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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10790

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (13:17): Before getting into the bulk of my address I would like to address a few of the comments that the member for Herbert made. I think it demonstrates quite clearly the lack of knowledge of what is in some of these bills. The member for Herbert spoke about the price of fuel going up. If there is any mention of passenger vehicles or long-distance road transport vehicles in those bills—

Mr Ewen Jones interjecting

Mr WINDSOR: No, listen. I listened to you.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Herbert was heard in silence.

Mr WINDSOR: If there is any mention of passenger vehicles or long-distance road transport vehicles—the types of vehicles you talked about when you said, 'You're going to strangle Townsville'—in those bills, I will not vote for them. A challenge to you: look in the bills, read what is there and stop spreading this fear that fuel is going to increase dramatically because of these clean energy legislative arrangements.

The other thing that I would like to comment on is that he talked about the mining boom. I think we are all well aware of the impact that the mining boom is having. He also talked about the high dollar. The two things are related. They are having an impact on our community. I would hope that, when we get to debate the contribution in a two-speed economy that the mining industry in boom times may well be able to make towards those others who are struggling, he would have a more constructive view.

What if the climate scientists are right? I am not a climate scientist. I was not very good at science at school and am too old to learn. But what if they are right? What if we avoid the precautionary principle—the warnings that are out there at the moment? What if we do nothing and they are right? It would be okay for the people of Townsville, I guess. It would be okay for me. It would be okay for a lot of us in this room. We will get by. But what about future generations? What about intergenerational equity? What if they are right and there is a tipping point in the oceans, if they are right in terms of quite dramatic events, if they are right about a drying of the Australian continent, if they are right about what could happen in Bangladesh and suddenly millions of people are trying to find somewhere else to live? What if they are right? Given the short-term nature of this debate, we will be all right, but future generations of our people may well have to face very severe consequences in respect of what we do not do. Obviously Australia is not going to create all the changes that revolutionise the world on this issue. We all know that. But we do have to play our role. We are contributors on a per capita basis. We are quite high contributors. I think it is time that we show a little bit of leadership on this.

What if the climate scientists are wrong? The majority of advice and information suggests they are not, but what if they are? What have we done? Nothing that is irreversible, unlike the other consequence. We have probably cleaned up our backyard; made it a bit tidier for people to live; addressed some of the more challenging scientific issues in renewable energy et cetera; and presided over an advancement in wind, water, geothermal, biomass, biofuel and a whole range of renewable energy resource sciences that may well come out of the next 10 years and may well even come out of these bills. I will talk about the funding packages that are actually in the bills. So I am pleased to be part of this debate. I sit on a committee that has just chaired a review of the Murray-Darling Basin. One of the issues that kept coming back to those who served on that committee was some of the decisions that were made in the past, whether in terms of salinity, the Lower Lakes or just the integrity of the river systems themselves. They were political decisions that were all made in the short term for the short-term advantage, and all the similar words would have been spoken.

My vote could be absolutely crucial to this particular issue, and I do not want to be placed in a situation where people look back in 100 years and say: 'These people were warned about this. Why didn't they do something? Oh, it was just short-term politics of the day. They just wanted to avoid it. There was an attempt a few years earlier by a bloke called Turnbull, another bloke called Macfarlane and someone called Wong to try and resolve this issue in a bipartisan way, and then another fellow came along, called Abbott, who could see the benefit of dividing the nation, creating fear and some of the stuff we have heard already, on a very long-term issue. The debate became about a tax and a lie. It wasn't about climate change. It wasn't about climate variability or adaptation. It was about some tax they were going to impose and a lie that someone had told, thinking they might have got a majority in the parliament. Then it suddenly got changed into something else because they didn't get a majority in the parliament and some others said, "Look, if you want to form government, you'd better have a serious look at this issue," and then history as we know it took place: the tax morphed into a piece of legislation that eventually became the emissions trading scheme in a few years time.'

As I said, I am pleased to be part of that process. I was part of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. I think it worked very hard. It has been pilloried from outside because of the short-term, knuckle-dragging nature of this particular parliament on some of these longer term issues, but, irrespective of whether I am elected next time or not, it is something that I will remember: being part of a group of people that actually wanted to make a difference, not for themselves and not in the short term but in the longer term.

The Prime Minister has been blamed for changing her mind. That is the cheap politics, and in a sense she has. I am sure that in some ways she would rather have gone to an emissions trading scheme as quickly as possible than go through this convoluted fixed-price arrangement for three years that the Greens and others have pressured upon her. I think that a year, as in the Howard arrangement, would have been sufficient. Even out to two years as in the Turnbull-Macfarlane arrangement with Senator Wong would have been preferable to a three-year arrangement. But, nonetheless, at the end of this it is an emissions trading scheme. It is internationally linked, because the whole objective of the market mechanism is to try to achieve carbon abatement and greenhouse gas emission abatement at the lowest possible price.

The hypocrisy of this debate has been about this issue: which is the cheapest way of getting to five per cent of 1990 levels by 2020—the direct action or a market mechanism that puts a price on emissions and lets the market determine the outcome? Quite obviously, any economist worth his salt has identified that a market mechanism, normally the preferred option of the Liberal-National Party—not necessarily the preferred option of the Labor Party—is the cheapest way of achieving that outcome.

Within my electorate there are people who do not agree with my stance on this particular issue. I just say to those people that I went to the election on this issue. They elected me at the last election on this issue. I introduced a bill in 2008 called the Climate Protection Bill, and my opponents at the last election kept saying: 'This man believes in climate change. He's introduced a bill. It's talking about a market mechanism. It could be either some sort of tax or an emissions trading scheme. He's talking about the precautionary principle and the "what ifs" in a bill introduced before the election.' So for anybody, either within or without the electorate, to say that I have suddenly had some change of mind since the minority government has been formed is quite incorrect. No-one in this place, probably, has spoken more often than me about renewable energy, biofuels, biomass, agriculture and soil carbon.

There are mechanisms in the legislative arrangements—the bills. If there were a simplistic way of identifying soil carbon as the solution to this problem, I would be the first to be on the bandwagon. I have been dealing with some of the conservation and tillage practices since 1977. I probably have the piece of land that has gone the longest of any in Australia being continually cropped but never actually cultivated. There is a build-up in soil carbon there, but it is not of the magnitude that we require to be a major player in this particular issue.

There are opportunities in this bill. There is a revenue stream. Part of that revenue will go into clean energy—$10 billion, an enormous impetus in terms of renewable energy, research and development grants and assistance. There are a whole range of things—real opportunities. And where are those opportunities going to reside? Most of them will be in regional Australia. We are seeing them in Moree, Chinchilla and other parts of Australia at the moment. Algae to fuel, algae to diesel and those sorts of things could be funded out of here in terms of the research, getting the costs down—biomass to biofuels and those sorts of research that are going on internationally. I was recently in Scotland, where they are working on the cell structure of the barley and wheat straw to weaken the lignin in the cell structure so that it can be digested by the enzymes et cetera to achieve a fuel outcome in a shorter period of time and hence rearrange the economics of that particular process. That is where this $10 billion will be used: to assist the transformation to a cleaner energy economy. The big opportunities for longevity and sustainability are in regional Australia. I do not shy away from supporting the general thrust of this reform and I was pleased to be part of it. The other revenue stream will be to what I loosely call the landscape sector, the Carbon Farming Initiative. There is a whole range of biodiversity issues in these bills, one of which is a 15 per cent rebate to encourage people both in the cropping sector and in the grazing sector to change their farming practices to more sustainable, less soil-disturbing practices such as conservation tillage, no till—there is a whole range of descriptions. Those practices are quite possibly the greatest adaptation to climate change we have seen in the last 20 years in agriculture. A lot of people are not doing them. The rebate arrangement that is built into these bills is to encourage those people to get the correct equipment, to encourage them to go somewhere. If the climate scientists happen to be wrong, those people will increase their productivity anyway because they will be better able to deal with climate variability in their cropping and pasture practices.

I am more than happy to be a part of the committee that is looking at this legislation. I think it is a disgrace that the coalition is not looking at the fine detail of these bills. It is just saying, 'No, no, no, we do not want to know what is in the bills; we do not want to modify them.' I am getting a lot of constituents both in the business community and in the farm sector wanting to get to the detail of the bills to remove some of the uncertainties that are there, whether that be about some of the landfill and local government issues, the off-road use of the fuel rebate in local government, the food processing sector or the Western Australian electricity industry. There is a number of issues in these bills. I am going to take the committee seriously. If there are things that do need to be modified in the structure of the bills, let us look seriously at them.

I congratulate the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mr Combet, for the work he has put into this legislation. It has been an enormous task. Any minority government that embarks on reform of this nature needs to be congratulated because it is not about today, it is not about the players that are here now, whether it is a Gillard or an Abbott in the main job; it is about the long-term survival of those who have not even been born yet—something that I regard as very important and critical. I think we should ignore some of this short-term negativity that is out there and start to address some of the longer-term issues that will have impacts long after we are gone. (Time expired)