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Thursday, 19 October 2017
Page: 8071

Climate Change

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (14:30): As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Senator Birmingham. Are you aware, Senator, that in Senate estimates in May your colleague Senator Macdonald asked the Chief Scientist, 'What would be the impact of ceasing all'—not five per cent, not 28 per cent, not 50 per cent, not 95 per cent—'Australian production of carbon dioxide?' and the Chief Scientist answered, 'Virtually nothing'?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:31): I thank Senator Roberts for his question. I think I recall, Senator Roberts, you possibly referencing this Senate estimates exchange at some stage previously. So I am vaguely aware of it albeit the Chief Scientist obviously appears in a different estimates committee to the one that I represent the Minister for the Environment in.

Speaking of the Chief Scientist, I acknowledge the winners of the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science, who are in the gallery today. It was a wonderful evening last night. Congratulations to some incredibly eminent Australians. Senator Cash and the Prime Minister both had some very fine words to say for them.

Senator Roberts, going to your question, I have not personally reviewed the Hansard but I imagine the Chief Scientist would have gone on to highlight that Australia acting in isolation does not necessarily of itself make a marked difference. That is why the Turnbull government's approach, and that of predecessor governments, has been to take action as part of a multilateral arrangement in conjunction with other nations. Our 26 to 28 per cent reduction commitment made through the Paris Agreement is just that—with other countries equally making commitments as part of a concerted effort. Our focus, then, as a government is to ensure that those targets are met in the least costly manner. Of course, this week we have seen a significant step taken forward in terms of how it is that energy policy will contribute to those targets by 2030 through the new energy guarantee, just as our government has ensured the 2020 targets are met and exceeded without the need for Labor's carbon tax, for example. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Roberts, a supplementary question.

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (14:33): Is the senator aware that, during the last 12 months, I have specifically asked the CSIRO to provide empirical evidence proving human cause of global warming? They've failed to do that. They have failed to provide any evidence of anything unprecedented in climate. So I now ask the minister: on whose scientific advice is the government continuing to push the Rudd government lie that carbon dioxide from human activity must be cut?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:33): The Turnbull government, as I think I've answered to Senator Roberts on previous occasions, takes the advice of various agencies of government and scientific experts. We take the advice of the Department for Environment but also expert scientific agencies such as the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and a range of others who contribute to this policy area. Importantly, though, as I was stressing before, we take an approach of ensuring that emissions reduction occurs at least cost. We take an approach of ensuring that it happens without an ideological bent that says it must be done or achieved by getting X amount of renewables or one particular type of renewables into the sector but instead by saying that it should be done at least cost. Our Emissions Reduction Fund has helped to achieve that in the period to 2020. Our Energy Guarantee will help to ensure that the energy component of emissions reduction is achieved at least cost by 2030.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Roberts, a final supplementary question.

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (14:35): In addition to the cost of subsidies and other burdens due to intermittent energy sources, the major driver of exploding power prices is government meddling and regulation through credits, subsidies and targets. Your latest energy plan—escapade, I should say—increases government regulation and further complicates. How can this decrease power prices, when 10 years of increasing regulation and meddling is the cause of increased power prices?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:35): I would draw Senator Roberts, in terms of the impacts of increasing power prices, to the preliminary report released on Monday this week by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on retail and electricity pricing, which demonstrates quite clearly that the largest component in household power bills and the largest source of increases in household power bills does, in fact, occur in the network costs, which, of course, this government took action on this week with the passage of legislation to change the way in which network market rules work, to help stop the gaming of the system.

The second-largest component relates to wholesale costs. The third-largest component relates to retail costs. It is in fact, in terms of environmental measures, the fourth contributor in energy costs. So the evidence is very clear. But, again, the approach of our government is to drive down costs at every single point, and we have been taking action to do so.