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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 11509

Mr SLIPPER (12:20 PM) —I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, for saying that. While I am a member of this House, there should be an electorate named after me! That is a rare compliment. I thank you, Sir, for making that particular observation.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Hear, hear!

Mr SLIPPER —We must remember that, as Australians, we hold our environment in trust for future generations. All of us, I suspect, are much greener than we once were. I have to thank my wife, Ingé, for some of my education in this area. At home we compost all vegetable matter, we have brought in water-wise measures, we endeavour not to have taps on for as long as they once were, and we also have sought to dim the lights and not have the place looking like a Christmas tree. But I am not an expert on climate change and I suspect that most members of this House, and indeed the community generally, would not be experts on climate change.

There is no doubt that there is conflicting scientific evidence. There is respectable scientific evidence supporting the existence of climate change and there is also contradictory scientific evidence denying it. There is a view that climate has always changed, that it will continue to change and that there is nothing dramatic about today’s climate change, but all of us would agree that the issue should be given the benefit of the doubt. If we in the world and as a community are able to do something to bring about cleaner air and less pollution, then obviously these are steps in the right direction.

I am someone who believes that Australia, which produces only 1.4 per cent of the world’s emissions, has a responsibility as a good corporate citizen to play its part as part of the world community in bringing about a world solution. The scheme covered by the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and supporting legislation is, however, an unmitigated disaster. It is obvious that the CPRS as proposed by the government will destroy the competitiveness of Australian exports, will cost Australian jobs, and will reduce investment in our economy. And that is simply not a good thing because we are competing with the rest of the world. The scheme would also lead to emissions being sent overseas rather than being reduced at the global level and as a result there would be no net benefit to the world environment.

The CPRS also represents a tax grab disguised by the fact that the government has only published one year of estimates of the full fiscal impact of the scheme. A bit like the alcopops tax, the CPRS scheme is simply another tax grab by the Rudd Labor government. I find it absolutely unbelievable that about a month before Copenhagen, and certainly before the United States has made its position crystal clear, the government wants us to rush legislation through the parliament. It wants to commit us to a situation before we know what the rest of the world is doing.

The Liberal-National opposition is proposing amendments to the government’s legislation. There is no doubt in my view that the six key areas of amendments will bring about important improvements to this fatally flawed Labor Party legislation. I just want to outline broadly these amendments and changes. They are: placing Australian emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries on a level playing field with their competitors abroad; excluding agriculture from the scheme and providing a mechanism for farmers to earn offset credits when they abate carbon; ensuring Australian coal producers reduce their fugitive emissions as technology allows but are not unfairly financially penalised compared to competitors; moderating the impact of higher electricity charges on small business; and providing assistance to coal fired electricity generators to ensure they remain financially viable and the lights stay on.

These important amendments and changes to the legislation will substantially improve the legislation. The Minerals Council of Australia has said, however, that the CPRS will impose significant imposts on the Australian economy that are not faced by Australia’s competitors and it comes to this conclusion even if all of the Liberal-National opposition’s proposed amendments are adopted. Further, it considers the level of industry assistance given to the scheme to be inadequate compared to other schemes, particularly the emissions trading scheme of the European Union.

I am one of those people who believe that it is irresponsible to proceed with this legislation until such time as we know what the world is doing. There is no doubt that, while there has been substantial discussion in the Australian community, there is an increasing concern amongst Australians that we ought not to, in effect, put our collective national neck on the chopping block before we know what rest of the world is doing. Even if we brought in the most draconian scheme, which is being proposed by the government, and even if we were able to reduce emissions in Australia, we only produce 1.4 per cent of the world’s emissions and so the reduction in emissions in Australia will make little difference to the reduction of emissions worldwide and the price that we will have paid is that Australians will be thrown on the unemployment scrapheap, Australian industry will fail, Australian investment will falter, and Australian exports will not be competitive in the world marketplace.

Increasingly, the world is a global village and we have to look upon ourselves as being an international citizen of the world. I could understand if the government was coming into the parliament and was saying that there is no world solution in sight so therefore we ought to show an example. But why on earth is the government insisting on proceeding at this stage just a month before Copenhagen to commit Australia, to threaten Australian jobs, to threaten Australian industry, to threaten Australian exports and to threaten Australian competitiveness?

I think that the answer to the question I pose is that the government is playing naked politics. The government is seeking a double dissolution trigger, because it wants to be able to put itself forward as a government which has an idea and it wants to show that the opposition is divided on this issue. The reality is that the government is the government of Australia. It should be the government for all people. It should not be playing cheap, petty politics at the cost of Australian jobs, Australian industry and at the cost of Australian exports. The government should defer all this legislation until after Copenhagen and until after we know what the world community is doing, and also of course until we know what the United States, an important part of the world community, is doing. It is patently irresponsible to sacrifice Australian jobs, Australian industry, Australian exports and Australian competitiveness on the altar of political expediency, and that is exactly what the Rudd Labor government is seeking to do.

I said before that I do support the amendments which are being negotiated by the Liberal-National opposition with the government. Any amendments which are accepted by the government will improve the legislation. But it is my view that, even if the government accepted every last one of the opposition amendments, it would still be an act of economic vandalism to vote for this legislation, as amended, before Copenhagen and before the United States makes its position clear.

I will repeat that: it would be an act of gross economic vandalism to vote for this legislation, even if all of our amendments are accepted, because the legislation will still be flawed. Admittedly, it will be an improved piece of legislation but it will still be flawed. We ought not to be proceeding before Copenhagen, before the world community makes its decision and before the United States makes its position clear.

I said at the outset that I am not an expert on climate change. I would be the first to admit that I am not an expert on climate change and I am sure that I am not alone in that situation. But I just do not see how anyone can rationally argue that we should sacrifice Australian jobs, we should cost Australian industry, we should destroy our competitiveness, we should kill off investment on the altar of political expediency. So I will make a plea to the government: stop playing politics and for once look at the interests of the country.