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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8142


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (16:18): I rise to be part of this debate on this important urgency motion and to indicate that Labor will be supporting this motion. This motion very much goes to the heart of the fact that whilst, over the last month or so, we thought that things may change in relation to climate policy in this country, unfortunately, under Malcolm Turnbull, the new Prime Minister, they did not. We thought that policies would at least be brought back to the sensible centre when we talked about climate change and renewable energy. But, on both of those fronts, we are still left wanting.

There is not long to go—only about a month, if that—until the Paris summit. There is important work that needs to be done at that summit, and Australia needs to play a leadership role at that summit and, of course, for our region. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister so far has confirmed that he will not change the previous Prime Minister's emissions reduction targets, including his Direct Action policy, despite the overwhelming evidence that that policy will still see Australia's pollution levels rise and despite the fact that our new Prime Minister has, in the past, been on record—a number of times, in fact—saying that that particular policy, Direct Action, is indeed a farce. Since he has shown in the past that he does not really stand by this policy, is it really then the policy that he wants to take to Paris?

The Climate Institute has indicated that the government's 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction target is consistent with global warming of three to four degrees. This is where the government cannot have it both ways. It cannot say that, as a country, it is committed to limiting global warming to no more than two degrees, along with its counterparts China, the US and the UK—and, in fact, all major economies around the world—and then not have a policy in place that delivers it. But that is currently what we have. We have a policy in place that will not deliver warming to no more than two degrees. Therein lies the conundrum for our new Prime Minister in the lead-up to Paris. As clear as day, something needs to happen, or he is walking away from that commitment of reducing warming to no more than two degrees.

The former head of the Climate Change Authority, Mr Bernie Fraser, has said that the government's climate action rhetoric has been very disappointing, particularly the Prime Minister's. He said:

He is just sticking with the status quo ... It's a pity his courage deserted him …

This is where we did think that our Prime Minister would show some courage, because we do know how he has described the current government policy on climate change in the past—as something of an environmental fig leaf, something of a farce, something of a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale. Well, I agree with him. Direct Action, the current government policy, the policy that was put in place by the previous Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, is a farce and a recipe for recklessness on a grand scale. That is why not one economist has come out and supported it. Now is the opportunity. Malcolm Turnbull was right then; he would still be right now if he stood by those words—which I hope he still does—and went ahead and changed our government's policy in the lead-up to Paris.

According to RepuTex, Australia's biggest polluters will increase their pollution levels by 20 per cent over the next 15 years without exceeding the baseline set by the government's safeguard mechanism. RepuTex has also confirmed this week that not one company will be required to reduce its pollution levels by this government's policy. That shows that this policy just does not work. That is why I urge our Prime Minister to make the change that he knows needs to happen to this policy because he himself has called it a farce. Labor is committed very much to addressing climate change. That is why we have already outlined our commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Another factor in the lead-up to Paris is our contribution, or lack thereof, to the Green Climate Fund. I understand that our Minister for Foreign Affairs has, quite rightly, said:

Australia is seen as a pragmatic, constructive and results focused member of the Green Climate Fund.

It has been that way for some time. Unfortunately, we know that, under the Abbott government, that was not the case. In fact, our previous Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to ensure our government made a contribution to that fund. Whilst it may be the case that we are seen as results focused, we do need to see results from Australia's involvement in co-chairing the Green Climate Fund. The OECD has calculated that about $62 billion a year has been committed, but that makes up a shortfall which is crucial for developing countries. Many of those developing countries are in our region, as close as Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Bangladesh—all of those countries with the threat of sea level rises and the need for the support of climate finance through the Green Climate Fund. So another plea that I make to our new Prime Minister is that he actually does make a commitment to that fund, as happened under the previous Labor government, where we made a sizeable commitment at the beginning in the development of that fund. That is another commitment that he could make in the lead-up to and at the Paris summit.

The sea level rises in the Asia-Pacific are incredibly alarming. They have been outlined by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its most conservative terms, as a rise, on average, of about four millimetres per year, reaching 0.22 to 0.44 metres above 1990 levels by the period 2090 to 2099. What that means is that those low-lying coastal areas in South-East Asia and those small developing island states in the Pacific are incredibly vulnerable to storm surges, coastal erosion, flooding and inundation. That is why we need to show some leadership in our Asia-Pacific region by making a strong commitment to that climate fund. Furthermore, a one-metre rise in sea level over the next century would actually submerge many small island nations in the South Pacific such as the Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Tuvalu and Kiribati, and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, most of which are just two metres above mean sea level. There are clearly threats for the future for our Asia-Pacific neighbours. Support is needed by Australia as an OECD country and we need to commit to the Green Climate Fund in the lead-up to Paris.

The Labor Party made significant investments in renewable energy, establishing, as we know, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or ARENA, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority. ARENA has invested some $1.1 billion and leveraged $1.7 billion in private investment in new and emerging renewable energy projects. So my third plea to our new Prime Minister is: do not abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and do not abolish ARENA. These are important agencies providing support, investment and a return to government in the renewable energy space. They were part of the climate change architecture created under the previous Labor government, at a time when we were, at some point—it was actually during Malcolm Turnbull's time as Leader of the Opposition—in a state of bipartisanship. I hope we get back to a state of bipartisanship, but that can only happen if this new-broom leader makes some commitment to ensuring that Australia lifts its game in renewable energy and lifts its game in climate change policy—because, at the moment, it is very, very far behind.