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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 18

Senator MINCHIN (2:32 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. In light of the global financial crisis, which the Prime Minister has said will cause the Australian economy to slow and unemployment to rise, and Treasury modelling that shows the government’s emissions trading scheme will reduce GDP and create unemployment, why won’t the government take the economically responsible course of delaying the introduction of the proposed emissions trading scheme beyond 2010?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Minchin for the question. I gather that since moving into opposition he has been re-fighting the war inside the Liberal Party to deny that climate change is an issue. But this government actually believes that climate change is a major challenge to Australia, a major challenge to the world, and we do intend to pursue a response to climate change that is responsible. Our ambition remains that we have the CPRS in place in 2010 as the primary tool to achieve our goal of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

There is no doubt that we are facing difficult economic times and that some of the projections for growth in the world economy and in Australia will be altered by these events. When the MYEFO is released within a month or so we will have a better understanding of the revised projections. The package of measures announced today was in part an early and decisive response of the government to what we saw as the changing circumstances as a result of the global financial crisis. But we do not believe that the challenge of tackling climate change goes away because we have an economic challenge as well. Climate change, and the threat it poses to Australia and the Australian economy, remains. We understand, as do the Australian people, that the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of taking responsible action now. As I recall, the Shergold report to the Howard government made a very clear point, which I have always accepted, that ‘waiting until a truly global response emerges before imposing an emissions cap will place costs on Australia by increasing business uncertainty and delaying or losing investment.’

The one thing that I think businesses have made clear in their response to the proposals for a climate change response is that they need certainty for planning—to plan their investments, to plan how they are going to handle their business in the coming years. They want certainty. This government has no intention of resiling from its determination to introduce a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We understand that it is a major economic reform. We will take a careful and considered approach to the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. But taking action to address climate change is vital; it is part of our economic future. If we do not address this issue we will see negative economic impacts in the longer term. We do need to address this issue.

One of the key issues at stake in this debate is the need of business for certainty. All the businesses I talk to say that their investment planning has to be based around a clear understanding of what is going to happen with a climate change plan. They want to know what the rules are, and they want to know what the rules are early. So we do not accept the premise of Senator Minchin’s question, which is that somehow we ought to stop the fight to reduce carbon emissions because of the other issues that confront our economy and the world. We can actually continue, in our view, to properly prepare Australia to reduce our carbon emissions as well as dealing with the current financial crisis. (Time expired)

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the government appears intent on acting regardless of the economic circumstances of the nation, but I ask the minister: will the 2010 introduction of the government’s emissions trading scheme be at all contingent upon a genuine global agreement on climate change being achieved at next year’s Copenhagen meeting?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I made it clear that our ambition to have in place a scheme by 2010 as a primary tool to achieve our goal of reducing emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 remains in place. We believe we ought to proceed. We have got the consultation process occurring now. The green paper is out for discussion. The Australian people, business and others are engaged in the design of the CPRS that best suits Australia. We think that this is serious and necessary work. We remain committed to it and we think we can get a good outcome. We will continue to progress our plans to have a carbon pollution reduction scheme in place by 2010 because it is in the national interest, as is our response to the financial crisis. We believe we can and we should do both.