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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1423

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (12:01): I rise to contribute to this Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 debate. Like my colleague Senator Cameron, I do so with a sense of frustration and anger at the thought that, through no other reason than an ideological obsession and political point-making exercise of the coalition, the Abbott government is attempting to undo the architecture that has been put in place around climate change and carbon pricing in this country. That ideology is not based on science or economics and, further, is damaging our reputation as an international player on climate change policy in the world.

It is that issue that I would like to first draw upon. The Climate Change Authority has provided high-quality, independent advice since its establishment in 2012 using expert scientists and economists in the domestic and international arenas. The Climate Change Authority has been referred to as similar to the Committee on Climate Change in the UK—something which is an independent statutory body established by the UK and had its stated purpose, similarly, to advise the UK government and its devolved administrations on emissions targets and report to parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change. That is very similar to the role that the Climate Change Authority has been carrying out. It has been providing vitally important information for tackling climate change and accelerating the roll-out of clean-energy jobs and clean energy itself in Australia.

But already we know that the coalition has abolished the climate commission. It has already, as we know, attempted to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Now it is attempting to abolish the Climate Change Authority.

As I said, like the UK, this organisation is set up independently to provide expert advice about emissions reductions targets and the scope for ongoing emissions reductions in Australia. We know the international community is watching Australia, and has been watching very closely since 7 September, because of this fixation of the new government on repealing all the climate change architecture that was put in place by the former Labor government under the stewardship of the then minister, Greg Combet. They are watching because Australia will soon take over the leadership of the G20 and, when it does that, it has the ability to have strong and effective action in its leadership role against the issues of ongoing emissions, global issues of climate change and the like. So countries are recognising that Australia is going to take over that leadership role and are concerned that their hopes of any kind of strong and effective action on climate change will not be there under Australia's leadership, will be incredibly diminished under Australia's leadership as opposed to the position Australia took to the various international fora on climate change it participated in during the last government.

Despite that, of course, Prime Minister Tony Abbott apparently does accept that climate change is happening. I think he said as much in a recent press conference in November. He said he accepts climate change is happening and humans are contributing to it. So, if the Prime Minister can say clearly now that he has been converted into this space that says climate change is happening—and I have to say I am pleased he has—then surely he needs to recognise that, in being the leader at the G20, he needs to take strong and effective action on climate change. If the coalition and the Prime Minister think Direct Action policy—which is the only thing they still have lingering somewhere on the table; it might be under a few documents and books, but I think it is still there as a coalition policy—is strong and effective action to take to the G20 table when we take over that leadership role, I think that the Prime Minister would be laughed out of the room, quite frankly.

There are already scientists, economists and a lot of independent think tank contributors in this space, who probably know a hell of a lot more than many of us here, coming out very clearly and saying that the coalition's Direct Action policy is simply not going to do anything near being effective or providing strong action on climate change. Many economists and scientists for some time now have been telling the coalition that their Direct Action policy is not good enough. They have been telling the coalition that an emissions trading scheme is the most efficient and effective way to tackle climate change, and in fact we know that there are members of the coalition government who think so themselves. Yet the coalition will continue to believe that Direct Action will be the best way forward, despite those economists and those scientists saying that Direct Action will not work.

The other very disappointing part of where we find ourselves with this bill before us is that it also shows that the coalition not only want to repeal the various parts of the architecture of climate change policy that we have in this country but also are now turning away from any kind of participation in international forums on this issue. I want to raise one particular one which has occurred recently, and that is of course the United Nations climate change talks in Warsaw in Poland. The Australian government was unable to send a ministerial representative to those talks. With negotiations from all over the world taking place in Warsaw, what kind of message does it send to the international community when Australia cannot even send a minister or a parliamentary secretary to those climate change talks? It is snubbing the international community on this issue. We all know that climate change is an international issue. That is why we were playing our part in introducing a climate change policy that included carbon pricing, moving to an emissions trading scheme: so that it would be part of an international economic framework for tackling climate change. Yet here Australia is, not even at the negotiating table. So it is not even that we are repealing the architecture we have; we are even turning our backs on the rest of the international community.

It is simply embarrassing, yet here we will be next year, at the G20, taking over that leadership, with all of those countries being very aware that since this government has come to power we have not participated on the international stage on this issue of climate change. I think that is absolutely appalling and shows how far backwards we have come from where we were prior to 7 September this year. I can only think of what the EU would be thinking of Australia right now. I know that it would not be in a very favourable light on the issue of climate change.

Of course, it is not just economists and scientists who have come out very strongly about Direct Action not working and about an emissions trading scheme being the best way forward for tackling climate change. The chairman of the Climate Change Authority, to the abolition of which this bill pertains, has clearly come out calling on government to retain this independent body and not to abolish the Climate Change Authority. He has challenged some of the arguments put by government—I think by Environment Minister Greg Hunt—on the issue of closing this authority being about reducing bureaucracy and moving climate change advice into either the federal environment department, the CSIRO or the Bureau of Meteorology. He has challenged that, because this was about frank, fearless, good and independent advice coming from an independent body. That is what this authority is still able to provide, and that is what the Australian government will be giving up if they abolish it. I quote from the Chairman, Mr Bernie Fraser, who says:

On a subject as complex as climate change, I would have thought every government—whatever its complexion—would want to get good independent advice … I find it a bit frustrating this opportunity … seems to be foreclosing a bit with the present government. I think that's a disappointment.

That is very much a disappointment and it is very similar to what we heard from the chairwoman of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, who similarly made an appeal to government to not axe the CEFC. So you have very respected, intelligent, well-known people in this climate change space in very important roles as chairpersons both pleading to government not to undo some of this architecture of climate change policy.

The comments by Minister Greg Hunt in relation to abolishing the Climate Change Authority and having the ability to get that same advice from inside bureaucracy from the CSIRO is quite bizarre because it was not long ago that this government was announcing cuts to the CSIRO. Not only is it expecting public servants to give independent advice but it is also asking for that advice from a body of the public service that has recently had an announcement of job cuts. That shows again that this government has certainly still got its training wheels on. I do not think those training wheels are going to come off for a very long time. In fact, I think more training wheels will need to be added.

When we talk about climate change policy, this government is all over the place. It is stuck and hell-bent on this ideology that it is against carbon pricing, that it is not going to have anything to do with being an effective leader on climate change policy. It is stuck on that approach. Despite the economists, despite the scientists it continues to trot out this mantra. Yet we know very well that there are key members of this government, some of whom are around that cabinet table, that were once very much for an emissions trading scheme, just like their then leader, Prime Minister John Howard.

It was actually the Howard government—the only thing I would give credit to the Howard government for—that had the foresight to look ahead and think, 'We need to be a part of this international fray. We need to act on climate change and the best way to do that is through the introduction of an emissions trading scheme.' Key members of this government were part of that belief with then Prime Minister John Howard. They are still there now yet they are continuing day after day to trot out this mantra that they are against pricing carbon, they are against an emissions trading scheme. They want put their heads in the sand into some direct action hole, which leads to nowhere. We have been told it leads to nowhere by the economists and by the scientists. All it does is leave Australia as a laughing stock in the international community. We came so far. We created the architecture for tackling climate change and for doing our bit in the international community. We were ready to start trading permits with the EU and were ready to have an emissions trading scheme, like so many parts of the world have introduced or are introducing. Now we have gone tenfold backwards and it is an embarrassment.

As I said at the outset, when we do take that leadership position at the G20 next year, it will all come to the fore that Australia's leadership will be lacking on climate change. This very serious issue has overwhelming evidence and the global issue of climate change needs to be taken seriously by our generation for the next generation and so on. That leadership will be lacking at the head of the G20 table by Australia and that is a sheer embarrassment.

There is time for this government to reflect upon what it has done, to move from its fixated ideology and recognise it needs to play a role in effective and strong leadership action on climate change. That action of course is not Direct Action. Direct Action is going nowhere and it is not just me saying this. So many independent thinkers in the community are saying this.

The Climate Change Authority acts very similarly to the UK's committee on climate change, which has also been providing independent advice on the issue of emissions reduction. To abolish this authority would be another step backwards, just as it was a step backwards to abolish the Climate Change Commission and just as it was a step backwards to attempt to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We need the architecture that we have in place on climate change so that we can play our part in the international community and, ultimately, reduce carbon emissions in this country.