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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17378

Senator SANTORO (5:43 PM) —I have appreciated the thoughtful contributions of senators in this place, but in particular the thoughtful contributions from senators on this side of the chamber. When I hear Senator Webber talking about a lack of leadership and trying to apply that concept to the Howard-Costello government, I really do not know whether she realises that she is in the same place that we are. The truth is that the Kyoto protocol itself will achieve very little, and that is the point that is being made by senators on this side. Senator Brown conceded that point, and I believe it is a point that is absolutely central to the argument about climate change and managing that process, in the very first line of his second reading contribution on his own private senator's bill last year. Joining with the Labor Party, in the form of Senator Lundy in this instance, to introduce the Kyoto Protocol Ratification Bill 2003 (No. 2) certainly will not save the Kyoto protocol from the fate it will meet at the hands of cold reality. Yet again, Senator Brown is doing what he does best: producing more hot air. When he introduced his private senator's bill on 19 December 2002, he said this:

The Kyoto Protocol will not save the world's climate.

Managing the impact of human activity on the globe and its precious environment is, of course, a fundamentally important job. Indeed, it is literally a vital job and one that no government should shirk. It is beyond doubt that climate change carries with it serious environmental, economic and social risks and that preventive steps are justified. That is what 254 economists from Australian universities said last year, as reported by the Australian Associated Press on 14 August 2002. There is no doubt that there is a strong groundswell of public support in Australia for measures to reduce human-created causes of the phenomenon known as global warming.

Last year when he introduced his own bill, Senator Brown cited an opinion poll that asserted that more than 70 per cent of Australians wanted Kyoto ratified. That poll was conducted by Greenpeace, which is a partisan for the cause of limiting global use of carbon producing fuels. But it is fair to say that most Australians want their government to address the issues that confront the planet in terms of global warming. The jury is still out on whether what we now detect as a warming of the atmosphere since industrialisation began is a manufactured product or, indeed, a natural event. Whatever it is, we need to manage its effects. There is absolutely no doubt about that and I think all of us in this place agree on that point.

But much more important and much more achievable is managing pollution. Neither of these things is likely ever to be managed by the Kyoto protocol, which—as Alan Wood wrote in the Australian of Tuesday this week—is as good as dead. The protocol is not in a terminal state because Australia has refused to ratify it. The sensible policy of the Howard government to meet the challenge presented by climate change through a series of measures that will see Australia achieve its Kyoto targets has had no direct impact on the fate of the protocol. Senator Brown needs to get very real about that reality and so does the Labor Party. Hopeless symbolism is a romantic notion; it might get you a cheer at a rally—or in an airport lounge apparently, going by recent events—but it simply will not win any battles.

Do Senator Brown and Senator Lundy, who have brought this well-meaning but fundamentally time wasting bill before us, really think that Australia signing up to a protocol that has no practical effect will sway the Russians, for example? Do they think that the Russians will suddenly get a sharp attack of conscience if they hear that the Australian government will ratify Kyoto and that they will therefore give up their urgent search for a workable growth model economy? Of course they will not. We will be wasting our time waiting for them to see the light.

The light that the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians and people from a lot of other nations want to see is the light that is generated by building sustained economic growth in economies that do not yet have the same advantages as those of advanced Western economies. As Wood said in his article on Tuesday, Russia's President Putin—and he is one of the presidents who was not here to address the joint sittings last week—is hardly likely to commit political suicide by agreeing to Kyoto. His economic adviser Andrei Illarionov has a singular view about Kyoto. We are talking here about his chief adviser. He is one of Europe's key agenda setters, according to the US magazine Business Week, and he is a radical reformer. His view of what Kyoto would do to Russia is probably extreme but, politically, it will win the argument in the Kremlin. It is that the Kyoto protocol will doom Russia to poverty, backwardness and weakness. More reasonably, or at least plausibly, he used the end of a world climate change conference in Russia this month to attack the global warming thesis behind Kyoto. He concluded that the protocol lacked scientific substantiation and had significantly exaggerated the speed of the real increase in carbon dioxide emissions, particularly in recent years. That is what he said.

Senator Brown —Sounds like the Howard government.

Senator SANTORO —I hear Senator Brown injecting but one of his major theses—and I listened very carefully to Senator Brown's address—was that Russia was about to agree. Yet I can quote article after article—but time will not permit me—that says that Russia is not going to agree, quite apart from what learned experts and the senior adviser to the President of Russia have said. So you cannot come in here, Senator Brown, as you do day after day, and come out with your dribble—with respect—and base your argument on the fact that Russia is going to agree. It is just not on. You can have that cynical, almost idiotic smile—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marshall)—Order! Senator Santoro, please address your remarks through the chair.

Senator SANTORO —through you, of course, Mr Acting Deputy President—but it just does not convince anybody in this place who actually listens to you and takes the time to actually research what you have to say and to contradict you.

Senator Lundy —You are trying to talk it out.

Senator SANTORO —I am not trying to talk it out. I am being very relevant. Senator Lundy, did you address that point that Senator Brown made? Did you try to justify and back him up? I have just given you some authorities that clearly indicate that one of the major theses that he put forward is nothing but dribble. It is no use you coming in here and trying to—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—Senator Santoro, you should address your remarks through the chair. I thought you were talking to me for a moment.

Senator SANTORO —No, not at all. I welcome your presence, Mr Acting Deputy President, because it is a sane and sensible calming influence; and you have had that effect on me, so I will now get back to the statements that I wanted to make.

In this environment, it is not only Russia that holds views like those expressed by President Putin's economic adviser. The global view that Senator Brown calls for is a non-achievable vision, and I suspect that he knows that. The Labor Party in this instance, as in many other instances, take a much narrower view. They are in this for votes. They want the Greens' preferences. So let us not have too much sanctimony from the other side over all this, particularly from the shadow minister.

What we need to do is to pursue practical objectives aimed at practical solutions. The business community takes this view. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry acknowledges global concern over possible changes to the earth's climate caused by the enhanced greenhouse effect. It has adopted these key principles of greenhouse policy:

although there are uncertainties in the science of climate change there is sufficient reason to be concerned that increasing levels of greenhouse gases lead to interference with the world's climate system

Australia should contribute to global action by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions commensurate to its share of the problem

active participation of developing countries in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly through commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, is essential to effectively address the global climate change problem and to minimise distortions to world trade

a strategic, naturally uniform, `whole of government' approach to greenhouse should be adopted in Australia to ensure policies and measures are implemented in a way that lowers the costs of meeting our international obligations, and distributes the cost burden equitably and in the national interest across the community

These are some of the principles espoused by the ACCI; they are sensible principles. They very largely reflect what the Australian government is doing with regard to the necessary move towards a far cleaner global environment. There are many problems with the Kyoto protocol that Senator Brown, the Greens and the Labor Party—for its own separate reasons, I again stress—would like us to overlook, particularly in the case of the private senator's bill we are debating here today.

More Australians want their country to contribute to the process of reducing harmful emissions, but most Australians do not think—as Senator Brown undoubtedly does and the Labor Party apparently does—that they themselves are the bad guys of the neighbourhood. They do not think that it is fair or wise to impose on themselves obligations that are not imposed, under the terms of the Kyoto protocol, on many of our regional trading competitors, and neither do they think that citing per capita emission rates—as a means of asserting that our advanced, high-energy use economy and society is a bad one—is fair or sensible.

In 2000, Australia's greenhouse emissions stood at 105 per cent of 1990 levels. On current policy settings, Australia is projected to reach around 110 per cent of 1990 emission levels by the end of the decade. The Howard government is committed to Australia making an appropriate and responsible contribution to greenhouse gas reduction. Key decisions are being made that will provide a framework for action well beyond the Kyoto commitment period. It is in that context that the Senate should consider the ambit claim put forward in the bill before us.

Australia's Kyoto target is 108 per cent of 1990 emissions. It is the government's intention not only to meet the Kyoto target, but more importantly to put in place a longer-term framework that will enable continuing reductions of emissions in the decades beyond. As Senator Brown knows very well, the truth is that Kyoto alone will achieve very little. He knows that 75 per cent of global emissions are not even covered by Kyoto. He knows that Kyoto will probably reduce global emissions by around one per cent by the end of the first commitment period, when the actual need, if we accept the science that tells us this, is to reduce them by around 60 per cent by the end of the century. It is for these reasons—the reasons of working towards meeting the real requirement as it is further refined and defined by science in the future, and of the national interest—that the government has decided it is not in Australia's interest to ratify the Kyoto treaty at the present time.

We do not need tokenism in our national policy; we need to work through problems in terms of our real national interests and our real global obligations. Developing countries, whose emissions will exceed those of the developed world in this decade, currently have no legal obligations of the kind imposed on developed countries that ratify Kyoto, and the United States government, for its own—and I would suggest sound and properly self-interested—reasons has made it clear that it has no intention of ratifying the treaty.

If Australia were to ratify Kyoto, we would acquire obligations that are not imposed on many of our regional trading competitors. If these arrangements continued over the long term, industries could be driven overseas by competitive pressure to countries that might not have as stringent environmental standards as Australia. Such a situation would mean an increase in global greenhouse emissions, not the reduction we seek. If Australia were to ratify today, we would be sending the message that we were prepared to impose legal obligations and significant costs on our industries that they may not face in the longer term if they transfer their operations to countries which have rejected such obligations and which for the most part have so far shown no interest—I repeat, absolutely no interest—in moving to a reduced emissions regime post-Kyoto.

Why should we ship profitable industries and family-building jobs overseas? This is perhaps something those opposite might like to ask Premier Carr of New South Wales, who says he is prepared to do this. It is not clear what the feelings of the New South Wales people are about their Premier's desire to downsize the economy that provides them with jobs today and a future to look forward to. I know how the people of Queensland would react to any such stupidity. Among other things, they would say that Queensland has vast resources of clean-burning coal and that science is continuously finding new and better ways to make fossil fuel burning more environmentally friendly.

What is needed—apart, that is, from a sharp corrective jab to Premier Carr's ribs—is an effective international response to climate change. The response would develop over time, as any dynamic approach must, and over time, as science became more precise, doubtless it would become more feasible to distinguish between what is a natural occurrence in terms of global warming—which geology alone tells us is a cyclical event in the eons of history of our planet—and what is man made.

The government is actively engaged in international forums and with major strategic and trade partners to address the issue of climate change. The key challenge there for the international community is to define what an effective global response should look like. In the meantime, there are practical things we can do that will make a genuine contribution to this developing store of greenhouse knowledge and technology.

This month the Minister for Environment and Heritage and the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced that in Beijing in September Australia and China agreed on a joint declaration on bilateral cooperation on climate change. The joint declaration sets out cooperation on climate change policies, climate change impacts and adaptation, national communication, greenhouse gas inventories and projections, technology, and capacity building and public awareness.

The announcement was made while China's President Hu, the man whom Senator Brown wanted to be rude to, was here as our invited guest. Last Friday, the Minister for Environment and Heritage—and I acknowledge his brother here in this chamber tonight who, I am sure, adds his congratulations to mine—said that the agreement reinforces Australia's commitment to practical action and strong international engagement on climate change.

Senator Kemp —He's a great minister!

Senator SANTORO —He is a great minister. I will take the interjection from Senator Kemp.

Senator SANTORO —You can talk—all words and no responsibility. We are doing something about it. The environment minister said that Australia and China had begun the work towards agreement on inventory and projection issues and on emissions from land use and that he welcomed the potential under the joint declaration for expansion of cooperation on climate change. The foreign minister said that pursuing an effective global response to climate change was an important international objective for Australia. What is more—and this is where the practical effects of meaningful bilateral work come into play so obviously and so beneficially—the joint declaration is expected to deliver trade benefits because China is a large potential market for Australian greenhouse technologies, products and expertise.

In the context of the debate today, which is in so many way a debate between well-meaning symbolism—and that is probably the only compliment I can pay to you, Senator Brown: `well-meaning symbolism'—on the one hand and well-designed practicality on the other, it is worth recalling something else that the Minister for Environment and Heritage said on the occasion of the announcement last Friday. It was this, and I commend it to Senators Brown and Lundy:

Australia's own greenhouse programmes are expected to deliver annual emissions abatement of 67 million tonnes by 2008-2012—the equivalent of taking all today's cars, trucks and buses off the road. Without these measures, greenhouse emissions would have been 123 per cent of the 1990 level by the end of the decade.

That is commitment. That is practical commitment that looks after jobs and that looks after economic growth. Most importantly, from the perspective of those well-meaning people who indulge in symbolism but no practical solutions, it is a practical solution that will safeguard the environment—controlling pollution rather than signing up to agreements that mean zilch to the vast majority of people in our region and the vast majority of people who are in fact contributing to the problems that Kyoto is seeking to resolve.

Debate interrupted.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—It being six o'clock, the Senate will now proceed to the consideration of government documents.