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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5418


Mr BUTLER (11:50 AM) —It will be interesting to see how long the member for Maranoa supports the opposition leader on this question. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 is the most important piece of legislation that most of us will ever speak on. It is without a doubt, in my view, the key challenge for our generation of people who are lucky enough to represent Australia in this place. No-one underestimates the degree of difficulty involved in dealing with the challenge of climate change, partly because it requires a level of sacrifice now for the benefit of future generations, and that is always a hard argument to make, but also because the question of climate change is based largely on predictions. Yes, there is some evidence already about the impact of climate change globally and here in Australia, but largely we are trying to respond to predictions about the impact of climate change in coming decades.

I say for the record that, although cognisant of both of those challenges, I am comfortable with both of them as well. Like many in this place, for some years I have read widely on this question and I am convinced about the integrity of the different IPCC reports. There have been four assessment reports so far, all of which broadly agree that a tipping point of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent gases in the atmosphere is something that we need to avoid. Even that will involve a temperature increase in the course of this century of about two degrees Celsius. Anything above that temperature increase, which in and of itself would have significant impacts on Australia, would have impacts that would be far more catastrophic not only for Australia but for the globe. In addition to impacts on weather patterns, agriculture, water resources and the like, any temperature increase above two degrees Celsius or a quantity of carbon dioxide equivalent gases of more than 450 parts per million in the atmosphere puts us at risk of major events such as the melting of the Greenland icesheet, the reversal of the Gulf Stream along the east coast of the United States of America and the collapse of natural carbon sinks such as the Amazon forest.

The time for talk about these issues has finished. There has been lots and lots of talk. It is now almost 20 years since the first IPCC assessment report was handed down in 1990. The Australian Greenhouse Office, as the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change reported in his second reading speech, first published proposals for an ETS some 10 years ago. The states and territories, in the face of recalcitrance by former Prime Minister Howard, formed an ETS task force five years ago and now the national parliament has the chance to act—and act it should.

These bills result from extensive consultation by this government going back to the Garnaut review, which undertook very detailed consultations and studies in the 12 months from about April 2008. Those resulted in a green paper that was published with very wide, very detailed proposals for action in June 2008. That was followed by hundreds of meetings and many hundreds of submissions being received by the government. All that in turn was followed by a white paper published in December 2008. It was very detailed in its scope. In March 2009 draft legislation was published which by and large, with the addition of some modifications announced by the Prime Minister on 4 May, is the legislation that the parliament is considering today.

The CPRS is based on a cap-and-trade model. I am convinced, and our side of the parliament is convinced, that this is the right model, particularly as the response to very significant increases in petrol prices over the last few years has convinced me that a carbon tax as proposed by some in the community is not the right model. What is needed is a mandated cap on emissions, and that is what the CPRS delivers. The trade element brings in market mechanisms to ensure that emissions are reduced in the economically most efficient way possible. On a more pragmatic level, the other reason for adopting the cap-and-trade model is that that is the model being adopted around the world. Twenty-seven nations of the European Union already work to a cap-and-trade model. Legislation is well underway in New Zealand and, as we have seen in the last week or two, in the US based on a cap-and-trade model.

The critical ingredient is the cap. Should this legislation pass through this parliament, for the first time ever Australia will regulate how much carbon and other greenhouse gases are put into the atmosphere from this country. The cap covers CO2, methane and a number of other greenhouse gases and covers about 75 per cent of all emissions from stationary energy, transport, industrial processes and the nastily worded ‘fugitive emissions’ from oil and gas production. These are able to be covered by identifying, as I understand it, only about 1,000 liable entities, which shows the efficiency with which this scheme can be implemented, in contrast, for example, to the way in which the GST had to be implemented across many hundreds of thousands of entities.

The question as to the core controversy is: what is the cap? That will be the subject of the debate leading into the Copenhagen conference. Kyoto uses 1990 as the benchmark, being the year that the first assessment report of the IPCC was delivered. The government is largely using 2000 as the benchmark, although the figures also reflect calculations based on 1990. Those two figures are largely the same because of the big reduction in our emissions through the cessation of the clearing of large tracts of land in Queensland during the 1990s. Kyoto established a target of 108 per cent of 1990 emissions by 2008-12 in Australia, and the minister’s recent releases show that we are on track to achieve that or even better that. But the targets for 2020 will be where the rubber hits the road. We know that a business-as-usual assessment of Australia’s emissions would see our emissions by 2020 reaching about 120 per cent of 2000 or 1990 levels. Instead, we need to look at aggregate emission benchmarks against those years being reduced.

There are three possible targets set out in the legislation which depend in large part on the outcome of the Copenhagen conference in December: an unconditional five per cent reduction against 2000 levels or four per cent against 1990 levels; a 15 per cent target against 2000 levels—or 14 per cent against 1990 levels—in the event that Copenhagen yields an agreement for comparable reductions by advanced economies and that developing countries commit to substantially restraining their emissions; and the more recent government commitment to the more ambitious target of 25 per cent against 2000 levels if Copenhagen yields a global agreement to stabilise emissions at 450 parts per million, an agreement which includes major developing countries agreeing to slow their emissions with a target for them to peak and then to commence to decline. We would want to see a collective reduction of more than 20 per cent against business-as-usual emissions by 2020 in major developing nations as well as a comparable reduction in emissions from advanced economies to the 25 per cent target.

I also ask the community to put the Australian targets in context. These targets are very significant measured as per capita reductions—more significant than reductions which look, in an aggregate sense, to be more significant in Europe and Great Britain because of the population increases that have taken place since 1990 in Australia. That is not the final word. At the end of the day, the environment will recognise aggregate emissions, not per capita emissions. But it is an important part of the story about Australia’s general response.

There is a great deal of detail which I could talk about and I would be keen, if I had the time, to talk more about how the proposed scheme operates; the phase-in and the global recession buffer which are incorporated into the legislation; the impact on households and the way in which the government will recognise voluntary action by households; and, because of a number of industries located in my electorate of Port Adelaide, including power generation and cement, the impact on emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. But time does not allow me to do that.

It is a very real pleasure to speak in favour of this legislation. I am confident that it will be the most important piece of legislation I have the honour of speaking in favour of in whatever time I might end up spending representing Port Adelaide in this place. In closing, I would like to pay particular tribute to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, who has worked with one of the most significant public policy challenges any minister has had in front of him or her in the history of this Federation. I think she has done an absolutely outstanding job. I commend the bills to the House.