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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 574

Mr ADAMS (12:27 PM) —That was a performance by the previous member. He talked about conspiracy theories, pirates, bankers as devils and money-spinners all coming out of this legislation, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills. I find it unbelievable and I think most of Australia would as well, as they have with the Liberal Party’s policy on this, which is really a policy of convenience: ‘We need a policy, so we’ll have a policy.’ They have not dealt with the real issues that the government are endeavouring to do deal with in these bills. There has been much discussion on these bills already and it seems almost impossible to come up with more reasons as to why this legislation needs to be passed. I look at it this way: I have lived in this country all my life and I have watched the seasons come and go. I have seen changes in the elements over the last 50 years or so. I guess it has been about 50 years since I started taking notice of climate and changes in the weather. Growing up in the country, of course, it was always something that was talked about and looked at, and one noted what was happening.

I have also noted that climate conditions have become more unsettled in the latter part of my time on earth. I do not know enough about all that science to say that global warming is actually occurring, but I do feel that the climate is changing on an irregular basis and there are many reasons for it to do so. There are some natural reasons for climate change, such as volcanic activity, changes in vegetation, bushfires and their aftermath, tidal patterns, river paths, the phases of the moon, wet seasons, dry seasons and a whole host of natural changes due to the cycles of weather, which influence what is going on at ground level.

To this you add the activities of man and the animals we share the earth with. Man had has been able to influence and change some of the natural influences of climate through being able to harness some of our natural resources to make living in our world easier. We do like electricity to help us cook and heat and to make life more comfortable. We like having wood from our forests to build our houses, to make our furniture and to enjoy the nature of it. We enjoy eating fresh vegetables, fruit, grain, meat and fish and processing them—and, of course, we like our wine and the good old amber fluid. We also have the tendency to fight each other. In order to have these basics of life, to be able to provide everyone with these commodities and to have a surplus for trade, we have manipulated their production.

If you have, as most people do, a basic understanding of chemistry, then you understand that when you add elements to the atmosphere there will be changes, some of them good and some of them not altogether desirable. With any sort of mass production there is a waste stream—emissions, if you like. That waste stream also has to be dealt with, whether by recycling it, by reusing it in some way or by disposing of it safely. We do those things a lot better than we used to, when we started mass production. Whatever we do, and however we do it, there is an element of cost. There will always be an element of cost. If, therefore, we are trying to minimise man’s effect on the earth, then there is an expense attached to it. We have been aware of that for some time.

There is the cost of dealing with waste. When people live together in high-density environments, the land cannot deal with the waste naturally. We have to intervene—to take it away, to pump it out or do something else to deal with it. This is the same with whatever product or activity we are coping with, whether it be the waste from a steel mill or the waste from a chicken coop. Hopefully you would put the chicken poop back into the ground to make it better—we have learnt to take some of the waste from our production and turn that into a plus for us as well. It all has a cost attached to it in some way.

Science has helped in many ways to deal with waste, whether it be by recycling it, reusing it, rendering it inert or carefully destroying it—but, whatever you do, or how careful you are, there is always a bit left over. I expect it is a bit like when we take something apart and put it back together—there is always something left sitting on the kitchen table or on the workbench that does not seem to belong anywhere. There is always something, and sometimes these things tend to add up.

So I say to Mr Abbott: it does not matter how much you bluster and carry on about a great big tax; I am afraid you are already paying for it, and have been paying for it for centuries. What the government is trying to do, without the help of the opposition, is to make waste a tradeable commodity so that it makes sense economically to do something about it. There is nothing new in paying for emissions. It has just become a little more urgent that we all help to pay—and by ‘all’ I mean on a global scale. It therefore makes economic sense to start setting some boundaries domestically, so that we can keep up with change.

This government is also keen to ensure that some of the less economically fortunate in our community do not suffer unduly from change. That is why we are proposing to help relieve them from taking on a greater burden in their day-to-day lives by allowing some household assistance as the change occurs. It seems likely that we will need to do more to alleviate the problems of our waste streams, but what is less certain is by what quantity and how much that will cost. So there is a need for some risk management—a bit of insurance, if you like.

In an article entitled ‘Climate change: hedging your climate-change bets’, appearing in Science in October 2005, Richard A Kerr says that:

… uncertainty can justify an alternative to cost-benefit analysis called risk management, an approach people take when they buy insurance. “Uncertainty is the reason you buy insurance,” says Yohe. Insurance does nothing to reduce the chances that your house will catch fire, he notes, but “it decreases the consequences should the bad event occur. People are willing to pay premiums for insurance because that spreads the risk.”

Under risk management, decision-makers would consider the range of possible outcomes and then try to avoid the worst by, for example, levying a tax on the carbon in fossil fuels that becomes the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The tax would reduce the urgency of making more sweeping decisions. At the same time, it would keep in play more ambitious goals such as holding greenhouse gases to even lower levels. All the while, scientists would be learning more about the risks of global warming.

So insurance companies are already thinking about how to deal with risks of climate change. I read another article entitled, ‘An answer to climate change: weather hedging for everybody’, which talked about a weather insurance exchange project. It does not exist at the moment but, given the right ambience, it might be a good model to help farmers mitigate the risks of experiencing a drought. Hedging is a way of spreading the risk, so I guess that these bills are starting to deal with the risks presented by any change in the environment—whether the science agrees or does not agree on what is actually happening.

I have just finished an inquiry into how farmers are dealing with climate change. Many farmers have already started to change farm practices and to come up with new ideas to deal with the changing weather patterns. We need to be able to give them tools and certainty so that their risk mitigation practices can be put into place. The emissions of which I have been speaking are of course known as ‘greenhouse gases’. Many chemical compounds found in the earth’s atmosphere act as greenhouse gases. These gases allow sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely. When sunlight strikes the earth’s surface, some of it is re-radiated back towards space as infrared radiation, or heat. Greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation and trap its heat in the atmosphere. Many gases exhibit these greenhouse properties. Some occur naturally, some are produced by human activities, and some are exclusively human made. If it were not for naturally occurring greenhouse gases, the earth would be too cold to support life as we know it. Without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature on earth would be about minus two degrees Fahrenheit rather than 57 degrees Fahrenheit, which we currently experience.

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and allowing too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere can overload the sink, the oceans, so it collects in the atmosphere, causing heat to be retained. It is these excess greenhouse gases that need to be reduced so that their potential effects can be minimised. Now for a little science, thanks to the BBC’s weather program, which explains the cycle very simply—if one can get this debate into simplicity. Carbon dioxide is probably the most important of the greenhouse gases, as it accounts for the largest proportion of the trace gases, and it is currently responsible for 60 per cent of the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Most of the carbon dioxide was removed from the atmosphere as early organisms evolved photosynthesis. This locked away carbon dioxide as carbonate minerals, oil shale, coal and petroleum in the earth’s crust when the organisms died. This left 0.05 per cent in the atmosphere today. Atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from a number of natural sources, mainly the decay of plants, volcanic eruptions and as a waste product of animal respiration. It is removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis in plants—that is, absorption through the leaves of plants—and by dissolving in water, especially on the surface of our oceans. Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for approximately 100 years.

The amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by plants is almost perfectly balanced with the amount put back into the atmosphere by respiration and decay. Small changes as a result of human activity can have a great impact on this delicate balance. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide stored millions of years ago. We use fossil fuels—including petrol, diesel and kerosene—to heat homes and businesses and to power factories. The use of wood and wood products releases the carbon stored in trees and also results in less carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere, hence the need to replant more trees. The majority of the carbon is not lost, though, as it is stored in whatever we make the wood into, such as houses, furniture, paper and all the other wood products we use.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased more in the Northern Hemisphere, where more fossil fuel burning occurs. Since the Industrial Revolution the concentration globally has increased by about 40 per cent. It is this equation that needs to be balanced.

In order to tackle climate change, we must consider two fundamental elements: limiting the carbon pollution that has an influence on climate and putting a cost or price on that carbon pollution. By combining these two means, we can start to deal with climate change and we can also open the door to investment in low-carbon technology and allow carbon trading to help pay for change.

The purpose of these bills is to give us all some certainty on what we can do, how we can do it and what it will cost. Even if the Leader of the Opposition thinks the whole business of climate change is crap, he has missed the point of these bills and in the process is slugging the taxpayer instead of those putting out most of the emissions. His scheme just does not work and, as far as I can see, it is unfunded as there is no means by which he can collect funds from the emitters to help alleviate pain and drive change which is what we have to do. In fact, he seems to be creating a great big tax, not on himself but on his children and on his grandchildren. I think he should get off his despot horse and start looking at reality.

These bills are complex, but they are an insurance for our future and an incentive for our children and our children’s children to act now. Spending $10 a week now instead of $100 in 30 years is something I think we should be doing. We should not push this aside as something that we cannot deal with. We must deal with it; this government is dealing with it. It has these bills back in the parliament and hopefully, maybe in some miracle way, we can resolve this matter through the Australian parliament and achieve what I believe our nation needs to achieve—that is, to pass these bills. I support these bills.