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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5439

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (1:19 PM) —One thing that is certain, when we talk about the opposition and their position on emissions trading, is that they are not on the same page. We had the Leader of the Nationals’ contribution today where he was virtually saying, ‘Look, this is such a hard decision we shouldn’t make a decision; we should just leave it.’ We had the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate saying they are not even supportive of an emissions trading scheme whatsoever. We had the member for O’Connor saying that two-thirds of the Liberal Party do not even believe in climate change, let alone an emissions trading scheme. So we have inconsistency from the opposition; they are not on the same page.

But I think we probably have them reading from the same book, and that would be a book called 1,000 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Act in Relation to Climate Change, because, no matter which story we are hearing from which faction or subfaction of the opposition, we are hearing something consistent, which is: ‘We don’t want to do anything.’ That should not be a surprise to the Australian people; we have had 12 years of them not doing anything in relation to this. But the Rudd government made a commitment to the people of Australia at the last election that we would act in relation to climate change, and that is what we have done, and that is what this legislation, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills, is all about.

Climate change presents many challenges for the planet and the country that our children are going to inherit. It also brings specific challenges to the electorate that I represent. For the electorate of Dobell, rising sea levels; the predicted increased occurrences of east coast lows, bringing more extreme storm events; and increased bushfire activity and water shortages have the potential to cause major problems for our region. Dobell extends along the coast just north of the Terrigal Lagoon through to Norah Head. Areas such as the Wamberal beachfront and The Entrance North have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and greater storm activity. When the House committee on climate change and the environment began their inquiry into the effects of climate change on coastal areas, the first place they visited was my seat of Dobell. Both of those suburbs have recently experienced severe beach erosion that has eroded the yards of private properties and destroyed fences and decking. We also have a lake in the middle of the electorate that, in the last five years, has suffered two major floods. These were meant to be floods that happened once in 50 or 100 years; we have had two in five years.

As sea levels rise, and storm events and surges become more severe and potentially more frequent, it would be not unexpected to lose a number of homes within these areas. Last Friday I was at North Entrance, talking to homeowners who have seen the boundaries of their properties consumed by the sea. A couple told me that they have lost seven metres of their backyard, which were taken away by the severe weather conditions that they experienced only last week. It really brought home the reality of the importance of what we are talking about today—when you see half a backyard disappearing into the ocean. When I was there I saw footpaths hanging out over the edge of a cliff because there used to be a backyard there. This used to be the back path going down the backyard. It has disappeared. This is such a recent event that, when the environment committee visited the exact same spot only 12 months ago, there was a backyard there. It has now disappeared, as with all of these houses at North Entrance.

Carbon pollution is contributing to changes in the world’s climate, resulting in extreme weather, higher temperatures, more droughts and rising sea levels. Everyone needs to do their bit to tackle carbon pollution, and by introducing the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Australia will be a part of the solution, not just the problem. We are taking strong action to tackle climate change by introducing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme while also making sure that the targets we put in place are appropriate and responsible, given the need to support our economy and jobs during this global recession. The community expects the government to make tough decisions in tackling climate change. Tough decisions in this context mean substantial structural changes to the way our economy operates. The government’s CPRS is consistent with these community aims.

After 12 years of climate change scepticism and neglect by the former government, this government is stepping up to the plate and making a number of important changes. These include putting a cost on carbon pollution, which will encourage major polluting businesses to lower their emissions; using the funds raised to assist households to adjust to the scheme, making sure Australian families do not carry the cost of climate change; and building on our investment in renewable energy to create the low-pollution jobs of the future in solar energy, wind farms and jobs using new technologies like clean coal and geothermal energy. Taking action on climate change will see renewable energy targets grow to 30 times their current size by 2050, creating thousands of new green-collar jobs.

These types of schemes are already operating in 27 European countries and 28 states and provinces of the United States and Canada. They are introducing emissions trading schemes to reduce carbon pollution, as is New Zealand. US President Obama is committed to establishing a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce carbon emissions, with targets of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent below 1990 by 2050.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will help us tackle climate change to ensure our kids and future generations are not left to clean up the mess. This is the Labor approach: ensuring our kids and our future generations are not left with the economic and legislative structures that are not suitable for the grave environmental challenges that we face. The coalition approach can only be described as the collective sticking of heads in the sand.

It has been well over a decade since the Kyoto protocol was adopted. It has been a year and a half since Kevin Rudd ratified this protocol on behalf of Australia. The Australian community has moved over a relatively long period of time to a clear-cut position that substantive climate change action is required. The coalition still fail to hold even a resemblance of a unified, consistent position on whether climate change actually exists, let alone a plan to tackle it. The coalition are doing the political equivalent of putting a pillow over their head and hoping that the problem of not having a consistent position simply goes away. For 12 years the coalition neglected the issue and failed to act. Action under the former coalition government would have made the transition to a low-pollution economy now that much easier.

My constituents in Dobell are already facing the prospect of increasing prices because of the impact of climate change. Gosford and Wyong councils have been given permission to increase rates of pay to pay for securing water supplies for the future. Dam levels have now only just risen to 32 per cent of capacity, after being close to empty in 2007. Without increased capacity, water storages will always be vulnerable in any lengthy dry spell. With predictions of a new El Nino weather event, the residents of the Central Coast will be looking at extended periods of water scarcity.

Energy Australia has been given permission by IPART to increase energy costs for customers. This reflects the need for increased spending to ensure energy supplies in the future. The Central Coast is lacking in public transport infrastructure, and most residents are forced into their cars for work and/or leisure. Yet many businesses, aware of the prospect of increased energy and fuel costs under a CPRS, are now investing in energy and water saving measures that will mitigate the costs of any price rises. Unfortunately, many of my constituents are not able to do this. Although some residents are utilising rebates under the Energy Efficient Homes program, for many residents on fixed and low incomes, the ability to implement water and energy saving measures is limited. Under the CPRS, residents of my community will benefit in a number of ways: those on pensions and low incomes will be compensated for increased costs associated with the CPRS; business and industry will be looking to offset carbon emissions through such things as community projects around emissions reductions; and through the creation of green jobs.

Importantly, the government will provide substantial assistance to support the jobs of today through an allocation of free permits to firms engaged in emissions-intensive trade-exposed activities; the $3.9 billion Electricity Sector Adjustment Scheme, which will provide a fixed allocation of permits to coal-fired electricity generators over five years; and the $2.75 billion Climate Change Action Fund, which will provide further targeted assistance to businesses as well as community sector organisations, workers, regions and communities. If we do not act, Australia’s economy will be left behind, meaning we will not create the low-pollution jobs of the future. Treasury modelling released in October 2008 demonstrated that economies that defer action face long-term costs that are around 15 per cent higher than those that take action now. So the longer we delay the more likely Australia will miss the boat on the potential to be a world leader in green-collar industries. The longer we delay the more my constituents, many of whom have the least ability to pay, will be paying for the costs associated with climate change.

The government is taking responsible and decisive action to ensure that our kids and future generations are not left to clean up the mess. The demarcation between Labor and the conservatives is clear: from the government there is decisive action to seriously tackle the challenges we face; on the other side there is nothing but confusion and division. I commend the bills to the House.