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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4838

Senator ABETZ (10:23 AM) —The Senate is currently considering the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme or an emissions trading scheme. There is no doubt that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 will have significant ramifications. It will be the biggest change to our economy ever driven by deliberate government policy. There will be literally tens of billions of dollars worth of churn, and by that I mean the collection and redistribution of tens of billions of dollars in the Australian economy—and all undertaken by the government. This legislation will impact on every single grocery bill in this country. It will impact on every single power bill in this country. It will impact every single Australian. It is therefore absolutely vital that we examine this legislation very thoroughly and not rush it. It is therefore vital that we have free and open examination of the legislation, and if one undertakes that examination one realises the huge and fatal flaws within it; flaws that make it unacceptable to the coalition. But first let me briefly, wearing my hat as shadow science minister, make a few comments about the science.

I have engaged with scientists on, as most people would say, both sides of the debate. Can I say that to summarise the debate as only having two sides is not to understand it; I would say, with scientists on all sides of the debate, because there are very many nuances, very many differences of opinion, even amongst those that have similar beliefs. So all I would say is that science in the past has welcomed, and should continue to welcome, scepticism. It should welcome questioning. It should welcome probing. Can I simply say that I believe there are good men and women on all sides of the scientific debate that are highly qualified and I do not seek to denigrate them because I accept that they hold their views very genuinely.

But can I say this: Labor’s response to those that question some of the scientific paradigms has been shrill, extreme and doctrinaire. Their approach has been so scientifically rigorous, so intellectually robust as to label these people that ask questions as deniers! Can I say to the minister and the Labor government: to do so has not endeared them to the Australian people, and that is why I think there is some flagging support for the approach that the government have been taking. It is an immature, churlish and arrogant approach. This government does not accept any alternatives whatsoever. The coal industry itself was menaced by Mr Combet. And of course we all remember that, after Senator Wong’s debacle of the draft legislation, Minister Combet was brought in and he then had to introduce the actual legislation into the House to avoid the embarrassment for Senator Wong of having to show all the mistakes that had been in her original draft legislation.

There is within this country a regrettable culture of fear. We know how the Prime Minister acts if he does not get his hair dryer or his favourite snack on the VIP flight. Guess how he behaves when somebody dares to question the impact of his Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme on their job or on their industry! So there is, unfortunately, this culture of fear.

Can I say in relation to Senator Fielding and others who want to engage in the question of the science—is it true; is it not true?—that I have drawn a line under all that discussion. I have just asked a very simple question: does this legislation deliver that which it aspires to deliver or says it will deliver? The fundamental answer, on any analysis, is a big resounding no. So you do not even have to engage in that very interesting discussion that Senator Fielding engaged in to say that this legislation is fatally flawed and deserves to be defeated. Why do I say that? Well, there are real problems for those involved in the coal industry. I confess I am not that concerned about the industry per se as much as I am about the workers that get their livelihood and sustain their families from the jobs that that industry and other industries provide. You can go through the coal sector, the aluminium sector, the pulp and paper sector, the cement sector, food manufacturing—and the list goes on.

But also, very interestingly, it will impact negatively on the recycling sector, something that every Australian is now actively engaged in. They believe that by being engaged in recycling they are making their own personal contribution to the world environment. I am sure all honourable senators got the letter from the Visy on 24 July saying the government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme ‘will seriously disadvantaged recycling and leave the jobs and the recycling companies high and dry’. As they say, ‘... recycling is the simplest way Australians can reduce their carbon footprint, and 96 per cent of them already do it.’ So it is not very well thought out when recycling companies come to us with this sort of message.

But of course that is not the only area where people are seeking to make a difference for the benefit of the environment. Solar panels—what has the government done on that?

Senator Cash —Not a lot.

Senator ABETZ —Not a lot, indeed, Senator Cash. What have they done when people want to change the fuel used in their motor vehicle from petrol to LPG? We introduced the scheme, which is very popular. They have cut the rebate. If they were genuine about these matters they would be fully supporting recycling, fully supporting the solar sector and fully supporting the conversion of motor vehicles to LPG. But not so.

This government is so arrogant and so full of hubris that it will not even consider genuine alternatives. Frontier Economics has put out a very considered study. What was Minister Wong’s great intellectual contribution to their study? She rejected out of hand before she had sighted it. That is arrogance and hubris writ large. It is an indication that this government has a political agenda on this and not an environmental agenda. It is not willing to listen to any alternative approach. Of course what hurts deeply is that the conservative side of politics, with the assistance of Senator Xenophon, was able to commission a report that came out and said, ‘We can do this in a greener, cheaper and smarter way, with 40 per cent less churn in the economy and for 40 per cent less cost.’

Why would you not at least read the report before condemning it out of hand if, as was claimed during the last election, global warming is the greatest moral challenge that we face and we need action now? Remember all that mantra? Mr Howard’s scheme that was only going to be introduced in 2011 or 2012 was immoral and irresponsible, and that is why we had to kick Mr Howard out of government. Guess what: this government has now deferred the implementation—until when? Until 2011, getting into the timetable that Mr Howard and the coalition were talking about.

Having said that, we have not closed our minds to the possibility of alternatives and we have been continuing to look at what is happening around the world, and there is no doubt that we as a nation should wait to see what happens in Copenhagen. The minister, with all her incantations and commentary in relation to climate change and the urgency of it, has been blown out of the water by the UN itself, because in a news article we had from Mr de Boer this comment:

Asked whether it mattered if Australia arrived in Copenhagen for climate change talks in December with an ETS in place

                         …                   …                   …

Mr de Boer replied:—

and this is a word that is often missing from the minister’s answers—

“Quite honestly, no”.

Did you hear that word ‘honestly’ in there? He said, ‘Quite honestly, no.’ That is the reality. The most expert man in relation to the UN scheme is saying that we do not need this legislation before Copenhagen, completely and utterly debunking the nonsense of Mr Rudd and Minister Wong and of course now, the sidekick, Mr Combet.

And what has another country said in relation to this. The US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing, appointed by Barack Obama, said, ‘You can have a deal without having the legislation.’ Indeed this legislation’s implementation will be delayed until 2011 in any event, so why the rush before Copenhagen? It does not make any environmental sense and it makes no economic sense. Possibly it makes political sense if you are willing to play politics with this issue which, we have been told, is the greatest moral issue confronting our country.

But what does it say about a government that seeks to ride the horse of high morality and then play politics with it? That is what we are now being exposed to as this debate is getting into its final stages. You see, the discussion about the design, and that is what is so important here, is a discussion about Australian jobs, Australian wealth and, indeed, the world environment. Everybody concedes that it will not make one jot or tittle of difference to the world environment if Australia goes it alone. Why should we have in place a regime which would prejudice Australian jobs and see the wholesale export of Australian jobs, Australian wealth and Australian manufacturing to countries that do not have the environmental standards of Australia? What that means is that, instead of Australia producing, for example, in the zinc industry—and I have a zinc plant in my home state of Tasmania—about two tonnes of CO2 per tonne of zinc manufactured, it will be manufactured in China, where today they produce zinc at a cost of six tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of zinc manufactured. Is that what we really want for the environment? That is what will happen under this legislation.

This legislation is more extreme than the Waxman-Markey bill, the legislation of a major competitor of ours in world markets. We will be putting Australian manufacturing at a disadvantage in comparison to the European scheme and the proposed US scheme. That is why it is so vitally important that we make sure that whatever we do within this country dovetails, meshes, with whatever the rest of the world does, because if we do not we will see the wholesale export of jobs and a worse outcome for the world environment. Make no mistake about that. So if you are absolutely concerned about the environment and you look at this legislation, you have got to come to the conclusion that it will not deliver for the world environment that which it sets out to do, because you will have wholesale carbon leakage out of Australia into other countries that have not signed up to such a scheme.

I was able to be at a Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum meeting in recent times—very interesting. It was great to see India there. But do you know who was missing? Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa—the list goes on. If they are not committed, China, for example, will increase their CO2 emissions within nine months by what we in Australia produce in a year. That will be just their increase. If we mug our economy with this scheme—and make no mistake; it will be a huge mugging of our Australian economy—I would at least want to see an environmental dividend delivered to the world. But the fact is, even if we mug our economy, we will not be delivering a dividend for the world environment; we will in fact be making it worse. That is why we as an opposition have said this legislation should be delayed until we have the option of seeing what is actually delivered at Copenhagen.

We have also said that a few fundamental principles need to be considered. Before going on to those fundamental principles, I remind honourable senators—and I make no excuse for this; I am very concerned, and the Frontier Economics study has shown this to be the case as well—that the major impact of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme as proposed will be in rural and regional Australia. Where are your smelters? Where are your food manufacturers? Where are your cement plants? They are in rural and regional Australia. So there will be a greater adverse impact in rural and regional Australia.

I remind honourable senators as well that the state Labor governments, having funded the original Garnaut report—remember all that hoo-ha before the last election?—are now coming out with their own studies. You do not have to rely on the federal opposition for this; you can rely on state Labor premiers and territory Labor chief ministers to tell you that research prepared for them shows that 126,000 full-time jobs will be lost or forgone—in my own home state of Tasmania, some 2,000. This is what Labor premiers are saying, those who supported Mr Rudd and funded Professor Garnaut and then of course found out what the real cost would be.

So what is the coalition alternative? We have said that at all times we should keep Australian jobs, Australian wealth, Australian families and the world environment in sight. What does this legislation do? It mugs all of them. It fails on every single count. We say that an Australian emissions trading scheme should offer no less protection for jobs, small business and industry than the American ETS. We say that there must be an effective mechanism, such as a regular review by the Productivity Commission, to ensure that the Australian ETS does not materially disadvantage Australian industries and workers relative to American industries and workers. This is all perfectly reasonable, I would have thought, but it was condemned outright by the Minister for Climate Change and Water and Mr Rudd.

We say that we should ensure that an Australian ETS does not simply result in futile carbon and production leakage. Our industries should at least be on a level playing field with the US. We believe that fugitive methane emissions from coalmining should be treated in the same way as they are in the United States and Europe—and why aren’t they? As in the Waxman-Markey bill, agricultural emissions should be excluded from the scheme and agricultural offsets should be included. General increases in electricity prices should be no greater than in comparable countries. Electricity generators should be fairly and adequately compensated for loss of asset value to enable them to invest in new abatement technology. We want effective incentives, and there must be adequate incentives for voluntary action. Because the legislation does not cover off on all those matters, we as a coalition are determined to vote this legislation down.