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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 103

Mr GARRETT (3:39 PM) —We started this session in the parliament with questions to the government about climate change. There were questions to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources about whether he would increase the renewable energy target. Those questions were never answered. There were questions to the Prime Minister about whether he understood the consequences of climate change, and he allowed in those answers that perhaps a four- to six-degree increase in temperature might mean that things would be a little bit uncomfortable. We have the best possible evidence on climate change, and the Prime Minister and this government do not get it. Today, the Prime Minister answered the last question in the session before we go to a winter recess by speaking about industrial relations. He did not address the subject of the question at all.

That is the summary of the Howard government’s approach on climate change. We started the session by asking them questions that they could not answer and we end the session by asking the Prime Minister a question which he completely failed to answer. Anybody sitting in their homes or in their cars, worrying about the impact of climate change on their communities, on their coastline or on their farmlands, will now have heard clearly—for once and for all—that when it comes to the dangerous threats posed by climate change to this country, the Prime Minister just does not get it. In 11 years we have had denial, delay and scepticism. We have had occasional grudging acceptance, but mainly we have had inaction. And the great tragedy of the Howard government’s inaction is that it leaves us poorly equipped to deal with the challenges that climate change represents—critically by staying out of Kyoto and by delaying all efforts to allow the market economy to do its work. Australian business has been let down, the Australian community has been let down, and the only way that that will change is for a leader like Kevin Rudd—who understands climate change, commits to addressing climate change and recognises the great moral, economic and environmental challenge that climate change poses for us—to be able to effect policies in this House.

More than two years ago, I talked with the then Sydney Futures Exchange—now part of the ASX—about their strong desire for a national carbon trading scheme and the need for such a scheme. That was after nine years of failure to act by this government. Remember, the Sydney Futures Exchange had taken major steps to establish itself as a regional hub for emissions trading. Not unreasonably, it saw the inevitability of emissions trading in Australia and then waited for government action—and it waited, and it waited, and it waited. While the community waits and while the business community waits, what is the government’s response? Let’s examine it. For those who call for profound action on climate change, there is abuse, ridicule and denigration. For those who believe that it is important to support Kyoto, there is abuse and denigration of the protocol process.

Mr Turnbull —What? No ridicule?

Mr GARRETT —‘What? No ridicule?’ says the minister, an expert in ridicule. I am sure there will be some coming from your side, Minister, but you will have your chance, don’t worry. When it comes to the most important issue for Australians who want to see positive action in developing clean and renewable energies, there is no response and no action. No wonder there is a mood for change in Australia. Australians know that the Howard government just does not get it on climate change. Look at what Andrew Richards, Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Hydro said. He said it simply:

… if Federal and State renewable energy targets were abolished … We would probably take that $1.5 to $2 billion investment and take it offshore to places like Chile and Brazil and places like certain jurisdictions in North America like California and make those investments in those countries instead of Australia.

That is already happening under the Howard government. Whether it is Roaring Forties or whether it is Global Renewables, Australian industries and Australian businesses who want to produce solutions—and who have produced solutions and technology for climate change—are actually going offshore and setting up their businesses in other countries, because the Howard government has failed to provide the right framework for them to invest here in Australia.

For this government, when it comes to the climate change debate, it is all about myths and straw men. It is a myth that the government is already acting. It is a fact that the government has underspent on climate change programs by an average of more than 30 per cent over the last 11 years. The government’s plan to deal with emissions trading now is to dot nuclear reactors around the country, which will be up and running in 15, 20 or 25 years. That is the government plan. Critically, our greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise to 127 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. That is government action. In an opinion piece in April this year, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources said:

Our leadership in forums such as the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and the UN climate change framework are further examples of our active international engagement.

I put it to the minister that nothing could be further from the truth. I put it to the minister that now, 18 months after the announcement of AP6, where we had a promise of some $360 million from the Bush administration and the Howard government over a period of five years, Australia has spent just $2.1 million and the Bush administration has allocated just $27 million towards this initiative—$26 million which went to the State Department and $1 million which went to the US EPA.

Additionally, we learnt quite recently that the government’s key climate change advisers, the Australian Greenhouse Office, have admitted that they have no significant involvement in the climate change side at APEC. In a speech to the Asia Society, the Prime Minister said:

The Sydney Summit will be one of the most important international gatherings of leaders to discuss climate change since the 1992 Rio Conference.

But how many of our officials are now working on this particular meeting? Very, very few. If the government’s key climate change advisers are not providing climate change advice then who is? The answer to that question in part lies in our refusal to sign Kyoto. As every Australian knows, Australia was going to sign Kyoto. The Prime Minister was in favour of it, the foreign minister was in favour of it and the environment minister at the time was in favour of Kyoto. But then, once the Americans had decided which way they were going to go, we followed the Republican administration on climate change policy and we did not follow the original decision taken by the Howard government—and, frankly, a decision that should have been taken a long time ago.

Another one of the government’s myths is that we should not do anything about our emissions because our emissions are too small, and it is now up to China and India—these developing countries that are emitting a lot of greenhouse gases. This ignores the primary fact that it is up to every country to take responsibility for its emissions. Everyone has to play their part. Everybody has to do some heavy lifting. Australians want to do that. We are team players. We recognise that we need to make that kind of effort and take that kind of action. We realise that our emissions are not insignificant at all. They are significant emissions, particularly in terms of where they are going under the Howard government policies, with an increase of 127 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020.

The government likes to point the finger at China and India, but the truth is we are in this together. Some 70 per cent of human greenhouse gas in the atmosphere has been put there by developed nations. It has already been put there by us and by our developed nation partners. We represent some 20 per cent of the people on earth and we have a responsibility to ensure that we act here in our own home to reduce emissions. I think one of the most significant things that have happened in the last three weeks was the decision by the G8 when it said:

We have agreed that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change.

It was at this point that the fig leaf the Howard government had erected around itself to claim that by being an observer at international agreements it was supporting the UN framework completely fell away. Why is that? Because the government has always argued that other initiatives, multilateral initiatives, are going to be as significant as Kyoto. It has denigrated Kyoto. It has talked about new Kyotos and post Kyotos, yet the G8 itself specifically said:

We have agreed that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change.

Let me say to the House and to the Australian people: that is Labor Party policy. That is what we have been saying in this House ever since this parliament first sat. That is policy that has been part of the Labor approach to climate change since the climate change blueprint was first developed. Yet the government refuses here and now to join in and still continues to denigrate Kyoto.

The next myth that is put about by the government is that renewable energy in particular cannot make a significant contribution to meeting our energy needs and reduce emissions. The Prime Minister said it clearly on 18 May. He said:

The greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power are zilch, nothing, zero virtually, and just as good, if not better than solar and wind.

He said:

Now solar and wind are fantastic on the margins but you can’t run a power station on solar power, you’d have to have a lot of those panels wouldn’t you, they’d cover the whole of Queensland and the Northern Territory, I mean it’d be enormous. We can’t rule out nuclear.

The Prime Minister is wrong about baseload issues generally in terms of what can be provided for baseload in this country, and a number of experts have pointed that out. More importantly, this is an irrational objection to the contribution that renewable energy can make to meet our energy needs. Instead, we get a plan for 25 nuclear reactors—not only nuclear reactors but, now it seems, following the comments from Mr Macfarlane, the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, nuclear reactors which will also serve as nuclear waste dumps.

For all those Australians living anywhere from Port Phillip Bay up the New South Wales coast past Jervis Bay up towards south-east Queensland, where nuclear reactors could be located, they are also going to get a nuclear waste dump. For the 25 or 30 years that they have a nuclear waste dump in their backyard—the term of the reactors that the Howard government plans to put in place in this country to deal with climate change—we will see the creation of some 40,000 tonnes of the most toxic substance that humanity produces: radioactive waste. Is this a climate change solution for Australia? No, it is not.

I was very interested to read in the just released Trends in sustainable development annual review report that global investment last year in sustainable energy was $70.9 billion. This UN report concluded that clean energy could provide almost a quarter of the world’s electricity by 2030. Whilst sustainable energy only accounts for two per cent of the world’s total now—and I know the minister will make this point—the report shows that 18 per cent of all power plants under construction are in this sector and that figure continues to grow. This is the future for dealing with climate change. Australians know we have abundant supplies of solar energy in the amount of sunlight that hits our continent, and that we have fantastic solar scientists who lead the world in technology and innovation. Why haven’t we got the best solar industry in the world? Why aren’t we now starting to produce power from solar energy, power that goes into the grid? Why haven’t Australians got solar panels on the roofs of their homes and their schools storing that clean power, that renewable energy? If they did that, they would be making a contribution to climate change.

The reason we are not able to do that, the reason we are not a solar nation and we are on the way to becoming a nuclear nation, is the Howard government. The Howard government just does not get it on renewables. The Howard government just does not get it at all. The Prime Minister insists that the only solution to climate change is to build nuclear reactors that produce radioactive waste. The Liberal Party has more plans than that. It just does not stop there. At the Liberal Party Federal Council that was held recently, an interesting recommendation was adopted and passed unanimously. It said that Australia should look at going further, that we should look at nuclear enrichment and at being a worldwide repository for radioactive waste.

I want to hear from the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources as to what the Howard government’s plans are about Australia being a worldwide repository for radioactive waste. At the same time as climate change continues to impact upon us and we do nothing about renewable and clean energy, they are advancing a plan for Australia to be the world’s repository for radioactive nuclear waste. That is the question that the minister has to answer.

It was interesting when we had a debate in the parliament quite recently. I think that one of the remarks that the minister made was that the member for Kingsford Smith despises scientists. I just want to put it on the record that I actually do not despise scientists at all. In fact, the target that the Labor Party has set, of some 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, is a science based target. That is clearly acknowledged and well understood. I note the comments of Dr Jim Hansen, who has contributed to the IPCC reports and is probably one of the world’s leading climate experts. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and won the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal last year. He and five other prominent US scientists recently concluded that ‘greenhouse gas emissions place the Earth perilously close to dramatic climate change that could run out of control, with great dangers for humans and other creatures.’ When scientists bring us those reports, we understand how urgent and necessary it is for real action on climate change—not speeches but real action—and we have not had real action from the Howard government. (Time expired)