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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 110

Ms KATE ELLIS (4:09 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance: the government’s absolute failure to address the challenges that climate change poses to the Australian economy. I particularly welcome the opportunity to respond to some of the minister’s points during his 15 minutes of trying to justify this government spending the last 11 years doing nothing to seriously tackle dangerous climate change. After 11 long years of neglect, this government is now trying to play catch-up in the climate change stakes, but its efforts are transparent and clearly politically motivated.

In order to effectively tackle climate change we need three essential ingredients: acknowledgement, initiative and leadership. Sadly, this government has demonstrated time and again that it is lacking on all of these fronts. For the past 11 years, we on this side have consistently called for an earnest acknowledgement that climate change is the biggest environmental crisis that we face; comprehensive and holistic policy initiatives; and a government that is prepared to show leadership, not just to its constituents but to the world. The Howard government, over the last 11 years, has shown just how comprehensively it lacks all three of those ingredients.

By contrast, federal Labor has taken the initiative in bringing the issue of climate change into the political spotlight, and now the government is doing nothing more than playing catch-up. But I am afraid that, after 11 long years of neglect, it is simply too late for the government to pretend it is engaged with the climate change challenge.

Recently, the issue of climate change has become heavily politicised, but tackling this threat requires more than poll driven motivation: it requires honest and earnest leadership. While the government today masquerade as believers in climate change, the reality, as we all know, is that they do not accept it.

The government’s track record on climate change says it all. A report released in the first half of 2007 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that the Howard government has known about the very real dangers of climate change and its environmental, social and economic impacts since it was elected in 1996. What an absolute disgrace it is that the Howard government has known for 11 years about the threat that climate change poses to our way of life and to the quality of life facing future generations, yet it has maintained a position of ‘climate change scepticism’—or, more accurately, climate change denial.

The government’s inaction is so evidently seen through its failure to commission economic modelling on climate change so that we can more thoroughly analyse its economic impact and the risks of inaction. In stark contrast to the government’s approach, the Leader of the Opposition and the state governments have commissioned Professor Ross Garnaut to review the economic costs of climate change inaction by reviewing its impacts and costs. The government has had 11 long years to commission such research, but once again the initiative was left to the Australian Labor Party.

The government’s assertions that nuclear power is our only answer to climate change woes is, put simply, ridiculous, as well as misleading. As the member for Kingsford Smith pointed out, even the optimists among the government who are pushing this particular policy say that it will be possible in 10 to 15 to 25 years. I say to this parliament that we do not have 10 to 15 to 25 years to get serious about addressing climate change; we must do so now. This response by the government is reckless, and it will produce a greater environmental burden than it will relieve.

The past 11 years have seen huge underinvestment in the climate change challenge and transparent rhetoric designed to polarise the debate between sceptics and radicals. The reality is that the Australian public’s concern about climate change is not a radical position; it is a mainstream one—and that is the only reason the government are now attempting to appear like they are responding to it.

Within my electorate of Adelaide, the issue of climate change is weighing heavily on the minds of the constituents that I come here to represent. One concerned constituent recently wrote to me outlining her exasperation about the sheer number of problems that climate change poses. She wrote:

Climate change is real and I am very concerned for the future of my children and all future generations. Higher temperatures, reduced rainfall, huge changes to the ecosystems on which our lives, all lives, depend, sea-level rises, alpine area decrease, Great Barrier Reef loss … the list goes on …

This is a common feeling throughout my electorate and indeed right across Australia. But, in addition to these environmental and social impacts, climate change poses a severe threat to the Australian economy. Australia’s future prosperity relies on a commitment to tackling climate change and an emissions reduction framework within which businesses and industry can work. The costs of action are real, but the costs of inaction are huge, particularly for our agricultural and tourism industries. Modelling released by both the Business Roundtable on Climate Change and the Stern report has confirmed this.

On this side of the House, Labor has committed to a reduction in greenhouse pollution of 60 per cent on 2000 levels by the year 2050 and to establishing an emissions trading scheme by 2010. It is widely recognised that both of these initiatives are required to tackle the environmental and economic threats posed by climate change.

The Business Roundtable on Climate Change, which includes leading Australian companies such as BP, Westpac and IAG, has lent its support to this initiative, expressing unequivocally that climate change poses a severe threat to business and requires immediate action. The roundtable’s research found that delays in setting a carbon price signal through an emissions trading scheme would ultimately double the cost of such a target and see the cost of electricity rise and the destruction of 250,000 jobs. Labor will uphold its longstanding commitment to significantly increase the mandatory renewable energy target and provide support for the renewable energy industry. Australia is one of the best placed countries in the world to establish a viable renewable energy industry, but some of our first-class scientists and technicians have been forced to take their research offshore, particularly in the field of solar energy research.

A holistic approach to overcoming this challenge requires policy action at an international and federal level as well as at a grassroots level. A lot of the constituents that I represent often say to me, ‘What can I do to do my bit, even if my federal government aren’t doing theirs?’ There are many Australians keen to green their homes, but they are held back by the financial constraints of taking such action. The up-front costs of greening the average family home can be significant, even though greener energy is likely to save that household money in the long term. That is why Labor has committed to providing low-interest loans of $10,000 for Australian households to implement energy and water savings and provide rebates for rooftop solar power panels. Australian households need help up front to green their homes and we on this side of the House are prepared to offer this to help the community.

Furthermore, any government serious about climate change must ratify the Kyoto protocol. The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources spoke about how we need to recognise that global warming has a global nature. We on this side of the House recognise that, and that is why we think we need a global solution. Labor would take immediate action to ratify the Kyoto protocol and further strengthen such action through diplomatic initiatives with China. Kyoto holds the best hope of tackling climate change at a global level and offers a world of opportunities that have so far been missed. Importantly, it also offers Australia the opportunity to have a seat at the table as the rules are developed for the international market beyond 2012. If every other country followed the rationale that the minister outlined in this House and said, ‘We will not act until they do,’ where on earth would we be? We would be in a position of there being absolutely no action while everyone sat back desperately waiting for someone to show leadership. It is the role of the Australian government to show leadership and act.

The Howard government has systematically failed over the past 11 years to address the challenge of climate change and to position the Australian economy for a low-carbon future. The government has failed to step up and show global leadership in tackling the climate change burden. Instead, it has undermined global initiatives by refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol. On this side of the House, we take the threat of climate change seriously and we will address it in government with the energy and urgency it deserves. Economically, climate change poses a severe threat but also provides a number of opportunities. Morally, it is all about obligations to urgently act. We on this side of the House will tackle the challenges of climate change head-on and embrace the opportunities with open arms. (Time expired)