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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5900

Mr DANBY (3:27 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and the Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change. Will the minister outline to the House the work that has been done over the last decade to set up an emissions trading scheme and implement an expanded renewable energy target? How has this work assisted the government to take real action on climate change and how is this action being received?

Mr COMBET (Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science and Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change) —Thank you to the member for Melbourne Ports. As a former constituent of his, I can attest to the fact that he has a serious interest in the issue of climate change. We all have a responsibility—including the opposition—to the Australian people and to future generations to act on climate change. For the government’s part, the government accepts the consensus view of scientists. Importantly, the Fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that warming is unequivocal and human activities are responsible for most of the observed warming over the last 50 years. That is a consequence of the work of over 1,200 scientists from over 130 countries that has been subject to peer review, contained and represented in the Fourth assessment report of the IPCC. The government also accepts that if we fail to act now we will cause irreparable damage to our environment, economy and way of life. The fact is that Australia is a hot and dry continent and failure to act will have an adverse effect on our ecosystems and our economy, particularly on industries such as agriculture and tourism.

Further delay in acting against climate change means the cost of adjustment will be greater and other countries will get ahead of us in creating the low-pollution jobs of the future. And that is why the government has established targets and developed the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to go about achieving them. But in the face of all this evidence the coalition continue to ignore the challenge of climate change and insist on delay—even after 12 years in government characterised by inaction on this issue in the face of numerous reports and commitments given during their period in government.

Just to give an overview of some of the work and the advice that the coalition commissioned and ignored: in 1999 there were no fewer than six reports to the Howard government, all of which were ignored. The Australian Greenhouse Office discussion paper series on emissions trading was issued during that year and included a discussion paper on establishing the boundaries of a scheme, a discussion paper on issuing permits, a discussion paper on how crediting carbon pollution could occur, a discussion paper on designing the carbon-trading market, a discussion paper on the greenhouse challenge and a further report of the Greenhouse Energy Group on planning for mandatory targets for the uptake of renewable energy in power supplies, followed in the year 2000 by a further report of the Australian Greenhouse Office on encouraging early greenhouse abatement mechanisms.

In 2002 there was a further report from the Greenhouse Office on greenhouse gas emissions. In 2003 there was a report on renewable opportunities and a review of the operation of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act. In 2007, of course, there was the Shergold report, from the Prime Minister’s task group at that time, on emissions trading, which led to the Howard government indicating that it would commit to an emissions trading scheme. But in the face of all that, nothing was done. The advice was ignored. The reports were shelved.

During 2008, by contrast, the Rudd government received the Garnaut Climate Change Review report. A green paper on the development of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was developed. A white paper was issued in December 2008 and there were numerous industry consultations. In 2009, the draft CPRS legislation was released, numerous Senate inquiries have been held and now the draft Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill has been released. On that point, the government intends implementing its policy by virtue of that legislation to achieve 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply being delivered by renewable sources by the year 2020. That is expected to drive $19 billion worth of investment in renewable energy activity.

These are great institutional changes. They are extremely important and in the face of them the coalition has abrogated its responsibility to support them. However, Mr Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition, has indicated what is the coalition’s policy. He made this remark on 9 July 2008:

… the Howard Government’s policy last year was that we would establish an emissions trading system not later than 2012.

And importantly, in the light of the excuses for delay that have been articulated by the Liberal Party in recent times, Mr Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition, said:

It was not conditional on international action …

Commitment to an emissions trading system was to be pursued by the coalition. More recently, the Leader of the Opposition has confirmed that there will be an emissions trading scheme in this country. The trouble is that the coalition and the Leader of the Opposition cannot deliver on these issues and all we have heard are excuses for delay. The reason that there are excuses for delay is that the opposition is deeply divided. And you do not have to take my point of view on it; there is plenty of evidence from members of the opposition. Take this quote from Senator Eric Abetz:

There is no doubt that weeds—

That was ‘weeds’—

pose … a challenge much clearer, more present and possibly more serious than the unclear challenge which climate change may or may not pose to our biodiversity …

And there are many other instances where members of the opposition have indicated a completely contrary view to that of the Leader of the Opposition on the issue of emissions trading and scepticism about the science. And that is the reason for the division on that side of politics and the reason that all they posit are excuses for delay. The government has brought forward the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It has passed through this House. We will be bringing forward legislation to establish a fourfold increase in the renewable energy target. We have established ambitious carbon pollution reduction targets, we have signed the Kyoto Protocol and we will take action. It is time that the opposition exercised responsibility on behalf of the Australian community on this question.

Ms Julie Bishop —As the minister read every single word of his answer, I ask that he table the document from which he was reading.

The SPEAKER —Was the minister quoting from a document?

Mr Combet —Yes.

The SPEAKER —Was the document confidential?

Mr Combet —Yes.

Mr Tuckey —I rise on a point of order. In the light of the minister’s maiden answer being confidential, could he disclose the author?

The SPEAKER —The member for O’Connor will leave the chamber for one hour under the provisions of standing order 94(a).

The member for O’Connor then left the chamber.