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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6075

Climate Change


Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:39): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Senator Birmingham. Last week, the government finally announced its so-called safeguard mechanism, the cap above which big polluters are meant to be fined. Yet the environment minister has actually admitted that the government has budgeted zero, because it does not expect any fines to be imposed. It has also set a cap which allows businesses to pollute the highest that they have in five years and it includes multiple get out of jail free chances for businesses to breach that cap. With the first limb of Direct Action paying polluters to pollute and with the second limb now allowing polluters to increase their emissions, why is the government designing a climate policy that is designed to fail?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:40): I thank Senator Waters for her question. At the outset, let me make it clear that I completely reject the assertion at the end of Senator Waters's question. The truth is that this government will ensure that Australia meets its climate change targets, just as Australia has always done so. Australia met its targets under the Kyoto protocol, Australia will meet the five per cent bipartisan target for reduction by 2020 and Australia will meet, ultimately, the target that our government has released for a 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2030.

In relation to the safeguard mechanism, the safeguard mechanism complements our Emissions Reduction Fund and will commence on 1 July 2016. We have released draft rules and regulations for consultation around that safeguard mechanism. We seek to strike the right balance with this. We are tackling the emissions and making sure that we meet our targets, while ensuring that Australian businesses have the flexibility they need to be able to grow and to continue to create jobs in the future.

We are having extensive consultations with the business community to make sure that this safeguard mechanism is appropriate and accurate, but it has always been our commitment and our expectation that there would be zero budget revenue from the safeguard mechanism. It is our clear expectation that businesses will find that this is an appropriate mechanism and they will adhere to it, and therefore they will not be paying penalties under it. It will not be necessary for them to do so, because we will be able to deliver the emissions reductions—as we are already doing through the Emissions Reduction Fund—at appropriate cost and at the lowest cost for that abatement. That will meet our targets. We have already seen that success from the first round of options under the Emissions Reduction Fund where we have secured reductions at a far lower cost than the carbon tax the previous government had in place. It is at a far, far lower cost and will get us to the 2020 target quite comfortably. (Time expired)

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. With the Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit on this week, our Pacific neighbours know all too well that coal is not good for humanity. Entire nations in our regions are at risk of being completely inundated and yet the Abbott government's plan will keep Australia as the world's biggest climate polluter per capita. When will this government finally show some regional leadership by acting on global warming and reinstating the climate adaptation funding that it completely axed from the foreign aid budget?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:43): Firstly, I would point out to the Senate that this government did reinstate funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility that the previous government had actually axed. The government have been quite serious about supporting climate adaptation and we are quite serious about working with our friends and neighbours in the South Pacific to ensure that we assist them through these issues.

Equally, I will highlight to Senator Waters the success of the first Emissions Reduction Fund option. That first option is delivering some 47 million tonnes of abatement alone. That, of course, is making sure that Australia will deliver on the 2010 target; but it is doing so at a far lower cost than we saw from the carbon tax of the previous government, which was generating a tax churn of around $9 billion per annum. Instead, we have gone to the market, we have secured the lowest cost abatement and we are supporting that to meet the targets that we are determined to deliver.

Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Today is the 79th anniversary of the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, which each year is commemorated as Threatened Species Day.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Do you have a question?

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right!

Senator Ian Macdonald: This is question time!

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Macdonald!

Senator WATERS: Mr President, can I ask you to bring Senator Macdonald to order. He is just painful.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Waters, you have the call.

Senator WATERS: Australia has the worst mammalian extinction rate on the planet—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Do you have a question?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald!

Senator WATERS: and yet the environment minister just forgot about two crucial threatened species conservation advices in his haste to approve the Adani Carmichael coalmine. How many more coalmines, destroying habitat and worsening global warming, will this government bend over backwards to approve?

The PRESIDENT: Order! Before I call the minister: Senator Waters, that question bordered on not being supplementary to the primary question, but I will allow the minister to answer the portion of that question he deems fit to answer.

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:45): Thanks, Mr President. I think you are onto something, if I could say so, in regard to your suggestion to the senator about the relevancy of her supplementary. But I am happy to take the opportunity to point out that this is a government that, as I emphasised in the first two questions, will meet Australia's climate change targets as we have always supported meeting Australia's climate change targets. We will ensure they are met; whilst at the same time we will uphold every aspect of the legalities and conditions around the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to support and protect Australia's threatened species. We will deliver on both of those aspects, and that is exactly what we were doing.

I appreciate that Senator Waters wants to try to conflate issues around the approval of coal mines and climate change with threatened species protection under the EPBC Act and attempt, as the Greens would have, to say no to every single possible development in Australia. That is not what this government will support. We will support jobs and development while protecting the environment. (Time expired)