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Christine Milne: We already have an ETS - let's keep it

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Christine Milne 9 Jul 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks in the Senate on an amendment to effectively move to flexible pricing of an emissions trading scheme as soon as possible. She calls on the new senators to support the Emissions Trading Scheme that we already have.


Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:01): I am standing today to discuss the opposition's amendment to effectively move to flexible pricing of an emissions trading scheme and to do so as soon as possible. The Greens are going to support this amendment, and I want to explain to the Senate why that is. The first thing is that we already have an emissions trading scheme in legislation, and that is why it is possible to change dates and so on as this amendment suggests. We have one now. Unfortunately, Australians thought that we had a tax and, unfortunately, that is because the coalition told that lie for long enough and because former Prime Minister Julia Gillard conceded on a television program something she should never have conceded-that it was a tax. It never was a tax; it was a fixed price. However, we should have been able to go to flexible pricing on 1 July next year, but now it is quite clear that the numbers no longer exist for transitioning from a fixed price to a flexible price next year.

More recently we have had the Palmer United Party say that they support an emissions trading scheme. We had Mr Palmer stand up with Al Gore and say that he supports an emissions trading scheme. Well, we have one, and so this is really to test whether the Palmer United Party is really committed to emissions trading or not. We have a scheme; it is in the law; and, if we were to vote for this amendment, it would mean we would abandon the fixed price and transition immediately to a flexible price. That is possible; we could do it. It means the price would go from $25.40 to around $8, which is the European price-because we are currently linked to the European Union scheme.

Mr Palmer said he supported emissions trading and the Palmer United Party supports linking with our trading partners. This will really test whether that is fact or fiction-whether they support it or not. If they do not support this amendment, then they do not support an emissions trading scheme. Otherwise, they only support it as a notional view some time into the future. That would be giving up an effective framework of legislation now for something which may or may not ever happen. Given that the Abbott government has said they would never accept an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax-if indeed it was a tax-that means it will not happen. This is the opportunity for the Palmer United Party to deliver on what Mr Palmer told Al Gore he believed in-an emissions trading scheme.

On 31 May this year the default setting kicked in, meaning that we now have in Australia an emissions reduction target of around 18 per cent. That is effectively what the Climate Change Authority recommended in their report in February. If we were now to move to allow that emissions trading scheme to operate as a flexible price, we would have a default cap set at 18 per cent and we would have a price of around $8-depending on what the European union price is at any time. If the Palmer United Party supports that, it would mean that we would have an effective, legislated emissions trading scheme that would go immediately from a fixed price to a flexible price-reducing the carbon price from $25 to $8.

I do not like doing that because I want an effective carbon price in Australia-a price that will drive transformation. If you are serious about bringing down emissions, you need to maintain or increase the price. We are now at the point where we keep the scheme or we do not. That is why I am calling on the Palmer United Party to put legislation where their mouths have been, as evidenced by the stand up with Al Gore and Mr Palmer in this parliament only a fortnight or so ago. That is the opportunity. It would effectively mean an end to a fixed price and the immediate start of flexible pricing. I have taken advice on this, and it could be done very quickly. There is a cap in place; previously we had no cap in place; we only had a default but it did not kick in until 31 May. Now that the default has kicked in, everything is ready to go. It would only take us a week or two at the longest to make it happen. I am calling on the Palmer United Party to explain why, if they believe in an emissions trading scheme, they would not support this amendment and make it happen.

On another matter, we have ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to be considered here today. The Greens want to keep the Renewable Energy Agency. We were part of setting it up, through the clean energy package. It is a statutory authority and it is supporting early research and development in Australia in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. It is doing a fantastic job, together with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, in supporting early research and development projects. For the benefit of the Senate: already, with a $673 million contribution from ARENA, we have supported a total project value of $2 billion for 186 projects around the country. There are 152 projects in the pipeline, with $26 million being sought from ARENA but $5.6 billion in total investment for those projects. It would make no sense whatsoever for the government to gut ARENA, which is what they are trying to do. They are trying to do it before the legislation to abolish ARENA comes through the House, because they are trying to remove the funding from ARENA. That is what the government are doing in this schedule. That is why we should be getting rid of schedule 5 of the legislation, so that ARENA can continue.

On the subject of ARENA, I have written to the minister, and I would seek the support of the Senate to make sure that the government does not proceed with winding up ARENA, effectively. Two of the board members lost their positions on 30 June, and the final two are to go on 15 July. So, before we have even had the legislation, the government is going to allow this to happen to the people who know what is going on with all the 186 projects that have already been approved. They are the ones that especially need to be looked at, and we need to keep the existing expertise. We need to keep the money for ARENA, and the minister needs to make sure that the term of those existing personnel is extended until the parliament determines the future of ARENA.

I will be interested to hear the specifics from the Palmer United Party about their amendment. I will get to questions on that in a moment, but the main point here today is to say that we have an emissions trading scheme and it is operating. It can go to flexible pricing, with a target of 18 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. And it can drop the price. I do not like that, but nevertheless that is the effect it would have. It would go from $25 to $8. I put to the Palmer United Party: are you serious about keeping an emissions trading scheme or is the amendment to the Clean Energy Act just cover-putting it off till some time in the future? That is in fact what the Abbott government argues: that, at the point when the rest of the world acts-and they will determine when that is, and it is never-they will act. Are we just seeing this put off until next week to give cover to voting down the only effective policy framework for bringing down emissions we have got in Australia, the legislation that is here before us? I want to put very firmly on the record: this is the opportunity for the Palmer United Party to show us, once and for all. Since Al Gore has put himself on the line around the world in support of emissions trading, let us see it.


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