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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10466

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:17): When you are listening to some of this debate it is easy to forget why we are here. Ice caps are melting and the seas are rising. Hurricanes, storms and floods are becoming more intense and dangerous, and extreme fires are becoming more powerful and are happening more often. This is just the beginning of our pathway to a more dangerous and harsher world.

The existing and growing threat of climate change is the reason that we are here today. We are all—every person and every species on this planet—threatened by catastrophic climate change and the potential of it, and we are running out of time to prevent this catastrophe. The catastrophe is not going to be just social but also economic. The hit to the Australian economy if we are not able to prevent runaway climate change is going to be enormous. We have just heard about the tourism sector in Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef has bleached up to nine times since the 1970s, which is completely unusual when you look at the period before it. Sixty-seven thousand jobs are directly dependent on tourism and the Barrier Reef. There will be no compensation that will be able to fully address the situation of those people who are going to be turfed out of a job and a livelihood when the Great Barrier Reef becomes nothing more than a perpetually bleaching feature.

We can look at the Murray-Darling Basin and see Professor Ross Garnaut's predictions of, by the end of the century, a potential loss of about 92 per cent of productivity if we do not get climate change under control. The Australian Climate Commission released a report this year which makes it clear that, to prevent disaster, countries like Australia need to be effectively zero pollution economies by the middle of the century. Indeed, for countries like Australia, it should happen sooner, by somewhere closer to 2040. As the report points out, we are in a critical decade. This decade must be the one in which our pollution in this country is the highest it is ever going to be and it needs to reduce. That means we need to begin the big steps to transform our economy to one which runs on clean energy. I believe it is vitally important in this debate that we do not lose sight of those basic facts. Climate change requires us to act, and today we are acting with this legislation.

If you follow the current debate in the media with its almost obsessive focus on the narrow political implications of this package, it is easy to lose sight of the great significance of this moment in Australia's history. For the first time, after decades of discussion about the need for action, we now have a comprehensive package of national measures to make a start in tackling climate change. For the first time we have a pollution reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050, and that is close to what the science says is needed. For the first time we have a climate change authority that will make recommendations every year on a carbon budget that will get us to that target. And for the first time we have a price on pollution to drive up the relative cost of fossil fuels and to drive down the price of cleaner and renewable energy. And, for the first time we have a well-funded agency whose sole focus is the promotion of renewable energy. And for the first time we have a publicly-funded green bank that can invest in clean energy and leverage billions of dollars in private sector investment as well. We will also have in legislation a commitment to keep global warming below the guardrail of two degrees—one of the few changes that the Greens proposed to the draft legislation.

So I think it is a very significant step towards Australia making its fair share of a global contribution to cutting pollution as well as participating in the global fight against climate change. I am particularly proud to be speaking on these bills today because, of course, we would not be having this debate at this point in time if the electorate of Melbourne had not shown the leadership that it did at the last election. By switching to the Greens, Melbourne was able to empower me and my fellow party members to make a price on pollution one of our conditions for supporting a minority government. We did this because, whilst we agree that a price on pollution alone will not be enough to fix climate change, we know we will not be able to fix climate change without one. A price on pollution, it is worth remembering, comes from a very simple premise. Until now we have presumed as a human race that we can put as much pollution into the atmosphere as we like without any cost. This has not happened because some evil cabal has sat around saying, 'How can we put as much pollution into the atmosphere as possible?' It is just the way our society has been organised for the last couple of hundred years, and we have all benefited from it. We now know it comes at a cost. We now know you cannot continue to put pollution into the atmosphere for free, and this package will begin to say for the first time that polluters who put that pollution into the atmosphere are going to have to pay something approximating the real cost of that pollution.

A price is an essential part of both driving investment decisions and generating revenue that can be directed to cutting pollution and invested in renewables like wind and solar. It is a crucial platform on which further action can be built in the energy efficiency of buildings, transport and other areas of the economy. The negotiations with the government and the Independents, in which I participated and which led to these bills, set out a process for addressing some of these areas, and the Greens have a plan for more measures that will build on the carbon price.

I find very strange this current debate, within this parliament in particular, about false dichotomies between direct action and a price on pollution. That false debate has been created by the Leader of the Opposition for political purposes rather than a reflection of a real disagreement over the best way to act to cut pollution. How do we know that? Because we know the Leader of the Opposition has supported a price on pollution in the past, but we also know that conservative governments in Europe and the UK support the same. The conservative Prime Minister in the United Kingdom has just agreed to cut that country's greenhouse gas pollutions in half by 2025-27. We even have Silvio Berlusconi saying recently, 'You've got to put aside this national interest. It's going to affect us all.' There are not many things that I would agree with Silvio Berlusconi on, but he hits the nail on the head with that. It shows that elsewhere, when you step out of the narrow confines, you will find this is not a partisan political issue.

I think in different political circumstances the Leader of the Opposition would be backing a price on pollution. So I make the prediction that if the Leader of the Opposition ever becomes Prime Minister we will see a change of heart. We will see him join the ranks of the other conservative leaders around the world and back a price on pollution. The words of the shadow Treasurer today that the coalition will unwind the clean energy package and scrap the compensation that goes with it ring hollow.

This package will triple the tax-free threshold, and I cannot believe that a shadow Treasurer, if you were ever in the position, would go to the million Australians who will now not have to file a tax return and say, 'We want you to pay tax' and go to those hundreds of thousands of pensioners and recipients of welfare who are going to get hundreds of extra dollars, if not thousands, to help them deal with this and say, 'We want to take it back.'

The other reason that this debate between direct action and price on pollution is a false dichotomy is that if you think about other areas where we tackle problems in society we do not apply this kind of dichotomy. We know that smoking causes enormous damage and is a major risk to health. We know that, despite the misinformation and fear campaign pedalled by big tobacco, successive governments have sort to reduce, significantly curb and eventually get smoking rates down to zero.

When we discuss how to deal with smoking, we do not ask, 'Are you a direct actionist or a price supporter?' We do not suggest that putting a price on cigarettes is somehow in conflict with education and health sector intervention. We do everything. We jack up the price. We send doctors on the warpath. We put ads on TV and pictures of cancer on packets of cigarettes. Does anyone seriously believe that investments in public health alone would work to cut smoking if you could buy a pack of cigarettes for $2? Would education programs alone cut through if buying cigarettes was cheaper than a cup of coffee? It is the same argument here: if we allow polluting energy to continue to be unreasonably and wrongly priced as a cheap commodity, we are going to continue to see people flock to it no matter what kind of direct action we take.

It is not just the decisions of consumers that this package is going to change. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a spare few billion lying around and you want to invest in a power station here in Australia, this price sends a signal to you as well: you can either invest in a dirty power station where you are going to have to pay a price on pollution for every tonne of CO2 you emit or you can invest in a clean power station—wind, solar, solar-thermal—and not have to pay a cent. As investment changes we are going to set Australia on the path to being the renewable economy that it should be.

It has been my privilege since I have been elected to meet a number of remarkable people, one of whom is the adviser on climate change to the conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and the G8. He said, 'I cannot understand why you Australians are not leading the world in renewable energy technology. Look at your intellectual resources. Look at your human resources. Look at how much sun, wind and wave power you have. Why aren't you leading the world?' It is a very good question. We need to be willing to put in place a range of policies that will take us on the path towards a zero carbon economy. Believing it can occur without a carbon price is a dangerous false hope.

I want to outline briefly some important aspects of this package of bills that I think highlight the success of the Greens in negotiating the cross-party agreement that led to these bills. The package means $13 billion investment for clean and renewable energy. There will be a $10 billion publicly owned Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will leverage tens of billions more in private sector investment in clean renewable energy. There will be a new $3.2 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which will for the first time create a systemic, whole-of-government approach to renewable energy from R&D to rollout and planning. The Australian energy planner, AEMO, will prepare plans for the electricity grid to move forward with 100 per cent renewable energy. There is generous compensation for households, especially low-income earners. Nine out of 10 households will receive assistance through tax cuts, increased payments or both. A supplement will increase pensions, allowances and family payments by 1.7 per cent and a big increase to the tax-free threshold will mean over one million Australians will no longer need to lodge a tax return.

The bills also mean we will start replacing dirty power stations. Two thousand megawatts of dirty coal fired power such as Hazelwood, Australia's dirtiest power station, will be closed. The price on pollution importantly means no new conventional commercial coal fired power stations will be built.

I want to take this moment to congratulate the Prime Minister on seeing this package through. Although Labor's platform was to do this in many years' time rather than now, the circumstances of this parliament, where the coalition did not win a majority, have meant that there has to be give and take. We have asked, and the Australian people want, the parliament to take action on climate change and for it to happen soon. I commend the Prime Minister and the government on sticking to that. I hope they use this opportunity not to have their foot on the accelerator and the brake at the same time. If they are looking to save $100 million in the next budget, they could easily do it by not giving it for the construction of a new coal fired power plant in Victoria, the HRL.

The reality is that the real opposition to a price on pollution in most cases is not based on a genuine desire to cut pollution. It usually comes from those who are opposed to any action on climate change. That is because, usually, carbon change deniers are those who want to protect polluters or have accepted the arguments of climate deniers. There are those who say that climate change is uncertain or not real, but really that is a question about risk. We may say, 'I cannot tell you the day when Australia will be invaded or where the ships will land or who will be invading us and I cannot tell you whether our submarines will be parked in the right place at the right time,' but that is not an argument for having no Defence Force. You do not get to the end of the year and say, 'My house did not burn down: that is more money I have just wasted on fire insurance;' you say, 'Thank goodness I am safe.' So it is that we should be adopting the question of risk when it comes to climate change. We should be saying, 'If the scientists are right in their over 90 per cent certainty that this is happening, let's address it commensurate with the full consequences of the risk of the most extraordinary extreme events occurring. What can we do to prevent them? How can we make sure that our children and our grandchildren in future generations inherit a world in a better state than it is in at the moment.'

There is also an argument that what Australia does is inconsequential because our pollution is too small. We are the world's largest per capita emitter and we cannot with any seriousness say to countries like China and India, 'We want you to cut your emissions,' if we do not do the same ourselves. Unless we do this, we will be a drag on any effective global action. Conversely, taking this action makes it much more likely that other countries will get on board.

It was reading the climate change science and a realisation of how quickly we had to act that led me to quit my job and begin running in election campaigns. It is with great pride that I stand here today knowing that we are taking our first ever steps on climate change one year into this government.