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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3434

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (16:17): I began my remarks by pointing out that the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014 forms the centrepiece to the Abbott government's response to climate change. It is clear that, if this is the centrepiece to the Abbott government's response to climate change, the Abbott government does not take climate change seriously. What is even more concerning is that the climate change sceptics in the coalition party room are now in control, so much so that when you look at important documents like A Plan for a Cleaner Environment produced by the Abbott government, you will struggle to find the words 'climate change' in it. In fact, I could not. Perhaps I missed it, but I could not find the words 'climate change' in what is a critical document dealing with the environment.

Secondly, when you look at the white paper on agriculture and go to the terms of reference, again you cannot find the term 'climate change'. Most scientists would say to the government and the people of Australia that climate change is going to be one of the greatest challenges for the agriculture sector in years to come. You can argue about what is causing it, but you cannot deny that our climate is changing. In fact, the evidence is mounting every day. What is even more concerning is that the evidence is confirming what the scientific community have been saying for years—that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to these changes and each year that we do nothing makes it more difficult for future generations to manage the problem.

I pointed out the following statistics in a speech I made to this parliament only last week. Temperatures across this country have increased by about one degree over the last 100 years. There have been massive ice melts in Antarctic and Greenland icesheets. Sea levels have increased by 225 millimetres since 1880 and extreme weather events and changes in seasonal trends are now becoming a part of everyday life. Those extreme weather changes are having a direct impact on the social costs, the environmental costs and the economic costs of this country. Those costs will escalate as CO2 levels and greenhouse gas emission levels rise even further if we do nothing about it.

The government's response to all of those concerns—concerns which are taken seriously by most other governments of the world—is to support a policy that is estimated to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by the year 2050, at the same time subsidising the big corporate polluters to the tune of $50 billion by 2020. I understand that the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, the OECD, the Climate Change Authority and 33 out of 35 of Australia's leading economists have all urged the Prime Minister not to abandon a price on carbon. So why does the Abbott government persist with this flawed policy? It is a policy that, as I pointed out earlier today, is criticised by one of their own members, the member for Wentworth. It is a policy that we know will cost householders in the order of $1,200 to $1,300 each year, more than twice what they claimed that the Labor government's price on carbon imposes on householders. It is a policy that does not achieve the desired or required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It is, in fact, a policy that is at odds with what every other responsible government around the world is doing.

What is even more concerning is that it is a policy that is at serious risk of failing because of the very climate effects that we seek to mitigate. By that I mean that you plant trees right around the country but in future years we are likely to face severe fires or severe droughts. What are the first things to be affected when you have a severe drought or a severe fire? Probably the very trees that you have planted. We have evidence of that over the last few years. I can point to areas where the large tree plantings done by state governments, local councils and community groups all died as a result of the long drought. I have no doubt that there were trees destroyed as a result of the bushfires that we have seen on a regular basis. So there is no guarantee that we will ever even get the benefits of this flawed policy.

The Abbott government knows that their policy will not work. The reason they know it is because they have turned their backs on our commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to reducing the renewable energy targets and so on. Their philosophy is quite simple: 'We are not going to achieve the targets that we are expected to; we know we won't, so we'll just change the targets. That way, if we change the targets, then we will achieve them.'

This is a policy that, when all is said and done, can never, ever be evaluated until long after this government is gone. In turn, they will never, ever be held to account. There is no way that, even if you roll out the policy over the years ahead, any government will be in a position to measure or quantify the effect that it has had on reducing greenhouse gas emissions until many years have passed. And so, it is a convenient way for this government to just pretend to do something but never to be held to account with respect to it.

The other problem with this policy is, as I said earlier, that it actually gives money to the big polluters throughout this country who, in turn, obviously will have no incentive to do anything other than what they would have otherwise done.

I can understand why the government wants to bring this policy in. Part of the reason is that apart from creating an appearance that it is doing something with respect to climate change mitigation, it is also a convenient way of getting people off the unemployment queues and, in turn, reducing the unemployment numbers. Not in a real sense, but in a pretentious sense. You can take them off unemployment and then give them some kind of subsidy to go and do this, and that way it makes your unemployment figures look as if they have actually dropped when the reality is that very little has changed.

Talking about employment, this policy fails not only as an environmental policy but also fails if you are going to treat it as an employment policy. As an employment policy there is no provision within it for minimum remuneration rates, there is no provision within it for workers' compensation if someone happens to get hurt, there is no provision within it for leave entitlements, there is no provision within it for public liability and there is no provision within it for any training that might be needed. I do not have a criticism of training on the job and on the spot that; if that is going to help someone, by all means it is good thing. But where are all these people going to go once they have done all of this in terms of having a real job? I suspect that they will go back onto the unemployment queues from which they originally came.

If the government really wants to plant trees, it simply needs to proceed with the policies that are already in place and being carried out by community groups around the country. I can talk about community groups in my own electorate, like Friends of Cobbler Creek, Friends of Dry Creek and Friends of Anstey Hill, who continuously plant trees. Support those organisations because not only will they plant the trees but they will maintain and care for them long after they have planted them and ensure that they continue to do the job that they do. This is a policy that is nothing more than a cop-out by a government that wants to pretend that it cares about the environment and cares about climate change when, in fact, it wants to do nothing.