Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11378

Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (13:09): I rise to support the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills. The Labor government accepts the consensus among climate scientists that climate change is real. Climate change has been called the greatest moral challenge of our time. It is also the greatest economic challenge of our time, and it will affect society. It will affect society's most vulnerable. We need to take action now, before it is too late. Indeed, some would argue that we have missed the tipping point, before which action should be taken. As Tim Costello has said:

The poorest countries are already in those parts of the world most exposed to climate change. In these countries, the poorest are driven to live in vulnerable circumstances. Tenure is fragile. These families get the crumbling river banks or steep hillsides, unproductive land or flood plains, so the impact of wild weather is worst in the poorest communities.

The government understands this. Labor members understand this and that human actions have contributed to the causes and consequences of this climate change and the changes in our environment. We must do something, not just now but into the future; not just for people in Australia but for people around the world.

To have an argument that, somehow, families in my electorate will be paying and will be worse off because of this, and that therefore we should not do it, defies logic and does not look at the impact that we are having on those most vulnerable in our communities throughout the globe. As a government we understand that climate change is the greatest economic challenge of our time. That is why we are introducing a sensible raft of legislation. I support the introduction of this legislation in the House.

The science is in. All major parties accept the science of global warming and that human activity is contributing to climate change. As Professor Ian Chubb, the Chief Scientist for Australia, said during the recent hearings of the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Clean Energy Future Legislation:

The latest information I have seen shows that the CO2 levels are high and that the rate of accumulation is accelerating. The scientists who study this would argue that it is getting to the point where something has to be done quickly in order to cap them at least and start to have them decrease over a sensible period of time. You could easily argue that it is urgent and that something needs to be done because of the high level presently and the accelerating accumulation presently. We do need to do something.

The level of debate around these bills has been hysterical. I accept that individuals have different points of view. I accept that we can have rational debates. I can reflect and agree to disagree with individuals. But people like Frank Johnstone, who sent me a death threat in bold capital red letters today, are beyond the pale. That does not add to this debate; it does not help the debate. When he sent the emails the other day, which my 12-year-old opened, it just was not on. Let's have a sensible debate. We can have differing opinions but let's have a debate based on fact and not hysteria. Let's look at the science and the information in front of us. Everybody has agreed—both sides of the chamber—on a target. We are just coming at it from different angles.

I really would request that the community out there should try and have respect for those points of view. I will respect their points of view. I might not agree with it. I might be doing something that they do not like today, but I reflect the majority of my constituency, who have emailed me saying, 'Stay firm, pass the legislation. We believe something needs to be done now.'

During the course of the inquiry into the clean energy bills we did explore many of the issues and many of the concerns that individuals had. And we received a lot of correspondence from individuals. I want to thank those individuals for taking the time to send us that information. We did not ignore it. We read it and we analysed it. A lot of the information has gone to the issue of the legitimacy of the legislation. The report quotes the Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier this year when she said, on Q&A:

Now, I did say during the last election campaign—I promised—that there would be no carbon tax. That's true and I've walked away from that commitment and I'm not going to try and pretend anything else. I also said to the Australian people in the last election campaign that we needed to act on climate change. We needed to price carbon and I wanted to see an emissions trading scheme. Then we had the election and the 17 days that were, and we formed this minority government. Now, if I'd been leading a majority government I would have been getting on with an emissions trading scheme. It's what I promised the Australian people. As it is, in this minority parliament, the only way I can act on climate change by pricing carbon is to work with others. And so I had a really stark choice. Do I act or not act? Well, I've chosen to act and we will have a fixed price, like a carbon tax, for a period and then get to exactly what I promised the Australian people, an emissions trading scheme.

Interestingly enough, back in October 2005, the then opposition leader, as the minister for health, also said on another program, in answer to Laurie Oakes:

Well, Laurie, when I made that statement in the election campaign, I had not the slightest inkling that there would ever be any intention to change this. But obviously when circumstances change, governments do change their opinions, and that is actually the responsible course of action.

Things change. The need arises to make changes, and the government has done that. At the end of the day we are introducing an emissions trading scheme, and that is what we have promised the community we would do for a long time. The argument that somehow this has been forced upon us in a great rush is absolutely hysterical. I was shown a leaflet from the then Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Peacock, back in the 1990 election in which he promised action on climate change and was looking at a 20 per cent reduction in emissions levels. This is not a new debate. It is not something that has just been forced upon us, it is not something that has come out of the 'Labor-Greens alliance', as we hear from the doomsayers out there; it is something that is real and needs action.

I have taken an active interest in the science of climate change and am in absolutely no doubt that our planet is warming. In May this year, the Climate Commission released a report called The critical decade, which provided the strongest evidence of these facts. It showed: global temperatures are rising faster than ever before, with the last decade being the hottest on record; in the last 50 years, the number of hot days in Australia has more than doubled; sea levels have risen by 20 centimetres globally since the 1800s, impacting many coastal communities, and another 20-centimetre rise by 2050, which the scientists warn is likely on current climate change projections, would more than double the risk of coastal flooding; the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from nine major bleaching events in the past 31 years, where it previously had experienced none; and it is now beyond reasonable doubt that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused mainly through the burning of fossil fuels, is triggering the changes we are currently seeing in the climate. In the report, the scientists warn that a rise of more than two degrees Celsius in global temperatures will result in dangerous climate change, with more intense weather events like droughts, floods and cyclones. The CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and academies of science from around the world have all advised that the world is warming and high levels of carbon pollution risk environmental and economic damage. In Australia and across the globe, 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record. Each decade in Australia since the 1940s has been warmer than the last.

Australia faces significant environmental and economic costs in a warmer, more unstable climate. Climate scientists advise that extreme weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves and bushfires, are likely to become more frequent and severe. These threaten our homes, businesses and communities, industries such as agriculture—indeed, our way of life. For example, the recent report Climate change risks to Australia's coast found that as many as 247,000 existing residential buildings, with a replacement value of up to $63 billion, are potentially at risk from a 1.1 metre sea level rise. I do not know why people somehow feel that these reports are inadequate, inconclusive or controversial. Yes, these reports are based on modelling. We can only model and predict what will happen into the future.

When there was concern about the depletion of the ozone layer the same debate raged: 'Why should we do something about the depletion of the ozone layer? Why should Australia do anything?' Australia's approach to climate change needs to be similar to that taken with the phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs. CFCs were phased out by 1995. Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Montreal protocol and continues to be a leader in the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances. But at the time there was a huge argument: no woman in Australia would be able to style her hair ever again because she would not be able to use hairspray; no industry would be able to go on because we could not use CFCs. CFCs are still being used, and we need to do more to reduce them. But, at the time, the sky was going to fall in. We were going to be shut down or turned off if we did something about them.

When we removed lead from petrol because there was a demonstrated causal link between lead in petrol and brain damage in children, the world again said, 'We must do something.' Again the sky was going to fall in—no car was ever going to run again; unleaded petrol would mean the end of the automotive industry in Australia. But we acted. We did something. We changed.

In my opinion, the evidence for climate change is overwhelming and conclusive. Taking into account the fact that we in Australia have contributed above and beyond our fair share to global warming, it is incumbent on us to act as a responsible international citizen and contribute to a solution. Scientists agree that the worst effects of climate change can be largely avoided if we reduce carbon pollution to an acceptable level. Australia has an opportunity to move to a clean energy future and cut pollution before that task becomes more difficult and costly. Indeed, ClimateWorks Australia, which I am on the board of, has put out some interesting modelling and predictions. It warns:

… each year of delay would mean more opportunities are lost or become harder and more expensive to catch up. ClimateWorks' previous research has found that delaying action on climate change to 2015 would increase the cost for business and households by $5.5 billion to reach Australia's 5 per cent reduction target in 2020.

We need to act.

The other argument is that we are acting alone, that we are racing ahead. Last month an article in the Age by Adam Morton said:

As Australia's major political parties squabbled last week over whether an MP should be granted leave from a vote on carbon price laws to witness the birth of his child, arguably more serious statements about the future of carbon policy were being made overseas.

In China, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide and a country often painted as indifferent to climate change policy, the State Council announced individual targets for provinces and cities that would require them to cut the amount of energy used to run their economies.

Other countries are acting ahead of us. We are lagging behind and actually missing the research and business opportunities in renewable energies.

This legislation goes not just to the price on carbon but to action to ensure individuals are not impacted, are not made worse off, and there will be a huge household package with it. But it is also around direct government investment in clean energy. The federal government is investing billions in low-emissions technology and providing support for Australian households to become more energy efficient. The new $10 billion commercially oriented Clean Energy Finance Corporation will invest in renewable energy, low pollution and energy efficient technologies. The new Australian Renewable Energy Agency will administer $3.2 billion in government support for research and development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy. The renewable energy target, combined with other elements of the government's plan, including the carbon price, will drive $20 billion of investment in large-scale renewable energy by 2020, in today's dollars. We know that we can reduce carbon pollution to ensure our children and grandchildren have a future, but our economy also has a future. Listening to some of the contributions to the debate from those on the other side has been quite fascinating. They have been talking a lot about what is going to happen. It is constant negativity and it has completely overtaken the coalition. They are constantly talking the economy down and using every opportunity to scaremonger workers in Australia. It is time we looked at the facts. We have created nearly 750,000 jobs since we came to office and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the developed world. When it comes to a price on carbon, we are providing a $9.2 billion jobs package to support workers in emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. As the Treasury modelling shows, jobs will grow strongly under a carbon price, with national employment expected to increase by 1.6 million jobs by 2020 and by a further 4.4 million by 2050.

Those opposite sticking their heads in the sand are refusing to open their minds to the investment and employment opportunities a carbon price will provide. Some members, like the member for Menzies, in this debate have even said that the notion of a green job is mythical, and the member for Groom said last week that all new green jobs will go overseas. This directly contradicts the coalition's own direct action plan, which says at page 17, 'The coalition recognises the potential for clean energy to underpin future employment growth in key regional areas.' Not only is it in contradiction to their own policies; it is in contradiction to the evidence already out there and to evidence we heard during the clean energy bills inquiry, such as that the Macarthur wind farm in Victoria will create 900 jobs during construction, the Woodland wind farm in New South Wales will create 150 jobs during construction and a solar farm in New South Wales will create another 50 jobs—just to mention a few.

These projects and many like them will provide billions of dollars in new investment and thousands of new jobs, as well as help us to transition to a low-carbon future. The race is on for clean energy jobs and investment in the future. We want our economy to be in a position to take advantage of that. In my own electorate I see this at the CSIRO plant at Clayton, where there are many jobs in this industry. At Monash University and the Monash Sustainability Institute individuals are taking action because they see the need for change. We as a government see the need for change. I have held two forums on climate change. One was organised by a group called Lighter Footprints and had 300 people at the hall. All of them accepted the need for change—actually most of them were fairly angry that we were not going far enough. I held another one in my electorate with Alan Pears from RMIT and Dr Brett Parris from Monash University, and I want to thank them. They gave a great presentation that was accepted by everybody in the room. It is time to act and stop putting our heads in the sand. (Time expired)