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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 1049

Ms LIVERMORE (6:23 PM) —Before question time, I was running through some of the amendments in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills that I particularly welcomed for my electorate. These amendments, which are sensible, responsible and reflect months if not years of consultation with industry and other stakeholders, represent a time that has now seemingly passed in Australian politics, a time when—notwithstanding their numerous differences—you could say that both major parties came to the table in good faith and motivated by the national interest not short-term political gain.

I support these bills as amended because they represent an improvement on the scheme originally developed by the government. If they had any principle at all, the opposition would support them, too. And they do not even have to act according to principle if that is too much of a stretch for them—just some consistency or a bit of logic would be enough and would enable them to appreciate that the emissions trading scheme contained in these bills is the policy that they took to the last election and the scheme that they negotiated for and voted on in their party room to support just a couple of months ago. It seems that ‘principle’ and ‘consistency’ are another two words not associated with an opposition led by a man who seems incapable of coming to a position and sticking to it.

For something the coalition accuses us of not debating, the CPRS has had an absolute going over in this House. This is now the third time that I have spoken in support of the CPRS and I am pleased to say that many of the issues that have been raised by industries and groups in my electorate have been picked up in the amendments now before the House. Before I come to the specifics I would like to reiterate my reasons for supporting the bill yet again. I will rely on my previous speeches, which set out many of the arguments.

If I refer back to the first speech from August last year, I spent time discussing the science and the fact that on balance I believe that the scientific evidence of warming and its cause was something that a responsible government could not and should not ignore. It is a legitimate basis for policy action. I talked also about my confidence in the consultation that was going on with large emitters of carbon dioxide in my electorate and my confidence that the ministers and government were listening and that the concerns of industries would be taken into account in the course of subsequent negotiations over the legislation, and by and large they have.

I also spent time in that speech explaining how I saw the government’s approach to climate change not as some ideological article of faith but as a challenge facing whoever seeks to govern Australia at this time. We have done what governments facing challenges do: assess the nature and scale of the problem, seek advice on possible solutions, make judgments as to the best solution and consult on the way to developing the final policy. And guess what? When the coalition was in government, that was exactly what they did—reluctantly, for sure, but they did finally accept climate change as a reality and a challenge that no government could ignore.

Apparently when it was politically necessary, they could express belief in climate change but, now that they see some political advantage in taking the opposite view, according to the opposition climate change is no longer of any consequence. And what was the opposition’s answer to the challenge of climate change when they were in government? You guessed it: an emissions trading scheme—one based on much of the same evidence and advice that underpins the scheme we have developed. When the opposition were actually running the country, they put Australia on the path to an emissions trading scheme. Now that their only concern is winning the next election rather than finding genuine solutions for the future of Australia, they are in here repudiating their own decisions in government.

I have said repeatedly in these debates that climate change is not an article of faith for the Labor Party. Action on climate change is not a core principle or the rationale for our party. But the debate of the past couple of months has made me rethink that. I believe that action on climate change—real action, not the sound bite action of the opposition—is the kind of policy that does characterise the Labor Party. We are the party that embraces reform to ensure a stronger future and the party that manages reform to ensure that there is fairness and support in place through the reform process. As a small country, we can never stand still. However good things are in Australia we know that there is never room for complacency if we are to secure our future. We need to be continually looking ahead to the next challenge and the next opportunity and preparing our country for those.

Climate change is an environmental challenge but an economic opportunity as Australia positions itself to take advantage of the emerging demand for the goods and services of the new low-carbon economy. We owe it to ourselves and our natural environment to give the world the benefit of the doubt in this case and take out the insurance that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme represents against the potential for serious damage to the planet’s natural systems caused by continued climate change. We also owe it to our kids and future generations to start carving out a foothold for Australia in a future global economy based on renewable energy and low-carbon emissions. So there are some core principles of our party reflected in our approach to addressing climate change in the way that the CPRS prepares for the future while providing for fairness and security through the transition.

My second speech on this legislation, this time in November, addressed the scare campaign being waged by the opposition and groups like the Australian Coal Association. I pointed out how the predictions of job losses and doom and gloom were at odds with what was actually happening in the coal industry in Central Queensland. The industry continues to go from strength to strength in Central Queensland, with regular announcements of new and expanding mines and increasing investment in rail, road and port infrastructure to support the activity in the Bowen Basin and now the Galilee Basin. Just yesterday we saw the reports of Incitec’s decision to proceed with its major project in Moranbah, another sign that the coal industry and associated industries are gearing up for the next boom in coal demand and profits. The scare campaign was always pretty flimsy in the face of what is actually happening in Central Queensland, and the amendments in this legislation undermine it further.

There is now a total of $1.5 billion in assistance to the coal sector over five years. This takes the form of a $1.23 billion Coal Sector Adjustment Scheme to give transitional assistance to the most emissions intensive coalmines in the form of permits and a $270 million coal sector abatement fund to provide grant funding for coal sector abatement projects with a priority for electricity generation from waste coalmine gas. That is great news for those companies like EDL and Envirogen, who are the frontrunners in this important industry and already have power stations operating in my electorate in partnership with mining companies.

I have mentioned already the other measures that I particularly welcome in this revised CPRS—those relating to the exciting opportunities it offers to farmers and the assistance to meat processors. The Transitional Electricity Cost Assistance Program will reduce the impact of the CPRS on electricity prices paid by medium and large enterprises, which will assist coalmines and operations like QMAG in Rockhampton. I also welcome the reviews foreshadowed with respect to the appropriateness of assistance to emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries.

This week in my electorate there was another good news story coming out of Mackay Sugar—a good news story but one with a warning attached, a warning of what is at stake if the opposition persist with their rejection of the CPRS and continue down their reckless path of making up climate change and economic policy as they go. I have spoken before about the co-generation project that has been developed by Mackay Sugar with the support and cooperation of the canefarmers who are its shareholders. The plan will see the investment by Mackay Sugar in a $120 million power plant at its Racecourse sugar mill. New highly efficient boilers at the mill will convert bagasse—a waste product from sugar milling—into steam to drive a turbine generator capable of generating 36 megawatts, 27 megawatts of which will be exported into the national grid. It will be the equivalent of one-third of Mackay’s electricity needs.

The good news this week was the formal announcement by Mackay Sugar that contracts have been issued for the construction of the plant following the passage of the government’s expanded renewable energy target and the signing of an off-take agreement with an energy retailer to lock in the returns on the project. And where do those returns go? Not just to Mackay Sugar but through them to the canefarmers that are the company’s shareholders and also as an increase in the price paid to farmers for their sugar in recognition of its higher value: sugar as a source of food and now sugar as a source of energy.

Mackay Sugar has been explicit in the role the expanded renewable energy target has played in bringing this successful project to fruition. But has the opposition stopped to ask itself where its failure to support the CPRS leaves projects like this? The renewable energy target scheme goes to 2020 and always assumed that there would be a carbon price beyond that to support this kind of investment in renewable energy projects. I note that the opposition’s phoney nonplan includes something called clean energy hubs, and I see that Central Queensland is listed as a possible region that would be eligible for funding, although with the split between the other regions that are listed it is questionable how much would really find its way to Central Queensland.

My point is that there is already a clean energy hub developing in Central Queensland through the investment in projects like Mackay Sugar’s co-generation plant and the growing waste coalmine gas industry, and also through the work being done by ZeroGen on carbon capture and storage. By creating a carbon price the CPRS supports those projects and supports the growth of clean energy in Central Queensland. The opposition through its rejection of the CPRS and its phoney climate change plan puts these kinds of projects at risk.

The opposition are getting in the way of clean energy opportunities that already exist in Central Queensland just so they can parade around in the lead-up to the next election with a slush fund under the guise of a clean energy hub to make some political mileage. What about the real investment and the real decisions on clean energy that will be stalled in the meantime because of the opposition’s reckless disregard for sensible science and sensible economics? The opposition is locking regions like mine out of opportunities that will help farmers and expand our economic base.

These bills represent a sensible and balanced response to the challenge of reducing carbon emissions. They have been the subject of exhaustive consultation and up until 10 weeks ago represented a bipartisan agreement on the targets for carbon reduction and the mechanism to achieve them. For reasons of pure political opportunism the opposition have now chosen to stick with the agreed target of a five per cent reduction in emissions. But they have abandoned their principles and their economic credibility to come up with a phoney scheme that will cost taxpayers more while allowing emissions to rise. Our legislation will achieve cuts to emissions, provide certainty to business and deliver assistance to households. I support the bills.