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Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Page: 8735


Senator MILNE (5:15 PM) —Just before question time I was responding to the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and news of the deal that has been put forward by the government to take almost $6 billion away from household compensation and hand it straight over to the coal-fired polluters, to the whole industry that is causing the problem in the first place. I think it is really important to recognise here that the Greens are the only political party in this parliament who said from day 1 that our position on climate change is driven by the science. We recognised there is a global emergency climate code red. We are the ones who have listened to the scientists who have come in here one after the other and said that, if we are to give the planet a fair chance and reduce the risk of going into catastrophic climate change to less than 50 per cent, we have to reduce emissions deeply and quickly: global emissions must peak by 2015 and then come down.

Even in Bali in 2007 the world agreed that developed countries like Australia should take a cut of somewhere between 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 emissions by 2020 so that developing countries can continue to grow and develop and we can give ourselves a chance of avoiding catastrophic change. Scientists now regard 350 parts per million as the trajectory we should be aiming for, and yet the government is putting us on a trajectory of only a five per cent reduction, a possible 15 per cent and a 25 per cent that is so conditional that everybody knows it will not happen. If Australia adopted those targets and the rest of the world adopted Australia’s targets we would be looking at 550 parts per million or above and way above the two degrees that everybody recognises as catastrophic climate change.

How can the Prime Minister look at the Australian people and say that he is taking action on climate change? He is not. It is a complete fraud on the Australian people to suggest that the targets in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme take us anywhere near what we need to avoid catastrophic climate change. There is no basis for the claim that this is economically efficient—and I will come to that in a moment. On both counts does it do what we need to do to avoid catastrophic climate change? The answer is no, nowhere near it. Does it reduce emissions in the most cost effective way? No, no way. There is not a single economist who will come out and tell you that what the government is now presenting to the Senate is in any way, shape or form economically efficient. It is economically irrational, inefficient and in fact locks us into the worst case scenario out to 2020 and will lead to catastrophic climate change if the rest of the world adopts that strategy.

Again I ask how the Prime Minister can do this. How can he stand there and say it? Earlier I referred to George Orwell in my speech. He said in his novel 1984 that doublethink is the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them; to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them; to forget any fact that has become inconvenient and then when it becomes necessary again draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed; to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies, and all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink, for by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality. By a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge and so on, indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. In question time today we had a classic example when Minister Wong stood up and tried to suggest that other people were engaged in doublethink. No, she is the minister engaged with two contradictory beliefs in her mind simultaneously, accepting both of them and believing in both of them when they are clearly contradictory.

Minister Wong and the Prime Minister say that Australia is vulnerable to global warming, that billions of dollars worth of coastal infrastructure are at risk because of rises in sea levels, that extreme fires and extreme temperatures are examples of climate change and that the Great Barrier Reef is at risk if we fail to act to constrain global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. All those claims are true and correct, but at the same time the Prime Minister and the government are saying that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme represents the action that will constrain temperatures to stop these outcomes—and that is wrong. It is in fact a lie to claim that a five to 25 per cent target imposed globally would do those things, that it would stop those outcomes. We are already seeing accelerated climate change; we are already seeing the loss of the Arctic summer sea ice; we are seeing the retreat of the glaciers in the Himalayas; we are seeing these impacts right now and the climate scientists and the Great Barrier Reef scientists will tell you that the Great Barrier Reef is dying and will die if you accept a five to 25 per cent target globally. If that became the global target, that would be it.

That is what this government is engaged in. Why are they doing it? Why are they saying this when it completely fails the environmental test and the economic test? Why does it fail the economic test? Because it locks in coal fired power, it locks in the polluters and it stops the transformation out into the future. What it will lead to is new investment in coal fired power in Queensland and New South Wales, refurbishment in Victoria and recommissioning in Western Australia, bringing back coal fired power. It will undermine any investment in renewables. How do we know this? Because it is already happening. Solar Systems has gone into voluntary administration in Victoria. The renewable energy target has been completely undermined and badly designed, yet in this package today we find the government is offering loan guarantees to coal fired generators to keep going on even in the face of financial difficulties into the future.

This is Prime Minister Rudd, King Coal. The duplicity was there from the start. The day that the CPRS was introduced into the federal parliament the Prime Minister was in the Hunter Valley turning the first sod on the new coal railway trebling coal exports out of Newcastle. If that was not a signal I do not know what is. There was the same sort of duplicity at Bali. The Prime Minister was happy to take the accolades and the standing ovation for ratifying the Kyoto protocol while Minister Wong, chairing the umbrella group, was making sure the 25 to 40 per cent target was taken out of the text and put as a footnote, and now we know why. She did not want it in the text because she did not want Australia to actually adopt the reduction in emissions the rest of the world recognised was necessary from developed countries in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

What about the argument that something is better than nothing and you have to start somewhere? That is a total nonsense because of the laws of physics and chemistry, the carbon budget and the fact that there are real tipping points. Four hundred and fifty parts per million is the tipping point for ocean acidification. It is no use saying, ‘Let’s start slowly and try and fix this up in the future,’ because on an environmental level once you get the feedback loops in place you can never go back and fix it up; it is lost forever. If we lose the Arctic sea ice we do not know what that will do to the thermohaline conveyor. We certainly have lost the Arctic sea ice before in geological time, but that was before the continents were where they are today. We simply do not know what that would mean for the world’s climate. So you cannot start slowly in an environmental sense, because you will go past the tipping points.

In an economic sense, what is the point of starting slowly? By starting with a low target you end up with a low carbon price, massive compensation to coal-fired generators which is completely unjustified and compensation to the emissions-intensive trade-exposed sector beyond their trade exposure and certainly beyond their profitability. That is what the government is doing here. You are doing all of that and you are locking it in. The legal advice that the Greens have quite clearly shows that, if you try and increase the level of effort under the CPRS for those big polluters once this is locked in, they can sue for compensation because it is beyond what they understood. That is because they are making investment decisions right now based on these targets. Do not let us pretend that one government cannot lock in another. We have seen it with the forests in Tasmania in particular. Once you get massive compensation written in, what you get is a complete lack of courage and willingness from future governments to change it. If the world decided we had to do something dramatically and Australia’s targets increased, it would not be the polluters making the effort. They are locked in. They are now protected, sandbagged and looked after into the future, even as far out as 2025. It would be the community and the rest of society that would have to pay dearly in order to try and get the emissions down while 50 per cent of our emissions were locked up in coal fired generation.

This is a fraud. What is going on here is immoral. The rest of the world is struggling, developing countries in the Pacific are saying, ‘We are drowning in our own backyards,’ and Bangladeshis are wondering whether they are going to actually have a country in the next few years because they could potentially lose so much land as a result of sea level rise. We are going to have massive conflict. A billion people live in the river valleys of the four great rivers of Asia. There will be a billion people without fresh water for six months if we lose the Himalayan glaciers. This is not a risk that developed countries should be taking with the world’s people, yet the Prime Minister has the temerity to stand up and say: ‘We need to take action on climate change. We’re going to do something that, if the world followed us, would lead to the outcomes that we say we don’t want.’

I want to say something to future generations. As a student of history, I look back at Easter Island and some of the civilisations of South America and think to myself: were there people then who could see that they were going to destroy themselves completely, and were those people silenced, run out or killed? Whatever happened to those people? There must have been people there then who knew that, who tried to blow the whistle, who tried to offer leadership to their communities and who were repressed. In the 15th century Machiavelli, very strongly and in a very profound way, pointed out:

… there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had the actual experience of it.

What we have here now are those who profit from the old order, the vested interests. Guess who were out today supporting this first? The Aluminium Council. What a surprise that they were out there! No doubt the Business Council of Australia and Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group were with them, all camp followers to those who would give massive compensation—unjustified, without principle—to the coal industry.

I say to future generations: there were such people in 2009. The Greens in 2009 understood there was a climate emergency. We have brought to the Australian parliament for decades and in particular for the last three or four years on a weekly basis, whenever the parliament sat, the scientific information and the economic information. We drove inquiries. We looked at everything from agriculture and peak oil to the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity. Yes, there were people in this parliament who knew. There were people who brought this information to the parliament. There is not one single senator in parliament in Australia in 2009 who is not fully aware that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will not reduce Australia’s domestic emissions until 2034 and even then only after that if carbon capture and storage works—and I do not believe it ever will. So people need to understand. This parliament knew. There are no excuses. I do not want to hear, ‘Sorry future generations, we did not know what we were doing.’ This parliament knows exactly what it is doing and is choosing it.

It is choosing it because Liberal and Labor cannot get away from their philosophical underpinning that the earth has an infinite capacity to provide resources and absorb wastes and that the fight is simply between capital and labour and who gets the most out of the exploitation of resources. That is where the Greens are different. This CPRS brings to the fore the philosophical debate of the 21st century because it is only the Greens who have a philosophy of eco-sustainability, of looking at what the earth can provide and living within our resources. That is why we say we need to address this climate emergency with real action on climate change and we will not lie to future generations. We put it on the line; we know what we are doing. We should not be accepting weak targets. We want 40 per cent on the table in Copenhagen and we will do everything in our power to look after future generations and all of those around the planet who right at this moment are suffering because of climate change.

Debate (on motion by Senator Stephens) adjourned.

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