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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7837

Mrs D’ATH (2:25 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on recent developments in Australia’s efforts to tackle climate change?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —Today, Australia had an opportunity to embrace the future on climate change and instead we find ourselves, courtesy of the Liberal and National parties, dangerously anchored in the past. The Australian parliament had an opportunity to embrace the future on climate change today and instead the Senate, instructed by the Liberal and National parties, chose to anchor us again in the past. Instead of the next generation of Australians being able to look back on this day in August 2009 as a turning point for the future, they will look back on this day instead as the time when the Liberal and National parties put their own internal disunity ahead of what is necessary for the nation and the next generation of Australians.

As we listen to those opposite in recent times, we still hear debates reverberating about whether in fact the science underpinning climate change is valid. I find it remarkable in 2009 that those opposite, replete though they are with climate change sceptics, could still be engaging in such a debate. It is now more than 30 years since the first ever world climate conference called on governments to guard against potential climate change hazards. It has been 20 years since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed to produce its first report. It was 17 years ago, in 1992, that the international community acknowledged the importance of tackling climate change when it met at the Rio Earth Summit and created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the period in which those opposite were in government, it was in the year 2000 that the previous government released a public consultation paper encouraging early greenhouse abatement action. That was in the year 2000—nine years ago. In 2003—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr RUDD —Those opposite interject that they did it. Where is the emissions trading scheme that they claim to have done? In 2003, the previous government released a review of the operation of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000. Nothing was done. In 2007, former Prime Minister Howard’s group on emissions trading released the Shergold report, which recommended an emissions trading scheme for the future and, as we went into the last election, what did those opposite promise to introduce if they were to win? They promised an emissions trading scheme. They then said, through the then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources but now Leader of the Opposition:

… to encourage the development of low-emission technologies and a more efficient use of energy. The best approach is through emissions trading; letting the market set the price so that the least cost abatement can be achieved.

He went on to say:

… if you throw out a target and you cannot tell business what it’s going to cost, what it's going to mean, they’ll throw up their arms in dismay. So we have set up a scheme, an emissions trading scheme.

That is the scheme against which they voted in the Senate earlier today.

The other argument advanced by those opposite is that we need to wait for Copenhagen and see what the rest of the world has done. Could I remind those opposite what they had to say on these matters when they were in government? Again, these are the words of the now Leader of the Opposition. He said only last year:

… the Howard government’s policy last year—

referring to 2007—

was that we would establish an emissions trading system not later than 2012. It was not conditional on international action …

That was the statement made by the now Leader of the Opposition only last year. He said further:

… John Howard decided and the Cabinet decided last year that we would move on an emissions trading scheme come what may.

Again, this is the emissions trading scheme which they have voted against in the Senate today. In terms of whether this action should be conditional upon international action, the Howard government’s own report, the Shergold report, said the following. I quote what their own report said, and they know it too well. The Shergold report said:

… waiting until a truly global consensus response emerges before imposing an emissions cap will place costs on Australia by increasing business uncertainty and delaying or losing investment. Already there is evidence that investment in key emissions intensive industries and energy infrastructure is being deferred.

So, after 12 years, the Liberal Party undertook a promise finally at the last election, armed with the Shergold report, that they would act. What we have seen ever since the election is one rolling litany of excuses for inaction, for one reason alone: they cannot unite themselves to bless themselves, let alone to vote together on any position on climate change.

I contrast that shoddy performance on climate change with the posture that we adopted since the last election and the commitments we took to the Australian people. We said to the Australian people prior to the last election that we as our first act in government would ratify the Kyoto protocol. We, the government of Australia, as our first act ratified the Kyoto protocol. It took them years and years and years to procrastinate and to avoid such a basic course of action, and we took it as our first action in government. We also set a target to cut Australia’s greenhouse emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050; to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply, the equivalent of all household electricity used, would be generated by renewable energy by 2020; that we would establish a national clean coal initiative; that we would establish an Australian solar institute, a geothermal initiative and introduce greenhouse rebates for solar power and solar hot water; and to provide low-interest loans for families to undertake water and energy efficiency improvements at home. We also undertook to introduce a national emissions trading scheme.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.

Mr RUDD —In the period since the last election, 18 or 20 months since then, we have been giving effect to each and every one of these commitments. In the last 18 months or so since the election we have acted methodically and comprehensively across this agenda. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme green paper was released way back in June 2008. The Garnaut climate change review was released in September 2008. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme white paper was released in December 2008. The draft Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation was released in March 2009. The renewable energy target legislation was introduced into the parliament, with 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. We have held numerous industry consultations. There have been numerous Senate inquiries—

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I respectfully request that you draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the Deputy Prime Minister’s exhortation that questions not last longer than four minutes. He started his sixth minute—

The SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Mr RUDD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The truth is that this is a very difficult story for those opposite to listen to, because it is 12 years of excuses for inaction and it is now 18 months of further excuses for inaction. What is going on here is very simple. It is not about policy; it is about the internal politics of the coalition. Everyone knows that. Everyone watching this debate knows that that is the truth.

As of May 2009, the government had managed to build a wide coalition in support of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. On the side of business we had positive statements of support from both the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group. We also had broad community support from the Climate Institute, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund and others. These are the product of hard work by hardworking ministers on a very difficult and contentious piece of legislation—difficult and contentious in any jurisdiction seeking to legislate in this manner across the world. But one force has held us back from achieving progress on climate change, and that is the old guard of the Liberal Party, now in control of the Liberal Party.

Today after so many reports, reviews, consultations and even their election commitment and the aspiration of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people, the Liberal Party have once again chosen to turn their back on the future. Again let us put into absolutely clear and stark context the remarks made on this subject within the last year by the now Leader of the Opposition. He said that the emissions trading scheme is the central mechanism to decarbonise our economy. He said that the biggest element in the fight against climate change has to be an emissions trading scheme. He said that our firsthand experience in implementing an emissions trading scheme would be of considerable assistance for our international negotiations to achieve an effective global agreement. From all these statements of high courage, what has suddenly changed? What has changed between these statements of high principle from the now Leader of the Opposition last year to the absolute collapse in the authority of his leadership this year? It is to do with the fact that there is no authoritative leadership at all within the Liberal Party today, and the nation is suffering as a consequence. Today the Liberal Party of Australia is beholden to the climate change sceptics. Today they are absolutely demonstrating themselves as being prisoners of the past, prisoners of their own internal party disunity. The Liberal Party, prisoners of the past on climate change, prisoners of their own party disunity on climate change, are therefore placing the nation’s future at risk. Rather than marking this day as one when the nation actually grasped its future, those opposite have chosen instead to consign Australia to the past.

I would appeal to all those who lie within the ranks opposite, as women and men of conscience, to actually overcome the rancid nature of their disunity and to act for the first time in the national interest on climate change.