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Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Page: 632

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (13:26): I am delighted to rise today to speak on this legislation. No serious member of parliament elected to this parliament in the 21st century can come here without having a position on climate change. How we deal with climate change and how we deal with the carbon pollution that causes it will be something by which our successors will judge us in 30 or 50 or 100 years time.

I think we will be judged on how we responded to three key questions. Firstly, did we act? We know that 97 per cent of published climate scientists agree that climate change is real and is driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Did we act, or did we leave it for our kids and our grandkids to clean up our mess? Secondly, we need to ask ourselves: was our action effective? When an overwhelming majority of economists suggest that the best way to take action is to limit pollution and then allow business to choose the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, what did we do? Thirdly, we need to ask ourselves: did we do our share? When the world took action on climate change, did Australia play its part or did we sit on the sidelines?

The legislation introduced by this government is reckless. Against all sensible advice, it removes a cap on pollution. It seeks to abolish the Climate Change Authority, an independent body providing government with the best advice on tackling climate change. Against evidence showing that the carbon price is working, it seeks to replace it with a slush fund for polluters that sheets home the costs to taxpayers.

Going back to our key questions, why did we act? Carbon pollution is having a big impact on Australia. Summers are getting hotter and there are more extreme weather events. It is beginning to affect our agriculture, our oceans and our environment. There is a cost to our environment and to our economy that will grow over time. Australia has just had its warmest 12 months on record, and that was not a one-off. The hottest 10 years ever recorded have all been recorded in the past 15 years. Labor's position on climate change is clear: tackling climate change has been part of our policy platform since 1988. As the party of fairness, we believe it is only fair that we take action now to clean up our mess, that we do not leave it for our kids and grandkids to clean up. Taking action on climate change is about intergenerational equity, doing what we can to make sure that those who come after us inherit a planet in better shape than the one we inherited.

So we ask ourselves about how we acted. Was our action effective? We have believed for the past decade that a market based mechanism is the most effective way to reduce pollution. In fact, New South Wales, under state Labor, introduced the world's first carbon market in 2003. An emissions trading scheme imposes an economy-wide cap on carbon pollution and lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate within that cap. A recent survey showed that 86 per cent of economists back an emissions trading scheme as the cheapest and most effective way to tackle carbon pollution, and this month the OECD released a report confirming that countries could achieve higher levels of emission reductions at a much lower cost if they relied on this type of scheme.

Importantly, the carbon price is working. The previous parliament saw those opposite launch one of the most mendacious scare campaigns in recent political history. Carbon pricing, it was claimed, would destroy entire industries, like steel manufacturing and coalmining; it would wipe out whole towns, like Whyalla; and it would result in unimaginable increases to the cost of living, like the $100 Sunday roast. Of course, none of that happened. During the first year of the carbon price around 150,000 jobs were created, the economy continued to grow at 2½ per cent and inflation remained low. Pollution in the National Electricity Market decreased by seven per cent. Renewable power generation as a share of the National Electricity Market increased by 25 per cent. One million homes around Australia now have solar panels, compared with 7,000 when we came to office. South Australia draws almost 30 per cent of its energy from wind. The inflationary impact was modest at best and less than expected, which meant that the assistance households received through tax cuts or transfer payments went even further. So after the success of the carbon pricing, why would we take the reckless action of repealing it?

The government's alternative is troubling, to say the least. Labor supports getting rid of the fixed price carbon tax, but only when the government comes up with a real solution to cut carbon pollution. Yet the government is led by a Prime Minister who does not believe in climate change and has no serious policy to deal with it. The government's legislation removes the cap on pollution and allows the big polluters open slather. They are not allowed to dump their rubbish in the street, they are not allowed to pour their chemicals into our rivers but this government wants to leave them open slather in our air. This will cost households an average $1,200 a year, while failing to cut pollution.

The Minister for Communications called the government's policy for what it is. He called it:

… an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.

Last week, former Treasury secretary Ken Henry called the government's policy a 'bizarre' strategy, which involved the government paying big polluters in a scheme that costs more and is less effective. That is, they will replace the price on pollution paid by polluters with a slush fund for polluters that will cost Australians around $1,200 a household. Instead of charging polluters to pollute they are handing over cash, with no guarantee that we will meet pollution targets. We know, too, that most Australians simply do not believe the assurances that electricity prices and gas prices will go down.

While this House debates the carbon price, and the Prime Minister continues to equivocate on the science, countries in our own neighbourhood are dealing with the reality of climate change. As the Kiribati foreign secretary told the World Bank in September:

There are still some who believe that climate change is a distant threat but for us it is a present threat. It’s happening now and our people are being affected now.

As a last resort the Kiribati government has already developed a relocation policy, which is aimed at helping its entire population to migrate should the worst impacts eventuate.

Against that harsh reality, the world is acting on climate change. Ninety-nine countries worldwide, including Australia, covering 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of the global economy, have made formal pledges to the United Nations to reduce carbon pollution. Around one billion people live in a country, a region or a city with a carbon price, and this will grow to around three billion people by 2016—almost half of the global population.

Those opposite like to say that Australia, with only 1½ per cent of global emissions, can afford to do nothing. What impact will our activity have, they argue? Well, you can ask the exact opposite question: the Australian population is less than half a per cent of the global population and yet we are one of the highest emitters per capita, and we are among the top 20 highest emitters in total—how can we afford to do nothing with that record? What credibility do they think Australia will have internationally if we do not commit to taking strong action?

Under Labor Australia made significant contributions to global action on climate change. The first act of the Labor government in 2007 was to ratify the Kyoto protocol, and we subsequently committed Australia to a second commitment period under the protocol. In government we played an active role at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Conference of Parties meetings. Unlike this government, we actually sent the relevant minister or the relevant parliamentary secretary to these meetings. Momentum is building right now in Poland, with the global climate agreement scheduled to be agreed in Paris in late 2015. But Australia is not appropriately represented; neither the Minister for Foreign Affairs nor the Minister for the Environment nor either of their parliamentary secretaries even bothered to turn up.

And just last week, we know that with the Prime Minister, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, we became one of only two countries out of 53 to oppose action on climate change and to oppose comments in the communique from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, opposing not just words in the communique and not just a vague commitment to action but also opposing the establishment and use of the Green Climate Fund. It is curious that they support Direct Action here but they do not support direct action around the world.

The world's major international economic institutions have lined up firmly in favour of carbon pricing. China, Australia's biggest trading partner, is heading down the same path. This year China started seven pilot emissions trading schemes in regions covering more than 200 million people, with the aim of a national trading scheme in place by the end of the decade. The OECD says consistent carbon pricing must be the cornerstone of government actions to tackle climate change, and the OECD position was supported by both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. If Australia wants to be a constructive member of the world community, we need to take effective action on climate change.

As I have been saying, the Labor opposition want to tackle climate change in the most effective way possible and the most cost-effective way possible. That is why we support getting rid of a fixed price carbon tax, but only when the government comes up with a real solution to cut carbon pollution. Labor's amendments to introduce an emissions trading scheme on 1 July 2014 will abolish the carbon tax, but they will retain the Climate Change Authority to ensure robust, independent analysis and advice and they will stop the cuts to Australia's renewable energy research and development. We will keep a commitment to put a cap on pollution. That means that Labor will tackle climate change in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible.

Our amendments will replace the fixed carbon price with a system that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and lets businesses get on and work out the cheapest and most efficient way to operate within that cap. Our amendments are a smart and sensible middle ground ensuring we act on carbon pollution and do not gamble our future. The government's alternative does nothing to reduce pollution and yet costs Australians more. It costs Australian households $1,200 a year. They are not getting rid of the carbon tax; they are replacing it with a tax on families. They are replacing a tax on businesses with a tax on families.

I urge this House to support the opposition amendments. If members agree that climate change is happening, if they agree that it is caused by carbon pollution, then we need to place a legal limit on that pollution in the same way that we regulate many types of pollution. If members agree that a price on carbon pollution should be paid by polluters and not by Australian families, then we need an emissions trading scheme. And if members want Australia to play a constructive role on the world stage, to do our bit, then we need to take serious action on climate change.