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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3242


Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (17:13): As nations start to gather in Marrakesh to decide the global rules towards achieving net zero emissions, it is timely that Australia is set to ratify the Paris Agreement. There are some positives in the fact that, while we are lagging the world, we will be one of nearly 200 countries to do so. Either way, the agreement comes into force from Friday. But I am concerned that we think that that fact means Australia's work is done. In fact, our work as a nation will only just begin because, while the agreement sets new targets for us—and even though they are not particularly ambitious targets—the conclusion I have reached after listening to many experts as part of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties hearings is that we do not actually have a way of achieving even those targets that we have set ourselves.

Let us first talk about the new targets. Australia has set an emissions reduction target of 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. According to the national interest assessment, this will halve Australia's per capita emissions compared with 2005 levels and stacks up well against other developed countries. However, evidence heard by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties indicates those targets were set without analysis of what our highest possible ambition could be. Essentially, the targets are not consistent with a necessary, proportional and reasonable contribution by Australia to keeping global warming below two degrees.

The original Climate Change Authority report recommended a 46 to 65 per cent reduction. This government has gone for about half that. Our target is weaker than many other countries, including the US, the EU, Canada and New Zealand. The UK has agreed to reduce emissions by 57 per cent by 2030 and the Canadian government is introducing a national carbon price floor. Dr Luke Kemp, a lecturer in international relations and environmental policy at the ANU, explained to the committee that, if most other countries followed the Australian approach, global warming would exceed three to four per cent. So I do think that some question remains about whether we are doing our fair share. There is a bigger question: does Australia have the policies and legislation in place to deliver on the Paris Agreement commitments—unambitious as they are? Overwhelmingly, the credible experts say 'not yet'. Even the Department of the Environment and Energy indicates that there is no specific modelling to analyse or give confidence that the existing policies will meet the targets.

Too often this government uses our achievement of the Kyoto protocol targets as proof that Australia will meet future targets. Former environment minister Greg Hunt routinely said things like, 'We are one of the few countries in the world to have met and beaten our first round of Kyoto targets and we will do the same with our second round of targets.' However, what that statement conveniently ignores is that the overachievement of Kyoto targets was thanks to clever and, some would say, manipulative negotiating at the start of the Kyoto discussions. The then environment minister Robert Hill insisted that Australia be given special treatment, which meant that our target would be based on 1990 emissions, which was an extraordinarily high base.

The Howard government knew that because the land-clearing practice in Queensland was in full swing in the lead-up to 1990 and had already sharply declined between 1990 and 1970, Australia could profitably achieve the Kyoto target on the back of a reduction in land clearing alone. Australia actually achieved the target at the same time as we increased fossil fuel emissions by 25 to 30 per cent. So forgive me for not believing that just because we achieved our Kyoto targets that that in any way indicates that a pathway is in place for achieving our Paris targets.

The reality is the policy work is still to be done in the review of climate policies next year. I certainly urge the government to listen to Professor Tim Stephens from the University of Sydney who said: 'With the repeal of the clean energy future legislation, we currently do not have any overarching legislation that says Australia is aiming for these cuts by a certain time. So we have no legal apparatus to give effect to our Paris commitments.' Those words are concerning. So far, the indications from the minister for the environment are that there will not be a major overhaul of policies or of targets. There is no doubt that a long-term, stable and predictable policy framework is required to ensure the investment in emissions reduction measures occurs.

I think the message that has resonated very strongly for me is that the whole approach that we need to take would be better if it were bipartisan, as was the case in the United Kingdom. For Australia, that seems a novel idea. Imagine a country where all of the major parties are committed to the same targets and, essentially, to the same policies to achieve them. The repeal of the previous Labor policy of a price on carbon does not give a lot of hope to the idea of bipartisanship. I think the process the government uses as it reviews its energy policy next year will be a test—a test of just how genuine it is to bring about a change in Australia's long-term energy policy.

It is worth noting that among the 36 members of the OECD only five countries—Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico and Turkey—do not have carbon taxes, emission trading schemes or binding emission standards for power plants. There is little time to catch up, and Australia's domestic action has us a long way behind.

The preamble to the agreement for Australia focuses on a just transition for the workforce involved in this sector, so that there are quality jobs and decent work. One of the questions I had when I heard this term is, 'What do we mean by "quality jobs" and "decent work"?' ACTU president Ged Kearney sums it up well when she describes the fears workers have, that they are going from fairly stable, predictable, well-paid work that offers opportunities for lifelong education into a world they know is insecure and unstable, where they do not have predictable pay or wages, and where they worry about a dignified retirement.

When I think of a just transition and any failure to fulfil that commitment, I think of Lithgow, just outside my electorate in the seat of Calare. Coal has been the driver of that economy, and there is a clear and pressing need to establish manufacturing around the renewable energy sector and look at the development of alternative industries as the economy transitions to clean sources of energy, so that there is a smooth transition for Lithgow workers and the entire community. The story for assisting workers, particularly under the coalition, is one of ad hoc policy decisions. There is no national policy in place to ensure a just transition for workers in affected industries to obtain new, secure jobs.

Case studies presented to the committee by the ACTU illustrate that efforts to respond to large firm closures have been largely unsuccessful. A case study cited on Adelaide's Mitsubishi closure is stark. Professor Andrew Beer found that only a third of workers had found full-time equivalent work, a third left the workforce, and a third were either unemployed or underemployed. It is hard to draw a conclusion other than to hope that the government learn some lessons, that there needs to be genuine engagement with people working in these areas and their local communities, and specific measures that protect and create jobs and also help people find jobs. At the very least, we need to see things like job placement and information services; retraining while people are still working; financial and personal support and relocation assistance; a long-term plan, an early plan developed in consultation with the workforce and their communities. Given this government's current approach to jobs and growth, it is difficult to feel a huge amount of optimism about this. We have stagnant wage growth, a reduction in full-time employment, and a growth in the proportion of casual employment. We are already vulnerable, and without a plan. I live in hope, and so do the workers in every regional community.

Let us be clear about the Paris Agreement: it is an important step that so many countries can come to agreement on taking action on climate change. I want to thank my parliamentary colleagues on the joint standing committee, and the secretariat. But let us be in no doubt that the government's energy review next year is critical to determining whether the targets are achievable or not. Having said that, there is one aspect of the Paris Agreement that is a bit of a 'get out of jail free' card for this government, and that is that the agreement only locks us into trying to achieve our targets. We do not have to actually achieve them; we just have to demonstrate we tried. While I welcome the ratifying of the Paris Agreement for its symbolism and hope, it is more of a tiny step than a giant leap.