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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1794

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (17:01): It is a great pleasure to rise in this debate. In my contribution I want to talk a little bit about climate change policy in 2015, given I have portfolio responsibility for the opposition. But, before I get to some general remarks about climate change policy this year, I seek leave to table the remaining pages of a petition which has been considered by the Standing Committee on Petitions and found to be in accordance with the relevant standing orders.

Leave granted.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of Australia's daughters and sons, parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, draws to the attention of the House the damage to the earth's climate and its oceans from humanity's continuing and increasing carbon emissions and the consequent severe risks to the future health, safety and well-being of our children and our children's children and future generations.

We remind the House that it is the fundamental duty of parliament, including this House, to protect Australia's people, land and seas.

We therefore ask the House to respect the science and build a safe climate future for our children and grandchildren and generations to come by enacting immediate and deep reductions to Australia's carbon emissions. We also ask the House to commit to and actively promote and support global strategies for immediate and deep reductions to global emissions at every designated international forum.

from 23,920 citizens

Petition received.

This is about 21,000 signatures of a total of 72,000 to 73,000 signatures, known as the Monster Climate Petition, which has been coordinated by 12 very significant Australian women. The lead petitioner is Dr Fiona Stanley, a very well-known Australian figure—Australian of the Year a little more than a decade ago and a great public figure in the area of public health and an advocate of the links between health policy and climate change policy.

This petition was inspired by a much earlier petition conducted by women in 1891 who, in Victoria, collected almost 30,000 signatures in five weeks requesting the vote for women. In accordance with that historical inspiration, this petition was done in old-school fashion. It was done on paper by pen. It is not one of those new online petitions that are very easy for people to log on and ramp the numbers up quickly. This was hard work for those petitioners, and they have done an extraordinary job. They delivered the first batch—the final batch being tabled by me today—just before Christmas, in December last year, out the front of Parliament House. The other two-thirds of the petition were tabled by the member for Indi and also the member for Melbourne.

The lead petitioners decided to extend the petition until August 2015 in light of the importance of 2015 in climate change policy and climate change politics and, I think to their mind, also to be able to continue to raise consciousness across the Australian community about the importance of this year in this policy area. This year, 2015, will be a very big year in climate change policy and climate change politics. Whatever your view about this area of policy—a very highly contested area of policy—we know there will be a great deal of activity domestically here in Australia and internationally leading into the Paris conference in December 2015.

We are only several weeks into this year, but the year has already started with a bang. Shortly after New Year's Day, our third largest export partner, South Korea, started an emissions trading scheme very similar in design to the emissions trading scheme that the Labor Party argued for in parliament through the course of last year—the same emissions trading scheme we took to the election in 2013. Already, only several weeks into the emissions trading scheme in South Korea, the permits that big polluters are required to purchase in order to continue to emit carbon dioxide are trading at about the same price that Treasury advised us the Labor Party's emissions trading scheme would trade at. Again, this about the same price that similar permits are being traded in the European Union ETS and about the same price of some of the more mature emissions trading schemes in China, which now has eight schemes. For example, Shenzhen is being traded on their market as well. Again, it shows a very significant momentum around the world for market based mechanisms that blend the idea of a formal legal cap on carbon pollution that then lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate it.

Also this year, contrary to the commentary that comes through in the broadsheets particularly like The Australian—the world if anything is getting cooler according to Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister's senior business adviser, Maurice Newman—we were advised by that well-known hotbed of left-wing conspiracies, NASA, that 2014 was actually the hottest year in the 135 years in which records have been kept of surface temperatures around the world. And 14 of the 15 hottest years have all been in the last 15 years. Indeed, we have not yet got the global temperature records for February 2015 but it is likely that February 2015 will be the 360th month in a row in which the global average surface temperatures were higher than the 20th-century average thereby putting a lie to the suggestion that everything is okay and that if there was some warming over the course of the 20th century it is all reversed. We know that is not the case at all.

President Obama in his State of the Union Address only a couple of weeks ago reinforced and demonstrated his commitment to make sure that the United States, as the largest economy in the world and one of the two largest polluters of carbon dioxide in the world, will continue to do all that he can as president of that country to achieve an ambitious agreement in Paris in December 2015. He said in his State of the Union Address:

There is no challenge that poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

We see a very significant building of momentum towards the conference in December in Paris.

The year 2014 was a study in contrast. We saw that sort of momentum building around the world with a very significant agreement between the two largest polluters, the two largest economies in the world, the United States and China. The presidents of both countries indicated commitments that they intended to table many months before the Paris conference of December. The United States has committed to a reduction in carbon pollution in the order of 24 to 26 per cent on 2005 levels by 2025, which the Climate Institute indicated is about the equivalent to a 30 per cent commitment here in Australia. And China committed to peak and then reduce its carbon pollution levels by 2030 at the latest. That comes on the back of other significant commitments made by some of our oldest trading partners, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and many others as well.

The picture in Australia could not have been more different. In this country we have a Prime Minister dedicated to slamming Australia into reverse in this area of policy. Over the course of last year, the cap on carbon pollution that would then let business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate—the discipline on our carbon pollution levels—was removed from the statute books by this Prime Minister. This Prime Minister also removed our legal target to reduce carbon pollution levels in the relatively short term by 2020 and in the longer term by 2050. There are now no legal commitments to undertake any reduction in carbon pollution levels because of the decisions taken by this Prime Minister.

Perhaps most notably in most shamefully there was an outrageous attack and ambush on the renewable energy sector. In spite the fact that this Prime Minister went to the last two elections promising to keep the existing Renewable Energy Target, which in the large-scale sector was 41,000 gigawatt hours electricity by 2020. In spite of a clear promise to keep that in place, he then launched a shameful ambush on the sector with devastating consequences at the beginning of 2014.

What we have seen is that going from opposition in 2013 when Australia was one of the foremost attractive countries on the face of the earth to invest in renewable energy, up with the powerhouse economies of China, the United States and Germany, we have plummeted to 10th. Over the course of 2014 renewable energy investment around the world expanded by 16 per cent; in a country like China it expanded by 32 per cent. But in Australia, in the large-scale sector, it plummeted by 88 per cent.

Now, 2015 will be a very interesting year domestically for climate change policy. This Prime Minister—if he lasts over the course of this year—has commissioned, after a deal he did with Clive Palmer and the Palmer United Party, a report from the Climate Change Authority. The report, to be delivered in June, is about what sort of position Australia should take about post-2020 reductions in carbon pollution levels. It will be a very interesting response indeed from this Prime Minister once that report has been delivered. Expert after expert has indicated that the government's policy of so-called 'direct action' is utterly incapable of achieving meaningful reductions in carbon pollution, and if there were to be any significant reductions in carbon pollution they would come at the cost of billions and billions and billions of taxpayers' dollars. I want to congratulate the petitioners of the Monster Climate Petition and to applaud their work.