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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 665


Mrs MOYLAN (6:51 PM) —Environmental policy is one of those areas where I do not believe government can act unilaterally—that is, just making decisions without bringing the Australian public with them. The challenge of climate change cannot be solved without direct action and participation policy for the community. It was for this reason that in 2008 I held a community forum called ‘Our Patch, Our Planet’ in the electorate of Pearce so as to encourage some of the community to come and debate issues around the future of our environmental policies. The community had one message which was loud and clear. Where there was a policy to reduce carbon pollution, they wanted to be part of it. They wanted recognition for their contribution and, more importantly, they wanted leadership, guidance and incentives from the federal government so that their efforts were effective, so that what they did actually counted. Instead, they got a poorly constructed, incoherent emissions trading scheme with a great emphasis on strutting the world stage and little explanation as to how the scheme would work domestically and what it would mean for individuals and business, large and small.

I suspect the reason the ETS has not been explained to the public is that the government still fails to fully understand its own scheme. Dr Alex Robson, a visiting fellow from the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University, recently presented a paper titled ‘What does the government CPRS modelling tell us?’ analysing and commenting on the government’s paper ‘Australia’s low pollution future’. The paper set out some of the key assumptions in the modelling the government did in 2008 in preparation for the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill and cognate bills that we are debating today. Dr Robson gave an insightful paper. In particular, at the outset he made three very important points. First, the government has not modelled key aspects of its actual climate change policies. Second, the government has provided no information on some of the key economic effects of its planned emissions reduction policies, including possible effects of unemployment, interest rates and inflation. Third, and finally, the government’s own modelling results show that the present value of the cost of emissions reductions could easily exceed Australia’s entire current gross domestic product.

This analysis gives us some clue perhaps as to why the government has been unable to articulate a coherent argument in favour of its policy, except a mantra that we had to go to Copenhagen with a settled position and legislation passed through this parliament no matter what the cost. How can the government expect the public to have faith in this ETS when it has failed to produce modelling on the key economic effects of measures outlined in this bill? A survey in my electorate has shown that the public are very keen to see us do something about reducing our carbon footprint. But, in order to instil public confidence, the government has to lay everything out very clearly so that people can understand what they are being asked to sign up to. I do not think this has happened. It is very sad really to have bungled so comprehensively this important policy matter. It really is an indictment of the current government and, importantly, it seriously sets back the plans to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.

I have spoken often on these and related bills over the past several years and accept the science, notwithstanding some of the more fantastic claims from sceptics and some mistakes in ICCP reports that are now being corrected and addressed. It is concerning that impetus for global action has stalled and that the public feels sceptical about aspects of the science. But this in no way absolves us as responsible members of this parliament from acting in a way that cuts through some of those more fantastic claims and to ensure that we risk manage for the future.

Although Australia is one of the largest emitters per head of population, the fact is that Australia’s contribution to CO2 emissions is around 1.4 per cent. Without a significant commitment by other developed and developing countries, we cannot unilaterally take action on our own continent that will resolve the looming problems on the planet. While we should make a contribution to reducing the output of CO2, it is very hard to see the point of the government’s unseemly haste to push this particular legislation that we are debating today through this parliament for a second time when it has failed to coherently articulate the policy to the Australian people. My experience is that people are reasonable. As I said, a survey of my electorate shows that people want something to be done, but they are very wary of what is being offered at the present time by the government.

There have been fantastic claims, as I said, on both sides of this debate. Surely, in the interests of public confidence in the policy direction, the government does owe it to the nation to fully model all aspects of the policy in terms of its impact on the community and to improve its articulation of the policy in the public domain domestically. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, and the shadow minister, the member for Flinders, have proposed a direct action policy that does make a good start to doing more than churn large sums of money made from permits into compensation papers. It is a policy that reflects the community’s concerns and provides the vital framework in which people can make a direct contribution to reducing greenhouse emissions. This is a policy that recognises community engagement as a priority rather than as a favour to the community. The direct action proposed by the coalition has the capability of achieving the five per cent target at a lower cost to the community. It provides direct incentives to reduce CO2 emissions without the immediate flow-on effect of Labor’s legislation.

Most importantly, the coalition policy provides incentives for individuals as well as families, businesses and industries to take direct action to reduce carbon emissions. The coalition will introduce a $2.5 billion emissions reduction fund to support carbon reduction and the fund will direct CO2 emissions reduction activities through to 2020 by providing incentives to businesses to reach the target of reduced carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020, the same as the government’s target, without the cost burden and the complexity. As I said, it is enormously important that governments recognise the need to clearly articulate the policy, explain it to the community, be upfront about its impact and bring the public along with them on this important journey to reduce carbon and to improve our quality of life globally.

The fund that the coalition is setting up will provide a reduction in CO2 emissions and practical environmental benefits, while protecting the community from massive increases in costs and possible job losses. Again, the impact on jobs has not been adequately modelled. The coalition’s emission reduction fund will use the existing national greenhouse gas and energy reporting scheme, which was introduced into this House by the Howard government, to determine proposed emission reductions beyond the base levels which have already been established for individual firms. Businesses that reduce emissions below their individual baseline will be able to offer the CO2 abatement for sale to the government. This means that there is a direct financial incentive for businesses to take direct action to reduce their carbon footprint. This is an efficient market based policy. There is no doubt that the market has an important role to play. In the future we may find that there is a place for an even greater market role, but the effectiveness of the large-scale market approach is limited until such a time as the community comes on board with it and accepts it.

The coalition’s proposed fund will support a range of other measures to abate carbon, including replenishment of soil and farmland; the replacement of old, inefficient power stations; a $40 million investment in the development of clean energy hubs to drive clean energy research and development for the future; and the planting of 20 million trees by 2020, with a commitment to a green army to assist with the delivery of this program. Importantly, the coalition’s policy direction includes a strong emphasis on a new solar sunrise for Australia, one of our greatest natural resources—and we do not make the most of it. We see countries like Germany developing whole industries around solar, and they do not have the natural advantages that we have in this country. The new solar sunrise for Australia includes a million additional solar roofs by 2020 through an additional $1,000 rebate for either solar panels or solar hot water systems and has a $100 million solar towns and schools initiative so that whole communities can contribute. There will be $50 million invested in a geothermal and tidal towns initiative. The program will commit to a study of high-voltage underground cabling to support renewable energy delivery.

Labor has chosen, by contrast, to rely on its high-taxing, complicated merry-go-round of money and a direct action policy that frankly is a shambles. That, again, is a great shame. The integrity of the direct action policies put into place by the government is in question, yet they have a lot of merit and should be done. Those programs have the capability to reduce CO2 emissions. Rather than engaging the community, this government has further alienated people through dismal management and chaotic delivery of its direct action programs. The three key government initiatives designed to engage the community—the solar credits scheme, the insulation rebate scheme and the Green Loans scheme—are all now lying in tatters. After a series of scandals, these programs have wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and have resulted in mass community disillusionment and scepticism. Sadly, what it has meant is that they have not achieved their potential, which is not good for any of us. First we had the chopping and changing of the solar panel rebate, leaving industry and consumers confused and many out of pocket. Next came the very serious allegations of the rorting of the insulation rebate scheme, now subject to inquiry. We now know that the management of this program was so negligent that many houses across Australia are at risk of electrical fires due to improper installation and quite probably are not saving as much energy, because of the shoddy way in which some of that work was carried out.

But the epitome of mismanagement comes from the Green Loans Program that was expected to run until 2012 but now looks like running out of money by April. The minister says this is testament to the program’s success, but the thousands of Australians who invested $4,000 in training and accreditation to become a green loans assessor who now find themselves without work might say otherwise. The government capped the number of assessments but not the number of assessors and now faces the prospect of a class action from disgruntled assessors who claim to have been misled about their training and job prospects. Again, it is just not good for the environment and it is not good for any of us. It does not help us to take the important steps to reduce our carbon footprint. While there is a glut of assessors, the Green Loans process has been further hampered by the inefficient processing of applications for assessments and loans. I have been contacted by a number of constituents with serious concerns as to the administration of the program, which has hampered their efforts to reduce household carbon emissions. These cases, of course, I have referred to the minister, and I would hope that they will be sorted so that this program can do what it was intended to do, which in intent is noble.

The capacity to reduce our carbon footprint in the future will rely undoubtedly on every individual playing a part. We have all contributed to the problem of environmental degradation and we all need to play a part to change the way we live our lives and the way we do business. Many Australian businesses and individuals have been taking steps for some time to reduce carbon emissions, but ongoing meaningful change cannot take place unless there is full community engagement and everyone is equipped to play their part. There is so much more we could do with regard to new vehicle emissions, urban planning, public transport, house design and even in the area—just the single step—of the way we consume packaging could have a very significant impact on the environment and on our greenhouse gas emissions.

These are other areas where direct action could really benefit the community in reducing our reliance on traditional forms of energy, reducing the cost of living and improving our environment overall. I am at a loss to know why we do not have the sort of leadership we should have in some of these areas which we do not seem to have done much about at all—they have been barely touched on.

Igniting the community consciousness and engaging individuals through reputable programs and transparent modelling is an essential element for any Australian environmental policy. It is not enough for government to establish a huge bureaucracy, and to expect the public’s support for a scheme that not even the government seems to understand, especially when some households stand to lose $950 from their budgets each year under this scheme. It really is important that if government wants the cooperation of the people that it comes clean, that it explains the policy, that it outlines the implications of that policy and does everything to ask the public to come on that journey as well.

The tendency, though, to ignore the real cost of doing business in Australia—and, in fact, globally—and not factoring in clean-up costs means that I think we are all living in a fool’s paradise. To think that we can keep digging material out of the ground, we can keep manufacturing and doing all of the other things that we do without factoring in the real cost of what we are doing means we are just kidding ourselves. We need to really think about that quite a bit. Also, the convention that our economic wellbeing must continue to rest on industrial and commercial practices that have historically led to environmental degradation must be urgently rethought and reviewed. There are new ways of doing things. We do have very innovative people and we can change for the good of the whole of the nation and, indeed, for the global good.

But if we are to meet the considerable challenge of climate change the action ultimately has to come from individual efforts on a global scale, and it will demand a financial investment—there are no two ways about it—as well as one of human ingenuity and human effort. We are all in this together and the time has passed, really, to debate the core elements of the science but to move forward with a carbon reduction scheme that all Australians can feel confident in, can embrace and can participate in so that we make a genuine effort to reduce our carbon footprint.