Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 8806

Senator ABETZ (11:37 AM) —The Senate is currently debating a package of 11 bills euphemistically called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It really is an emissions trading scheme by another name. But with the Labor government, the spin starts right at the very beginning; it starts with the name of the bills and it goes all the way through. I will be saying more about that later on. Nobody should be under any misapprehension: we as an opposition oppose the bills as they currently stand before the Senate. We have voted against this legislation once and, in its current form, we would oppose it again. It was and still is—depending on what happens in the committee stages—absolutely and utterly fatally flawed.

I will make a few brief introductory comments. This debate has unfortunately been categorised as between believers or deniers, for or against. In my capacity as shadow minister for science, I have spoken with many scientists. It is not as easy as saying that scientists are for or against. There are a multiplicity of camps and views within the science community. Speaking for myself personally, I cannot accept the view that has been put that there is a consensus in relation to the science. Science has never been determined by consensus. Indeed, when you have 31,000 scientists around the world signing a petition expressing doubt—and I am not taking sides in this debate; my view is that in relation to that chances are that a fair description would be that I am agnostic—do not try tell me that it has all been settled. How can it be when you have 31,000 men and women, highly qualified in the sciences, saying that they have serious doubts?

Indeed, in Australia in my home state of Tasmania we have a very distinguished emeritus professor, Garth Paltridge, who was the foundation chair of the Antarctic and climate change research centre. He has devoted his life to this issue. He has serious doubts about the science. Then there is Professor Ian Plimer and Professor Bob Carter. And the list goes on. All I am saying is: please do not insult the intelligence of the Australian people by asserting that the science is settled. There are many views in relation to this debate.

The revelations—and once again I express a personal view here—from the University of East Anglia about a week ago of people doctoring scientific information for certain political purposes and outcomes shock and horrify me, especially in my capacity as shadow minister for science. I trust that there will be a full royal commission in the United Kingdom dealing with those people who have dealt in this apparent fabrication. The fact is that the allegations have now been out there for a week about these email traffic which says that certain things were not going to be put into reports and other things would be—to use that terrible term—‘sexed up’ to make them a bit more exciting et cetera to convince certain people. At this stage, as I understand the record, those things have not been denied. The Dr Joneses and Michael Manns and others of this world have now had more than sufficient time to say, ‘These allegations are false.’ The fact that they have not, I must say, leaves me personally feeling very flat. Indeed, my colleague Senator Joyce asked the minister a question about it at question time and she did not seek to defend those people from the University of East Anglia and their climate research unit.

As another personal aside, I had the opportunity of having a meeting with a Stephen McIntyre. I do not often talk about overseas trips because the longsuffering voting public do not like us politicians going on trips, but, yes, I took a study trip, went to Canada and took myself to meet Stephen McIntyre. He debunked the hockey stick graph that was in the IPCC report. I asked him for his views on climate change. Do you know what he told me? He does not have any. He is a mathematician and statistician and he said that whenever he sees a hockey stick graph he gets very suspicious because nearly every time the data has been doctored. Who was the inventor of this hockey stick graph? Michael Mann. Guess where he is from: the University of East Anglia. I lay that on the table. I hope that it is clarified. But I tell you that when Stephen McIntyre sought the raw data and material on which Mr Mann developed his hockey stick graph it was denied to him. I add that on the trip I spoke to a number of people who passionately believe in climate change science. Indeed, I spoke with Senator Boxer’s senior staff member in the United States, who is the co-author of the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill in the Senate.

But it is concerning to me that Mr McIntyre’s expose just happened to be of a Mr Mann who happens to work in this institution that has been so heavily relied upon by the IPCC. I for one would be a lot more comfortable if this were fully exposed and considered, because if what has been asserted by these leaks is true I think there will be many red faces around the world. That is a personal comment and concern.

The Prime Minister—and I think it was last week—because we had a bit of a heatwave, tried to engender hysteria during question time. That was absolutely and utterly disgraceful. He, as Prime Minister of this country—and I think he is an intelligent man—must have known that what he was doing was deliberately seeking to spin in the absence of evidence. After that hysterical outburst by the Prime Minister, I undertook some research. Do you know when the biggest natural disaster in Australia was? This was the biggest heatwave ever, which killed hundreds of people. Was it this century? No. Was it last century? No. It was in fact in 1895 when 437 people were killed and 5,000 people were injured. It was 1 December 1895. Keep in mind that those 437 people were killed and those 5,000 were injured when Australia’s population was just over three million. Multiply that figure by seven—in rough terms—and it would be a heatwave in today’s standards causing the death of 2,100-plus people and injuring 35,000. The Prime Minister and his staff knew that, but they deliberately went into the chamber to try to create hysteria. The second most devastating heatwave was in 1938, with 438 people killed and 5,000 injured. This was at a time when Australia’s population had doubled to some six million people. If we talk about extreme weather events, the most damaging cyclone in Australian history occurred on 4 March. Was it this year? Was it last year? Was it in the last decade? Was it in this century? No. Was it last century? No. It occurred on 4 March 1899, when 400 people were killed by a cyclone in Cooktown.

All I ask of people in this debate is this: do not make assertions that fly in the face of historical fact. One day the people are going to find you out and expose you as being fraudulent. Can I simply say this to the Prime Minister: you can be in favour of an emissions trading scheme without engaging in the dishonest hyperbole that has been engaged in by so many people. When they have seen the mercury in the thermometer go up a bit, they have said, ‘Proof of climate change.’ One hundred and more years earlier there were bigger heatwaves. Those have been kindly airbrushed out of the history books by the Prime Minister and others who are so desperate to get their legislation through. You can honourably support this legislation—as hopefully it will be amended later on—because you believe in climate change and you believe in the need for action. But you believing in the need for action does not justify distorting Australian history and misleading the Australian people.

This was a Prime Minister who came into government saying he would have evidence based public policy. The evidence flies in the face of his hyperbole at question time. About hyperbole: do you remember this bill? It had to be carried immediately. It was either his way or the highway. He said it would be economically irresponsible and it would be environmentally irresponsible if it was not legislated chapter and verse, comma and full stop, as written. All of a sudden the government—and I assume this will happen in the committee stage—will have a minister moving a raft of 70 pages of amendments. These are substantial amendments.

Senator Wong —But you agreed to them.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Wong says we agreed to them. Of course we did. The Liberal Party and the coalition have determined, as a result of the leader’s call—and we accept that—that these amendments will make the bill less flawed. But there are still 70 pages of amendments that only a few weeks ago would have been economically irresponsible and environmentally irresponsible. Now, all of a sudden, we can countenance changes to the legislation.

This is what is disturbing about this. These amendments that go to helping support agriculture, the food processors, our power generators—and the list goes on—are important. Let me at this stage give full credit to the member for Groom, the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, for what he was able to get out of the government in these amendments. They will clearly make the legislation a lot better. We on this side are agreed that these amendments will make the legislation better. But for the coalition’s advocacy, the agriculture sector would be wiped. Food processors would be wiped. Our biggest export industry, coalmining, would be wiped. So the list goes on. Do you know what? We will be told in a matter of moments that these 70 pages of amendments are good, sound public policy and that they deserve the support of the Senate. On 25 November 2009, that which was bad policy before—economically and environmentally irresponsible—all of a sudden becomes economically and environmentally responsible.

But it is a bit like Cinderella—you know, when the pumpkin turns into a golden coach and then turns back into a pumpkin—because if these amendments are not carried by the Senate this week, according to the government and the minister, they will all of a sudden become bad policy again. They will be bad for the economy and bad for the environment and will not have the government’s support. Excuse me, I might be old-fashioned, but if it is good policy on 24 November 2009 then one would suspect that a week or two later it would still be good policy unless there were significant facts to come forward to show that these amendments were never good in the first place.

I say to this chamber that these amendments, so successfully negotiated by the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, make this bill a lot better, and the opposition are very proud of what we have been able to achieve through Mr Macfarlane’s effort. But what we do object to is the hysteria and hyperbole of the Prime Minister in misrepresenting the history of this country and then demanding that this legislation be passed within this week because if it is not the deal is off. All of a sudden good, sound economic and environmental policy is no longer so—the coach will turn back into the pumpkin that it was about five weeks ago.

Can I indicate to the chamber, in relation to the second reading amendments, that the position as called by the leader is that we will be opposing all the second reading amendments. I think at this stage it behoves the Senate to consider the legislation in the committee stage. There are, as I indicated, 70 pages worth of amendments moved by the government, all supported by the government today, though they were not supported a few weeks ago and will not be supported next week. It is a bizarre proposition but it is indicative of the tactics that this government and this Prime Minister employ.

We saw how Mr Combet dealt with the coal industry. At their annual dinner he said, ‘Take this deal or you can’t be guaranteed you’ll be given anything better in the future.’ He stood over them. Of course, what was his former occupation? It was not ‘union official’ by any chance, was it? What a coincidence that he would behave in such a manner. We have now been able to save literally tens of thousands of jobs around Australia. We have been able to secure amendments for the benefit of the small and medium enterprises as well, which quite frankly are the heartland of the Liberal and National parties in this place. We have been able to achieve a raft of amendments which clearly will be of significant benefit to the Australian people.

Interestingly, we are going to be given $10 million for biochar and soil carbon research. Remember that when Mr Turnbull announced that at the Young Liberals conference in January this year he was roundly condemned. Senator Doug Cameron was wheeled into Senate estimates committees to ask CSIRO and other organisations to explain how silly that was. Suddenly the government has been mugged by the reality that it would be a good idea, and I congratulate the government on coming to the party in relation to that.

In brief, the position of the coalition is that we will be supporting the amendments as proposed and circulated and we will be opposing all of the second reading amendments.