Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Questions without Notice
Will it cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions?—
Yes it will. The minimum amount of emissions reductions achieved in the year 2020 will be 160 million tonnes.
A clarification was then sought, with the interviewer asking whether those cuts would be in Australia, to which Minister Combet replied:
In Australia, that's correct, …
Isn't it true that, even with Labor's carbon tax, emissions in Australia will actually rise from 578 million tonnes in 2010 to 621 million tonnes in 2020, a rise of 43 million tonnes not a cut of 160 million tonnes? Why did Minister Combet seek to mislead Australians on national television last night?
Mr President, first I am not sure if I should take the question, because the question was to the minister for climate change. I have not been the minister for climate change for quite some time.
It is the case that Australia's emissions with a carbon price will fall from what they otherwise would have been. The opposition like to pretend that that is not the measure—I am always interested in the opposition's metrics because their position is that we should pretend, that there is this sort of 'Abbott world' in which there will be no change to Australia's emissions despite economic growth and population growth between now and 2020. It must be the same Abbott world where you can keep spending money without having to account for it.
You are quite right, Mr President—the Mr Abbott world in which you can keep spending money on program after program, matching spending promises, while you campaign to abolish the revenue sources for those spending promises. It is a very interesting world where emissions do not grow, despite the fact that the economy grows, and you can spend as much money as you want and campaign against the taxes which fund that spending.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order as to relevance. The question was quite clearly put to find out whether what was said last night on The 7.30 Report was the truth or not the truth. We are waiting for the answer. It might have been a mistake but you have not answered the question, just like every other question.
In terms of The 7.30 Report interview, I understand Mr Combet did go on to explain the nature of international linking and said that the point behind international linking is to reduce the cost on Australian business. That is why you enable international linking. This is another part of the Mr Abbott planet where you impose more cost on Australian business—this is a Liberal position. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Having already committed more than $37 million to try to flog its toxic carbon tax through mail-outs, advertising and funding activist groups, will the minister rule out committing another dollar of taxpayer money to a taxpayer-funded advertising campaign designed to con Australians into believing the carbon tax is good for them?
Certainly Mr Combet engaged in some previous discussion in relation to the information campaign. The reason for an information campaign is that this is a very significant reform, a major economic reform, which will ensure not only that we price carbon but also that many taxpayers will get tax cuts and many Australians will get an increase in their pension. I am indebted to my colleague who has reminded me of the fabulous Work Choices campaign, which had fridge magnets, mouse pads and millions of brochures sitting in a warehouse for months. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given Labor ministers will not even tell the truth about the carbon tax in national television interviews and that this Labor minister refuses to rule out throwing good money after bad in trying to sell this tax to Australians, why should Australians believe anything Labor says about this toxic tax by whatever means they express it?
Why should the Australian people believe anything those opposite say when it comes to climate change, when over years and years they have changed their position, once supporting action on climate change, now opposing it? There was even the 'blood oath' about the repeal. Remember Mr Abbott said to Australian companies, 'Don't buy permits.' His shadow minister comes into debates on this bill and moves an amendment that will enable companies to buy more permits. That says something about how serious they really are about repealing it, because coming in here amending an act in order to remedy a problem is hardly consistent with a blood oath to repeal.
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Is the minister aware of the letter from the Prime Minister of the UK to our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in reference to the carbon package saying:
Your announcement sends a strong and clear signal that Australia is determined to make its contribution to addressing this challenge and it will add momentum to those in both the developed and the developing world.
I ask the minister: is it not an embarrassment that Australia has a Leader of the Opposition, a conservative, in London, who, to take the Prime Minister of Britain's words, is neither serious about action on climate change nor prepared to have Australia play its role in contributing to addressing that challenge?
I will leave the adjectives perhaps to others. I would say it is certainly rather odd, isn't it, that the man who pledges in blood to repeal this carbon price disappeared on the day it was voted on, was not even here to comment on it—
Regardless of the timing, I would invite Mr Abbott, while he is overseas, to perhaps talk to his conservative colleague about the wisdom of his position. Let us remember, Margaret Thatcher is amongst the many people on the conservative side of politics who recognised the importance of the issue of climate change. And regardless of the various political differences in the United Kingdom, we have seen consistently from both sides of politics there—all major parties, I should say—a recognition of the importance of dealing with climate change and of the importance of pricing carbon as a way to deal with it in an economically efficient way. The reality is that Prime Minister Cameron's position is far closer to the Labor government's position than it is to Mr Abbott's position and that of his conservative colleagues. That is the reality of the position and that is the oddness of the policy position that Mr Abbott holds.
One would have thought that conservatives might actually think that there is a role for sensible economic policy. Sensible economic policy would be to price carbon. Sensible economic policy is not, as Mr Abbott is proposing, to tax Australian families in order to fund big polluters.
We believe, in the UK government, that climate change presents one of this century’s major international challenges in terms of security and peace in the world …
… … …
We believe the most successful economies of the future will be built on low carbon growth …
I ask the minister: do you think there is anything that connects the Australian Leader of the Opposition with this forward-thinking— (Time expired)
Mr President, on a point of order, clearly this question is seeking an opinion. The question was: do you think there is anything connecting two parliamentarians—one in the United Kingdom and one on the opposition side? That clearly bears no relationship to the ministerial duties of the minister.
Order! Senator Brandis, screaming across the chamber such as that does not help the conduct of question time. It does you no good at all as an individual member of the Senate and I think it might help if you withdraw that remark. I am not directing you; I think it might help if you withdraw it.
Senator Brandis, that really does not help. Senator Heffernan is on his feet. Senator Heffernan, I want to clear this matter up first, so if you will resume your seat.
I do not think the manner in which that was done helps the way in which question time is conducted in this place. I admire the fact that there is robust debate in this chamber, but I do not think it helps the conduct of the business for any senator—I am not just selecting you on this matter, Senator Brandis—to call across the chamber in such a manner. There is a time to debate these issues if you disagree with the views that are being expressed. Senator Abetz rightly took a point of order, which he is entitled to do. But if people disagree with the issue then the place to debate it is at the end of question time. In trying to maintain reasonable order in this place—I am not trying to be onerous on people—I just ask that, if people who are asked to withdraw something can withdraw it in a reasonable manner, that does help, and they should not put any caveats on it. Whether it offends Senator Brown or not is not the issue; it is whether it offends the chamber and the conduct of the business in this chamber.
Some people need to look at the behaviour in this chamber—and I am not singling out you, Senator Brandis; I want you to understand that quite clearly. I am saying this to all people on all sides, because it really does reflect poorly on the way in which people perceive this chamber when people on both sides—it does not matter which political party—entertain behaviour that is not acceptable to the public. Having said that, Senator Brandis, it would assist me in the conduct of this if you would just say you withdraw it.
Mr President, on the point of order originally raised by Senator Abetz, can I indicate at the outset that Senator Abetz appeared to be relying on 73(1)(h), which indicates that the question should not call for an expression of opinion. However, in looking at the letter of standing order 73, this chamber has not stuck to that for a long time, as evidenced by questions from the opposition over many years. But there is an ability to express the question more broadly rather than to simply confine it. In addition to that, if I couple it with the second part of Senator Brown's question, Senator Wong in answering can answer that part of the question which she is able to, even ruling out under 73(1)(h) that part which calls for an opinion. The question was quite long and covered a significant amount of territory.
There is an opportunity for me under the standing orders to ask for a question to be rephrased, but I am not going to do so. I am going to say, as I have said consistently in this place, the minister needs only to answer that part of the question which applies to the minister's portfolio. Those parts that do not apply the minister does not have to address at all. Minister, answer only those parts that apply to your portfolio.
I was asked if I—I will not take the interjection. It is certainly the case that Mr Abbott's position is unusual. It is perhaps not as unusual as Senator Joyce's is, but it is an unusual position. Perhaps what makes it most unusual is that generally there has been an approach by governments of both political persuasions that a sensible way to approach climate change is to understand the economic change which is required and therefore to put in place the most efficient policy mechanism, which is a market mechanism. On this, Mr Abbott is on his own.
This is a historic moment. Australia's Parliament has put the nation's first carbon price into law … As the world’s leading coal exporter, there's no doubt that opposition to this legislation was fierce. But through determination and commitment, the voice of the people of Australia has rung out loud and clear.
I ask the honourable minister what response she has to the comments of this world leader in thinking on climate change.
The question is: is the minister aware of these positive comments about the passage of legislation through the Australian parliament, and what impact does that have on the global awareness of the action of this Australian parliament?
I have seen reporting of those comments. I think that Vice President Gore's position in advocating consistently across the world for action on climate change is hardly unknown. I do not know why the opposition find this such a controversial issue. I make the point—
As I was saying, I do not understand why the opposition finds this such a controversial proposition. I think the Vice President's advocacy for action on climate change is well known. He has, like many people around the world and many people in Australia have, looked at the science and come to the view that it is very important that this generation take responsibility, given the short space of time in which we can reduce the risk for future generations.