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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11345

Ms PARKE (9:33 PM) —I rise to support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills, a legislative framework that is designed to move Australia forward in our effort to combat dangerous climate change, a legislative framework that seeks to address one of the greatest market failures of all time—namely, the failure to put a price on carbon pollution. As a federal representative, one has the opportunity to speak on a wide range of matters, to speak on issues large and small, national and local and, to be fair, of varying importance. But today we are speaking on an issue whose significance gives way to few, if any, matters of more gravity. What we debate today is Australia’s first comprehensive scheme for ensuring a reduction in national carbon emissions. It is a scheme that establishes a structure within which carbon pollution must be reduced and under which the market will find the most efficient and cost-effective way of achieving the set reduction target.

In Australia, as in other nations proposing or operating emissions trading schemes, the CPRS is not of course the end of the problem; but it is the beginning of the solution. It is not the whole solution; but it is an important part of the solution for reducing emissions, other parts including the development and support of renewable energy sources, sustainable cities and agriculture, and whole-of-society energy efficiency measures.

This Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is the result of an extensive consultation and policy development process. The widest range of stakeholders has been consulted, and all parts of the community and political spectrum have been given the opportunity to participate. The reasons for passing these bills are numerous and compelling. They are that harmful climate change presents a very grave threat to the wellbeing of the living inhabitants of this planet both now and into the future; that the precautionary principle requires the human race, through national governments and multilateral organisations, to take appropriate pre-emptive steps rather than waiting for the worst to occur; that the Australian community wants its government to take action on that basis; that Australian business wants government to provide certainty on this issue; that all the analysis suggests that, the longer we wait, the more it will cost to shift from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy; that acting now will only impose a cost increase to Australian households in the order of half of one per cent in the first two years of the CPRS; and that the global community cannot deal with this problem if individual nations take a ‘you-go-first approach’. On this point, I mention the ridiculous argument that Australia need not act considering the relative scale of our emissions. The truth is that relatively speaking Australia punches well above its weight, as we are fond of saying in other contexts, when it comes to per capita carbon pollution emissions.

That Australia stands to be disproportionately affected by climate change is again made clear in the report of the inquiry into climate change and environmental impacts on coastal communities, which was delivered on Monday. The report details our vulnerability to a rising sea level and to increased storm surge activity. It notes that 80 per cent of our population lives in the coastal zone and that more than 700,000 households are within three kilometres of the sea.

Our place as a developed nation, with a comparatively high standard of living and a comparatively high capacity to take the necessary action to reduce carbon emissions, provides an additional moral imperative, if such were needed, to be a leader rather than a follower in the global response to climate change. This is an even greater imperative for Australia than for some other developed nations when you consider the region in which we exist, a region with a large number of nations under severe threat from the effect of sea level rises, a region with a substantial population that will look to Australia for action now and will look to Australia for greater and greater assistance if this terrible problem goes unchecked.

Finally, the science in relation to climate change, over the course of the two years since this government was elected, has become clearer and more alarming. If anything, the science and the scientists are swinging towards a bleaker view of the situation we find ourselves in. Last Wednesday, Climate Scientists Australia, a newly formed group of some of Australia’s most eminent climate scientists, conducted a briefing here in Parliament House to emphasise the need for urgent and substantial action to reduce carbon emissions. I commend the members for Isaacs and Moore for their part in hosting that forum.

The worse-case scenarios, as they stand, are very grave. Dr Andrew Glikson of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University is one of a number of highly reputable scientists who strenuously assert the need for urgent action on climate change and the need to get ready to do considerably more than we perhaps now contemplate. In his submission to the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy, Dr Glikson argues:

The unacceptable consequences of a continuation of human business-as-usual inertia in terms of extreme weather events—droughts, fires, cyclones and sea level rise—require urgent deep cuts in carbon gas emissions and fast track development of alternative energy utilities and carbon down-draw technology aimed at a reduction of atmospheric CO2-E levels to below 350 ppm.

Robert Correll, the Chairman of the Arctic Climate Change Impact Assessment, said the following:

For the last 10,000 years we have been living in a remarkably stable climate that has allowed the whole of human development to take place … Now we see the potential for sudden changes of between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius [by the end of this century]. We just don’t know what the world is like at those temperatures. We are climbing rapidly out of mankind’s safe zone into new territory, and we have no idea if we can live in it.

As the representative of a constituency that is highly engaged on this issue, I would say to all my parliamentary colleagues that the political divisions on this issue, particularly the divisions within the opposition, are not reflective of the views of the wider community. Indeed, I would say with confidence that there are thousands upon thousands of households across this country, from Fremantle to Wentworth, from Denison to Solomon, who want their parliamentarians to engage on the question of addressing dangerous climate change. That is a fact recognised by this government, which fully understands that the twin principal vectors of change at the last election were the abolition of Work Choices and the need to have a national government that took climate change seriously.

This government has engaged Australian households in debate on climate change and in practical measures to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency and increase the production of renewable energy at the household level. We have facilitated an open and thorough public consideration and debate of the issues involved through Professor Garnaut’s green-paper/white-paper process. The Minister for Climate Change and Water has worked tirelessly in consulting with stakeholders across the spectrum, from business to environmental groups to community and welfare organisations.

This has culminated in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill which, despite its vocal critics, stands to create for the first time a mechanism for reducing Australia’s carbon emissions in keeping with a unilateral reduction commitment. The government has already been successful in passing its renewable energy target legislation, which will appropriately support and boost this burgeoning and critical sector. We have done all these things on the basis that the weight of scientific evidence clearly indicates that anthropogenic climate change is occurring, and that if left unchecked it will have potentially catastrophic consequences for life on earth. Like governments around the world, we are planning and acting on the best evidence available and according to both the precautionary principle and common sense.

To many of those opposite, whose conservative creed might lead them to feel that doing nothing, or doing very little, is the best approach, I would suggest they consider the fact that caution is not always shown by inaction but rather by careful action. When you are driving a car into the desert and you get the feeling the fuel gauge is not working, and you realise there is not enough water on board, it is time to turn around. You do not keep on driving in those circumstances; you take precautionary action. In this case, when we act as a nation, and as a global community, we will not only be addressing the problems of climate change; we will also be taking steps to prepare ourselves for the inevitable time when our hydrocarbon economies literally run out of gas. We will also be taking steps towards a cleaner, healthier, more humane and more diverse environment; and steps towards a way of living on this planet that is truly sustainable.

The ratification of the Kyoto protocol was the government’s first official act, and it set the tone and the standard for our further action on this issue. The real question in this debate is: how will political representatives in the national parliament respond to, and match, the engagement that is already occurring at the community level? In Fremantle, I have never been in any doubt that the electorate I represent is impatient with government at all levels to match their readiness to take action. I am contacted on an almost daily basis by constituents who express this view. Sometimes they ring or email to say that they welcome a particular program or initiative—but, to be honest, it is usually to say, ‘This might be good, but you can do more.’ I am listening to that message and I am voicing it on their behalf. All the best evidence, all the logic and all the common sense tells us that we must act to prevent further, more damaging climate change from becoming an entrenched, irreversible climate trend. The Australian community is asking its representatives, its governments at every level, to take that action. The onus is squarely on us to do so.

I want to conclude by quoting the words of Martin Luther King, who spoke wisely in another context about the dangers of inaction when he said:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now … Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late’.

Climate change policy and the legislative proposals that implement that policy should be vigorously developed, contested and debated, but they should not be the subject of political game-playing. While I am happy to acknowledge the overwhelming probability that the CPRS Bill is not perfect, I utterly reject the argument that until everyone agrees on the perfect response to dangerous climate change, or until the rest of the world solves the problem for us, we in Australia should meander endlessly through a fog of political indecision and a smokescreen of political obfuscation. With this bill this government is responding to the clear onus placed upon it by the voters of Australia. We have conducted an open and extensive policy consultation and development process. We have engaged the opposition, the Greens and Independents on this issue. Now it is time to take action, before it is too late.