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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 1317

Senator HURLEY (5:06 PM) —Both parties went to the election promising action on climate change. Both the government and the opposition now have a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by five per cent by 2020. So we have a situation where both the opposition—I mean the Liberal Party opposition because I am still not sure where the National Party stands on this—and the government have a commitment to action, and this was perfectly clear in the election of 2010. So it would actually be a breach of trust for the government not to take some action on climate change. It would be a breach of trust not to fulfil that commitment.

In the 2010 election the electors of Australia voted in a way that meant that neither the coalition nor the Labor Party had a majority in their own right. It was the Labor Party, under Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which formed an agreement with the Independents and the Greens in this parliament such that the Labor Party could form government. That means that the Labor Party cannot necessarily take action on its own. It has to rely on partners in the government to take action. That circumstance, which was dictated by the people of Australia, means that the action that the Labor Party took on climate change was different from the action that it would have proposed. But the Labor Party still believes that this is a workable solution in order to fulfil its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by five per cent by 2020. That compromise has been to introduce a carbon tax in the first years, and that will form a transition period for both business and consumers. That transition period will enable adjustment and stabilisation and it will enable businesses in particular to get systems in place so they can deal with the upcoming emissions trading scheme. This is a very sensible and practical solution. The government has put in place a carbon tax while promising that those households who will have trouble coping with the taxation aspect will be fully compensated.

This action will be the fulfilment of agreements that have been made around the world on climate change and emissions. Those agreements were made in Kyoto, with the Kyoto convention, Copenhagen and Cancun. It is as part of Australia’s commitment to world agreements that this action has been taken. It is a sensible, practical commitment to world action.

The latest commitment of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, has been to direct action. To pretend that this is not going to cost business or consumers anything is nonsensical. It will cost business and consumers. One of the estimates is that this will cost $30 billion, so it is no wonder that the Liberal Party are so sensitive about any criticism of that. It is inconceivable that change by direct action will not result in an impost on businesses, consumers and the Australian economy. Report after report, not only from Australia but from overseas, has shown that is not the most effective way to produce a change in behaviour, a change in the way that Australia produces pollution. So it is not only a desperate attempt by the party to differentiate itself from the government but also an attempt that is, according to any report that I have ever seen, bound to fail. There is no doubt that it has some superficial attractions as people see it as an easy solution, but the fact is report after report shows that it will not work.

Incidentally, the need to bring some facts into this debate is why this government is planning to have some sort of advertising campaign to actually show people what the facts of this debate are all about. I certainly hope that advertising campaign will go ahead, because it is well overdue that we bring some scientific rigour and logic into this debate. It has been markedly absent from what those opposite have put. People like Senator Cormann continue to state as facts things which have been comprehensively demolished in a series of reports by various people all around the world. The impact on behaviour by the polluters, on the householders and consumers who use the products of that pollution, must be changed. The impact on behaviour in terms of allowing pollution to go ahead in Australia—by burning coal, by squandering electricity and by squandering energy—really must be reined in and the electors of Australia understand that we must be responsible for our own pollution, that we are using our resources—whether they be coal, gas or petroleum resources—excessively. I think an overwhelming number of people in Australia understand that we are overusing those resources and understand the need to rein in our use. We had a period of plenty when it seemed that these natural resources were limitless and people did gradually overuse these resources, be they water, electricity or whatever. I think people are prepared to change their behaviour and to be given a sense of direction about how their behaviour should change. That is regardless of what is happening around the world.

Senator Cormann ran the tired old argument that whatever we do will not have a sufficient impact on world emissions. That is just not the point. We have to change our behaviour. We have to reduce our own pollution in Australia. That is the important point for us. We have to make sure that we do not squander our limited resources in this country. We do have room in our behaviour to pull back and make sure that we do not pollute our own country, that we do not recklessly use resources that are needed for future generations. That is the point; that is what we must work towards. We must develop the technologies and the habits to ensure that that will happen, and that is the important point. It is not making a sacrifice for no benefit, as Senator Cormann said. It is making a sacrifice for our own benefits and for generations to come.

The public’s receptiveness of that attitude has been proved time and time again. If we have an advertising campaign to put out the facts about emissions and climate change and pollution, that should steer around the debate in this country to a more practical and logical debate—not one that is driven by a fear campaign from the opposition who purport to accept the premise but do not want to put in place practical measures to bring about change. I commend Prime Minister Gillard and the Labor Party on setting out to achieve those measures in combination with their partners in parliament.