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Thursday, 10 July 2014
Page: 4652


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (13:10): Well, what an extraordinary day it is where we have rolled straight into the debate on the proposed destruction of the Climate Change Authority through this bill, the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 [No. 2], directly after the extraordinary shambles that the government's plans to wreck the Clean Energy Act were thrown into by the vote that we saw in here just a few moments ago. The Senate voting to oppose the government's repeal bills clearly was not in the Prime Minister's talking points for this week—but such was the sheer folly, the aggressive stupidity, that the government has shown in tying these votes together. By now we were meant to be, I guess, recoiling at the destruction of the vast bulk of the Clean Energy Act. We understand, after negotiation with Mr Palmer and his Senate colleagues in here, they had tied to this vote the introduction of an ETS that would effectively have a nil trading value and a carbon price, as far as we can tell, with all of the compliance costs and overheads and not requiring anybody to pay any money for emitting carbon pollution. But it does not appear to have worked out very well for you, has it?

What kind of government would propose the elimination of an expert body like the Climate Change Authority, that rests at arm's length from the political turmoil in here, that is staffed by scientists, experts, economists and researchers—people not necessarily polluted by the political churn and the argy-bargy that goes on here? It effectively sets those targets that are so essential and goes beyond the pointless one-dimensional talking points of the so-called bipartisan five per cent emissions reduction target, which I guess has served as a fig leaf for the last couple of years or as a proxy for a government that is deeply unhappy with the climate imperative but knows it needs to pretend that it is at least faintly interested.

One of the key functions of the Climate Change Authority is to review our emissions goals—that is, look at the audits; get a sense of how our emissions profile is tracking; look at what sectors of the economy are performing well and what is performing poorly; look at what restructuring is occurring, what the barriers are and where the resistance is; and then model how we are progressing towards the goals outlined in the renewable energy target and what Australia's target should be. Of the hundreds of expert bodies that this government abolished under public policy masquerading as some kind of drunkenly wielded chainsaw, the Climate Change Authority is one of the most important of all.

Let us take a quick look at the context here. In the wake of the remarkable rebuff that the Australian Senate just sent back to the Prime Minister's office this afternoon, I think it is worth scoping some of the context here. Let us take a quick traverse since just before the last election at the scope of the damage that this government has sought to do to the climate science community, to the clean energy industry and to ordinary people who are caught up in this government's fatal paralysis on the climate imperative. How about these. Axing the national partnership agreement on certain concessions for pensioners and Seniors Card holders, which supports state and territory concessions for senior citizens, including energy rebates. That was a pretty low act. Breaking a promise to have one million more solar roofs across Australia and at least 25 solar towns. It was clear as day—a black and white announcement by Minister Hunt, and the Prime Minister made him look like an absolute muppet in the wake of this rather humiliating backdown, where he had to admit that the money simply was not there. Here is another one: scrapping a range of grant programs aimed at funding innovation and start-up businesses, including Australian Industry Participation, Commercialisation Australia, Enterprise Solutions, the Innovation Investment Fund, the Industry Innovation Councils, Enterprise Connect, Industry Innovation Precincts, Textile Clothing and Footwear Small Business, and Building Innovative Capability. All of these things have direct bearing on energy efficiency—for example, more efficient production practices. It is almost like you have done a random word search and anybody who looks to have anything at all to do with innovation or anyone who has innovation or expertise or efficiency in their title has just been abolished without anybody caring too much about what it was they were doing. That was in the budget.

Next there is axing industry and community clean energy programs, including the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, the National Low Emission Coal Initiative, Energy Efficiency Programmes, the National Solar Schools Plan, Energy Efficiency Information Grants and Low Carbon Communities. All wiped out at the stroke of a pen. Next, breaking a very clear and unambiguous election promise by proposing to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The Senate just sent that one a bit of a punch in the face, but nonetheless it was your commitment after the election to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. What ARENA does is promote innovation in projects that are not quite ready for commercialisation—getting Australian innovators on their feet for projects that are not ready to take to the bank yet, but could be. That is number five.

Six is blaming carbon pricing for the closure of Alcoa smelters and rolling mills and the loss of nearly a thousand jobs, despite the fact that the company made a profit from the carbon price by selling their free permits. It is a bit similar to Prime Minister Abbott claiming that BHP Billiton's decision not to go ahead with the expansion of Olympic Dam operations in regional South Australia was because of the carbon tax, even though the company's statement said the direct opposite. Utterly delusional. Next, appointing a climate change sceptic to head a review of our Renewable Energy Target, to deliberately stop investment through deliberate creation of uncertainty. Another broken election promise. Next, that a renewable energy review did not need to happen, because that is one of the things the Climate Change Authority is tasked with doing under its act. Next, cutting funding to the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program, which made it mandatory for large-energy-using businesses to improve their efficiency and therefore save a fair bit of money. What is it that you hate about energy efficiency? That is really strange. You spend a lot of time on the government benches talking about productivity, which it great. It is a lively discussion and a good one to have. But what about energy productivity? Why on earth does a political party assume a hatred of energy efficiency? It is just bizarre.

Next, scrapping the Home Energy Saver scheme, which helps struggling low-income households cut their electricity bills. Of course you would cut that. Why would you want to help people on low incomes save money on their electricity bills? Weird. It is really peculiar. Feel free to interject and explain if I am missing something obvious here. Next, a budget freeze on the indexation of the Clean Energy Supplement, which helps pensioners, veterans, students and the unemployed—obviously not key coalition constituencies—'We will support them as long as they do not try to use energy more efficiently!' Very strange. Next, abolish the Clean Technology Investment Program, which leveraged co-investment for manufacturers and food producers to make capital improvements to reduce energy costs. Energy costs? I thought that was your thing. It is in most of your slogans. It has been in most of your dopey little pamphlets. Energy costs—no, that was abolished.

Next, seeking to abolish the Climate Change Authority through the bill we are debating today. Also, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Why would we want an investment arm of the Commonwealth making money for taxpayers while bankrolling innovation in the clean energy sector and leveraging private sector finance to get large-scale renewable energy plants built? Why would we want that kind of subversive activity going on in Australia! Best to abolish that.

Next, move to destroy farmers' and Aboriginal communities' opportunities to raise revenue through the Carbon Farming Initiative by removing the market and replacing it with Direct Action, which nobody believes will work. Everybody knows it will not work. It is policy designed by people who do not care whether it works. Next, making solar deployment in mines less competitive by restoring the full diesel rebate, by removing the carbon charge in the clean energy package—a pre-election commitment. Next, abolish the carbon price, which drives investment away from dirty industries and into clean new industries. You were fairly clear about that before the election. It is one of the few pre-election commitments that Prime Minister Abbott has elected to try to keep. Nonetheless, transferring money away from polluters and into clean energy innovators is clearly not a light-bulb that has gone off over any of your heads.

Finally, requiring departments to remove the link between extreme weather and global warming. That was recently reported in the media. You are really quite deliberately blindfolding yourselves to the consequences of the policy decisions you make. You do not want those experts to still be in the field to critique the things that you were doing. It is remarkable hostility. I would be interested to know whether it actually is coalition policy to drive renewable energy investment offshore. Is that actually the objective? Is this happening deliberately or just through a process of extraordinary coincidence, at exactly this time, as a consequence of the 16 policy initiatives I just put to you?

One of the things the Climate Change Authority is responsible for is protecting Australians from the worst consequences of climate change. In tracking these targets and making sure that our economy, along with others in the industrialised and industrialising world, is making that transition—that the transition is underway. It effectively makes the choice for us with foresight rather than regret as to whether we think we could cope with two degrees of average global warming, or more. When you look at the targets that have been set and hear the numbers that have been bandied around, like 350 parts per million, 80 per cent of the world's unburned fossil fuel needing to remain below ground or two degrees average surface temperature global warming, those rough numbers are to give teeth to the concept of whether you want to live in a world of dangerous climate change where impacts are costly, deadly but ultimately potentially manageable or a world in excess of two degrees of average global warming, of catastrophic climate change, where the impacts cascade and overlap and become eventually unmanageable.

That is the kind of world that the United States Department of Defense and some of its research arms envisage, and our US allies are making national security decisions. The US Navy has been at this since at least the 1990s and probably earlier. They have been making security and procurement decisions based on that kind of world. They are not hippies or fringe voices. That sense of impact on military doctrine or procurement strategies in Australia simply has not made any kind of impression at all. You are so hell-bent on closing down and eliminating from the public debate the voices of those advisory and expert bodies who do exist in Australia that you have advised departments not to link extreme weather events to climate change, even though that is mainstream scientific opinion. I have absolutely no idea how you look at yourselves in the mirror each day.

This is the kind of government that, having turned away from the extraordinary opportunities that present themselves in embracing the clean energy economy, is determined to back its way into the 21st century, clutching on to the remnants of the fossil fuel economy until it is far too late. These are the kinds of decisions that you end up making. It is a rather tawdry imitation of the Tea Party tactics in the US. It is a bit like the Tea Party without the passion. It is like a banal, less weaponised version of the Tea Party here in Australia; it is not as interesting but, effectively, a lot of the same thought processes are being brought to bear.

Senator Cameron: It is still pretty scary.

Senator LUDLAM: I am not denying, Senator Cameron, that it is scary. It is just not very interesting. WA MP Dennis Jensen, who for a while had pretensions of being Australia's science minister until you abolished the portfolio, noted:

Another scheme that lamentably fails the Lomborg test—

which is pretty funny when you think about it—

is that of the Renewable Energy Target, which is certainly worse than direct action and should be dumped.

One of the few scientifically literate voices on the coalition side—

Senator Ryan interjecting

Senator LUDLAM: He is actually very impressive on the Joint Strike Fighter, so I do line up with Mr Jensen.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Smith ): Order!

Senator LUDLAM: Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, the interjections are so tantalising, I can scarcely ignore them. Mr Jensen, who is obviously one of the few on the coalition benches with scientific credentials, is a climate change denier. What on earth are we to make of that? This is not just the case with the federal Liberal Party room. Our present Treasurer in Western Australia, the former executive director of the IPA, Minister Mike Nahan, said:

Not only is the fact of global warming unclear, but a fully honoured Kyoto Agreement would have had only a trivial effect on temperatures.

There it is in a nutshell. For a remarkably condensed way of thoroughly misreading the science and the geopolitics of global warming, I am not sure that I could do that any better myself.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator LUDLAM: Hello, Senator Macka! Lovely that you could join us. There was a book launched last year, edited by Peter Christoff, that scoped out what a four-degree warming world would look like. Four degrees does not sound like a great deal when the temperature in this town can fluctuate by a matter of 20 or 30 degrees in a day, but an increase of global mean surface temperature of four degrees puts an absolute blowtorch on the North and South poles. The book, which is titled Four degrees of global warming: Australia in a hot world, effectively maps to the greatest degree of precision possible, obviously with wide ranges of interpretation, what Australia will look like under those kinds of conditions—under the conditions that are set in train by policies of this coalition government and by your Tea Party allies in other parts of the world, where effectively we just say: 'Let it rip. Just burn everything.' It is not the world that I believe that we are heading for and it is not something that I think any of us would want to pass on to the next generation and the ones after that. But, nonetheless, there is some precision in the estimates available on exactly how dangerous that world would be.

Australia in a four-degree warming world will have a quarter of a million coastal properties inundated by rising sea levels at an approximate cost $63 billion. There are not a lot of global warming deniers in the insurance community, funnily enough. There are a lot of sceptics or very hard headed people trained in actuarial science in the insurance industry, and they estimate a cost of up to $63 billion. They are already refusing to insure people in particularly vulnerable parts of the country. There will be 17,200 heat related deaths a year, up from just under 6,000 today. Snow will disappear from all but the highest alpine peaks, which will lead to a cascade of regional extinctions in those ecosystem. A quarter of a billion people in the Asia-Pacific region will be displaced. These communities will somehow have to try and choose between defence and evacuation of their coastal settlements, their fishing grounds—places where people have lived for millennia. This is a quarter of a billion people. With the shrieking that we hear from the government benches about the tiny fraction of people who have managed to escape to our region from the horrors perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government, the Iranian secret police or the Taliban, can you imagine—

Senator Ian Macdonald: I thought we were on climate change.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, Senator Macdonald. Sometimes I really feel for you, because you will not be around when these impacts are in full swing, but my little nephew will, and he did not get to vote last September.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Is that why you didn't win!

Senator LUDLAM: One more would have helped. On the issue of displaced people in our region, Senator Macdonald, since you have queried my comments: can you imagine the politics of immigration and border protection with a quarter of a million people on the move? These are credible estimates. They come from people who study these things for a living—from people inside the US defence community and the United Nations. It is not possible to adapt gracefully to mass movement of people on that kind of scale.

Colleagues, there is still time—and the Senate vote earlier this afternoon has proven that the Senate's reputation as a house of second thoughts is well grounded. The smartest thing we could do today would be to leave the Climate Change Authority in place so that it can continue to provide the advice that we need on the mitigation options, on the adaptation strategies and on ways that our country and our region can survive in a world threatened by the very serious life or death impacts of global warming.