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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5472

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (6:40 PM) —I must respond to that little piece of last century. The world is facing catastrophic climate change because of that thinking. In the last year, on the best estimates that are available—and, if Senator Boswell has better estimates, I would like to hear them—the impact of climate change on the globe was measured in many billions of dollars and 300,000 people losing their lives. I think that is a very modest estimate. I ask Senator Boswell: what is the cost of that? It seems to me that the National Party is stuck in this mindset that everything comes from the largesse of the coal industry and the logging industry.

Senator Boswell interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN —Senator Boswell calls the coal industry a primary industry. You see, the problem is that the National Party has lost its way. Once upon a time it was the agricultural industries that were primary industries—the food producers and the fibre producers, the people on the land who provided the food, sustenance and shelter for the people in the cities. That is the view the Greens still take. It is a view that is undermined by this persistent and full-on support of the coal industry and its subsidies, come what may.

Let me explain a little bit more about that to the chamber. Firstly, about 75 per cent of the coal industry’s profits flow overseas, because it is largely overseas owned. Some National Party—to be putting that up against the rural producers in this country. The second thing, as I said earlier, is that it employs some 28,000 people, but the rural industries employ hundreds of thousands of people. If you look at the Garnaut report, just on the Murray-Darling Basin, and the impact of climate change coming down the line, 128,000 jobs are at risk there. A report just a week ago pointed to the Great Barrier Reef, where there are 63,000 jobs at risk, and the potential, if we do not act on climate change, of some $38 billion being taken out of the wellbeing of the Queensland economic base. The National Party will put the coalmining industry—foreign owned, with its profits flowing out of this country, massively subsidised—in front of the industries based on the Great Barrier Reef and the rural industries. Here is the problem: you cannot have it both ways. I for one am not going to allow that double-handedness of a National Party that has lost its way trying to have it both ways. Senator Boswell has said, ‘Well, you will have to subsidise this renewable energy industry.’ The question is: what about the fossil fuel industry?

Senator Boswell interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN —If the National Party has alternative figures, put them before the Senate. But on best estimates there is $9,500,000,000 in subsidies in this country, from state and federal governments—largely Labor governments, but it has been built up under coalition governments in the past as well. That is money being drained out of the economy to put into the pockets of those who are promoting not just the burning of fossil fuel, in this day and age—and I know our economy has been based on that—but the expansion of that. That is what the National Party, and indeed the Labor Party, are in favour of, with billions of dollars more set aside. This is in direct subsidies through infrastructure spending coming up in the future. What for? For coal-loading facilities to expand and accelerate the digging up and export of coal from Australia to be burnt elsewhere on the planet, not least Japan and China, and to put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For what purpose? To line the pockets of these big multinational corporations that are largely owned outside this country.

If Senator Boswell or any of his National Party colleagues want a debate on this, they can name the time, the place and the adjudicator and I will be there to debate it. We have last century thinking getting in the way of this century innovation. Other countries are way ahead of us with their renewable energy targets. The Greens say 35 per cent. Austria—and there is a big hydro component to this—is up over 80 per cent. Denmark is aiming for much more than half of its energy economy to be based on renewable energy. The argument has come from the National Party and its Liberal Party colleagues—and a lot of Labor Party members as well—that we cannot progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country before the rest of the world does it. This is the China syndrome: ‘Until China does it, we won’t.’ But other countries around the world, including China, are way ahead of us in moving to renewable energy.

Then we hear from Senator Boswell that we should stay behind because we will get the advantage of cheap, subsidised—and taxpayers pay for those subsidies—coal-burning industries in Australia. We have just had the debate about burning forests, which is highly subsidised by the taxpayer under the Rudd government as well. It is time that they were taken on about this. And we will take them on about this, and we will do it around this country. What is happening here is that we are supporting the fossil-fuel-burning industries to expand and supporting the logging industry to start burning native forests at Eden, in the Tamar Valley and elsewhere in this country. This will rip away the high job-creating potential of the clean, green economy of the future.

It is very sad indeed that the best that the Labor government could do today was to cave into the coalition to give these big polluters another windfall. That is effectively what has happened with the agreement made today between the coalition and the opposition. They have lined up again. Who is the beneficiary? Is it the Australian public? Not on your life. Is it small business? No, it is not. This arrangement made today will line the pockets of the big polluters. That is what the outcome will be. And Senator Boswell comes in here—

Senator Boswell interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN —And I welcome him here, as he says, ‘How dare Senator Brown come in here.’ You are welcome in here as far as I am concerned, Senator Boswell. The more you want to debate this, the more that I will take you on, because you are wrong, outdated and backing the wrong horses. We back the Australian people, a new economy, a green new deal, jobs into the future and a much healthier economy instead of the old fossilised industries, which are largely overseas owned, that the National Party is backing.

Let me put this other statistic in as a challenge to The Nationals or indeed anybody else in this chamber: it is expected by global forecasters that we will increase our individual wealth by 200 to 300 per cent by mid century. If we were to tackle climate change as if it mattered and so that we were world’s best practice instead of mediocre or world’s worst practice, it would knock a per cent or two off that. If you take all the current parameters, it is not going to materially change the wellbeing of our economy by mid century. What does change is that you give security to the planet. What does change is that you give people the feeling that they are in an age in which we are not continually drawing on the limited capital of this planet, its atmosphere, its natural resources and its oceans—all of which are threatened by failure to act. What we will have here tonight if this amendment goes down will be a studied failure to act by people in the government and on the opposition benches in the Senate.