Sep 12, 2011

Press Conference – Canberra

Subjects: Clean Energy legislation

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for joining us everyone. Tomorrow Parliament will commence at 12 noon and the government will be introducing 18 bills as part of the Clean Energy Future package. These will be debated concurrently.

There will then be a separate piece of legislation, the Steel Transformation Plan, which will be introduced at the same time, but it will be considered separately as it isn’t a bill arising from the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, but a government initiative.

Further bills to establish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency will be introduced in the coming months, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will be introduced in early 2012. The Government’s determined to act on climate change, and it’s clear that the Opposition have said that their plan is to cause as much delay as possible. Given that they delayed for 12 years any action on climate change, it is not surprising that they seek to once again wreck and play a negative role in terms of the parliamentary processes.

Tomorrow, once these bills are introduced, I will also be moving two procedural motions.

One is to refer the bills to a joint select committee which will enable closer examination of the bills. There has, of course, already been a lot of consideration of these issues through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, which of course the Coalition refused to participate in, and we know of course that this is not a new issue.

Indeed, the first review of emissions trading was conducted by an Australian Government in 1998 by the former Howard Government some 13 years ago, and then of course we had the Shergold committee, the processes around the CPRS, and the Garnaut reviews.

I think it’s pretty clear that Australians know that they want to act on climate change, and the Government’s determined to do just that.

The joint committee will report on 4 October. So plenty of time to have input and a review of the legislation which is there. The Government will also be moving a procedural resolution – and the Government will not have a majority on that committee by the way in terms of how it is established, what its make up will be.

In terms of the process for the bill’s passage through the House of Representative and the Senate, as I said, the joint committee will report on 4 October. On 11 October we will have the determination, in the House of Representatives, of the second reading, debate in terms of the legislation.

So the Government is providing for essentially a month of discussions beginning on Wednesday morning of this legislation. The Government has indicated to the Opposition and to the cross benchers we’d be very prepared to sit extra hours this week and next week to allow for more participation.

And it is certainly the Government’s intention that everyone who wants to participate in the debate on these bills will be given the time to make a contribution on this legislation which stands in stark contrast to the way that the former government handled, for example, the WorkChoices legislation.

The second reading debate will be concluded on 11 October. And then on Wednesday 12 October, one month from today, it’s anticipated, given the way that people have indicated they will be voting on this legislation, that the bills will pass the House of Representatives, and then go across to the Senate.

In order to facilitate debate in the Senate and to ensure that there’s a full participation, the Senate will be sitting an additional week from the week beginning 7 November.

It’s anticipated that the legislation therefore will be carried through the Senate at that stage in November. We’re determined to make sure that in order to provide business with the certainty that it needs, it is important that this legislation be carried by both houses of Parliament this year. But in being transparent, last week, I announced the process of when this legislation would be introduced into the Parliament.

Today we’re giving lots of notice as well about the time frame of when the votes will be held so that that certainty can be there. And the Government is however determined to act on climate change, and determined to ensure that this legislation is carried, and to avoid the relentless Opposition that we see from those opposite, who used to support, of course, putting a price on carbon.

Happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Is the Government’s intent to limit the speaking times of members speaking to the bill?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, the times now have been amended so that 15 minutes is available. We certainly would indicate that we’d be more than prepared to sit additional hours so that people can participate. For example, next Tuesday, our Parliament’s due to begin at 2pm.

There are issues for the staff of the Parliament in sitting really late into the night, but there’s no reason at all why we couldn’t do what we’ve done in the past which is to commence early. For example if we began at 9am, that’s an extra five hours of debate. That’s an additional 20 speakers would be able to make a contribution in that time while the respective caucuses are meeting on Tuesday morning.

QUESTION: The Coalition last week pointed to a standing order – the number of which temporarily escapes me – but which said that a single member on the selection of your committee could determine, could ask for a bill to be referred to a particular type of committee, and they were saying they want it to go to a House committee presumably so that it could then – they could then also argue that it would go, should go to a Senate committee in the Upper House.

Would it matter to you if – is that true, and would it matter to you if it went to a house-only committee rather than a joint select committee?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s going to be going to a joint committee. That is what has been agreed to by the Government in discussions as well with the cross benchers. It is appropriate that there be one committee process, not two, and that is why a joint committee is the appropriate mechanism to deal with this legislation. I think that the Opposition can’t have it both ways, and I say to you in advance that they will put two arguments in coming days.

One is to avoid debating the bill. Secondly at the same time they’ll be saying we need more time to debate the bill.

They can’t have it both ways. Debate will commence on Wednesday. That is appropriate. We have had a long long time of consideration of these issues.

Is there anyone in Australia who doesn’t know that Tony Abbott is going to do, what Tony Abbott does, which is vote no to this legislation?

QUESTION: Do you promise here and now that you won’t move a gag or guillotine?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ll be moving a procedural motion tomorrow in the Parliament to ensure that the bills are carried in a timely manner, in a way that gives people lots of notice about what the timetable is, that ensures that if people want extra time for discussion, I say, here and now, the government is prepared to allow that extra time.

I’ve indicated to the Opposition that that is the case. I want every member who wants to participate in this debate to have the opportunity to do so. It seems to me though that with the Opposition arguing – as your learned colleague suggested – that we should go off to a committee and not have any debate should be seen for exactly what it is which is an attempt to delay debate on this legislation, and to delay the passage of this legislation, and create just more uncertainty because that’s what they’re about.

QUESTION: But if the Government said this is the biggest economic reform in modern history why not subject the actual legislation, which no-one has seen yet, to a full and thorough enquiry lasting over maybe several months?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are absolutely exposing this legislation to full and proper scrutiny; that will occur through the joint committee. This compares with, for those of you who were here when WorkChoices went through – first reading, second reading, bang, through it went. Something that changed every workplace in the country. I think the two paths are very distinct.

We are making sure there is proper scrutiny. There has been committee after committee after committee for now – I’ve been in this place for a long time now, more than 15 years. In that entire time there have been committees looking at pricing carbon, it is time for action when it comes to pricing carbon, the Government is determined to do that. There is a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives and in the Senate to make sure that happens.

QUESTION: Has the Government received any advice that it’s High Court proof?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government is determined to introduce this legislation, my job is to make sure that the House of Representatives functions properly. I think in terms of transparency, this is a level of transparency that never occurred under the Howard Government. There was never an occasion whereby the Leader of the House, Tony Abbott, told you lot anything, let alone the Opposition anything in terms of the processes, timeframes of what was happening.

What I’m doing here today is doing just that, as I did last week, the resolutions that will be passed through the Parliament tomorrow will ensure that that timeframe, that certainty, is there. We’re making sure with the senate sitting an extra week that there is that scrutiny there as well, in terms of the senate processes. And I think no-one can argue that this legalisation hasn’t been through proper scrutiny.

QUESTION: So it’s an extra week, November, for the Senate, and does it pass at the end of that week or the end of…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for the senate. I think I’ve been bold in announcing an extra senate week, I wouldn’t want to test their patience by talking further about procedures in the Senate, it’s really a matter for them.

QUESTION: It returns to the House in the second last week of November if the Senate passes it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it doesn’t necessarily have to be returned, as you’d be aware, in terms of the processes.

QUESTION: Isn’t it unreasonable to expect members of the House of Representatives to debate 18 pieces of legislation worth hundreds of pages of print when it’s being examined at the same time by a committee? Shouldn’t they have the benefit of the committee’s report before they debate it given the length of the legislation?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: They will have the benefit of the committee’s report before they vote on this legislation. If you want to argue that there’s some doubt as to the way that Liberal and National Party members are going to vote on this legislation then you write that.

Thank you.