Feb 28, 2006

Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2005, Second Reading

MINISTERS OF STATE AMENDMENT BILL 2005

Second Reading Speech

28 February 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (7.31 p.m.)—I am very pleased to support the amendment to the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 2005 moved by my colleague the member for Wills. It is appropriate that we in this House should be scrutinising the matters contained in this amendment at this particular time in history—the 10th anniversary of the election of the Howard government on 2 March 1996, the same day I was elected to this House—because, after 10 long years of the Howard government, there is arrogance and incompetence right across the show. We have the ongoing AWB saga. We have now had more than 21 documents raised by the opposition in question time. Day after day, ministers are being questioned about how they could sit by and allow $300 million to be paid in kickbacks from the AWB to the Saddam Hussein regime at the same time as Australia was preparing to go to war against that regime. An Australian government can make no more serious decision than to send our men and women to war. We made that decision based upon the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. We now know that we not only made that commitment on the basis of a lie but at the very same time we were funding the regime to the tune of $300 million.

Four new cables were today raised in parliament and the Minister for Foreign Affairs conceded not only that he had been briefed on the documents but that he had read them himself. Those documents outlined very clearly, way back in January 2000, some three years before the war began, the clear concerns that existed about allegations of kickbacks to the Iraqi regime in contravention of UN sanctions against that regime. What was the government’s response? It was to ask the AWB, ‘Are you doing anything wrong?’ When the AWB said, ‘Oh, no,’ that was essentially it; that was the investigation of the government. That was symptomatic of this government’s approach to public policy.

When it comes to the Prime Minister’s code of conduct, we saw at the beginning of the process a number of ministers—John Herron, Jim Short, Brian Gibson, Geoff Prosser and others—having to fall on their swords and resign. Peter McGauran also had to resign, but he made a comeback. He is still a member of the National Party—for the time being. Over a period of time, the Prime Minister’s standards have disappeared. We have had scandals involving Michael Wooldridge, Wilson Tuckey and Richard Alston. We had travel rorts and we had balaclavas on the waterfront. We had Stan Howard and National Textiles. We had the telecard affair, concerning Peter Reith, and of course the children overboard affair.

I would ask all Australians to read David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s book Dark Victory because that clearly outlines the symptomatic way in which the government was prepared not only to vilify and abuse asylum seekers but also to misuse the Department of Defence in a way which completely abrogated the independent way in which Defence should operate. Even as late as this week the Prime Minister was still attempting to say maybe they scuttled the boat. Of course that was not true. That was not found. It is quite clear that the whole basis of the children overboard affair was that once again this government was prepared to put its political interest above the national interest. That comes through the Department of the Environment and Heritage, which I have responsibility for as shadow minister, and that comes through on the subject of the management of water issues, which I also have responsibility for. This government is so drunk with power that it silences dissent and stifles debate. It controls both houses of parliament so it thinks that we have a one-party state—accountability goes out the window.

A recent FourCorners program raised some very serious allegations that senior CSIRO scientists are being silenced on climate change issues. Australia’s top scientists are being gagged from saying we need greenhouse gas emission targets. They cannot even say that environmental refugees will be an issue when Pacific island nations flood because of climate change. That is contrary to specific advice given to the government by the department. On 5 January this year, when Labor released its policy on a Pacific climate change strategy, the response of the government was: ‘Let’s just hope it never happens’—quite contrary to the specific advice that it had been given. It is a tragedy that CSIRO scientists are operating in a climate of fear where anything that indicates that they disagree with current government policy is censored. Leading CSIRO scientist Dr Barrie Pittock was expressly told he could not talk about climate change mitigation in dealing with rising sea levels in the Pacific. One of the world’s leading climate change scientists, Dr Graeme Pearman, was gagged because he said we need greenhouse gas emission targets and we need carbon trading to help avoid dangerous climate change.

The Age reported last week, on 20 February, that the government had suppressed a key chapter of its landmark Climate change: risk and vulnerability report. The report has a number of chapters outlining the threats to Australia—the threat of a decrease in rainfall, the threat of increased extreme weather events and the threat to our iconic areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu. Yet a chapter that was never published by the government was the chapter outlining the recommendations of what to do. So you had the problems revealed in the Climatechange: riskandvulnerability report but you also had the suppression of the key chapter outlining priorities for action. This is an absolute scandal. The government and its ministers consistently fail to be accountable to the Australian people.

In terms of other environmental issues, it is quite clear that this government is prepared to have completely inconsistent positions when it comes to the independent advice that it has been given. If you want to see how ministerial standards and accountability have declined over the past decade, look at the contradictions that litter the government’s climate change policy. Take emissions trading, for example. On 14 February 2006 in Senate estimates, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage said this:

I think carbon trading schemes are part of the policy answer … There is nothing radical about supporting trading schemes.

Yet today in question time in the Senate, when he got a dorothy dixer, he criticised emissions trading schemes. On 14 April 2005, he said:

… we don’t think it’s an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases. The costs imposed particularly on, let’s say, domestic power bills far outweigh the benefits of the emissions reduced.

Interjection

Mr Robb—Hear, hear!

Continue Mr ALBANESE—So where does the government stand on emissions trading? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, who is at the table, says he agrees. I wonder if he agrees with his leader in waiting—and waiting and waiting and waiting—the member for Higgins. The Treasurer, who went across to the United States, spoke at a conference during G’day LA events on 18 January 2006.

Interjection

Mr Murphy—What did he say?

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—He said this:

A market based solution will give the right signal to producers and to consumers. It will make clear the opportunity cost of using energy resources, thereby encouraging more and better investment in additional sources of supply and improving the efficiency with which they are used …

Price signals in an efficient open market will promote new and more efficient investment …

So the environment minister is in the Senate today saying price signals are bad but the Treasurer goes to LA, thinking that something called the internet does not exist, and says it is good. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said this on 31 July 2005:

We know that emissions can’t continue at their current rate. That’s going to require research, collaborative research. It’s also going to mean we’ll have to investigate price signals coming from energy … By changing price signals, obviously that leads to changes in the investment patterns. You can get more investment into cleaner energy through changing pricing signals …

The foreign minister was right on 31 July 2005, the Treasurer was right on 18 January 2006 and indeed the environment minister was right on 14 February 2006, but they say a different thing today on the issue of emissions trading and the need to get price signals. You can only have two forms of price signals, emissions trading or a carbon tax. Maybe they are in favour of a carbon tax rather than emissions trading, but the Labor Party is in favour of emissions trading. That would appear to me to be what some of the government, some of the time, are arguing should happen—but not just yet. That is one of the inconsistencies in government standards.

On 27 October 2005 the environment minister described climate change as ‘a very serious threat to Australia’, but at the same time his department was in court challenging the very existence of climate change.

The environment minister has said on numerous occasions that global emissions need to be cut by at least 60 per cent by 2050, but the government’s climate change policies will—according to the report from ABARE on the Asia-Pacific Climate pact—increase emissions by 70 to 80 per cent by 2050. That was the most optimistic assessment if all the proposals discussed at the Asia-Pacific Climate pact meeting were adopted.

Let us look at the Great Barrier Reef. The government’s own Australian Greenhouse Office has for years highlighted the dramatic impact climate change will have on the Great Barrier Reef. The report to the government and to the minister, the Climate change risk and vulnerability report—the report which had the chapter about what to do about it suppressed by the government—said this:

The Reef itself is likely to suffer from coral bleaching events, which have long recovery times and flow on effects for the whole ecosystem. Climate model projections suggest that within 40 years water temperatures could be above the survival limit of corals.

The evidence is very clear. It has been given to the government, and yet what do government ministers say? On 9 February this year, the industry minister said this:

I think the Reef is in good shape. Those areas where it is being closely managed… it is probably in better shape than it has been for years.

The government is all over the shop when it comes to the fundamental challenges before it.

Let us look at the Kyoto protocol. On 19 December 1997, after the Howard government signed the Kyoto protocol, the Prime Minister described it as ‘a win for the environment, and a win for Australian jobs’. This is a government that now holds the Kyoto protocol in the same affection as the National Party hold Senator McGauran. On 16 February 2005, the environment minister said:

"Quite frankly— the protocol— is a dud."

At the same time, when the Asia-Pacific Climate pact meeting was being held, the government was saying that it complemented the Kyoto Protocol and that the Kyoto Protocol, as the international agreement, was important.

Let us look at the issue of whaling. On 22 June 2005, at the end of an International Whaling Commission meeting, the environment minister arrogantly exclaimed:

Australia and pro-conservation nations have today won a massive victory for whale conservation. This is a fantastic outcome because it reinforces Australia’s determination to ensure all commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling is consigned to the dustbin of history.

Tragically, the slaughter of whales has not been consigned to the dustbin of history. Night after night over the Christmas period, Australians were shocked by the images of whales being slaughtered in our territory; in territory declared by this government as part of the Australian Whale Sanctuary. And yet the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock intervened in a case involving the Humane Society International about whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary to say that it should not be successful because it would create a ‘diplomatic disagreement with Japan’.

Far from an end of whaling, we have actually seen a doubling of whaling since the minister declared that. There has been a doubling in the catch of minke whales to 935 and an expansion to include 50 fin whales. If it was not for Greenpeace’s actions, Australians would not know what occurred in the Australian Whale Sanctuary over the Christmas period, because this government was not interested in monitoring the activities there.

Now the environment minister is saying that Japan will probably have majority support at the next IWC meeting, which will be held in the Caribbean this year. The government has sat on its hands while Japan has stacked the IWC. He says that he wants to consign whaling to the dustbin of history, but he has not been willing to take the government of Japan and other whaling nations to international courts such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

We also know that when it comes to heritage issues this is a government in which ministerial accountability has gone missing. On 18 December 2003, the Prime Minister stated that Anzac Cove would be the first listing on the National Heritage List. He said:

"It seems to me… entirely appropriate that the Anzac site at Gallipoli should represent the first nomination for inclusion on the National Heritage List. And, although it’s not on Australian territory, anyone who has visited the place will know that once you go there you feel it as an Australian as the piece of land on which your home is built."

So what was actually going on while you had the Prime Minister and other ministers saying this?

What was going on was that they were requesting road works to trash this sacred piece of our heritage. When I raised it in the parliament and asked questions of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s response was that it was regrettable that it was even being raised. Although Anzac Cove is still not on the National Heritage List and in spite of the public outcry about what has occurred there, reports were given at Senate estimates that the area is continuing to be desecrated. (Time expired)