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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 11520

Mr LAMING (1:10 PM) —Fear, optimism and hope are the emotions that charge this debate. As the member for Tangney leaves the chamber, I suspect that some day his words will be read again by thousands of people, if not more, recognising pearls of wisdom in what may well one day come true. It is important that we have that diversity in the debate. I find it very difficult to disagree with much of what he says but I can say one thing: I vehemently disagree with the member for Tangney’s position on this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]. I will be working as hard as I can to have it passed. I will be working with colleagues of mine in both chambers to see that it is passed, but for very, very different reasons: ‘If it helps the environment.’ Let that simple phrase not be forgotten. They are the words of the quiet majority in this country.

I flew Virgin Blue this morning and I had a moment to ask some of the cabin crew, who work in perhaps the most energy and emissions intensive sector we have, what they thought about the debate today. And I say to the seven very worthy audience members in the public gallery who are listening to this debate: you are among the very few who even know we are having this debate at all. That in itself is a criticism of this government for failing to take Australians with them through this process of very important legislation that will have a huge impact on Australia, we know, in a generation to come. Going back to the crew, after that flicker in the eye, that almost ‘beauty pageant’ moment when the answer to a hard question comes into the mind of someone who has never really thought about the problem, it was simple: ‘If it helps the environment.’ In fact, when the entire crew got together to discuss it a little bit more, the same answer came out: it is a very big ‘if’, but ‘if it helps the environment’.

I have to say to the hundreds of people who have lobbied me personally to not support this bill: with the greatest of respect, the case you have made, articulate as it is, forceful as it is, has failed to move beyond the over-50s, mostly male, mostly conservative voters in this country. That is a battle on climate which has so far been lost. I appreciate, as many tell me, that the mood may change and one day the things I say may be less fashionable than they are, but right now, as we consider this bill in the artificial timing forced upon us by the government, the mood is predominantly one of an optimistic young nation that wants to play its role in the world, a nation that wants to be sitting at the table when the only scheme globally under consideration is discussed. We want to be at that table playing a role.

For all the modelling of what damage this ETS could do to our economy and what climate change could do to the globe, the fact is that modelling can change. Value-laden assumptions will always underpin those results. But one thing is for sure: Australia needs to be part of that dialogue. I appreciate that it makes people very uncomfortable that their particular sector has not yet been exempted from the scheme. To them I say we are still 33 months away from pressing ‘go’ on trading, 33 months of negotiation is before us, on regulations that will determine how this ETS works. Today we are discussing only the very basic infrastructure of this legislation. It has been referred to as legislative plumbing. We are simply talking about the structure upon which the functionality of an ETS will be based. That is all we are discussing today.

To my National Party colleagues I say I cannot promise them the concessions that they are probably hoping for from the government but I can say this: whether those concessions are small—and I personally believe that agriculture will be exempted—or whether they are more significant, I still know that this legislation will be placed in front of us, we will have our noses rubbed in it and we will have to vote for or against it. We are a diverse party which represents a diverse community with different views. But I am absolutely determined, in the role I play in this place, to make sure that this bill is passed.

This is a long battle and the closest allegory of it is the trade negotiations which began back in the 1980s—the GATT rounds, the Uruguay Round. Negotiations go back decades and similarly climate negotiations will be a decades-long process. I am absolutely committed that this side of the chamber does not deal itself out of that discussion, which is the great threat. Blocking this bill would leave this issue on the pages of the newspapers for months to come. We would be facing more legislation like this next year, when there are far more important domestic issues which this country needs to engage—but we cannot, until we can move together and at least participate in the Copenhagen process.

To those who will one day read the speech by the member for Tangney and then have a peek at the person who spoke after him—I feel a little like that—let me say this. We will work very hard—me at a personal level in representing my electorate—to see that we are around the table of the ETS, whatever shape it takes. Consider it a game of Monopoly or a game of poker. We do not yet know who is going to win or lose, but if you are not at the table you simply hand the opportunity to someone else to speak on your behalf. I am not prepared to concede that advantage to this Prime Minister.

We have proposed six very simple amendments, upon which time does not allow me to elaborate on. Those amendments are to give protection to Australian jobs in emission intensive industries—it is quite simple—to exempt agriculture from this scheme even after 2015, and to offer opportunities for agricultural offsets, which is Australia’s strategic advantage. We have 770 million hectares of Australia which we can start to re-carbon in order to reduce our emissions.

We need to remember to support our power generators and their battle against fugitive emissions and give them an opportunity to be competitive. We need to look after our small business because Australia is the No. 1 small business economy in the world. We need to allow our power generators to remain viable, whatever that takes, regardless of the Morgan Stanley modelling, which has never been revealed; instead it remains in the nest of government, hoarded and protected. We must protect our power generators because they are the spine of our country and we need to ensure that they can maintain the stability of our grid, to provide the power which drives our economy and be there with the adequate resources so that when they need to they can adapt to a clean carbon future. Lastly, we need the ability to provide the alternatives in the form of voluntary offset and abatement opportunities.

They are such common sense amendments. Right now they are rippling around Facebook and YouTube as people listen to a range of groups talking about the importance of these to the Australian economy. Whether we get them or not, I am absolutely and firmly committed to doing everything we can to take this bill through in this sitting. Not everyone will agree with me, so let me make one observation. If we deal ourselves out of the debate at this point, then I must place complete trust in all of this ETS modelling, that the demise of this country, the destruction of our industry and the non-viability of the agricultural sector is a certainty.

I have a sense that we have a Prime Minister—agile enough, smart enough and politically savvy enough—who will go around the country and cut deals next year. I suspect the Prime Minister will be cutting deals with workers in town hall meetings in your state of Tasmania, Deputy Speaker Sidebottom, talking to boardrooms, cutting deals with them, and the whole time surrounded by a miasma of supportive press releases about a generous Prime Minister listening to his electorate. I say to this chamber: we will see almost none of the pain which many of the sceptics fear, because we have a Prime Minister driven not by ideology on this issue, not by conviction but by political pragmatism. This Prime Minister wants the stage to himself next year. He does not want an opposition standing with him, shoulder to shoulder, saying, ‘Let’s fix this problem together.’ That is why this odious, unmodified and unreformed bill is placed before us today and our noses are rubbed in it, as opposition members, and we are asked to vote for it and potentially harm or own constituents. We have to fight the larger fight. We must be shoulder to shoulder.

By allowing this bill to go through, we can move on to more important tasks. I remind the many colleagues in this chamber what one of those important tasks is: when the opportunity arises, where anti-Australian provisions in the form of regulations are added to this bill, we will, in a unified way, fight against them. It will be at that time that we will be united in an Australia-friendly ETS which allows us to play our role in the international community without the loss of a job and without exporting a gram of carbon. That will be a day when Labor members will wish that in this debate, instead of scurrying into their offices or giving theological diatribes about climate, that they had engaged more fully in the amendments which we have put forward in good faith.