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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5274

Senator PRATT (8:13 PM) —This evening I also rise because this chamber and this nation must face up to the reality of the challenges that confront us with climate change. We owe it to future generations of Australians—to our children and our grandchildren. If we do not act, and if the world does not act, we will have to explain to our grandchildren why we did not even try to prevent the disastrous environmental consequences of our inaction. We will have to explain why we sat idly by, enjoying the fruits of our carbon-intensive economy today, when we knew that our inaction made it all the more certain that future generations would face a hostile environment tomorrow. We will have to explain why we did not do all that we could to secure an effective global agreement on climate change at the critical moment—and that critical moment is Copenhagen this December. If we do not act, and the world does not act, we will have to explain to our children and grandchildren why we did nothing to prepare the Australian economy for a low-carbon future, with disastrous effects on their living standards.

It is not just about the risk of climate change to our environment that we are talking about here. It is also about needing to get on board with the economic transformation that is going to take place across the globe. Make no mistake: if the world acts and we do not act the Australian economy is going to suffer and so will the living standards of future Australians. Personally, I believe the global community will act to reduce carbon emissions produced by the human race. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct, and the preservation of our quality of life and countless human lives is what is at stake. I believe that the human race will act to preserve this planet’s beautiful, hospitable climate so as to secure our own futures, and that means putting a price on carbon. The coalition is right about one thing. To quote their minority report to the Senate into this bill:

Many of Australia’s trade advantages have been built on the basis of secure and cheap supplies of fossil energy.

Cheap coal has been the cornerstone of our prosperity, and the coalition is right about that, but when it concludes from this that Australia would be imprudent to take decisive action to transform our economy in advance of a new global agreement and strong multilateral action on climate change it is very, very wrong—because our trade advantages for cheap fossil fuel will disappear when the world puts a price on carbon. We must take action before then to make our economy less dependent on fossil fuel, just as many other nations are taking action right now, because they know it is in their economic interests and in humanity’s environmental interests. We must be prepared for the day when fossil fuel energy is no longer cheap because carbon has been given its real price. We need to be prepared for the day when carbon pollution bears its own real true cost, no matter how secure the fuel supply.

1990 was the year of the first Gulf War, the year the last recession began, and the year Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner—our first two female premiers—took office. It does not seem that long ago, does it? 1990 was 20 years ago and 2030 is just 20 years away. 2030 is as close to us as 1990 was. It will be 2030 before we know it and then fossil energy will no longer be the cheap option. Coal will no longer be king. What happens to our competitive advantage from cheap fossil energy then? Once coal is no longer cheap we will not simply be able to switch to another form of energy overnight. We need to be ready well before then. We need to be prepared for the day when our fossil fuel supplies—all that black gold—turns to fool’s gold in our hands.

Before then, we must find other trade advantages. By then we will need to have other tricks up our collective sleeve. We can and we must diversify our energy supply, and we must start now. We can begin this by building a low carbon future out of our carbon intensive present. Contrary to what the opposition would have us believe, this is not about plant closures or job losses. It is not about wage cuts or a lower standard of living. Those who say that it is are simply engaging in the worst kind of politically motivated, short-sighted, self-interested scaremongering imaginable. What this is about is getting on with the hard work required today to ensure a lower emissions future is possible along with rising living standards. It is about doing the groundwork today for the green jobs of the future before the way we do business today becomes unsustainable and our prosperity is undermined.

The Rudd Labor government has a mandate from the Australian people to take action on climate change and to prepare our economy for a low carbon future. We have a mandate to use market mechanisms, including renewable energy credits and a CPRS, to transform our economy in preparation for a low carbon future. The Australian people know that this transformation is absolutely essential to the environmental security and economic prosperity of future generations. The coalition claims that the Australian public has been duped by Labor’s policies. That is what it has claimed. Its minority report to the Senate committee inquiry into the renewable energy target said:

Industry has been waving the warning flags for months but the public continues to be duped.

So the coalition thinks the Australian public are dupes. What arrogance, I say. The Australian public are not stupid. Unlike the coalition, they have been listening to industry, and they have noted that, while unsurprisingly industry does not speak with one voice about every aspect of the schemes that have come before this place, the one common call from industry and business is for certainty in our climate policy settings. The Australian public know that, without decisive action by government and without certainty, investors and employers cannot get on with the job of transforming the way we do business here in Australia. Indeed, because the instruments that we have put before this place—the CPRS and the RET—work together, they together provide short and medium to long term signals for entrepreneurs, employers and investors. Without both schemes in place, there will be no certainty for our economic future.

I commented in debates on the CPRS legislation that without certainty there is going to be no new investment, no start-up companies or innovative ways of running existing operations, no clean coal and no building the high wage, sustainable jobs of tomorrow. No, it is not the Australian public who have been duped into supporting decisive action to tackle climate change. Who has been duped? It is indeed the Leader of the Opposition and the more moderate elements in his party who have been duped by the troglodytes in the coalition into believing that division, delay and denial on climate change will somehow win them votes. Well, we in the Labor Party are not fooled by this pathetic performance and neither are the Australian public. We will show leadership, whether or not the Leader of the Opposition does so. The Australian public want decisive action on climate change, they deserve decisive action and we on this side of the chamber will work for as long as it takes to give them decisive action on climate change.