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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7707


Senator MILNE (4:12 PM) —I rise to take note of the minister’s statement. I appreciate the minister making a statement on this, but really it is completely unacceptable that the government do not tell the Australian people what the 2020 target is before the minister leaves for Poznan for the global negotiations. Nobody, but nobody, is going to believe that the government have not already made up their mind and decided what the target is—as if anything is going to change in the next 10 days. So the only reason the government are not telling the people of Australia what the 2020 target is is that it is a very weak target and the government want the cover of Poznan to be able to say when they get back, ‘The reason we have gone for a weak target is that the rest of the world is not moving any faster,’ and therefore it covers them to make it look as if it was something of a response to global negotiations when clearly they have decided now what the target is going to be.

It is obvious from the directions on the Treasury modelling what the target was always going to be. If the government had been serious about looking at the range of what was possible, they would have asked the Treasury to model everything from a five per cent to a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and then you would be able to see where the threshold point is in terms of real costs. As it was, Treasury was told to model 450 and 550 parts per million, and with a five per cent, 10 per cent, 15 per cent and 25 per cent reduction by 2020 there was virtually no difference in the cost. So, if there was no difference between a five per cent cut and a 25 per cent cut, what was the difference to 40 per cent? That is the question that the government need to answer, but we cannot answer it because Treasury was not asked to model it. I asked the minister in question time last week whether she would ask Treasury now to rerun the model on a 40 per cent cut and 350 parts per million and also use other models, and she refused. The government made a political decision not to model anything above a 25 per cent cut, so we do not know what a deep cut would do in terms of costs, and that, as I said, was a political decision.

For the government to say that it is taking a comprehensive approach to reducing Australia’s emissions is wrong. Firstly, there is a lot of talk about a comprehensive approach but it is not happening. The government promised a 20 per cent MRET by 2020 but it has still not legislated for that one year on. There has been no move to actually do that. The renewable energy industry is getting very frustrated and angry, and a lot of the firms are going to go offshore because the government has not done what it said it would. Secondly, it is very clear that the government is not going to support a national gross feed-in tariff, yet everyone in the world—from the Spanish to the Californians to the Italians to the Germans—will tell you that what led to the deployment of renewable energy in those places was a gross feed-in tariff.

While the minister claims that Australia is taking some sort of leadership role and that the Chinese are talking to Australia about carbon capture and storage, of far greater significance is the fact that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States energy agency for the US and China to accelerate investment in solar technologies. So while Australia will be trying to pump carbon dioxide down holes, China and the US will zoom straight past us on renewable energy technologies. Because it is very clear to me that that will be the case, I told members of the renewable energy industry at the Australian-New Zealand solar energy conference last week that it is time for fight or flight. I told them that they should either leave now for the US where the action is or stay here and fight to get the 20 per cent renewable energy target legislated and to get a national gross feed-in tariff. To lie down in the middle of the road is to guarantee to be run over. It is very clear to me that that was always going to be the case. After his election, Barack Obama promised a green new deal—a $150 billion investment in a green energy revolution. Americans will say that that is part of their energy security but that investment is also certainly part of their attempt to secure their manufacturing industry into the future. Australia is not doing that and our insistence on carbon capture and storage will see us going backwards in this regard.

On the issue of deforestation, it is disgusting that the government is running around talking to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea about deforestation while subsidising the logging of forests in Australia. What sort of hypocritical position is that? No doubt the National Association of Forest Industries will be there in Poznan with the minister supporting such a view, but anyone who knows anything about ecology and biodiversity will not be supporting the Australian government view that it is fine to stop deforestation in PNG and Indonesia but not to stop deforestation in Australia. We need a mechanism to include the protection of standing stores of forests and vegetation. We could then get credit for that, instead of supporting the maintenance of forests in PNG and Indonesia while knocking forests down in Australia. Yesterday I was at a book launch in Hobart, where again we see the massive and fantastic Tasmanian forests—the Styx and the Florentine—about to be logged with this government’s approval. Standing carbon stores are to be knocked down with this government’s approval. Obviously the rest of the world will be aware of what Australia and Canada are doing.

In Poznan Australia will be chairing the umbrella group. Let us get this very clear: whilst all of the world’s media reported that Australia was going to ratify Kyoto at the Bali conference, which was a very positive thing, what they did not report was that Minister Wong chaired the umbrella group, which consists of the world laggards—Canada, the United States, Japan, the Saudis, Australia and New Zealand, which opted out—and that it was the umbrella group that fought strongly against a 25 to 40 per cent cut being included in the negotiating range of emission cuts by 2020. They got that blocked, instead putting it there as a footnote. Minister Wong herself said this morning that Australia never supported a negotiating range of 25 to 40 per cent.

In Poznan we will again have Minister Wong chairing the umbrella group, chairing the recalcitrants, which will again do everything in their power to stop the rest of the world adopting the 25 to 40 per cent negotiating range. If they come back from Poznan without a 25 to 40 per cent negotiating range, it will be as much Australia’s fault as anybody else’s. Let us get that very clear: unless there is that 25 to 40 per cent negotiating range in the Bali roadmap—which was put in as a footnote because it was taken out of the roadmap at the insistence of the umbrella group and others—then let us sheet the blame home to where it deserves to be and let us give up any pretence of Australia being a leader. Leaders do not go to global meetings and refuse to reveal their position, only to come home and hide behind a position of inaction as justification for poor results. Leaders actually go there, as the European Union has done, and say, ‘We will go for 20 per cent by 2020, and if the rest of the world moves we will go for 30 per cent.’ The European Union is out there saying what they think is right for the climate and for the people of the world. That is what we should be doing, not hiding behind the skirts of the coal and logging industries, peeping out every now and then to see if anybody has noticed.

It will be interesting to see in some detail what the government has said about the 13 submissions on key issues for the Poznan negotiations. I notice that the minister has said that Australia will encourage other advanced economies to release comparable targets as soon as possible. Well, if our government is not prepared to release their targets before the negotiations, why would the rest of the world take any notice of us? Climate change is serious and it is urgent. It is a global catastrophe. The scientific information has got worse as the world seems to be backing off doing anything about it. In many ways we are in a worse position than we were 12 months ago—we certainly are in terms of the climate. Having the government using the rhetoric of action on climate change whilst doing nothing is worse than a government that does not pretend it is doing anything and says upfront that it is not doing anything and that it is not going to. At least then you know what is going on.

But the Australian people have been misled into thinking that ratification of Kyoto is enough and that the ETS is going to be a silver bullet. It is not going to be a silver bullet. In fact, it is going to do precious little, because it is going to have weak targets and a weak cap and so many free permits that it would seem they are going out of style. If this carbon sink forests initiative continues, there will be a way of cost-shifting the mitigation burden from the coal companies and the aviation companies to the taxpayer anyway through these tax breaks on forests. Things have never been worse in terms of where we are on climate change. There is a lot of talk; there is not much action. We will see on 15 December whether, in fact, I am right, but I suspect that we are going to hear five to 15 per cent dressed up as some kind of reaction from this government. We should never forget that last year the world said 25 to 40 per cent was the appropriate negotiating range. The Australian government did not instruct its Treasury to model 25 to 40 per cent. No, the Australian government instructed its Treasury to model five to 25 per cent. The highest that Australia is prepared to go to is the lowest that the rest of the world thought was appropriate.

I will finish by reminding us just how serious climate change is. It has become such a common source of conversation and discussion that people have become complacent. This is incredibly urgent. We are approaching thresholds from which there is no retreat. There are many scientists who are now privately saying that we are already too late—that there is so much heat locked into the global oceans that it is already too late for the world’s coral reefs and that we are managing them for decline. We have many scientists who are saying that the methane chimneys bubbling up in the arctic are just the beginning of what is to come and we are already at the point of the feedback loops in terms of methane, tundra thawing and massive methane emissions to atmosphere. I am one of those who think we have run out of time. I think that if we do not get global emissions to stabilise and come down by 2015 then we are in for catastrophic climate change. There is no point in people looking back and saying they could not have known in 2008. They could have known and did know in 2008. The question is: did they have the courage to do something about it or were they more concerned about what the business council might say and what the big end of town might donate for the next federal election to actually take the position that the globe requires?

Quite apart from the climate change impacts, Australia is going to be bypassed. We are going to become a backwater of manufacturing and our current account is going to be worse if the rest of the world get on the with green energy revolution that I believe they are going to get on with. We will see some of our best brains and our jobs go overseas. I pose the question: why is it that when 200 jobs are lost in a coal mine or in old-growth logging it is a national emergency and we have to have a rescue package, but when 200 jobs are lost from BP Solar—sophisticated manufacturing—in Sydney everyone goes, ‘Oh, what a shame’? Why is it that we are not keeping the sophisticated manufactures and bringing in the legislation that will give a boost to these sectors? Why are we just saying: ‘It’s a shame they are going offshore. The things we are good at are digging holes, cutting down trees, putting in roads and building resorts, but we do not have the brains or the gumption to rebuild our manufacturing sector and give ourselves energy security and sophisticated manufactures and exports’? That is where we should be going, and that is why Australia’s weak targets from both the climate and pure economic points of views are such poor positions to be taking to the world. It most certainly is not a leadership position.