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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 7472


Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (09:17): I am happy to rise to speak on the package of bills that are before the parliament, which are presented by the government as bills to abolish the carbon tax. The bills do do that—consistent with the position taken to the election by the Labor Party as well—but the bills do much, much more than that. If passed by the parliament the bills will also abolish any chance of Australia having a formal legal cap on carbon pollution and any chance to move to an emissions trading scheme, which I will address in some detail.

The bills also abolish the Climate Change Authority—an independent, strong voice set up to advise the parliament, the government and, perhaps most importantly, the Australian community about the very difficult and highly contested issues associated with climate change. This continues an emerging theme with this government to abolish strong, independent voices and make sure that all advice to the Australian community and all advice to the parliament is filtered through ministerial offices or, more often, the Prime Minister's office.

The bills also abolish tax cuts, or changes to the tax free threshold established for the future, completely contrary to a promise made by the Prime Minister to keep the household assistance package put in place by Labor in full. And, as the House knows, the bills also seek to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

These bills represent the culmination of the most hysterical and mendacious campaign in modern Australian political history. It is a campaign that rests on 10 whopping falsehoods about climate change that have been peddled across this country by the Prime Minister and his fellow travellers. In the time I have to deal with these bills I want to deal with those 10 whoppers.

Whopper No. 1 is that the jury is still out on the science of climate change. That is a whopper peddled by the Prime Minister right across this land over the last four years. As we know, the Prime Minister famously described the science of climate change as 'absolute crap'. He only said that once; his usual formula is that the science—he calls it the 'so-called science'—is not yet settled. The member for Dawson, I read recently, said that this view represents the view of many in the coalition party room. Many in the coalition party room simply do not accept the science of climate change. To use the language of the member for Dawson, and many on the other side of the parliament, they do not 'believe in climate change', as if this were a question of faith rather than a question of science.

This is not a new perspective from those opposite. After his defenestration from the leadership of the Liberal Party, the member for Wentworth famously wrote, in a Fairfax newspaper, about the now Prime Minister's attitude to climate change but also the attitude of the majority of the coalition party room. In that article, the member for Wentworth reflected on the views of Nick Minchin. Nick Minchin is the man who collected the numbers to do over the Liberal Party's policy on emissions trading that had been taken to the election in 2007 by then Prime Minister John Howard. He dangled those numbers in front of any candidate for the leadership willing to go with his views.

The now Treasurer, apparently, to his credit resisted that temptation and stuck to his then principles of supporting an emissions trading scheme—unfortunately he has since discarded those principles—but the member for Warringah, now the Prime Minister, happily took the temptation. The member for Wentworth wrote in the Fairfax papers, immediately after that, that it was Nick Minchin's view, expressed to all of the candidates, that the majority of the coalition party room simply did not believe—again using the language of faith rather than science—in 'human induced global warming', to use the term of the member for Wentworth.

It is simply misleading to say that the science on this question is not settled. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report—its fifth report—in September last year, and in that the 209 lead authors, supported by more than 600 contributing authors, lifted their level of certainty about the existence of climate change and its cause by human activity to 95 per cent. The member for Dawson complains that that is not 100 per cent. If, in coming to this place, the check-in staff at the Adelaide airport had said that you have a 95 per cent chance of making it from Adelaide to Canberra on your flight, then I might have declined to get onto the aeroplane. But, in scientific terms, 95 per cent certainty is seen as a gold standard. It is equivalent to the level of certainty that relevant scientists ascribe to the link between tobacco and lung cancer. Even at its highest, if it is only a 95 per cent risk—and the member for Dawson is right to complain that it is not a 100 per cent risk—what sensible person or member of parliament would not take reasonable action to hedge against a 95 per cent risk, which scientists have been telling us for years, if found out, would have such significant and serious consequences?

Maurice Newman, the Prime Minister's senior business adviser, tells us in regular op-eds in The Australiannewspaperthat the IPCC—those several hundred leading climate scientists who authored the fifth report—are a fringe group that do not represent the mainstream of scientific opinion. He is simply not right about that either. This is a view that the Prime Minister has peddled as well. That hotbed of left-wing conspiracy, NASA, told us last year that some 97 per cent of climate scientists who regularly publish in this area agree with the IPCC that the climate is changing because of human activity. Our own institutions, such as the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO—very widely respected institutions—have expressed the same view on many occasions.

Whopper number two that is peddled by the Prime Minister is that, if there was any global warming over the course of the 20th century, it has stopped—'Nothing to worry about here; it has stopped.' Even the Prime Minister has once said that the world has actually slightly cooled since the 1990s—'So, if there was anything to worry about, do not worry anymore.' This is something, again, peddled by Maurice Newman—the PM's leading business adviser—who wrote earlier this week in The Australian newspaper that it is actually since September 1996 that the warming has stopped. Again, that is just not true.

The World Meteorological Organization told us only some months ago that the decade of the 2000s was warmer than the 1990s, which was again warmer than the decade before it, and so it goes on as you go decade by decade back into history. NASA, over the course of the southern summer, told us that the 20 hottest years in the world on record are all since 1990 and that 13 of the 14 hottest years on record are all since 2000. The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have said time and time again exactly the same thing—that global warming continues to impact the world and continues to impact the world's oceans. In their latest State of the climate report, the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO remind us that calendar 2013 was the hottest year ever in Australia, in spite of not being an el Nino year, which will usually see the hottest temperatures in Australia. In spite of not being an el Nino year, 2013 was the hottest calendar year ever in Australia, and there were 28 days in that calendar year that were among the one per cent hottest days ever in Australia—28 of them out of 365. That is the same number of days to get into that top one per cent band in temperature for the whole three decades, the whole 30 years, between 1910 and 1940. The world is continuing to get warmer.

Whopper number three by this Prime Minister and his fellow travellers is that the Prime Minister consistently refuses to acknowledge any link between climate change and an increase in the frequency and the severity of extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves, fires, storms and more. There are countless examples of the Prime Minister talking about this lack of any evidence of any link between these things, but perhaps the most unseemly example of it was the slanging match into which the Prime Minister entered with the senior official in climate change from the United Nations about the Blue Mountains bushfires which afflicted so many communities in New South Wales last year. The Prime Minister said that there was no evidence of any link between extreme weather events and climate change, and I have said—as many others on our side have said—of course you cannot draw a link between climate change and any single event. But that is not what the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister said that you cannot draw a link between climate change and an increase in extreme weather events generally, and that is what conflicts with very clear scientific evidence.

I remember the minister resorted to some advice from Wikipedia—I am sure he remembers this as well—to point out that Australia has had bushfires for as long as records go back and as long as our Indigenous memory goes back, and we all know that to be the case. That is not the question. The question is whether there is an increase in risk, whether there is an increase in the frequency and the severity of this type of extreme weather event, and you do not need to go to Wikipedia to find out about this. You can go to our own advice from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. You can go to the minister's own Country Fire Authority from Victoria that talks about an increase in risk, severity and frequency of bushfires associated with climate change. The minister could have gone to his own departmental website, which talks about a quite clearly established increase in risk of this type of extreme weather event. You could have gone to the Climate Commission's report before the government abolished it.

The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, again in their latest State of the climate report published earlier this year, tracked the forest fire danger index—an index which has been tracked for many years here in Australia—and very clearly found that the risk of forest fires since 1970 has risen markedly associated with climate change. It is up by 50 per cent in the area around Melbourne Airport. The Bureau of Meteorology provides similar advice about the risk to Australia associated with climate change, with Australia experiencing more frequent and more severe heatwaves. All of this advice is quite clear—another whopper from the Prime Minister.

Whopper number four from this Prime Minister and his fellow travellers is that world leaders need not trouble themselves with this issue; that they should focus on the important things like economics and security; and that they should leave these things to environment ministers, because it is not an economic issue—it is simply a fringe environmental issue. Well, shortly before the Prime Minister's visit to the United States, President Obama said that this is 'one of the most significant, if not the most significant, long-term challenges that the United States and the planet faces'. The Tory Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, said climate changes is 'one of the most serious threats the United Kingdom and the world face'. Asked about this, our Prime Minister simply said, 'I don't think so.'

Blocking this from the G20 agenda has been a consistent position that the Prime Minister has taken in his position as chair—again, as if this is not a matter for world leaders but simply a matter that the Minister for Environment and his colleagues around the world should deal with, a fringe issue. Well, that is not the view taken by the rest of the world. In March, the United States and the European Union, together responsible for about half of the world's nominal GDP, signed a joint statement saying that 'sustainable economic growth will only be possible if we tackle climate change. This is a central economic challenge for the world's future'. In February, just a few weeks before that statement, the Premier of China, Li Keqiang, and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, signed an expansive memorandum of understanding about the view of those two nations—the two largest economies in the world, the two largest emitters of carbon pollution in the world—that recognised 'the urgent need for action' leading in particular to 2015. This month Premier Li of China and UK Prime Minister David Cameron signed a joint statement recognising that 'climate change is one of the greatest global challenges that we face'.

And it is not just an economic challenge. President Obama has talked about the quadrennial US defence posture review conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff there. In particular, he remarked on the fact that the Joint Chiefs had identified climate change as one of the greatest threats to America's national security. Of course, why should any of that concern the members of the G20? We will just leave it to the environment ministers!

Whopper No. 5 by our Prime Minister and his fellow travellers was enunciated in his famous trip to Canada. There the Prime Minister said, 'There is no sign that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted'—carbon trading schemes. 'If anything, trading schemes are being discarded, not adopted.' Again, that is not right. The only nation that is seeking to discard a carbon trading scheme is this one, under this government. It is simply not right to say that others are doing it. I will talk a little more in my remarks about the position of China. But South Korea, our third largest export partner, introduced a few weeks ago a tax of about $20 a tonne on thermal coal imports. South Korea is our third largest market for thermal coal. They are introducing a very broad emissions trading scheme on 1 January 2015. This adds to the long list of emissions trading schemes in place among many of our oldest trading partners—the United Kingdom, Germany, France and many others—and also many states and provinces in North America.

After the warm embrace of the Canadian Prime Minister, who shares the Australian Prime Minister's views on this matter, we know that the Australian Prime Minister let it be known to Australian journalists that he was going to set about building a 'coalition of the unwilling' who would fight the Americans, the Chinese, the Europeans and the Koreans—all of those other leaders who were intent upon taking real action on climate change. He said he would build that coalition in partnership with the Canadian Prime Minister and he even named the other members of the coalition—the New Zealand Prime Minister and the United Kingdom Prime Minister. But the problem was that he did not actually consult with those other members of this so-called coalition of the unwilling. And we know what then happened: to the great embarrassment of the Australian Prime Minister, the New Zealand Prime Minister was forced to say at a press conference some hours later that he was caught completely unaware by the Australian Prime Minister's announcement about his apparent membership of this coalition of the unwilling. And he restated New Zealand's commitment to taking strong action domestically on climate change but also to being a responsible, constructive part of international progress. And I have stated a number of times the position of the UK Prime Minister. Suffice it to say that the UK government came out very quickly to confirm that they had no intention of being a part of the Australian Prime Minister's coalition of the unwilling.

Whopper no. 6 that the Prime Minister and, frankly, also the environment minister have repeated time and time again over the last several years is that China will never take a serious action on climate change and certainly would never introduce carbon trading.

Mr Hunt: No, that's not what we've said.

Mr BUTLER: Perhaps the environment minister has not gone to the extent of saying China would never introduce carbon trading but certainly the Prime Minister has; this has been repeated by him and many others. I will concede that that is an important point because China has quickly become the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the largest polluter in terms of carbon dioxide pollution. Despite the fact that China still only emits about a quarter of the carbon pollution per head of population that Australia does, in aggregate terms, being a very large country, it is now by far the biggest carbon dioxide polluter. It has been responsible for about two-thirds of all the growth in carbon pollution that has occurred since 2000. So I will concede that the Prime Minister is right to be focused on what is happening in China because it is such a significant part of what is, after all, a global problem. But again he is just wrong. Maybe it was a reasonable position to take a few years ago, but he should admit now that he has been wrong and China has changed. Anyone who takes an interest in this area of policy will have noticed an extraordinarily significant change in policy from the Chinese leadership in the last 18 months, particularly because of the awful air quality in the northern part of that country.

I have talked about a number of the bilateral agreements, statements and memoranda of understanding that at a leadership level, particularly with Premier Li Keqiang, China has engaged in with the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States. These are incredibly important statements of intent by China not just to do a whole lot of things domestically—which they are doing—but also, following the disappointment of Copenhagen, to be a leader, along with the United States, as one of the two largest economies and powers in the world leading into the very important conference that will take place in Paris next year. Last week the seventh emissions trading scheme started in China—some of them are at the provincial level, for example, in Guangdong, and some of them are starting up at the city level, for example in Shenzhen—with the expectation that the Chinese leadership will try to move to a national carbon trading scheme in the second half of this decade.

The Minister for the Environment often says that these permits are given away for free. Such may be the case in some of the different markets, but what is clear is that in all of those six markets that have been operating for a while there is now a burgeoning carbon trading market. If you look at Shenzhen, for example, which I think was the first emissions trading scheme introduced in China, a permit was trading last week—and I have not looked at this week's price—at the equivalent of about 8.5 euros, so higher than the price at which the permits would trade, on Treasury advice, under Labor's emissions trading scheme with a linkage to the EU scheme, higher than the price at which permits would trade under the amendments that I will be moving later in this debate.

Whopper No. 7 is that the carbon price mechanism, the framework that the government seeks to demolish entirely, would be a wrecking ball through the Australian economy. The Prime Minister used a whole range of different colourful epithets for this. He said it would be a cobra strike at the economy. He said that the South Australian town of Whyalla would simply disappear off the map. I think he made the same prediction about Gladstone and some other parts of Australia as well. Again, the truth is entirely different. The truth of the impact was exactly as Labor predicted. The economy did keep growing. More than 160,000 additional jobs were created in the first 12 months of this carbon price mechanism that, according to the now Prime Minister, was going to have a wrecking ball impact on the national economy.

Also what it started to do, along with our renewable energy policies, is drive down carbon pollution, particularly in the electricity market, which is the largest source of carbon pollution in Australia. We saw a reduction in carbon pollution of around seven per cent in the National Electricity Market in the first 12 months and, as we predicted, there was simply a modest impact on prices. That impact was more than covered through our household assistance package, particular for low-income and fixed-income households, like pensioners, and for middle-income households. The impact on power prices again was exactly as we predicted and again was covered by our household assistance package, particularly for low- and middle-income households.

Taking my own state of South Australia for example, power prices went up by about 4.6 per cent as a result of the introduction of a carbon tax. If our amendments are passed to move to an emissions trading scheme, Treasury's advice to us in government is that that impact would be reduced by about three-quarters. So the ETS impact on South Australian power bills would be in the order of 1.1 per cent and that is way more than covered by the household assistance package. To put that into context we should compare it to the increase over the last four years in SA power bills of 43 per cent because of investment in poles and wires—the network investment that has bedevilled electricity systems all around the country. That very significant gold plating of network infrastructure has led to very significant increases in power prices, which again the Prime Minister mendaciously tried to attach to the carbon price on many occasions.

Whopper No. 8 was the Prime Minister's statement to Alan Jones earlier this year that the renewable energy targets 'are significantly driving up power prices right now'. Again, that is simply wrong. Report after report released recently has put the untruth—I was going to use some other word—to that statement. The renewable energy policies that the Labor Party put in place over the last several years have been an unambiguous success. They have seen renewable energy capacity expand significantly. Wind power tripled under our time in government. When we came to government we saw the number of households that had PV solar panels go from 7,500 to more than 1.1 million households. They are getting out of the power bill race, getting out of the power bill trap, creating their own power and relieving enormous pressure on the grid, particularly in those parts of Australia that are impacted by heatwaves.

We saw the tripling of the number of jobs in the renewable energy sector. We saw billions of dollars come into this sector in investment to the point where by the middle of last year Australia was rated, along with the powerhouses in this area—China, Germany and the US—as one of the four most attractive places in the world to invest in renewable energy. It is no surprise that, since the election of the new government, Australia has slipped in that index a couple of places every quarter. I think it is now about eighth in the world when it was fourth.

This has been an extraordinary success. As every renewable energy program in the world does—and there are dozens and dozens—it does have modest up-front costs but it also has swings and roundabouts benefits in the sense that it is suppressing wholesale power prices, particularly at the peak times for power during heatwaves when power might be sold for thousands of dollars, particularly in the south-east of Australia. Those prices have diminished by as much as 90 per cent in those peak times and that flows through to consumers.

I mentioned some reports that have been clear about this. The ROAM Consulting report that was released I think a month or two ago, the Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that was released a few weeks after that and even ACIL Allen's report, the consultancy engaged by the government as part of its renewable energy target review, have confirmed that prices will go up if the renewable energy target is removed because that suppression effect on wholesale power prices will be removed and consumers will be exposed to the almost certain increase in gas prices that we are going to see as the LNG capacity comes on in Gladstone.

Whopper No. 9 is that the government's direct action policy will achieve the bipartisan minimum target to reduce carbon pollution by five per cent by 2020. There is not one serious commentator that agrees with this whopper—not one serious commentator. It is a whopper that has been repeated by the now Prime Minister and by the now Minister for the Environment for four straight years with a straight face. I commend them for that, because there is not a serious commentator that agrees with them.

I had the opportunity to address this at length in a debate yesterday, and I do not propose to go through that again, except to say that in the most recent report about this, from RepuTex, a very expert modelling firm that works in this area, it reported that the direct action policy would fall about 70 per cent short of the target. Ken Henry, the former Secretary to the Treasury, confirmed earlier this year that, for the direct action policy to achieve the target, the government would have to spend between $4 billion and $5 billion of taxpayer dollars every single year to pay polluters to start to reduce their carbon pollution—rather than having an emissions trading scheme that has the polluters pay.

Whopper No. 10 was a whopper that the Prime Minister engaged in, again in his overseas trip. It was after President Obama released his Clean Power Plan, a very significant plan to start to reduce carbon pollution in existing power plants. This follows on from the President's plan to impose emissions standards or pollution standards on motor vehicles and on new power plants. This was about existing power plants, a reduction of 30 per cent in that pollution by 2030. The Prime Minister said—again with a straight face—that President Obama's plan was 'very similar to the actions that my government proposes to take'.

Once one gets through the laughter about that statement, one goes back to the member for Wentworth because the member for Wentworth expressed it better, I think, than anyone else has when he said about Direct Action that it is simply a 'fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing'—and, for that matter, 'a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale' was the statement that the member for Wentworth made in the debate in this place. The direct action policy has no discipline on pollution whatsoever. The so-called safeguards mechanism has been discarded by this minister, so all you have is a dressed-up slush fund to pay taxpayers' dollars to big polluters to start to reduce their pollution.

Labor's position on these bills will be no surprise. It will be the position we enunciated clearly to the electorate in September, a position we have been advocating ever since, and that is to terminate the carbon tax now and to move to an emissions trading scheme that has a formal, legal cap on carbon pollution for the first time ever in this country, a cap that reduces over time and then lets business work out the cheapest, most effective way to operate. I foreshadow that, in the consideration in detail stage, I will be moving amendments to that effect.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Clare: Yes.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the member for Blaxland.