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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5444

Ms PARKE (1:40 PM) —I speak today in support of this historic, necessary and carefully designed suite of bills that will establish in Australia a comprehensive carbon pollution reduction scheme. These bills together represent the first major step taken by an Australian government to deal with the greatest market failure in history—namely, the failure to attribute a cost to carbon pollution.

There are several reasons for that failure. For a long time governments, business and the scientific community simply did not appreciate the effects and the costs of a steeply rising concentration of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere. While the concept of greenhouse gas has been with us since the 18th century and while there is no argument that the human production of greenhouse gas has been increasing exponentially since the Industrial Revolution, the logically consequential notion of anthropogenic climate change has taken longer to arrive.

Now, in the 21st century, we have reached a point, however belatedly, where the strong scientific consensus is that climate change is occurring and that it is being caused by carbon pollution for which we are responsible. Accepting and acting on this scientific consensus does not mean there is no room for debate or for further scientific investigation of the issue and its consequences. Indeed, debate and study are needed now more than ever. Nevertheless, there is a sound and growing body of scientific work that sets out the kind of scenario we are likely to face if climate change continues unabated. These include: a significant rise in the earth’s average surface temperature—an outcome which an article in the May issue of the Lancet described as ‘potentially the biggest global health threat in the 21st century’; a significant rise in ocean temperatures, which would, among other calamities, greatly accelerate the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef; a significant rise in ocean levels, which would displace millions of people worldwide; and an increase in extreme weather events like cyclones, floods and weather related fires.

In the face of a scientific consensus regarding consequences that are as grave as this, the only reasonable course of action is to first stabilise and then ultimately reduce carbon pollution in the earth’s atmosphere. That is why governments around the world are acting to confront this challenge. It is why the Kyoto protocol agreement came into existence. It is why there are already emissions trading schemes operating widely in Europe and planned to operate in New Zealand and Japan and within more than 25 states and provinces across the United States and Canada. It is also why the Rudd government will keep perhaps its most significant election promise and, with these bills, implement a carbon pollution reduction scheme in Australia.

Those who oppose the CPRS fall into two broad categories. In the first are those who oppose it altogether—those who do not accept the scientific consensus or who think that any action by Australia must only come after the rest of the world is on the way to fixing the problem for us. In the second category are those who understand the necessity of action to reduce carbon pollution but who believe our measures are not sufficient. There are a number of individuals and groups in my electorate, for example, who would prefer to see a much steeper and immediate reduction in carbon pollution. I am not without sympathy for that point of view but I urge those people to recognise the size of the task that confronts us all. This is the beginning and, while for some our proposed CPRS does not go far enough and for others it goes too far, nevertheless the passage of this legislation will deliver two historic and unprecedented achievements: first, the introduction of a trading system in Australia that puts a price on carbon emissions and, second, the commitment to a minimum, unconditional five per cent emission reduction trajectory.

In keeping an election promise to introduce an emissions trading scheme, the government is not fixed on an inflexible, dogmatic approach. This is evidenced by the changes to the scheme that reflect, on the one hand, the circumstances of the global recession and, on the other hand, amendments that will ensure that the efforts of households and individuals to reduce emissions are appropriately reflected in a further reduction of set cap limits. I welcome this latter change in particular because I recognise that the most important driver of change on this issue is the Australian community.

Professor Garnaut, when he delivered his final report of the climate change review, said:

This is a diabolical policy problem, but it has a saving grace. And that is that the extraordinary interest of Australians gives the government a base of support that has not been there in any comparable degree for other major structural changes in the economy under the reforms of the past 30 years.

We have to keep faith with the Australian community on this issue. My own position was certainly reinforced at a climate change forum that I hosted in my electorate late last year. My constituents want to see action taken by their government, both on their behalf and in support of their own efforts to reduce emissions, and to pursue a low-carbon future for their children.

It is unfortunate that on an issue as important as climate change we have not in this place been able to approach the reduction of carbon pollution and the creation of a green and renewable energy future for Australia as a shared objective, with the contest between political representatives confined to the necessary argument about the details and the methods of reaching that objective. It is unfortunate that the coalition is so divided on this issue, with only one consistent line involving scaremongering about the effect that an emissions trading scheme will have on economic activity in Australia.

It is a fundamentally false dichotomy to frame this as a choice between the environment and the economy. The climate change that is occurring—and that will only accelerate if we do not reduce carbon emissions—can be measured just as easily in terms of economic damage as it can in terms of environmental damage. Indeed, there is a bumper sticker that sums up very well the absurdity of pitting the health of the environment against our own material wellbeing. It says, ‘No jobs on a dead planet.’ This black-and-white simplification—that the economy and the environment are somehow opposite values and that human prosperity can only occur through the consumption and destruction of the natural world—not only is self-defeating but ignores the possibility of making a paradigm shift to another view altogether. There is a widespread view in my electorate of Fremantle that says we can be both economically productive and sustainable. This is a view that sees the significant economic upside to being a country of innovation and a world leader in renewable energy, in energy efficiency and in carbon abatement technology. The Rudd government says, quite reasonably, that it can help the environment and the economy.

Taken altogether, the government has committed $13 billion to clean energy, solar and energy efficient homes programs that will drive the creation of low-pollution jobs, products and services. Working in combination with these initiatives to support a vertiginous growth in green industries and green jobs, the CPRS will provide the fundamental framework of opportunity for Australian scientists, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs who want to take Australia and the world towards a low-carbon and renewable energy future.

I want to take a couple of minutes to talk about the global challenge of addressing climate change. The CPRS is the first major step taken by an Australian government towards meeting Australia’s obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol. It will be the strong basis on which we go to Copenhagen this year to further participate in international efforts to address climate change. The issue of responding to the threat of climate change raises squarely one of the great ongoing tasks that confront humankind, and that is to find ways to cooperate effectively as a global community. The consequences of unchecked carbon pollution, to which we give the name ‘climate change’, are a global problem. The atmosphere is shared by all of us; the sea is shared by all of us. Climate change is not something that nations can or ought to confront within their borders alone.

Let us keep in mind too that climate change is not separate from the factors which cause civil and geopolitical conflict. The terrible events in Darfur, which have led to the displacement of more than four million people, are regarded by the UN Secretary-General as having begun with ‘an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change’. We also know that there is a crisis coming in terms of millions of people being forced to migrate, temporarily or permanently, as a consequence of climate change.

In the end, it is accurate to say that appropriate, precautionary action to address carbon pollution and its consequences is in the self-interest of individuals everywhere. Professor Garnaut expressed it very well when he stated:

… there is a solution to the diabolical problem. It is a global solution, to which Australia has much to contribute, and in the achievement of which Australia can make a difference. It is not an easy solution, for Australia or for the rest of the world. There is a chance, just a chance, that humanity will deal with this matter in a way that future generations judge to be satisfactory. So much is at stake, that it is worth a large effort to take that chance. If we fail, on a balance of probabilities, the failure of our generation will haunt humanity until the end of time.

In the final analysis, after making the argument for action, it is worth contemplating the alternative. It is argued by those opposite that we should wait for other countries to take action before committing ourselves to addressing what the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion tells us is a real, imminent and serious threat of catastrophe. But if all nations adopted this reasoning, nothing would occur. It is argued by those opposite that we should wait because our contribution is comparatively small, even though our per capita emissions are among the highest in the world. It is argued by those opposite that we should do nothing because of the cost involved in action, even though all the modelling indicates that the longer we do nothing the more it will cost, even though the business community is calling for certainty and even though, as reported on the front page of today’s Australian Financial Review, Australia’s largest institutional investors have found in an independent assessment that the impact of the government’s CPRS on most companies will be minimal.

This government rejects the position of the opposition, which is based on doing nothing or waiting and which creates fear and puts individual self-interest ahead of the public interest. The Rudd government was elected with a mandate to act on the greatest market failure in human history and a mandate to act on the greatest policy challenge of the 21st century. With these bills, we will act to create a carbon pollution reduction scheme for the benefit of Australia and as part of the global effort to face the diabolical problem of climate change. I commend the bills to the House.