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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10457


Mr LAMING (Bowman) (12:32): On behalf of the residents of Bowman, I rise to make the two most obvious points that have been clear since the debate on emissions trading and the carbon tax began, and that is that we need to get the right mechanism and that we need to do it at the right time. I do not need to go back into the history of the misleading of voters before the last election, but I do need to acknowledge, more importantly, that it has been a long and tortuous debate on both sides of this chamber that has led us to this position.

The point I want to make clear today is that we need to get the right system for Australia because we are lawmakers here in Australia. It does not matter what the rest of the world is doing if we are doing the right thing for this nation. That is my job. It is the job of international agencies and international agreements to work out what is the right thing for the globe. I know if we do not have a global solution on carbon we do not have a solution at all. My speech today is going to focus on where we are globally in that agreement. I will also look at the temporal elements and the history of carbon negotiation—where we have got to and where the pitfalls have been. I do not doubt that a year or two from now we will revisit this debate and ask, 'What did we pass, and why?'

The best comparison for carbon negotiation globally is most likely the trade negotiations that began after World War II and continue today. We still do not have a worldwide trade agreement, 60 years on. More recently we have seen the poverty negotiations around the millennium goals—again, we are halfway to 2020 and we still do not have global agreement on action regarding poverty.

The point about carbon is that a quick and dirty agreement does not get you any closer to a global agreement. We know from international negotiation that it is a slow, trust-building, layer-upon-layer, meeting-upon-meeting approach that takes you towards the solution, or the destination, which is a global agreement. The early GATT negotiations began in 1947, in Annecy, Geneva, Dillon, Torquay and Kennedy. They then rolled right through Tokyo and then, finally, to the Uruguay Round, which began in 2001. Even 10 years after that tortuous process, no-one came out and said, 'I'm dropping all my trade barriers and that's the right thing for the planet.'

That is not the right thing to do in carbon. So the first point I want to address is this notion that we have to set an example for the rest of the world. We do not set examples for the rest of the world when it comes to jobs and livelihoods; we negotiate with the rest of the world. And what has happened since Copenhagen and since Bali? If we are this committed as a nation, why isn't this Prime Minister calling the President of the United States saying, 'Let's do something together'; getting in contact with Russia, Japan, Singapore and South Africa; bringing together the trade economies for meetings; and saying, 'Let's have a carbon arrangement'? It does not matter to this Prime Minister. This is purely a journey of political expediency for a Prime Minister desperate for something that she can look tough on.

Of course, in Australia we know that the impact will be significant. If we as a country wish to lead on climate we must be doing so at every opportunity, not just finding a way to punish our own people. That might be in some masochistic sense impressive to those that are looking for action on climate, but it does nothing to take us closer to global agreement. The fundamental point that has never been made by this government is whether us signing up to something makes other nations more likely or less likely to sign up. If you set up asymmetry in trade and in business where there is an advantage for other countries not to sign up, it is called the first-mover disincentive. It leads to perverse outcomes where you perpetuate the situation. Why would another economy come together and say, 'Australia's harming its trade exposed exports with this carbon tax; let's quickly do the same and remove the advantage we have'? It is pathetic and it is ridiculous. How that occurs is a point that has never been made on this side of the House.

The government would lead us to believe from their Treasury modelling that every other nation in the world will fall into a carbon tax when the ink is barely dry on the agreement—that they are only months or years away from a carbon tax. That is complete folly. No-one on the floor of congress in the US wants a carbon tax. Prime Minister, visit Japan. Go and visit Russia. Talk to Brazil. Show me the mining economies that say that a carbon tax is the right way to go. You will not find an economy that says that. With the greatest of respect to our colleagues in the EU and to New Zealand, our brothers across the Tasman Sea, they are not a mining, trade exposed economy. It is quite easy when you have consumed your natural resources to raise your hand for a carbon tax. It is not that hard to do—particularly when it is at about a dollar per person per year. It is not a hard thing to do. It is a far different thing when you are a commodity-producing economy, where carbon is attributed to the economy where it is mined, not where it is consumed.

I do not forget the words of those who were at the Copenhagen meeting just two years ago. They said that three things brought down Copenhagen. It is good to remember what they were. They said that the first thing was that the nations of this planet did not arrive at Copenhagen universally agreed on the problem. There was not universal agreement. The preparatory work had not been done. They had a ground rush and got there with all different proposals. No less than our own then Prime Minister came with his own shiny apple of an ETS. But nobody was interested. No-one was tempted by Kevin Rudd's proposal at the time because that is not where the world was heading.

The second thing was that the leaders turned up at Copenhagen too early in the negotiation process. So the minute the leaders jetted in everything was paralysed. All the cameras turned to the leaders and we got no agreement. The third thing that was pointed out by those who were at Copenhagen was the obvious point that this is no longer a debate about who has the shiniest apple and the fanciest carbon tax; it is now about what is right for me. It is now, if I am a commodity-producing trade-exposed economy, about how I do it with other like economies. I want to know what they are doing before I do something.

There is a weird notion that if we cut our hand in some sort of pact and hold it out, even though no-one grabs it, that will fix the climate. That is patently ridiculous. Every international agreement is a painstaking, slow process of trust-building. Where is Australia doing that at the moment? We are not. We have retreated to the simple task of having a carbon tax debate here in Australia and we have let the rest of the world back away from it.

My fundamental point today is the temporal notion of whether a carbon tax is the right thing right now. I know that we are incredibly animated by this carbon tax debate but it does deserve pause for thought as to why we are the only nation on the planet having a carbon tax debate in 2011. Is it because we have a finely balanced parliament? Is it because someone tapped the Prime Minister on the shoulder and said, 'Unless you pass a carbon tax we will not support you in government'? No, nobody said that. The reality is that, in wanting to do the right thing, we as a nation have simply chosen a foolish course. We have chosen (a) to go it alone and (b) to have a large and churning carbon tax through which the potential for profit seeking, rent seeking, administrative overload and corruption is simply too great for this chamber to pass it.

This carbon tax is clumsily designed. It is overly bulky. It is unwieldy. It offers none of the protections for the industries that we need to be looking after. I do not care that those industries are not voters for the Australian Labor Party, because at some point you have to separate yourself from your own political myopia and say, 'They may not vote for us but possibly it is the right thing to do for the economy and for jobs.'

I do not see why one job should be lost in the pursuit of a carbon agreement. I want to see the evidence that these clean green jobs are going to occur. Let us look for a comparator nation. There is none better than Spain. They embarked on the green economy just five years ago. They made enormous investments in solar energy. And no-one has pointed out to me yet exactly how paying twice as much for a solar panel as you will five years from now helps the climate. No-one has told me how paying twice as much now for a solar panel as Spain did will not bring down the economy just as it did in Spain—because the green bubble simply vanished at the time of the GFC. That enormous investment in solar energy has collapsed.

As Bjorn Lomborg says in his book Cool It, there is plenty of agreement that there is a problem. There are plenty of solutions. The question is: are we prepared to pay, now, for those solutions? Lomborg himself talks about climate being a $5 trillion economic problem between now and the turn of the century. Do we want to pay $15 trillion now to fix it or do we want to pay $3 trillion later? I cannot tell you when that 'later' will be but I know that the solutions get cheaper every day. I do not want to be in the one nation—the one economy—that has a carbon tax in place in 2011 because that will damage our economy. No-one overseas will thank us. The EU will not—it has a very light, almost imperceptible carbon tax. New Zealand will not, because in the main we do not compete with them as a commodity exporter. Certainly the other major economies of the world will not thank us. I do not want to always mention China but their growth in emissions over a year will be three times the size of Australia's entire economy.

I have used this analogy in the past, for people who do not have the time to read all of these carbon publications. Nobody loved peeing in the pool, did they? But we are all in the pool together here. It is an atmosphere just like a pool and, I tell you what, we are all peeing in that pool. We all agree it is a problem. We differ a little bit on just how bad for your health it is but if there is an elephant and a bullock peeing in the pool I see no point punishing the mouse.

I am sure we are all contributing to this problem but let us get an agreement in which we are all talking. We do not have that; we are not even close to that. Is this Prime Minister stepping out at saying, 'Let's bring together the tier-2 economies—the great exporters on this planet—for this discussion about climate'? No, there is none of that. She is too busy doing other things, like finding out ways to raise billions of dollars a year in carbon tax and then apportion them—distribute them—as only the friendly hand of government can do! Come on! We can continue under this Labor administration to find excuses to tax Australians. We have had 17 of these excuses so far without a tax cut. In the end we have to trust in their benevolence to distribute the funds appropriately.

How much can Australians take in this 'servility' to assume that all knowledge rests in Canberra? 'I don't care how much they collect,' we are meant to say, 'as long as I get a little more back than I am going to pay.' This servility—this sense that only a government knows how to distribute these carbon collections—is a complete fallacy.

We may not always have someone with the priorities of the current Prime Minister. I do not see why another $71 billion has to be collected out of the pockets of people like those in the gallery over the next six years, while at the same time the EU has only collected a fraction with their carbon tax. If you look at the eastern US renewable energy arrangements, where they have only collected $825 million from 50 million people, you see that it is about $5 per person per year. These systems overseas are token systems compared to what we are potentially doing to our economy. The points that I have made here have been simple. We are moving too early and we are moving alone. We are nothing like the EU because we are a commodity-producing economy. Our competitors are not Switzerland and Hungary. Our competitors are those that mine the iron ore and coal, those that bring the natural gas and other energy requirements to South-East Asia. They are the ones we need to be looking at—and do they move closer to a carbon tax? No matter how many times you try to airbrush away the reality, they are phasing it back, they are delaying, they are issuing free permits; they are doing anything they can to not harm their own economies.

That is exactly what this lot over here are not seeing. We have the temporal element and then we have the structural components of the carbon tax, which time will not allow me to go through. But let me say this: huge economic impact with very little environmental benefit. Australia's system alone would give a hundredths of a degree of Celsius reduction. We are talking about massive investment, in the billions now, that I cannot spend on hospitals and health care in order to—what—delay global warming by nine hours by the year 2100?

There is no solution without a global solution. I would love to see an administration focused purely on that very hard and adaptive work to bring other commodity exporters with us. I do not have a problem with being a leader in the field, but there is no point leading if no-one goes with you. Reach out the hand. Let us see if there is an agreement on this carbon tax structure. I severely doubt that there is. I ask if there is one economy heading in our direction in 2011. The frank reality is that there is not. I ask if there is one contemplating an economy-wide approach that hits not just 500 or 1,000 but 60,000 businesses having to pay or be compensated, and not the added prices that will be imposed upon their businesses as the result of the removal of fuel credits. In my electorate there are the waterborne taxis alone, the barges that serve our islands. It is okay to exempt one industry but not another, so they are paying more for their water taxis and vehicles are exempted. There is too much picking of winners. There are too many favourites. We have gone down this path alone with no support internationally and this is a bill that has to be opposed. (Time expired)