Monday, 18 November 2013
Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013, Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013
I rise today to speak on the government's Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, the True-up Shortfall (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, the True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, the Excise Tariff (Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, the Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013. This parliament's response to how we handle climate change will either help or hinder the future of this country. It will define whether the 44th Parliament of Australia is either willing to look forward or backwards. We will define in this parliament with how we vote on this legislation the generation of parliamentarians to our children and our grandchildren.
The scientists know that carbon pollution is changing our weather and it is harming our environment. The Australian public know. They know it when they experience more and more extreme weather events. Economists know that carbon pollution will hurt our economy and the public and the Labor Party know it is the responsibility of the parliament to reduce the amount of carbon pollution that is being emitted and going into our environment. This is why Labor will always support laws which tackle the issues of the future and which will reduce carbon pollution. This is why we cannot today or on any day forward support Tony Abbott's laws which would leave Australia with no effective means of cutting carbon pollution.
Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity are having an adverse effect on our environment and on the economy. If we refuse to tackle the problems, if we put our heads in the sand, if we say that we will put off to the future how we deal with environmental economic issues, then we mark ourselves down for future history to judge what we did at this time in this place when we had another course of action.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that the world is warming due in part to the burning of fossil fuels. Across the globe from 2001 to 2010, this was the warmest decade on record—and I repeat: 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record. And indeed, every decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the one before.
Labor is concerned that our farmers and primary producers would experience a decline in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin. Labor is concerned that it will see a decline in our wheat production. Labor is concerned that we will see a decline in our table wine-grape production. Our world is approaching a population of seven billion people. The threats from a changing climate intensify, not diminish, our need to act. Labor understands that there are businesses with foresight already ahead of the climate change curve, moving ahead to capture the technologies of the future to capture the business opportunities of the future. My position and that of Labor is perfectly clear: we will take action to reduce the amount of carbon pollution being emitted into our environment.
But those opposite led by Tony Abbott do not believe in climate change and its adverse impact upon the environment. Labor will always make its decisions on policies in this parliament based on the best available science. That is the Labor way. Yet those opposite led by Tony Abbott, despite the best available science, are prepared to tear down everything which has been accomplished in tackling climate change up to this day.
We on this side of the House are like millions of Australians. We know that Australians expect their members of parliament not to sit idly by and see that the future is too hard to deal with, to say that Australia cannot compete with the rest of the world and that Australia cannot reform and change and grasp the opportunities of the future. That is not the Labor way.
What I simply cannot understand is why those opposite cannot understand the future. No-one seriously—or at least no-one serious—believes that we do not have an issue with increasing levels of carbon pollution. Today in the legislation we are seeing being debated, Tony Abbott is lining up with the militia of climate change denialists and he is taking the coalition government with him. The Prime Minister is ensuring his place in history and the place of everyone on that side of the parliament and it will put them on the wrong side of history. The Prime Minister is saying to Australians, 'People of Australia, carbon pollution in our atmosphere is just a political problem and it is one therefore that Australians do not need to act on.' If the Prime Minister was a doctor and the patient was sick, all I could imagine is that he would say to that patient, 'Don't change anything.' It is really hard to change. It may involve making decisions about the future which are in your long-term interest but which today you might find difficult. That is not the Labor way. In parliament the people who put us here expect us not to do everything for them, not to be in every household, not to regulate every aspect of their lives, but they do expect their leaders regardless whether they are coalition or Labor to at least try and explain to Australians how to navigate a path to the future.
These 11 bits of legislation are not a map to the future; they are an exercise in the rear vision mirror looking back and doing nothing. The Treasury in its blue book prepared prior to the 2010 election said:
A market based mechanism can achieve the necessary abatement at a cost per tonne of emissions far lower than any other alternative direct-action policies.
Say what you like about the carbon tax—and many have—this government is not just repealing the carbon tax; this legislation kills any possibility of limiting carbon pollution pouring into our atmosphere. There are 11 carbon tax repeal bills before the parliament today.
The government's bills on climate change represent the unilateral disarmament of the nation's defences against climate change. In leaving nothing behind—no other sound or sensible replacement policy—the Abbott government has run up the white flag on climate change. It has surrendered its responsibility to the nation. It declares in this legislation that this government finds the future too hard; that this government cannot navigate a path to the future; that this government will tell everyone that they can stay as they are—that there is no need to change. It declares that it will always be blue sky and that, regardless of the science—regardless of the innate knowledge of Australians—the best option is to do nothing.
The fundamental problem with the government's approach is that there is no limit on how much carbon pollution will be allowed in Australia. Put simply, this government is saying there will be no cap on emissions. What that means is that this government has no idea about how to control carbon emissions and that any amount is acceptable. Surely it is a proper role for government to lead and set standards about how much carbon pollution should be allowed. That is a legitimate function of government; it is the leadership that people expect. Tony Abbott's view—and the view of his denialist cohort—is that there should be no cap and no standard set on carbon emissions into the future.
Even if genuine reductions can be purchased by polluters there is nothing in the Prime Minister's plan to stop emissions increasing elsewhere in the economy. This leads to the other flaw in the legislation. Not only do they have no cap, but they will make mum and dad taxpayers in Australia pay their hard-earned taxes to large polluters. That is the only idea they have. This is the climate change policy from central casting, if you are a closet climate change sceptic. There is everything you could want in the coalition policies if you do not believe climate change is real. There is no cap on emissions; there is money to be paid to people who emit carbon; and, when we look at this policy, the Prime Minister will not even try to make companies with large carbon emissions accountable.
Leaders across the rest of the world are willing to act. They are acting in different ways but they accept the science. Real leaders take real action. On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron—who had a busy weekend—said:
I am not a scientist but it's always seemed to me that one of the strongest arguments about climate change is that even if you are 90 per cent certain, or 80 per cent certain, or 70 per cent certain - if I said to you that there was a 60 per cent chance your house might burn down, you would take out some insurance.
Real leaders are not denialists. Real leaders have the courage to tell people things they do not always want to hear. Real leaders have the courage to say to people: 'We will take you on a path to the future and this involves accepting real facts.' Real leaders choose to prepare their nations for the future rather than leave it to others in the future to do what the current generation would not do.
This is why the Abbott government's response to climate change is a defining issue for our parliament and our nation. It represents their well-known coalition disregard for science. It demonstrates their willingness to put short-term politics ahead of long-term national interests. It is symbolic of their willingness to raise the drawbridge to Australia and say: 'The rest of the world is a confronting and difficult place, and we will simply try to reassure Australians that if we ignore the rest of the world than the rest of the world will simply go away.' They will risk the economic and environmental wellbeing of your children and mine with their refusal to act on the science.
That the government will conveniently ignore inconvenient truths is no surprise. What a marvellous scientific set of achievements this government has assembled in a brief two months: no minister for science for the first time since 1931; no climate change commission; no Climate Change Authority; and a quarter of the staff of the CSIRO are to get it in the neck.
This government and this Prime Minister have never seen an expert that they are not willing to censor, cut or contradict. In the Prime Minister's own words, indeed, if he cannot contradict, censor or cut them, he will just eject them. He has said that climate change is absolute crap. No serious government, and no serious leader, says these things. No serious leader rebuts serious economists and tells them they are all wrong. The government's direct action policy is a vagrant policy with no visible means of support and no support from economists.
Prime Minister, this is not enough for Australia. You cannot plant your way out of this problem with trees. There is not enough land in Australia—not enough trees, not enough arborists and not enough water to water all these trees—to plant your way out of climate change. In dismantling climate change action in Australia this government, and this legislation, undermines our future.
Their direct action policy—what a sham. Why should every Australian household pay $1,200 a year merely because the coalition is too lazy to accept the science in front of them? This mob opposite can always tell you what they will cut. They are good at cutting. But they can never tell you what to create with a vision of Australia. That is the difference between Labor and the government. They would ignore climate change and take no action.
The member for Port Adelaide will be moving our amendments to these bills. We will ensure that the defences against climate change remain in place, in order to not weaken our efforts. Our amendments will replace the carbon tax with a role for government that says, 'We have to put in place a legal cap on carbon pollution and then let business—the mighty engine-room of the Australian economy—work it out.' We trust the private sector to work out how to handle climate change. This mob opposite just want to use taxpayer money to deny the science. We will vote with the government to repeal the price on carbon but only if those opposite can convince us they will genuinely fight climate change, and there is nothing in this legislation to make us see any evidence of any fight against climate change.
Climate change is real. We will stand together with the Australian nation. We will not defer to future generations problems we could deal with now. Labor, when it is faced with the hard choice of making a decision or not making a decision—of tackling pollution or not tackling pollution—will stand up and be counted. Under Labor, wind power trebled. Under Labor, one million houses installed solar power. Under Labor, 24,000 jobs and hundreds of new small businesses were created.
I am proud that we are sticking to our guns. I am proud we are sticking to our principles and holding the government to account. We will not be, and will never be, a rubber stamp for this government. We will honour our commitment to the national interest. We will honour our international obligations. We can look our children in the face and say, 'When we had the chance to do something, we did.' The government's policy is toxic. The government's legislation is toxic. Labor will never vote for toxic laws undermining the future of this country.
Much is said about the trustworthiness of politicians and the political system. These carbon tax repeal bills could not be a more obvious example of a political party or a political leader delivering on a political commitment. These bills to repeal the carbon tax deliver on a rock-solid commitment from the coalition, an unwavering commitment for the life of the last parliament. Every Australian knew exactly what the coalition's intentions were in this area prior to the election, prior to the time they voted overwhelmingly to entrust the nation's future to the coalition. To not do exactly what we promised would be to defy the will of the electorate. To understand the importance of delivering this commitment it is worth remembering that the broken commitments by the previous government, by the Labor-Greens alliance, were at the heart of Australia's rejection of their incompetent government.
Firstly, the nation listened to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd when he told us that climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time. When the going got tough and when the rest of the world balked at action at Copenhagen Mr Rudd abandoned his commitment and within a short time lost his job to the former member for Lalor Julia Gillard. This clear reversal of policy was never properly explained to the electorate. Voters were not consulted, were not asked for an opinion and were never given compelling reasons for the abandonment of that policy. Ms Gillard took the Labor Party to the 2010 election promising there would be no carbon tax under a government that she led. Within weeks of her appointment as Prime Minister that commitment was abandoned and the Labor Party joined with the Greens to establish the world's biggest carbon tax, a tax costing our economy $9 billion a year.
Once again this was a clear reversal of policy not properly justified to the electorate. Once again we were not asked, not consulted and never given compelling reasons for the abandonment of the policy. Yet again a Labor Prime Minister lost their job at the hands of the party insiders. Within weeks of the return of the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, to the prime ministership, the Labor Party yet again changed policy on this central issue and were suddenly no longer in favour of the world's biggest carbon tax but instead again in favour of an ETS—but this time one linked to Europe's much troubled scheme. Once again an explanation of this abrupt about-face of policy was poor. No wonder people's trust has been shattered.
The election was resoundingly won by the coalition, which had an unambiguous message in this area—no carbon tax. The people were given a clear choice and responded by entrusting the governance of the nation to the coalition. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us—Liberal, Labor, Greens, National and Independent—to do whatever we can to enact their wishes, and that means in this case supporting these bills.
Let me turn to the reasons why the coalition have opposed this tax from the first moment. Australia is struggling to remain internationally competitive. Every day we hear new stories of the loss of manufacturing jobs across the nation. ABS data shows that there has been a net decline of more than 143,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector between 2008 and April 2013, or a decline of 13 per cent. For instance, Goodman Fielder recently announced they were pulling out of Ballarat—34 jobs—Toyota dropped 350 jobs in April and another 100 in October, Electrolux are shedding 500 jobs, Sandvik are dropping 25 jobs and South Pacific 500 jobs. In South Australia, Peacock Furniture put off 50 people earlier this year, Scott's Transport 30 jobs and Holden another 500 jobs this year.
I have never claimed that the carbon tax alone is responsible for all of the job losses in the manufacturing industry; however, Australia has prospered by making the most of its competitive advantages, and one of our competitive advantages has been relatively cheap energy. The carbon tax that has been imposed on our economy has acted as a reverse tariff, favouring our fiercest competitors. In fact, electricity prices in Australia are up to double those in comparable energy abundant economies and electricity prices have been responsible for 60 per cent of the increased costs in the manufacturing industry since 2008.
The coalition support the previous government's near-term aim—that is, to reduce emissions by five per cent by 2020. What we have opposed is the method, and it is worthwhile comparing the Labor Party's tax with the efforts and methods of our competitors. I was just drawn to the comments of the Leader of the Opposition. By stating that this side of the parliament does not believe in climate change ignores the fact that we are committed to exactly the same target as the Labor Party. We are just divided over the manner in which we will get to that target.
I turn again to our competitors. None of the world's top five emitters—China, the US, India, Russia or Japan—has an abatement scheme in place that is enforceable. Plentiful new supplies of oil and gas worldwide will make the task of many renewables more difficult. Often repeated claims by the Labor Party and others that the rest of the world is taking significant steps to price CO2 emissions do not bear scrutiny. Intentions and announcements are one thing; actions are another. The last period of government under the Labor-Greens alliance only underlines this point. For instance, the opposition are fond of telling us that China is introducing an ETS. In fact, the Chinese scheme covers just one per cent of its economy. With China being responsible for 25 per cent of the world's emissions, it has an average price on CO2 emissions of just 4c per tonne. The US are responsible for 18 per cent of world emissions and their various schemes cover less than six per cent of their economy and have the effect of producing an average price across the economy on carbon of 77c a tonne. The much vaunted scheme in Europe, which covers just 40 per cent of the economy, averages about $3 a tonne for total emissions.
It is also worth noting that in the last few days Japan has announced its aim of cutting emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels has been abandoned in favour of a goal of 3.8 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. It comes back to that point where I said rhetoric is one thing, action is another. This is not to say we do not need to reduce our own emissions, and in fact both sides of politics agree on the target of five per cent; however it does highlight the futility of trying to get too far in front of the pack. The tax that the Labor Party imposed on Australia, in comparison, covers 60 per cent of our economy, the current headline rate of tax is $24.15 a tonne and the average price for CO2 emission across our whole economy—and bear in mind that the US's was 77c—is more than $14 a tonne. We are completely out of step with our trading partners and this is very damaging to Australia. So in this debate we should have far less of the cherry picking of other nations' selective programs and pretending that they are something they are not, namely economy-wide carbon taxes with few if any exemptions. What we see from other countries that are truly serious about reducing CO2 emissions are policies designed to deliver reductions without sinking their own economies.
When the original bills that these bills are repealing were first debated in parliament I raised that one of the biggest dangers to Australia was the issue of carbon leakage, and the lived experience in the manufacturing industry is that those fears were well grounded. Applying a tax to our producers presents a relative advantage to our overseas competitors and works to shift industry out of Australia to lower cost points of production. In fact our relatively clean industries can end up in countries that do not tax their CO2 emissions, quite possibly with operators to which the relative energy efficiency or CO2 output of their industry may be at the very bottom of the list of their priorities. The result can be worse for Australia and definitely worse for the environment.
Locally, in my electorate the abolition of the carbon tax will be met with a loud cheer. In Whyalla, where OneSteel operates one of the last remaining steel plants in Australia, slashing the tax will deliver savings of around $40 million a year to the company. For a division of the company that has seen huge losses and write-downs in the last few years, it will provide significant help and will help ensure its long-term future in the city. Even though there has been a great expansion in the mining industry in Whyalla, the steelworks, with around 1,700 workers, are still by far the biggest employer in the city.
In Port Pirie, where the Nyrstar smelter needs an investment of $350 million to ensure its future, the removal of $6 million a year in tax will provide a great incentive for the company to support that investment. The smelter employs more than 700 people and, if a four-to-one multiplier effect is used, that in effect makes it responsible for almost half the jobs in Port Pirie. It is just not conceivable that we could lose this plant from Australia. It is also worth noting that the $6 million paid each year in carbon tax would service almost half the loan for the transformation project.
BHP at Roxby Downs consumes almost one-third of the state's electricity and is by far the biggest consumer of diesel; it is currently wearing the full brunt of the tax. Since the decision by BHP to suspend the expansion at the mine, more than 1,000 jobs have been lost from that community. Obviously the carbon tax is not the only reason for BHP's decision, but the problems increase as one impost is piled on top of the last. The chief issue here is how this project, this expansion at Roxby Downs, an expansion the whole state was pinning its future on, is disadvantaged compared to other investment options that BHP has around the world. That discrepancy, that self-inflicted reverse tariff, occurs when we implement a tax regime, in this case a carbon tax, that is significantly different to our major trading competitors.
The Grey electorate covers more than 900,000 square kilometres; it is about 10 per cent bigger than New South Wales. As expressed by others before me: we suffer from the tyranny of distance. Unless the carbon tax is abolished, from July next year heavy transport will begin to pay the tax at a rate of 6.85c per litre. Every country town in Australia will face higher costs on everything. Particularly affected will be farmers earning export dollars for Australia, but with no ability to pass that increased cost along, because Australian farmers compete against farmers in other parts of the world who are not paying the same impost.
A penalty of living in the country is that we pay freight on everything to and from our regions. So once again the most important spokes of the economy are to wear the brunt, including the exporting sector, which cannot pass on the cost of the increased taxes on electricity, on gas or on transport. The carbon tax trading system was the flavour of the month just a few years ago as the best means of reducing emissions, but the failure of a string of climate change conferences, starting with Copenhagen, has resulted in nations across the globe abandoning their original commitments in this area. Increasingly they are in favour of a more direct approach such as the coalition is proposing and embodied in such schemes as the Renewable Energy Target. Such schemes will need ongoing management and adjustment from time to time, and that is why the government is committed to the previously scheduled review of the RET.
There have been a number of critics about the efficiency of the direct action proposal; however it should be remembered assistance will only be made available on a competitive tender basis and there will not be a direct cost or comparative disincentive placed upon Australian industries. However, we can only get on with the job when the will of the Australian people is accepted, not only here in the House of Representatives but in another place as well. Australia will be watching and it expects the parliament to get on with the job, and I support that view.
I rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and the cognate bills—bills that are dressed up by the Prime Minister as bills to terminate the so-called carbon tax. Were they just that then the opposition would be in a position to support them, but they do so much more than simply terminate the carbon tax. For that reason, the opposition cannot and will not support the bills without them being substantially amended.
This is just a taste of what these bills would do beyond simply terminating the carbon tax: they will also remove the legislated cap on carbon pollution, an essential discipline in ensuring that we meet our 2020 target to reduce Australia's emissions. The bills abolish the entire framework for an emissions-trading scheme, a scheme which caps and then reduces our carbon pollution while letting business—not the minister or his bureaucrats here in Canberra but business—work out the cheapest and the most effective way to operate within that limit. The bills also abolish the Climate Change Authority, a statutory body charged with providing strong and independent advice to government about matters, including the Renewable Energy Target as well as caps and targets for carbon pollution or carbon emissions. The authority is chaired by former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser, with a board made up of highly esteemed business leaders, economists and scientists, including Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Chubb.
Of course, in this respect the Abbott government has form. Two emerging themes with this new government are, firstly, secrecy—perhaps exemplified in the immigration portfolio—and, secondly, the shutting down of any strong, independent voices. The Rudd government's first action in the climate change area was to ratify the Kyoto protocol. This minister's debut was to abolish the Climate Commission, a body established to provide the community with digestible information about climate change. As members know if they have been watching this debate, there has been an extraordinary community response to this blatant act of political censorship. The community have responded by opening their wallets and sending money to allow the commission to continue their work, as the new Climate Council, a non-government organisation encouraging informed debate about climate change in our community.
But the Climate Commission was just the first casualty. These bills would also shut down the independent voice of the Climate Change Authority on the critically important question of targets, extending yet further the emerging theme of this government: to ensure that all advice—advice to the parliament and advice to the Australian community—is managed and controlled by the Prime Minister's office. Well, Labor will stand up for strong, independent advice. We will oppose the bill that abolishes the Climate Change Authority outright.
Last but not least, these bills carve into the Household Assistance Package by abolishing tax cuts legislated for households in future years, a blatant breach of the Prime Minister's promise to retain the package in its entirety.
These bills are the culmination of one of the most hysterical and at times downright mendacious campaigns in modern Australian history. It was a campaign driven by two forces. The first was what my friend the member for Grayndler used to call the longest dummy spit in Australian political history—the Prime Minister, as he is now, never accepting the fact that he did not end up with the keys to the Lodge in 2010 and resolving simply to tear the place up. The second was the triumph of the hard Right in the Liberal Party, when the Nick Minchin forces threw their numbers behind the member for Warringah to defenestrate the member for Wentworth, on the condition that the member for Warringah cross over to climate scepticism, indeed that he renege on the policy that his mentor, John Howard, had taken to the preceding election to introduce an emissions-trading scheme.
Having thrown John Howard's policy overboard and reneged on the commitment that he made to the electors as a candidate in the 2007 election, the now Prime Minister released a policy on climate change laughably called direct action. Even a cursory glance at this policy will reveal that what little action there is in the policy is anything but direct. Admittedly it is a catchy title, but 'direct action' would usually conjure up thoughts of regulation of emission standards in power stations or motor vehicles. This policy does nothing of the sort. It is little more than a dressed-up slush fund with a fancy name.
After the now Prime Minister dropped Liberal Party support for a market based emissions-trading scheme, the member for Wentworth wrote, with refreshing frankness, in Fairfax:
Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental figleaf to cover a determination to do nothing. After all, as Nick Minchin observed, in his view the majority of the Party Room do not believe in human caused global warming at all.
That goes straight to the heart of the difference between Labor and the coalition in this policy area. Labor accepts the advice of climate scientists that human activity, in particular the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, is causing the earth to get warmer. Since the defenestration of the member for Wentworth, a consistent tactic from the new Prime Minister has been to suggest to the Australian community that scientists are divided about climate change. In July 2009 the now Prime Minister said:
I am … hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.
In October 2009 he famously described the science as 'absolute crap'. In March 2010 he said: 'I don't believe that the science is settled.' In March 2011 he suggested:
… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.
This approach is not the new Prime Minister's approach alone. It is common among Australia's climate change sceptic media, as it is in other nations where this debate continues to flare. Only in the last fortnight we read of the last coalition Prime Minister telling a British audience that he preferred to rely on his gut instinct rather than scientific advice in this area.
To suggest that climate scientists have not yet reached a settled view about global warming is simply misleading. Earlier this year, NASA—that notorious hotbed of alarmist left-wing propaganda!—confirmed that 97 per cent of climate scientists who are actively publishing in this area agree that human activity is causing global warming. In September, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, the Fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released. This report was completed by hundreds of the world's leading climate scientists, with 209 lead authors and more than 600 contributing authors. The fifth report strengthened the consensus around human-caused climate change. Now the world's climate scientists are 95 per cent certain that a process of global warming has been underway for some decades and that its major causes are human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use.
Since pre-industrial times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has increased by 40 per cent, with around 500 billion additional tonnes of the gas pumped into the atmosphere over that same period. Scientists tell us that this is the highest atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in at least 800,000 years.
The latest IPCC report confirms that average global surface temperatures have increased by almost 0.9 degrees Celsius since 1880. Ocean surface temperatures have also warned, which causes the water to expand, contributing to sea level rise. The World Meteorological Organisation advises that sea levels are now rising about twice as fast as they did on average across the 20th century. The IPCC report confirmed acceleration in the overall loss of polar ice, which is also contributing to sea level rise, with accelerating loss of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, the loss of about four per cent of the Arctic sea ice per decade, and accelerating loss of glacial ice.
The report also confirms an increasing acidification of our oceans as they absorb more of the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As we know, more acidic oceans pose dangers for a range of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef. The report reaffirms the need to limit overall global warming to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial fridges. That has been agreed by all major nations, including China and the United States, as the benchmark for international negotiations leading into 2015—negotiations to which, I note, the government has not even bothered to send a parliamentary secretary.
The report also confirms that the number of unusually hot days is increasing, as is the frequency of heat waves in a number of regions, including Australia. You do not need to read the IPCC report to understand that our climate is changing. Many communities in the Murray-Darling Basin area are still recovering from the worst drought in living memory. Other parts of Australia remain in drought today. Last summer was Australia's hottest on record. The 12 months to October this year were the hottest 12 months on record—remarkable outside of an El Niño phase.
The latest State of the climate report from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology restates the scientific advice that the number of hot days in Australia will increase, as well as advising that droughts and intense cyclones will become more common.
During the recent bushfires in and around the Blue Mountains the government got himself involved in an unseemly slanging match over a connection between bushfires and a changing client. The minister confessed to using Wikipedia as a primary research tool. The Prime Minister accused the UN official of the 'talking through her hat'; and former Prime Minister Howard chimed in with a very helpful observation that there were extensive bushfires in Victoria in the 1850s!
It seems pretty obvious to me that no-one can credibly draw a direct causal connection between a single weather event and climate change. As the minister's extensive Wikipedia research revealed, there have indeed been fires in Australia for a very long time and the direct cause is usually the action of an idiot lighting the fire, with factors like hazard reduction, urban planning and the like also influencing the fire's extent. But weather conditions do influence the level of risk and you do not need to go to Wikipedia to find advice that global warming is increasing the underlying risk of events like a bushfire occurring. The minister could have gone to his own department's website to find that advice or to the CSIRO or Bureau of Meteorology's latest telephone that report; or to the Climate Commission's advice; or, indeed, to the Country Fire Authority in the minister's own state of Victoria. The fact is that the government simply overreacted and mishandled a complex and very sensitive matter. The Prime Minister again encouraged the impression that he wilfully turns a blind eye to the best available scientific advice in this area.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama dealt with this debate in his own country and said:
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods -- all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late.
There is now a point of agreement between Australia's two major parties that the carbon tax should be terminated as soon as practicable, but there is a profound disagreement about what replaces it as the centrepiece of Australia's action on climate change. These are not easy questions to answer. As the OECD Secretary-General said a few weeks ago:
It would be hard to imagine a more complex risk management issue than that posed by climate change.
The different paths before us are on the one hand an emissions trading scheme and on the other the Liberal Party's so-called Direct Action policy. The opposition will move amendments to these bills to ensure that the carbon tax is replaced by an emissions trading scheme—an ETS. The ETS model has been recognised around the world as the cheapest and the most effective way to drive down carbon pollution. It is the most effective way because its centrepiece is a legislated cap on carbon pollution. The annual cap provides the discipline to ensure that Australia reaches its target of reducing carbon pollution by 2020 and beyond. It is the cheapest way to achieve that objective because it creates a genuine market. The ability to train pollution permits means that business works out the cheapest way to operate within the national pollution cap.
One of the more recent of a long list of falsehoods argued by the Liberal and National parties is that an ETS and a carbon tax are the same thing. Those arguing this case are either deliberately trying to mislead the community or they simply do not understand the basic economics of the two models. A carbon tax seeks to change behaviour by imposing a price signal without any other legal discipline on the behaviour—in this case, carbon pollution. An ETS, on the other hand, changes behaviour through the discipline of a legislated cap on pollution and then lets business work out how to operate in the cheapest way. The effective price on a tonne of carbon pollution under an ETS, as has been shown by Treasury, would be only one-quarter of the carbon tax.
The ETS is by far and away the most common model around the world employed to reduce carbon pollution. Some nations do this at a national level while others trade at a city or state level. Some of Australia's oldest trading partners have a national ETS in place: the United Kingdom and France, for example; as well as Germany, the world's third-largest exporter, poised to move into second place this year. In North America, a number of US and Canadian states also have an ETS, including California the ninth-largest economy in the world in its own right.
In our own region, China this year started seven pilot ETS schemes in regions covering more than 200 million people, with the aim of having a national trading scheme in place at the end of this decade. As the head of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox said in June, these pilots show that 'even nominal Communists recognise that cutting emissions at least cost requires the power of market mechanisms'.
Following this move by China, our two nations agreed to set up a joint carbon trading experts group to reflect our shared commitment to serious action on climate change. As part of their campaign of fear and hysteria, the Liberal and National parties have regularly pontificated that the world's two biggest polluters will not take any serious action to reduce their carbon pollution, so neither should Australia. The minister has talked about the inexorable rise in China's coal consumption—up to seven billion tonnes per annum perhaps. But China is putting in place a cap on coal consumption in the energy sector of around four billion tonnes, as well as consideration of a broader national emissions cap in 2015. While President Obama continues to struggle to see an emissions-trading scheme pass the Congress, initiated by John McCain, the US has in place a target to reduce carbon pollution by 17 per cent by 2020, compared to our target of a five per cent reduction. To achieve that, the President is deploying direct regulations of power plants in the transport sector emissions. South Korea, Australia's third-largest export market, begins an emissions-trading scheme the year after next.
Although former Prime Minister Howard last week—or last fortnight—tried to shrug it off as an exercise in political opportunism, it must be remembered that the Liberal Party took an ETS policy to the 2007 election. Back in 2008, the now Minister for the Environment, gushed that 'perhaps the most important domestic policy was the decision of the Howard government that Australia will implement a national carbon-trading scheme'. The member for Sturt, with his typical understatement, was equally enthusiastic when he said in 2009: 'Let's not forget: it was the Liberal Party that first proposed an emissions-trading scheme when we were in government. The idea that somehow the Liberal Party is opposed to an emissions-trading scheme is quite frankly ludicrous.'
Those opposite might have done an about-face for political reasons but the ETS is still recognised as the cheapest and the most effective way to tackle climate change. The OECD said precisely that only last week—that hotbed of left-wing environmental fanatics, the OECD—
I am flattered by the interest but I am happy to keep going without the member's interjections. Two weeks ago a survey of Australian business and academic economists showed that 86 per cent favoured an ETS. In August, a survey by AECOM of Australian business showed an overwhelming preference for an emissions-trading scheme and only seven per cent support for the Liberal Party's policy. If these bills pass unamended, an ETS in Australia disappears. The Prime Minister truly gets his way in throwing the baby out with the bathwater: no legislated cap on carbon pollution; no market mechanism with business to tap into; and all Australia is left with is the so-called direct action policy.
As the member for Wentworth foresaw, this policy is nothing more than an environmental fig leaf to cover up the fact that this is a party that has no commitment to taking real action to mitigate climate change. It is a policy that was devised at a time when climate scepticism had swept through the Liberal Party like a virus; while the world is moving on, Australia is at risk of being stuck with it.
The first point to make about the Liberal policy is that it is unique, and not in a good sense. No-one else has a policy like this on climate change. It is true that a nation like the United States is directly regulating the electricity and transport sectors' emissions, but President Obama is only doing that, he says, because the US Congress will not pass an emissions-trading scheme. And that sort of direct action is a far cry from the carbon slush fund that lies at the centre of this government's plans.
The most fundamental failing of the Liberal policy is that it does not include a legal limit, or cap, on carbon pollution; it relegates our international commitments on pollution reduction to a mere aspiration. Indeed, during the election campaign, Tony Abbott confirmed that if his funding was not adequate to reach the target—as most experts expect will be the case—then the target is dispensable. The other major failing of the Direct Action Plan is its reliance on highly contested ideas to reduce carbon pollution—in particular, soil carbon technology, which the minister describes as their 'major plank'. The policy presumes that soil carbon can deliver up to 85 million tonnes of reduction per year at just $10 per tonne. Since its release, a University of Western Australia study found the cost to be more like $80 per tonne, and Mr Hunt's own department estimates the technology can only deliver 1/20th of the claimed reductions.
Experts, including CSIRO, have similarly rejected the assumptions made around reforestation. More recently, the minister has presented his Emissions Reduction Fund as the centrepiece of their climate change policy. He describes this as a reverse auction, where government will pay bidders for the lowest-cost abatement idea presented. The level of detail about the Emissions Reduction Fund is laughable. This carbon slush fund will end up paying polluters for highly speculative ideas that might never actually deliver. The minister compares the ERF to water-purchasing arrangements, yet ignores the fact that very precise, existing water entitlements are offered up under that program, with delivery happening then and there. Under the ERF, it might be years before the bidder can actually demonstrate delivery, and at what cost. Also, it remains unclear whether the ERF will pay polluters for changes they were intending to make anyway, such as the question of additionality, as well as whether pollution reduction will need to be permanent, measurable and internationally recognised.
In recent times, a number of independent reports have found that the levels of production in carbon pollution required of the Liberal policy will cost several billion dollars more than suggested by the coalition. Given that the Liberal policy involves the government handing billions of taxpayer dollars over to polluters, the overall cost will rise in line with the cost that polluters claim to reduce each tonne of carbon pollution. Treasury estimated a cost of $80 per tonne by 2020 under their policy. With a reduction target that year of around 150 million tonnes, the total cost to the taxpayer in that year will be $12 million or $1,200 for each of Australia's 10 million households on average. This huge cost was increased by the coalition's refusal to let Australian business purchase units from overseas—a point that has been made time and time again very forcefully by the Australian Industry Group.
For these reasons and more, it is little surprise that in more than three years the coalition has been completely unable to present a single credible climate scientist or economist who will support the policy. Equally, the minister has been unable to point to a single country which is adopting this approach. Other nations are generally introducing ETS schemes or using direct regulation to impose emission standards on sectors like power generation and transport. Indeed, during the 2013 campaign, the minister verballed two Nobel laureates as supporters of the Liberal policy who, when followed up for comment by the media, both indicated they had never heard of the policy let alone read it and had never spoken to Mr Hunt about it.
Anyone who has seriously examined the so called direct action policy has found that it will cost households more and it will be much less effective at cutting carbon pollution. At the same time, the Prime Minister is confronted by the inevitable collision between the hysteria of his campaign over the past three years and the realities now of being in government. It is now completely clear that his overblown promises about relief on power prices will likely come to nought. The takeaway message from the energy sector, the grocery sector and big business over the past few weeks has been to not hold your breath for any prices to come down if these bills pass.
Three years on, it is crystal clear that the Liberal policy will not work. Equally it is clear that Labor is willing to cooperate in terminating the carbon tax. The obvious way forward for Australian business and Australia's households is for the Prime Minister to swallow his pride and for the parliament to work together on an emissions trading scheme.
The final points I would like to address concern the government's winding back of Australia's commitment to renewable energy contained in these bills. The growth of renewable energy in Australia has been an out and out success story. During our term in government, wind energy trebled, jobs in the sector more than doubled to more than 24,000, and the number of households with PV solar panels skyrocketed from a few thousand when John Howard left government to more than one million today. In 2012-13, renewables increased their share of the national electricity market by 25 per cent in just one year. While the Liberal and National parties have paid lip service to our renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020, they are now crab-walking away from it. The Prime Minister's recent remarks on the Alan Jones show revealed that he is now open to lobbying from old style business to wind back wind and solar energy development. These bills abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a body making loads on commercial terms to help new, ambitious renewable projects get a foothold—projects like the Macarthur wind farm, the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere. The bills also without any prior notice, strip ARENA, the renewable energy agency, of almost half a billion dollars in funding. This is an agency that used to enjoy bipartisan support and which provides critical start-up funding to emerging renewable technologies like the largest PV solar farm in the southern hemisphere that was announced earlier this year.
In conclusion, I confirm that the opposition will be moving amendments in due course to the principle bill, which, while supporting the termination of the carbon tax on 30 June next year, will replace it with an emissions trading scheme. I also confirm that the opposition, even if those amendments were carried, will not support the abolition of the Climate Change Authority or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation nor will we support legislation to abolish tax cuts promised as part of the household assistance package or cuts to the ARENA budget.
Finally, I move as a second reading amendment the following proposition:
That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"the House declines to give the Bill a second reading
1. because it would be ill advised to continue without consideration of the broader policy issues set out in paragraph 2, related to the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills; and
2. because of:
(a) the impact of the abolition of the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation on ongoing transparency and investment in climate change;
(b) Government plans for emissions reduction and further development of renewable energy; and
(c) the international position of Australia in relation to climate change."
The original question was that these bills now be read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Port Adelaide has moved as an amendment to the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view of substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in this form: that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
Today marks a significant debate for the future of Australia. Not only is this bill a bill which enables a newly elected government to act to keep its election promise but it is also a day and a debate in which a debilitating piece of legislation, which is affecting every single Australian, starts the journey to be repealed. There are times when I am sure members of the Australian public look at some of the activities that happen in this chamber and in this building and wonder if politicians really understand the impact of the decisions that have been made and how they impact on workers and the families of Australia. We have listened to the Australian public and we know first hand the impact of Labor's carbon tax and what it is doing to every individual Australian. The newly elected Prime Minister of Australia came into this chamber and kept his election promise to the Australian people that the first piece of legislation to be presented in this new parliament would be the repeal of the carbon tax.
We have just heard the shadow minister use his time repeating the standard arguments in favour of climate change, and I presume it made him feel good. But he did not make any effort to explain how Labor's tax was going to change climate change. Nor did he explain how an emissions trading scheme will lower the temperature, how traders sitting in capital city buildings selling one another bits of paper is going to lower the sea level.
Labor never attempted when they were in government or now in opposition to explain how their new taxes and the buying and selling of pieces of paper was actually going to change the climate. The fact that they did not even attempt to try and explain this mystery to the Australian people is part of the reason why they are sitting on the other side of the chamber at the present time.
The reality is the new government recognised that the carbon tax as long as it was in place would continue to take its toll tomorrow, next year and into the future unless we acted promptly to stop it. It has and will continue to be a blow to families, businesses and our national competitiveness.
During the election campaign, I travelled across the country meeting with locals, particularly in regional areas, and I spoke with farmers, transport operators, small business, stock agents and many others concerned about their businesses and their families. They had basic concerns about the future of their towns and their cities. Over and over again, I heard these same sentiments being repeated. The cost of doing business in Australia is increasing and it is making it so hard for businesses to survive. Nowhere is this statement more true than in our regional and rural towns and cities—towns and cities that are heavily dependent on roads and transport to receive goods and services.
The Nationals are committed to ensuring that these regional and rural towns and cities are vibrant and exciting places that many Australians will want to live and work in; however, for this is to happen, these towns and cities need access to reasonable cost transport options and for many it means having a reliable and competitive trucking industry. Without access to a good trucking industry, many of our regional towns and cities will simply struggle to exist. The cost of living will increase significantly, and I fear that many of our regional and rural centres will simply not be able to withstand another cost hike on their business. Yet the Labor Party seems to be perfectly comfortable with allowing this to happen. In fact by introducing the carbon tax, the Labor Party has condemned many rural and regional areas.
Businesses across the country are just shaking their heads in gut-wrenching frustration over the carbon tax that hits them now and will bite them again and again, and especially, if the fuel tax which Labor had planned for the trucking industry from the middle of next year were to in fact to become a reality. Labor intended that from 1 July 2014 , the carbon tax would hit the road transport industry—an industry that transports over 277 million tonnes of food and live animals each year, an industry that literally ensures that we have food on our tables and clothes on our backs. The previous government had announced that fuel used by the truck industry would be subject to the carbon tax from mid-2014.
The legislation had not actually been introduced, but Labor intended that the new parliament would today not be debating the abolition of the carbon tax but its further extension to the transport sector. Labor was committed to extending the carbon tax to further parts of the economy and of course it was committed to a formula that was going to increase the level of the carbon tax every year. This new tax on the trucking industry alone was going to add half a billion dollars to its costs every year—half a billion dollars impost on people living outside the capital cities and those who depend on transport to move their product to market here or, for that matter, to other parts of the world.
Labor had this assumption that business would simply respond to the carbon tax by reducing their energy use or switching to renewables. It assumes that businesses could do this or, alternatively, they would pass their higher costs onto consumers and that in turn would alter consumers' behaviour; however, experience has shown that neither of the assumptions fit the commercial reality of the trucking industry or, for that matter, other businesses.
In tough economic times, as we have been enduring over recent years, there was no capacity to raise prices. The higher dollar has made imports so much cheaper in this country, and so it was cheaper for Australian consumers to import something from overseas than to in fact absorb these extra costs imposed by the carbon tax, a tax that none of the major exporters to this country have to pay.
The aviation industry were faced with this firsthand. Australian airlines found they could not pass on the extra cost to travellers; in fact it simply hit their bottom line. If indeed they had been successful in passing on the costs to Australian travellers, that would have been devastating to our tourism industry and would have resulted in even greater losses to our tourism sector than has happened in the past.
It is hard to think of anything about this carbon tax that was good for the country. There was never any evidence that it was going to make any difference whatsoever to emissions in Australia. Indeed the statistics up to the end of 2013 show that Australia's emissions were 557 million tonnes—exactly the same level as they were in the previous year. So in spite of all of the impositions that the government had imposed on Australian industry, emissions did not fall. Indeed, Labor's strategy it seemed to make its carbon tax work was dependent upon making Australian industry uncompetitive so that Australian factories would close. Of course, when a factory closes there are less emissions in Australia. What Labor did not seem to realise was that it would make no difference to global emissions; indeed, they probably got worse because we imported products from countries that did not have a tax like this and did not care about the environmental impacts of climate change or emissions. Other countries were just intent on producing products for the lowest possible price. That is what they did and therefore Australian industries became uncompetitive. If there are reductions in CO2 emissions in Australia as a result of Labor's carbon tax, it will be because there are fewer jobs because there are fewer industries here. We are doing fewer useful things. We are not competitive as an exporter. That is simply bad, bad news for people who are dependent on these factories and these industries for their jobs and to support their cost of living.
The cuts in emissions that Labor was attempting to achieve through its carbon tax were at the expense of a strong and vibrant national economy. No country can afford that. No country can afford to stand alone and impose costs on its industries that others do not bear. Abolishing the carbon tax will make a difference to Australian industry. It will reduce the costs, not just the cost of their electricity, although that will be important; it will reduce some of their other costs such as the cost of refrigerants, which has had an enormous impact on industries like horticulture, dairying and on abattoirs. These additional costs make such a difference. It was imposed in other places as well, as we heard in question time last week—a million dollar impost on the Mackay city dump and there are scores of other dumps across the country that have to pay this special carbon tax on their operations. Australian consumers and the Australian people were being assaulted by this tax from every direction.
When the shadow minister was speaking previously, he actually lauded the direct action being taken by other governments, but he does not seem to want to embrace it for Australia. If the United States is prepared to take direct action in relation to some of its emissions, that is to be applauded. But if Australia proposes to take an implemented direct action plan as an approach to climate change, somehow or other that is to be condemned. The Labor Party are going back to its old emissions trading scheme, its old ideas about trying to deal with these sorts of issues. That was unacceptable then. Labor abandoned it because they knew they could not persuade the Australian people that it would deliver results for them and have any significant impact on emissions. The previous government's own modelling showed that under the carbon tax our emissions would increase from 560 million tonnes to 637,000,000 tonnes by 2020. Not only was the carbon tax not going to reduce emissions; emissions were going to actually increase.
The heart of our direct action plan is to take specific actions which will make a difference. The fund that the Prime Minister described in some detail when he introduced the legislation is about delivering the lowest possible cost emissions reduction. Abolishing the carbon tax will result in the average cost of living for all Australian households being around $550 lower than it would have been under a Labor government. The Nationals, who really began the fight against the emissions trading scheme, believe that we were right then and that we are right now. The coalition are moving to get rid of the carbon tax and that will provide real opportunities for Australia. We want to encourage not inhibit the growth of business in Australia. We want people to have the confidence to invest in this country. Now, with the carbon tax regime, they choose to go to other places. Whatever you call the slug on businesses and households, whether you call it a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme, the cost to people, businesses and communities will be the same. The cost will be counted in jobs, closed factories and uncompetitive industries.
This government was elected with a mandate to scrap the carbon tax and reduce costs for businesses and households, to boost jobs in manufacturing and to restore Australia's competitiveness. What clearer message could be sent to the Australian Labor Party and members in this chamber than the message they received at the last election? The Australian people stood up and said no to a carbon tax. They said no to a carbon tax whether you called it an emissions trading scheme or something else. They said no to the increased living costs through higher electricity bills and fuel costs. But they said yes to a government that wants to introduce a direct action plan and a government that will keep its promises. Remember, Labor promised that they would not introduce a carbon tax but they did. The Australian people voted on the carbon tax and now it is time for the Australian parliament to respect their wishes and to vote to get rid of this insidious tax. It would be very foolish for an opposition to continue to not listen to the words of the Australian people— (Time expired)
'You cannot have a climate change policy without supporting this ETS at this time.' It is a marker of how far we have gone in this debate that when I quote Tony Abbott's words from 27 November 2009 the other side interjects. Many Australians believe in the science of climate change and believe in the benefits of a market based mechanism. Yesterday in Canberra, I spoke at one of the major climate change rallies that saw 60,000 people turn out across Australia. From Wagga Wagga to Launceston to Broome to Alice Springs to Cairns and to Frankston, Australians turned out to show their commitment to strong action on climate change. Among the other speakers were Dave Livingstone, the ACT secretary of the United Firefighters Union, Millie Telford of the AYCC, Josh Creaser from 350.org, Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang, a representative from low-lying Pacific island neighbours for whom climate change is an existential threat. And there was a representative of the Greens Party there as well.
Australians believe in the science and they want a government that will act on climate change, a government that will listen to the scientists, listen to the economists and take action.