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Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Page: 882

Mr OAKESHOTT (7:08 PM) —Whilst we are visiting the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related legislation for a third time, I will be moving the same amendments as previously, but also, this time around, I will be making something called a reasoned amendment in the second reading stage. So, with the indulgence of the House and, hopefully, with the support of the coalition, if they listen closely, I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1)   acknowledges that the bill does not adequately answer the following critical topics:

(a)   the energy security needs of Australia;

(b)   Australia’s regional stability and Asia-Pacific security needs;

(c)   whether Australia’s international climate change obligations have the potential to inhibit or enhance our competing land management policies;

(d)   possible protection and compensation for small businesses that are light emitters, given they are unable to access free heavy emitter permits or reach the 25,000 tonnes per financial year to gain support;

(e)   possibilities for farms, small businesses and households to make and save money through abatement, carbon credits, offsets and small-scale production;

(f)   the favourable position of heavy emitters compared with households, and whether this should be adjusted given the low 5 per cent emissions target that is likely to be met without any policy through this place;

(g)   the workforce restructuring that it will cause and the need for retraining;

(h)   the accuracy of the scientific data published in the Garnaut report and the Shergold report, and by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and

(2)   calls on the Government to urgently conduct these reviews, audits and analysis and thereby begin engaging the Australian community in a detailed, serious and factual debate”.

In Camden Haven, on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, we recently had a heated debate about whether the community would like to have a diesel-fired peak load electricity generator at a beautiful location close to water called Herons Creek. A previous local council had signed off on the right to allow a private company to put this facility on council land. As expected, the community reacted strongly and comprehensively, saying that they did not want such facilities to be part of their future. Quite rightly, they argued that we can all do better.

At two seaside locations in the electorate of Lyne, at places called Old Bar and Lake Cathie, we see some quickening in erosion that is right now jeopardising the houses and the savings of many within the region. The front page of a local paper, the Manning River Times, described this issue last year with the chilling headline ‘1000 homes at risk’.

I start this evening with these two practical examples from the mid-North Coast as evidence that this is not some global world government issue or some Copenhagen junket issue. Rather, the issues of how we minimise the impacts of climate change and how we maximise the natural advantages we have in Australia on the related issue of energy security are both at the core of this debate, and they are both directly relevant to my region and to my nation.

It is therefore with sadness, with frustration and with a bit of fury that I speak this evening, for the third time, on a variation of the same theme called the CPRS bills. Each time I have been provided with a bill that has some changes that seem to arrive at the eleventh hour, with these changes buried deep in the 440-page document. Each time we sit down as an office team and work our way through the changes, and each time we see areas we think should be changed to improve the bill. Again, for the third time, I will be doing this tonight, and once again I encourage the government to consider those same amendments, which attempt to bring greater independence in the decision-making process of the future and to lessen the amount of ministerial discretion in decision making in the future, something that will politicise the process of the future and will lessen the process of the future.

But rather than, like a broken record, explain these amendments again, I think it is now time to call some others to account, because at the moment we have neither the government nor the Liberal-National opposition talking the truth about the problems or about the solutions. Neither look focused on a national outcome on climate change and energy security. Rather, we have what I perceive as a focus on an election and a parade of self-interest as a consequence.

The joke that is presenting itself as national politics at the moment is that all sides of politics are really a lot closer on this topic than they care to present to the Australian community. Importantly, if the national interest were the priority of the major parties, we could have something for the Australian people by the end of this week. Unfortunately, however, we are witnessing a disgraceful failure of so-called leaders in this country to tell the story of climate change and energy security, and a failure to explain in context why it is in the national interest to put in place a range of energy measures, with one being a price on carbon leading to true pricing in the energy market. As a consequence of this failure, Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have lost the pub test and lost the barbecue test within Australia, and in my view, in its current form, with the current strategy and the current personalities in charge, an emissions trading scheme in Australia in 2010 is dead. It will pass the House of Representatives but it is highly doubtful whether it will pass the Senate.

Most importantly of all, with so much heated division and confusion within the Australian community, it is now a policy that will become increasingly unwelcome to the voter-sensitive decision makers—not, mind you, because the concept of an ETS is wrong but because timely information has not been forthcoming throughout 2009 and 2010, leaving so many questions unanswered by a government that got caught with its pants down in bed with the opposition and that had spent its time cutting deals in the hallways of parliament with lobby groups and alternative parliamentary parties in an all-too-clever attempt to ram through a policy, and leaving behind the key to all policy in this country, the Australian community which is outside this building.

RIP CPRS 2007-2010. On reflection, all I can say is: a pox on both the major parties, Labor and the Liberal-National Party coalition, for placing the game of politics and the self-interest contained within it over and above the national interests of this country and the oh-so-close potential outcome on climate change and energy security policy. From here, I think we can all expect to hear less and less about climate change from the media-sensitive government and the Prime Minister over the coming months as the expected political strategy of retreat takes place in the lead-up to the national ballot. This is disappointing. The Prime Minister can be called many things, but, like a fish called Wanda, I do not think we can call him stupid. For an intelligent man with a strong mandate in 2007, it is an incredible disappointment that we now see such a central policy for our country’s energy security fall over. The question needs to be asked: what went wrong within the ranks and why so silent?

The failure to tell the story of why a price on carbon is so important has yet again been highlighted by the very odd and scatty responses we have seen to the coalition’s so-called direct action plan released last week. The focus by government has been to continue to highlight the Leader of the Opposition’s comments recently that the science was, in his words, ‘crap’ or to focus on a throwaway comment about an ironing-board today. They have chosen to continue to paint the opposition as a bunch of deniers of the science. They have chosen to push Tony Abbott away in an effort to park him in some loony bin. It is an unsuccessful and ill-thought-through strategy. If anything, this says more about government than opposition. It does nothing to enhance the government’s position on this topic. It shows only a weakness of character, strategy and intellect and continues to lose people from the main game of getting an outcome on climate change and energy security, which is, without doubt, the national interest that they should be focusing on.

The failure of this position is hidden in the sensible words from the member for Flinders on the first day of parliament last week, the day after the coalition’s climate change policy was released. He made reference to three critical things in his speech. He said the coalition policy is a market response. He said it is a trading scheme based on the New South Wales GGAS. He also said it contains a cap. I encourage anyone trying to do their homework to go to the GGAS website and look at the information. I will read the very first two sentences you will come across. It says:

The NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme (GGAS) commenced on 1 January 2003.

And—here it is—it says:

It is one of the first mandatory greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes in the world.

This has been identified as the backbone of the model that the coalition has placed their faith in for their so-called different response. It is a market based response which involves a cap and trading scheme similar to the GGAS scheme in New South Wales—a market based trading scheme with caps. This is dripping with irony. The Liberal-National Party coalition have modelled their alternative to an emissions trading scheme on—lo and behold—one of the first emissions trading schemes in the world.

I therefore welcome the choice we now have between the Labor ETS and the coalition’s ‘ETS lite’, because the one critical point of difference, the one factor missing in the coalition’s scheme, is a price on carbon. But make no bones about it: we now have a choice between two emissions trading schemes, and these two policy positions are a lot closer than either side would be comfortable admitting by being truthful. If the coalition scheme is somehow an easier, simpler scheme, I ask anyone interested to google GGAS. Go to page 8 of the GGAS summary and see exactly what the coalition has modelled their ETS on. I encourage them to look at the five rules of the game. For example, figure 6 of the compliance rules overview looks something akin to Barry Jones’s spaghetti revolution of five years ago. Maybe they should then read some of the detail of how such a scheme runs. For example, if the coalition, as they have stated, are basing their ETS on the New South Wales GGAS then I warn businesses and households of what is involved. For example, the GGAS rules say:

Benchmark participants complete a standard calculation spreadsheet with relevant input data in January/February of each calendar year for the previous calendar year. The completed spreadsheet is then audited by an appropriate auditor and submitted to the compliance regulator—

who in New South Wales is IPART but in this case is unknown in the coalition plan.

So much for sexy, direct action. This alternative market based cap and trade system also has an accounting scheme, a scheme administrator and a whole lot of bureaucracy attached—no different to what the government version of an ETS has. So the coalition has thrown up nothing more or less than a variation of an ETS, one that caps and trades and is based and modelled on one of the oldest ETS schemes in the world, the New South Wales GGAS; one that is equally complex on reporting and accounting, as can be seen in the GGAS paperwork; and one that, importantly, based on their own definitions and logic, will therefore be an equally great big tax—that is, of course, if they define a tax as anything that might increase consumer costs without an examination of the benefits or the compensation. But the point still stands: the coalition ‘ETS lite’ is just as much a great big tax as the government’s ETS is a great big tax. Brrng, brrng: ‘Hello, Pot? This is Kettle.’ Once again we have the major parties serving up exactly the same tray of policy disguised with different words. We might call it heated agreement at the moment over climate change.

We now have a clear choice between an ETS and an ‘ETS lite’—one emissions trading scheme that places a price on carbon and one that does not. I do not say this as a negative, by the way; I say this as a positive. I say: ‘Finally, coalition, welcome to the party. Welcome to recognising a market based response as a sensible response to a problem in a market economy.’ I certainly welcome the focus on trees and I welcome the idea of solar panels. I welcome the idea of underground cabling being put in. But I also would welcome some honesty about your very own policy, as was shown in the House by the member for Flinders in his speech last week and by the former Leader of the Liberal Party earlier this week. However, the issue is being sidestepped by so many others, which makes me wonder if they have even read and understood their own policy.

Despite the concerns and disappointments of both positions in this debate—summed up best last week as Labor government lip-service versus a coalition con job—I do believe a compromise exists and I do encourage a compromise being found. We now have two emissions trading schemes on the community table. We have form from as recently as late last year, when the government and the opposition decided to enter into negotiations in the national interest, under a Rudd-Turnbull agreement. We have lieutenants such as Macfarlane and Wong ready to negotiate an outcome. We also have on the table a sensible Greens option for a temporary solution over the next two years that deserves real and valued consideration by all.

Critically, as well, this time, if we are serious, let us think about bringing people with us. Let us not forget the importance of constituency. With community understanding, with all sides recognising the science as a base and a platform for policy, we can do something. We can do something good. I seek the will of various leaders to make this happen and I urge the community to push for information and push for an outcome other than a good old election fight.

My point is that, despite the hype, despite the rhetoric, despite the question time antics and despite the trips to laundromats and school playgrounds for political positioning, the reality and the facts are that 150 House of Representative members are a lot closer in their positions than they dare to give themselves credit for. The test, therefore, is whether people want a national outcome or a political outcome. If we are serious about a national outcome, this place will start to negotiate in and around this CPRS Bill to find a compromise that works.

The other critically important point about the current state of play, where we now have all the cards on the table regarding policy, is the question of science. Both sides are now in heated agreement that the science is sound and a policy response is warranted. This is a welcome and important breakthrough, and the challenge is now for all of us to reaffirm the soundness of the science. To start the process of reaffirming the science, I previously put to the Prime Minister the importance of hearing from him an expression of his confidence in the foundation documents produced by Shergold, Garnaut and the IPCC. To be polite and diplomatic, it has been unhelpful that the fourth IPCC report has shown itself to be so skinny on scientific process and is failing to stand up to scrutiny. This needs to be explained so that the other reports are protected for their scientific base and so that the reason for an Australian policy response is kept very clear in the pub and around the barbecue. In my view, this is a critical time, when both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition must defend the foundation for policy. That foundation is the science—the good science and the overwhelming science that says that policy makers around the world must do something. I invite both men to take up that role over the coming months. Indeed, I think it is in the national interest to do so. I encourage all members of this place to do likewise.

Whilst blowing the candle on the death of the CPRS tonight, I also see a flicker of hope within the community. I see the community doing what politicians and the two-party-dominated parliamentary system could not. I will give four examples on the mid-North Coast. Lincoln Brickworks is spending $308,000 to improve its kiln techniques. A company called Edstein Investments Pty Ltd, in Taree, is improving its water harvesting and recycling plant. A third company, Hydro Photographics, in Port Macquarie, has just spent $165,000 to get some more solar panels and to access the gross feed-in tariff changes in New South Wales. I also want to quickly read this message from Malcolm McNeil, who is an architect in Port Macquarie. He says:

There is a huge push to build new (coal fired?) power station(s) to cater for increased demand. Yet recent statistics indicate a significant reduction in power consumption during 2009. My personal experience at home has been a 25% reduction in electricity consumption …

He wants to aim for 50 per cent. It can be done. So there are four local examples that give hope. There are examples in big business as well. They are almost naming and shaming all of us who are involved in the political process. They are showing what can be done to get an outcome, rather than just talking about it.

I will not oppose this bill tonight, but I will be moving a third reading amendment. I started by moving an amendment to the second reading in an attempt to drive the right outcome and make sure that this is the start, not the end, of a discussion between government and community. My amendment looks to capture the concerns of my region and my nation. I urge both sides to consider these concerns and continue working on them. This is too important an issue not to. I urge this place to catch up to the community. The business community are, for economic reasons, making changes already and could benefit from some carbon credit support to bring forward plans for renewable options. As well, the forgotten households of Australia want to be part of an honest response to this scientific dilemma and, to date, seem to have been shut out of an overly political process. It is time for this change to happen.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—I thank the member for Lyne for his contribution. Is the amendment seconded? There is no seconder for the amendment. The amendment therefore lapses. The question is that this bill be now read a second time.