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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 11494


Mr BILLSON (11:19 AM) —I rise today to again talk about the euphemism that is the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which really looks like an enormous grab for cash that can then be given away by a big government that wants to be big in everybody’s lives and which really does not tackle some of the compelling issues about climate change and our need to adapt and abate those pressures on our landscape and on our way of life. We are back here in what some would say is a Groundhog Day moment. Like others, I have spoken previously on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and have outlined its deficiencies, but there seems to be little movement from the Rudd Labor government to pick up what have been widely recognised as very genuine and legitimate concerns that the coalition parties have raised, and more particularly the very constructive and positive amendments that have been brought forward.

There has been some debate about whether that will salvage one of the ugliest ETSs anyone has seen, a friendless and flawed emissions trading system with that euphemistic name—Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. There are some who are doubting whether it can be salvaged. I am one among many in the opposition who are keen to do what we can to try and avoid the worst damage this flawed and friendless scheme will cause on Australia, on our economy and on our way of life while doing very little to address the atmospheric concerns that are leading to climate change and that are having an impact on our way of life, on our wellness and on the health of the globe. To put it simply, many have debated the complexity of climate change and the issues that influence it. Many have pointed to the range of factors and the consensus in scientific opinion that we humans have had an impact, but there is doubt and confusion and lack of continuity in scientific assessments about what precisely one extra tonne of CO2 will do. We have had an impact as humans but there is a lack of precision and specificity about what particular consequences will flow, and often that is a cause of concern.

That complexity reminds me that if we have a world that is ill and unwell and has some troubling symptoms, we need to be very careful in the way we go about addressing those concerns. Think about our own health and the complexity of the human body and the systems that are in it. Those of us who have an ailment hope that the treating physicians will actually target the cause and approach our recovery in a measured and considered way, not simply take action that looks like it will cure our illness but will actually take us out. The solution might be more damaging than the problem we are trying to solve.

Here, though, we are faced with a proposition that has not changed. We are not back here because the Rudd Labor government has proven that its arguments are stronger than ours and that it knows better than just about everyone else in the broader community. The government has not even attempted to make that case. We have not heard a Labor speaker on this bill actually address the amendments the opposition has put forward. We have not had anybody make the case that they are bad proposals. We have not had a single speaker from the Labor Party get up and address the deficiencies in the scheme that have been widely reported in the media. We have not had anybody suggest that the remedies being proposed by the opposition are less effective or more poorly conceived than the ones the government is trying to force upon the nation by bulldozing this legislation through the parliament.

We have had none of that. All we have had is a re-run of some false argument that the government wants to do something about climate change and the opposition does not. This is not a question of will or wanting to do something. The parliament is generally as one in that view. The question is: what is the wise and considered thing to do? But we have heard so little about that from the Labor speakers in this parliament; so little from the Rudd Labor government and its ministers about the wisdom of the actions it is forcing on the nation compared with alternative actions that are being advocated by some, including the opposition, in these carefully considered and thoughtful amendments.

So why are we back here? We are back here because this is part of the Rudd Labor government’s political strategy. The government has not made a case for the bill. It has not made a case that challenges and discredits the alternative ideas being advanced by the opposition. All it has done is re-run the arguments that we heard the last time we debated this bill without anyone turning their minds to whether the provisions in this bill are wise and thoughtful and will deliver the best outcome for our nation, our economy, our natural systems and, in the longer term, the health of the globe.

That has been revealed by Labor speaker after Labor speaker, replaying the false and hackneyed claims of the Rudd government and its political Labor acolytes trying to assert that the opposition is not interested in taking action on climate change and not supportive of an emissions trading scheme. Both are wrong—demonstrably wrong. They are wrong in the sense that it was the coalition parties that first introduced the concept of an emissions trading scheme and wrong in the sense that the Liberal and National parties have a very positive record of action on greenhouse gases and climate change.

This record includes: the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, investing directly in cost-effective abatement; the Australian Greenhouse Office, the world’s first dedicated greenhouse agency; the mandatory renewable energy target that has been emulated internationally and is now emulated and embraced by the Labor Party; the Solar Cities program, with direct action to address fuel and energy efficiency; the Greenhouse Challenge Program, whereby a collaboration of industry, government and science reduced emissions in the creation of wealth in this country; world leadership on international insights on the impact of land use, land use change and sequestration in our flora; and the decoupling of what was once a direct link between economic growth and energy consumption—it was under the Howard government that we actually decoupled those things and grew the economy at a faster rate than increases in energy consumption. We were one of the few developed countries in the world that were on track to meet our Kyoto target.

All those things have happened under the Liberal and National parties. All those things show the lie in the argument being asserted through the hackneyed claims by those opposite, by the Labor Party and its acolytes, that somehow the Liberal and National parties are not interested in taking action. Well, the record is there and the record is positive and compelling.

It was actually the coalition that instigated work on the emissions trading scheme. In fact, I have in my hand a report that I helped author back in 1998 which talks about regulatory arrangements for trading in greenhouse gas emissions—1998! The committee was chaired by and the inquiry was instigated by the Liberal and National parties. That interim report to the House identified a number of issues and concerns, many of which we are still debating today. These issues were identified a decade ago as fundamental elements that would need to be addressed in an effective emissions trading scheme. Those fundamental concerns remain unattended to and the Labor government refuses to turn its mind to what remedies might look like—remedies encapsulated in the opposition’s amendments.

From that body of work the Australian Greenhouse Office got on with the job of looking at the feasibility of introducing a national greenhouse gas emissions scheme. There was consultation, and an effective and efficient scheme was developed. It was captured following extensive consultation in what has become known as the Shergold model. The coalition’s commitment to an ETS is demonstrable.

When the Liberal and National parties were in government, the then opposition leader, now Prime Minister, was in his ‘me too’ mode—remember that, when there was not a cigarette paper between Prime Minister Howard and then opposition leader Kevin Rudd? In ‘me too’ mode he simply fell into line and picked up the coalition’s commitment to an ETS. He has a character trait of wanting to be the biggest and the best. I am not sure why his name is not Kevin Ruddest—he likes putting ‘est’ on the end of everything he has to say to show how persuasive and important he is. He said, ‘Me too. I will follow the coalition’s lead and embrace an ETS.’ He thought, ‘What can I do to be -est about the ETS?’ And he thought, ‘Let’s be quickest.’ He said he would bring it in earlier than the coalition parties would.

The timing of the coalition parties’ development and introduction of the ETS reflected international trends. Nobody in this place could credibly say that what is happening internationally does not matter. Why would there be such an effort to have the Prime Minister feeling well positioned to go to Copenhagen if it did not matter? Why would he be making such a big deal and ramming this bill through without addressing any of the legitimate concerns and constructive and positive propositions that the opposition has put forward? Why would he be doing that?

The Prime Minister effectively has the strategy of using a statute to increase his stature. That is all this is about. Our Prime Minister is driving this parliament so that he has a statute to enhance his stature at Copenhagen. If Copenhagen did not matter and was so immaterial, you could understand the rush to act. But if it does matter, should this not be an important input? The coalition thinks it should be, and that is why in our timing for an ETS we had accommodated that forward scheduling, recognising that international developments would have an impact and should be taken into account as key input for our domestic emissions trading scheme. But Kevin Rudd wanting to be ‘est’—quickest, in this case—brought the timetable forward as his point of difference. It is hasty and knee-jerk political positioning by a Labor leader who did not think through the implications and had little understanding of what the impact would be of his actions.

Back in July, the Leader of the Opposition outlined concerns such as design deficiencies and issues around voluntary action. Many of them were fundamental and many were highlighted 10 years ago, in 1998, in a bipartisan report to this parliament. It talked about harmonisation issues with major economies, looking at what is happening internationally and having complementarity so that our systems work in partnership with other actions going on within Australia and overseas. It talked about how a scheme would operate with other trading systems and how the global framework would impact on the design. It mentioned other market mechanisms that could feed into an emissions trading scheme, like the clean development mechanism, a system available under the Kyoto protocol. It also mentioned the joint implementation project pathway, where you could do things in developing countries that were funded and driven by developed countries with emissions target obligations and then carry those gains, those credits, back into the accounting for the emissions of the developed economy.

See how they need to interact? This is why Copenhagen and international developments matter. This is why we had the timetable that we did. There are concerns around carbon leakage and emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. We are interested in the way permits are allocated and the impact on coal fired electricity generation. We are interested in sequestration opportunities—how to encourage and facilitate those so that they can play their part in a sincere effort to reduce our emissions, not a political show to make it look like we are doing something, capped off by a debate by about a statute designed solely to enhance Prime Minister Rudd’s stature. I have not heard too many people saying our Prime Minister needs to feel more positive about himself. I cannot really see why that should be the driving force behind passing a bill through the parliament with no other objective, no other rationale for the time frame being so truncated.

The coalition’s identification of the design principles that need to be addressed and our identification of constructive ideas to improve what has been brought before the parliament have earned widespread support. They were identified back in July. The coalition took up the challenge and provided this positive contribution. It has been well received, but there has been no interest and no engagement from the Labor Party. We hope the negotiations are going well, but why so late? Why the political brinkmanship by the Labor Party when these concerns have been out there for months? It is just more politicking and posturing by the Prime Minister and the Rudd Labor government, who have some steadfast attachment to this flawed and friendless scheme.

When it was first produced, the bill was rejected by all parties in the Senate other than Labor: the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens and the Independents. But would the Labor Party listen at that point? No. There were just more lectures. They leered at anybody who had the gall to question what was in there or to point to deficiencies or to suggest improvements to the flawed and friendless scheme. So we are back here again with no change or improvement to the Labor Party’s flawed and friendless emissions trading scheme. We have just bald assertion after bald assertion from those opposite. They are repeating mantras while showing no understanding of, or willingness to engage on, the constructive proposals the Liberal and National parties have brought forward. They just keep repeating the chant, the mantra, that if climate change matters to you the CPRS will do. It is a ridiculous chant from the Labor Party, a moronic statement that really does no service to them and diminishes the parliament.

The opposition’s proposals are thoughtful and constructive and should be embraced. They have been positively received by the broader Australian community. They have at their heart trying to make sure that we do not shut down trade exposed industries for no gain for the environment. What is the upside in that? If we punish and penalise Australian producers and cause them to shut down or to decrease their activity just so that that activity goes somewhere else where climate compliance and time constraints are not a concern, what is the point of that? How is that in our national interest?

Our idea is to cushion the impact of power price increases on small business and consumers. In fact, we believe we will be able to cut them by at least half because of the way we design the scheme. Rather than fit up every electricity generator with the cost of permits for all of their emissions and punish those who are relatively low emitters by forcing them to go and buy Kevin Rudd’s emissions permits, we have said that we can benchmark a level of emissions and reward those that are producing energy for less than that. They will get credits. They will get a bonus for being below the benchmark. Those who are emitting at a greater level, above that benchmark, will have to buy permits from the Prime Minister and the Rudd Labor government. Therefore, the price penalty is only that bit above the benchmark and those below actually get rewarded. You still get the price differential that is at the heart of trying to make behavioural change but you are not ramping up everybody’s costs; you are actually rewarding the lower emitters. Therefore, the cost impact for consumers, for small businesses, families and individuals in my electorate and right across Australia is reduced while maintaining the very price signal that is designed to bring about behavioural change. Doesn’t that make sense? It does unless you have your eye focused on the lolly. It makes sense unless you are the Rudd Labor government, which says, ‘If not everybody is buying our permits we’re not going to get money for all of those permits.’ If we make everybody buy permits then that is more money coming into the Commonwealth so that the Rudd Labor government can be big in everybody’s lives and give some of it back where they think that compensation is justified. That is why they do not like our idea.

But what happens when, as has been discussed in this place, even at the lower permit price level that is being introduced here—which does ramp up—people can buy permits overseas for less than one-tenth of the cost? What if they just go overseas and buy them? What happens then to the Rudd Labor model? They will not be getting all that cash coming in that they are gleefully rubbing their hands waiting to receive. Therefore, their capacity to compensate the people they have needlessly punished is diminished. In that case, what goes? I predict the compensation goes.

To negate that risk you should be very careful in the way you put a price penalty on electricity if you are not able to compensate for it in the longer term. This is at the heart of what the Rudd government is concerned about. If we allow people other than the government to hand out payments—to create permit capability through sequestration action by letting the earth’s systems that have been damaged by humans be improved and enhanced by human action and therefore sequester, or soak up, carbon and create credits that way, like in the farming community—then people would have somewhere else to buy their permits and their credits. This would negate the need to buy permits from this big government that wants to be big in everybody’s lives. Can you see why it does not want to pick up the opposition’s proposals and amendments? Because it puts someone else out there that people can turn to, to help emitters meet their responsibilities. That means less cash for Canberra. The reward for that would go to those who are taking action. That leads me into another area: the built environment, something I am quite passionate about.

Industry body after industry body, scientist after scientist, over and over has pointed out that the built environment is an opportunity for enormous emissions reductions—23 per cent of Australia’s emissions come from our built environment. Why has the built environment been frozen out of this model? The opposition is saying let’s introduce a white certificate scheme, a scheme that rewards improved energy efficiency. It operates in two states now. Why not have a voluntary market and encourage the commercial building sector which, in submission after submission, has said to the Rudd Labor government that it should be in this voluntary scheme. The commendation, positive response and support that have come to the opposition for its proposals in the built environment are echoed every time an industry leader makes a comment about scope and opportunity for the built environment.

Our green depreciation measure has been welcomed and embraced. It is something that has been recommended over and over again to the Rudd Labor government but those recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. The opportunity for efficiencies in the built environment to generate credits that can be on-sold to emitters through a voluntary market is something that has been raised over and over again. But the Rudd Labor government is just not interested. It is interested only in the politics—to get this statute through so as to enhance Prime Minister Rudd’s stature when he turns up in Copenhagen. That is all this about. We have had no coherent, credible argument or challenge or contest to the propositions that have been brought forward by the opposition. I am pleased there is talk of good faith negotiations going on. Maybe there should be some good faith action by the Rudd Labor government as well. (Time expired)