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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7704

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (3:57 PM) —I table a ministerial statement on COAG business regulation agreement and small business initiatives and I seek leave to make a statement on carbon pollution.

Leave granted.

Senator WONG —The Australian people made it clear at the last election that they want our government to take action on climate change. Australians want the government to deal with this issue so our children and grandchildren are not punished for our failure to take responsible action now. The government’s commitment to acting on climate change was evident with its first official act—ratifying the Kyoto protocol. And climate change has remained a top priority since, through the government’s comprehensive approach to reducing Australia’s emissions, adapting to the climate change we cannot avoid and helping to shape a global solution. This reflects Australia’s strong national interest in an effective global response to climate change as well as the government’s commitment to ensure Australia plays its full, fair and constructive part in building a global response.

As Professor Garnaut demonstrated through his review, Australia is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change—more so than any other developed country. As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia’s economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we do not act decisively.

It is true that the global financial crisis is having a substantial impact around the world and here at home, but this will not divert the government from the task of building a low-pollution economy for Australia’s future. There will never be an easy time to deal with climate change, but transitioning to a low-pollution economy is vital to Australia’s long-term economic prosperity. While we work around the clock to buffer our country against the full force of the global economic crisis, our government understands the importance of continuing to lay the groundwork for the future economy. The global financial crisis makes it more, not less, important that we tackle the big economic challenges.

In July this year, the Rudd government released the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme green paper, outlining the government’s preferred positions on emissions trading and the support proposed to help households and businesses adjust to this economic transformation. The green paper was informed by a comprehensive first phase of consultation with the community and business.

In October, the government launched Australia’s low pollution future: the economics of climate change mitigation. This comprehensive report contains Treasury’s detailed modelling of the costs and opportunities of acting decisively to meet the challenge of climate change. The report contains the most complex, comprehensive and rigorous analysis of its kind ever undertaken in Australia.

The Treasury’s modelling demonstrates that early global action is less expensive than later action, that a market based approach allows robust economic growth into the future even as emissions fall, and that many of Australia’s industries will maintain or improve their competitiveness as the world moves to reduce carbon pollution.

In the months since the release of the green paper, I, my office and the Department of Climate Change have been engaged in a second phase of extensive consultation with business and the community on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The government has received over 1,000 submissions, all of which are being carefully considered in the formulation of the white paper. The government has held workshops on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme across Australia—in every capital city and in a number of regional locations. We are very conscious of the need to deliver an economically responsible Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which is why we are going through such an extensive process.

Throughout this year, Australia has continued to play an active and constructive role in negotiations for a global agreement on climate change. The government has advocated global action on climate change in key multilateral and bilateral meetings, including the Major Economies Meeting Leaders’ Summit held at this year’s G8 meeting in Japan. We have used these meetings to emphasise the continued importance of forging a global solution to this global problem.

The Prime Minister signed the forest carbon partnerships with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister Somare of Papua New Guinea to take forward our collaboration on reducing emissions from deforestation—a critical issue, given that emissions from deforestation and forest degradation account for around 20 per cent of emissions globally. In November, Australia hosted the Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum, where the two countries released the Roadmap for Access to International Carbon Markets, designed to assist Indonesia access international forest carbon markets. Australia and Indonesia also agreed to develop a second demonstration activity in Indonesia to help showcase in a practical way how emissions from deforestation and forest degradation can be reduced.

In November, I also hosted the inaugural Australia-China Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Change. This followed the April 2008 agreement between the governments of Australia and the People’s Republic of China to establish annual policy dialogues at a ministerial level. During the meeting, our two countries agreed to build on our cooperation on clean energy and clean technologies. China agreed to support efforts under Australia’s $100 million global carbon capture and storage institute and recognised that it was an important vehicle to accelerate global demonstration of CSS technology on a commercial scale. Australia has participated actively in negotiations throughout the year, including through making public submissions on priority topics. Most recently Australia submitted a substantial set of 13 submissions on key issues for the Poznan negotiations.

The government will release its CPRS white paper and medium-term target range for reducing carbon pollution on Monday, 15 December. We have been very clear throughout the year that we would release the white paper and medium-term target range in December. Our priority is to provide business and the Australian community with certainty on the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and target range in December—as we always said we would do. The 15 December release date allows me to represent Australia at the Poznan climate change negotiations, while also delivering on our commitment to release the white paper and medium-term target range by the end of the year.

We have an extensive internal decision-making process on the CPRS currently underway. We are also continuing with a comprehensive stakeholder consultation process. One key factor which has become clear during our consultations is that business certainty would be significantly improved if the design of the scheme was released concurrently with the medium-term target range. We are taking a measured and responsible approach to the CPRS and setting the path to reduce carbon pollution. This is a major economic reform and we must get it right.

Australia will continue to play an active and constructive role in negotiations at Poznan. As the UN has said, negotiators will use Poznan to take stock of the progress made so far and map out what needs to be done to give us the best chance possible of reaching an agreement at the end of 2009. Poznan is the midpoint in the international negotiations which started last year in Bali, building up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The release of the white paper in December will position Australia well to continue to play our full part in efforts to secure that global solution in 2009. Australia will also encourage other advanced economies to release comparable targets as soon as possible.

In the interests of securing our future economic prosperity, the government will continue efforts to shape a global solution and take responsible action at home through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Next year, legislation on the scheme will be debated in both houses of parliament. During this debate, it is hoped all members and senators will take a responsible approach to dealing with the great challenge of climate change.