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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11336


Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (10:16): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills in the House. I have long cared deeply about our planet and our country. In all the environmental campaigns I have been involved in or a part of, whether it was supporting the protection of our tropical and temperate rainforests, whether it was looking for better ways to protect and conserve our coastal environments, whether it was making sure that the spoiled waterways of our country were rehabilitated so that they could be productive, or whether it was looking carefully and clearly at how we might best protect those areas of Australia which have high levels of biodiversity, none is so important—nor is there any environmental issue as important—as tackling dangerous climate change.

I came into this parliament committed to representing the people of Kingsford Smith and to campaigning and being part of a government that will take decisions on the issues that count, and taking action on dangerous climate change is the most important issue that we can take action on both now and for the future. I devoted a portion of my first speech in this House to this issue and made the observation that the bill for failing to deal with dangerous climate change will fall on this generation and, increasingly, on future generations unless we are resolute in taking action on climate change. I have worked in opposition as the shadow minister for climate change, environment and heritage and now in the government, with my Labor colleagues, to get Australia on the path to a low-emissions, clean energy future—the only kind of future that this country can conceivably have. It is a long and sometimes difficult path but it is a necessary path.

Noting that scientific awareness of climate change and its impact has existed for some time and that it now has become the province even of military security analysts, who identify dangerous climate change as a future risk to nations, and that there are now few who are not aware of the scale or nature of these risks, we on this side of the House and in this political party understand that the right response—the right ethical response and the right political response—is to act now. I am proud that we have seen this legislation introduced into the House by the Prime Minister and I commend the minister responsible and my colleagues on this side of House for the contributions they have made. The Gillard Labor government is delivering a comprehensive clean energy suite of bills which gets us going, provides both hope and substance that action on dangerous climate change is possible and does it in a way that is sensible and sets this country up for the future. We have made a start. That is the most important thing. It is a positive and good start, and nothing should hold this country back now—nothing, that is, except for the wilful and deliberate obstruction by the Leader of the Opposition and by the opposition in general. And I will return to that in a moment.

The fact is that in Australia we are at a crucial turning point in our history. As one commentator recently observed, 'These bills represent a great triumph of the parliament, an attempt to deal with the greatest crisis facing our world today.' It is important to recognise the times that we are in. On 12 September this year we saw newspaper reports confirming that the Arctic was melting at near record levels. Ice coverage, it was reported, was at a 'new historic minimum'. A week or two earlier we had reports on likely long-term and potentially irreversible damage to coral reefs, which are particularly vulnerable to changes in sea temperature and water quality, particularly vulnerable to climate change. The fact is that this is an entire ecosystem—not a species or a number of species, but an entire ecosystem—now vulnerable to human impacts, including the impacts from dangerous climate change.

It is very important for us to realise that only a day after we read of the newspaper reports about the Arctic melting at near record levels the Prime Minister introduced this legislation into the parliament. It is important to restate that the policy of this government is based on the best available scientific knowledge which is shared by the great majority of climate scientists—by our own CSIRO; by a number of our eminent scientists, including Nobel laureates and others. It is knowledge of a rapidly-warming world, with atmospheric levels of CO2 rising from 280 parts per million in the industrial era to almost 388 parts per million now—the highest levels that we have seen for eras of time. That is why Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the former British Prime Minister, and a dozen other eminent scientists have all written to Prime Minister Gillard congratulating her on the government's actions. That is why our own Chief Scientist has similarly spoken of the need to recognise that the science behind the need to take action on tackling climate change is legitimate science.

People in the future will look back and be absolutely aghast and incredulous that the majority consensus statements of our climate scientists have been ignored or belittled by members of the opposition and the opposition leader himself. One of the great tragedies of our time is that this debate has been so distorted, so perverted and so polluted by those opposite. The fact is that the coalition's policy on climate change and the debate that it has engendered literally represents a new low point in Australian political debate. It has been reckless, it has been toxic and it has been cynical. The Leader of the Opposition and his shadow minister for climate action, the member for Flinders, bear considerable weight of responsibility for the potential path they now have this country on.

I note that, on 20 September, the member for Flinders said, 'I've designed the system I want and guarantee that it will reduce emissions as planned by 2020.' I say to the member for Flinders that he is living in a fool's world where the sort of short-term Pyrrhic victories in manipulating the public debate that he may notch up count for nothing against the significant public policy failure of the position that he has put to this parliament. The fact is that the opposition's policy will not result in the emissions cuts that have been targeted by the opposition and a number of analysts have shown that quite clearly. Its policy of $10.5 billion worth of grants over 10 years will go nowhere near dealing with the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that we actually need.

There are two important economic principles that underpin the government's approach on this issue. Firstly, a price on carbon represents the least cost and most economically efficient way of reducing emissions. Secondly, we in this country, fortunately, are still facing an economy that will continue to grow. The situation that we face is very simple. Thomas Friedman, a well-known writer and columnist put it very clearly:

There is only one effective, sustainable way to produce "green jobs," and that is with a fixed, durable, long-term price signal that raises the price of dirty fuels and thereby creates sustained consumer demand for, and sustained private sector investment in, renewables.

That is exactly what this government wants to do. This is the logic of applying a carbon price to the largest polluting companies, this is the logic of ensuring that the Australian public—particularly those likely to be affected by any price impacts—are compensated, this is the logic of getting the architecture of a price on carbon pollution in place and it is the logic of driving the significant reforms in a clean energy economy that will ensure employment, a new threshold of research and the new energies of the future can start here in Australia when they need to. To do anything else is both economically and environmentally reckless, yet that is the position of the opposition.

I want to briefly remark on three features of this legislation. The first is the significant level of investment in clean energy itself of some $10 billion. This will be important investment to the many businesses, the many entrepreneurs and the many innovators in Australia who recognise with absolute crystal clarity that this is the way of the future. Additionally and importantly, $1 billion has been applied to biodiversity investment. There is absolutely no question that we remain utterly dependent on the provision of healthy natural resources, the environment, to sustain our way of life. That is what underpins the way of life that we experience in this country. That investment is particularly important. Finally, the independent Climate Change Authority will provide more transparency and the opportunity for the independent observation, maintenance and advice around action on climate change.

I conclude my remarks by saying that, in the period that I have taken an active interest in politics, certainly in the period since I have been in the parliament, I have never witnessed more irrational and reckless statements on an issue of such consequence as I have from both the Leader of the Opposition and members of the opposition in debating this issue of climate change. The member for Tangney said:

I do not accept the premise of anthropogenic climate change, I do not accept that we are causing significant global warming and I reject the findings of the IPCC and its local scientific affiliates.

Enormous succour has been given to those who have taken not only a sceptical view but a downright intellectually dishonest view of the science behind climate change. The Manager of Opposition Business in the House said:

I support the direct action plan of the coalition to address climate change. It is a 'no regrets' policy. What that means is that, even if you do not believe that climate change is happening, even if you do not believe the government should take action on climate change, because it is a hologram, these are still good policies …

The Leader of the Opposition said that he is far from convinced that humans are causing imminent climate catastrophe, that there is no link between emissions and temperatures, that he believes the world's warming might have stopped and that he cannot see the dangers for our children if there is a four-degree temperature rise or a one-metre sea level rise. The particular statements by those two members and also the Leader of the Opposition are reckless, scientifically inaccurate and destructive. They are intent on only one thing—that is, confusing and perverting the public debate when in fact the need, the necessity and the responsibility to act have never been greater. Ultimately, though, the actions of the Leader of the Opposition represent something else—that is, a loss of faith in the vision and the capacity of the Australian people. That is Mr Abbott's greatest deficiency in this debate. He has no faith in the Australian people to actually take up the challenge and recognise that not only our future but the future of our kids is literally dependent on our capacity to act and the new jobs, the new research and the fields of endeavour that we as a nation have the capacity to do, as our history tells us we can. All of those things—the possibilities and the promise—are reduced to nothing in the Leader of the Opposition's cynical and destructive campaign.

I believe there is cause for optimism in the face of the significant challenges climate change presents. I think we can be the best for people by facing up to those challenges and by mounting the historic effort that will be necessary to make sure that we see temperatures stabilise and our environment protected in the future. That is a commitment this government has. I commend the bills to the House as I commend the efforts and activities of all Australians, particularly young Australians, who care so much about this issue and who recognise how important it is to act. (Time expired)