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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 1152


Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (11:23): I rise today to encourage my fellow members of the 44th Parliament of Australia to continue to address the matter of climate change. Scientists and members of the Australian public know and understand that carbon pollution is real and changing our weather, our landscapes and our future. Tony Abbott's policy removes the legal cap on pollution and allows the big polluters open slather. Instead of polluters paying, Tony Abbott is setting up a slush fund of billions of taxpayers' dollars to hand out to polluters. Experts agree that this will cost households more while failing to cut pollution.

I believe climate change is real. I believe in a carbon emissions trading scheme. I believe we owe it to our children, our current and future generations. I believe that the big polluters should pay for their emissions. Unlike the coalition's Direct Action Plan, which directly slugs taxpayers to pay the big polluters, Labor's plan makes the polluters pay for their carbon emissions. In a minute I will talk about the current and future impacts on the Northern Territory as a direct result of climate change, but first I quickly want to address the cost-of-living impacts in the Northern Territory as a result of pricing carbon.

In the Northern Territory the government owned Power and Water is the sole provider of power and water. There is no reticulated gas to the home, and Power and Water provides consumers with a single quarterly bill for their electricity, water and sewerage usages. When the carbon price came into effect in the Northern Territory on 1 July 2012 the average power bill increased by $2.61 a week or $135 a year. Since then, the incoming Country Liberal Party government in the Northern Territory—who, incidentally, promised to cut the cost of living—have has announced increases to household power bills of $2,000 a year. That is $135 versus $2,000 a year. Let's be very clear: the increases to power and water costs to families in the Northern Territory since the introduction of the price on carbon are insignificant compared to the impact of the Northern Territory government's increases. Only around six per cent of the increase in people's power bills in the last 18 months is the result of the price on carbon. The other 94 per cent of the increase is due to the CLP.

The CLP has increased the price of power 15 times more than the carbon price did, and with the carbon tax the average Territorian received around $10 a week in compensation from the Commonwealth. No such compensation came with the CLP's $2,000 a year increase. The CLP ran election TV commercials campaigning against the cost of power—even going so far as to say that they dreaded their own Power and Water bills arriving in the mail. Then, less than three months after being elected to office, they put them up by $2,000 a year. It seems that saying one thing before an election and then doing the complete opposite afterwards is becoming a trend for incoming conservative governments. Since then, the Northern Territory government has announced even more increases are to come and any drop as a result of the removal of the price on carbon will be more than offset by the CLP's increases. Anyone in the Northern Territory who thinks their power bill will come down as a result of the removal of the carbon tax is in for a rude shock.

But what we are really talking about today is the future of the planet. Many other speakers have spoken in great detail about the science of climate change and the impact on the planet. I will confine my comments to the threats facing the Northern Territory. Like the rest of the planet, the Northern Territory is exposed to the threats of climate change and rising sea levels. Many of the coastal areas of the Territory are low-lying and some of Australia's most iconic wilderness areas are exposed. This includes some of the most intact coastal and marine habitats in the world. Kakadu is extremely exposed to the infiltration of salt water into Australia's greatest freshwater wetlands. A sea level rise of only a few centimetres has the potential to increase the intrusion of salt water into a large fraction of the flood plains. This will completely alter and degrade the biodiversity of Kakadu. It is also expected to increase the growth of weeds and invasive grasses, which will dramatically increase the prevalence of bush fires both in Kakadu and throughout the Northern Territory.

From droughts in the south to cyclones in the north, the Territory is very prone to natural disasters. Darwin and all the Territory's coastal communities are in cyclone zones. Any rise in the sea level substantially increases the threat of flooding as a result of cyclones. While cyclones used to be the major threat, improvements to the building code in places like Darwin mean that floods now loom as the biggest danger. Anyone who doubts that the sea levels are rising needs only to go for a walk along the scenic Darwin foreshore. The bike track along the famous East Point is constantly being rebuilt and redirected, as parts of it fall into the sea due to coastal erosion.

Most Australians would appreciate the incredibly important connection to the land, the sea and the environment that Indigenous Australians have. Of course, I do not pretend to speak for every single Indigenous Australian but I know I speak for most when I say that Indigenous Australians want their country protected from the threat of climate change. Many Indigenous organisations are working towards their own endeavours to reduce carbon emissions.

In August last year Darwin hosted an international forum where the importance of traditional land management practices being used to combat the effects of climate change was discussed. Organisations such as the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance have long been advocating for policies to address climate change and to protect the environment. In fact, they have a carbon program that targets the reduction of emissions from wildfires. I am aware that the second Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report says, 'There is high agreement among scientists that Indigenous people will face significant challenges from heat stress, extreme weather events and heightened rates of disease by 2100.'

This is not just confined to Indigenous Australians; all Australians will certainly be affected. The Territory, like the rest of the world, is extremely exposed to the threat of climate change. We need to take action; we need to reduce emissions. And a price on carbon is the best way to go. We want to tackle climate change in the most cost-effective way. That is why we support an emissions trading scheme that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and lets business work out the best way for them to cut emissions.

The economic future of the Northern Territory is linked to gas. There are abundant reserves in the seas to our north and some of the biggest projects in Australia are occurring right now, bringing this gas onshore to Darwin. Gas is a relatively clean source of energy, and a price on carbon increases the relative economic returns of gas versus those of dirtier energy resources, such as brown coal. A price on carbon makes gas relatively cheap and making gas relatively cheap is a great economic opportunity on a global scale for the Northern Territory.

This bill reduces the relative value of gas which, again, reduces the relative economic opportunity for the Northern Territory. As I mentioned earlier, the fundamental difference between Labor's approach of putting a price on carbon and the coalition's so-called Direct Action Plan is that Labor's approach will work to cut carbon emissions and the coalition's will not. This is the accepted view of the vast majority of scientists, economists and business leaders who have assessed two models. Aside from the science, there is also a fundamental ideological difference between the two models. Labor's model makes the polluters pay; the coalition's model makes the taxpayers pay the big polluters. The coalition's model gets taxpayers to pay the big polluters, even if they do not cut their emissions. Most taxpayers do not realise that the coalition's plan involves directly hitting the hip pocket. Their Direct Action Plan involves subsidising the big polluters from government revenue, which could be used for health and education.

At the recent election, Labor promised to fast-track the move towards an emissions trading scheme. Our position on the repeal of the carbon tax was clear then and remains clear. We support removing the tax but do not support doing nothing. An emissions trading scheme has always been the preferred approach and Labor has been advocating for it for over a decade. We are far from being alone. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development confirmed that countries can achieve higher levels of emissions cuts at a much lower cost if they use an emissions trading scheme. Emissions trading schemes are already being adopted in many countries around the world, including the UK, France, Germany, South Korea, Canada, and parts of the US and China. The Liberals in Australia, at one stage, also supported it. They went into the 2007 election campaign supporting an emissions trading scheme. That was their official policy during the election campaign.

Of course, once they got into government, they backflipped and voted against the legislation in the Senate. John Howard recently admitted that his support of a trading scheme was purely motivated by short-term political opportunism. Saying one thing before an election and doing the opposite after is not new ground for the coalition. If anything, it is par for the course.

Tony Abbott's rise to the prime ministership was built on his climate change scepticism—not just scepticism but denial. No Australian really believes the Prime Minister when he mouths the words that he accepts the science of climate change. And I do not believe that Tony Abbott truly believes in his own direct action policy. It is a policy of convenience, a policy that pretends to care about climate change and a holding policy, if you will.

If this bill gets through, then I would not be surprised if the coalition were to turn their attention to how to wriggle out of their direct action policy. It would certainly conform with the underlying belief of their leader, Tony Abbott, that we should not be doing anything to address climate change. You can almost picture it now: the day that they have legislation to remove a price on carbon, to remove any more progress towards an emissions trading scheme they will start working out how they can come up with an excuse to scrap their direct action policy.

Beyond climate change I am extremely concerned about the approach that this Abbott government takes to science. We no longer have a minister for science, and organisations such as CSIRO are being targeted for massive budget and staffing cuts. Organisations such as CSIRO are key to contributing to an informed and independent discussion and analysis of, among other areas, climate change. Surely, in this day and age, organisations such as CSIRO should not only retain their funding but should receive increased resources to move Australia into a responsible age when dealing with the environment. This Abbott government has a fundamental opposition to science. We now hear that instinct is more reliable than science.

Let us make it clear: we on this side of the House are opposed to this obvious, deliberate shift away from responsible action on protecting both our environment and Australians. Recently, a groundbreaking memorandum of understanding to create the world's first tropical environment focused tidal energy research centre in Darwin has been signed by Tenax Energy and Charles Darwin University. The testing centre and associated pilot plant is the first step towards delivering affordable tidal energy to Darwin by the end of the decade. The establishment of a world-class, commercially oriented research and testing facility aims to stimulate collaboration in tropical tidal energy generation globally across research institutions and device manufacturers.

The world’s biggest test site, the European Marine Energy Centre, in Scotland, is already at capacity and we see significant opportunity in taking what we learn about the tropical environment in Darwin to supporting growth in the Asian sector.

This initiative, which involves Charles Darwin University, will pioneer research into the interaction of these technologies with the tropical environment. It is hoping to attract a range of people with professional and trade qualifications in marine, electrical and structural engineering disciplines across the renewable energy spectrum. This initiative offers associated research opportunities in environmental science and economies. Initiatives such as this have the potential to redefine Darwin's relationship with Asia for the better. What sort of message does the coalition's approach to climate change and the environment send to other countries? It is certainly seen as a backward step.

The Territory is the perfect place for investment in climate change and the safeguarding of the environment for future generations. This is an industry that will create green jobs—jobs which will only increase in the future. If the rest of the world is any indication, this is an area that will continue to grow. We should be investing in green jobs today. Alice Springs is another success story when it comes to the research and development of renewable energy. The Alice has some of the highest solar radiation rates in Australia and is a key international tourist destination. The residents of Alice Springs are behind renewable energy and continued support for our environment. Approximately half of the households in the Alice already use solar hot-water systems. This is mainly due to Alice Springs investing in the development of a potent solar industry, and it has received strong community support for this project. Alice Solar City's large-scale iconic projects, which maximise the potential of natural and economic benefits, are centrepieces of the trial. As the Northern Territory government's own website on the topic reads:

Alice Solar City also provides a comprehensive range of energy-efficiency incentives to residential customers via a voucher system. It is the only Solar City consortium led by a local government body, making it a truly grassroots community project.

Under a Territory Labor government, the Territory's ability to generate clean, green energy received a significant boost with the launch of its first renewable energy research facility. It was said at the time that this new centre would be the backbone of renewable energy development in the NT. Our current minister for the environment, the Country Liberals' Peter Chandler, is on the record as saying that Australia's scientists were 'playing the climate change game' to make money. Mr Chandler went on to say:

They are the ones that are making a dollar out of governments and businesses around the world …

He later admitted that he was not a scientist but that the belief that man-made carbon dioxide was driving the world towards a natural disaster was 'a load of crap'.

The CLP's Deputy Chief Minister, Dave Tollner, is also a climate change sceptic—even though the majority of the world's leading scientists believe that man-made carbon emissions are causing the planet to heat up dangerously. These are the people who represent us and who choose to ignore the rich potential for climate change and the critical environmental research underway in the Northern Territory. Their sentiment is, I believe, strongly echoed by the federal government's new approach. The Territory has many potential sources of renewable energy and is already attracting significant investment interest in its solar, tidal and geothermal energy possibilities. It would appear that those projects and the organisations that believe in climate change, that believe in the science, are being targeted at both a Territory and a national level.

In conclusion, this bill does not accept the science of climate change. This bill does not accept the economics of climate change. This bill will not address the threat of climate change. This bill will help big polluters, not taxpayers. This bill will not result in a reduction to power bills in the Northern Territory. I oppose the bill.