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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5253


Senator CAMERON (6:37 PM) —I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill. This debate marks progress on an important element of the government’s strategy to deal with the reality of global warming and climate change. After more than a decade of lost opportunities under the Howard government, it is this Labor government that has ratified the Kyoto protocol, designed and introduced legislation on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, decided on a renewable energy target, invested $4.5 billion in clean energy initiatives, developed the Solar Flagships program, implemented the Solar Homes and Communities Plan, invested $4 billion in the Energy Efficient Homes package and committed $12.9 billion towards a national water strategy. These are the initiatives of a government that cares about the future. These are the initiatives of a government that has a plan, a strategy and a vision for the future—a government that has a vision for a comprehensive national and international approach to reducing CO2 emissions.

Contrast this record with the record of the opposition. While in government, they presided over a decade of lost opportunities, a decade epitomised by inertia, pandering to the sceptics and deniers within their own ranks. We now see a continuation of the divisions and the weakness of the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull is an opposition leader incapable of producing policy in the interests of the nation, incapable of exerting discipline on his party room rabble and incapable of recognising what is in the national interest.

I have been fortunate enough to participate on a number of Senate inquiries into climate change. Following those inquiries, I am even more convinced about the urgency of dealing with the scientific reality that our planet is warming, the icecaps are melting, sea levels are rising and drought, storms and severe weather patterns are becoming more common. I am pleased to be a member of a government that recognises the great political, economic, social and environmental challenges arising from global warming. I am pleased to be a member of a government that has been honest and upfront with Australians on the need to deal with climate change and the reality that this cannot be done without cost to the economy and to the community. The cost is manageable and the cost will be accepted by our community, who want a future for their children and grandchildren.

Despite the fear campaigns from the deniers and the sceptics of the opposition, the Australian public have overwhelmingly accepted the scientific reality and the political necessity to deal with climate change. No amount of clever, and many times not so clever, one-liners from Senator Joyce can change the fact that the public want action on climate change. No amount of misinformation and scare tactics from Senator Boswell will change the fact that it is in the national interest to deal with this issue. No amount of ideological claptrap—and I apologise—from you, Acting Deputy Speaker Bernardi, will change the fact that Australians want an environmentally sustainable future for our kids. No amount of dogma from Senator Abetz and Senator Minchin will change the fact that the scientific community have overwhelmingly warned of the dangers of inaction.

This bill is the start of dealing effectively with climate change. It is incumbent upon the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, to show some leadership, some courage and some wisdom and unite the rabble that makes up the opposition party room. The member for Wentworth must ensure that the coalition works effectively with the government in the national interest. If, as many believe, he is incapable of doing this, then he should get out of the way and let someone of courage and conviction lead the coalition.

It takes courage and conviction when powerful industry lobbies mobilise their huge financial and political resources against a government determined to do the right thing for future generations. It takes the courage and conviction of a Labor government to stand up against the short-termism and opportunism that underpins much of the criticism from big business. We are determined to not only have this bill pass the Senate and become law but also ensure that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is passed in the interests of our nation.

Having sat through the Senate inquiries, I am disappointed, but not surprised, that vested interests want a continuation of business as usual. I hear much bleating from big business at the cost that some industries will bear as the government moves to stabilise and reduce CO2 emissions. I never hear much from the same big business groups on their contribution to increased greenhouse gases and global warming. It seems to me that many an Australian business has an all care, no responsibility approach to the pollution of our atmosphere by industrial emissions. It is quite confronting when you see the difference between the rhetoric of our business leaders and the more mature rhetoric of business leaders in Europe, in the UK and, increasingly, in the United States. Many of our business leaders have failed to come to grips with the need to use the challenge of climate change as an opportunity to create new jobs and new technology, develop the skills of the Australian workforce and ensure that our nation benefits from the employment creation arising from a carbon constrained economy.

I have heard so much from the coalition that is no more than a carping negative criticism. I have even been lectured by Senator Boswell on the need to stand up for blue-collar workers. This is the same Senator Boswell who consistently stuck his hand in the air to take basic rights away from the working people of this country. Senator Boswell should not lecture me about standing up for blue-collar workers. It is a bit rich to be lectured about looking after blue-collar workers by one of John Howard’s Work Choices warriors. It is the Labor Party who is looking after workers in this country. It is the Labor Party who is standing up against the carbon polluters of this country. It is the government that understands the long-term needs of our economy, our community and our environment.

I have been forced to listen to Senator Boswell’s claptrap on climate change for months, his predictions of job losses and the demise of the agricultural industry. He even asserted that sugar industry workers would never support a Labor government as a result of the CPRS. Let us have a look at the sugar industry. The government’s decision to move decisively on climate change has opened up a range of opportunities for the sugar industry. One area of particular benefit to regional New South Wales and Queensland is the sugar industry cogeneration projects, which will increase employment and provide renewable energy capacity from Grafton in New South Wales to Tully in North Queensland.

The sugar industry accepts that the jobs are green jobs and they are the result of the government’s policy. On 6 August evidence was given by the Australian Sugar Milling Council and Mackay Sugar in relation to the benefits of the renewable energy target. Very powerful evidence was given by Mr Gary Longden, Mr Mark Moriarty, Mr Dominic Nolan and Mr John Power on behalf of the Australian Sugar Milling Council and by Mr Eddie Westcott, the chairman of the board of Mackay Sugar. The evidence is that they represent farmers who are 94 per cent of their shareholders. These are the farmers who are allegedly represented by the National Party. And what do these representatives of the farming community say? I quote from the Sugar Council:

It is pretty straightforward. We support the national renewable energy legislation framework as it is proposed. We support the proposed penalty price and we want to see the overall scheme design and structure remain as it is. We do not want to see it revisited.

These are the representatives of farmers. These are the representatives of regional and rural Australia—the real representatives, not the fake representatives of the National Party who stand up here and call doom and gloom every time they stand up. The sugar industry submission is that they will, as a result of our legislation, build an additional 500 megawatts of capacity which will serve about 290,000 households in regional Queensland and New South Wales. Their submission is that, by 2016, 70 per cent of households in Far North Queensland will be supplied by renewable energy from sugar mills. In the Burdekin, Herbert and Townsville areas the sugar mills will supply greater capacity than required for household consumption and 80 per cent of households around the Whitsunday hinterland will also be supplied. In the Wide Bay-Burnett area almost 50 per cent of households will be supplied by sugar industry renewable power generation and 40,000 households in northern New South Wales will also be supplied.

These fantastic initiatives will not only result in the use of sugar cane biomass to generate electricity but also be extended to wood waste, woody weeds and, in particular, camphor laurel—which is a pest species in northern New South Wales. The sugar industry, as a result of the government initiatives, will be in a position to generate in excess of 2,000 construction jobs, along with 150 permanent jobs. Using a very conservative multiplier of effect for jobs of four for every permanent job, these initiatives could result in 750 permanent jobs in regional New South Wales and Queensland. Is it any wonder that Senator Boswell was what I described at the hearing as gobsmacked? Senator Boswell, the arch enemy of renewable energy and climate change, admitted, ‘I am in an absolute fix on this one.’ He went on to say, ‘I am caught in a real bind with this one.’ Of course Senator Boswell is in a bind, because the realities of the opportunities of acting quickly and effectively on climate change is there for everyone to see in the sugar industry in regional and rural New South Wales and Queensland.

The coalition have also been running hard on a scare campaign in the mining industry and have used what was clearly a misrepresentation of economic modelling done by the Minerals Council. This modelling was designed to spread fear amongst mining workers for their job security. Let me tell the coalition that the fear campaign is not working. The ABC radio program AM last week broadcast from Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley. I know Muswellbrook well. I lived in Muswellbrook with miners, power workers and farmers for 12 years. I was a member of the Muswellbrook community. Presenter Tony Eastley spoke with a number of coalminers, who offered some very revealing opinions about the emissions trading scheme, and in the space of five minutes they blew away Senator Joyce, Senator Boswell and all the other coalition and coal company fearmongers. They blew them right out of the water. The first of those workers was Dave. Dave is not his real name, but he feels that if he were to reveal his identity he would face retaliation from his employer. Dave is a fifth generation coalminer from Muswellbrook. He has been in the industry for 20 years. He likes his job and he is on good money. He is a dump truck driver who works 12½-hour shifts. Dave is one of the blue-collar workers that Senator Boswell has been claiming to represent so vociferously in recent months. Dave is comfortable with being described as a ‘green miner’. Tony Eastley went on to ask:

TONY EASTLEY: Now we’re using not your real name because you are concerned about ramifications ...

DAVE: Coal has been around here for over a hundred years but I think we’re going to have to look for other sources for our energy generation and if we’ve got to have an ETS introduced and some pits are forced to close, then, well, that’s just what’s got to happen because there’s no life on a dead planet.

So the coalminers get it, the workers get it, but the coalition want to create fear and loathing. Eastley also spoke to three other miners, CFMEU members who seemed perfectly happy to be identified by their real names—Warren Cook, Geoff Drayton and Adam Dever. This is how the interview with these three men went:

TONY EASTLEY: Well regardless of an ETS, whether it is now or sometime in the future, the coal industry is booming, governments have poured in more than half a billion dollars to help expand Hunter Valley coal rail lines. And some of the world’s biggest mining companies are tipping in billions of dollars to expand their operations around the town of Muswellbrook, from where we’re broadcasting this morning.

That is not the scene that the coalition is trying to develop in relation to the coal industry in this country. The coal industry is booming. Jobs will still be created in the coal industry. Jobs will be there for the future. Tony Eastley then went on to say that he caught up with three miners and the interview continued:

WARREN COOK: Third generation underground coal miner, now working in an open cut mine, 58 years of age and probably a couple of years off retirement.

TONY EASTLEY: What about you Jeff?

JEFF DRAYTON: No, no, about seven years for me is as long as I’ve been in the mines. I have a father who spent about 25 years, a local, I’ve spent all of my 40 years here and now have family and three young children.

TONY EASTLEY: Adam I don’t want to insult the other blokes, but you look a bit younger than them.

ADAM DEVER: Just a couple of years, I’m a 30-year-old, my father’s also in coal mining. Local lad, married with a few kids and spent my whole career in coal mining, about 12 years.

TONY EASTLEY: Warren if I can come to you first: what’s the industry like? You’ve been in it longer than anyone here at the table ...

WARREN COOK: Twenty-eight years in total, and probably no, certainly never better both as far as employment and also in money terms.

TONY EASTLEY: So you couldn’t be happier with the industry as it is?

WARREN COOK: As a long term employee I would say no, never been happier.

Jeff Drayton goes on to say that he has been in the industry only seven years and that there has to be concern  predominantly with developing clean coal technologies. The interview goes on:

TONY EASTLEY: Adam you’ve got three young girls and we mentioned your feelings about the future of Muswellbrook and the Hunter Valley, this coal mining area? Do you want to see a carbon tax introduced by the Government?

ADAM DEVER: Yeah definitely, definitely. It goes hand in hand. My main responsibility is my family, so I want to make sure my family is secure and my lifestyle and things like that, but I also don’t want to be the responsible generation for you know, damaging the environment and you know, for future generations to look back and say that’s the generation that could have done something and they didn’t.

This is the coalminers of this country saying what they think and what is important to them. They see the industry as important to them but they also see the future for their kids as being important. We have farmers in New South Wales and Queensland saying that they see opportunities in dealing with a carbon constrained economy. Yet what do we have? We have a coalition that is driven by a group of sceptics and deniers, a group who want to say, ‘Everything should continue on as normal, we should continue to pollute the atmosphere because we don’t really believe in it.’ That is what we have from the coalition, yet miners and farmers are saying, ‘You’ve got it wrong, you’ve got it so wrong.’ Miners and farmers are saying to you, ‘Give us leadership, give the government support for its vision, give the government support for its strategy,’ because that is where jobs will be built in the future. Those jobs will be environmentally sustainable, those jobs will deliver for this economy and this society in the future. We must be about building the jobs of the future, maintaining the jobs we have in the coal, steel and aluminium industries, ensuring that those jobs operate in an environmentally sustainable way because our responsibility is not to your doomed leader; our responsibility is to future generations in Australia. It is about time the Leader of the Opposition understood these issues. (Time expired)