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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 464

Mr BRIGGS (1:33 PM) —As always, it is a pleasure to speak on important matters before the House, and this is of course the third occasion in seven months that I have had the opportunity to talk about the government’s ETS, in effect—or the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the spin name put to it instead of the ETS. I presume they think it is more palatable.

Just to pick up on a couple of points from the member for Leichhardt: I think he encapsulates perfectly the arguments put in this place by those on the other side in that they never actually address the legislation. It is really interesting; they never actually talk about the emissions trading scheme. They talk about climate change and whether it is real or not, and the effects it may have if it comes to pass, the dangers that are presented by it and so forth. Some of those points are valid and some are overstated, as per usual in this debate. But you never hear them actually talk about how the emissions trading scheme will work, how it will be implemented and what the legislation actually talks about doing.

I think it is largely because they do not really understand it. They do not really understand that it is going to put a massive new cost on ordinary working Australians, whom I know some members on the other side have had a long association of representing and do care very much about how those people keep their jobs, particularly in the mining industry and the agricultural sector. Those who represent semi-rural seats particularly know that, as do new fathers, as the parliamentary secretary at the table is. We congratulate him very warmly on the recent addition to his family.

Mr Marles —Thank you!

Mr BRIGGS —They understand that any policy change which puts on a new tax or a new cost to industry means that it will be passed on to consumers and it will have an impact on those workers and industries. That is why I think that those on the other side do not ever talk about the specifics of the emissions trading scheme. They will talk about everything else. You heard the member for Leichhardt talk about king tides, which presumably have never occurred before, and you will hear him talk about the Great Barrier Reef. You will hear other members talk about temperature rises, the IPCC and great conservative conspiracies—apparently in Australia these days you are not allowed to have a different view from the government. If you do, they will censor that on the internet.

You never actually hear the Labor Party address the specifics of the emissions trading scheme. You hear the Prime Minister in question time dodge, weave and duck when it comes to the issue of power prices and the cost increases that will come through the scheme—rather than be honest with people and take them with the government on the journey with respect to this massive economic change. It is a massive economic change, whether you agree with emissions trading or not, and it will change the structure of our economy and increase the costs in our economy enormously. They never take people with them on that; they try to avoid the detail and the specifics and talk about the overall issue of climate change, the effects of climate change, the science of climate change and the great conservative conspiracies—so they claim—against it.

If you look back in this country’s history on the big debates that have changed the economy, whichever side you agreed with, the Prime Minister and the government of the day took the Australian people into their confidence. How the GST would work was explained fully before it was taken to an election. The Labor Party ran holus-bolus against it. It was their right in a democracy to do so, but there was a debate. The government of the day took the people with them. They told them why they wanted to reform the tax system. In 2005, when significant workplace relations reform was introduced into the parliament, the Prime Minister of the day explained the legislation at the dispatch box in this place. It was vehemently disagreed with by those on the other side. They fought tooth and nail against it, as was their right, but they argued their case.

The problem with the Labor Party in this debate is that they have never told the Australian people what this emissions trading scheme will do. They have talked about climate change, the effects of climate change and why we need to address it. They talk about all of the big-picture issues to do with climate change and say, ‘We need to take action, and this is action.’ But they never actually say what the action is. They never actually say, ‘To reduce the threat of climate change we need to put a cost on carbon, which means there needs to be an impact on the households of Australia of $120 billion over 10 years.’ That is a significant change to our economy, but the unfortunate bit for the Labor Party is they currently do not have the gumption to explain that to people. They want to slip and slide it through, all on the overall basis of, ‘We’re for action; they’re against action.’

The problem is that people have started to work this out, and all credit to the shadow minister for climate action, who is at the table, for his work on this. If you really want to lose a couple of hours of your time, go and take him on about the details of direct action on climate change. There are very few people who know as much about this issue as the shadow minister. Some would argue that he knows too much about it, and the conversation on the detail can become a little tiresome after a while. He does know too much about soil carbon in my view. No-one should know that much about that sort of thing! But he does know it, and that is why we have such a good, solid policy foundation. He has convinced the Leader of the Opposition, who is absolutely sure that direct action is the best way to address this significant issue.

There are people on our side of politics who question the science of climate change, and I say they are entitled to have a perspective and to argue their perspective. I believe that it is in our best interests to make some adjustments to the way that we operate, because the benefit of the doubt should be given to the planet. I tend to agree with the Rupert Murdoch approach to this: we should give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, we should look at addressing, where we can, improvements to the way that we power and sustain our world. We do have a big challenge going forward, with increasing populations and the amount of development in formerly rural and agricultural areas, where we have taken more than we should have, like in the Murray-Darling Basin. We do need to become more sustainable, we do have an impact on the planet and we should do things, where appropriate, about that. There is no question about that.

However, you also have to look at the most effective way to address the question of sustainability and the question of climate change. Some would argue, with some passion, that an emissions trading scheme, or a price on carbon, is the most effective way to go. My view is, in an international context with the big emitters as part of the picture, an emissions trading scheme has a lot of merit. However, Australia doing it on its own, outside of an international agreement and binding targets, would be to tie an anvil around our own economic ankle and jump into the water. If you were serious about addressing climate change, you would realise that all that will do is push the dirty industries to other countries which do not have these regulations and requirements. You will have the same, if not more, emissions through emissions leakage, because those industries will be less efficient and use less effective technologies than they would if they continued to operate in Australia. Doing that would destroy thousands of jobs and the opportunity of thousands of people for a better life. So we do have a responsibility in this place to look at the detail of proposals that have been put forward by the government.

At no point have the government ever given a detailed explanation in this place about how their scheme will work and what effect it will have. If you were to listen to the debate presented by those opposite, in particular the Prime Minister, you would think there was to be no impact on households, jobs or industry—which is completely untrue. Of course there is an impact. We have identified our impact on the Australian budget at just over $3 billion. We have said we would fund that with our direct action. Seriously, it is time in this debate—and it is now the third time we have had to debate this legislation in the parliament—for the government to come in and explain how it will work, to come in and take people into their confidence and to come in and explain why they think an emissions trading scheme, absent action by the rest of the world, is the best way to address it, compared to the direct action approach that the shadow minister and the Leader of the Opposition have proposed, the well-thought-through, detailed, documented approach that we have proposed this week.

The question about international action is one that is extremely pertinent to this debate. The previous debates we have had on this legislation took place prior to the Copenhagen conference. I checked back on my contributions to those debates last year, and in June, when I made a point about the Copenhagen conference, I commented that I thought that the political capital of President Obama would probably ensure that there was a successful outcome at the Copenhagen conference. Unfortunately that did not come to pass. The Copenhagen conference was, in anyone’s view, a complete failure. In fact, I think it set action on this issue back quite some way. There are reasons for that, and some of them are very good, in particular the attitude of the Chinese and some of the developing nations to what they see as policies which will restrict their growth at a time they do not want to be pursuing policies which restrict their growth.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, speak and she made the comment about China’s growth that to understand what China will do in these international negotiations you just have to look at what they want domestically. They need to continue to grow domestically because they have all these internal pressures and leverages like 200 million people a year looking to move from very poor rural arrangements to the lower middle class in the cities, so they need to create 200 million new jobs. They need to continue to grow at eight or nine per cent just to keep the social cohesion, for what it is worth, in that country. That is what the government is constantly very aware of. Are they going to do anything which risks that domestic growth? No way. They are not going to sign up to something which is going to put at risk that domestic growth. They cannot afford to do that.

So how are we going to get this international agreement to move forward? I do not think there is any doubt that it is a very difficult road. It really does underline why we need to be very careful with the steps that we take. If we jump ahead of the world and we implement a whole big new tax on our industry and our consumers before China, India and the United States do, we will create a massive rod for our own back. The Waxman-Markey bill, which members will be familiar with and which is before the US Senate, faces a very difficult road this year with the change in the political landscape in the United States in recent days. Comments made as recently as today, I understand, indicate that given the difficulties this bill will face the President is now looking at direct action, which is exactly what the shadow minister has proposed.

You are starting to see a picture here, which is that this ETS has been rushed. It has been rushed through without detail being given to the Australian people. It has been rushed through without the impacts it will have outside of world action being thought through well enough. Even if you do believe in Australia taking action—and I am one who does believe that we should take action—you have to think about the most effective and best action that you can take. What we have been able to do is to present a package of proposals through the shadow minister and the Leader of the Opposition that directly addresses this issue. What we see from the other side is a game of politics being played where they want to talk about us versus them and what we believe and they don’t because it suited their political agenda for some time.

The issue here is simple. The Leader of the Opposition, in his own robust typical fashion, is being very open and honest with the Australian people. We will spend just over $3 billion a year on addressing this challenge of climate change. The government intends to put a massive new cost structure into the economy without actually telling people how that will work or without being honest that it will have a genuine effect on their lives or without being honest with people that it will not achieve the environmental outcomes that they expect. Those on the other side talk about the fact that we are not putting a restriction on emissions. Nor does the government’s ETS. It puts a price on carbon, but it is not restricting the amount of emissions. So it is a false debate which is being run by those on the other side because it is about politics.

Finally, I think today—this is the third opportunity I have had to speak on this bill—we will be defeated if those who represent workers in semirural electorates do not cross the floor and do the right thing by their workers. But, presuming those members do not cross the floor and the legislation passes along party lines, it most probably will be defeated in the Senate again. I do not think we will see it again this year because I think that the Prime Minister has worked out that his approach on this issue has been wrong. We heard him say the other day that he has not taken people with him. He is right about that. The question will be: is he honest enough to come in today and talk about how much power prices will rise and what impact it will have on the cost of food, Australian jobs and emissions? That will be the question rather than the overall ‘we believe and you don’t’ debate that we have had time after time in this place. We might actually finally see some honest debate about a very significant issue. I congratulate the shadow minister at the table for the work he has done on this issue and also the Leader of the Opposition. I just hope the government, rather than continuing to push for this piece of legislation, is able to actually sit down and put some real measures in to address this serious issue.