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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4292


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (20:52): I rise to contribute to this debate on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 [No.2] and related bills that are before the Senate. These bills are presented by the government as bills to abolish the carbon tax. However, these bills do much more than terminate the carbon tax. These bills destroy Australia's entire legislative framework for tackling climate change. These bills remove the legislative cap on carbon pollution, an essential principle in ensuring that we meet our 2020 target to reduce Australia's emissions. The bills abolish the entire framework for an emissions trading scheme. It is hard to imagine a more complex national risk management issue than that posed by global warming, yet this government is removing from Australia's climate policy any trace of that world-leading model and replacing it with a token gesture, direct action, a widely criticised, underdeveloped and extremely expensive policy that is doomed to fail. This government cannot or will not deliver the policy solution required for the effective management of climate change. Direct action is a profoundly embarrassing and inadequate alternative to the economic common sense of an emissions trading scheme.

Labor will not support the government's carbon tax repeal bills. Labor's position on these bills is no surprise. It is the position we made clear to the electorate in September and which we have been advocating ever since. That position is to terminate the carbon tax now and move to an emissions trading scheme with a legal cap on carbon pollution, a cap that reduces over time and enables Australia's business community to work out the cheapest, most effective way to operate. At this point I foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment along those lines.

The most effective long-term response to climate change is an emissions trading scheme. It is the model in place or being introduced in Germany, the UK, California, South Africa, China, South Korea. This truth is self-evident and recognised right around the globe, except, it seems, on the Abbott government benches. Labor's amendment to these bills will remove the carbon tax and shift to an emissions trading scheme.

A carbon tax seeks to change behaviour by imposing a price signal that discourages polluters from carbon dioxide pollution without any legal discipline on that behaviour. An emissions trading scheme, however, changes behaviour through the discipline of a legislative cap on pollution. It gives business the ability to trade pollution permits and lets business work out the cheapest way to operate within that national pollution cap. An emissions trading scheme is the cheapest way to achieve this nation's emissions reductions objective because it creates a genuine market. That is why it is so surprising that the Liberal Party does not support a market based mechanism to address carbon pollution.

Labor is committed to putting a cap on pollution via this mechanism of an emissions trading scheme. This emissions trading scheme was what both major parties actually committed to back in 2007 when the Liberals accepted the science of climate change. But if these bills are passed unamended, an emissions trading scheme for Australia will disappear. The Prime Minister will truly get his way in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, with no legislated cap on carbon pollution and no market based mechanism for business to tap into.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, issued its latest report—its fifth report—in September last year. In that report the 209 lead authors, supported by more than 600 contributing authors, lifted their level of certainty about the existence of climate change, and its cause by human activity, to 95 per cent. Maurice Newman, the Prime Minister's senior business adviser, tells us in regular opinion pieces in The Australian that the IPCC—those are several hundred leading climate scientists who authored the fifth report—are a fringe group who do not represent the mainstream of scientific opinion.

This government's suggestion that we should proceed to removing the carbon tax without any substantive policy beyond that is not only irresponsible but dangerous. It is dangerous not only for Australia's economy but also for our international reputation because of the fact that we will not be acting on reducing our carbon pollution.

But let's look at some of the history. The member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, once stated:

The idea that somehow the Liberal Party is opposed to an emissions trading scheme is quite frankly ludicrous.

This highlights how ludicrous some of this debate is right now. The backflips that have occurred in the positions of coalition members are ludicrous. Those opposite have done an about-face for political reasons, but the emissions trading scheme model is still recognised as the cheapest and most effective way to tackle climate change, despite the about-face by government members and senators. The Liberal government is trashing Australia's effort to tackle climate change at exactly the same time as the scientific community is warning that climate change poses a real and serious risk to our precious Australian environment. Labor is committed to putting a cap on pollution through an emissions trading scheme. An emissions trading scheme was what both the major parties committed to, as I mentioned, when the Liberals accepted the science of climate change in 2007.

So, how swiftly things have changed. In July 2009 the now Prime Minister said, 'I am hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science of climate change.' In October 2009 he famously described the science as 'absolute crap'—excuse my language, Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards! And in March 2010 he said:

Now, I don't believe that the science is settled.

In March 2011 he suggested, 'Whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.'

To suggest that climate scientists have not reached a settled view about global warming is simply misleading. The science is settled. It was settled years ago. There is no debate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most positive assessment of global warming expects the average temperature of the earth to be between 1.1 and 2.9 degrees hotter by the end of this century. A more realistic prediction in line with current levels of consumption is that the weather will be 2.4 to 6.4 degrees hotter, higher than at any time in recorded history.

Even a two-degree climb in average global temperatures could cause crop failures in parts of the world that can least afford to lose their nourishment. The size of deserts will increase, along with the frequency and intensity of wildfires. On average, in the past decade fossil fuel emissions grew at about three times the rate of growth in the 1990s. There is twice as much carbon dioxide trapped in the melting Arctic permafrost as there is already in the earth's atmosphere. It is being released, and its release is speeding up. The melting permafrost is also releasing enormous stores of methane, a greenhouse gas nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

So we need to listen. We need to listen to these scientists. We need to look at their evidence based findings. We need to listen now not only to the scientists but to the economists who today united in support of a price and a limit on carbon pollution with the release of their open letter. Those economists included Dr Hewson, who said, 'The failure of our generation to act will cost future generations dearly.'

Economist and carbon price pioneer Ross Garnaut has also added his voice to the growing concern of Australia's position on an emissions trading scheme, stating:

Unless Australia moves from this place, it risks damaging the international effort to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change …

These economists stand in good company with President Obama, who stated that climate change is 'one of the most significant, long-term challenges that the United States and the planet face.' We must understand and then act on this scientific data: the overwhelming global evidence demonstrating that an emissions trading scheme is the cheapest and most effective way of achieving the outcomes we desire for our nation.

So, has Labor's carbon price mechanism been the wrecking ball through the Australian economy that the Prime Minister claimed it would be? Was it the cobra strike at the economy? Did the South Australian town of Whyalla disappear off the map? No, no! The truth is entirely different. The truth of the impact was exactly as Labor predicted. The economy did keep growing. More than 160,000 additional jobs were created in the first 12 months of the carbon price mechanism that, according to the now Prime Minister, was going to have a wrecking-ball impact on the national economy. Also, what Labor's comprehensive policy approach started to do, along with our renewable energy policies, was to drive down carbon pollution, particularly in the electricity market, which is the largest source of carbon pollution in Australia.

We saw a reduction in carbon pollution of around seven per cent in the National Electricity Market in the first 12 months alone. And, as we predicted, there was simply a modest impact on prices. That impact was more than covered through the household assistance package, particularly for low-income and fixed-income households like pensioners and middle-income households. The impact on power prices, again, was exactly as we predicted and, again, was covered by our household assistance package. It also achieved the trebling of Australia's wind capacity and saw solar panels being installed in more than a million households, up from fewer than 7,500 under the Howard years. Employment in the renewable energy industry more than doubled to over 24,000 people and around 150,000 jobs were created. In fact, the economy continues to grow at 2.5 per cent as inflation remains low and pollution in the National Electricity Market is decreasing by seven per cent. Renewable energy technologies are doing well, not only as a new innovative form of industry but also in providing a benefit to the environment, to the community, to our children and to future generations.

I understand that Kirsten Rose, the CEO of the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia, stated, 'We and many of our members believe that an emissions trading scheme—that market mechanism—gives them choices and flexibility in a different way to a direct action plan, which is, effectively, bidding for money to support specific projects.'

The bills also abolish the Climate Change Authority, an independent, strong voice set up to advise the parliament, the government and, perhaps most importantly, the Australian community about the very difficult and highly-contested issues associated with climate change. It is also on the chopping block through this government's approach to climate change. Also on the hit list is ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, an independent agency funded to invest in projects that actually improve the competitiveness of renewable technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia. This continues as an emerging theme of this government: abolishing strong, independent voices and making sure that all advice to the Australian community and to the parliament is filtered, sanitized for political purposes, and fundamentally controlled by the Prime Minister.

As a rich country with a high level of carbon emissions we have a responsibility to reduce our pollution output. Labor has already demonstrated that the balance of sensible, positive actions necessary to reduce carbon pollution, tackle climate change and protect our environmental resources is such an important one. The case that has not been made is one for dismantling many of those measures that we know from the debates in the Senate and other sources have been working well.

This morning I joined my Labor Senate colleagues at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition event outside the front of parliament. There I was reminded about future generations and about the importance of these bills in creating a sustainable future for our young people and for their children to come. Their passion should be echoed right now in this chamber. They want action on climate change. Labor has been and continues to be dedicated to achieving the best possible policy to tackle one of the key challenges of this century. That policy is an emissions trading scheme. By tackling climate change in the most cost-effective way we can support the environment and we can support the renewable industry in Australia; we can see jobs grow; and we can, most importantly, continue to reduce our carbon dioxide pollution and play our part in this global problem that is facing our planet. I move:

   At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate notes:

(a) the scientific and expert consensus regarding climate change;

(b) that, in its first year, the clean energy future package:

      (i) drove a 7 per cent reduction in carbon pollution from electricity generation in the national electricity market;

      (ii) saw renewable energy increase its share of the national electricity market by 25 per cent;

      (iii) delivered the household assistance package to compensate families and individuals for any impact of carbon pricing; and

      (iv) supported continued economic growth, with over 160,000 jobs created in 2012-13 across the economy, including clean energy jobs;

(c) that since the 2013 election Australia's international reputation on climate change action has been damaged by becoming the first nation to move backwards on climate change, while the rest of the world, including China and the US, is moving forward; and

(d) the need for the Government to pass an emissions trading scheme to place a cap on carbon pollution and drive a clean energy future for Australia.