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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4065


Senator LUDLAM (6:03 PM) —Climate change is one of the main issues that brought me into this place. It was one of the reasons that I got involved in politics. It was one of the reasons I chose to run for the Senate. So it is with a great deal of sadness that I am rising to deliver this speech. This must be a bad piece of legislation indeed for the parliament’s strongest advocates of a response to climate change to be voting it down. The package of Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills that is before us fails the test of consistency with climate science. It fails to keep faith with the millions of Australians who voted for an end to 12 years of energy policy written by the transnational oil and gas companies and the coalmining industry. The bills enable an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to the most carbon intensive industries in the country. They lock in a target so low and so compromised by loopholes as to amount to no target at all. They fail the test of intergenerational equity, binding Australian delegates to Copenhagen with what amounts to a blocking position, a refusal to entertain the Bali negotiating range of 25 per cent to 40 per cent, which must be the bare minimum starting point for the crucial talks later this year. Most tragically, this legislation fails the test of being better than nothing at all.

On Professor Ross Garnaut’s advice the government has pursued a market based mechanism of a cap-and-trade system which embeds a carbon price in the economy. In the 10 years that I have been working on climate change issues, I have never heard anyone say that a carbon price was a bad idea. But this scheme manages to shield the nation’s most polluting industries from the impacts of that price, displacing those costs onto the broader community and warping the principles outlined by Professor Garnaut almost out of recognition. It is a carbon trading scheme in which the more you pollute the more you get paid, turning the principle of a price signal inside out. It is a carbon price but only with exemptions for coal, oil and gas. This is the starkest example possible of how politics—as usual—will fail the Australian people, the global community, those on the front line and the species already vanishing under the early impacts. I have listened to the debates in here and to the contributions from all sides, and it is quite clear that the government has tried to steer a middle way between the science based targets of the Australian Greens and the rearguard demands of the polluters for an entrenchment of business as usual. Of course, politics is meant to be the art of compromise. In human affairs, balancing the competing needs of different constituencies is vastly harder than it looks. But this issue is something different. There is no middle way with climate change. The atmosphere will not compromise and the planet’s heat balance is not interested in negotiating.

As a senator for Western Australia I am keenly aware that climate change has already hit us pretty hard in the west. It is projected to hit us much harder. Senator Siewert has already outlined some of the modelled consequences for the western third of the continent, so I want to concentrate on the opportunities. How many senators in this place realise that in 2008 global investment in renewable energy was greater than all investment in all fossil generation combined? I suspect that that is news to most of us here because so little of that investment is being made in Australia. According to the Global trends in sustainable energy investment 2009 report conducted for the United Nations Environment Program, 2008 was the first year that global investment in new power generation capacity from renewable energy technologies—not including large hydro—outpaced investment in fossil fuelled technologies. Wind, solar and other clean technologies attracted a US$140 billion investment compared with $110 billion for gas and coal for electrical power generation. If you include energy efficiency and other measures, more than $155 billion of new money was invested in clean energy companies and projects in 2008, a year in which the rest of the economy was really only generating bad news.

The growth in investment in clean energy was largely due to record investments by China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. These are the very nations that Australian politicians love to cite as a reason for Australia to do nothing, and they are now leaving Australia behind. Europe and North America are storming ahead. In Australia we are cursed with a political culture that cannot see past a smokestack. Our leaders assume that only coal and nuclear can generate base load energy, that energy efficiency is a waste of time and that renewables will only ever be a sideshow. All of these assumptions are dead wrong and mean that we keep coming up with the wrong answers.

Last week I commented on a report by Fremantle based Australian company Carnegie Corporation Ltd which showed how building 1,500 megawatts of wave energy power stations by 2020 would create 3,210 Australian jobs and enough energy to power 1.2 million households. The report by that company projects that, by 2050, 14,380 jobs could be created, producing 12,000 megawatts of clean, renewable power. Australia has the world’s most abundant renewable energy resources and we are doing almost nothing with them. Western Australia has world-leading solar, wind, wave, biomass and geothermal resources, and they are treated as irrelevant by a leadership that seems to understand resources only as something that can be burnt, blown up or chopped down. With the right policy settings, Australia could be renewably powered within a generation and could permanently leave the concept of climate change and fossil fuel depletion behind.

One issue that is very close to my heart is public transport and what happens in communities when you get it right. The government seems to think that introducing a CPRS will somehow be enough to drive a change in transport habits. But, of course, it will not go close. If it were done right, climate policy could be an opportunity to support public transport to create genuine travel alternatives to cars. It could be an opportunity to provide incentives for people to choose public transport, which would greatly reduce our carbon footprint. But we know that it has not been done right. One of the more perverse impacts of this package of bills relates to the way that public transport will be disadvantaged relative to private cars.

By including buses as public transport vehicles in the heavy vehicle categorisation, the legislation fails to recognise the bus industry’s unique status within the heavy vehicle sector as an environmentally positive industry that provides a practical travel alternative to the car. The removal of the proposed cent-for-cent compensation for fuel price increases as a result of the CPRS will increase public transport operating costs. This is what the bus and coach industry are saying to us. The rail industry note that their costs will also increase relative to private cars, as the CPRS increases electricity prices. So there you have it: the government’s centrepiece climate change legislation has been drafted to make public transport more expensive relative to private cars—and this is not really an accident; it is something that has been known for many months.

The transport sector is Australia’s third largest emitter of carbon pollution. It accounts for around 14 per cent of total emissions. Road transport—cars, trucks and light commercial buses—accounts for about 90 per cent of total transport emissions. We know that the Commonwealth spends 12 times more on roads than it does on rail, and we know that public transport uses fewer resources for infrastructure, fewer vehicles and less fuel. Trams emit half the carbon pollution of cars, at least per passenger kilometre. When petrol is $8 a litre, the urban freeways that we are building now will make no sense whatsoever. Car-dependent developments on the fringes of our great cities only look affordable in an age of cheap oil and low carbon prices. Take away that assumption, and low-income families in car-dependent suburbs will find themselves highly vulnerable to oil price shocks. The infrastructure that we are designing for the fossil economy is obsolete.

I very much support the recommendations being made today by the Rapid, Active and Affordable Transport Alliance. This is a group made up of a very broad coalition of organisations and includes health organisations such as Diabetes Australia, trade unions, transport advocacy organisations, city councils and environment groups including the ACF. They are calling on the government to rebalance transport spending by dedicating two-thirds of the funding to public transport and one-third to roads. It does make sense, particularly in terms of Australia’s rapidly worsening carbon emissions from this sector. It is naive in the extreme to imagine that the CPRS bills before us will have any real impact on patterns of transport in Australia. If anything, in the absence of a large-scale investment in public transport, they will further compound the misery of people in vulnerable communities without doing anything tangible to provide for choice or alternative options.

The rallying cry for those for whom climate change is still an inconvenient truth is ‘jobs’. At a time of grave economic uncertainty and with the underlying weakness of the global economy laid bare for all to see, we cannot ignore the impacts of climate change on employment. So what kinds of jobs are the climate deniers promoting? They are offering you a job on the Titanic, a job in a future shrouded with risk and dislocation. It is short-term thinking in the extreme to imagine that you can stand up and pretend to be a defender of jobs while steering the ship on which these jobs depend directly at the iceberg. We have seen this coming. Australia signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. That is how long we have had to prepare for the debate this evening, and it underlines the tragedy of the Liberal and National parties running around, nearly 20 years later, flogging us jobs on the Titanic instead of fronting up directly to the challenges that are before us.

As I did in my first speech in this chamber, I want to conclude with some thoughts about the community campaigners who will react to the huge missed opportunity that the CPRS represents: the climate action groups around the country and the ordinary people who will take action because this chamber has failed. Even the head of the United Nations climate change branch, Yvo de Boer, is getting a little desperate. He spoke to non-government organisations last week and said, ‘If you could get your members out on the street before Copenhagen, that would be incredibly valuable’. That is what it has come to. With the parliament unable to decide between inadequate action and no action at all, it again falls to the community to make its voice heard and demand strong action. To paraphrase Churchill, it seems the government does intend to do the right thing—after everything else has been tried. We do not have time for this approach, for further delays at the behest of the industries which have held back progress until five minutes to midnight.

This is not the end of this debate. I would like to pay tribute at this point to Senator Christine Milne, who has carriage of climate change issues for the Australian Greens, for the leadership that she has shown in taking such a strong and scientifically defensible line in this debate. I think we will see, in future weeks and months, as this debate plays out, that it is really the only sensible course for the Australian parliament to take. This parliament will one day soon have to pass a comprehensive set of measures to confront these challenges directly, to harness Australian ingenuity and the strength of our economy to build a renewable society. Until that day, the real hope in Australian politics lies outside this building in the movement for a safe climate, which is growing around the country.