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Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Page: 5516

Mr BILLSON (6:42 PM) —I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills. The debate around the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is, for me, the high watermark of Labor’s triumph of sound bites over sound public policy. We have sat here and we have listened to Labor speaker after Labor speaker trying to completely distort the position of the opposition, trying to point to symbolic issues that are related to, but not at all addressed by, the content of the bill, and trying to have a rerun of some argument that was never factual in the first place. It suggests that for base political purposes the Labor Party wants to push the view that the Liberal and National parties are not interested in climate change and are not prepared to tackle the challenge that is ahead of us.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and one of the things that we need to do is deal with the fiction that is being perpetuated around this debate so that we have some clear air to deal with the fact that, under the Howard government, Australia was positioned to be one of only a handful of countries that would actually fulfil its obligations and responsibilities under the first accounting period of the Kyoto protocol. For our 1.4 per cent of global emissions, unlike virtually any other country you could mention who participated in the Kyoto framework, we will actually meet our responsibilities. That is a record of strength and a position of credibility that Australia as a nation should be taking forward into the Copenhagen negotiations. Instead, we have a government, for base political reasons, trying to erode that record of credibility and achievement in order to try to create some fictitious argument that only they on that side of the House have any interest in, and that is completely inaccurate and a quite dishonest portrayal of the opposition’s position.

I for one have for more than a decade argued that this is a priority, an issue that we need to address—that the activities of humans on the face of the planet have had an impact on our climate and will continue to do so, and that we need to change our ways. I also recognise that there is no scientist who can give a reliable, robust and accurate correlation between certain volumes of emissions and consequences for the climate. No-one can do that. No-one can do that, but what we do know is that humans have made a difference and it is up to us to make a positive contribution at this time of climate change.

What is not agreed, though, is that simply bandying around a piece of legislation with an extraordinary name, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009, is somehow a substitute for practical action. We do not agree with that. Those on this side of the House recognise that to bring about change you need a coordinated, collaborative international effort whereby we as Australia and as Australians do our share and then some. But alone we cannot bring about the outcome we may all desire. At 1.4 per cent of global emissions, we are in fact a cork bouncing around on an ocean of greenhouse gas emitting activity. We can do our bit on our cork, but bringing about change relies on many others making a commensurate contribution—because the atmosphere does not care where emissions come from; it is about the molecules.

While we might feel self-righteous that we are doing something that no-one else is doing, if our goal is to bring about an improved emissions performance for the globe and reduce the pressures of human activities on climate change, we will not bring about that change. Yet, if you listen to those opposite, by subscribing to this bill—this Orwellian titled bill, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill—somehow that will, overnight, make the rivers run again in Australia, bring rain to the great state of Victoria, enable us in a civilised world to actually water our gardens, have some sort of prospect that our trains will run and all those kinds of things, and mean that the Great Barrier Reef will not be subject to any kind of pressure and the world will fall back into a peaceful, calm state of environmental equilibrium. That is not true. What we need to do is do our share and then some.

This bill is so devoid of the action elements that are required to make an emissions trading scheme work that it could at best be described as a framework. It could more accurately be characterised as a crayon drawing, so devoid is this bill of the meat of the detail of the policy calibrations and settings that will bring about change. And it is not just the opposition that is making that point. The Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Mr Combet—having been recruited in to bring with him his union background and his capacity to monster anybody who disagrees with him—is out there telling business, ‘Take this or you might get a worse outcome.’ What an extraordinary proposition to put forward. As he tries to salvage some kind of relationship with a business community terrified by this bill, he stands in this place and says that there is so much of this that can still change, that is still up for negotiation, that is still to be worked through. Yet we are told that this bill must pass this House before the end of the week—for certainty.

The only thing we can be certain about is that what eventually happens may have very little relevance to what we are discussing now, because the detail will be in the regulations, the way in which this crayon drawing of emissions trading machinery may work at the end of the day: the accommodations that are afforded to those that risk having their industries shut down as activity moves offshore to countries without carbon constraints, the way in which those at the less well-off end of society can cope with the cost impact on their energy bills, the way in which we may make decisions as a nation or the way in which we shape investment and employment opportunities for the future. There is nothing in this bill about those things, yet they go to the heart of actual action. They are the elements of sound public policy, but that is not what we have before the parliament tonight.

We have government member after government member talking about issues removed and remedies that will be delivered miraculously, like a soothsayer coming to town with magic potions, and all we have got is a crayon drawing of a scheme that asks more questions than it actually answers, and we are being told to fall in line. The government is demanding that we fall in line on something that is so devoid of detail, action and information about implementation that it barely deserves the time that it has been given in this parliament. And some of the reasons why the opposition have concerns have been very well articulated.

There is, in the United States, the Waxman-Markey bill, which you have all heard about. The Waxman-Markey bill does not put just a crayon drawing in place; it actually talks about clean energy, how to promote renewable sources of energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon transportation fuels, cleaner electric vehicles, smart grids and improving the performance of electricity transmission. It goes to energy efficiency: how to improve energy efficiency across the US economy, in buildings, appliances, transportation and industry. It also lays out some targets, things that are not in this bill.

So fundamental are such things—what the ambition is, what we are trying to achieve—to the negotiations in Copenhagen, so crucial are they to building an international consensus, so important are they for our negotiating position, and the bill before the parliament does not even go there. But we are told that, with the passing of this bill, Kevin Rudd and his entourage will jet into Copenhagen and be so much more credible than they might otherwise be—a complete fiction.

The Waxman-Markey bill also talks about transition issues, where the objective is to protect the US economy and jobs, to promote additional green jobs and to support a transition to a clean-energy economy. They all sound like good things to examine. Most of those are not even contemplated in this bill. And those discussions in the United States that will shape and create the momentum for an international consensus are not resolved. As it stands in the United States, there are even other bills circulating. I think it is Congressman Larson from Connecticut who has a bill that focuses on some of the energy issues. He has got that proposition there. As this is worked through, there are other bills circulating in the US congress.

In the name of credibility the government should recognise that what it has been trying to sell the Australian public about this bill is a complete fiction—that in terms of Australia’s contribution we must make our effort, we must make our contribution, and then some. But to take this government on its word, that somehow this crayon drawing of an emissions trading scheme is the answer, is to be very generous indeed. When you look at tangible actions, you see Prime Minister Rudd, when he was opposition leader, promised this great building, the parliament building, would be powered by green power. We learnt in Senate estimates that it will not be; it may reach 10 per cent.

When the opposition puts out there a voluntary carbon market proposal that will embrace all the good efforts of good people wanting to share in and be a part of this national effort, it is scorned by this government—while industry says, ‘No, this is a good move.’ In individual action and community action, in agriculture, in the commercial building sector, in forms of biosequestration and in energy efficiencies there are gains that can be made.

I commend to the House the opposition’s amendments. They are sensible and they are considered. They try to inject into this debate some analysis, some public policy debate, some weighing-up of options. And they are designed to make sure that, as a cork on the ocean of international emissions, we are not swept away or bouncing off in some direction when the tide is going in the other direction. That is the sensible thing to do. We are well placed with a bipartisan position on targets. We have credibility in that we will meet our obligations under the first Kyoto accounting period, thanks to the Howard government. We know that there is work ahead of us. We should get to work and get past this fiction and this fantasy that somehow this legislation will bring about the change government members are trying to suggest to this parliament that it will.