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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8418

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:00): I note that we are debating Senator Xenophon's amendments (2) and (3), relating to a target range of emissions reductions. Senator Xenophon is moving for that target—for the benefit of people wondering what on earth is going on with the interjections here. The issue is: should we be setting a higher target than five per cent? The point at issue is that one of the problems with the legislation that came before this parliament previously was that the level of ambition on greenhouse gas reduction was too low and in no way met the scientific reality. We all know that Australia has signed on to constrain global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. That actually means that we should be aiming to get down below 450 parts per million to 350 parts per million globally, if we are to actually give ourselves an opportunity for a safe climate.

The target range that is on the table will be determined by the Climate Change Authority. That is the big advantage and is actually one of the most crucial parts of this whole package: the fact that we are going to set up a Climate Change Authority, which has as its mandate to take into account the latest science, to look at what is happening around the world and to set emission reduct­ion trajectories for the first five years of the scheme, and then annually after that. That is the role of the independent climate authority.

In my view, to now say that we are going to give that climate authority a political directive is wrong. The whole point of this is to give the Climate Change Authority the power to make a recommendation consistent with the science. As Professor Schnellnhuber, who was here recently from Germany, said, if the political reality does not match the physical reality then it is useless. That is the problem that we have had to date—that the level of ambition does not match the physical reality of climate change and what we need to do. So the expectation is that the climate authority, taking into account the latest science, will be setting a much steeper trajectory than has ever been projected or talked about in this parliament—and that would certainly be my hope. As to 10 per cent, I do not think it is enough anyway.

Senator Xenophon interjecting

Senator MILNE: No, the government does not have a five per cent target. The government's legislation has five per cent as a default if the parliament has a disallowance for whatever is recommended; otherwise, whatever is recommended stands. The Climate Change Authority will make a recommendation to the government of the day. The government of the day will then make that regulation, and if it does not choose to regulate what the climate authority recommends then it will be forced to explain that. But if it is a default position, with a disallowance, it would be a minimum of five per cent. That is a default position; it is not the position that we would expect to come from the Climate Change Authority. And it needs to be very much higher.

In fact, if you look at the conditions the government previously set for whether it would move to 15 or 25 per cent, I would argue that the conditions for meeting 15 per cent are already there. Most people who have looked at those conditions would argue that. However, having set up a structure which provides for a Climate Change Authority to look at the latest science and to work out that trajectory, I do not think it is appropriate that we then give them a political fix. There is no point in having a Climate Change Authority if you do that.

Additionally in this legislation is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA, which will drive renewable energy. In my view—and it is not just my view; it is also the view of ClimateWorks—the invest­ment that is going to come in renewable energy and energy efficiency is going to double the level of emissions reductions from that which Treasury has already modelled and calculated. The expectation is that the emissions reductions will be much more substantial than has been calculated. Further to that, in the package there is a clear undertaking from the government to expedite a white certificate scheme on energy efficiency. That is something that the Greens have had on the table for a long time. Expedite means expedite—to bring that forward.

Together with those initiatives, I expect that we will see a substantially faster shift because Treasury has been incredibly conservative in its modelling. I think there will be a significant shift once this legislation becomes law and takes effect on 1 July next year. I think the transformation in the economy is going to be a lot faster than people think. In fact, we have to hope that that is the case because the reality of the climate science is that the way the trajectories are currently going, including our own here in Australia for greenhouse gas emissions with business as usual and globally, we are going to reach the point where it will be too late to secure a safe climate. That is the reality that we are all talking about. That is the seriousness of the climate emergency we now face.

We have to hope that not only will the climate authority take on board the latest science and set a steep trajectory, understanding that the earlier you act, the cheaper it is in the longer term, as Sir Nicholas Stern pointed out very clearly, but also that it leads to a massive investment in renewables and efficiency, much greater gains and therefore an acceleration of the effort that we are able to put in in the economy.

That is why I am not prepared to vote for something that compromises the whole structure we are trying to set up and that seriously underestimates the level of emissions reduction we need in the time. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out, we needed global emissions to peak and then start coming down by 2015. There is no prospect at this point of global emissions peaking by 2020, and the scientists have now said it needs to happen by—

Senator Joyce: Mr Temporary Chairman, on a point of order: we are trying our very best to ask succinct questions that are to the point and brief—I think the last one I asked was no longer than two minutes—because we know that by—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Cameron ): Senator Joyce, what is your point of order?

Senator Joyce: Where is the question that Senator Milne is asking?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: That is not a point of order.

Senator MILNE: It might interest Senator Joyce to understand that there has been an amendment moved by Senator Xenophon and I am responding to the specific amendment—unlike Senator Joyce, who failed to use his opportunity in the general debate time to ask his questions and have them answered and is now contesting something that is quite irrelevant.

Senator Joyce: On a point of order, Mr Temporary Chairman: I believe that Senator Milne is definitely misleading the Senate. I have asked three questions, Senator Milne. I have had an answer for none of them. The last question I asked, the minister could not even find the document. The attendant could find it but—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Joyce, you are engaging in debate. That is not a point of order.

Senator MILNE: I know that Senator Xenophon has put a considerable amount of work into his amendments, to his credit, and that is why I am taking his amendments seriously and responding to him in an appropriate manner as to why the Greens will not be supporting them. Unlike Senator Joyce, I am actually speaking to the relevant amendment before the chamber at this point in time.

Whilst I understand why Senator Xenophon has moved the amendment that he has, the new structure we are putting in place is reminiscent of the British climate change authority, which has led to huge leaps and bounds in that country such that they are now going to reduce their emissions by 50 per cent on 1990 levels by 2028 or 2030. That is because they put their faith in an independent climate authority on which there are climate scientists. That is precisely what we are hoping will come from the climate authority—that is, for once we will have serious science engaged and serious recommendations made to government where the physical reality and the political reality actually have to meet.