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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2185

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (18:31): I am delighted to rise to affirm the excellent work undertaken by the Turnbull government on the question of climate change. As I flew from Barrow Island over the Pilbara the other night on my way back to Canberra, I remember commenting to my colleagues on the beautiful Pilbara that we could see out of the window. What was it 10,000 years ago or hundreds of thousands of years ago? It was a sea. It was the ocean. The ocean receded and that is why we have the Pilbara today. Of course climate changes. It has always changed. The term climate change is jolly nearly an oxymoron, because climate changes by its nature.

I want to reflect briefly on the work undertaken by this government, led by environment minister Greg Hunt, and that is the Emissions Reduction Fund, which is delivering outstanding results, as we all know. In just the first two auctions—the third is to be held in April—93 million tonnes of emission reductions have been secured. 275 projects of practical emissions reduction have been contracted. And what is the average price? I will repeat it for those who did not hear it: it is $13.12 per tonne.

I am going to tell you about the proposed Labor Party program in a few minutes time. The ANU economist Warwick McKibbin—this is not the coalition or the Liberal Party; this is a respected economist from the ANU—estimates that the cost of Labor's target of 45 per cent below 2005 levels is no less than a cool $200 per tonne. But let us talk a bit about some of these 500 projects that are now registered under the Emissions Reduction Fund. It is a shame that Senator Peris has left, because probably the most successful of all is the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project, which is in the Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory. It has been funded by ConocoPhillips and independently assessed by CSIRO, by my very great colleague Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith. They guaranteed to abate in excess of 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, and in consideration of that ConocoPhillips pay them $1 million. That is just one, but it is the first of many bushfire management schemes in the savannas of Northern Australia that are acting practically. It is no wonder that the World Bank has recently launched a $100 million reverse auction. The World Bank has developed this $100 million reverse auction that replicates many features of the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Previous speakers spoke about coal. Coal is not produced at any great levels in my state of Western Australia, but let me give you some statistics in relation to coal and global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Australian low-sulphur, high-energy coal is having this effect just in China—these are figures from recent years: new coal generation has effected annual emission savings of some 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by changing from dirty, low-energy, high-sulphur coal in China to Australian coal. How does that figure of 400 million tonnes equivalent compare with the EU's emissions trading scheme? I will tell you. The figure of 400 million tonnes equivalent compares with a lousy 35 million tonnes equivalent that has been saved by the EU's program—less than 10 per cent of the saving from China changing over to Australian coal.

How long will it be before we are going to see a contribution by others? Again, I can quote to you: in China, obviously one of the biggest energy users in the world, it is expected that coal-fired power stations now, under construction and planned into the future will be generating 1,360 kilowatts of power from coal. It will be generating 10 gigawatts from renewable energy sources.

So what we have, under the Turnbull government, is direct action, which is working at a price of some $13 per tonne, and of course we see a whole range of projects being undertaken. What do others think of the scheme? It was the subject of so much vehement criticism when we were in opposition. That reminds me that our policies have now been consistent for the last five or six years. Our opponents in the Labor Party have had a new one about every year during that five or six years. Let me quote from the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, in The Australian Financial Review of 2 February this year:

… a lot of what's been achieved through the direct action plan is as economically effective as any other scheme it's ever come up with, including regulation or carbon pricing.

That was the Chief Scientist. On 12 November, Geoff Lipsett-Moore of Nature Conservancy said, 'Many projects across Northern Australia have been successful in this round of the ERF funding, so it is a win for people, for the climate and for nature.'

The big question is, of course, what is the alternative? What would our opponents be doing? We know that the leader in the other place, Mr Shorten, has already committed Labor to a return of a carbon tax. We know how devastating that was in Australia—certainly in our state of Western Australia. As I have said, the respected ANU economist McKibbin has estimated that, should Labor be successful in government and bring in their target of 45 per cent reduction below 2005 figures by 2030, the cost equivalent would be in the order of $200 per tonne. Remember again what we have achieved in the coalition government in just the 2½ years. The World Bank has picked up this as a most effective scheme.

The world is rejecting carbon taxes. They are embracing direct action style approaches, because they know they work and because they know they are within a time frame and a capacity in which we can work. Have a look at what happened when the Chicago futures market embraced and embarked on a carbon trading program. It halted very quickly. Have a look at the EU scheme. We know that it is a failure, and it has failed.

It is a little bit rich for Senator Peris to talk about what the coalition is doing when we know very well that Labor, in government, itself paid $5.5 billion to brown coal generators in this country with absolutely no obligations to reduce emissions. This government has a plan. This government is enacting that plan. This government is achieving its results at costs that are wearable for the Australian consuming public. I commend the point to the Senate.