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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 4645

Senator TROOD (9:56 AM) —This chamber is of course no stranger to controversy. Indeed it is the lifeblood of what we do. This may well be a unique situation because, with the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills we have proposals for a profound set of reforms which will affect the nation and indeed have international implications, yet the science on which these proposals rest is deeply contested. Even after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced its fourth report concluding, with a very high degree of confidence, that climate change is occurring, that it is caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases and that human activity is largely responsible, there remain the sceptics and the doubters about the nature of climate change. I deeply respect their position because there are doubts about the collection of scientific data, there is a credible critique of the climate change modelling and there has been legitimate concern and a wide degree of disquiet about the often-ten-den-tious ways in which the participants on both sides of this debate have used the evidence to support their particular cause. In some respects it has not been a particularly elevating time in public debate. But we here in the national parliament are bound to address this particular issue of our time. We are in a position where we are obliged to make some decisions to take up a view about the nature of this science.

I could spend time on the next part of my remarks dealing with that in great detail but I certainly do not propose to do that on this particular occasion. Rather, I have come to the view that there is a case for the parliament to act on this matter. I draw senators’ attention to paragraph 6.4 of the report of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee of June 2009 where it is said:

It is still not completely impossible that these scientific experts are misguided. But it would be folly to assume that they must be wrong. Even if there were only a modest chance that the scientists are right, a prudent approach is to take out some insurance by acting now to reduce global emissions.

I think that is the right course. Indeed, that is the course that the coalition accepted some time ago. You will recall, Madam Acting Deputy President, that the Howard government went to the last election in 2007 with a commitment to introduce a world-class emissions trading scheme and to have it commence in 2012. It would be a world-class ETS that would take account of Australia’s interests and would be aligned to the international progress which was being made on the mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Instead we have Labor’s plan. What is contained in these bills that we are now debating is Labor’s overly complex, deeply flawed CPRS for which it claims it has a mandate. I acknowledge that it does indeed have a mandate. It went to the last election seeking a mandate for a whole series of things, and it certainly sought a mandate in relation to a response to climate change. But it does not have a mandate to wreak havoc on the Australian economy. It does not have a mandate to destroy jobs. It does not have a mandate to destroy Australia’s trade competitiveness. It does not have a mandate to impose crushing new burdens on Australian business, families and lives. And, in particular, it does not have a mandate to impose those burdens on people living in regional and rural Australia. It does not have a mandate to do any of these things—rather it has a mandate to act responsibly in Australia’s national interest. But these are the things that will happen if this CPR scheme is introduced.

We should ask ourselves: there is a cost to introducing this legislation—to what end? What is the argument for making us bear these outrages, horrendous costs to the Australian economy and the lives of Australians, and for what benefit? The reality is that the scheme before us contains absolutely no assurance that we will achieve the mitigations that are asked of us or intended. The government proposes that in the medium term, by 2020, we will reach somewhere in the vicinity of five per cent to 15 per cent of emissions below the 2000 level. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that this scheme will achieve that particular objective, and indeed this dinky scheme is unlikely to get anywhere near those kinds of proposals. And, if it does so, it would be at a massive cost to Australian communities.

I think Australians want a response to the challenge of climate change. I think they want one that will work, that will make a difference. And I think they are prepared to pay some sort of price for that response. I think the business community wants a measure of certainty about climate change and mitigation so that they can plan ahead. They do not want to be conned or they do not want to be misled, and they certainly do not want to be part of a Labor government pursuing an ideological obsession, as it is doing with the particular scheme that is before us.

Australians want a scheme which will be proportionate to Australia’s share of the responsibilities it has for global gas emissions. This is in the vicinity of 1.4 per cent or 1.5 per cent of global emissions, a relatively modest contribution. That is a statistic that should be in the mind of everybody in this debate because it is the foundation upon which Australia should draft and craft its response to this particular challenge. Regrettably, the scheme before us does not take that into account.

All along the government have played the politics of this particular issue. It has been an obsession. The government have an absolutely arrogant determination to ram through these bills—no other proposal but this particular ETS—without any other ideas being considered or any other proposals up for debate. ‘We have the answers,’ is the government’s proposition on this. ‘While we have the answers, we’re not proposing to entertain any other proposals.’ From the very beginning, from the time Labor took office after winning the November 2007 election, they have been focusing on the politics of the issue.

You will remember, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, that not long after the election a coterie of ministers, politicians and officials took off for Bali to triumphantly sign the Kyoto protocol, trailing GHG emissions behind them. I bet the 387 parts per million—what apparently should be the level of emissions on a day—went up astronomically as Mr Rudd took his retinue to Bali to sign up to the Kyoto protocol. From that day forth, it was not just a matter of signing up to the Kyoto protocol; it was a matter of the government joining the climate change glitterati, being part of the climate change caravan as they righteously took forward their message. They said to themselves: ‘We are going to be at the front, lead the charge to save the planet.’ That is the position that they have taken all along in this particular debate.

Minister Wong has consistently tried to exploit the debate that has existed within the coalition about climate change—legitimate debate about the virtues of this particular legislation, in my view. She has not been able to help herself. Whenever there has been a whiff of debate she has been before the press seeming to exploit the politics. It has been a very undignified performance, and a counterproductive one. If she had spent less time in front of the cameras and more time going to the parliamentary drafting office or her boss in the prime ministerial suite and saying, ‘Maybe we should do some things here to try and get this legislation through,’ she would have a more substantive case to argue that she was serious about this legislation.

Then there was the government’s manifestly cynical political act before we rose after the last session—perhaps the crudest cynical act of all—when it linked the renewable energy targets bill to the CPRS. Now we have a situation where the renewable energy industry, which is desperate to get on with the activity of creating alternative sources of energy to those that emit so many gases, desperately needs that bill. The government has cynically delayed the bill in the hope that somehow or other it is going to wedge the opposition and get its legislation through. The industry is crying out for this piece of legislation to be passed and the government is sitting on its hands and refusing to act. The government knows that it could have had this legislation passed. We have given in-principle support for it, and we have given that in-principle support for a long time, but the government has refused to acknowledge that in-principle support and to act on our willingness to deal with it.

If that is not enough, the last cynical act of the government was to reject the proposal that the coalition put on the table some weeks ago in which we outlined nine principles. These propositions provide the foundation for an alternative and better scheme to that of the government’s. Again, the government has treated the propositions with contempt. It has treated them with the same contempt as it has had for so many of the contributions that we have made to this debate, because it continues to act as if there is some kind of desperate urgency about the need for action in this area. We want to ask ourselves: what is this urgency? What is the case that requires us to pass this legislation? The last time it needed to be passed was before the winter break. The government is desperate for it to be passed as soon as possible and certainly before the Copenhagen meeting in December. This scheme is badly flawed. It is a scheme that needs further attention. It is a scheme that needs reform, and there is no compelling case for its urgency. The government makes two points about urgency. It makes the Copenhagen argument, which is that it has to have the legislation passed prior to the Copenhagen meeting towards the end of the year. This is arrant nonsense. And we know it is arrant nonsense because Mr Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has said that it is arrant nonsense. He has not used those words—he is too polite to do so, of course—but he has made that point in response questions about whether the United States legislation needs to be passed. He has made the point that it is does not need to be passed. He said that US domestic legislation does not necessarily have to be in place.

The Americans emit a considerably larger percentage of global emissions than we do. If their legislation is not needed, there can hardly be a case for Australia to pass its legislation. What we need before Copenhagen is a clear negotiating position, and that is precisely what we have proposed. The opposition has supported the government in taking to Copenhagen a proposal which would allow a five per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2020. It has also given a further commitment that, if there is a comprehensive agreement, it will go to a reduction of 25 per cent. The government does not need any more. It can go to that Copenhagen conference confident that it has the support of this parliament and the opposition for its negotiating position. This will almost certainly not be the first meeting on these matters. Copenhagen will probably have numerous iterations. One suspects that the meeting in December will, in the end, break up without any kind of conclusion and that there will be a succession of such meetings over the next 12 months, at the very least. So the government has what it needs to go to Copenhagen. It does not need any more.

There is a second argument for urgency, and that is the ‘follow my example’ argument. This is a good argument, because here the government can puff itself up, with all of its climate change plumage on display, and take the moral high ground. This is an argument that says that Australia must be pure—Australia must pass its legislation and, when it does, it will set an example for the rest of the international community; they will be inspired. All of those other countries—the countries that emit far more emissions than we do: the Chinese, the Americans, the Indians, the Russians, the Indonesians and everybody else—will be inspired by the Australian example and will follow it. They will be so inspired that they will not be able to help themselves. What a conceit! What a massive conceit to believe that that could be the case.

This is a Prime Minister who is supposed to know something about foreign policy and we are asked to accept the proposition that Australia, with 1.4 to 1.5 per cent of international emissions, can set an example which will be followed by other members of the community. The US has emissions of 18.3 per cent on 2005 numbers; China is about the same; India is 4.6 per cent—and it goes on. This is an idea from the fairy-floss school of international relations. It is comprised of nothing more than sugar and hot air, and we ought not to pay any attention to it. It has absolutely no credibility. It has no worth as a proposition in international affairs and it certainly has no worth in relation to climate change. Australia should be going to the conference in Copenhagen, in December, and it should be prepared to play its part, consistent with the proportion of greenhouse gasses that it emits in the atmosphere, which is 1.4 to 1.5 per cent. It is, as I said earlier, arrant nonsense to believe that we should be doing any more.

There are a large number of flaws with this scheme that deserve attention. It will cost the Australian economy a massive number of jobs. I am concerned about the fact that in Queensland, on some calculations, something in the vicinity of 28,000 jobs will be lost from the coalfields in those areas of central Queensland and the like. There is a serious concern that ought to be aired with regard to the comparison of this legislation with the Waxman-Markey legislation.

Agriculture is treated extraordinarily badly. It has been omitted from the scheme for decision in 2013. There is a complete absence of agricultural offsets in relation to the scheme where those in the agricultural and rural sector might take advantage of the assets they have to get some carbon offsets. The coal industry is going to be badly affected of course and the proposals in relation to fugitive coal are very silly indeed. This model needs reform. It needs urgent reform. Otherwise, what we have before us here is a 684-page national suicide note which needs to be addressed. (Time expired)

Debate (on motion by Senator Arbib) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.