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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4439

Senator McEWEN (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Can the Minister outline to the Senate the way to tackle climate change at the lowest cost to the Australian economy? Isn’t it the case—

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I have got to hear the question that Senator McEwen is asking. Continue, Senator McEwen.

Senator McEWEN —Isn’t it the case that countless reviews, including former Prime Minister Howard’s task group and the Garnaut review, have undertaken extensive work on what is the cheapest way for Australia to make serious cuts to our carbon pollution? And isn’t it the case that it has consistently been found that the cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution is to have as many sectors of the economy as possible contributing? Isn’t it also the case that if one sector is exempted from the cost of tackling climate change that cost would simply be picked up by somebody else?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Thank you to Senator McEwen for the question. The senator is indeed correct: the cheapest or lowest-cost way to tackle climate change is with a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme with the broadest possible coverage of the economy. Of course, that once was the Liberal Party’s policy—something I think Senator Bernardi might want to remember, because I noticed when I came into the chamber that Senator Bernardi was saying he has an open mind. I quote from his website blog:

... I remain unconvinced about the need for an ETS given that carbon dioxide is vital for life on earth ...

It is almost as good as Dr Jensen, in the other place, saying, ‘What about some sort of shadecloth put into orbit?’ This is the sort of view from the other side. Of course, one thing that Senator Bernardi should perhaps talk about is the fact that he went to the election with a commitment for an ETS. Were you lying to the Australian people, Senator Bernardi?

The reality is that the proposal brought forward yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition’s consultant, which would replicate the failed Canadian experiment on climate change, is not the cheapest way to reduce carbon pollution in Australia. It is not cheaper to increase uncertainty across the economy. It is not cheaper to undermine investment and jobs by pretending that uncertainty does not matter. It is not cheaper to throw away opportunities to reduce carbon pollution and it is not cheaper to exempt emissions intensive trade exposed industries from playing their part in the change that is needed.

There is nothing cost effective about giving electricity generators so much assistance that they net windfall gains, and there is nothing cost effective about making low- and middle-income Australia worse off by scrapping their compensation. There is nothing cost effecive about increasing the risks to the budget if this poorly designed scheme that those opposite are— (Time expired)

Senator McEWEN —Mr President, I thank the minister for her answer. I have a supplementary question. Can the minister outline the greenest or most environmentally effective way of tackling climate change? Can the minister explain how the Rudd government has put Australia in a position to reduce Australia’s carbon pollution by as much as 25 per cent? Can the minister explain the environmental benefits of placing a hard limit on the amount of carbon pollution Australia will produce? Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals? And can the minister outline the implications of such proposals for the environment?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I can refer to some alternative proposals which appear to have been put by the consultant paid for by those on the other side. I do not know whether it is yet their policy. It is extraordinary, isn’t it? In the week of a vote on climate change, when you have had years to deal with this, what you come forward with is a consultant’s report that you will not even adopt or you have not yet adopted as policy. Or have you adopted it as policy? I think the Australian people should know that.

The reality is that it is not greener to claim to deliver an unconditional 10 per cent reduction when the government plan delivers cuts of as much as 25 per cent by 2020. It is no surprise that those opposite do not have an environmentally credible plan on climate change, because too many of them do not even believe that climate change is happening. And the fact is that their leader is too weak to stand up to the sceptics and take real action on climate change. You would have to ask—

Senator Heffernan —Mr President, I stand on a point of order. The minister is deliberately misleading the Senate, because there is no-one in the government who can explain to Australia’s farmers whether they are going to be in or out of the scheme, nor what the questions are that have to be answered. This is totally misleading Australian farmers.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, Senator Heffernan. The time for the first supplementary question has expired.

Senator McEWEN —Mr President, I thank the minister for her answer and I have a further supplementary question. Is the minister aware that the communique of last month’s G8 summit stated:

We support flexible, economically sound market-based approaches to emissions reductions. In particular, cap and trade schemes, where implemented, have proved largely successful ...

Given that the critical economic powers of the G8 have already endorsed cap and trade, and given that a number of key economies have adopted cap and trade or are adopting cap and trade, can the minister outline to the Senate the smartest way for Australia to tackle climate change?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Without doubt, the smartest way for this nation to tackle climate change is through cap-and-trade emissions trading, not with Malcolm’s magic pudding. It is not smart to pretend—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Wong, you need to refer to people in the other place—

Senator WONG —Not with Malcolm Turnbull’s magic pudding.

The PRESIDENT —No; use his proper title.

Senator WONG —I am sorry; I apologise. Not with Mr Turnbull’s magic pudding. It is not smart to pretend that this will not leave Australia isolated. Canada does not want it, Australia does not want it, the G8 do not want it. It is the idea no-one wants from the leader too many of you do not want. It is not smarter to undermine our transition to a low-pollution future, but then again it was not smart doing nothing for a decade, it was not smart not ratifying Kyoto and it was not smart squandering the opportunities you had in government. It is still not smart arrogantly to ignore the wishes of the Australian people.