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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5492


Mr ZAPPIA (4:57 PM) —Last night we had the Leader of the Opposition come into this chamber and desperately try to keep faith with his party room sceptics and faith with the Australian people, who expect government action on climate change. What we saw the opposition leader present to parliament was not an environmental strategy but a coalition political strategy. Whilst the coalition is united in its opposition to this legislation, it is bitterly divided on the question of climate change and the need for any form of legislation.

We saw an opposition leader agreeing that we must act on carbon emissions but not having the courage to either take on the climate sceptics in his own party or make the hard decisions required. That is what the opposition leader did for about the seventh time last night, by putting off making a decision. He put off making a decision until after the Copenhagen conference in December, until after the US passes its own legislation and until after a Productivity Commission inquiry—with terms of reference that could lead to an open-ended inquiry that could drag on indefinitely. This is not a six-month delay, as opposition members would have people believe, but an ongoing delay, because it will continue until there is unity in the coalition party room, and there will never be unity in the coalition party room on this issue.

The opposition leader agrees with the targets set and argues that all we need to take to Copenhagen is agreed targets. If we all agree that a scheme should be brought in then let’s get the framework in place regardless of whether it is a five per cent, a 15 per cent or a 25 per cent target, because targets without the mechanism in place to implement them become empty words.

On 17 March I attended the Science meets Parliament function here in Parliament House, where the keynote address was given by Dr Penny Sackett, Australia’s Chief Scientist. Dr Sackett had just returned from a major conference in Copenhagen attended by some 2,000 climate change scientists from around the world. In her speech, Dr Sackett summed up the Copenhagen conference outcomes on climate change, and she said:

The newest science, based on more, better and a larger spectrum of data, illustrates clearly that the earth is reacting more quickly to greenhouse gases, tracking along the worst case scenario of the IPCC report.

Dr Sackett’s comments highlight both the urgency and the reality surrounding the issue of climate change. Dr Sackett is Australia’s Chief Scientist. If we cannot have faith in the advice of the nation’s Chief Scientist, then who do we look to for scientific advice? Yet we have members opposite who refuse to accept that our climate is changing, who refuse to accept that elevating greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change, and who refuse to accept that for the sake of our children and future generations we have a responsibility to act on greenhouse gas emissions and to act now.

As a member of the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, the Environment and the Arts, which is inquiring into the effects of sea level rise on coastal Australia, I have had the benefit of hearing evidence presented to the committee by a number of Australia’s experts on climate change—scientists from universities, the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and oceanographers. Every one of those scientific experts had a similar message to that of Dr Penny Sackett, and that message is that the world’s climate is changing, that human activity is contributing to that change, that our climate is warming, that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise temperatures will also rise, that if temperatures rise ice in the Arctic and Antarctic will melt, that melting ice combined with expanding, warm ocean water will cause catastrophic sea level rise and that warmer temperatures will also lead to more frequent extreme weather conditions such as heat waves, floods, tropical cyclones, storm conditions and tidal events.

If current climate change trends continue, the human and environmental costs will be substantial. We already have had glimpses of the kind of devastation that we can expect more of, with the recent Victorian bushfires, the Northern Australia floods, the demise of the drought-stricken Murray-Darling system and the cyclones in the USA. These events are real and when they occur no human intervention will control or prevent them. Yet human intervention in stabilising greenhouse gas emissions around the world is possible and, on the best advice available, would make a difference in stabilising the earth’s climate. The choice about whether we act on climate change or not is very clear. If we get it wrong by overreacting, the result will be a cleaner, greener environment. If we get it wrong and we fail to act—or act too late—the result will be catastrophic. The choice in my mind is crystal clear.

But there is another strong argument in favour of acting now. Every delay adds considerably to the cost of introducing a scheme, and to the environmental and social costs already being borne by society. The argument being peddled by some industry sectors and used by opposition members to oppose the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 is that it will cost jobs. What those people are neglecting to factor in is, firstly, that climate change is already costing jobs. Many more jobs are at risk, and the economic costs of readjustment or repair are already massive. Just look at the costs associated with the Murray-Darling Basin, the Northern Australia floods or the Victorian bushfires. Secondly, there is unlimited opportunity for new job creation as we transition to a greener economy. One has only to look at employment in the solar and wind power industries and other lower emission energy industry sectors to see the jobs growth potential—a potential that is expected to drive around $19 billion in renewable energy investments over the next decade once a 20 per cent renewable energy target is implemented. Thirdly, we read in the papers only today that, while some industry leaders are talking publicly about massive job losses, they tell investors the impact of the emissions trading scheme will be minimal. In question time today we heard the Prime Minister highlight that independent business analysts were rejecting the cost to industry being claimed by some.

Let me briefly outline the Rudd government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The scheme will commence on 1 July 2011. A greenhouse gas reduction target of between five and 25 per cent has been adopted, and it is conditional on global agreements being reached in Copenhagen in December. The cost of carbon will be set at $10 a tonne for the first year. Market prices will apply thereafter. An amount of $3.9 billion will be made available to provide transitional assistance to energy-intensive trade-exposed industries. An Australian Carbon Trust, expected to raise $75.8 million, will be established to allow households to directly assist in reducing Australia’s emissions. A $6 billion household assistance package will be provided to assist householders with increases in energy costs. Petrol and agriculture will not be included in the initial scheme. A $2.75 billion package will be allocated to help businesses, community sector organisations, workers, regions and communities to move to a low-pollution future.

Our objective should be to stabilise global greenhouse gas emissions, currently at around 380 parts per million, at no more than 450 parts per million by 2050. The natural range for those emissions over the last 800,000 years is between 172 and 300 parts per million. Similar schemes are already operating in 27 European countries, and 28 states and provinces in the USA and Canada are introducing emissions trading schemes. Per capita, Australia is the sixth largest polluter in the world. We have a responsibility to the Australian people and to future generations to act. We have the capacity to act. It is regrettable that the global financial crisis has overshadowed the environmental crisis facing the world and compounded the complexity of bringing in this legislation. We hear the cries, ‘Now is not the time to introduce this measure.’ In truth, there will never be a good time because whenever this measure is brought in there will be some pain for some sectors of the community. The reality is that at some stage it has to be brought in, and it should have been brought in over a decade ago. Had it been, we would not have been in the predicament we are in today. More importantly, the sad truth is that time is not on our side. This measure needs to be brought in as quickly as possible, and I commend the legislation to the House.