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Thursday, 1 April 2004
Page: 22674

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5:28 PM) —The Howard government may have no sense of regret about not supporting and ratifying the Kyoto protocol, but I can tell you that future generations sure as hell will have regrets. In fact, the current generation already has a lot of regret. This matter may be at the fag end of a sitting session and people may be thinking about when they are going to be able to pack up and leave the parliament for five or six weeks, but for the Democrats it is a serious, major and urgent matter.

The Democrats, the Greens and others have been pressing this parliament and this government about the broader issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions for many years, with great frustration at the lack of action or even a recognition of the seriousness and the immediacy of the problem. That is the real tragedy: the lack of response from the Howard government in relation to ratification of the Kyoto protocol. Nobody pretends that ratifying the Kyoto protocol or getting it in place and operational is going to solve the issue. But, as I think Senator Brown pointed out, certainly this government has not come up with another approach that is going to have a better impact and it is certainly not going out there and playing a role as an international leader in getting a stronger approach from other nations towards the issues of climate change, global warming and greenhouse emissions.

The Democrats strongly support ratifying the Kyoto protocol. That has been our position for some time. In August 1999, nearly five years ago, the Australian Democrats initiated a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Australia's response to the challenges posed by climate change. The inquiry took 15 months to complete; the final report is over 500 pages long and contains some 106 recommendations. Not surprisingly, they cover a wide range of issues related to this government's response to climate change, including the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. As Senator Brown just pointed out to me, despite what Senator Eggleston repeatedly said—that this government is not going to sign the Kyoto protocol—it actually signed the protocol quite some time ago. It is the failure to ratify, the failure to promote and the failure to endorse moving forward in this area that is the problem. The Democrat initiated Senate inquiry recommended, among other things, that:

... the Commonwealth Government take a leadership role in international negotiations on climate change, with a view to moving through Australia's treaty-making process in a timely manner to achieve ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, including:

urging other countries to ratify the Protocol;

starting to work constructively with developing countries to encourage them to adopt binding targets as soon as possible and to ensure global emissions constraints; and

ensuring adequate targets are in place beyond the first commitment period to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

It has been nearly four years since that recommendation was made, particularly in relation to timely ratification, urging other countries to ratify and taking a leadership role. Not only has the Commonwealth government not acted on that; if anything, it has gone in the other direction. That is something for which this government must stand condemned.

The committee also recommended that a comprehensive domestic emissions trading system be incorporated as soon as possible and that a greenhouse trigger be incorporated into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. That was an area where there was a quite clear commitment from the then environment minister, Senator Hill, to move down the path of incorporating a greenhouse trigger. It is another area of broken promises—one on a list that is too long to keep track of. I notice Senator Kemp coming into the chamber; he repeatedly urges the Democrats to assist the government in keeping its promises. This is a promise that the government has not kept: to incorporate a greenhouse trigger in the EPBC Act.

Senator Kemp —But you make us break so many promises in this chamber, Senator.

Senator BARTLETT —I am being focused here, Senator Kemp; I am being focused, on your urging. You could hardly complain when we make a specific offer to you. It is not just the Democrats keeping you honest; it is the entire Senate providing you with an opportunity to keep a promise, but it continues to be ignored. It is an area where, despite going through some initial motions, the government backed away from a simple measure. The government has ignored and backed away from every possible measure in a range of different actions that it could have taken, including ratifying the Kyoto protocol.

The only effective action this government has taken—and the thing that it likes to point to—is its greenhouse gas abatement program, which the Australian Democrats forced on it. I say `this government' because other people in the community have certainly taken action, including those in the business sector. This government not only does not show leadership but drags the chain behind everybody else. Even in the area of the greenhouse gas abatement program, the amount of money that was provided and pledged by this government has clearly not been spent as effectively as it could have been and should have been. Frankly, that is another broken promise to add to the list that I will keep reminding Senator Kemp about.

The mandatory renewable energy target is another initiative worthy of mention that sounds good in principle and, on the surface, makes some approaches that sound good. But the way it has been structured is such that it is little more than a PR initiative. It does not actually have the effect of being a positive impact on moving to renewable energy. So there are the failures in terms of renewable energy, the failure to ratify the Kyoto protocol, the failure to introduce an emissions trading scheme—indeed not only not introducing it but going as far as dismantling the emissions trading research section of the Australian Greenhouse Office—the failure to introduce a greenhouse trigger under the EPBC Act and the failure to introduce mandatory emissions reduction targets for coal-fired power stations. There is the withdrawal of funding to the CRC for Renewable Energy and, as has already been mentioned by Senator Wong, a gross underspending of the money originally allocated to the MBE and Safeguarding the Future packages, and an absolutely disgraceful failure to ensure the halting of land clearing in Queensland, an action that would have resulted in the abatement of about 25 million tonnes of CO2, saving an enormous amount of biodiversity and assisting in a whole lot of other environmental gains. Even from an emissions point of view, it would have been a major gain but it was continually halted and prevented by the Howard government.

It is a huge list of failures and it has made us not an international leader but an international pariah on climate change issues. It has placed us behind the rest of the developed world on the implementation of effective measures and behind the developed world in terms of trying to develop a momentum for positive change. The European Commission's environment director, Timo Makela, recently specifically criticised the Howard government for its failure to engage with Europe on climate change issues and its decision to abandon research into emissions trading. This is going to leave Australia behind the pack economically as well. This is a government that likes to talk about engaging internationally; it likes to talk about the value of trade and the jobs in trade internationally, but in a key area of staying up with the game we have fallen behind.

The European Union has an emissions trading system that is going to commence from 1 January next year. Paper pulp, cement, ferrous metals, electricity generation and oil refinery industries will progressively require emissions reductions of 50 per cent of current levels by 2012. Industries that exceed their annual targets will pay a set penalty per tonne of CO2 over those targets or can buy tradeable credits or invest in renewable energy. Linking legislation means that companies such as those from Japan and Canada can comply by investing in annex B countries provided they have ratified the Kyoto protocols, but Australian companies will miss out on this opportunity.

This government is not only condemning Australia and the world to a higher risk of damage from climate change; it is leaving Australian companies out of investment opportunities and out of business and economic opportunities. It is absolutely grotesque short-sightedness on all levels. It is hard not to think that it is in part driven by this government's absolute obsession with toeing the line of the US agenda on any foreign policy issue of concern. It is not just the Democrats who are saying this; the evidence is enormous. Even the coal industry recognises that emission reduction has to occur. This government is happy to let all those industries do the running on this in a way that suits their own interests. The government will not do anything to take leadership on a simple thing like ratifying the protocol.

Just yesterday, the ACT State of the environment report indicated that effects of climate change were already being felt. That could include effects such as putting significant pressure on Canberra's water supply. All of us—even those of us who are only in Canberra as regular visitors to Parliament House—know of the water problems in Canberra. In my own state of Queensland, a major economic and environmental asset of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, is under significant threat from climate change.

On 30 March the rainforest CRC released a report showing that climate change would wipe out the vast majority of our rainforest species and increase the prevalence of drought and the risk of bushfires and tropical diseases. On 29 March the CSIRO released figures showing 18.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere in 2002, and 17.1 billion tonnes were released into the atmosphere in 2003. That compares to the average in the last 10 years of only 13.3 billion tonnes; it represents a huge jump. On 28 March the Sunday Age reported that Australia, along with several other developed nations, agreed to delay the phase-out of methyl bromide, which is not only a poisonous fertiliser that destroys the ozone layer but a substance that contributes to the greenhouse effect.

On 22 March the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report showing that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere had reached record high levels and was increasing at an accelerated rate. Another report on 22 March indicated that Australia has the second highest per capita rate of greenhouse emissions in the world. On 19 February several insurance companies released figures showing an alarming increase in the costs associated with natural disasters and identified climate change as a key threat.

On 12 March a report was released that indicated that the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere was resulting in measurable changes in the Amazon rainforest. On 11 March a CSIRO scientist indicated that climate change could disrupt oceanic currents. And 11 March also saw the introduction of the binding Kyoto emission reduction targets in the European Union; I highlighted that earlier. I could go on—and I have a strong wish to go on—but I realise what the time is and I shall not go on. I urge people who are interested to look at all the other questions, speeches and motions that have been put in this place by many senators who are urging action in this area. I urge people to look at all the committee reports, not just the large report entitled The heat is on: Australia's greenhouse futurethat was released in 2000. There is overwhelming evidence. Endless amounts of effort have been put in by senators from a range of parties and a range of states trying to get more action on this issue.

This legislation is a simple step that can nonetheless make a significant difference. I believe that historically this government will be shown to have had one of their greatest failures in not taking the simple step of ratifying the protocol. This is to the Howard government's great discredit, partly because of the benefit it would have had in itself and partly because of the hard to measure but very clearly significant benefit it would have had in showing international leadership—by showing that we are taking this issue seriously and that we are going to do everything we can to prevent the massive economic and environmental damage that will come from inaction. The economic and environmental damage will come in clear ways that all of us here will see. It is not something that we do not have to worry about because it is a couple of lifetimes away. It will not happen in our grandchildren's or children's lifetimes; we will see the impacts in our own lifetimes. And history will condemn us for ignoring the blatant warnings that we have had for quite a number of years now.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.