Matters of public importance (climate change)

Senator Cameron, I have to pull you up on one point that you made earlier in your speech. You said that the Greens have the luxury of never having to govern. I beg to differ; I believe over the last 2½ years the Greens have had a huge role in governing this country. In fact, I do not think we would have a carbon tax had it not been for the Greens' interference in the policies of the Labor Party. Do not forget, it was your very leader who stood up and said: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' and, as soon as she was in a minority government and required the Greens' support, all of a sudden we had a carbon tax. I raise that as a point of clarification on your comments.

Senator Ludlam, I agree with you: research and development is an extraordinarily important part of this country's future. It has played a hugely important role in this country over many, many decades. The fact that we are a very smart country has allowed us to keep a competitive advantage. So I hope that you support research and development in other areas, including agriculture and primary industries, to the same level that you support research and development continuing in the area of climate change.

What we are discussing here today is, basically, another broken promise by this government, made necessary by the total mismanagement of the budget. I am sure we would not see $100 million being taken out of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency had we had the budget surpluses that we have been promised over the last five years by the 'world's greatest Treasurer'. But it is somewhat ironic, and tremendously interesting, that it is actually the Greens who have brought this matter of public importance before us today. As I said before, it was the Greens who sided with the government on many of the decisions that have caused this budget to tumble into the terrible state that it is in today.

There would not be too many people in Australia who, over the long term, would suggest that renewable energy is not a desirable outcome for Australia and for the world. But what we cannot support is putting businesses out of business in this morally pure policy of moving immediately to it. I support Senator Cameron's comments in the sense that, if we want to try to achieve a green and clean economy, we have to do it with our economy still intact and not destroy it on the way.

The Greens need to take some responsibility for the MPI they have raised today and for the $100 million being taken out of this budget line. They are the ones who have sat in this place and supported a number of programs put forward by the Labor Party that have been a complete and utter disaster for the Australian public and the Australian budget. Obviously, the carbon tax is an absolutely classic example of the impact that an ill-designed tax can have on an economy. The fact is that domestic emissions have increased since it was brought in, and everybody now admits that carbon emissions are going to increase under this carbon tax between now and 2020. So we have to accept that this is not working, for all the reasons that have been stated before.

We have to look at the Home Insulation Program; it was scrapped. What a disaster that turned out to be. In fact, four people lost their lives through the bungling of the Home Insulation Program; 224 houses were burnt, while 70,000 required repair. This cost Australia $2.2 billion. Imagine what we could have done with $2.2 billion if we had been able to apply it to programs that were going to be of genuine benefit to Australia. Some of it might even have gone towards the development of a sustainable and ongoing renewable energy program for this country.

There are many examples. The citizens assembly was scrapped before it even started. There was cash for clunkers, the Green Car Innovation Fund—the list of things that have been put in place by this government, supposedly to assist in the process of dealing with whatever implications climate change may have for this country and for the world, that have failed goes on and on. The list of things that the government has put in place have delivered absolutely no outcome and, in the process, have damaged our budget to such a significant extent that all Australians are today absolutely terrified of thinking about what is likely to happen tonight when we go to the budget.

I also draw to the attention of the house the number of—I would say 'funny' if they were not so serious—crazy things that have expended taxpayers money in relation to the government's promotion of the carbon tax. Back in the middle of last year, the Labor government spent $69.5 million advertising the carbon tax. When they had already committed to implementing the carbon tax, why on earth did they then have to spend nearly $70 million of taxpayers' money telling the electorate why they needed to have something they were going to get anyway? During Senate estimates last year, it was also revealed that the government spent $100,000 building fake kitchens for the television ads, when we know that, if you wanted to build an actual kitchen, you could probably put a really nice one in your house for about $15,000. Then there was the carbon cop—sorry, I should refer to it as Labor's Clean Energy Regulator. Because it had a bit of a bad image out there, the government spent $4.4 billion sprucing up its new offices.

These are the kinds of things that I think the Australian public are heartily sick of—when their cost of living is being attacked every single day and they realise that, in the name of the so-called carbon tax, which has been a complete debacle and has destroyed their way of life, we are spending money on stupid things, like $4.4 million to spruce up some offices.

Another classic example is that the government gave $93,000 to the ACTU so that it could teach its officials how to sell the carbon tax. Given that all of a sudden it was such a fundamental platform for the Labor government, one would have hoped that the officials understood what was so good about it. Then there was $600 million of Australia's foreign aid program spent on developing climate change leaders in the Pacific. Then, of course, there was the image makeover for the carbon cop, where we spent nearly half a million dollars on a public relations strategy so that they looked a bit better in the eyes of Australia. Julia Gillard had to admit that she had $660 worth of carbon tax payments in her Lodge bill, but I do not suppose she had to worry about that because of course the taxpayers of Australia pick up that tab.

Going back to the fact that it is the Greens who raised this matter of public importance, I note that $3 million worth of grants were paid to green groups so that they would support the 'say yes' campaign during the introduction of the carbon tax. To add insult to injury, the Auditor-General has revealed that key documents relating to $20 million in Energy Efficiency Information Grants have been destroyed. I wonder why they were destroyed! I will not pass any judgement on that, but I leave the house to ponder why anyone would need to destroy documentation relating to the allocation of grants. One can only hope that we get to the bottom of that.

But the main reason we have this MPI before us today, no matter who proposed it, is simply that our budget is in such a terrible, terrible state. Think about all the money we could have saved from these bungled programs, these useless things that we so did not need to have—all the silly money that has been spent by the government on trying to sell something just to make themselves look better. For example, they spent $2.2 billion on rectifying the pink batts situation. If they had spent that money on real programs that the Australian public wanted and needed, they would probably have had some money for the Gonski education reforms, they would not have had to put on a levy to pay for the NDIS and they might have been able to implement a dental scheme.

The thing that annoys me more than anything else is that we have spent all this money on those programs while people in rural and regional Australia are screaming out for infrastructure projects. They are screaming out for their roads to be upgraded. They are screaming out for access to services that people in the city take for granted. People in the country do not get the same level of connectivity for their communications. Businesses in the country do not get access to full amounts of power to be able to run their businesses. So it makes me very cross to see how much money has been wasted when there are so many worthy projects out there in the country.

Finally, I think the most important thing that we should be doing right now with the money is not worrying about all these little programs but relieving the cost of living for all Australians.

tags:  speech