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Thursday, 3 November 2011
Page: 8122

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:42): Like every other member of the Senate, I am not a climate scientist. There is not one of us who has spoken in this debate or is to speak in this debate with the professional expertise to assess the technical scientific debate—not one. But as legislators what we ought to be able to do is to make rational decisions about public policy.

I am prepared to accept that a clear majority of scientific opinion is of the view that anthropogenic global warming is a reality, and therefore I am also of the view that it is rational public policy to seek to address that problem. So the question becomes: does this bill address that problem? We know what the objective of the Clean Energy Bill 2011 is; we can see it from clause 3. The objective of the bill is:

(b) to support the development of an effective global response to climate change, consistent with Australia’s national interest …

The reason I cannot support this legislation is that there is no respect in which by passing these laws Australia will serve that objective. By how much will global temperatures fall, by how much will anthropogenic global warming be impacted, if the parliament, in defiance of an election commitment by the Prime Minister, passes this legislation? The answer is: not at all, not one iota.

I ask those who may be listening to this debate: if the objective that the legislation itself declares to be its purpose will not be served by it, why are we doing this? That, I think, is where the public find this debate perplexing, because nobody believes that the passage of this legislation will make one iota of difference to the earth's climate. Even Professor Flannery, the government's chosen advocate, has said that, if the parliament passes this legislation, it will have no measurable effect on the world's climate for 500 or 1,000 years. So this much we know: the legislation is a gesture.

The advocates of the legislation are reduced to this proposition: 'All right,' they say, 'if Australia embraces this carbon tax, it won't achieve the objective of reducing or affecting anthropogenic global warming, but Australia can at least set an example.' As you know, Mr Deputy President, when we had the debate in the Senate in 2009 about the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, in advance of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, I was one of those who could see the point of Australia participating in a coordinated global effort. But, since the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference collapsed, there is no prospect of a coordinated global effort, not from the United States, not from Canada—as their foreign minister told the CHOGM conference only last week—not from India, not from Russia and not from China, which was accused by the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, of actually sabotaging the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

So it becomes an argument from vanity. Australia, with an inconsequential population, is going to lead the world. Who do we think we are kidding? If the Australian parliament passes this legislation, it will have no impact on global opinion whatsoever. It will make a lot of well-meaning Australians feel good about themselves, but at what cost to the millions and millions of Australians whose standards of living will be materially affected? Last Monday, the United Nations tells us, the world's population reached seven billion. Australia's population is 22.7 million, 0.324 per cent of the global population. Who are we kidding if we think we, with less than one-third of a per cent of the people in the world, are going to change the globe's attitude to climate change?

Lastly, and in closing, I want to make some quick remarks about what I have found the most disturbing aspect of this debate, and that is the contempt for scientific method by the proponents of this legislation. How often have we seen Senator Penny Wong shrilly call out to us across the chamber, 'The science is settled'? The science is never settled. I am a great fan of the late Sir Karl Popper, who in 1934 published one of the great classics of the 20th century, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and of Thomas Kuhn, the American historian of ideas, who in 1964 published his classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. What both Popper and Kuhn argued in those great classics of science was that the scientific method depends upon and operates by falsifiability—the falsification of existing propositions. Scepticism is the very spirit of science, because to question received hypotheses is the very mechanism by which the scientific method works. That is why every scientific advance has been described as a revolution. Galileo was a sceptic. Copernicus was a sceptic. Isaac Newton was a sceptic. Albert Einstein was a sceptic. Each of them challenged the scientific consensus of the time and, by propounding a better theory, advanced scientific knowledge and understanding.

There are few things that make my blood boil more than to hear the ignorance of those who say scepticism is anti-scientific. If you respect the scientific method, you would never settle for the proposition that there are no more questions to be asked, that the science is settled. But ignorance and zealotry and fear have characterised the conduct of this debate, in particular by Senator Penny Wong. I oppose these bills.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, just to clarify: you do have more time allocated after other intervening business.

Senator BRANDIS: I will yield to other colleagues.