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Monday, 17 March 2014
Page: 1165

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (12:20): I rise this afternoon to make a contribution in opposition to the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. Reflecting on my involvement with this subject in my term in the Senate—over 5½ years now—it is a matter I have been involved in with several committee inquiries, one being the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme inquiry, the climate change inquiry and other related examinations of this subject.

It is a fact that Labor have always been clear on our position on climate change. We accept the science. We accept the fact that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. Conversely, Mr Tony Abbott believes the contrary. Mr Tony Abbott's policy removes the legal cap on pollution and allows the big polluters open slather. Instead of polluters paying, Mr Abbott is setting up a fund of billions of taxpayer dollars to hand to polluters. Experts agree that this will cost householders, with more failing to cut pollution. We want to tackle climate change in the most cost-effective way possible. That is why we support terminating the carbon tax if it is replaced by an emissions trading scheme that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate within that cap.

Last year the OECD released a report confirming that countries could achieve higher levels of emissions reductions at much lower cost if they relied on this type of scheme. Emissions trading schemes have already been adopted in many countries, as we have heard in contributions from many senators here, including the UK, France, Germany, South Korea, Canada, China, the US and so on.

Australia's backtracking on climate change progression was highlighted by the release of a global climatic study in February 2013. The study of 66 countries across the globe found Australia is the only country taking negative legislative action on climate change. The study covers major nations, including the US, China, India, Brazil and more. In fact, I noticed that Lord Deben, head of the UK Committee on Climate Change—a Tory politician as well—slammed the Abbott government's push to pull back climate change policy. He said:

It lets down the whole British tradition that a country should have become so selfish about this issue that it’s prepared to spoil the efforts of others and to foil what very much less rich countries are doing …

We know that is a matter that needs to be resolved. It is interesting that that sort of comment is coming from the Tory government in the UK.

We know that the Liberals and the National Party do not accept the science on climate change. In fact, last year we heard the previous Prime Minister, John Howard, telling a London audience that those who accept climate change is real are a bunch of religious zealots and that he would trust his instinct rather than the overwhelming evidence of 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists. Mr Abbott accused the United Nations climate chief of talking through her hat, while Greg Hunt used Wikipedia to contradict her opinion in a BBC interview.

Mr Tony Abbott and the coalition have not been able to come up with one credible scientist or economist who is willing to stand up and back their climate change policy. I refer to one of the committees in which I was involved in 2009 which reported on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. There are a number of concluding parts in that report that demonstrate the need to act on climate change. I will touch on a couple of those. Firstly, in the conclusion of that report, in chapter 6, on the global challenge for climate change, the committee believed that the world should act to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and indicated that it is not an article of faith; it is a matter of prudent risk management. The earth is warming and, if no action is taken, the overwhelming majority of expert scientific opinion holds that average temperatures will rise further, almost certainly leading to further changes in the global climate, with severe consequences for humanity and terminal consequences for many other species.

I have been fortunate enough along the passage of my term to meet with many people from the Pacific rim on concerns about the rise in sea levels around some of the micro-islands that they reside on in the Pacific. They spoke about sea level rises already having an impact on their communities, and no doubt there is concern about humanitarian aid and refugees coming from those particular areas of the Pacific as a result of climate change and rising sea levels. Furthermore, in this report the committee saw no reason to question the judgement of scientists from the world's leading countries on this matter. It notes that none of the witnesses who appeared before the committee, even those most critical of the CPRS, argued that the science was wrong. Here you see relevant and credible scientists appearing before a parliamentary committee providing evidence that is real, justifiable and easily demonstrated.

The Stern review—one of the interesting pieces of evidence that the committee dealt with—dealt with the economy. Earlier senators spoke about this particular area. The report indicated:

Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global … (GDP) each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.

In contrast, the costs of action—reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change—can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

Not only did we have scientists but we had economists appearing before that inquiry demonstrating real concerns about inaction on climate change. On the implications of not passing the CPRS, the report indicated:

Delaying action is not economically responsible. Rather, delaying action will have a range of negative effects on the Australian economy, including deterring investment decisions and delaying business planning decisions where the price of carbon is a feature of those decisions.

If my memory serves me correctly, a whole range of renewable energy people appeared before the committee on that inquiry—speaking on wave technology, wind technology and solar technology—and indicated that we were at the cusp of being at the forefront of introducing those sorts of technologies in our economy and communities to make sure that this country is the leading force in making renewable energy possible. However, we are going to lose it overseas to the likes of China, India and all the other developing countries if we do not act on it.

The dangers of uncertainty for business were clearly identified in the report. The submission to the committee from the Australian Bankers Association indicated:

Climate change has considerable economic, social, environmental and business risks. Continuing uncertainty is disrupting the efficiency of existing markets as well as creating difficulties with regards to financing terms and investment decisions. Australia needs leadership and early action to provide business, investment, operational and market certainty. It is important for Australia to take action now and minimise the impacts of uncertainty …

That was clearly highlighted throughout the inquiry and, essentially, that is why the committee made the decision to recommend the Senate pass those bills. History can demonstrate this, and it is in the Hansard on the third reading of those bills. It was an unfortunate circumstance. I was in the Senate during that term in government and saw firsthand the coalition and the Greens voting against the introduction of climate change legislation.

I should not reflect on all the coalition, because Senator Troeth, a Liberal senator from Victoria at the time, and Senator Boyce, a Liberal senator from Queensland, crossed the floor to vote with the Labor government, hoping to achieve the introduction of those bills. But—lo and behold—the Greens teamed up with the rest of the coalition, opposing the introduction of those particular bills. We would be in a better position today if we had an ETS in place and a scheme dealing with climate change.

I will also reflect on the recent position of economists. A recent survey showed that 86 per cent of economists back an emissions trading scheme as the cheapest and most effective way to tackle carbon pollution. Even the former Secretary of Treasury, Ken Henry, called the coalition's policy a 'bizarre' strategy which involves the government paying big polluters in a scheme that will cost more and will reduce productivity.

The Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed in 2013 Australia recorded its hottest year on record. The CSIRO and BOM have released their biennial climate report. It confirms Australia's hottest temperature has risen by one degree Celsius since 1910. I want to go to that report for a little while. It certainly maps a concerning future for our climate as a result of inaction if we do not tackle this issue. It says:

Australia's mean surface air temperature has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910.

Seven of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.

Over the past 15 years, the frequency of very warm months has increased five-fold and the frequency of very cool months has declined by around a third, compared to 1951-1980.

Sea-surface temperatures in the Australian region have warmed by 0.9°C since 1900.

There are concerns in respect of increases in temperature and identified increases in extreme weather patterns, such as fire.

I want to get to this point as it regards the ocean. The report also indicates that:

The Earth is gaining heat, most of which is going into the oceans.

Global-mean sea level … increased throughout the 20th century and in 2012 was 225 mm higher than in 1880.

…   …   …

Rates of sea-level rise vary around the Australian region, with higher sea-level rise observed in the north and rates similar to the global average observed in the south and east.

Coming from Queensland myself, I recently had the opportunity to go north and have a look around Cairns, as I do on a regular basis, and up the eastern seaboard to see the manner in which the Great Barrier Reef is dealing with these particular challenges. It is not just about climate change; it is also about extreme weather events, declining water quality, coastal development, overfishing and depletion of marine species. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the world. It is a main attraction not just for other Australians but also for people from around the world. You only need to travel up there to see the number of tourists in this day and age. We are seeing a lot of Chinese come into the country to go out on the reef.

In fact, over 12 months ago I had the fortune to spend a little bit of time in the Whitsundays and go out on the outer reef to do a bit of snorkelling. It is great to see the situation as it stands out there on that amazing structure. While the Great Barrier Reef has shown some resilience in the past, the coastal zone is a highly contested landscape which is shared by many industries, including tourism, fishing, recreation, ports and shipping. The increase in all these activities combined with more extreme weather events, declining water quality, outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish on the back of that, the potential for increased shipping accidents and port expansions means the GBR has at no stage been in a more vulnerable position. Not only Queenslanders but fellow Australians need to be mindful of that to make sure that we do not deplete and destroy a world phenomenon such as the GBR and make sure that it is viable. I do not want to see a situation like I have seen in other parts of the world where I have snorkelled on barren reefs that have been raped and pillaged as a result of climate change and other factors. There is nothing worse than snorkelling over a barren white block of coral as opposed to having a look at the beauty of the GBR and its environment as it stands up there at present.

Climate change is the most serious threat facing the reef. According to the GBR Marine Park Authority's Great Barrier Reef regional strategic assessment, climate change is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the region's environment. The report also highlights future climate change predictions which indicate: sea level rise; sea temperature increases; that the oceans will become more acidic; and severe extreme weather events. Effects of climate change also include coral bleaching, coral diseases, ocean acidification and more severe storms. Just last week there was the threat of three possible cyclones verging on the cape and its surrounds. Every time we have a cyclone rolling through it damages the reef. The more we have these extreme weather patterns coming through the more we face problems associated with damage to the reef and the surrounding environment.

There has been a lot of debate from the coalition on how they will deal with this area. We have heard today about this green army that is coming through. I am sure, Acting Deputy President Gallacher, that you would be aware that just the other day there were some media reports about the green army being paid half the ordinary wage. That has to be a concern in itself, given that it is clearly a demonstration of what the coalition has in place for these people who are prepared to come out and protect the environment. Their wages and conditions are another example of what the coalition does when it comes around to industrial relations. It attacks those people who are less vulnerable and more marginal, wishing to pay them half the ordinary wage rate. That would equate to somewhere around about $8.50 an hour. Can you imagine people going out into our environment and planting trees and being paid that sort of amount of pay?

But notwithstanding that particular issue, if history demonstrates itself, some of the coalition people—not necessarily in this chamber, but the other one—have indicated a proposal such as Dr Jensen's for some sort of shadecloth to be shot into orbit in outer space as a way to fight global warming.

Senator Sterle: No, you are making it up!

Senator FURNER: No, this is true! He went on further to say that as a plan he had to be convinced about it, but this is his belief. When I heard about this, I thought this could not be the Dr Jensen that I know—and certainly not George Jetson or his boy, Elroy—but it is certainly Dr Jensen claiming that the best way to tackle climate change and protect the reef is to shoot these sunshades into orbit.

The US did some estimates based on how much this would cost, if it were possible, and the estimates have come back that it would cost $200 trillion dollars to make that come about. It is just another example of how those sceptics and the climate sceptics opposite us would deal with this particular issue of climate change. Something that we would watch on The Jetsons is the way they deal with those particular matters!

Returning to what is the future: it alarms me, as a grandfather—particularly as my granddaughter lives up there in Cairns and, hopefully, within a week I will be the proud grandfather of new grandson.

Senator Mason: Hear, hear!

Senator FURNER: Thanks, Senator Mason. It concerns me that my granddaughter, Xavia, and my grandson, who will be named Marley, will be the beneficiaries of something that we do not know about currently. It is something that we take for granted at times when we travel to Northern Queensland and have the opportunity to go out on the Great Barrier Reef and do a bit of snorkelling, or spend some time up in the hinterland and see the dynamics and the environment as it stands. It is such a beautiful place to travel, and it will not be left to our next generations—whether it be our children or whether it be our grandchildren. They will be the ones to miss out on having the opportunity to have a clean environment. That is one of the main reasons why I oppose these bills before the chamber today.