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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11190

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (10:30 AM) —The great American statesman Abraham Lincoln once said:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

The Prime Minister should take into account those words as he forces Australians into an emissions trading scheme that will cost jobs, that will harm industries, that will send industries offshore and yet will do nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This Prime Minister’s approach to emissions trading has nothing to do with the environment or climate change. This debate at this time is not about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Prime Minister does not have an environmental agenda; he has a political agenda.

This government’s fundamentally flawed emissions trading scheme, which has been presented to the House today, was rejected by the parliament in August. Every non-Labor person in the Senate voted against it—the Liberal Party senators, the National Party senators, the Greens senators and the two Independent senators, Xenophon and Fielding. Publicly and privately many businesses and community leaders have criticised the gaping flaws, the fundamental problems, in the government’s scheme. Yet here we have precisely the same legislation back in the parliament with not one change, not one alteration, not one amendment. The government has refused to countenance any suggestion that its flawed scheme required improvement. It has produced precisely the same scheme that was rejected by all the senators from the Greens to the Liberals, the Nationals and the two Independent senators. It refuses to learn from its mistakes.

The coalition has come up with a number of substantial amendments that reflect the grave concerns in the Australian community about the potential loss of jobs, the likelihood of sending industries offshore, the increased electricity costs particularly for small business, the increased cost of living and the fact that the government’s scheme will not reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The Leader of the Opposition has detailed those significant amendments in his speech to this House.

But the Prime Minister apparently believes that he has achieved perfection at his first attempt at an emissions trading scheme. That is so typical of this Prime Minister, whose view of the world is not to be questioned, who bridles at any suggestion that anything he says or anything he does can legitimately be challenged. So Australians are entitled to ask, ‘What game is this Prime Minister playing?’ It is purely politics. The Prime Minister simply wants a trigger for an early election. That is why the bill is in the House today. No doubt he has some internal polling showing that the Australian people are increasingly tiring of his spin over substance. The Prime Minister wants to rush off to an early election before the Australian people can judge the full impact of his disastrous economic policies that will push up interest rates and increase taxes, or judge Labor’s massive debt and wasteful spending or Labor’s chaotic border protection policy.

While the Prime Minister’s tactics might reveal his political strategy, they also reveal this Prime Minister’s contempt for the Australian public by trying to lock Australia into a flawed emissions trading scheme. The Prime Minister appears more than willing to sacrifice jobs, he appears to have ignored all warnings to date about job losses. He appears more than willing to cause serious and long term damage to the Australian economy—and he is on track to do just that with his scheme—while having no impact on reducing global emissions. It is clear that the Prime Minister wants to rush through this bill, and that he wants to avoid a detailed debate or discussion about the implications of his emissions trading scheme, so that he can turn up at the Copenhagen climate change conference with a piece of legislation and strut the world stage as part of his job application to be the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He will do all this without putting the interests of Australians first.

The Prime Minister described climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our generation. One would have thought that it would require one of the greatest debates of our generation. But, no, the Prime Minister is insisting that it is his way or the highway. We know that the emissions trading scheme will fundamentally restructure our economy over time. It will have a fundamental impact on the Australian economy. According to a recent poll, while the vast majority of Australians want action on climate change, only about five per cent said they knew what an emissions trading scheme was. The Prime Minister of this country is cynically trading on that lack of understanding. There has been no public education program to inform the Australian public of what an emissions trading scheme is, or a what a carbon pollution reduction scheme is. There has been little detailed analysis of Labor’s scheme. There has been virtually no information provided by the government on what it will cost Australians in terms of increased energy costs, or increased electricity costs, or the increase in the overall cost of living for Australians. This is a deliberate Labor strategy to suppress information that would reveal the failings of Labor’s scheme and reveal the cynical politics behind the introduction of this bill into the parliament today.

According to a recent international report, Australia is the country most likely to be disadvantaged by the transition to a low carbon economy. That is because our economy has been built on cheap and plentiful energy derived in the main from the burning of coal. About 80 per cent of our electricity comes from the burning of coal and that is why, for Australia to transition from an economy where 80 per cent of our energy comes from the burning of coal to a low carbon economy, we must be very careful to get right the design of any emissions trading scheme that impacts on the coal industry. We must be very careful to get the design right. That is why we need to know how our major trading partners, our major competitors, the major emitters, the major economies of the world intend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to know how they will transition their economies to low carbon economies and whether there will be any sort of global agreement reached at the United Nations Copenhagen climate change conference that is to be held in just a matter of days. I think the Australian public is entitled to be extremely cynical about a government that refuses to wait even a couple of days to find out what the rest of the world intends to do before locking Australia into an emissions trading scheme.

When I say Australia will be one of the most disadvantaged countries, it is pertinent to note that a country like France that gains almost 80 per cent of its energy needs from nuclear power—a virtually zero carbon form of energy—will not have the difficulty transitioning to a low carbon economy that Australia has. Would it not be sensible and rational to listen to what other countries in the world are doing and adjust our emissions trading scheme accordingly? The government is insisting that this parliament vote on its flawed scheme now, prior to the Copenhagen conference, but it is failing to provide any rational reason for doing so.

In fact, the Prime Minister, in an extremely rare moment of candour, admitted in an interview that he gave overseas that he did not actually need a legislated scheme in order to prosecute a case for global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at Copenhagen—that he did not actually need a legislated scheme. So he has been exposed. Why does he then insist that there must be a vote in this House on an emissions trading scheme prior to the climate change conference? You see, the timing of this debate is for the government’s base political purpose of obtaining a trigger for an early election. If this legislation were so urgent why did not the government re-introduce it in September? If this legislation were so urgent why did not the government re-introduce it in October? It has made no amendments to the scheme—it is exactly the same documentation as was rejected by the Senate in August.

The government is contriving a vote in this House on Monday, 16 November. That is precisely the timeframe required under our Constitution to trigger an early election. It is not only the cynical timing of the government that should cause Australians so much concern. It is the lack of appropriate scrutiny and public discussion. If anyone questions the Prime Minister or challenges him on any issue to do with climate change, they are immediately denounced as climate change deniers, or climate change sceptics. It is this vicious suppression of debate that should so concern the Australian public. Alternative views are not permitted in this Prime Minister’s world.

If the government were serious about, for example, Australia’s capacity to substantially reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, why has it not considered alternative forms of energy? Its entire strategy is based on replacing the burning of fossil fuels over time with clean coal technology, a technology not proven and certainly not capable of providing baseload power. Has the Prime Minister been up-front with the Australian people and informed them that his entire strategy is based on an unproven technology? Why hasn’t the government considered a transition to natural gas? I come from Western Australia so I know there is plentiful natural gas in Western Australia, yet the government has not considered transitioning our economy to a natural gas economy.

Why hasn’t the government considered nuclear power as a component of a low-carbon economy? I am informed that, of the 20 countries that make up the G20 Forum, 19 have embraced nuclear power as a component of their capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And which country has refused to even acknowledge the capability of nuclear power to contribute to a low-carbon economy? It is Australia, in the form of the Labor Party. Consider the following. A 500-megawatt coal-fired power station produces almost 320,000 tonnes of toxic waste per annum, while a comparable nuclear power station produces about 20 tonnes per annum. The coal-fired facility will release into the atmosphere 4.38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, while the nuclear power station will release 87,600 tonnes. The coal waste will include 2.6 tonnes of uranium and 6.4 tonnes of thorium. Now wouldn’t you think that these are some of the facts that ought to be injected into a debate about how to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? The issue of nuclear power was not even canvassed in the Garnaut report. The Garnaut report, which was meant to canvass all possibilities of an alternative energy future for Australia, ruled out nuclear power. The green paper which was meant to consider all options had only one option: the Prime Minister’s. Yet we see that in the major economies of the world—the major emitters, our major trading partners—nuclear is under consideration. In the United States Senate there is a bill being supported by Senator John Kerry, amongst others. Writing in the New York Times, Senator Kerry, who is the influential Democrat chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had this to say:

Nuclear power needs to be a core component of electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction targets.

That was said in the United States, the major emitter and the major economy in the world. Why would we not wait to hear what the United States says about its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? As the major economy and as the major emitter, what the United States does will dictate what the rest of the world will do. But, no, our Prime Minister, with his hubris and arrogance, believes that he is the only one with the answer.

There has been no logic or rational thinking behind the government’s flawed emissions trading scheme. This bill is flawed. That is why the coalition put forward a series of amendments yet, without even a completion of the negotiations on those amendments, the government has forced this House to consider its flawed bill. I urge the government to put the interests of Australian jobs, the interests of Australian industry and the interests of all Australians first and not force this House to a vote on its flawed scheme and to go to Copenhagen with an open mind that perhaps other countries around the world who are the major emitters, our major trading partners and the major economies, actually have something to contribute to this debate. The Prime Minister might learn something if he were to listen to what other countries say they will do because it is a global solution that is required. Australia could reduce to zero its greenhouse gas emissions but, if the rest of the world were not to act, all that would do would be to destroy Australian jobs and industries and have no impact on the environment. I urge the government to pass and so adopt the amendments put forward by the coalition.