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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5411


Mr BRIGGS (11:18 AM) —I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and the series of cognate bills that are before this House. This is a very important debate, a debate that if not properly handled will negatively impact on our future generations. Rushing a scheme or introducing a badly thought through scheme will be a disaster for our future. I support the sound position of the Leader of the Opposition. I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition in his high-quality speech to this House last evening. It is a position that makes sense and it was a speech that made sense. I believe an emissions trading scheme is one of the policy levers that can be used to change the energy mix in Australia. An ETS will be, by definition, a price on carbon. An ETS is not the only lever, and it is a lever that should only be pulled in conjunction with other major emitters around the world. It cannot be done on our own; it cannot be done in isolation from the rest of the world.

With the election of the new President of the United States of America the tide has turned on the approach of the United States to addressing climate change. Later this year in the Danish city of Copenhagen the world will come together to discuss the way forward on climate change. It will seek to set targets for reducing carbon emissions in our atmosphere. In my view, because of the political capital carried by the new US President, an agreement will be reached. What that will look like is yet to be seen. In addition, the US congress has a piece of legislation before it which seeks to implement an emissions trading scheme, but in its current form it is a scheme that seeks to protect the jobs of those in the United States—unlike the approach of this bill. What the final product of the US congress will be is anyone’s guess, but it is unlikely to stupidly sacrifice the jobs of those in the United States to make a political point. So it makes no sense at all for a country that produces less than 1.5 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions to go it alone, to move ahead of the world. Without the United States participating and without the Chinese on board, it would simply be economic suicide.

It makes no sense when all the Australian government needs in its arsenal at Copenhagen is a set of targets—targets this side has already agreed to; targets, I might say, that are not contained in this bill. Copenhagen is the world stage, not a political platform for our Prime Minister’s vanity. You might ask why this legislation is being rushed, reducing members of this place to speaking for half their time allocated, forcing this bill through. It is because the bill before this parliament has been designed with politics in mind, not with the future of our economy at the forefront or a serious attempt to tackle the issue of climate change navigating this bill. It is a bill designed to get the Prime Minister to an early election so he avoids being answerable for the massive debt he is leaving our children. This policy is so flawed it basically remains friendless. It is flawed in its structure and it is flawed in its timing. We sit in this place each day and listen to the Prime Minister preach about the global economic downturn and its subsequent effects on our economy yet he insists for the purpose of politics on implementing a policy that will destroy jobs.

It is always interesting to watch those on the other side defend a policy that will cause so much damage to their own constituents. The best the member for Corio—who we know has a significant concern about this issue—could do this morning in his speech was to attack this side for being sceptics. As someone who formerly represented workers he knows this scheme will be a disaster for his electorate and for the workers in his electorate. Introducing an emissions trading scheme will be one of the most significant changes in our economic history. It will change the structure of our economy and it will, by its very nature, impact on costs. Inevitably, the coal industry—and, in particular, the workers in that industry—will be the industry that suffers the most. Prior to this sitting week, I was visited in my electorate office by Ms Clare Savage from the Energy Supply Association, who undoubtedly understands what the impact on her members will be and the significance of the ETS. She made it clear in our meeting that, while her members wanted to move forward with an ETS for certainty, the impact of this legislation on her members would be catastrophic.

This brings me to the motives of those on the other side. There are two groups on the other side: those who are believers and those who are political opportunists. Some of those on the other side talk about climate change with a religious zeal. Others, like the member for Corio, see the dangers to our economy but understand the politics of the issue. The prophets, including the Minister for Climate Change and Water, talk as if we are at the end of days. One prophet of climate change, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, talks of the imminent death of the Great Barrier Reef and irreversible changes to the Murray-Darling Basin. The minister suggests that the simple act of introducing an ETS will miraculously save these two great symbols of our country. He uses these emotive symbols to scare Australians into his religion. But the truth is that using climate change as an excuse means the Rudd government can avoid taking the hard decisions necessary in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The minister for the environment—the least relevant and effective minister for the environment this country has ever had—talks the climate change rhetoric like an apostle of doom. This is a minister for the environment who is now so irrelevant that, when the Prime Minister decided to give the minister for climate change a helping hand on this issue, he looked to the member for Charlton. So this is a minister for the environment with no responsibility for climate change. Simply put: he is irrelevant to this debate. He and the other believers on that side talk in religious terms—about the end of days—in an attempt to make it impossible for anyone to question the approach of the government to climate change. But the truth is that it is healthy to have members of this House and the Senate raise questions and issues about policy directions and decisions, particularly on an issue as big as this. Never before have we had so much abuse directed at members for daring to suggest they might not believe. The word ‘sceptic’ has been written into the speeches of those opposite by the hollowmen, because this is about politics—that is, spin doctoring, not serious policy. They want the legislation passed without even the release of the regulations that implement the policy. That move itself highlights just how political this bill is.

But this does not stop the Labor Party trying to jackboot this bill through. We saw the unprecedented behaviour of the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change last week, when he told the Minerals Council that their position of opposing this legislation was unsustainable and said they should get on board or the government would remove any industry assistance. It appears his union training has come in handy. That speech I understand led to some in the audience booing the parliamentary secretary as he left. This was followed up by another verbal assault by the Deputy Prime Minister at the Minerals Council dinner, a speech that has been widely interpreted as a direct attack on the MCA because they have been vocal critics of this government’s approach. Clearly, those on the other side prefer the approach of the AiG, who can be guaranteed to say whatever the government wish when they make policy announcements.

I believe strongly that we should be part of a global approach to addressing pollution in our atmosphere. We should also look to act locally in protecting our great environment. That starts for me with addressing the disaster in the Lower Lakes, something an emissions trading scheme will simply not do. It means making the tough decisions throughout the Murray-Darling Basin to ensure we can sustain food production at the same time as we rescue the basin from disaster. The truth is that I, like so many on this side of politics, believe in conserving our natural resources. I am hopeful for an agreement at Copenhagen later this year. I am positive about the opportunities for renewable and less carbon intensive energy in our country. I am positive about the opportunities for natural gas in our energy future. I am positive about new technologies such as hot rocks, tidal power and biochar in contributing to our future energy mix and carbon reduction methods. I also understand that this will mean the Australian public will pay significantly more for their energy requirements, something this government attempts to sweep under the carpet. I also understand the Australian people want us to take this issue seriously. But what the Australian people do not want us to do is to sell them short. We can do better than this legislation. We can do better than selling out our country for politics.