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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11641

Mrs MOYLAN (12:22 PM) —It is very hard for one to focus this morning on the work in this place after having attended the apology to forgotten Australians this morning in the Great Hall at Parliament House. My heart goes out to all of those Australians who were affected as child migrants in this country. I thought it appropriate to mention that given that I have just come from that place to speak here. It is a sobering moment and I hope we all continue to reflect on it in the years to come and to be sure that the decisions we make in this place always have a basis in humanity and we genuinely seek to do what is right for the people, particularly the children of this nation.

I am pleased to have another opportunity speak on this matter, in this case in relation to Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and the cognate bills. Earlier this year I wrote a report to my electorate, and I thought it might be worthwhile reflecting on some of the points I made in that article. At the time that I wrote, there were two packages of proposed legislation before the House of Representatives which, as I put to my constituency, are hugely significant in their implications for the national destiny—the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009. Apart from the legislation we debate today, I recall few bills since I entered this parliament in 1993 that have engendered more anxiety in the community. Like so many of my Liberal colleagues, I have endeavoured in anticipation of the legislation to cast my reading has widely as possible with a view to offering a responsible and reasoned viewpoint to the political debates in this House and in the community at large.

There seems no escaping the view that, on balance of probability, human induced, or anthropogenic, activity is a prime contributor to change—change which will wreak catastrophic effects on our planet if nothing is done. I have said it in other speeches in this place: I am not a climate change sceptic. I do think that the public expect a responsible parliament to take some action, but it is important that that action is taken with care and consideration and in the full spirit of robust debate that brings us in this place so often to improved approaches to legislation.

Furthermore, I believe the time has come to revise the convention that our economic wellbeing must continue to rest on industrial and commercial practices that historically have led to environmental degradation. Of course, with a change of such magnitude, there will be significant cost and not a little pain, and the best of our scientific and socially innovative brainpower will need to be enlisted to mitigate difficulties before they arise. The worst outcome, it seems to me, is to do nothing, for that will exact the highest penalty of all. The next worst outcome is to act impulsively and, therefore, prematurely. That is the crucial error of judgment that is the besetting sin of the government’s current approach to climate change and emissions control. It is deeply regrettable that the government was initially unwilling to negotiate the passage of this legislation with the coalition, the Greens and the Independents, all of whom voted against these bills when they were before the Senate.

While a carbon pollution reduction scheme may send important price signals and lead the push to a robust renewable energy future, conservation and adaptation should share the centre stage. Much more can be done to reduce emissions from motor vehicles, to build energy-efficient buildings and to ensure the retrofitting of solar panels on existing structures where that is feasible. This was a strong policy initiative of the coalition government which, I think, has now been cynically compromised by the current administration. Promoting energy efficiency to the maximum makes good sense all around: it reduces costs, boosts the economy, conserves finite resources and reduces emissions. Equally, we should firmly limit the destruction of our forests and promote more revegetation projects so as to reduce atmospheric carbon while simultaneously conferring benefits to the environment and to soil quality.

The government’s initial decision to tie the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill, which aimed to increase the use of renewable energy in Australia to 20 per cent by 2020, to its flawed and highly contentious CPRS legislation was, I think, a major mistake—which, thankfully, we saw undone. As is well known, the coalition totally supported the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill and, if the government had not taken the perverse path of linking it to the CPRS legislation, it would have had a much smoother passage through this place. But, thankfully, common sense prevailed and we are here today debating the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2].

It is little wonder that potential investors hesitate to lend to CPRS exposed industries and that significant projects promising much-needed employment are left in limbo, because around this suite of bills has come a great deal of confusion and I do not think the government has been very clear in the way it has put these measures before the Australia people. Given the crucial importance of this legislation to enable our country to make its contribution to a cleaner and greener planet, one would hope that the government will see fit to review its current tactics and negotiate an acceptable compromise that will provide greater certainty. Australia’s contribution to the world’s CO2 emissions is 1.4 per cent. While we should, and undoubtedly will, make a genuine contribution to emissions reduction through self-amelioration, our greater and most serious mission must be to lend our voice and our effort in global forums to facilitate global resolutions with global outcomes.

Like so many of my coalition colleagues who have eloquently explained the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme and highlighted the fact that it can and must be improved, I support the amendments that have been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and, in good faith, these amendments have been negotiated and are being negotiated at this current time. It is not out of vanity that we bring these amendments but out of a sense of duty to the people of Australia, to do the right thing by them and to consider what could be described as the most important piece of non-wartime legislation in our history. The coalition is seeking to focus on a number of key areas in Labor’s CPRS. I feel one of the most important of these is agriculture. Fortunately, we have seen again today commonsense prevail. I think those in the agricultural sector have a great opportunity to participate in a very major way to reducing our carbon emissions, but they need clear guidance and direction from the government and from the opposition and they need to know that they are supported in the work that they do. These are people who know the cost of not acting to preserve the environment. Their livelihoods depend upon it.

The coalition moves to permanently exclude agricultural emissions from the CPRS while obtaining government agreement to the introduction of an agricultural offset scheme in line with similar offset schemes to be introduced in comparable economies such as the United States and the European Union. This is a logical decision, as the difficulties in including agriculture in any carbon accounting system relate to measurement and accountability. Firstly, methodologies for measuring and monitoring emissions from most agricultural activities are inaccurate. There are also significant variances in emissions levels associated with the techniques and technologies employed.

The Prime Minister once said he did not want to be the Prime Minister of a country that did not make anything. If we do not protect our agriculture, then that is exactly the kind of country we could live in. That does not mean the agricultural sector does not have a part to play in the low-carbon economy. Mr Crombie, President of the National Farmers Federation, asserted in the Countryman that agriculture has the potential to be a major player, reminding us that the only reason the Australian government can currently say it came close to meeting its Kyoto targets is on the back of agriculture’s contribution.

In conclusion, under the approach that has been outlined by the coalition in its amendments, the CPRS would be amended to allow farmers to generate emission permits equal to the amount of carbon that is sequestered through their activities. I commend to the House the amendments that have been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and that are currently being negotiated because, while I think that most Australians expect we will do everything possible to deal with this problem, we need to do so carefully and with consideration for all the implications for Australian industry and Australian agriculture.