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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11638

Ms VAMVAKINOU (12:12 PM) —I rise today to speak on possibly the most important piece of legislation that has been introduced in this place since I was elected in 2001. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] is significant, far-reaching and progressive legislation that is evidence that this government is serious about tackling climate change. The bill before us today is not only proof that the Rudd Labor government is serious about confronting the harsh and challenging realities that this country, along with the rest of the world, is faced with; it also serves as a reflection of the government’s commitment to our children as well as to future generations of Australians. The world’s leading climate scientists, along with Australia’s most respected scientists, are increasingly telling us that we need to act with greater urgency when dealing with the crucial issues of climate change. The CPRS is the first step on the road to a low-carbon future, but it is only a first step. The Copenhagen summit, due early next month, will provide the world with the opportunity to dramatically reduce its carbon emissions. As such, the CPRS Bill before the House today will make Australia one of the few nations in the world with legislated carbon emission targets. As a highly industrialised nation with the largest carbon footprint per capita, this is a hugely important and timely statement. With this bill this government is again demonstrating that Australia is prepared to take the lead on the international stage when leadership is most needed.

The science of climate change is being updated all the time and we now know significantly more than we did in 2007 when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released and the Garnaut report was commissioned. The latest scientific evidence on climate change from this year is telling us that the pace of climate change is much faster than we expected and that the severity of its effects are matching our worst-case scenarios. There are of course many in this place who have closed their minds, their ears and their eyes to the realities of climate change. Although differences of opinion are a healthy part of our democratic debate, there is a point you get to on some issues—and this is one of them—when, faced with overwhelming evidence, that scepticism needs to give way to the realisation that something very real and significant is happening to the Earth’s climate and that it is incumbent on us, the inhabitants of this great planet, to resolve to do something about it. But there are people in this place who display a blatant and misguided denial, a denial that is an ideologically driven blindness, which seeks to obstruct our collective capacity to move forward as a parliament and as a community, thus holding future generations hostage to the short-sightedness of those in the coalition who will not be moved.

When I speak to my children about the challenges that global warming creates, I have to be honest with them. I have to tell them that, if realised, the worst case scenarios of climate change could result in a dramatically changed environment and that this dramatically changed environment will have consequences for all aspects of their lives. I have to tell them that there will be increased displacement of people in our region as a result of more extreme weather events; that many people in this region and around the world will be displaced by rising sea levels; that there will be increased conflict in our region and around the world as a result of water, food and resource shortages; that Australia is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and these international, regional and domestic effects will not result in the happy, healthy and prosperous Australia that they know today. And that is why I then tell them that it is beholden on this government and on parliamentarians to make tough decisions—that in acting now, we will be able to ensure that their generation and their children’s generation will have the opportunity to enjoy the same quality of life that we have been lucky enough to enjoy. Like many young people, my children understand this. They understand the urgent need to act now.

As I engage with my electorate of Calwell, I have been consistently impressed by how young people in particular have a heightened sense of the need to protect the environment. They understand almost instinctively that we need to preserve the finite resources of our planet; these matters are very much a part of their psyche. It gives me great hope when I see their level of understanding. I know that we can feel optimistic about a future in their hands. But the reality is that at this moment their future is in our hands. We are the generation that actually has the power to make the important decisions on their behalf. In effect, they rely on us. We are the generation that needs to overcome our own prejudices, our crystallised perspectives, even our day-to-day habits and we must break free from our old paradigms to act to address this urgent issue.

We must remind ourselves that this challenge is an intergenerational challenge. The decisions we make now are not just about ensuring Australia’s short-term financial and overall prosperity, but about ensuring that this prosperity is sustainable into an uncertain future. And we must not underestimate just how uncertain that future may be. The alarm bells are ringing. The recently released government report Climate change risks to Australia’s coast clearly states that rising sea levels place at risk of inundation up to 250,000 Australian homes. These findings are based on a sea level rise of 1.1 metres by the turn of the century that could result in $60 billion worth of residential property facing flooding, and 120 ports, 1,800 bridges, power stations, water treatment plants and airports close to the coastline being under threat—a dire prediction for a country like Australia whose major population centres are located along its coastlines.

I welcome the government’s appointment of Professor Tim Flannery as the head of the newly formed Coast and Climate Change Council. While the opposition is unfortunately wracked with dissent and obstinacy, this government is moving forward. We join with leading scientists and indeed the Australian community who are increasing their passionate calls to action. Many leading scientist are now warning that unless dramatic action is taken immediately we are facing worst-case scenarios, with the world carbonising at an unprecedented rate. Advances in climate science are painting an increasingly grim picture.

Critics, and in particular coalition MPs, continue to press the charge that an emissions trading scheme will hurt the economy and destroy jobs. They claim that, being nothing more than another tax, an emissions trading scheme would lift costs for consumers and businesses while doing nothing to halt climate change. Some simply assert that climate change is not an issue, in fact that it is just not happening at all. Research from both Australia and the recent international research conducted by the World Wide Views on Global Warming project found that Australians are more likely to support paying for the cost of climate change through higher petrol and electricity prices than any other developing country. This research involved a survey of people in 38 countries and it found that Australians want the federal government to take tough action on climate change here at home and they want the government to take a strong position at the Copenhagen summit in December. If ever there was evidence of the clear will of the Australian people, this is it, and coalition MPs would do well to heed this will.

The government is responding to this call from the Australian people, but it also understands that while we must act now, we must not do so at the expense of our most vulnerable. In my electorate of Calwell there are many low- and middle-income households. As is the case around the world, it is the working class, the less fortunate or the disadvantaged that are going to bear the brunt of the impact of climate change and it is in their interests that we must also act. Under this legislation, low-income households will receive additional support above indexation to meet the expected overall increase in the cost of living flowing from the scheme.

This will also be the case for middle-income households. For middle-income families receiving family tax benefit part A, the government will provide assistance to meet at least half those costs. As part of the Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2], households will be protected from higher fuel costs through a mechanism to provide cent-for-cent reductions in fuel tax for the first three years of the scheme’s operation. Also, while this government is willing to make the hard decisions and face these threats and challenges, it is also able to recognise the opportunities that present. This government is very well placed to grasp those opportunities. We are committed to innovation at a time when innovation is sorely needed. There are opportunities for broad-ranging innovations across a range of industries and opportunities for job creation, both in green jobs and in traditional sectors. They are opportunities that marry the need to act now with the economic imperatives that we all recognise are essential to Australia’s continued prosperity.

In closing, I would like to say that, yes, there are costs with the substantial changes that the CPRS will bring upon its implementation, but they are costs that we have to resolve as a parliament to bear. I would like to ask members of the opposition who are wavering to reconsider and understand the important moment that has befallen this chamber and the decision that it has to make at some stage this week. With these bills before the House we are executing our moral duty, our obligation to future generations. We should be proud of our determination and commitment, not shun it. We cannot allow ourselves to become victims of our own progress, so by acting now we are taking control over our and this planet’s destiny. I commend the bills to the House.