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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 4640

Senator CAROL BROWN (9:37 AM) —Yes, I was a bit shocked. I thought I was in a psychodrama.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brown has the call.

Senator CAROL BROWN —It is with much pleasure that I rise to add my voice in support of this tremendously significant bill, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009, which introduces Australia’s first Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the CPRS, and the associated bills. The introduction of a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme represents one of the most significant environmental and economic reforms in the history of our nation. The CPRS will not only be good for the environment; it will be good for the economy, it will be good for jobs and, in the long run, it will be good for Australian families. The CPRS will herald a new era. It promises to rejuvenate our economy, revolutionise industry, create new jobs and encourage all Australians to foster and embrace a new, more sustainable way of life.

There can be no doubt our earth is warming, our weather is heating up and our environment is becoming drier as a result. While the worst impacts of climate change are yet to be experienced, it is not just a problem for the future. Climate change is here now. The chance to avoid climate change altogether is lost. As the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, highlighted in her National Press Club address, the Copenhagen synthesis report found that the temperature rise is already affecting health in many societies. The increasing number of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, floods and storms, is leading to a growing toll of death and injuries from climate change disasters. The impacts of climate change on water systems are already apparent in many parts of the world.

The need for action has been clear from some time. Leaders and policymakers alike have had plenty of time to get their heads around it. It has been more than 30 years since the first ever World Climate Conference called upon governments to guard against potential climate hazards. Indeed, with the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence before us, there can be no doubt: climate change is real.

We now face a clear choice: we can bury our heads in the sand and pretend climate change is not happening or roll up our sleeves and act. The fact that these bills are before us today is proof that the Rudd Labor government has been unwavering on this important issue and has resolved to act. Just over 18 months ago the Australian people voted for change. They voted for a party that pushed for climate change to become part of the national agenda. Since being elected the Rudd government has kept to its word: it has made addressing the serious issue of climate change a national priority—a commitment reflected by the fact that it chose to ratify the Kyoto protocol as one of its first acts after taking office.

This is only the very beginning. There is still more to be done. There is a strong but ever-growing concern in boardrooms and backyards around the country that in order to secure our long-term future there is a need to address the consequences that our collective actions are having on our planet. The government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme reflects this shift. It is the product of questions being asked, an abundance of evidence being gathered and a plan of action being devised. The very fact that we have these bills before us today reflects a change in global attitudes—that ultimately there is a price to be paid for using our planet and its resources, and it is incumbent on the government to take action.

By placing a market price on carbon emissions through the implementation of a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme, we will see the impact of enterprise on our environment granted a formal value capable of being recognised, measured and, of course, traded in the economic sphere. In this way, the CPRS not only represents a means for reducing our carbon pollution and therefore reducing the environmental impacts of climate change; importantly, it also offers the opportunity to revolutionise our economy by fostering growth in new industry and investment opportunities and therefore supporting our economy through the transition to a low-pollution future.

Indeed, the CPRS and our renewable energy target will stimulate greater investment in new technologies, including solar, wind, clean coal and geothermal energies, which will in turn foster the creation of countless new low-pollution jobs. Treasury modelling released in October 2008 shows that the introduction of the CPRS and the renewable energy target will see the renewable energy sector grow to 30 times its current size by 2050, creating new jobs.

This can only come as welcome news for my home state of Tasmania. As the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, recently highlighted in his speech to the Australian Labor Party State Conference, Tasmania is already a renewable energy leader. Indeed, 70 per cent of Tasmania’s energy resources already come from renewable energy sources. That is something that at this time no other state can match. And, with climate change an undeniable reality, the Premier has indicated that he intends to ensure that Tasmania becomes a world leader in the development of renewable energy resources. Tasmania is delivering on its renewable energy agenda.

As I speak, a number of national companies are exploring geothermal energy, hot-rock energy, solar energy and further wind energy sources in Tasmania, as well as exploring options for tidal and wave energy off Tasmania’s northern coastline. In many respects our state is leading the way in renewable energy generation, and the beauty of it is that we have been doing it for decades. Hydro Tasmania is Australia’s leading renewable energy business and for years it has been harnessing and refining the use of the Tasmania’s natural water and, more recently, wind assets. It currently provides power to the national grid and trades energy and environmental products in the national electricity market. Hydro Tasmania’s CEO, Vince Hawksworth, has welcomed the government’s commitment to renewable energy and the expanded renewable energy target. He indicated that Hydro has ready a strong pipeline of projects that will increase the level of renewable energy generation in Tasmania as well as new projects on mainland Australia. In light of the current global economic downturn, this offers the promise of renewed investment and the emergence of new job opportunities in a state that has been forced to rely heavily on traditional industries to support jobs and the health of its economy. It is imperative this legislation is passed so we can begin taking active steps to address climate change and pave the way for business toward a low-pollution future.

Unlike those opposite, the government has remained committed to tackling climate change at every step of the way. We believe that is it time that we as a country take responsibility for our actions. In the lead-up to the last election, the then Rudd opposition put this on the agenda by commissioning Professor Garnaut to assess the impact of climate change on Australia’s economy, environment and water resources. This was after 11 long years of complete neglect by the then government. The Rudd government’s clear and unified position on climate change stands in stark contrast to those opposite, who have been split on this issue. Indeed this issue has proven just how out of control and unfit to govern the opposition really is. The minister for climate change, Penny Wong, pointed out in her National Press Club address that the coalition’s latest policy position is a ‘mongrel’, just another failed attempt by their failing leader to appease a divided party room. And despite the overwhelming evidence, there are still a number of people amidst their ranks who doubt that climate change is real—let alone being able to agree on a plan of action.

It is crucial that the CPRS bills are passed, to both maximise the chances of a global deal at Copenhagen in December and provide business certainty. When combined with the government’s commitment to introduce a renewable energy target to ensure that 20 per cent of our electricity is sourced from renewables by 2020, the CPRS will see Australia become a low-pollution economy while stimulating new investment and creating new jobs.

Unlike those opposite, the government sees addressing climate change as part of the solution. This is a government that is in touch with the realities of the current global recession and that is listening to key stakeholders and householders about the best way to ensure the success and sustainability of the scheme in light of this. The government has consulted and listened and acted accordingly to strengthen our CPRS package. It is now up to those opposite to stop stalling and to support it. There will never be a perfect time to introduce the scheme, but, as the government has said in the past, our window of opportunity to act will only get smaller. It is time to set the wheels in motion, and that starts right here with the passage of this legislation. It is time those opposite got themselves in order and committed to this country’s long-term future. The government recognises that we have to make the tough decisions now if we are to prosper in the future.

It is important to be reminded of what is at stake. It is not just our environment, but also our future productivity, our jobs, our very way of life. This is exactly why the government is determined to press on. We were elected with a mandate to act on this important issue and we intend to do so. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will ensure Australia invests in the industries of the future, like renewable energy, and in jobs using new technologies, creating new areas of investment and the market for new low-pollution jobs. There will never be an easy time to deal with climate change, but transitioning to a low-pollution economy is vital to Australia’s long-term economic prosperity. I commend the government for its steadfast commitment to tackling climate change. I commend the minister for climate change, Senator Penny Wong, for her hard work and dedication to the CPRS. Finally, I commend this vitally important piece of legislation to the chamber, and I urge those opposite to support it.