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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1406

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland) (10:40): I rise also to speak against the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. One of the things I want to take up from Senator Bilyk is trying to encourage the National Party to have a separate view from the Liberal Party. That is a long bow, quite frankly. They are truly the doormats to the Liberal Party. We have not seen them spectacularly stand up for anything much at all, quite frankly.

Getting back to the point, though, not only is this bill, along with the proposed repeal of other clean energy acts, environmental vandalism at its very heart, but at best these bills will if passed ensure that Australia's reputation as a progressive economy will fail. The rest of the world will view us in a negative way if we remove not only the Climate Change Authority but also the other work that has been progressed for a very long time. Moreover, our ability to effect real change in the economy to deal with the negative effects of climate change will be lost.

Abolishing the Climate Change Authority shows the contempt that the Abbott government has for independent advice on climate science and how it views our society and the economy. If you look at the latest series of attacks by the Abbott government on the scientific community in Australia—the cuts to the CSIRO and the abolition of the Climate Commission—what really underpins that is this base view of a complete rejection of grounded scientific research—so much so that what they are going to do will take the work that is being done by an independent umpire and stick it in the department. Incorporating the functions of the CCA into the Department of the Environment will mean ultimately that the minister will control the message and will be able to influence the content. It will mean, given the current history of this Abbott government, less transparency. We will not be privy to the work that they do, which is the hallmark of this government to date. It has not been able to move away from a negative agenda masked in secrecy.

The course of action by the Liberals will mean that the work done so far to lower emissions and have a cleaner energy future and a stronger economy will not happen. The Liberals and the Nats—I much prefer just to use the word 'Liberals', because I think the Nats are as one with them—will argue that this action they are taking is designed to address the perception that electricity prices have risen as a direct result of the clean energy legislation of the Rudd-Gillard government. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Climate Institute correctly identifies that, one year on from the introduction of the legislation, the electricity sector emissions have fallen, the economy is growing and the cost of living has not ballooned as the Liberals argued it would. We can all remember what Mr Abbott said would happen: the sky would fall in. He then went to a python squeeze and ultimately bellyflopped with the rhetoric that he used to describe how the economy would be destroyed as a consequence of believing in climate change.

The good news is that the annual carbon emissions have fallen. The regulated carbon limits have fallen by at least 12 million tonnes. It is rubbish for the Liberals to continue to spread the lie that electricity prices have risen as a consequence of this legislation. But they will continue, I suspect, even in this debate to argue that electricity prices have risen. Consumers know it, households know it: they have risen as a consequence of network upgrades, replacing ageing infrastructure. Around 40 per cent of the contribution of the carbon price has accounted for only nine per cent of power bills in 2012-13 according to the Climate Change Institute. No wonder the Liberals want to get rid of an independent umpire that provides facts and figures about the economy and how we are addressing climate change. They do not want the consumer or households to be aware of it.

The economy has continued to remain relatively strong, unlike the doom and gloom the Liberals in opposition argued would happen. The impact of the carbon price has been barely discernible according to the ABS, again, an independent body. When you move the climate authority into the department, can you have the same confidence that it will be an independent voice of reason? I doubt it. The great majority of Australian consumers have not been impacted by the carbon price. For those households that have been impacted, it has been a very small effect and there has been an assistance package there to assist. Of course it has not stopped the extreme language of the Liberals in talking down the economy, exaggerating the effects of putting a price on carbon and ignoring the reasons for the need to address climate change using the best market based mechanisms available.

The Liberals demonstrated in the last 100 days or so that they have forgotten how the market works. It can be the only explanation for the Liberals to justify why they are moving from market based mechanisms to regulatory planned models that really hark back to the 1960s, which was the last time we saw them in this country. One wonders what did happen to the Liberals and free market? You only have to go back to the 2007 federal election under Mr John Howard, who effectively was supporting an emissions trading scheme as part of their platform. There has been an enormous transformation, it appears. Instead of progressing forward with market based economic solutions, we have gone back 20 years to the 1960s under the Liberals who support a planned economy. I guess next we will be hearing them champion Stalin.

What did the Liberal Party of Australia become? Now it looks like champions of a centrally planned economic policy. To give you some feel for that, the so-called Direct Action policy is widely discredited. Let me go to some of the black holes that it is. The government, I suspect, will be required to put significant funding into the Direct Action policy if it is ever to work. We will move from that question as to whether they want it to work or whether it is just a face saver for true climate deniers. It is, quite frankly, an odd policy when you look at the content of it—if we could. Of course they have not put that on the table.

We can assume what direct action means. They have made some statements about it. It does look to date, though, to be politically convenient but ideologically incongruous, financially expensive and probably irrelevant to the future. It certainly will not fit into the global action on climate change. But none of this has stopped the Liberals on their relentless march towards political expediency by effectively, I think, being captured by the climate change deniers within their own party, who are now seeking to tear down a market based solution and replace it with the regulatory model which effectively consists of a two-word slogan of 'direct action' with no details behind it, a call to arms perhaps by the Liberals to try and find a bit more meat on the bone.

Let us be honest: the real reason they want to repeal the clean energy bill including the Climate Change Authority and replace it with a policy with no details is, ultimately, the climate change deniers captured the Liberal Party. They do not believe in climate change. They do not want to effect change and they will continue to use Direct Action. Without a model to look at to see how it will work, it seems to be a system that will use taxpayers' money to fund big business in an attempt to reduce emissions—a very poor way to try to reduce emissions. Maybe those on the other side will be able to enlighten me in this debate how that Direct Action policy will work, how it will achieve the most efficient reduction of emissions through the use of taxpayers' money in the first place and why they would replace it with a market based mechanism. But we have not heard from them about that. There will be plenty of excuses later as to why Direct Action fails but let us not get ahead of the debate here.

The coalition have promised that their flawed clean energy policy rests on two things: the repeal of the carbon legislation and the implementation of Direct Action. What we have before parliament is only half the policy. It is true that they are attempting to do the repeal today, but I think that they, even in government and true to the Liberal's DNA, can only say no to sensible policy which will achieve a clean energy future and, through a market based operation, the reduction of carbon emissions while maintaining a strong economy.

While they say that they accept climate change, that it is real and that humans are contributing to it, I am not convinced that they are truly saying it with conviction. The Liberals have not told us how the other half of their Direct Action policy will achieve real and meaningful change. They promised to be a consultative government, a stable adult government and a government that would work with others, and I think this is where the public have been misled by the coalition while in opposition and when they came to government. The government's first actions have been to abolish what they can see, to abolish what they do not understand, to say no to things that they are unsure of and to continue to cut harshly into the Public Service and the economy. They explained none of that in the lead-up to the last election, and I think the public have a right to ask whether this is the government that they elected.

Any responsible government would have put their credentials on the table and indicated how they were going to achieve their reductions through direct action. The coalition said that the action plan would coincide with the introduction of their Direct Action Plan to tackle climate change. That is what they have said. Where is it? It is not on the table. Let us be clear about the coalition's position. They are now asking us to abolish the Climate Change Authority, an independent umpire that provides an independent voice. They want to remove the market mechanism to reduce emissions. They want to do all of the above, without putting their bona fides on the table and without indicating what will replace it, while continuing to be a negative and carping government.

The economic impact of this has not been modelled. One of the things that Senator Cormann became famous for, without verballing him too much, is asking for modelling. Where is the modelling to show that Direct Action will achieve the outcomes? Have they done the modelling? Have they provided the certainty that removing a market based mechanism such as the ETS will be less efficient than their Direct Action program? I am not going to embarrass Senator Cormann by asking for the modelling. Quite frankly, I think we all know that it does not exist.

It is more likely that a Direct Action program will simply be a transfer for dud harebrained schemes that big business dream up to suck money out of the Australian taxpayer to support their attempts of reducing emissions. I think any and all of that will be on the table for the Liberals.

The unstated problem with this Direct Action Plan is: where is the money going to come from? How are they going to fund it? Some of the critical elements of their Direct Action Plan are simply not there. More importantly, where is the modelling to show that they will be able to purchase sufficient domestic abatement to meet Australia's bipartisan 2020 emissions reduction target of five per cent compared with the 2000 levels, based on the work done by the Department of Climate Change? Will we achieve the targets or will we simply be provided with an excuse as to why there will be a shortfall? That is the crucial bit.

If we look at the evidence to date, the size of the suggested shortfall—that is, the difference between what the emissions trading scheme under Labor would achieve and what Direct Action could possibly achieve—will be the difference between the target of 159 million tonnes of CO2 abatement and about 40 million tonnes, which is the amount Direct Action will achieve on average by 2020 according to some of the best estimates. So there will be about 119 million tonnes missing. Where are they going to find it? One of their Direct Action proposals is to plant trees. They are going to be busy painting trees to achieve that.

The Liberals will say that greenhouse gas emissions trading schemes are not world's best practice. But, if you look at the evidence to date, there are schemes operational in several countries around the world. Schemes are operational in Switzerland, New Zealand and South Korea, and subnational schemes are legislated in the US, Canada and Japan. The Kyoto protocol also provides for emissions trading across nations. China has also moved with a network of seven pilot schemes planned to begin in 2013. You get the sense that the world is moving one way and Australia, under Tony Abbott, is moving the other way. It seems impossible to consider Direct Action as being a viable, workable and effective scheme in an international setting.

One of the most telling criticisms of Direct Action comes from someone who would have direct knowledge of the matter. Mr Turnbull offered this advice in February 2010 when he spoke of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010:

Until 1 December last year, there was a bipartisan commitment in Australia that this carbon price, this exercise in reducing emissions, should be imposed by means of a market based mechanism—this emissions trading scheme.

As we have seen in recent days, alternatives such as direct regulation or subsidies will be far more costly to the economy, no matter how hard their designers seek to argue the contrary.

I will leave it that I agree with his words.

Mr Turnbull went on to bell the cat. He recognised that the subsidy schemes, like the Direct Action proposal, will encourage government to pick projects for subsidies, which will be a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale. This will result in more costly and less effective abatement of emissions.

In conclusion in this debate, and coming back to the main scope of this bill: again, it is simply a negative, retrograde step by a government that has no clear policy and that can only see its way to say 'no', to abolish things and to cut things. It has no positive plan for Australia's future, and this is but one example of where removing the independent umpire also gives it the ability to hide the truth and not allow it to be put into the public domain—to control the message.