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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1410

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (11:00): I rise to oppose the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. We have said it, they have heard it and former Prime Minister Rudd announced that we would abolish the carbon tax. Done and dusted.

But this government is playing political games with the carbon tax. The carbon tax is all it talks about. You would think that what is before the Australian parliament is one bill to abolish the carbon tax. But what this government is trying to do is much more than abolish the carbon tax, and they are trying to hide that fact from Australian voters. In fact, the only time we hear the coalition government talk about all of the other parts of its abolition bills is in response to Labor putting the success of our climate change policy on the public record.

The coalition government wants Labor to support much, much more than the abolition of the carbon tax. The coalition government would have us believe that it has a mandate, that the federal election was all about the carbon tax, when the facts are that the carbon tax did not rate as a top five issue. The coalition government thinks Labor should just fall into line with its wishes and its wants. Well, what the Labor opposition is doing is acting responsibly. We are siding with the Australian public, with Australian voters, because they want action on climate change.

Recently, the PM, Mr Abbott, invited Australians to let their elected representatives know loud and clear about their views on the carbon tax. And I thank Mr Abbott, because Australian voters are letting us know what they want—letting us know loud and clear that they do not support the abolition of the carbon tax without replacing it with an emissions trading scheme. This is exactly Labor's position, and despite Mr Abbott taking a gamble and inviting voters to email politicians with their views I have not had one—not one—email supporting the coalition government's position. Not one email supporting its Direct Action plan.

So I say to the coalition government: keep your heads buried in the sand, ignoring the views of Australian voters, ignoring the views of experts and abolishing authorities such as the Climate Change Authority because they produce reports based on science and rigorous analysis which lead to outcomes that do not support the government's rhetoric and do not support the government's instincts on climate change. And they do not support the views of the climate change deniers who now make up this coalition government.

This government does not want independent expert advice. It treats advice based on science or facts with hostility. It has nailed its colours to the mast of the rotten ship SS Direct Action and is not letting go, no matter what the science says and no matter what Australian voters think. This move by the coalition government to abolish the Climate Change Authority demonstrates this government's complete hostility—complete hostility—to independent expert advice.

There is no reason to abolish the Climate Change Authority. In fact, there is every reason to keep it. And again, Senator Abetz and the government showed their complete lack of understanding of the Climate Change Authority when Senator Abetz said in the Senate on 2 December in relation to the Climate Change Authority:

… in relation to the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill—why are we putting that forward? Because if you remove the carbon tax there is no real need for this authority, …

Again, the government demonstrates that it has not done its homework. It does not know what it is talking about when it comes to climate change, because the Climate Change Authority undertakes reviews and makes recommendations on a range of matters, including emissions reduction targets and carbon budgets.

The renewable energy target—how will we measure that without an independent authority? And there is the Carbon Farming Initiative—something that I would have thought the National Party would want to know about and receive advice on—and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System.

The Climate Change Authority board—I do not know if the coalition has had a look at who is on this board—are leading experts in industry, in economics and in science. They are an extremely well-qualified board that all Australians should be proud of and they are an experienced board. Why would any competent government ignore their advice and shut them down so their voice can no longer be heard? The Climate Change Authority has nothing to do with the carbon tax. The reason the government does not want to keep it and wants to abolish it is quite simple: it does not want to be held accountable on its Direct Action Plan. It does not have a single supporter for this policy, which has been around for three years—not a single supporter in the scientific or economic fields. When direct action does not work, the government will not be held accountable for its actions because it is stripping away any authority which might hold it to account. This government, despite its rhetoric, does not want to be held accountable.

This government just wants to lick its finger, stick it in the air and see which way the wind is blowing. That is the extent of its interest in science—relying on its instincts rather than on the overwhelming evidence from 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists. Dr Dennis Jensen, the federal member for Tangney, told interviewer Jonathan Swan that just because 97 per cent of research papers published in scientific journals agree that humans are causing climate change this does not necessarily mean they are right, because, he said:

… the argument of consensus … is a flawed argument.

So Dr Jensen does not accept the position of the world's science academies and Australia's CSIRO that climate change is caused mainly by humans burning fossil fuels and chopping down trees. Instincts are an absolute trait of the coalition government. Former Prime Minister Howard told a London audience that those of us who accept that climate change is real are a bunch of 'religious zealots' and that he will trust his instincts.

It has been a while since Mr Howard was the Prime Minister of this country so one would have hoped that the coalition might have updated its knowledge and might have looked at some science—but, no, that trust in instincts and gut feelings continues in the current coalition. Prime Minister Abbott, the person who wants us to scrap any policies which put a price on carbon and to scrap the job of experts such as those who work in and manage the Climate Change Authority, told us two years ago:

… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.

Mr Abbott obviously has not availed himself of the work of 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists. The Australian public know it, Labor know it, the Greens know it, but it seems the coalition is living in some kind of climate sceptics vacuum.

More recently and, quite frankly, more embarrassingly, Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the United Nations climate chief of 'talking through her hat'. That quote has been repeated quite a lot in this house and elsewhere. It is embarrassing than our Prime Minister, the supposed leader of our country, accuses the United Nations climate chief of talking through her hat. It just shows that ignorance about climate science is alive and well within the coalition. The classic, of course, was a comment by Minister Greg Hunt, the Minister for the Environment, someone who is expected to know everything about his portfolio. I accept that as a minister there are some views you take and some views you do not. But when you are so in the public eye, when you have such an important portfolio as the Environment portfolio, you should be able to quote the science or the economics. Whether you agree with it or not, you should know what is out there. Yet what did Minister Hunt confess to using? Wikipedia. With all of the resources the minister has in his office, in the department, in the Climate Change Authority, he turns to Wikipedia to contradict the United Nations climate chief. And he contradicted her opinion in a BBC interview. Again, oh dear me, how embarrassing. First the Prime Minister of our country and then our environment minister—how embarrassing for Australia.

I have a message for Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt: it is proven. I have another message: there exists an authority, the Climate Change Authority, which is a group of independent, and ethical, experts in their fields. These people know that the science is proven. Why do they know it? Not because of their instincts, not because they stick their finger in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing, not because somebody told them; they know it through rigorous research , rigorous analysis, checking their facts, conferring with other scientists—that is how they know it. They provided the former ALP government, the 43th Parliament, with recommendations and guidance—and with evidence, Mr Abbott and the coalition government, not instincts, but real evidence—and provided expert advice to allow the Australian government to set up effective climate change mitigation initiatives, and not an unsupported direct action policy.

The coalition government is attempting to hoodwink the Australian public and shut down credible authorities, such as the Climate Change Authority. This government is more and more lining up with the climate change deniers, ignoring transparent and independent information that goes against their political wants and against the political outcomes that they want. Australia was such a leader of positive reforms in the past, and it was a leader with our current climate change legislation. But now under the Abbott government we are embarrassing ourselves internationally. Do we really want to line up with the likes of Monckton, who says:

Science should only be practised by people who adhere to a religion, preferably of the Christian variety.

Or there is this one from Monckton again, who says:

The world's climate scientists and advocates for action are just trying to "stamp out democracy".

Is that what the coalition is trying to do in lining up with the likes of Monckton—to 'stamp out democracy'?

Or what about this one from Monckton:

Young climate change campaigners are like the "Hitler youth".

Monckton goes on and has a go at one of our credible scientists, saying:

Professor Ross Garnaut's views on climate change are "fascist".

And there is last one, perhaps the best:

Climate change scientists should be prosecuted and locked up

The sorts of instincts that the coalition government are lining up behind are the views of the likes of Monckton. This government must separate this bill from the wider carbon tax debate, just as Labor has done—and we got a lot of criticism from Senator Abetz as to why we would want to separate these bills. We want to separate them out because we want Australian voters to know that this government wants to shut down a credible organisation, a credible, factual, well-resourced organisation with an expert management board, the Climate Change Authority. Why? Because it might not always agree with what the government is saying.

But we want to assess the Climate Change Authority on its merits and we want to assess the merits of the abolition bill that is before us. Leave aside differences on the views of carbon pricing, forget about the 'carbon tax', as nobody campaigned to keep it, and tell us and the Australian people why you want to ignore the Climate Change Authority, an authority which provides bipartisan and transparent information to government.

The campaign by this coalition government of shutting down credible scientists and climate change organisations started with the firing of the former Secretary of the Department of Climate Change, Blair Comley, who dared to be more honest about the state of climate change than the coalition was willing to accept. They do not want frank advice; they tell us that they can get the advice elsewhere. But departments are not best placed to give free and fearless advice; independent bodies are best placed to do that. But this government does not want any expert to advise on Australia's international targets.

The Climate Change Authority said in their October draft report that Australia should aim for a 15 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. The CCA believe that leaving our emissions target at its current level will prove to be inadequate into the future. This is an example of the Climate Change Authority's frank and fearless advice. Repealing the legislation and abolishing the Climate Change Authority is a demonstration of the government completely disregarding this information. The establishment of an independent Climate Change Authority to advise on the operation of a carbon pricing scheme or a direct action scheme is critical but, again, this government wants to go backwards and turn back the clock with no assessment of whether the authority is good, bad or indifferent, and with no transparency. It is a case of: let us just get on and continue to try to hoodwink people, as this government continues to rely on instincts and not facts and not scientific evidence. I do not support the abolition of the Climate Change Authority.