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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7208

Mr MURPHY (1:28 PM) —I am pleased to continue my speech on the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Amendment Bill 2009. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and our renewable energy target for 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply to come from renewable sources by 2020 will drive the creation of low-pollution industries and low-pollution jobs. I am pleased to emphasise that the provisions in that scheme and in the particular bill before the Senate this week will extend the economic benefits of our climate change policies to regional Australia. The provisions of that bill, designed to promote carbon plant sequestration, follow the opening of the first geosequestration project in the Southern Hemisphere by the Minister for Resources and Energy just over a year ago. These projects are fundamentally important to the development of a low-carbon and low-pollution economy which will help Australia address the challenge of climate change.

There is a cross-section of support throughout the community for the proposed scheme. Environmental and industry groups are expressing a firm desire for the legislation to be passed prior to the Copenhagen talks in December. For instance, the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Professor Ian Lowe, said of the government’s scheme:

It puts Australia in a leadership position along with the EU in relation to developed countries targets which will be crucial for a sound Copenhagen outcome.

Furthermore, I refer the House to comments by the Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, who has called on this scheme to be passed by the parliament this year. Following the announcement by the Prime Minister and Minister for Climate Change and Water, she said:

AI Group has consistently called for the legislation to be passed this year. This is critical to establish the degree of certainty business requires in assessing medium and longer-term investment decisions.

The AiG is not alone in its support for the proposed scheme. They are joined by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Business Council of Australia, the Climate Institute, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Council of Social Services. Given the diverse interests represented by these groups, it speaks volumes that they are all united in their support for the government’s emissions trading scheme. Moreover, this demonstrates the widespread support across the nation for the government’s action to seriously address climate change.

Obviously, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme needs to be passed prior to the Copenhagen summit for Australia to play a leadership role. I encourage opposition members to remember this when the time comes to vote on the legislation in the Senate. Their vote could very well determine the role Australia plays during the December talks. As a nation so vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change, it is in our interests to play a significant role in Copenhagen. It is therefore incredible that the Liberal Party would have Australians believe that they are the party that promotes the interests of businesses. However, if they vote to defer the passage of the CPRS until the Copenhagen summit in December of this year they are merely creating business uncertainty, which is the last thing Australia needs in the midst of a global recession.

To defer the passage of the CPRS legislation would delay the passage of the most important piece of environmental legislation in Australian history. Such a move by the opposition will delay the urgent action needed to develop a green economy characterised by low-carbon and low-polluting industries which promote green jobs. Consequently, the actions of the opposition in delaying the passage of this bill cannot be justified as pro business.

In recent months we have heard members of the opposition talk about the impact of debt on future generations. I ask those same members to consider the impact of climate change on future generations. I challenge the opposition to consider the impact of rising temperatures, the effects of more extreme droughts, cyclones and floods and the consequences of a barren Murray-Darling Basin. If members of the opposition were so concerned about the prosperity of future generations they would not have delayed the passage of the CPRS legislation with their antics in the Senate this week. They would not vote to delay government action designed to tackle the most serious economic, social and environmental issue facing our young people in the future.

At the last federal election Australians rightly believed that they were voting for an end to this inaction. Many constituents told me that they would vote Labor precisely because they wanted a government that would act on climate change by ratifying the Kyoto protocol and implementing an emissions trading scheme. This bill and the related bills demonstrate that the government is still determined to take the urgent action for which Australians are loudly calling. The public’s strong support for action has not changed either and it is a pity the Liberal Party is yet to realise this.

In a recent interview on the 7.30 Report, British climate change economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued a clear message to the members and senators who serve the Australian people in this place. He said:

… people will be looking very hard at Australia and they’ll say, ‘Given their high emissions, given the technologies that Australians have and given the ingenuity of the Australian people and industry and academic life and in government and elsewhere … . If they can’t do it,’ others will say, ‘How can anybody expect us to do it?’ So I think that the actions in Australia are highly significant.

We would do well to consider Sir Nicholas’s words. He has issued a message that we cannot ignore. The international community is looking to Australia for leadership and the Rudd government are determined to show this leadership. We are determined to address the issue of climate change and prevent its potentially devastating effects. The decision we make as members of parliament in 2009 to either support or reject climate change legislation will have a significant bearing on future generations, who stand to lose the most as a result of climate change if governments throughout the world do not act today.

The National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Amendment Bill 2009 is extremely important given the context of its implementation. The bill is one of the measures to improve public disclosure and provide reliable data on the level of greenhouse gas emissions from corporations. The importance of such reports from corporations cannot be stressed enough. Australia’s national energy statistics provide the basis of efficient and effective energy policy. Based on those statistics, governments can plan, implement and monitor greenhouse gas reduction levels and the effectiveness of energy efficiency programs. The reports can also assist in economic and trade forecasting and preparation. The data also ensures Australia meets its international reporting obligations under the International Energy Agency energy agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. To ensure the reliability of data, a clearly defined legislative framework to which corporations can refer and to which they can comply is vital. Hence, the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Amendment Bill has made changes to clarify definitions and requires auditors to register with the Greenhouse and Energy Data Officer. This will undoubtedly instil further confidence in the integrity of the reporting process.

Other amendments were made to clarify the meaning of important terms in the act, such as ‘external auditor’. The definition of ‘external auditor’ will be replaced by the new terms, ‘audit team leader’ and ‘greenhouse and energy auditor’, due partly to stakeholder confusion about the term ‘external auditor’. Section 75A will provide greater detail on the requirements for auditors, including qualifications, expertise and, importantly, independence. All of these changes highlight the purpose of providing stakeholders with a stronger framework from which to refer, while simultaneously improving the quality of the data collected.

It is noteworthy that the proposed amendments and related bills are being introduced after extensive consultation with business, governments and the public to ensure the legislation is practical and meets the needs of all stakeholders. The extensive consultation process conducted for this bill and related bills is another example of the Rudd government’s desire to establish an inclusive, transparent and accountable approach to all aspects of governance. Coupled with the desire to provide transparent and reliable data on the energy usage of corporations, the government is also aware of the sensitivity of auditing and the need to provide proper protection for commercially sensitive information. These twin challenges will be better addressed with the introduction of these proposed amendments. The bill ensures that the secrecy provisions under the act extend to the information gathered while conducting audits and will apply to all audit team members, as the government recognises the importance of such a balance.

It is estimated that, by the 2010-11 reporting period, the legislation will cover more than double the number of corporations currently reporting, and the Department of Climate Change estimates that the reporting system will improve the data coverage to over 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the applicable sectors. Given the importance of such data in laying the foundation for future policy, I cannot stress enough the importance of these amendments. Those of us on this side of the House would like to continue our work with initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those of us on this side of the House are not afraid to look at the facts, as frightening as they may be, and show the courage needed to address the immense challenge which exists.

I conclude by commending the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, for the action she has taken on such a complicated and, indeed, serious challenge. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)