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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 3987

Senator RONALDSON (1:25 PM) —I agree with Senator Siewert—for whom I have a great deal of respect on a personal basis—that this debate is about the future. I have real issues about how she wants to get there and how the Greens want to get there, but this is a debate about the future. I thought that it was fascinating to hear today Senator Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, talking about the debate surrounding whether the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills were going to be debated this week or, indeed, finalised in August. I will take the opportunity to quote Senator Xenophon, and I agree with him absolutely. I hope that I am quoting him correctly from this morning, when he said, ‘We ought to get the design right.’

On what Senator Siewert said today about the future, there is a lot at stake with the joint decision of the chambers of the parliament—the Senate and the other place. The ramifications of the decisions that will be made by those two chambers in relation to this matter are enormous. They are significant in an environmental sense, but they are equally significant in an economic sense. I do not think that is what Senator Siewert was talking about, but that is what I want to talk about today: the significance in an economic sense.

It makes absolutely no sense to me at all that we have taken up close to three-quarters of an hour—nearly an hour—this week, on a rough calculation, deciding whether these bills should be debated this week, because, for those in the gallery and those listening today, this scheme does not start for approximately, I think, 737 days. It is now 23 June. This scheme does not start until 1 July 2011. I am sure there are people in the gallery and people listening today who would have heard Senator Evans talk about whether these bills should be debated today and wondered, ‘What on earth is he on about?’ It is two years and seven days before this scheme is due to start. If it were to start on 1 September, I could understand the government’s urgency. If it were to start even on 1 January, I could understand the government’s urgency. But it is to start on 1 July 2011.

At stake here is our ability to guarantee our children and grandchildren the sort of country and economy that will maximise their chances of having a job and a future. How can it be that the government is opposed to an independent assessment, as Senator Xenophon also talked about today, with some economic modelling that will test the government’s and Treasury’s views on the potential economic outcomes of this? The notion that you can divorce the environment from the economy is a quite remarkable policy and practical approach, because you cannot divorce the two. It is impossible to divorce the two because if you go down that path you are putting the future of this country at very, very grave risk.

The other matter I find quite remarkable is that the rest of the world is going to be debating this very issue in about five months time. The rest of the world is going to ultimately make a global decision about what we are going to do. I would, again, put the perspective of when the government’s scheme is due to start—1 July 2011. The Howard government had an ETS policy so, in that regard, we have very much shown our policy and environmental hand. But the one other elephant in the room, which is still there, is the impact on our economy and the impact on the ability of our kids and grandkids to have a decent standard of living. How can it be that the government is trying to force this legislation through? How can the community—the mums, dads, aunts, uncles and grandparents out there—be satisfied that what this parliament is doing will sustain the long-term economic future of this country and everyone who lives here?

I personally believe that this issue should be addressed. If there is a risk then I believe we should ameliorate that risk. I am not in the Chicken Little camp, but I do understand that we have a responsibility to ameliorate risks if they are there. But that has to be based on sound evidence. That cannot be based on a Chicken Little approach to this issue. If this whole debate is seen in a context where the environmental debate is run with the economic debate then you can do nothing other than approach this in a reasoned and rational manner. The global leaders have made the decision that this is a substantial issue. The coalition have made it quite clear that we believe this is a substantial issue. We have been proactive in a policy sense in relation to this debate. But what we cannot understand is how the government can possibly be prepared to put this country’s future at risk without an appropriate investigation of the economic ramifications.

The members for Goldstein, Flinders and Groom, who have been running this debate on behalf of the opposition, have in my view put forward a rational and reasoned position in relation to the timetable for these debates. I have heard government backbenchers and others over this debate insinuate that we must go to Copenhagen with legislation. The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has revealed that the UN does not require countries to have legislation in place before the Copenhagen meeting. So why is it that this government is in such an incredible rush to put legislation in place before the world leaders get together and have a global solution to this issue?

I think it is becoming clearer and clearer: this is actually about politics, not about policy. I fail to see how the Australian community, when given all the evidence in relation to this debate, can form a view other than that this is about politics, not policy. Surely it is incumbent upon a national government heading into such an important area, and such an important policy debate, to make sure that it has all the ducks lined up in relation to the impact on this country. Surely it is one of the basic responsibilities of any government to make sure that what it does is right. I suspect that this is probably the most significant piece of legislation that this chamber and the other place will debate in the next decade—possibly in the next two decades. Surely it is incumbent upon us to make absolutely sure that what we are doing is right, because not to do so would be the most appalling abrogation of the responsibilities that the Australian people have given us.

We are in a remarkably privileged position and we come to this place with different philosophical views. Senator Xenophon has a certain philosophical view, Senator Fielding has, the Greens have. I do not agree with the Greens probably 95 per cent of the time, but they have a philosophical view and they have been elected to this place and they are entitled to express that view, as is the Australian Labor Party and as are the Liberal and National parties. But when we come in here with those different philosophical views we are required—it is requirement that has been forced upon us, quite rightly, by the position we hold—to make sure that what we do is in the best interests of the Australian people. If we abrogate that responsibility then we should not be here. If we are prepared to put at risk potentially the economic strength of this nation and therefore the standard of living of those who are too young at the moment to have a vote or who have not been born, then that is a monstrous albatross that we would wear around our necks for the rest of our days, both while we are here but probably more importantly when those of us who are here now are no longer here.

This debate should not be finalised until we know what the rest of the world is doing. It is bizarre that a country which I think is responsible for about 1.2 per cent or 1.4 per cent of the world’s global emissions is getting itself so far out there without having done the appropriate economic modelling, without having done the homework, with a series of regulations that still have not been finalised and will not be finalised until the middle of August, and that we are required to take the government on trust in relation to what those regulations might contain. We are required to take on trust on behalf of the Australian community the views of a minister, one person, in this place. Well, I am not prepared to do that. I have three children, who are 19, 22 and 24, and it is my fervent hope that at some stage they will have children of their own. I am not prepared to come in here and abrogate the responsibility I owe to my own children but more importantly to the children of every other Australian.

One of the great strengths of this country is the strength of our regions. From a parochial Victorian point of view I talk about the Bendigos, the Ballarats and the Geelongs. I will talk about the fundamental requirement for us in this place to protect the regions, to protect regional and rural Australians, to give those kids the same opportunities that their city cousins have. There should not be one person in this chamber who is not aware of the report commissioned by the New South Wales government, a Labor government, which said that the biggest impact of the gov-ernment’s current scheme will be upon Australia’s regions; in fact a 20 per cent reduction potentially in the economic activity in those regions. I ask you, Madam Acting Deputy President, which areas suffer first in and economic downturn and last into economic upturn? It is the regions. They are the very regions that sustain the rural sector of this great country of ours. First into recession, last into growth. There is a fragility within those regions that you do not see in the major cities.

I am very proudly a fifth-generation resident of Ballarat; our kids are the sixth generation. My family were very actively involved in the manufacturing sector. I am the very proud patron senator for the seats of Corangamite and Corio. Within those seats are some of the most at-risk industries in this country. I believe Geelong has the largest carbon footprint of any region in Australia. We are talking about Alcoa; we are talking about cement; we are talking about motor vehicles; we are talking on the New South Wales government report, the Frontier report I think it was called. We are talking a minimum of 700 jobs in Geelong—700 jobs that we are required to do what we can to protect. Yet we have this disgraceful performance in this chamber this week where we are trying to rush through legislation that will not start for two years and seven days.

The Labor Party wonders why we are opposed to this course of action. I will tell you why we are opposed to it: because we believe in the fundamental right of the Australian people to have a standard of living that they deserve and that we can afford. If we are prepared to go down this path without having done the appropriate homework to guaran-tee and maximise that, then, quite frank-ly, we should not be here. I want the Australian Labor Party and I wanted Darren Cheeseman, the member for Corangamite, and Richard Marles to go and tell the people of Geelong why they are not prepared to stand up for those 700 jobs, why they are not prepared to make sure that what is done is done properly. And how can it be that the parliamentary secretary, now Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, Mr Combet, made it quite clear in an interview that not one member of the Australian Labor Party had been to him to discuss jobs? Not one member of the Australian Labor Party had been to him to discuss jobs and the jobs ramification of the government scheme. Yet Mr Marles was in the Geelong Advertiser saying that he had. One of them has not been truthful.

Where is Mr Darren Cheeseman in this debate? Why is Mr Cheeseman not standing up for the people of Geelong? Why isn’t he out there saying to the government that this is simply not acceptable until we know where the world is going? I find it remarkable that the potential legislation of the leader of the world’s greatest economy is miles away from the Rudd government’s legislation. We have got to get to Copenhagen, we have got to have a global view on this and we cannot abrogate our responsibility to the Australian people by putting in place legislation until we are absolutely sure that the rest of the world is committed to a course of action that will not damn this country’s industries and its workers to oblivion.