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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5402


Mr PERRETT (10:38 AM) —On this the 17th anniversary of the Mabo decision, I acknowledge the traditional owners of our country and thank them for their continued stewardship. It is amazing how that one High Court decision changed the future of Australia. It is in that spirit and with a great sense of hope for the future of our planet that I rise to support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills.

This legislation sets Australia on a course of global leadership in our response to climate change. Not since Billy Hughes and Doc Evatt strode the world stage after the world wars have we had the opportunity to lead the world. When it comes to climate change, the overwhelming majority of people I meet want the government to act, and they want us to act now. Wherever I go in my community—to schools, aged-care homes, shopping centres and other places of business—I hear strong support for Minister for Climate Change and Water Penny Wong and the Rudd government’s leadership on climate change. There is also widespread recognition that our excess carbon pollution is causing the climate to change in dramatic and previously unseen ways. Extreme weather events, higher temperatures, more droughts and rising sea levels are happening.

Australia’s environment and climate are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Folks in South-East Queensland know this better than anyone—we know it damn well. We went down to 16.7 per cent in our dams. We are now at over 72 per cent. This change happened in the blink of an eye. We recognise that we all have a part to play in our response to climate change. I have spoken in this place before about how the people of Brisbane and South-East Queensland responded to the challenge of the drought: we stepped up to the crease. Over the last five years we have completely changed the way we use water, to the point where none of us will return to the bad old days of having long showers and hosing concrete pathways. Before the drought, Brisbane people used, on average, 277 litres of water per person per day. However, in response to the drought, our water use dropped by more than half, to less than 130 litres per person per day. I am sure that every Queensland MP has an eggtimer in their Parliament House shower to regulate what they do down here in Canberra; unfortunately, mine broke this morning.

Thanks to unseasonal autumn rains, the long drought is officially over and Brisbane dams are now much healthier. We got through it, but it took some incredible leadership from the Beattie and Bligh Labor governments and every single one of us doing our bit and taking responsibility for the impact we were having on the environment. We learned that water is liquid gold and that there is a price to pay if we use it and waste it. In the same way, we understand that carbon comes at a significant environmental cost and that the best way to ensure a sustainable future for our children is to put a price on carbon.

We Queenslanders also know the catastrophic effect the changing climate is having on our greatest natural asset—the Great Barrier Reef. This natural wonder is a source of some $5 billion in tourism and fishing revenue. Climate change is already impacting the reef. Coral bleaching in 1998 and 2002 affected more than half of the reefs, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that an increase in sea surface temperatures of between one and three degrees will wipe out coral reefs. Higher sea temperatures will also impact the unique biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef, as many species of bird and fish will be unable to survive. This is the cost of inaction. This parliament has a responsibility to our children and our children’s children and to our environment to do something about it.

As the sixth largest per capita polluter in the world, Australia must also not shirk from our international responsibility to reduce our emissions. New Zealand and 27 countries in Europe already have carbon reduction schemes in place. Canada and some states in the United States are on their way. But the coalition say, ‘Wait.’ They waited 12 years in government to act and did nothing, and they want to go on waiting. We should not wait for the world economy to improve before we commit to action, because now, more than ever, Australian businesses need certainty. I heard the head of Santos saying it yesterday. They do not need to be left in limbo while the coalition dither. We should not wait for the United States to act, as the Liberal and National parties would have us do. I know the coalition when it was in government was content to follow President Bush on most issues, but that is not our style. We do not need a deputy sheriff. Sometimes ‘a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do’, and this is that time.

The Rudd government prefer to act in the national interest. The fact that the coalition party room cannot come to an agreement on a response to climate change is shameful. It seems as though every coalition member has their own individual policy on climate change. Their leader cannot even convince the shadow cabinet climate change exists, let alone produce a coherent party policy in response to it. While the coalition whinge, we work. We are getting on with the job of responding to climate change.

This bill before the House will help drive down emissions by introducing a cost on carbon pollution. The bill establishes emissions trading within the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority will be set up to oversee the scheme. Starting from 1 July 2011, the regulatory authority will issue a limited number of emissions units which will be available for purchase. Companies will compete to purchase these units at auction or on a secondary market. The price will be fixed at $10 per tonne before full market trading gets underway from 1 July 2012, which is less than 25 months away. The scheme applies to all greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol, including CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydroflurocarbons and others. It also includes energy, transport, industrial processes, waste, fugitive omissions from oil and gas production and forestry.

For some entities it will be cheaper to reduce emissions than to buy units, and of course this is the whole idea behind the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It will provide the motivation that industry needs to invest in renewable energies like solar, wind and geothermal and build the momentum needed to get new technologies like clean coal out of the science laboratory and into the NEM. As well as creating alternative energy sources, these emerging industries will be a source of thousands of new, low-carbon, green jobs—the green-collar jobs that have been referred to previously.

The Rudd government made a clear election commitment to implement a carbon trading scheme, and that is exactly what we are delivering. This scheme has been shaped through the green paper and white paper processes, and this legislation has also gone through very wide consultation with industry. In fact, every step of the way, the government have listened and responded to the views of industry and other stakeholders and calibrated the scheme accordingly.

This bill introduces a massive shift in the Australian economy, but it also includes appropriate measures to protect Australian jobs and to shield trade exposed industries. The last thing we want to do is see vital Australian industries shipped overseas to higher polluting countries. We achieve nothing by simply shipping emissions overseas. That is why this scheme will allocate some free permits to firms in emissions-intensive trade-exposed activities. Permits will initially be provided at a 90 per cent rate for the most emissions intensive activities and at a 60 per cent rate for activities that are moderately emissions intensive. The rates of assistance per unit of production will be reduced by 1.3 per cent per year to ensure that emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries still share in the national reduction of carbon pollution over time.

An additional global recession buffer for trade exposed industries will also apply for at least five years, at a rate of five per cent for activities receiving assistance at the 90th percentile rate and 10 per cent for activities receiving assistance at the 60th percentile rate. All industries will face new costs for carbon, but those impacted the most will receive the most assistance. Coal fired electricity generators will also share in $3.9 billion in permits over five years. Obviously, we must preserve peak load until other forms of energy can take up the slack. This bill establishes a $2.75 billion Climate Change Action Fund to provide targeted assistance to business and community organisations.

This bill sets Australia on a course for a low-pollution future. I know there are still some people coming to terms with whether or not climate change exists who want us to wait or do nothing—that is, the coalition party room. There are others who think our targets do not go far enough—that is, the Greens and many concerned people in my electorate. But this bill offers a considered, reasonable and responsible response to climate change. The Rudd government are committed to reducing carbon pollution by five per cent by 2020. This is a significant reduction in Australia’s carbon pollution and will help turn the tide on climate change. We also know that we can achieve 15 per cent if other major economies come on board.

But I stress that this is ‘only the beginning’—to borrow the words of the wonderful singer Deborah Conway. Five years ago the government of the day was not even talking about climate change. Today we have practical plans on the table. I hope future governments and future generations will amend this scheme as new technologies and emerging industries make higher reduction targets possible. I sincerely hope this for my children’s sake. Once again, I thank the Minister for Climate Change and Water and the Treasurer for introducing this legislation to the parliament. I am proud to be a part of a government that has the courage to implement this scheme. We are strong in will. We will strive and we will find and we will not yield. I commend the legislation to the House.