Image for Tasmania’s Senators on the repeal of the carbon tax: what they said and how they voted

For all of Tasmania’s Senators, the bill to repeal the carbon tax was most likely one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the new Senate. Of the twelve Tasmanian Senators, who spoke, what did they say and how did the vote?

As President of the Senate, Stephen Parry’s role was confined to procedural matters.

Of the remaining eleven Tasmanian Senators eight gave speeches on the substance of the legislation. Those who spoke were Australian Greens Senators, Christine Milne and Peter Whish-Wilson, Palmer United Party’s (PUP) Jacqui Lambie, the Australian Labor Party’s Lisa Singh, Helen Polley, Catryna Bilyk and Anne Urquhart, and the Liberal Party of Australia’s Eric Abetz. (Abetz is the Leader of the Government in the Senate so would normally speak on government legislation).

None of the remaining three Senators – Labor’s Carol Brown or the Liberal Party’s Richard Colbeck or David Bushby spoke on the legislation.

How did they vote?

For: Liberal Party’s Richard Colbeck, David Bushby, Eric Abetz and PUP’s Jacqui Lambie.

Against: Labor’s Carol Brown, Lisa Singh, Helen Polley, Catryna Bilyk and Anne Urquhart and the Australian Greens Christine Milne and Peter Whish-Wilson.

As President, Stephen Parry did not cast a vote.

Some excerpts from the speeches of the Tasmanian Senators are as follows.

Senator Catryna Bilyk, July 9:

Labor’s position on climate change is very clear. We accept the science of climate change—unlike those on the other side—and we believe we need to do something about it. Mr Abbott obviously does not and those on the other side do not. This is quite a problem. Mr Abbott’s policy removes the legal cap on pollution and allows the big polluters absolute open slather. So, instead of polluters paying, Mr Abbott is happy to set up a slush fund worth billions of taxpayers’ dollars to hand to the polluters. All the experts agree that this will cost households more while failing to lower the pollution level.

Last year the government defunded the Climate Commission and, in the context of the Australian government’s overall spending, the government saved an absolutely paltry amount of money. This was a body to which each Australian was contributing about six cents a year. So why did they do it? It was the action of a government that resembles the flat earth society—a government that does not believe in science. Emissions trading schemes have already been adopted in many, many countries around world, including the UK, France, Germany, South Korea, Canada and parts of the US and China. Those on the other side really need to stop and think about what they are doing and take note of this.

Senator Jacqui Lambie (Palmer United Party), July 8:

Australians have been deceived by the Labor-Greens members of this place, who allowed their unfair carbon tax to be imposed on our nation while the rest of the world remained carbon tax free. Tasmanian pensioners, families, workers and businesses were told the fib that if they paid more for their energy and power then they could stop world climate change. This proposition is obviously wrong, ridiculous and absolutely absurd. Pensioners in my Burnie, who are freezing this winter because they cannot afford to turn on their heaters, are the victims of those in this chamber who support a carbon tax. Tasmanian workers who lost their jobs in manufacturing industries that could not afford record energy prices are the victims of those in this chamber who support a carbon tax. The Labor-Greens carbon tax has failed to deliver any global environmental benefits; however, it has caused the loss of tens of thousands of Australian jobs and in Tasmania we have record unemployment—unemployment that the Labor-Greens carbon tax has contributed to in a significant manner.

Senator Anne Urqhart (Australian Labor Party), July 8:

There is a strong foundation of scientific fact underpinning the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the risk of global warming above two degrees—so certain in fact, that doubt has crept in. With 95 per cent certainty that greenhouse gas emissions from humans are the cause of global warming, some cast doubt and say, ‘What about the five per cent?’ If you were 95 per cent certain that something bad or something nasty was going to happen to you or your family, would you sit by and say, ‘What about the five per cent?’ or would you find out what was causing the problem and go about fixing it? It is not too late to fix the problem of climate change, but time is running out fast ...

Total emissions from electricity consumption in the national electricity market are down by over five million tonnes in the 12 months to May 2014. This means emissions from electricity generation have fallen by over 17 million tonnes, or over 10 per cent, since carbon pricing was introduced. The latest Australian greenhouse gas inventory shows that national emissions continue to drop. Emissions from all sectors, including land use and forestry, fell by over four million tonnes in the year to December 2013. The government’s own assessments estimate the carbon laws will decrease national pollution by 40 million tonnes compared with business as usual. Current policies are also driving an uptake of renewable energy, with electricity from renewables rising by almost 40 per cent since June 2012 in the national electricity market. Brown coal consumption has fallen by nine per cent and black coal by almost 10 per cent.

Despite all of the ridiculous rhetoric from Prime Minister Abbott and the coalition government, the Australian economy remains strong. Annual growth is over three per cent and unemployment remains below six per cent. At present, jobs in the renewable energy sector continue to grow—jobs that are at risk if these bills are passed. Price impacts from the carbon pricing mechanism have been as expected or less and have had minimal impact on the Consumer Price Index. Latest figures show a 2.9 per cent rise in the year to March 2014—a rate that is within the Reserve Bank of Australia’s target range. There was no tremendous spike in prices as incorrectly predicted by those opposite. Nine out of 10 households are being compensated for these price impacts, with a majority of households receiving more than enough to cover the price rises. In fact, the coalition government’s own budget highlighted the small inflationary impact of carbon pricing. The budget stated that CPI would reduce by less than a percentage point in the next financial year, with underlining CPI barely changing. Keeping binding caps on pollution in our laws will ensure Australia meets its international emissions reduction targets under the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol and under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—targets with which 99 countries, covering 80 per cent of global emissions and including all of the major emitters, have pledged to reduce or limit emissions by 2020…

The necessity to act on climate change only grows stronger each year. The immediate and long-term costs of allowing warming greater than two degrees is the core reason for acting now with a policy suite designed to scale up over time. Removing this policy suite for the sake of a reduction in utilities costs in one financial year, which may not actually eventuate, is reckless and irresponsible. Despite the shallow rhetoric of the coalition government that they believe in climate change and support action, it is clear from these repeal bills that nothing could be further from the truth. If these repeal bills pass, we, the parliament, will leave Australia with no credible emissions reductions policy. We will leave future parliaments of Australia with much harder decisions.

Senator Eric Abetz, July 9:

This package of bills, the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No. 2] and related bills, which will repeal the carbon tax, is vitally important for the welfare of our nation. This package of bills will repeal the toxic carbon tax. This package of bills will reduce the cost-of-living pressure on all Australians, especially those on welfare and pensions, as they will see the cost of their power and energy bills reduced … The removal of this tax will lift a millstone from the neck of Australians’ cost of living pressures. These bills will remove the dead hand of an oppressive tax from Australian job providers in manufacturing, tourism and agriculture. These bills will help the environment by ensuring businesses are more viable in the Australian economy, with its more environmentally-friendly regime, rather than seeing production go offshore, where the carbon emissions will be so much greater.

and July 15:

The Australian people have already debated this matter and come to that conclusion, and what a firm conclusion it was on 7 September 2013. The Australian people concluded that they did not want higher electricity prices, that they did not want higher gas prices, higher travel costs or higher food costs. They did not want to see their jobs destroyed with a tax that did absolutely nothing to the environment. The Australian people said very emphatically that they did not want the carbon tax ...

The carbon tax has been a $15,000 million hit on the economy over two years. It has been a $15,000 million hit on jobs, a $15,000 million burden on investment and a $15,000 million slug to families, all of which we simply do not need. These bills need to be passed so that the carbon tax can be removed. I repeat for the benefit of the Senate that the carbon tax, as we know countless examples have shown, whatever its good intentions may have been, in fact, has had a perverse outcome for the environment because manufacturing, which has been relatively clean in this country in comparison to the rest of the world, has gone offshore. Indeed, Senator Kim Carr, who always seeks to parade himself as the great industry minister, presided over the loss of 140,000 manufacturing jobs and he knows full well that, amongst all the other factors, right there at the epicentre of the loss of those jobs was the carbon tax. The carbon tax has to be removed for the sake of reducing the cost of living on Australian households and for the sake of protecting jobs in the manufacturing sector. In the dairy sector, the carbon tax costs the average dairy farming family an extra $10,000 per annum. This will be removed. For the fishermen I mentioned at question time, or for manufacturing, dairying, fishing or the agricultural producer that uses irrigation, and so the list goes on, it will be removed. It will be a huge relief to all employers and businesses in this country. It will help investment and all this huge damage to our economy for no environment dividend. As the Prime Minister has said previously, these bills are the government’s bill to reduce the Australian people’s bills.”

Senator Lisa Singh, July 15 and part 2:

As we consider our votes on these bills, I say to my Senate colleagues that, while your votes may be easily made today, it is our grandchildren who will pay its full price into the future. If senators want real action on climate change, if they want to reduce the economic and environmental price that will be paid by our descendants, they should vote for Labor’s amendments in the Senate which will deliver an emissions trading scheme. This vote will be a major part of the legacy of all of you. We will see how history judges the efforts of government senators and all of those who vote for the government’s repeal legislation. History will remember how we vote in this place today—or tomorrow or whenever the vote does come about—and why, over the next year or two, prices will refuse to come down on absolutely everything, much as the Prime Minister has outlined ...

There are certain moments in parliament, which are inscribed in Hansard, where our successors will download what legislation was passed or repealed and ask themselves, ‘What were they thinking? What were they scared of? Who voted for this and why?’ These are narrow minded, partisan, ignorant mistakes. We can see them in the past—the White Australia Policy, the Stolen Generation, the Vietnam War. I believe that this is one of those moments, the moment when Australia might give up on global warming. This vote is about a choice between a few bits of money in 2015 or a future in which the environment might satisfactorily support our demands upon it.

As I said, the government has yet to demonstrate that its alternative policy can achieve Australia’s minimum commitments. All that independent analysis to date indicates that emissions will continue to increase under its current proposed framework. If that is the case—and I have to say I put my money on economists and scientists over this government—then Australia is doing nothing on climate change. It is doing nothing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It is doing nothing to support our future generations . On that front, I would like to read into Hansard that the government can keep its 30 pieces of silver, because I am voting for the future. I am voting with Labor for climate change policy that will make a difference to our future generations—that is, an emissions trading scheme.

and July 17:

This is a fundamental moment in Australia’s history. We are about to devastate the future of this country. We are about to take this country backwards in droves through the mindless ideological bent of the coalition. Australia today will be a laughing stock to the rest of the world. We are sending this country backwards—and all for what? For playing politics: playing politics with Australia’s future, playing politics with our environment and playing politics with our children. It is an outrageous moment in Australia’s history when the coalition are sending this nation backwards. We know that there are so many of them who do not believe the science. Senator Macdonald’s contribution just now makes it clear—the hypocrisy—that in fact he does not have an open mind. He has never had an open mind on this issue. Labor stands by the science. We stand by the economists who have made it very clear that an emissions trading scheme is the way forward for this country—as so many other countries are moving towards, or have already moved towards, including some of our ... largest trading partners, China and the US. This is a moment in Australia’s history, a fundamental moment when this country is going backwards. Labor will not stand with the government on this. Labor stand with the scientists, and we stand with the economists. Labor is voting for the environment. We are voting for the future, the future of our children. And that is why Labor will not support these bills.”

Senator Christine Milne, July 15:

As you well know, tonight there are parties going along in the corridors and around the Parliament House as the government celebrates that it has now got the numbers to repeal the only effective package of legislation we have, which is bringing down emissions in Australia and which has successfully brought down emissions in the electricity sector by 11 per cent over the last couple of years. I want to say to the children of 2050: the people who voted for the repeal of the carbon price, the people who voted to abandon strong action on global warming knew full well what they were doing and they chose to do it. Do not listen in the future when people try to argue that they did not know about the seriousness. They did and they proactively chose to do it ...

Voting for the abolition of the clean energy package is voting for failure: failure to face up to the four to six degrees of warming that we are currently on a trajectory to reach, failure to do our fair share globally in the effort to constrain global warming to less than two degrees and failure to take up the opportunities, the jobs, the innovation in the green powered future. But the greatest failure is that those who vote for abolition of the clean energy bills are imposing on our children a harder life. They are imposing on our children a higher degree of anxiety about the world in which they live and imposing on them a far less awesome planet than we have now. That is not leadership; it is intergenerational theft. The Prime Minister and every single member who votes for the abolition of the energy bills are engaging in intergenerational theft. It is also the day when the Abbott government confirms what Machiavelli knew in the 16th century when he said:

“… there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating change … The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience. “

:It is certainly true that the vested interests of the old order have won this pyrrhic victory because it is the community who will be paying with their lives, their farms, their futures, so that the big polluters can get off scot-free in Australia. The vested interests of the old order who have fought like partisans include the coal miners, who want to dig coal out of the Bowen and Galilee basins.

and July 17:

If this parliament votes to abandon the clean energy package, you are voting against the best interests of the nation. It is a huge opportunity cost to Australia. We will be sidelined in global capital markets. We will be sidelined in innovation. Already GE is out today saying that the pipeline of investment in renewable energy is in jeopardy because of what Australia is doing. This is an appalling day for Australia when a government, rather than lead in the face of what the world is facing up to and rather than lead and be ahead in the race to the future, is determined to stick with the past. So the Greens say, absolutely: this will be a short-lived victory for the Abbott government and those who vote with it today, because Australia will not stand for it. People want this country to lead. People want innovation. People want the clean energy future and people will understand very quickly that the supposed benefits will not be realised. But what people will face is another summer of extreme weather events and more summers after that, as our Pacific neighbours will

And so, I am here to say that the Greens will join with everyone across the country in bringing back to this parliament a more rigorous framework of legislation that will get Australia onto the track we need to be on; that is a 40 to 60 percent emissions reduction target on 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050. That is the kind of ambition that we will be out talking to the community about and making sure that we get back to this parliament. We will give hope to future generations. That is what we are going to do: go out and provide hope and a focus on the future while the government and those who support it today are going out to the community focussing on the past and giving people nothing but despair. The future demands people who face the challenges posed now.

Senator Helen Polley, July 8:

Previously, countries around the world saw us as a nation committed to action, to progress, to combating climate change intelligently. We were world leaders, we were achieving things and powerful leaders and organisations were taking notice of us. But look at us now! It really is something that those opposite should be ashamed of. My home state of Tasmania was benefitting. Tasmania has an economy that needs all the assistance it can get. But what has this government done? It has taken away those opportunities. It is the equivalent of Daniel Day-Lewis turning around and winning five Razzies this year during Oscar week!

Our change in attitude and action is something that has stunned the international community. The world is watching us and we have failed; we are failing spectacularly. What is worse is that this Prime Minister of ours is not just content to neglect climate change policy at home. Oh no, he wants others to join him. He has even tried his best to start his own ‘super friend’ group dedicated to inaction on climate change. Several weeks ago our Prime Minister—with a completely straight face—floated the ridiculous idea of a group of leaders mobilising against global moves to increase action on climate change. What a noble pursuit! He himself, without any real consultation or rational thought, nominated Canada, the UK and New Zealand as leaders of the group. But they actually laughed him out of the room; not even his supposed Centre Right buddies stuck up for him!

When it comes to our role as a responsible international citizen, Australia faces many choices. We can act as a dynamic and progressive middle power taking the lead on global environmental challenges and working cooperatively with others to achieve real change. We can participate enthusiastically and dependably at forums such as the one in Warsaw last year. We can be seen as a country committed to action, a country that cares about matters that extend beyond cynical domestic political calculus, a country that cares, a country that is respected and admired. Or we can revert to the ‘bad old times’. We can withdraw, and embarrass ourselves on the global stage. We can confuse and mortify international friends committed to acting on climate change. We can ignore the views of others and snub the opportunity to be part of an international group of leaders. The choice is there, and sadly right now … the Prime Minister is committed to being the George W Bush of Australian politics. He is ignoring the realities of climate change and arrogantly dismissing the views of our friends around the world, and really he is humiliating us every time he goes overseas. With his smirk, his swagger, his confused diatribes, his stubbornness, he is dragging Australia backwards, and no-one in his party is doing anything about it.”

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, July 15:

When a company dumps something in a river and it kills everything in the river and the fishing industry dies, a government has to step in and fine that company and provide incentives to make sure it does not happen again. In the same way, if I have a factory that is polluting the atmosphere and creating acid rain and that ruins the livelihood of farmers in my area, that externality—that external impact of my activity—once again has to be dealt with by government. Who else will do it if government will not? This is well-established economic theory. It is exactly the basis for what a price on carbon is. It is supposed to cover the externality gap that is caused by carbon pollution ...

The carbon package was not just a price on pollution. On its own, a price on pollution may not necessarily do the job. But this package was very cleverly structured to collect the revenue and collect the data and information that is necessary for a flexible pricing scheme further down the track. It was also necessary to collect that revenue and direct that revenue towards behavioural change in the economy, towards providing a green bank that is going to invest in renewable energy projects, through, for example, ARENA or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, or provide money for a climate change authority or for a whole range of other initiatives that were absolutely complementary and necessary to transition the economy here in Australia—and, hopefully, overseas—to a clean energy economy and along the way create hundreds and thousands of new jobs and incentivise innovation, research and development and new technology and new jobs in the industries of the future—all the sorts of catchphrases that you hear in this chamber. Yet it is being thrown out. It is being thrown out because of this government’s total politics, its determination to win at all costs, regardless of whether this is a good policy—good for the Australian economy and good for the future of our grandkids.

And may I say, as to the emissions reduction targets that have been talked about in the media recently: five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 is not enough. There is no point in reducing emissions unless those emissions have been reduced enough to actually tackle the problem that has led to things such as the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. That is our moral obligation not just as senators but for every citizen”

What the pollies say, TT Media here

• John Hawkins, in Comments: These Senators are charged with the job of representing the best interests of Tasmania. They are elected to represent our State and hence our future in the parliament. This bill will cost our virtually bankrupt state electricity producer(debts exceed a billion dollars) a minimum of $70 million and a possible $200 million. This is money that would have been gifted under carbon credits to our clean and green Hydro Tasmania for generating electricity from our water storage. Electricity prices will therefore go up or Hydro will have to run at a subsidised loss. A situation our state cannot afford without cuts to other services. The renewable industries related to wind and solar will implode costing many Tasmanians their jobs. The polluters have won and bought off the pollies. • phill Parsons, in Comments: #2. Abetz cannot explain the $ figure as a hit regardless of it’s size. As Hawkins hints, all the money went back into the economy, it’s just that the bads had to pay. Now the Tasmanian pensioners Lambie claims she is defending will find power less accessible because the supplier [Hydro] has a ‘shortfall’ in it’s financial plan to address. Perhaps Will will accept the hit on the State budget but I bet Lambie gets further ammo as the poorer Tasmanians pay more in State taxes, fees and charges to address this loss. There is nothing good in the abolition of a price on Carbon. Only a fool or a liar claim the Australian system had no impact on the climate. No court will find these fossil fools guilty but all Australians should remember the costs of each climate event, each crop affected by either heat or a lack of cold and each unusual and unpleasant day as a gift of the greedy and ignorant.