minchin does not—that there is any contribution to global warming from human activity. But because they cannot resolve those difficulties they come in here and hide behind a procedural resolution, which they did not even speak to. I have got to give it to Senator Parry, he gave it his best shot yesterday. It was not very convincing, but he moulded some sort of argument. I am not surprised, though, that he did not have the courage to run it twice, because it did not warrant a second airing. It was pretty thin. I have had to run some thin ones myself, Senator Parry, but running them twice is hard, I know.

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

Senator CHRIS EVANS —We know that this is about a desperate attempt to delay debate on the CPRS. Well, all I am arguing is that we have some honesty about that. If there is a majority in the Senate for that, say so; otherwise bring the bills on. Let us debate them. Let us have a vote on them. Let us determine how this country should respond to the challenge of CO2 emissions. Let us deal with the policy debate. But if you are not prepared to deal with it then at least be honest and say so.

Under this resolution proposed by Senator Parry we have the subterfuge that somehow we will get the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills again, sometime, maybe, on Thursday, and then they will go, ‘Oh golly gosh, we’ve run out of time! Isn’t that terrible! Oh, is that the time? We’ve got to go home. Oh, isn’t that horrible! Surprise, surprise!’ I mean, really—have some political guts. Have some courage. If you are saying to us that you are not going to vote for it, say so. If you are saying to us you are not going to deal with the bill properly this week, say so. Let us have that debate. But do not come in here with this mealy-mouthed effort to pretend that you are ‘helping the government with the urgency of its legislation’. What nonsense!

And to people like Senator Fielding, I say: please be honest with us. If you are really saying that you are not going to deal with it, say so. Be honest. Otherwise, if you are not saying that, I will expect you to vote for a resolution to extend hours to complete the bill, because that will force you to make your position clear. If you are saying to us that you are prepared to deal with the bill, we will move the resolution on sitting hours to ensure that we deal with it. But if you are honestly saying to us that you do not want to deal with it this week then that is fine; we will have the political argument about that. But do us the courtesy of saying that, not hiding behind some other, quite pitiful, excuse.

I accept Senator Xenophon made his position clear yesterday. I do not agree with him, but his position is on the record and that is for him. He wants to deal with it.

Senator Ferguson interjecting—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Ignore the interjections, Senator Evans. Interjections are disorderly.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am sure the Deputy President should know better, but sometimes it even gets the better of him. It is important that we be honest about this. If, in fact, people are prepared to debate the bill and they are not really seeking to delay it then we will move a resolution that has the Senate sit until we complete the bill. If people are not prepared to do that then they are exposed for actually having taken a decision that they are not going to deal with the legislation this week. Let’s be frank about it. I understand the Greens are prepared to deal with it this week and we call on other senators to do the same. But if, in fact, as I suspect and I think everyone knows, this is merely an attempt by the Liberal Party to put off judgment day on their position on the CPRS, do the Senate the courtesy of being upfront about that.