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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5442

Mr SLIPPER (1:29 PM) —With the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills currently before the House the ALP is embarking on an ideological indulgence. Given the fact that the scheme is not due to come into effect for a considerable period of time, there is absolutely no reason for this indecent rush to put legislation on the statute books. Consequently, I cannot support the bills in their present form and I do in fact support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke in the parliament recently.

Let us look at what the Leader of the Opposition is suggesting should occur. He is saying that these bills should be deferred until a number of things have happened—things that are really quite reasonable in all the circumstances. Firstly, the bills should be deferred until the Copenhagen climate change summit at the end of this year has concluded and, secondly, until the Barack Obama administration in the United States has clarified its intentions in this area. He also pointed out in the amendment that consideration of the legislation should be deferred until the government has referred its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to the Productivity Commission so that it may conduct a six-month review to assess the national, regional and industry sectoral impact of the CPRS in the light of the global financial crisis; assess the economic impact of the CPRS in the light of other countries either not imposing a price on carbon comparable to that proposed for Australia or imposing such a price after different assumed periods of delay; and conceptually and empirically examine the relative costs and benefits, including emissions reductions, of the key alternative scheme designs against the CPRS. Finally, consideration should be deferred until the Productivity Commission’s reports on these topics have been publicly released.

The government is bringing in legislation that will disadvantage Australia, Australians, Australian industry and Australian jobs all in the heat of the moment because the government wants to be seen to be doing something. It is bizarre to consider that the government of Australia is seriously considering a carbon reduction scheme that will (a) have virtually no impact on the global pollution levels and (b) cause massive cost increases for business and many job losses.

The government cites and re-cites as a mantra that it is the party of jobs. This legislation, if implemented, will destroy jobs. Given that as far as emitting nations and polluting nations are concerned we are well down the scale, you would think that the government would be waiting to see what the world is doing, particularly as our own scheme does not come in for a considerable period of time. I listened very carefully to what government spokespeople have said in relation to this and I have to say that their response is clearly uninspiring and unconvincing. I do not know what the rush is. Everyone accepts that, as a good corporate and world citizen, Australia must do something to reduce carbon emissions. No-one denies that. But our scheme is not going to come into effect for a considerable period and in between there will be a number of world decisions made, including decisions at Copenhagen and decisions by the Barack Obama administration in the United States of America, and those decisions, whatever they are, could well impact on what we as a country should do as part of our response. This legislation is absolute tokenism—or, more correctly, would be absolute tokenism if it were not for the very serious economic and jobs impact that this legislation will have.

I am advised that the scheme drawn up by the US administration does in fact have built-in protection for jobs. However, here in Australia the government does not seem to be sufficiently concerned to have a rethink about the scheme. It is not prepared to rejig its stance so as to reduce the negative impact on Australians. I find as I go around the electorate of Fisher—and I am sure other honourable members find this as they travel around the country—that, clearly while there is a desire in the community for us to do what we can to combat climate change, there is a very real concern that if Australia goes forward ahead of the rest of the world we might in fact be imposing substantial disadvantages on this nation while not seriously having any impact on global pollution levels.

No government in the world other than this government has been prepared to risk jobs in the way that this government is. The government would like us to wave the legislation through, but the Liberal-National opposition cannot sit back and allow the government to rush headlong into introducing such a scheme without our standing up on principle and making clear the concerns felt right around the country on the impact that this scheme would have on Australia. The only conclusion we have is that the government is not able to think on its feet. The government is woodenly proceeding down a path that is to the serious disadvantage of the Australian community.

On a recent television program debating action on climate change the studio audience seemed to go noticeably quiet when discussions turned to whether or not they would support the scheme if it meant losing their jobs. I can understand why any audience would go quiet when asked: ‘Well, yes, climate change action is a good thing, but would you want it if it cost you your job?’ particularly when any action that Australia takes unilaterally will have virtually no impact on global pollution levels. So people in Australia, people in that studio audience, risk losing their jobs as a result of the ideological action of this government. It is an action by this government that will have virtually no impact on global pollution levels. To me that seems downright stupid.

Australia produces just 1.4 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and the introduction of a radical trading scheme here will have little global impact in the real sense unless it is accompanied by the introduction of similar schemes by the world’s major polluters. Unless other countries are prepared to implement schemes, Australia will be hanging itself out to dry and this legislation will be on the statute books. I represent a regional area, and the impact on regional communities of an emissions scheme is a telling concern. Research says that some regional communities could expect an impact of 20 per cent on their livelihoods. If that extrapolates to a 20 per cent rise in unemployment in those communities, is the government prepared for that burden? I am advised that the average dairy farmer can expect an increase in costs of between $6,000 and $9,000, and this follows the challenges faced by the industry due to deregulation which resulted in numerous farmers leaving the land and taking their expertise with them. Are we prepared and are we able as a nation to afford the loss of more dairy farmers, possibly increasing our reliance on imports?

The Liberal-National opposition will offer bipartisan support to the government for the carbon abatement targets Australia will take to the Copenhagen climate change conference in December. This means, as has been pointed out by others in the opposition, that the government can go to the conference with a united Australian position, strengthening its hand considerably. They will try and paint us as climate change sceptics, as people who are wreckers and destroyers, who are not interested in combating the pollution of our environment. But we are not saying that we ought not to have a scheme. We believe that Australia ought to have a scheme and yet Australia as a polluter to the extent of only 1.4 per cent of the world’s problem ought not to be putting its neck on the chopping block until we know what the rest of the world is doing. We want to defer a vote on this legislation until after Copenhagen. That is a very important step forward. We will also augment our support for emissions reduction targets with a significant renewable energy support package in the near future.

This is a topic on which one could talk virtually forever. When one looks at the range of organisations in the community attacking the government’s suicidal approach, one wonders why the government does not react to community concern. So I strongly support the amendment moved in this place by the honourable Leader of the Opposition. If that amendment is not backed by the government then I will have absolutely no hesitation in voting for the Australian economy, voting for Australian jobs and making sure that Australia does not hang itself out to dry, that we do not cut our head off to somehow play to world opinion.