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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 653

Mr CHAMPION (5:54 PM) —I rise to support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills. I begin by apologising to you, Deputy Speaker Schultz, for testing your patience earlier. It is always good to follow the member for O’Connor. We always learn something from him, something technical in this case, although he was sounding a bit like Rex Connor towards the end of his speech.

This legislation is probably the most important legislation this parliament will debate in a generation. The decisions we make will have a profound effect on the way we live now and into the future. In my contribution, I would like to refer to the scientific consensus as it now stands, the policy options that stand before us, the views of the prominent climate sceptic Lord Monckton and the nature of opposition to this legislation.

The scientific consensus as set out by the IPCC’s working group in their report, Climate change 2007: the physical science basis, says that there is no question that the climate has warmed and that it is now very likely that greenhouse gas emissions related to human activity caused most of the warming that has been observed since the mid-20th century. In the previous assessment report, in 2001, the IPCC had only considered it likely. They found that global climate change over the past 50 years is extremely unlikely to have been caused by natural variability alone. These findings are a result of sophisticated computer modelling that takes into account greenhouse gases produced through human activity and also through the effects of the sun, aerosols and land use.

The current rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is approaching 380 parts per million, which is the highest rate in 650,000 years. That rate increased during the industrial era and is likely to be unprecedented in more than 10,000 years. Ice core samples show that for the past 10,000 years preceding the industrial era, atmospheric carbon dioxide has been stable at 260 to 280 parts per million and the level of 280 parts per million has been around for roughly the 750 years preceding the industrial age. Human activities have increased that rate to 380 parts per million. Nitrous oxide levels have increased by 19 per cent and methane gas levels have doubled—they are all greenhouse gases. The warming that has occurred in the second half of this century can only be explained in the computer modelling if human induced changes in greenhouse gas emissions are included in those computer models.

To put the amount of carbon that is emitted in an easily digestible form for the benefit of the House and anybody listening, human beings add 6.5 billion tonnes of carbon each year through burning fossil fuels. They add another one to two billion tonnes of carbon through erosion, land clearing and soil degradation. They are extraordinary figures when put on a global scale. Like the member for O’Connor, I have no scientific expertise. I am reliant on the scientific community for their advice. As a layman, it seems to me that if you pump 6.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, it might have some effect on the balance of things and some effect on our fragile planet.

We have the recent example of the hole that has been caused in the ozone layer. We know that was caused by seemingly small amounts of CFCs from our refrigerators and cooling systems, and that that had a very large impact on the world around us. It depleted ozone in the atmosphere. The world responded through the Montreal protocol, an international treaty to ban these chemicals. The sky did not fall in because of international action. The economy did not fail. No world government was enacted. What actually happened was that the use of CFCs declined and alternative chemicals for use were found by private enterprise. We changed our ways and, as a result, ozone levels in the atmosphere are likely to be restored to 1960 levels by 2050. So we had an international treaty, based on recommendations of scientists and backed by the leadership of nation states, which solved a problem through the dynamic innovation of private enterprise.

It has been done in other areas, too. Acid rain in the United States was resolved through a cap-and-trade scheme. The problem was fixed by the US government constructing a market and private industry responding to that market. The result was not economic collapse and the result was not world government. The results were that acid rain was stopped, industry fixed the problem and it was fixed at a lower cost than anybody predicted. It is interesting that there was an article by Joel Kurtzman in the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs last year called ‘The Low-Carbon diet’. Mr Kurtzman reports:

In 1979, the United Nations passed the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, which marked the beginning of an international effort to reduce the emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides. But it was not until the US Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 that the United States saw any meaningful reduction. The amendments enabled the EPA to place a national cap on emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides while allowing polluters to trade permits amongst themselves. Using 1980 emission levels as the baseline, the program aimed to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide in half by 2010. In 2007, three years ahead of schedule, the agency’s cap-and-trade program achieved its reduction targets. The cost to emitters, which the Congressional Budget Office had estimated would be $6 billion a year, came instead to about $1.1-$1.8 billion a year, largely because the program enabled emitters to choose their own solutions to the problem, rather than relying on a narrow range of mandated technologies and approaches.

There is some indication there that a similar scheme was used to solve a similar problem and fixed it, and it fixed it at a lower cost than anybody predicted—not at a higher cost than people predicted but at a lower cost. A similar scheme was used in the United States for the transition from leaded to unleaded petrol and, again, the result was that government gave leadership and created a market system and that market system induced private enterprise to produce a public good. Without those cap-and-trade schemes, this public policy outcome would not have occurred or it would have occurred at much greater cost.

The CPRS legislation before us today is no different in principle from the US government’s approach to acid rain. The need to act is backed by the weight of the scientific evidence that we have at this time. The government is providing leadership and direction for the public good and the national interest. A market is being created so that private enterprise will respond. This market will be based on sound principles. The first principle is that the polluter should pay for the permits to emit greenhouse gases; that the market, through the trading of these permits, will best know how to allocate the costs and risks associated with such emissions; that the market, through capital allocation, is most likely to effectively reward risk, to encourage innovation and to drive efficiency; and that the government should assist our export industries to protect our international competitiveness because, as previous members have said, those exporters cannot easily pass the prices on.

The other principle is that low- and middle-income earners should be compensated for the price effects from the creation of this new market. This is not some invention of the Australian Labor Party. Rather, it is the invention of a range of experts—a range of people from across the policy divide—who think that this is the appropriate way to go about lowering emissions. Nicholas Stern, an economist and a person of great reputation, said:

Expanding and linking the growing number of emissions trading schemes around the world is a powerful way to promote cost-effective reductions in emissions and to bring forward action in developing countries.

In addition, the Shergold report, which has been quoted many times in this debate, stated:

By placing a price on emissions, trading allows market forces to find least cost ways of reducing emissions by providing incentives for firms to reduce emissions where this would be cheapest …

That is why the Howard government was committed to introducing an emissions trading scheme. It was why the Liberals, under the responsible leadership of the member for Wentworth, backed amended CPRS legislation. You have to compliment the member for Wentworth. He did, I think, a courageous thing in this House today. He made a courageous speech, the type of speech that is not made in this House very often, and I think he is to be commended for it. It does take some courage to fly in the face of your party and it takes some courage to do it on the floor of the House of Representatives.

It is a great pity that the current opposition has ignored all reason and adopted a policy that slugs the taxpayer rather than the polluter, that is underfunded and will either result in higher taxes or cuts to services and that relies on government directive rather than a market mechanism to allocate risk, create innovation and drive efficiency. We know that, at best, this approach has profound limitations and that, at worst, it has inherent public risk associated with it—the great risk of crony capitalism. Finally, this policy will increase emissions by 13 per cent over 2000 levels. At the end of spending all this money, it will have increased emissions. Even the coalition’s own researcher, David Pearce from the Centre for International Economics, has said, according to the Australian Financial Review today:

… the apparent simplicity of the coalition plan would soon disappear if it were ever implemented, because so many technical aspects of the strategy had been left unresolved.

The cost of the scheme could also rise significantly once details such as penalties on the assignment of risk were taken into account.

At the end of the story, the article says:

The principal architect of the coalition plan, opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt, admitted to The Australian Financial Review that this was an aspect of the scheme that would need to be resolved.

He said that about some problems they were having with farmers. These are some extraordinary admissions about a policy that is designed to fail. It is just a political stunt—very immature, very short-sighted and very irresponsible.

One would ask: what is driving this sudden change in policy by the Liberals? What has made them shift 180 degrees? The Liberal Party have said that Copenhagen caused the change in policy, but I think that it is actually a fellow called Lord Monckton. You cannot really have a discussion about climate change without examining the credibility of the lead sceptic. I have to say that I do not have anything against Lord Monckton. He seems like he would be an interesting person to have over for a dinner party. He is eccentric and controversial. He also possesses a certain charisma and good old-fashioned English charm, politeness and good manners; but he does have a long history of form on public policy issues. He has a history of holding extreme views in public policy debates. Let us take his view on AIDS. In 1987, Christopher Monckton, a former special adviser to Margaret Thatcher, wrote an article for the American Spectator titled ‘AIDS, a British view’. In it he said:

Yet both reports fail to draw the unwelcome but undeniable conclusion from the disquieting evidence which they present. For there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease for life to halt the transmission of the disease to those who are uninfected. Every member of the population should be blood-tested every month to detect the presence of antibodies against the disease, and all those found to be infected with the virus, even if only as carriers, should be isolated compulsorily, immediately, and permanently.

He went on to say that his program of action is radical, universal, undeniably contrary to individual liberties, et cetera. It is quite an extraordinary article. He finishes the article by saying:

Although the idea of universal testing and isolation now sounds extravagant and preposterous, it will eventually happen.

We know that Lord Monckton was wrong about that. He was absolutely wrong and he admitted that he was absolutely wrong later on when he was trying to sell puzzles to the public and he had to back off. He said:

Although I did mention quarantine and compulsory testing, I also said it was incompatible with liberal democracies and placed national authorities in an immense dilemma of enacting an unthinkable infringement of basic liberties.

While quarantine may have been an option 12 years ago, it is now obviously far too late to even consider a measure like that.

He said that on 28 August 1999 and has since backed away from that. In his latest National Press Club appearance he had a whole slide based on it and he said, regarding the AIDS epidemic, ‘That is the correct policy’ in regard to quarantining. So we know that Lord Monckton swings around the place a great deal. He told a South Yarra audience about the crash of a NASA satellite. He said:

Not greatly to my surprise—indeed I predicted it—the satellite crashed on take-off because the last thing they want is real world hard data …

That is what he told a climate sceptics lunch in South Yarra. The other day at the National Press Club, someone asked him what he would do to free science from prejudice and from the state interfering in it. I transcribed this myself off APAC. He said:

The first thing we have to do is stop funding science as taxpayers, that is a mistake, there is only one customer these days, and that is the state. Ninety-nine per cent of all science is bought and paid for by the state, via the taxpayer, whether the taxpayer likes it or not. That induces a culture of dependency much the same as someone living on the dole. The scientists are all like this and therefore begin to pander to what the state wants.

What he is suggesting there is that we end all state funding for science—which is a pretty radical proposal. Like I said, Lord Monckton is a likeable sort of fellow and he is very charming and all the rest of it, but I do not think that his views are practical or desirable and I think that Australians would find them extreme. You would have to wonder what influence he is having over Australian domestic policy.

I noticed the other day that the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, met with Lord Monckton. I do wonder what they discussed in their meeting. Did the Leader of the Opposition, as a former health minister, discuss Lord Monckton’s views on AIDS and the quarantining proposal? Did they discuss communism and the green movement, as the member for Kingston talked about? Did they discuss the conspiracy of radicalised scientists? Did they discuss the ending of all government funding for scientists? Did they discuss the crash of a NASA weather satellite? I think we are entitled to know how Lord Monckton is affecting Australian domestic policy. I think it is a very important question. I do not think that people should be judged by the company they keep, but the Leader of the Opposition is a significant figure in Australian politics. He has changed his policy. He has met with this leading climate sceptic who has had a tour of the country—a very successful tour by all accounts; he had packed-out audiences—but I think we are entitled to know what Mr Abbott and Lord Monckton discussed.

We have a right to know whether this parliament is going to be used as a cipher for Lord Monckton’s views. We have a right to know if this parliament is going to be used as an incense burner to Lord Monckton’s vanity. We have got a right to know whether or not it is going to be used as a crucible to his policy fantasies. I think the Leader of the Opposition should reveal to us what subjects were discussed in his secret meeting with Lord Monckton. Whether or not he agrees with Lord Monckton’s views is irrelevant, but we should be entitled to know exactly what was on the agenda for the meeting, whether or not there are going to be any future meetings, whether or not there is going to be any future contact, whether or not there are going to be any phone calls and whether or not, under an Abbott government, Lord Monckton would be sitting over here in the ‘honoured visitors’ gallery. Perhaps he would be there—this batty English lord—giving policy advice to a future Abbott government. I think we are entitled to know all of that, and I would like to hear from the opposition about the nature of the meeting and what was discussed.