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Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Page: 4659

Senator McEWEN (11:02 AM) —At the outset, I would like to thank Senator McGauran and other members of the opposition for agreeing to allow me to move up the speakers list on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills to accommodate my other commitments today. Thank you for that. The Labor Party, under the leadership of the now Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, went to the people of Australia before the 2007 federal election promising action on climate change. The vast majority of Australians, unlike some in the coalition, accepted that climate change existed, agreed that climate change was the single biggest threat to the future prosperity and wellbeing of Australia, accepted that human activity causes carbon pollution and that that is causing our climate to change and elected a government that was prepared to act and to act quickly and responsibly. Australians knew that action to stop the carbon emissions that exacerbated climate change would come at a cost—an economic and a social cost—but they were prepared to accept that. In fact, as we know from the take-up of domestic environmental renewable energy and energy savings initiatives, most Australians are enthusiastic about changing their polluting behaviour and are prepared to do what they can to help in the war against climate change.

Here today we are confronted with an opposition that are once again attempting to deny the facts, to deny the science, to deny the will of the Australian people and to deny future Australians a cleaner, greener future. When they do not have their heads in the sand, they search here and there for a policy, for a piece of research. They look to other countries, they look to—and sometimes away from—their dithering leader and they look to anything that they can grasp and use to justify their unwillingness to make a decision to bite the bullet, to actually accept reality, to accede to the will of the Australian people and to commit to supporting the government in its battle against the biggest long-term threat to global and Australian security and wellbeing. From the way they behave, we know that the opposition are still not serious about tackling the causes of climate change. They treat it as some kind of new thing they have to mull over for a bit longer and try and get their heads around, despite the fact that concerns about the detrimental effects of concentration of human generated gases in the atmosphere have been around for more than a century, despite the fact that it is now 20 years since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced its first report and despite the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which arose out of the Rio earth summit 17 years ago. Even the Howard government acknowledged the need for an emissions trading scheme.

There is not time for mulling it over. World temperatures are rising. That means higher sea levels, less agricultural production and more diseases. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found—through the assessment of the latest scientific, technical and socioeconomic literature—that our water resources, coastal communities, natural ecosystems, energy security, health, agriculture and tourism are all highly vulnerable if temperatures rise by just three degrees Celsius or more. I am here representing my state of South Australia, and it is worth reiterating the likely effects of continued climate change and global warming on my state. South Australia is gradually becoming warmer. Southern coastal areas, where most South Australians live, are becoming drier but rainfall is steadily increasing in the state’s north. While global surface temperatures have increased 0.7 degrees Celsius over the last century, Australia’s change is more noticeable at 0.89 degrees Celsius nationally. Staggeringly, though, South Australia’s surface temperature has risen 0.96 degrees Celsius over that period of time. Those temperature rises have become more rapid since 1950 and on current projections are set to continue.

Over the last 50 years, industry losses in South Australia have increased due to global warming. Unfortunately, if the current trends in my state are not addressed, a large part of South Australia’s $3.6 billion agricultural production sector will be at risk. It is also estimated that, in comparing production under climate change relative to what would have otherwise been, and assuming no mitigation or adaptation, farm output of wheat could decline by 12.3 per cent by the year 2050, sheep by 11.7 per cent and dairy by 11.3 per cent. Unmitigated human-caused climate change will also inevitably affect many of South Australia’s popular, valuable and iconic winery regions, including the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. If the weather variations continue on the trajectory that they are on at the moment, reduced rainfall and water availability would place the state’s $430 million grape production in jeopardy.

It is also very plausible that more than 60,000 buildings along the South Australian coastline will be at risk from sea level rise, coastal erosion and flooding should the current projections of the results of unmitigated climate change come to fruition. Studies have found that, if climate change and global warming continued at their current pace, by 2100 a global sea level rise of one metre or more would occur. This sea level rise combined with more intense storms would threaten coastal housing and infrastructure.

In March last year Adelaide smashed the heatwave record for the most consecutive days above 35 degrees Celsius. We sweltered through 15 days of over 35 degrees and 13 consecutive days of or above 37.8 degrees Celsius. The state set new heatwave records for any Australian capital city. As global warming continues, the number of heatwaves will rise, and subsequently the number of people vulnerable to heat related illnesses and death will climb. Studies have shown that, on current projections, the number of very hot days in Adelaide could increase from 21 per year to 26 per year by 2030. Additionally, studies have estimated that, if temperatures continue to increase, the annual number of heat related deaths in the city of those aged 65 and over could grow from the current figure of 200 to between 342 and 370 in the year 2020—that is just a decade away—and to between 482 and 664 persons per year by 2050.

That is not a future I want for South Australia, but clearly there are those in the opposition who are unable to comprehend the truth. They are prepared to procrastinate and delay in the hope that the truth will go away and they will never have to deal with the reality that right here in Australia we need to act quickly, effectively and responsibly.

In early July 2009, a disturbing report by the executive director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute was released dealing with the speed and severity of climate change. That report, entitled Climate change 2009: faster change and more serious risks, draws on the science of climate change since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 fourth assessment report. The report concluded that the climate change system appears to be changing much faster than was earlier anticipated. The findings of that report highlight the need for action on the nation’s greatest environmental challenge. It also highlights the severe and damaging risks that climate change will pose for our country should we continue to deferred action.

A second report, by the ANU, based on the impact of climate change and our World Heritage properties, had similarly disturbing findings. It found that 17 of Australia’s iconic World Heritage properties, including the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park, are particularly vulnerable to the impending effects of climate change. Should we fail to act now, the report found it is plausible that many of our World Heritage sites could succumb to the impact of reduced rainfall, higher sea and land surface temperatures, more severe storms, ocean acidification and rising sea levels.

Not only is the government’s proposed CPRS one of the most significant environmental reforms in the history of our nation; it will also bring about the biggest reform to Australia’s economy since the opening up of the economy under the Hawke and Keating governments in the 1980s and 1990s. The strong and ambitious actions that the Australian government are taking with these CPRS bills before us today will achieve a modest but substantial reduction of carbon emissions in a responsible way. Our targets of five to 15 per cent are responsible and, while I acknowledge and have some sympathy for those people who seek higher targets sooner, by setting these targets we are keeping in the range of emission reductions that are also being set in European countries.

We have set Australia’s CPRS as the most comprehensive in the world, covering 75 per cent of the Australian economy, to ensure that Australia actually meets its targets and to ensure that implementation of our cap-and-trade scheme is as equitable and encompassing as possible. It is by ensuring the broadest application that the lowest cost per organisation and individual is achieved. That basic fact is apparently incomprehensible to the opposition, who, although they have no coherent policy as such, seek to exclude or shield sectors of the economy from the need to reduce their carbon emissions because it is politically expedient for the opposition to be seen to be doing so, but in reality it is a short-term, reactive and gutless response.

The government are fully aware of the changes to the economy that will occur if this legislation passes. We do not need to delay the goal to begin reducing carbon pollution by seeking out ever more research and ever more sceptics, soothsayers and hangers-on. We do not need to wait to see what other countries might or might not do to begin our change as a nation that is determined to reduce its carbon emissions. The ‘wait and see’ attitude of the opposition is simply a cop-out.

The government is aiming for strong economic growth and is protecting employment by creating jobs. In fact, the CPRS gives us an opportunity to create new jobs in new industries as we move towards new, low-pollution technology. There will be new green-collar jobs in new industries. A 2008 CSIRO report, Growing the green collar economy: skills and labour challenges in reducing our greenhouse emissions and national environmental footprint, shows that, despite the introduction of the CPRS, employment will grow by some 2.6 per cent to 3.3 million jobs by 2025.

Claims by the opposition that the introduction of the cap-and-trade CPRS scheme that is envisaged with this legislation will bring about some kind of Armageddon are hysterical, desperate and disingenuous. No government would commit to a policy outcome that deliberately destroyed jobs and wreaked havoc on the economy. What on earth would be the point of doing that?

I am proud to say that the government, of which I am a member, has already demonstrated its economic credentials in the effective way that it has addressed the global financial crisis. I know those opposite hate it when we quote the numerous economists who report daily on the fact that the Australian economy is not as damaged as those of other nations and in fact we are managing the GFC better than most other developed nations. I note economic analysts at CitiGroup yesterday, on 11 August, released a report that found that Australian business conditions provide more evidence of recovery. It stated:

All key indicators within the survey, including confidence, forward orders, trading conditions, profitability, employment, export sales and capacity utilization, improved further in July 2009.

The report went on to say:

Business conditions are in positive territory for the first time since June last year and business confidence is around average levels …

Finally, the report found:

The rebound in business conditions has been particularly strong in mining.

That is but one example that ours is a government in control, a government with a plan and a government prepared to take the hard decisions to support business in tough times. When we support business, we support families. We will support business and families when the CPRS is introduced.

Of course, one of the best ways to support business and to ensure business confidence is to give business the certainty it needs from government. Business wants to know if there will be an ETS and, if so, what it will look like, how it will apply to them and when it will apply from. The opposition claim to be the friends of business, but what do the opposition do? They continue to prolong the uncertainty, to continue the debate, to do exactly what business does not want by umming and ahing and failing to commit to any coherent plan to address the global imperative to reduce carbon emissions.

There are a range of practical measures included in the government’s CPRS legislation to counteract the impact of the scheme on businesses. Unfortunately, you do not hear opposition speakers mention any of those measures in their speeches on these bills. The package of measures that will apply under the scheme includes assistance in the form of administrative allocation of permits to new and existing firms engaged in emissions-intensive trade-exposed activities. A global recession buffer will be applied to the allocation of baselines of emissions per unit output and that will further assist EITE businesses. Free permits worth around $3.9 billion over five years will be available for the most emission-intensive coal-fired power generators.

The government will establish the $75.8 million Australian Carbon Trust to help implement energy efficiency measures in commercial buildings and businesses. In addition, up to $200 million has been allocated to the Climate Change Action Fund to support business and community organisations that do not receive EITE assistance but do have significant energy costs. That will assist those organisations to reduce carbon pollution through energy efficiency measures. There is, as well, the household assistance package of $6 billion per year that will help households meet or offset the increase in energy costs and the CPI increases that will result from the scheme.

Passing this CPRS package of bills is critical for the future of our nation. This government wants to make a comprehensive start to reducing Australia’s carbon pollution levels, and this cannot be done without taking the first step here by passing these bills. The people we represent in this parliament want us to make the necessary tough decisions to reduce our carbon emissions so that we can begin to halt the effects of climate change. The people of Australia know that will mean big changes and they understand what the impacts will be. It is galling to hear the opposition continue to allude to the fact that the Australian people do not know what is going on in this legislation. That is a patronising attitude. The Australian public are well aware of the implications of the significant decisions that governments have to make, as they demonstrated in the last federal election.

As I said, the people we represent here are prepared to make the hard decisions themselves and to cop the pain that may involve because they understand what is at stake. They have the vision and the courage to look to the long-term benefits of acting decisively now. Unfortunately, it looks like they will be let down by the opposition, who display neither vision nor courage.