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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5396

Ms KING (10:15 AM) —I rise in support of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and associated bills. This is in fact one of the most important debates that we have had in this parliament. This is a debate about the future of our children—and I see in the gallery some kids from a primary school obviously in someone’s electorate. This is a debate for these children and their future.

These bills bring into effect the government’s election commitment to introduce an emissions trading scheme. This legislation represents the government’s commitment to take strong action to tackle climate change, while also making sure the targets we put in place are appropriate and responsible, given the need to support our economy and jobs in the context of the global recession. Reducing the carbon pollution that causes climate change requires the most significant transformation of our economy that we have ever seen. To achieve this transformation, we have to move from being the most carbon-intensive developed country to a low-pollution economy. It is a huge transformation and not one that will occur overnight. This bill, establishing an emissions trading scheme, alongside our legislation to increase the mandatory renewable energy target and direct support for the development of renewable energy, is a significant start.

I do not in this debate want to go into the detail of all of the elements of the scheme, but I do just want to briefly outline some of them and then address a couple of points that have been raised by some of the critics. This bill establishes carbon pollution reduction targets—an unconditional commitment to reduce carbon pollution by five per cent by 2020; a commitment to reduce carbon pollution by 15 per cent by 2020 if there is agreement, where major developing economies commit to substantially restrain emissions and advanced economies take on commitments comparable to Australia’s; and an ambitious reduction of 25 per cent by 2020 if the world agrees to a global deal to stabilise levels of CO2 equivalent at 450 parts per million or lower.

The scheme includes assistance to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries—and I will talk more on that issue later, as I know this is one of the more divisive issues. The assistance recognises that there are some industries that, due to the very nature of what they produce, will be significantly affected by the introduction of the scheme. Recent revisions to this assistance have also been made to recognise that there are industries that, due to the global recession, will be less capable of adapting to the scheme. The scheme now provides a stronger recognition of voluntary contributions to the reduction of carbon pollution.

The bill establishes the Australian Carbon Trust, with $50 million for the Energy Efficiency Trust and $25.8 million for the Energy Efficiency Savings Pledge Fund. In addition, we will take additional GreenPower purchases above 2009 levels into account in setting Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme caps. I certainly commend the government for recognising voluntary contributions to these measures. I do think there is more work that can be done to measure other forms of voluntary action to build on and give effect to the measures included in this bill.

In recognition that there will be an increase in energy costs as a result of the introduction of this scheme, the bill introduces a household assistance package. This assistance is particularly designed to assist low-income households. The bill also introduces the Climate Change Action Fund, designed to help business, the community sector, workers, regions and communities to transition to a low-pollution economy. The fund is for business and community organisations that do not receive EITE assistance but do have significant energy costs to take action to reduce emissions.

These elements constitute the main measures of the government’s CPRS. These, along with the MRET, will drive investment in the renewable energy industry and over time reduce our carbon pollution. We face an incredibly complex challenge. On this side of the House we know unequivocally that carbon pollution is causing the world’s climate to dramatically change, with extreme weather, higher temperatures, more droughts and bushfires and rising sea levels. We know that carbon pollution is caused by human activity. We know that if we do not act we are dooming our children and our grandchildren to clean up our mess.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the coalition. The coalition have stated that they intend to vote against this legislation unless we delay it. The decision by the coalition has nothing to do with the Leader of the Opposition’s concerns about this legislation; the issue is that the Leader of the Opposition has been unable to forge a consensus in his party room and is seeking an extension of time. It is intended to distract from the fact that the National Party, no matter what, are utterly opposed to this scheme or any scheme and that many in the coalition remain sceptical about climate change. Anyone interested in this debate who wants to hear more on that point should turn to the Leader of the National Party’s speech which we just heard in this parliament—a speech which basically said, ‘Because this is a really hard problem, we should not do anything.’ That is basically the summary of his speech. It is for these reasons that Howard failed to act in the 11 long years he was in office.

In what is a complex debate, the public discourse often revolves around a few core arguments, and I want to address two of them. The first is the assertion that it is wrong to provide transitional assistance to big polluters. The second is the issue of targets. The arguments put forward in favour of less assistance to industry and higher targets sometimes fail to grapple with the economic realities of the transformation we need to set in train. Firstly, these arguments do not recognise that, if we just put a cost on carbon with no assistance, it would quite simply result in jobs and emissions being exported to countries overseas. That is not in anyone’s interests.

Whatever you may think of these so-called big polluters, the fact remains that many Australians are employed in these industries. I note that some have claimed that I should not be too worried about that, as none of the jobs are in my own electorate. The proposition, frankly, is simply not true. Many of the manufacturing jobs in my electorate—far too many of which have been lost of late—are heavily reliant on industries that are classified as big polluters. Many of the industries in my electorate use products produced by these big polluters, and in any case the argument is based on the premise that Ballarat people or their children never leave the electorate to work in mining, energy or aluminium or steel production. In fact many people, particularly those in Bacchus Marsh, travel to the western suburbs on a daily basis for work in these very industries. I do and should care about jobs across Australia. I care deeply about the plight of working-class people, whether they live in Ballarat or beyond. I have spent my entire working life trying to create better opportunities for people on low incomes to gain and keep their jobs, to educate their children and to emerge from poverty.

We are embarking on an economic transformation to create the low-pollution jobs of the future, but it is a transformation that will take time. To try and claim that it is possible to make such a significant change to our economy without assistance is simply wrong. The assistance measures have been deliberately designed to provide strong incentives for those industries to reduce their emissions, to adopt emissions-reducing technologies and processes and to fully factor in the carbon price when considering new investment opportunities. The amount of assistance will be reduced over time.

I am also confident that, with the changes to the MRET and the support we have given to the renewable energy sector, my electorate will be and is in a good position to benefit from renewable energy jobs. It is my hope that over time many of those employed in heavily polluting industries will transition into these jobs, but it is not going to somehow magically happen overnight—not without an enormous effort in our local community to train and reskill people and to work with our manufacturing sector to modernise and innovate.

The second argument has been around the targets we have set to reduce Australia’s carbon pollution by 2020. In particular, I am aware that there are groups who believe that, through voting this legislation down, there will somehow be the opportunity to increase targets. People who know me will know that I sit on the side of this debate that wants high targets to ensure that we can play a strong role in Copenhagen at the end of the year, but unfortunately we have come to this debate very late, meaning that we have locked into emissions growth. I wish it were otherwise, but it is not. To use the words of the minister, ‘We have a very big ship to turn around.’

Today we face a choice. We can do nothing and lock in more emissions growth. Current projections show that emissions would be 20 per cent higher by 2020 than they were in 2000 if we choose not to act. The longer we wait to start reducing emissions, the more difficult and costly it will be. I am concerned that those who think that there will be a better opportunity to revisit targets and redesign the scheme if this legislation is voted down have simply failed to read the politics of this debate. We have already moved to boost momentum in the global negotiations by adding the target of 25 per cent by 2020 to our scheme, and make no mistake: as the Prime Minister has made clear, we stand ready to increase our post-2020 targets even further in the context of strong global action. This includes considering a deeper 2050 target should it become necessary to play our part alongside commitments from both developed and developing countries. But Australia cannot play its full part unless we introduce this scheme. A decision to defer this scheme until after Copenhagen would be a clear sign to the rest of the world that Australia is not serious about getting a global agreement.

It is time these bills were passed. The detail and design of the government’s scheme has been known for some time. It has been examined in detail, inquired into and, to the government’s credit, changed to reflect the concerns of both business and environment groups. Business is now calling for it to be passed. The Australian Industry Group stated on 4 May:

Ai Group supports the passage of the CPRS legislation this year … This is critical to establish the degree of certainty business requires in assessing medium and longer-term investment decisions. It is particularly important in the current context because of the central role that business investment needs to play in recovery from the recession.

Environment groups are calling for the bills to be passed. The Southern Cross Climate Coalition—made up of the WWF, the ACF, the Climate Institute, the Australian Council of Social Service and the ACTU—said on 4 May:

… the CPRS should be supported so business can get on with investing in the clean energy and other low-carbon jobs …

I commend these bills to the House.