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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 1147

Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (11:03): I commend that excellent contribution from Senator Tillem on these bills. I have been listening to this debate quite closely. It has been going on for some time. I think that reflects the concern that all senators in the chamber have around this particular issue. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

It is interesting to hear some of the arguments put by different senators. One of the first arguments I heard, which is quite common across the government, is that some countries—China is often mentioned—are increasing their emissions and that any action that we take will be futile and insignificant, and therefore we should not take it. It is true that China has a rapidly growing economy. Over the last two decades it has started to industrialise. The Chinese have started to grow their economy. They are pulling their people out of poverty. As the standard of living in China is increasing, people want more goods that consume electricity. That is something we are not in a position to deny them, given that over the last 100 years Australia has gone through that industrialisation process and freely polluted the world. Part of that pollution was the industrialisation process which has taken us to the standard of living which we now enjoy, and we should not be taking the attitude that we should deprive other people of it.

China are increasing their energy needs, but they want to do so in the most efficient manner. I know that China are taking a lot of action on climate change and reducing their emissions, even though their electricity generation is increasing at this point in time. Coal fired power stations are being built through more efficient means than was previously the case. They are also investing significantly in solar, wind and other renewable energies. They will get to the point where electricity demand peaks and they start to decrease it using technology and becoming part of the world system of cap and trade which will be inevitable because we must act on climate change.

I think the argument that while some countries are increasing their emissions we should do nothing simply does not bear scrutiny. It is not a position that I am prepared to support. I think a country that is rich, has gone through industrialisation, has a high standard of living and can in the time frame take the actions we should be taking for our children has an obligation as a country. By no means are we are leading the way. In fact, most other countries—certainly all developed countries—are taking at least as much action on climate change as us and, in most cases, more.

There is also the argument that, given we are a relatively small country in the scheme of things, any action we take will have no significant impact on the overall world climate change process. Again, I think that is an argument which should be just totally rejected.

It is arithmetic, really. If every country does what it needs to do regardless of its size—and the smaller the country, the less impact it will have—if every country does the right thing, then it will add up. That is what arithmetic does. Every bit helps, whether it is a small bit or whether it is a large bit. To suggest that just because our contribution will be relatively small on the worldwide scale as an excuse not to do anything, again, is just a ridiculous argument. If we took that position, we would do nothing internationally. We should be in a position where we can be leaders. I wish we were leaders, but we are not actually leaders. We should be leaders and we should be up there leading with the rest of the developed world in the overall approach. I do not think we are..

One of the other arguments that is being put forward is this mandate argument. It is true; I heard Tony Abbott a number of times in the election say, 'This election is a referendum on climate change.' If that were true, then they do not have a mandate for any other issue. You cannot have a referendum and run multiple referendums, so their argument then about having a mandate for the mining tax and having a mandate for everything else they claim to have a mandate for simply cannot be true if the last election was a referendum on climate change.

But, of course, the facts speak for themselves: it was a general election; it was not a referendum. So it was not a referendum and it was not a referendum on climate change. I was elected at the last election. I had a very clear position that I wanted do something on climate change. I wanted an emissions trading scheme that is effective. I absolutely supported the removal of the carbon tax and moving to an emissions trading scheme to ensure that there was a price on carbon. That is what I am happy to support. But I am not happy to support just the repeal of all these bills and to have this nonsense of direct action, where you simply pay big polluters to try to pollute less as a way forward. It is just something that I cannot accept.

So I have a mandate to take the position I take. Government senators believe that they have a mandate to take the position they take. The numbers will fall as they will; the Senate will decide. We all have mandates here and we are all elected here. If the government gathers enough numbers in this place to pass these bills, then that will happen. If not, it will not happen. We all have our individual mandates. We were all elected into this place by the people. So I reject that argument too.

One of other areas I have found a little bit concerning, again, is the Greens' attitude and their outrage about these bills being put forward. I say that the Greens political party is as responsible as the government for these bills that are before us right now. They are as responsible as the government is. In 2009, they stood shoulder to shoulder with the climate change sceptics—who are on the other side of the chamber now—and voted down the ETS as proposed by the government. They voted it down. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the climate change sceptics and voted down the ETS.

They did so through rank political opportunism, because they wanted to have their name and their brand on the bill. They wanted to shape that bill the way they wanted and it was either their way or the highway. Therefore, they voted against those bills. If they had voted for those bills at the time, the ETS would have been in place in 2009 and it would have been in operation for four or five years. It would have then demonstrated to the Australian people that the ETS was actually working. We would have seen the demonstrable outcomes of reducing emissions. The markets would by then have well and truly accepted it; it would have been operating and it would have been a normal element of doing business.

It would have then shown the way—that this is the best way to deal with climate change—through a market-based mechanism. But they opposed it, standing shoulder to shoulder with the climate change sceptics at the time. As I said, it also then allowed those people on the other side to run a scare campaign for two to three years against taking action on climate change. That would not have been able to happen either. So when they come into this place and propose their outrage at these bills I say to them that they ought have a good look at themselves and their actions in 2009, which I absolutely believe have led us to this point here today.

These bills seek to dismantle Australia's response to the challenge of climate change. Australia has committed to reduce emissions by at least five per cent by 2020, compared to 2000 levels. This is part of the international coordinated effort to limit human impact on our climate. The first action of the Labor government back in 2007 was to ratify the Kyoto protocol, after years of opposition by the Howard government. This action showed that as a nation we were ready to stand up and help the world deal with the dangers of climate change. Australia is the largest per capita polluter in the developed world and is one of the world's top 20 polluters in absolute terms. It is critical that we work with the world community and do our part.

Ninety-nine countries worldwide, covering 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of the global economy, have made formal pledges to the United Nations to reduce carbon pollution. As part of the Kyoto protocol, the international community has committed to limiting global warming to below two degrees. Above two degrees, many regions—including Australia, which is the world's driest continent—will face potentially catastrophic shifts in climate. If emissions continue to grow at current rates warming is projected to increase rapidly over the 21st century, exceeding two degrees within the next few decades and foreseeably reaching four degrees or more by the end of the century.

The 2012 World Bank report called Turn down the heat: why a 4°C world must be avoided warns us of the dangers of inaction. A four-degree world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruption, damage and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most, and the global community could become more fractured and unequal than it even is today.

The effects of four degrees of warming will not be evenly distributed around the world. The largest warming will occur over land and will range from four degrees to 10 degrees. Increases of six degrees or more in average monthly summer temperatures would be expected. A four-degree warming would significantly exacerbate existing water scarcity in many regions, particularly North and East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The regional extinction of entire coral reef ecosystems could occur well before a four degree-warming.

As global warming approaches and exceeds two degrees, the risk of crossing thresholds of non-linear tipping elements in the earth's system will see abrupt climate change impacts and unprecedented high-temperature climate regimes increase. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, leading to more rapid sea-level rise than projected in this analysis; and large-scale Amazon dieback, drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production and livelihoods on almost continual scale in the region and potentially adding substantially to 21st century global warming. As the World Bank has identified, if we are unable to limit global warming to two degrees, the impact on humanity will be catastrophic.

The facts are clear: the world is warming. Since 1750 and the beginning of the industrial revolution, human activities have dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40 per cent, methane by 150 per cent, and nitrous oxide by 20 per cent. Temperatures have been rising. Between 1880 and 2012, average global surface temperatures over land and the oceans have warmed by 0.85 degrees. In Australia the average temperature has increased by 0.9 degrees since 1910, and there have been significant increases in the numbers of hot days and hot nights. The 2012-13 Australian summer was the hottest since records began. One hundred and twenty-three weather records were broken over a 90-day period, including the hottest day ever recorded for Australia as a whole, the hottest January on record, the hottest summer average on record, and a record seven days in a row where the whole continent averaged above 39 degrees. And this year's summer has been another very hot summer with more records falling, including a record hot spell for Melbourne with four days over 40 degrees in a row—a spell not seen since 1908. Adelaide set a record with 13 days over 40 degrees, smashing the previous record that had stood for 117 years. Seventy per cent of Queensland is now drought-declared. Towns such as Cloncurry have now moved to level 6 water restrictions. With two failed wet seasons, much of Queensland is facing catastrophic dry conditions. The costs of dealing with climate-induced crises are massive—from significant drought relief packages to the costs of damage from cyclones and their impact on our neighbours.

It is clearly in our nation's interest that we act to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to limit the impact of a warming climate. Yet this bill will dismantle the world's best practice now in place to reduce our emissions. Market mechanisms are the most efficient in reducing carbon emissions; polluters are forced to reduce their emissions or pay a price. It is the price on pollution that will drive the market. The proceeds of the price on carbon are then distributed to help industry adopt modern efficient processes and to help the consumer defray their costs. The OECD in its 2009 paper The economics of climate change mitigation clearly identifies putting a price on carbon as world's best practice. Putting a price on emissions through price mechanisms such as carbon taxes, emission trading schemes or a hybrid system combining features of both can go a long way towards building up a cost-effective climate policy framework.

Although taxes and ETS schemes differ in a number of respects, both are intrinsically cost effective and give emitters continuing incentives to search for cheaper abatement options through both existing and new technologies. Internationally, many nations have a price on carbon and they include some of our biggest trading partners. According to the Climate Commission, 33 countries and 18 subnational jurisdictions have carbon prices in place. Europe has had a price on carbon since 2005, Japan since 2012, New Zealand since 2008, South Africa since 2013 and South Korea will have one from 2015. China—the world's biggest polluter—has started seven pilot ETS schemes in regions covering more than 200 million people, with the aim of having a national trading scheme in place by the end of this decade. A price on carbon is a common-sense way to reduce our carbon emissions and to encourage efficient and cost-effective industry and consumer behaviour.

The introduction of a price on carbon here in Australia has been a success. Since the introduction of the carbon price, emissions in the electricity sector—the biggest component of carbon emissions—have fallen 14 per cent over the last two spring seasons. In total, spring emissions are down almost 20 per cent since the peak just five years ago in the spring of 2008. In 2012-13, renewables increased their share of the national electricity market by 25 per cent—that is, in just one year. More than one million households have been fitted with solar panels, and over 2,400 megawatts of power are now produced by solar panels—a leap from the 100 megawatts produced in 2008. Employment in the renewable energy industry more than doubled to over 24,000 people, and wind power has trebled, now producing over 3,000 megawatts.

As an example of the success of our policies, in April last year the energy company AGL opened its Macarthur Wind Farm near Warrnambool. This is the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere with 140 3MW turbines, generating 420 megawatts. This project has created over 2,700 jobs in construction. It has the capacity to generate enough clean energy to power 220,000 average Victorian households per year, and to save approximately 1.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. This is the future. When you compare the clean energy to the problems we were having with brown coal in Hazelwood, I think the community would prefer to have clean energy generated by strong winds off Bass Strait.

The price on carbon had its intended impact on industry—the largest consumers of power and producers of carbon. In July 2013, ClimateWorks published a report on the impact of the price of carbon on industry. This research involved in-depth interviews with 47 large industrial companies that account for 70 per cent of Australia's industrial energy use. Eight-one per cent of respondents reported that the carbon price had a relatively small financial impact, but it focused their attention on energy and carbon management. The presence of the carbon price appears to have had a greater impact than its financial value, as most respondents reported that becoming liable under the carbon price scheme has forced their attention on energy and carbon management. Across our nation industry has been focused on reducing energy intensity. This has the added benefit of saving money for industry and creating a modern and efficient industry.

These bills are a backward step for our nation. While the rest of the world is implementing a price on carbon or has been pricing carbon for years, we will be dismantling a successful scheme. The coalition will replace world's best practice with a plan to subsidise Australia's polluters with their direct action policy. Under the coalition's direct action policy the government will establish a fund—a slush fund—to give Australia's biggest polluters $3 billion over four years. Frank Jotzo, the head of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the ANU's Crawford School of Public Policy, and Paul Burke, an economist with the Crawford School of Public Policy at the ANU, investigated the coalition's scheme and found that any discretionary subsidy approach is in danger of fostering a culture of rent seeking with its adverse impacts on the overall economic policy-making framework. Companies were likely to seek funds that they would have spent even without government support— (Time expired)