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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 11485


Mr COULTON (10:34 AM) —I will take the few short minutes I have before I am forcibly removed and burnt at the stake for being a denier and a sceptic, one of those horrible people who dare stand in the way of the Rudd Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme juggernaut. Unlike members opposite, I do not come in here with prepared notes. I do not have a factory full of minions sweating away in the bowels of Parliament House giving me the correct lines to say on this. I come to this debate with years of experience. While those on the other side were crawling over each other stacking branches of the ALP and working off the sweat of others as union officials, I spent some time working with the environment in my previous occupation as a farmer.

I have heard nearly every speech in this debate on these CPRS bills, from the first time round in June and now. I have been prepared to have my mind changed. I am not denying that the climate is changing. I have listened to the debate from the other side and have heard some very compelling arguments about how the climate is affecting the Great Barrier Reef and Saibai Island, which the member for Leichhardt spoke about. Who can deny that? But we had some other quite fanciful arguments. The member for Makin said that we had to agree to this legislation now and we had no time to wait. I assume that he had a summer holiday planned and he wanted Kevin to fix up the climate so he would not have any bad storms. He said that fires, droughts and floods were all at the same time the effects of climate change and if we did not pass this legislation this week then we would have a pretty ordinary summer. That argument defies belief.

I have been sitting here and in my office watching this debate waiting for someone on that side to give me an explanation of how this legislation will affect climate change. We have heard compelling arguments that we do have climate change—and I am not going to deny that—but not one person has explained to me how these bills will affect the climate. What I do know is that this legislation will affect my electorate. If I am going to be seen as part of a rabble, as a denier or a sceptic because I am going to fight for my electorate, then so be it.

I will give an example. My electorate is embracing alternative forms of energy. Indeed, there are major wind farm developments in the Coolah district. Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Schultz, you would know—coming from where you do—that wind farms are huge structures that require a large foundation, which is largely made up of cement. At the moment they get their cement from the Kandos cement plant, a plant that has produced cement for Australia for over 100 years. Indeed, the pylons on the Sydney Harbour Bridge came from Kandos cement. When this legislation comes in, Kandos cement will be 30 per cent dearer than cement from Asia. At the moment, there is about parity in price. It is about the same price for a boatload of cement from Asia as for cement produced in Kandos. Kandos has an edge because it is located in the central west and it is of higher quality. But it will not be able to compete with cement prices that are 30 per cent lower. So the Kandos cement plant will close. Over 100 people who work in that plant, many of their families having done so for six or seven generations, will lose their jobs. The entire reason for the township of Kandos, a town of 1,700 people, will cease to exist.

But we will still need cement, so we will import it from Asia, from countries that do not have a carbon pollution reduction scheme. The cement will be coming in, with probably 30 per cent higher emissions into the atmosphere. It will be put onto a ship, which burns fuel, and landed here. What will have happened? We will have increased our emissions, we will have destroyed a town, we will have destroyed an industry and we will have put our community at a disadvantage.

For this legislation to work, it will rely on people changing their habits. There has been a very dishonest argument in this. It has been perceived as something that the government can do. Our wonderful international statesman the Prime Minister is going to fix the climate with this legislation. What has not been explained is that, for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to work, people have to change their habits. I had a group of young people in my electorate come to speak to me. One of the great pleasures of being a member of parliament is that you get to speak to people from all age groups. This was a group of very concerned people. I asked them, ‘Should we be doing something about carbon pollution?’ They said, ‘Yes, we should.’ I asked, ‘Should we be going to Copenhagen and signing this?’ They said, ‘We should be showing the world that we care about the environment.’ I said, ‘That’s very honourable.’ Then I asked: ‘Okay, what are you going to do? How are you going to alter your behaviour to do your bit?’ They looked puzzled. I said, ‘For this to work, we have to use less energy.’ I asked: ‘Are you not going to go to the Gold Coast for schoolies this year? Think of the pollution, the greenhouses gases, of that car going up the Newell Highway from Dubbo.’ They said: ‘Oh, no, we hadn’t thought about missing out on schoolies. We’re going to be more sensible, so we’ll fill the car up.’ Okay. Then I asked, ‘When summer hits and it gets to 45 degrees, are you going to flick granny’s air conditioner off in the heat of the day? That will save a lot of electricity.’ They said: ‘Oh, no. We couldn’t do that.’

The people have been conned. This has been very cunning. The large amount of cash that these bills will generate will subsidise the pensioners in the initial stages, will subsidise the cost of fuel and will subsidise the power industry. So we will be subsidising all of these things, but the environment will not have changed. The government will have a $50 billion windfall, but ultimately if we are going to live up to our obligations and reduce our emissions, as we must, we will have to wind back the switches. We will have to use less electricity. As everyone in this place knows, the baby boomer bubble that is coming through will hit aged care. In 14 years time the baby boomers will hit the age where they will need higher care, which will basically mean living inside in a controlled environment. I think now there are five people in the workforce for every one person that is retired. By 2020 or 2030 we will have three people in the workforce for every one person who is retired. Either our elderly, our most disadvantaged, will have their power turned down or the few people left in the workforce will have their obligations cranked up. The sums do not add up.

We need to think about what we are doing here. Professor Garnaut said in his report that regional Australia will have a 20 per cent economic downturn. Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Schultz, you have a rural seat. Can they afford a 20 per cent economic downturn? They are barely breaking even at the moment. Most of them are not breaking even. I wish the member for Corangamite luck for the next time he goes and speaks to his farmers. He said he supports agriculture being in. For those who are interested, the Australian Farm Institute has on its website the FarmGAS Calculator. You go on there and you fill in all the information for your farm. A farmer in my electorate put in a conservative estimate for a few years down the track, with carbon at $25 a tonne. He did not push the limits. He thought he was conservative with the work he did. The added cost of this for one farmer would be $75,000 a year.

It is quite interesting. In this debate we heard from the wonderful, caring, climate-loving people who are worried. It sounds like the member for Isaacs will be up to his neck in water by next Christmas if we do not get this legislation through, because his electorate is down on the coast. It is interesting to note who on the other side we have not heard from. We have not heard from the member for Maribyrnong, the champion of the Australian Workers Union, the man who tells me his union owns the tallest building in my electorate. It was built on the sweat of the backs of shearers, truck drivers, cement workers and coalminers. We have not heard from him. We have not heard from the member for Flynn.

I think this is one of the greatest scandals of all time. We come in here at question time, and they stand behind their leader and they nod and smile on cue, they frown on cue, and while they are there like Pavlov’s dog, nodding and smiling and frowning in unison, they are selling out the people that they represent—the workers of Australia, the people who are going to lose their jobs. How can you save the environment, how can you contribute your share to saving the environment, if you do not have a job? It is absolute madness.

This ‘government knows best’ legislative approach to fixing our environmental problems is absolutely flawed. Australia is the great country it is today not because government has imposed regulation but because of innovation, resourcefulness and hard work. That is why Australia has got to where it is today. How can the Australian people live up to the challenges of altering our practices, altering the way we live, altering our economy, if we have been excessively taxed? How can we do that? How can those companies that need to adapt to a lower carbon economy and use less energy do so if they have had the cream taken off the top? It is just nonsense.

We on this side have heard fanciful comments about embracing clean coal technology. Clean coal technology is a way off, but it requires 30 per cent more coal to generate a kilowatt of power, so when it does come in it is going to be more expensive. Who can afford it?

At this stage there are two things this country relies on that make it great: a cheap source of reliable energy and the ability to produce food—and we are severely going to hamper both with an ETS. If farmers are included, they will not be able to afford to run livestock. The temptation will be to plant their productive land with trees and claim carbon credits. Well, that is very nice, but we cannot eat carbon credits. Australia does not only feed the 20 million people that live here; it feeds another 50 million people around the world. By mid-century, 2050, Australia will have 35 million people and the world will have nine billion. Our obligation to the world is to feed them, and we need to do it in an environmentally sensitive way.

Indeed, I wonder, as I listen to the speeches from those opposite, how many of them have actually invested any of their own money, any of their own sweat, any of their own resourcefulness, in improving the environment in which they live. In my previous role as a farmer I am pleased to say that my family and I were involved in early experimental work with the department of agriculture and Monsanto in zero-till agriculture—growing crops without disturbing the soil. Over a period of time, as the organic material was incorporated into the soil as it broke down, it increased the soil’s water-holding capacity, and the carbon levels on the properties I was involved with grew exponentially. Is there any credit for that? Is there any recognition of that work? And I was one of many. It is now accepted practice right across the country. Is there any recognition of what the agricultural sector has already done to improve our environment? Our irrigators are now growing a kilogram of cotton or food items such as vegetables for a fraction of the water they were, but there is no recognition of that.

I am opposing this legislation. This is going to destroy this country. It is going to destroy my electorate. I just hope against hope that some sense can prevail in this argument before we commit Australia to absolute disaster.