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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11340

Mr ZAPPIA (9:06 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and the cognate bills. This legislation is important. It is legislation that has arisen in response to the most credible scientific advice available to the government. It is scientific advice which suggests that climate change is real and it presents humanity with one of the greatest moral, environmental, economic and social challenges it has ever faced and it is advice which suggests that the cost of doing nothing far exceeds the cost of acting. For each day that we delay action on this very matter the cost of mitigation or adaptation escalates.

I am a member of the House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, which only yesterday presented its completed report on the inquiry into the effects of climate change on our coastal areas. The report is titled Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: The time to act is now. I had the benefit of hearing from and questioning some of Australia’s leading scientists. I had the benefit of actually seeing some of the costs that we as a nation are already incurring as a result of climate change. I had the benefit of speaking to people who well understood the impacts of future climate change on this country and on the world. I heard what the impacts are likely to be and I saw the damage for myself.

The fact is that the costs right now facing this country as a result of climate change run into the billions of dollars. Other speakers have spoken about the impacts of water shortages, but we saw only this year the impacts of drought and the impacts of flood. In addition to that we constantly have cyclones affecting other parts of Australia. Those events are not just part of the normal climatic process. On the best scientific advice available, those events are likely to occur far more frequently, and with each one of them comes the cost of restoring the damage that has occurred.

This legislation is consistent with legislation being proposed by many other governments right around the world. The legislation is consistent with, albeit not be identical to, legislation that is currently before the US senate, and it is consistent with legislation before many European parliaments. The legislation was carefully crafted after a long period of public consultation in which the broader community was consulted and, in particular, in which industry was consulted. This legislation ultimately gets the balance right. It provides assistance to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries in Australia to the tune of somewhere between 66 per cent and 94.5 per cent, depending on the nature of the industry. It provides assistance to householders and to motorists and it defers a decision on the farming sector for several years. The legislation is flexible enough to ensure that we get a 25 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, based on the year 2000 levels, by the year 2020.

Only last week a number of Australia’s leading scientists came to Parliament House, making themselves available to not only provide a brief overview and presentation of their views on the science that drives climate change around the world but also to answer questions on matters that other members of this House have raised here today—even though they did not take the time to come the function last week and ask the questions of the scientists, who would have been able to provide them with the advice. The scientists came to parliament to stress the urgency of action on climate change not only by the Australia government but by governments from around the world. It is an urgency that I share.

The members opposite have been raising, almost constantly—it has become a common theme in their contribution to this debate—the point that we do not need to act now and that we ought to wait until after Copenhagen. Let me tell you why it is important that we act now. It is important that we act now because we made a commitment to the Australian people almost two years ago, in 2007 in the lead-up to the federal election. It is important that we act now in order to provide business in this country with certainty about what is going to happen with respect to a carbon pollution reduction scheme. Might I say in respect to businesses that I have not heard too many businesses say that they do not accept that climate change is real or that we do not need to have a scheme in place. They may well differ in terms of how the scheme should be structured but at least there appears to be broad consistency amongst them that a scheme is necessary.

It is important that we act now in order that we have some credibility when we go to Copenhagen in December. If the government cannot deliver a scheme in Australia what confidence will the international community have that we will be able to deliver on any agreement reached at Copenhagen? It would seem to me that our credibility when we go to Copenhagen stands entirely on the ability of this parliament to implement a scheme of its own and then take that to Copenhagen as a demonstration of our commitment to doing something about climate change. Anyone who thinks that we can go to Copenhagen and listen to what everybody else is saying and then put our two bobs worth on the table with any sense of credibility is fooling themselves.

As I said earlier, with each day of delay the cost of mitigation becomes higher and more difficult. It is also true that there is a greater expectation on Australia when it comes to the conference at Copenhagen. There is a greater expectation because no-one denies that the implementation of this scheme does not come at a cost. There are costs involved. But it is a fact that Australia is in a much stronger economic position than most other countries around the world and it would therefore be expected that we would show some leadership when it comes to this matter, given the fact that we have the capacity to do so.

Let me turn for a moment to the position of the coalition members on this issue. It is interesting to read their contributions to this debate. I have read the contribution from the Leader of the Opposition and I have also read some of the contributions from the members for Groom and Curtin, who I would consider to be pretty much the leadership team of members of the coalition. It is interesting that it is accepted by them, in their contributions, that climate change is real, that greenhouse gas emissions or carbon is a critical component of what is causing climate change, and that a carbon pollution reduction scheme of some sort is the best strategy with which we can respond. What is also interesting is that when I read the Leader of the Opposition’s contribution I found that he talks about scientific opinion and economists and he mentions Margaret Thatcher but he never articulates his own opinion on this matter. The fact that he does not articulate that opinion is clear in the amendment that he has moved. It is an amendment without specifics—just generalisations—and, once again, is a deferral in making a decision. That deferral means that this is now the ninth time that this matter has been deferred by coalition members.

The debate on this issue commenced two decades ago, culminating in the Rio summit. I think that was in 1992. It then went to Kyoto, some five years later. We are now, in 2009—almost 20 years later—still talking about what we need to do about what is accepted as climate change and what is accepted as causing major problems for the world. We cannot and should not continue to defer. Deferring for another 45 or 50 days, as is the suggestion from the opposition leader, is not simply a matter of days; it is a matter of months, because having gone to Copenhagen there is no guarantee that a universal agreement will be reached, which means that the matter will then be deferred even further. And there is no guarantee that after Copenhagen this parliament will immediately pass any form of legislation.

So the process just gets dragged on and on—a process which I believe most voters out there want this government to finalise, once and for all. I accept that most voters out there are getting a little tired of the debate. They want the matter resolved, once and for all. That is certainly what they are telling me. They want to know where they stand. They want to know, if they run a business, just what other obligations and commitments they have ahead of them.

I want to finish with a quote from the spring edition of Living Ethics. It is from an article by Simon Longstaff. He finds similarities between this debate and the debate that took place when Wilberforce brought forward, in the House of Commons, his bill to abolish the slave trade. He compares the ETS debate with the slave trade debate and says:

… the arguments are eerily familiar: the prediction of economic ruin, the loss of commercial advantage, the relocation of business to easier jurisdictions.

He goes on to say:

The similarities in the debates of then and now are just too remarkable to be ignored.

He further says:

It is the scale of the disaster that might befall us that raises the issue of global warming to the same level as the abolition of slavery.

I will finish on this quote, which is from the same article, where Simon Longstaff quotes the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, Emanuel Mori, who said:

We will all be drowning in our own backyards if leaders of developed nations do not take swift action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This bill needs to be passed by this parliament, and it needs to be passed now.