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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11209

Mr CHAMPION (11:56 AM) —I rise to support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]. It is a critical bill both for Australia’s future and progress towards an international agreement. I do just want to take up one point that the member for Flinders made. He says that it would be wrong to act unilaterally and that we should wait for the world—we should wait for an international agreement. But that is not what we have done in other areas of public policy. If, for instance, we had adopted that approach to trade, we would still be sitting behind a tariff wall in this country. We would not have the moral argument that we have now in international trade forums, where we can say that we are a free-trading country because we acted unilaterally and we lowered our tariff barriers. That meant that jobs went out of some areas like textiles, clothing and footwear but it liberated other industries and it meant that investment in mining and other areas was forthcoming. It was the government acting in the national interest and not waiting for the world, not waiting for international agreements. So I do not think the argument that we should wait for the world, that we should not act unilaterally, really cuts much mustard. We really have to get on and act so that when we go to Copenhagen we have some moral power in our arguments. We can say that we have led by example; we have our cards on the table. The pressure then comes on developing countries to also come up with a deal, to also come up with an act, because just as Australia can say, ‘Our emissions are minimal; they don’t make much difference to the rest of the world,’ so can provinces in China. They can make exactly the same argument—or Europe, or Africa, or any other continent. This is an international problem, but it does require nations to actually put their cards on the table and act, because if we do not start acting then we are going to be in strife.

The consequences of climate change are profound. Last year I read a book called The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World by Paul Roberts. It is a book that really focuses on resource depletion—in particular, oil and gas on the one hand and climate change on the other. There is no doubt that it is pretty frightening reading. Resource depletion and climate change are profound international challenges. If we get them wrong the consequences can be pretty horrific. The consequences in Australia, according to the Australian Climate Change Science Program, which is managed by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, is that by 2030 temperatures will rise by about one degree over Australia—a little less in coastal areas and a little more inland—and later this century, warming depends on the extent of greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions are low, it is somewhere between one and 2.5 degrees Celsius by about 2070. The best estimate is about 1.8 degrees Celsius. But under a high-emissions scenario, the best estimate of warming is 3.4 degrees Celsius, with a range between 2.2 and five degrees Celsius. That is a pretty horrific consequence of not acting.

The other findings include that droughts are likely to become more frequent, particularly in the south-west; evaporation rates will increase, particularly in the north and the east; high fire danger weather is likely to increase in the south-east; tropical cyclones are likely to become more intense; and sea levels are likely to rise. In my electorate which borders the coast in South Australia, places like Port Parham, Middle Beach and Port Wakefield would not really want the seas to rise too much—particularly Middle Beach, which is already prone to tidal movements. So the consequences can be quite profound for Australia. Internationally, for our neighbours, they can be even worse.

The Contribution of Working Group II to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that the consequences for Asia are things like:

Glacier melt in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding, and rock avalanches from destabilised slopes, and to affect water resources within the next two to three decades.

Freshwater availability in Central, South, East and South-East Asia, particularly in large river basins, is projected to decrease due to climate change which, along with population growth and increasing demand arising from higher standards of living, could adversely affect more than a billion people by the 2050s.

Coastal areas, especially heavily-populated megadelta regions in South, East and South-East Asia, will be at great risk due to increased flooding from the sea and, in some megadeltas, flooding from the rivers.

It also says:

It is projected that crop yields could increase up to 20% in East and South-East Asia while they could decrease by up to 30% in Central and South Asia by the mid 21st century. Taken together, and considering the influence of rapid population growth and urbanisation, the risk of hunger is projected to remain very high in several developing countries.

So that will obviously have profound impacts on our neighbours. We would be fools to think that we can isolate ourselves from it because we are an island or that we can put off acting because we will be immune to the consequences. We cannot. We have been putting off acting on climate change—the world has—for a very long time. Since 1990 we have been putting off taking real and effective action. We are now at D-day. We are now at the point at which we have to run onto the beaches. And the opposition just says, ‘Well, let’s just give it a little bit more time.’ I do not think that is the way forward. I think what we need to do is go to Copenhagen and get a deal.

My experience in the union movement—and I am sure this will get the member for O’Connor excited—is that you were nearly always better off dealing with an employer and getting a deal than remaining pure and fighting for a hundred per cent of nothing. You were always better off getting 50 per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing. I think this is the big challenge for the opposition. They are now in negotiations. They are proceeding in good faith from both sides. I commend the parliament and those participating in the discussions. But the real test will be when the deal goes back to the party room. I am optimistic. I think there will be some form of deal. But the great challenge for those in the party room will be to not succumb to the myth of being pure, getting 100 per cent of nothing, and to actually do a deal in Australia’s interest. It is a profoundly important thing to do. It will not be without some gnashing of teeth, I am sure, but it is a test of leadership and, I think, a test of maturity for the opposition.

I do not have much time left, but I would say that the most important bits of these bills, really, for my constituents are that we are acting and that there is compensation for those who are on low and middle incomes—those people who are poor. ‘Poor’ is not a word that gets used much anymore. The compensation in this bill and related bills is particularly important. The cost of living is estimated to rise by 0.4 per cent in 2011-12 and by 0.8 per cent in 2012-13. That is a result of the price of carbon, which will move from a fixed price of $10 per tonne to a flexible price in that period. In response to that, the government will be compensating low-income and middle-income households through a package of cash assistance, tax offsets and other measures. It will do that using revenue raised from the auction of carbon pollution permits under the scheme. For the pensioners, veterans and people on Newstart allowance—those on fixed incomes in my electorate—this is a particularly important aspect of the bills. We want to make sure that those at the lower end of the income spectrum are not adversely impacted by our attempts and our efforts to combat climate change. That, I think, is pretty important.

The other thing that is very important to my electorate is agriculture. There will be a lot said about this. Farmers have given me a lot of feedback in my electorate. One thing I have noticed is that there is a tremendous drive for innovation amongst Australian farmers, and they are already getting on with adapting to climate change. In my electorate under the FarmReady program there have been a couple of projects which I want to highlight before I conclude. The Gilbert Agribusiness Group is using a $200,000 grant to calculate the emissions from different farming systems in the lower north, determine the carbon footprints of farm businesses and prepare farmers to adapt to the impact of an emissions trading scheme. So that is a sign of positive local action on climate change and people adapting to a new environment. I have every confidence that farmers will be able to adapt to both climate change and an emissions trading system.

In conclusion, this is a tremendously important bill for the parliament. It is a tremendously important moment for the nation. And I think, as we enter Copenhagen, with our Prime Minister playing a lead role, it is time to put aside the partisan bickering—and the persecution complex of those who call themselves climate sceptics. I have never seen anything more ridiculous than some of the rhetoric that sceptics are somehow persecuted. It is an utterly ridiculous proposition. They are in the paper every week, they are in this parliament every week, talking about their beliefs—and so they should. But to say that anybody is trying to silence them is, quite frankly, ridiculous. We should have the debate, but we should also act in the national interest. And the time to do that is now.