Sep 13, 2011

Establishing Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Clean Energy Future Legislation

ANTHONY ALBANESE – Today I am moving a motion to refer the bills that were moved this morning to a Joint Parliamentary Committee to enable closer scrutiny of the bills. Given the Multi Party Climate Change Committee process and the extensive debate already conducted, the Government considers this to be the appropriate mechanism. Carbon pricing and climate change policy have been widely debated in Australia for more than a decade, including through some 35 Parliamentary Committee inquiries. This will make number 36. The first review of emissions trading by an Australian Government was in 1998 – 13 years ago.  There was extensive policy work undertaken by the former Howard Government, most notably by Peter Shergold, which concluded that pricing carbon was the best approach. In addition of course Professor Ross Garnaut has conducted two major reviews on Australia’s best policy options for tackling climate change. The Government’s Clean Energy Future package was developed through a parliamentary committee process – the MPCCC – which met for 9 months before completing its work in July 2011. The Federal Coalition, Greens and Independents were invited to participate in the MPCCC.  Only the Coalition declined.


Since the establishment of the MPCCC in September 2010, the Government has engaged widely, including through the Business and NGO Roundtables.  In February, the Government released the framework for its carbon pricing policy and sought feedback. Draft Legislation was released for consultation in late July and over 1300 submissions were received. This contrasts with the Coalition’s introduction of WorkChoices where there was 8 days to make a submission to a Senate Committee that reported back a week later. The most significant reform to workplace relations in Australian history. Legislation that stripped away the rights of working Australians. But there was no opportunity to view the legislation before it was introduced into the parliament in 2005. In contrast we’ve had countless consultations, inquiries and reports. The time has come to deliver a low carbon economy of the future and give business and investors the certainty they have been asking for. The Liberals certainly don’t need another long inquiry to decide how they’re going to vote. The whole country knows how Tony Abbott is going to vote – no. He continually says that is the case. He has said he staked his political future on opposition to this legislation. Spending months more on this isn’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know which will just cost businesses the certainty that they need and that they are asking for. The Australian community wants action on climate change – they want us to get on with it.


The Gillard Government has been open, transparent and consultative about this process. We have shared with the Australian community all the available research that has informed our thinking. There was a time when the Leader of the Opposition believed in climate change. There was a time when all those opposite supported an emissions trading scheme – at the end of the Howard Government and again in Opposition. This is an opportunity for the Opposition to demonstrate that they can put the national interest ahead of self interest. But I don’t think that will be the case. Instead we’ll have once again the Leader of the Opposition, the walking Vuvuzela, walking around saying no, no, no, to any initiative of the Government because that is the one sound that he makes. In his press conference today the leader of the Opposition claimed that this legislation is being rushed through, despite the fact it will be a whole month of debate in this parliament about this legislation. 


The Government has also indicated to the Opposition and to the crossbenchers that we are more than prepared to sit extra hours in the coming fortnight in order to make sure that everyone can participate in the debate. Those opposite who state on the one hand that they want extra debate on this, but on the other hand saying they’re opposed to sitting extra hours to facilitate the debate. I’ll leave it to them to explain that process. But perhaps they’ll change their mind because I will certainly be moving a motion about extra hours and I’ve attempted – as is the style of myself as Leader of the House – to attempt to get consensus – and have approached the manager of Opposition business about that to ensure that is the case. They are very desperate to oppose at every single opportunity. What we will have is the debate and this process will begin tomorrow. The debate will begin, the bills have all been introduced, people will be able to participate and people in the broader community will be able to make submissions and participate in the Joint Committee process. They will be able to do that.


I do note that unlike every single committee established by the former Government, every single committee without exception, the Government is not seeking to have a Government majority on this committee. That is indicative of the approach we have taken which is an inclusive approach. One that has said, let’s get the submissions from the scientists on the science, not the flat-earthers, but the scientists. When it comes to the economists we think for the economics there should be an opportunity for economists to make submissions about the appropriate mechanisms to find the cheapest way in order to deliver a reduction in carbon emissions. Those opposite of course would rather listen to the submissions of the Citizens Electoral Council, the League of Rights, the sort of people who were demonstrating outside my electorate office with the Member for Indi a couple of weeks ago. There with their signs, tolerance is our demise, outside an office in Marrickville Road. How to make friends with multicultural Australia. Tolerance is our demise is their approach. So it’s little wonder that they’re opposed to setting up this committee which will add to the transparency, there will be a process whereby the committee will report prior to any votes being held in the parliament. For those of us who have been here awhile, that never occurred under WorkChoices, under the GST legislation, there was never the certainty provided that this Government is prepared to provide.


I do note that there’s been figures given by those opposite about the amount of time per bills  that would be allowed in this debate. Thirty seconds were allowed per member per GST bill before this parliament. That was the best practice of the former Government unlike what they did in the WorkChoices legislation.