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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11315

Mr BRIGGS (7:28 PM) —It is with pleasure that I rise to speak this evening on this important legislation, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills. I follow a contribution which, I must say, I am very disappointed with from a member who, before the last election, talked up what an intellectual contribution he would make to this place. But instead he spent at least seven minutes at the start of his speech attacking the member for Hughes’s speech and then spent a large part of the rest of his speech talking about the effects of climate change in different parts of the world. He actually did not speak at any point about this legislation, the details of the legislation, its effect on the Australian people or the reasons we should support it. It is very disappointing, but I guess it is not so surprising that he has not been promoted, as he believed early on that he would be.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! I ask the honourable member to come to the bill.

Mr BRIGGS —I will now move back to the content of the bill, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is the second opportunity we have had in several months to speak on this bill and I appreciate the fact that the minister responsible for the bill in this place, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, is at the table. I hope for his sake that he does not have to sit through the whole debate from beginning to end, but it is very good that he is here this evening. It is an important bill for us to consider in detail and there are in this place rightly a range of views on the impact of this bill. I for one support the democratic right of people in this place to have a different perspective on this important legislation. I think the minister at the table has said that it is probably the biggest change to the country’s economic infrastructure in some time, at least since the introduction of the goods and services tax; therefore, it is important that we do have a full-ranging debate. Obviously, we have had two opportunities to have this debate in the last three months. That three-month timing is coincidental of course.

I rise tonight to speak in support of the amendments to this bill that were described so eloquently this morning by the Leader of the Opposition. They are vast in their coverage and important in their impact. This bill is badly flawed and the government obviously recognise that to the degree that they are entering into negotiations with the opposition on appropriate amendments in an attempt to try to move it through the parliament. We have amendments which demonstrate that Labor’s CPRS can be cheaper and smarter and can protect more jobs. We have done the work. We have shown that their scheme is deeply flawed. Even the Greens agree with us on that. They voted against it in the Senate back in August and I think they have shown that they will vote against it again if it is not amended.

The Rudd government’s current proposal, if implemented, would jeopardise thousands of Australian jobs. It would compromise the international competitiveness of our trade exposed industries. If accepted by the government, our amendments will prevent shutdowns in important industries and save tens of thousands of jobs in those industries. Key export industries, including coalmining, food processing, natural gas and aluminium, will be better protected, saving thousands of Australian jobs that are under threat from Labor’s scheme. The proposals will cushion the impact of power prices on small businesses and households, which are very much the core constituency of the Liberal Party. They always have been and they always will be. Small businesses and families are very much who we stand for, who we stand with and who we will protect at all times.

We also include in our amendments voluntary measures which will give businesses and, importantly, farmers and community groups opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through their own initiative. We will advocate an intensity based cap-and-trade approach to the electricity sector, as this more than halves the initial increase in electricity prices to small businesses and households, reducing the economic cost of achieving emissions cuts. Again, I make the point that we have done the work through the modelling of Frontier Economics, a consultancy that the Labor Party attack today but have used in the past. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, they have designed one more ETS than the Department of Climate Change.

One of the key issues that we pursue in these amendments is the exclusion of agriculture, with offsets like forestry and internationally recognised soil carbon included in the scheme. This morning the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Flinders, the shadow spokesman on the environment, pointed out very clearly how this green carbon will work and become an important part of the mitigation attempts of this scheme. Voluntary action in energy efficiency will be recognised. Again, this is another important area in which we are negotiating with the government to make important changes to what is currently a flawed and inappropriate scheme. We believe that these realistic and achievable amendments will meet the objective of reducing Australia’s carbon emissions and at the same time remove the shadow of potential industry closures and large-scale job losses. The government must explain why it would reject these commonsense amendments, which will save Australian jobs, protect Australian small businesses from sharp power price rises and have the same environmental benefits by achieving the same reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

We also maintain that we should be waiting for the international conference in Copenhagen, which is now but weeks away. One of the reasons for the pursuit of this legislation so soon after it was initially rejected is of course the Prime Minister’s vanity, which requires that he take this scheme to the Copenhagen conference. That is a dangerous thing and a rushed decision based on the political interests of the Prime Minister rather than the economic and environmental interests of our country. So we very much stand in the corner of the Australian people to ensure that this bill and this scheme will operate effectively and will not just be pushed through this parliament to ensure that the Prime Minister of the day looks like he has achieved something great at Copenhagen.

We are very much of the view that this should be delayed until after the Copenhagen conference, but of course the government are the government and, as they have moved this bill today and with votes in the next two sitting weeks of parliament both in this place and in the Senate, we have indicated that we will be part of those negotiations. We are doing so as I speak. I am sure the member for Groom is speaking regularly with the Minister for Climate Change in that respect. The member for Isaacs in his remarks made the point that this is a global issue and has global ramifications, and we could not agree more with that point. This is a global issue and we must be part of the global response. That is why the conference in Copenhagen in December is an important occasion for us to see what the world will do together to address this issue.

We also know that a bill, the Waxman-Markey bill, is being debated before the US senate today and is likely to be finalised in some way in the near future. We do not know what will come out of that process. We know that there will be a result and we presume that the result will introduce some sort of cap and trade scheme in the United States.

However, the Minerals Council make the point that, even if our amendments to this bill are adopted, our scheme will still be the toughest in the world, in particular compared to the EU, but also in comparison with what is before the US senate. Therefore it is important that we get our scheme right to ensure that we do not sacrifice this at the altar of the Prime Minister’s ego with a rushed decision just to prove that he was able to get a scheme through before the conference.

We agree that Australia needs to be part of the solution. Those of us on this side of the House agree that we need to take reasonable action to address what are serious issues in the Australian community. We do not seek to say, to the same level as some on the other side, that climate change will destroy the earth in a short period of time. However, what we do say is that the evidence is there and it is substantial and it is prudent of us to take action, as Margaret Thatcher said, as an insurance policy. I support that view. This is a reasonable approach; it is something that we have previously said that we will do. However, it is a fair thing in this place that all sorts of views are outlined. That is the very nature of this place.

In conclusion, the government is engaging in negotiations with the opposition and we are very pleased about that. We think that they should support our amendments as they make a lot of sense. They prove that you can have a cheaper and smarter ETS that protects more jobs. We think the government has been rushed in its decision making and it will have severe consequences for our economy. We have seen that with other decisions they have made in relation to the economy and we are seeing that with this bill as well. We hope that the government takes our amendments and negotiations seriously and that they stop playing politics on this important issue. We ask that they come to the table, make some appropriate changes and make this a better bill than it is today.