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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11215


Mr SYMON (12:28 PM) —I speak in favour of these cognate bills before the House and would like to thank the member for O’Connor for his lecture on electrical transmission theory. Efficiency is one of the measures in energy transmission that can certainly help what we do in the future to reduce our emissions.

In one sense, however, I am disappointed to be rising to speak today in this cognate debate on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and cognate bills before the House. We are debating an ETS once again because of the unrest, division and disunity in the coalition’s ranks. We are still talking about climate change but we are not acting on climate change, purely and simply because the coalition cannot sort itself out. There are so many reasons to act to reduce the rate of climate change and to act now.

I do not want to go into the foundational argument that some members of the opposition are still engaged in—the futile debate about whether or not climate change actually exists—because it is quite clear to me that the overwhelming majority of scientists have engaged in the most rigorous of assessment processes and their outcomes have faced the stiffest of peer reviews. These are scientists who are the experts in their fields and are respected around the world for their contributions. So in my view there is no doubt the continued and increasing emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are causing change in our climate. The majority of these emissions are caused by the actions of human beings, and so it is our responsibility to act now to ensure that our children and grandchildren are not left with a planet less inhabitable than we all enjoy today.

There are so many reasons to act and to act now. The review by Sir Nicholas Stern and the work of Professor Garnaut following that have concluded that acting now will cost us significantly less than remaining at the status quo and leaving the responsibility of acting on climate change to future generations. As the CPRS white paper states, that would be the least responsible thing to do.

Furthermore, and picking up from the white paper, acting now on climate change gives us a competitive advantage over our neighbours in developing new industries and new jobs. The impacts of climate change on our environment will be disastrous. We can expect to see the devastation of our natural ecosystems—rainforests in the Daintree, the Great Barrier Reef, and, closer to my electorate in Victoria, Phillip Island, which is home for a whole colony of fairy penguins, and a very popular beachside resort. They are just a few examples. Our alpine regions will be ruined and our deserts, which have their own delicate and intricate ecosystems, will also be badly affected. As I mentioned before, beaches, which we all currently enjoy, could well be destroyed by a rise in sea levels.

Rainfall patterns are changing and many once productive agricultural areas are being more frequently hit with rainfalls lower than the long-term average. We will struggle to find enough water to drink and to support our communities, and that is already happening here and now. There are many communities on water restrictions that have been on them for many years. Many organisations, government and scientific, are predicting increases in natural events like bushfires, extreme weather and extended droughts. And not only will there be an increased incidence in these events, but they will also be more intense events. It is likely we will see greater devastation more often.

Climate change will affect jobs—there is no doubt about that. But we have a choice: we can sit on our hands and wait and watch as jobs go down the drain, or we can act now and help to protect and create jobs into the future. Businesses are crying out for certainty because the global financial crisis and climate change create risks into the future. If they do not know what they are dealing with then they will not invest. They need to be able to plan to invest, and not acting on climate change just adds one more risk factor to an already complicated business situation.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is, as has already been outlined by the minister and by previous speakers, a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme. It aims to reduce our carbon emissions by regulating the amount of carbon businesses and other entities emit. It will fulfil our international obligations on climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol. It will place Australia in a leadership position in the ongoing international development of a global emissions trading scheme. And, most importantly, it will assist Australia to meet our own greenhouse gas reduction targets. It will encourage businesses to invest in more energy efficiency options. And it will encourage more investment in renewable energies and less polluting, less emission-intensive activities.

We know that the ETS will impact on some businesses and households. The government is expecting electricity prices for households to rise by approximately $1.50 per week in 2011-12 and by $2.80 a week in 2012-13. That is why the government has included a range of assistance measures for households and businesses in the ETS. Low- and middle-income earners will receive upfront support from 2011 through a package of measures including direct cash assistance, tax offsets and a cent-for-cent reduction in the fuel excise tax. Low-income earners can expect assistance from the government to fully meet the overall increase in the cost of living as a direct result of the scheme, while the government will assist middle-income earners with their increased costs.

Furthermore, the government has committed to reviewing the assistance measures every year to ensure that they are adequate and within the context of the budget. The government will also assist small businesses to deal with increased costs due to the scheme through the Climate Change Action Fund to the tune of $2.75 billion. This assistance will help small businesses adapt through investment in energy efficiency measures, information and structural adjustment assistance. The government intends to roll out $200 million from the Climate Change Action Fund in the 2009-10 financial year to help businesses and households prepare for the ETS in advance.

The electricity industry will receive assistance from the government through the Electricity Sector Adjustment Scheme to help it adjust to the carbon price and to support investment in the sector. The government also realises emissions-intensive trade-exposed businesses will require some assistance to adjust to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. That is why we are including measures that will help guard against the risk of carbon leakage and providing transitional assistance to support jobs. While the government’s view is that all industries, including those that are classified as emissions-intensive trade-exposed, should share in the task of reducing our carbon emissions, we recognise that some businesses will need that assistance to adjust. That is why there is an initial allocation of 25 per cent of carbon units for free. The government is also including a global recession buffer for the first five years of the scheme, and Treasury modelling shows that the government’s assistance package for these industries will ease the transition to a low-emission economy while also maintaining incentives for emission reductions.

I would like to address the opposition’s previous claims that we should wait to see what the rest of the world does before we act. If that attitude was followed by the rest of the world then nothing at all would ever happen, as every country would sit and wait, with everyone fighting to get to the back of the queue, just like the Liberal Party. Of course, the National Party would not be sitting and waiting, as they do not even believe that climate change is real.

While it is great that acting now will make us a global leader in the ongoing development of an international scheme, it is more important to me that we, as a community and as a nation, take responsibility for our carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. This has to happen no matter how large or small they may be compared to those of other nations. The fact of the matter is that we in Australia produce more than our fair share of greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis and it is our responsibility to reduce those emissions as much as possible.

The government is negotiating in good faith with the coalition on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and I am very interested to see how genuine the divided coalition will reveal itself to be during these negotiations. However the government is determined to pass the legislation this year. It is vital to Australia. While I recognise that it is hard to hear the opposition spokesman say that the coalition are delaying the legislation not because they do not believe in climate change but because they want to fix what they claim are a multitude of problems with the legislation, it would in my view have been much productive for them—and made it much easier for me to believe them on this point—if they had taken the opportunity to negotiate these bills the first time they were presented to the House. Australia has waited too long for action on climate change. We need to act now. I commend these bills to the House.