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Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Page: 895

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (8:08 PM) —Many have remarked on the fact that this is the third time that this House has debated the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related legislation. Many people have said that they are speaking on the issue for the third time. Frankly, when I was listening to members opposite, I thought most of them said exactly the same thing three times. Their message has been just this: the climate is changing, the climate is warming, Australia needs to solve this problem, the only way to do it is to introduce a carbon pollution reduction scheme and anyone who disagrees with them is a climate change denier. Each one of those points is dishonest and reflects an unwillingness on the part of the government to explain to the Australian people why they want to have a carbon pollution reduction scheme, how it is going to work and what it is expected to achieve for Australia and indeed our planet.

My first major speech on emissions trading was more than 18 months ago at a function in Brisbane. I made a similar speech at a major function in this building a couple of months later. Right back then I was asking these sorts of questions: how can Labor’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme actually deliver lower emissions? How is it going to change the climate? How is it fair? I started asking questions about the anomalies in the scheme. For instance, why should someone choosing to fly to North Queensland for a holiday pay Labor’s carbon pollution tax, but if you fly to Vanuatu for a holiday you do not pay? Why should somebody who goes to work on an electric train pay for Labor’s CPRS, but if you drive to work you do not? No answers were provided at that time.

In spite of the fact that the Prime Minister has on 22 occasions described climate change as the great moral issue of our time, he has never attempted or been able to explain to the Australian people why we have to have a carbon pollution reduction scheme. Neither the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister nor the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change, nor Senator Wong, have been able to answer even to this day simple questions like: how much will the price of electricity go up? How much more will it cost to buy milk and bread? How many families will be affected and how are they going to be compensated? What is going to happen to the small businesses in Australia which have to meet extra costs? What is going to be done to stop the jobs that can no longer be economically undertaken in Australia from going overseas and our simply importing products from other parts of the world?

Labor has never been able to explain to anybody how this tax slug will improve the environment. Never in my life have I heard of a tax that was able to save polar bears and yet that has been the simple message the government has attempted to portray. A tax cannot save the Barrier Reef. I have never seen a tax that lowers the temperature. The Prime Minister has never been able to explain to the Australian people how having bankers and traders in a multistorey building selling one another pieces of paper is going to lower the sea level. It simply does not pass the commonsense test. Nor has he been able to explain how Australia, with 1.4 per cent of global emissions, is able to fix a problem like this even if no-one else in the world is prepared to move. He has never been able to explain why trading something like $1 trillion worth of paper, maybe even more, will deliver a better climate for future Australian generations.

The reality is the scheme has always been fundamentally flawed. No other country in the world is proposing to embrace a scheme like Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. That became abundantly clear at the fiasco in Copenhagen. We were told when this was last being debated in this House that this legislation had to be dealt with before Copenhagen, that it was absolutely essential for the success of Copenhagen that this legislation was dealt with and passed by the Australian parliament. But when it came to Copenhagen, no-one mentioned a CPRS, and no-one was advocating the introduction of Australia’s proposed emissions taxation scheme. When the communique was finally written there was no mention of a CPRS. Indeed, our Prime Minister, who was a friend of the chair and, we were led to believe, one of the key movers at this conference with his delegation of 114, was not even invited to the drafting of the communique. That is how important the rest of the world thought Labor’s CPRS would be.

Now around 90 countries have made commitments to reduce carbon emissions around the world, but not one of those 90 countries is proposing to introduce a scheme like this one. Only Australia thinks that it is necessary to solve the world’s problem through a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme like this. Minister Wong is fond of saying that there are 35 countries that have an ETS. Most of those are in Europe, and we have just heard the honourable member for Barker explain how successful the European schemes is. It also needs to be remembered that that scheme has such a feather touch that it actually makes no impact. The scheme that Labor wants to impose on Australia is 500 times harsher than the scheme in Europe. Is it any wonder that no-one else in the world wants to embrace a scheme like this? The reality is that Australia is alone. We seem to be the only people who think that this is something we absolutely have to have.

Labor has generated a mountain of paper in relation to this scheme. Mike Steketee said in the Australian last weekend that the Department of Climate Change holds 210,507 different documents to help inform its minister, Senator Wong, about the government’s emissions trading scheme. So she has over 210,000 documents but she still cannot explain it to the Australian people. Of course, it may actually be a bit more than that, because we now have one extra document that seems to have been circulated widely. It is marked ‘in confidence’. The last time a cabinet-in-confidence document leaked like this, there was a police investigation, but this one has been provided to newspapers all over the place. The reality is that, even with that document, there is no explanation that can be understood by the Australian people about how this scheme will effectively operate. Indeed, most of these documents are not being made available to the public at all. Freedom of information requests are being rejected. If Senator Wong were to start today and spend 10 minutes considering the information in each of these 210,507 documents for eight hours a day, it would take 12 years to read them all. She has this mountain of paper. The Prime Minister no doubt has access to it as well, but he still cannot, and will not attempt to, explain this scheme to the Australian people.

Last November, I asked 21 questions of the Prime Minister about the CPRS which I felt needed to be answered, basic questions like:

How many jobs will be lost in regional Australia under Labor’s CPRS? 

What impact will the closure of mines under Labor’s CPRS have on the economy of regional communities?

Will Mr Rudd explain why it is necessary to tax families and businesses and pay billions of dollars in compensation to industry to reduce the temperature?

Will Mr Rudd explain what will be the impact of the CPRS on inflation as prices and household costs increase?

How much more will pensioners and self-funded retirees pay for electricity, groceries and transport under Labor’s CPRS tax?

…            …            …

How will Labor’s CPRS tax stop global climate change since Australia only produces 1.4% of carbon emissions?

How will the CPRS help the environment if it forces Australian industry to move to other countries where environmental regulations are not as strict as our own?

The Prime Minister has not been able to answer any of those questions. Neither have members opposite in their contributions to this debate. They have never been able to explain to the people of Australia how the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will lower the sea level and change the climate. There is only one line that has actually cut through to the Australian people about Labor’s scheme, and that is that it is a great big new tax on everything. We should in fact call it the GBNT, great big new tax, not the CPRS, because that is what it is. It is simply a tax, a way for the government to collect another $140 billion—money taken from the Australian people that they can ill afford. The tax will not do anything for the environment. It is simply yet another Labor revenue-raising measure.

The coalition, and the Nationals in particular, have been very critical of this scheme right from the beginning. We could not see that it would deliver any good for the environment, but we knew it would do a great deal of damage to Australia. But it is not enough to criticise; you have to have an alternative.

So last week the coalition released a significant new option for the Australian people, a direct action plan that will deliver results. It is a scheme built around an Emissions Reduction Fund to provide direct incentives to industry and farmers to reduce CO2 emissions. Instead of inflicting pain, we propose to deliver a result by offering carrots. There will be a once-in-a-century opportunity to replenish our soils, so we will end up with a more productive country through an investment in building the fertility of soil structures. There will be a new solar sunrise for Australia, with a larger rebate for solar panels. There will be a solar towns and solar schools initiative; $50 million to a geothermal and tidal towns initiative; a green corridors initiative; and the development of the Latrobe Valley, the Hunter region and the Gladstone area as clean energy employment hubs. We are looking at large-scale renewable energy generation and emerging technologies through the renewable energy targets. There will be a total cost of $3.2 billion, delivering direct results.

Since the release of the direct action plan, we have had the government flailing around trying to find faults in the scheme, trying to criticise it and coming up with all sorts of different reasons why it is not appropriate, why our direct action plan will not work where their GBNT does work, why their program of pain is something that we should have rather than our approach of carrots. Let me go through a few of their arguments. One of the arguments that the Prime Minister used right at the beginning was the claim that the coalition’s direct action plan does not cap carbon emissions. Labor’s GBNT does not either. It does for about a thousand companies, who will pay fines if they do not effectively restrict their carbon emissions, but other companies are not covered under Labor’s plan. There is no cap under Labor’s carbon scheme either, and yet they criticise ours for not having any absolute cap.

The Prime Minister said initially that we had no price on carbon. Then, later, he said that the price we were putting on it was too low. Then today we had the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change saying that our price was going to be $84 a tonne. So it has gone from nought from the Prime Minister two days ago to $84 a tonne now, from the minister. The reality is that Labor does not understand our scheme. If they think our price on carbon is too low, effectively $15 a tonne because that is the budgeted rate we had used for our fund to encourage these new investments, they have set the price at $10 a tonne. So if there is something wrong with our price for carbon there is a lot more wrong with Labor’s price at $10 a tonne.

They say that our scheme will cost more to administer. How could you possibly say that administering a grants program is going to cost more than their giant new tax scheme—hundreds of millions of dollars, we have heard in Senate estimates, spent already on public servants to set up this new bureaucracy. It is going to be a new tax office, and yet they suggest that our scheme will be more costly to administer. It is simply a nonsense.

Labor also says that our scheme relies on mechanisms that have not been approved by the United Nations. By that, of course, they are referring to the Kyoto accord. We always argued when we were in government that the Kyoto accord was fundamentally flawed. This is another example of that. Here we have things that you can do to actually sequester carbon, things you can actually do to improve the environment, but Kyoto says they do not count—they work, but we will not count them. For some things they say, ‘Yes, we know they work, and you can count them if you live in China or India, but you cannot count them in Australia.’ This is the nonsense of this agreement.

A classic example is forests. Certain forests meet the Kyoto definition; others do not. That does not mean that the others do not sequester carbon, they are just not allowed to be counted. We have the classic example that the member for Barker referred to a few minutes ago about the camels. If you shoot a camel that is domesticated, the emissions saved count. But if the camel is in the wild, it does not count. What is the difference between the camels? They still have the same number of humps and legs and tails, but one counts and one does not. If an Australian industry sets up a generation facility using gas from a closed coalmine, the credits do not count. If the same Australian company went to China and did it, they would count. What is more, they could buy them back and they would get credit for them in Australia. This argument that our scheme does not meet all of the United Nations requirements is a shocking indictment on the United Nations requirements. The reality is that our objective will be to actually deliver CO2 reductions; to deliver real sequestration and not simply entertain the United Nations.

Labor’s other favourite criticism is that our scheme does not make polluters pay but Labor’s GBNT does. Who are these polluters that Labor wants to penalise? They are actually the job creators in this country, the manufacturers—they are the people who employ the union members; they are people who make the wealth of our country. They are the electricity generators, whom we all depend upon during our daily lives. These are the people Labor says are the polluters and they should pay. But under Labor’s scheme they do not pay either. They get compensation. Any person who has to meet the extra cost of Labor’s GBNT will either pass it on to consumers—in which case the polluter has not paid anyhow; the consumers have paid—or they will close down or will move overseas and we will import the product from some other part of the world. So these polluters that Labor is trying to make its target in reality will not pay under its scheme.

Labor also say that our plan does not penalise polluters who increase emissions. That is wrong—it does. They will be penalised if they emit more but, under our scheme, those who emit less get a reward. Under Labor’s scheme, if you emit less you do not get a reward and so there is not much point in trying to take that kind of positive action.

Then they say our plan costs more. How could Labor possibly say our plan costs more? Their scheme is $140 billion in the first 10 years, and going upwards continuously from there. Our plan is a $3.2 billion plan over four years. We will deliver our plan for one twelfth the cost of Labor’s scheme. And yet they say our scheme will cost more.

The classic is that they say our scheme will not reduce CO2 emissions. Our scheme will reduce emissions by 140 million tonnes—exactly the same amount of emissions that Labor says its scheme will reduce and over the same time frame. So if our scheme is not good enough, neither is Labor’s . We both deliver the same amount over the same period—but ours is for a twelfth of the cost.

Their final criticism is that we do not pay any compensation to low income earners. We do not because we do not have to. We are not putting up their cost of living. We are not putting up the price of electricity. We are not putting up the price of everything they do, as Labor is proposing under their GBNT.

They might also say that our scheme is not capable of delivering the carbon sequestration that we say it can. You need go to no other authority than Ross Garnaut, Labor’s guru on climate change. He in his report identified at least 850 megatonnes of carbon sequestration gains that could be made from land management activities for between 50 and 100 years—many, many times what we are proposing to achieve. Ross Garnaut has identified these measures and considered them to be a priority.

So there is an alternative scheme to Labor’s GBNT—their great big new tax. What’s more, it delivers results. Our direct action plan will achieve the same targets in the same time much cheaper, without hurting Australian families, without destroying Australian jobs and without causing havoc in the Australian economy. Is it any wonder that our direct action plan cuts through with the Australian people where Labor’s complicated great big new tax dismally fails?

Debate interrupted.