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Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Page: 5297

Mr DREYFUS (10:10 PM) —It is a privilege to be addressing the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills. This legislation provides the framework that will allow Australia to shift to a low-carbon economy. It will give businesses and households the certainty that they need, while taking strong action to reduce the impact of dangerous climate change on our future. It is in the national interest to legislate as soon as possible, and no Australian should be in any doubt about the need for action on climate change.

I have listened to the speech just given by the Leader of the Opposition, and it confirms that the coalition is hopelessly divided on this issue. We have seen in the last couple of years from the opposition the full range of views on this topic, from those who believe that dangerous climate change is some sort of conspiracy theory, to those who grudgingly accept that it is occurring, through to those who believe, as do we on this side of the House, that we need to take action now. What we have heard from the Leader of the Opposition is more of the same—indeed, the only consistency we have had from the opposition, both when they were in government and now that they are in opposition, is their inaction. That is the position of the Liberal and National parties—inaction on the question of how to deal with climate change.

We have heard tonight simply the latest in a long series of excuses for that inaction. Last year we had: ‘We should wait for the Garnaut report.’ Over the summer we had: ‘We should wait for the Liberal Party’s consultant on climate change to come up with a report.’ More recently we have had: ‘Wait for the decisions to be made at the Copenhagen conference later this year.’ And now we have a confirmation from the Leader of the Opposition that Australia, according to him and the coalition, is to wait for the United States to pass legislation. To that long list of excuses for inaction we have had added tonight: ‘Wait for the Productivity Commission to report.’ What we see from those opposite, the Liberal and National parties, is excuse after excuse after excuse, putting forward anything rather than taking action on climate change.

Extraordinarily, we had a reference right at the start of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition to prudence and to the precautionary principle, but it is clear that neither the Leader of the Opposition nor anyone in the Liberal and National Parties understand what the precautionary principle actually is. We are making a decision in the interests of the nation, not on the basis that there is complete certainty, as in complete scientific certainty, that there will be the predicted events, in this case, of dangerous climate change, but—and this is the precautionary principle—on the basis that the events which are predicted would be so cataclysmic in their effect that, if there is a probability of them occurring, action should be taken now. That is the precautionary principle. That is what is recognised as the precautionary principle, and that is why it was curious, to say the least, to hear the Leader of the Opposition refer to the precautionary principle at the start of his speech but then say nothing further about it.

Over the past year I have attended numerous hearings of this House’s Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, which is chaired by the member for Throsby. The committee is inquiring into the effects of climate change on coastal management around Australia. In the course of those hearings it has heard evidence that should put entirely beyond doubt the effects of climate change and the idea that those effects are real and are occurring now. The effects of climate change will be to increase the severity and frequency of many natural disasters—including bushfires, cyclones, hail storms and floods—to place increasing pressure on urban water supplies and to cause major declines in agricultural production. By the end of the century, the Great Barrier Reef will face catastrophic destruction and there will be severe health impacts felt across the population as a result of climate change. As the Prime Minister and other members of the government have often said, the high costs of inaction far outweigh the cost of acting now. Australia is one of the countries with the most to lose from climate change. Everyone knows that we are one of the hottest and driest continents on earth. Yet on a per capita basis we are the sixth-largest carbon polluter in the world.

I will mention one of the dramatic predicted effects of dangerous climate change: it is predicted that there will be a 92 per cent decline in irrigated agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin by the end of this century if there is no mitigation of climate change. This is not some theoretical problem. If there is no mitigation of climate change, rising sea levels will affect communities around Australia. One community that will be most affected is the community in my electorate in south-east Melbourne. Along the bay in the suburbs of Mordialloc, Aspendale, Chelsea, Edithvale, Carrum and Patterson Lakes—which is a canal development—there is tremendous exposure to the effects of rising sea levels. Those effects involve not merely the higher tides that will result but the storm surge effects that can occur. Without action to mitigate climate change, we will see substantial rises in sea level in coming decades. The low-lying parts of my electorate will face inundation, just on the basis of the conservative estimates that have now been written into Victorian planning schemes. It is estimated sea levels will rise—and there is now a requirement in Victoria to plan on this basis—by 0.8 of a metre by 2100. This is not some small predicted effect on the community that I represent. Thousands of homes and quite probably large parts of the Braeside industrial area will be affected by inundation unless there is action to mitigate the effects of dangerous climate change.

What we see in this legislation is action being taken by the Rudd Labor government to deal with the effects of climate change both by taking action in Australia and by encouraging countries around the world to do so. I will say at least this for the Leader of the Opposition: he accepts that global action is necessary, and it appears that the opposition also accepts that participation by Australia in that global action is required.

This legislation establishes the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which is to establish a cap-and-trade system to control the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that were included under the Kyoto protocol. The government has set target commitments, which I do not need to repeat. They are staggered commitments which envisage negotiation up to higher targets if there is action from developing economies and comparable commitments from advanced economies and a 25 per cent target by 2020 if a global deal is reached to stabilise levels of carbon dioxide equivalents at 450 parts per million. The government has recognised the impact that the global recession is having on Australian firms and households, and that is why it is delaying the start date to 1 July 2011. I do not need to talk about the other detailed aspects of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, because they will be more than adequately covered by speakers who are coming afterwards.

This legislation is part of the engagement by Australia in building a strong international response to climate change. It is a fact that Australia cannot tackle climate change alone; the only solution is a global one. Our team of negotiators must have a package to take to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The government will be able to get the best deal for Australia if we can go to Copenhagen with credibility. I note, Deputy Speaker Burke, that you and I will be attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in London between 5 and 11 July. It will be an assembling of representatives of parliaments across the Commonwealth, including many countries from the developing world. The task of that conference is to consider the lead-up to Copenhagen. It is not only our government that recognise the need for all countries to engage with the Copenhagen process; other Commonwealth countries recognise that need as well. The best way for Australia to establish credibility in the forums of the world is for this parliament to pass this legislative package so as to establish that there is a framework in this country to set Australia’s response to dangerous climate change. As a nation which is particularly vulnerable to climate change, it is in Australia’s national interest that there be global action. The best outcome for Australia is a global agreement. I commend the bills to the House.