Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Bills

Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:57 am

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

Could I assure Senator Xenophon that I will not be upset by the mention of Frontier Economics. At least Senator Xenophon and Frontier Economics understand the importance of dealing with the issue of climate change. There may be different arguments about how it is done, but I have to say I do not think Frontier Economics's approach to this is anywhere near as stupid as the approach that is being proposed by the coalition in the so-called direct action policy approach. So I think the debate is fine, Senator Xenophon. I think the issues are clear. It is clear in my mind that the science says you have to do something about climate change, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is one aspect of dealing with climate change. I have come to the conclusion that you cannot deal with these issues, either on the floor of the Senate or publicly, without actually going to the question of why we are dealing with an organisation such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—why do we want it there? If I have not made it clear already, I oppose this bill, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is part of a suite of actions that the former government took to try and deal with climate change. There are things that you can do, as Senator Xenophon said, about reducing emissions. The International Energy Agency have made it clear that 15 per cent of all emissions reductions around the world has to come through the process of carbon capture and storage. I know that upsets other people in this place, but environmental groups around the world have said that the coal is there, it will be burned and we need to look at doing it more efficiently than it is being done at the moment. Carbon capture and storage is one of the technical, scientific approaches to reducing carbon pollution in the atmosphere.

Why do we want to reduce carbon pollution in the atmosphere? Why do we need a Clean Energy Finance Corporation? It is simple. The Academy of Science in Australia, the IPCC internationally and the CSIRO, our pre-eminent scientific body, say that you have to deal with these issues, that anthropocentric—that is, man-made—pollution is real and that CO2 is a pollutant of the atmosphere, which causes problems because of the physics of putting it into the atmosphere. The CSIRO, who are not some rabid tree-hugging lunatics, are saying this is the situation. They are saying climate change is one of the greatest ecological, economic and social challenges facing us today. This is a recent report from the CSIRO. They say that you cannot simply look at the weather. Weather is different from climate. Weather is brief. It comes and it goes. It is a rapidly changing condition. It is a condition of the atmosphere at a given place and time and it is influenced by the movement of air masses. When you hear people in here say things like, 'We had a massive storm and the dams were filled up recently,' they are talking about an aspect of the weather. The weather can do these things. But the climate is a completely different thing. It is the longer term issue. It is the term applied to the average weather conditions over longer periods, of years or decades. We need organisations like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because there are climate changes taking place as a result of the CO2 in the atmosphere. That is unquestionable.

You will hear coalition senators in here say, 'I believe in the science but,' and the 'but' always goes back to: 'We will deal with it through direct action. We will plant trees. We will pay the polluters to reduce pollution.' All of these approaches have been dismissed by anyone who has got any environmental or economic understanding of the issues. The current Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, when he was critiquing direct action, indicated clearly that the best thing about direct action was that you could get rid of it quickly. He was not a fan of direct action and he is still not a fan of direct action.

Why are we looking at taking practical steps to deal with the issue of climate change through organisations like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and putting a price on carbon? Why do the Labor Party support that? We support it because we believe the scientists fundamentally. We support it because the scientists have said, 'You need to do something about it.' And the economists have said that the fundamental way to deal with it is to price carbon. When you put a price on carbon, the polluters will stop polluting. So you put a price on carbon, you do practical things and you adapt to where we are heading. But the impacts are quite unequivocal, according to the CSIRO. They say the impacts of climate change are already clearly visible, and they say further impacts are predicted to occur and will be experienced across all sectors of the economy and in all ecosystems.

Let us ponder that for a minute. I live in the Blue Mountains. My community in the Blue Mountains has been ravaged by bushfires. People say that this is a condition that has always applied in the Blue Mountains, but what we are being told by the scientists who are looking at what is happening, by the CSIRO, is that the fires are going to become stronger, that they are going to be affected by climate change. I understand you cannot simply say that the bushfires in the Blue Mountains were caused by climate change—no individual issue can be targeted back to climate change—but you can certainly say that climate change makes the condition worse when it happens. That is what the scientists say. So the bushfires are going to be even stronger, the cyclones will be stronger and the effects on our community will be more severe.

The CSIRO say that the reliability of southern and eastern Australia's water supply is expected to decline as a result of reduced rainfall and increased evaporation. They are saying that, over the long term, that is what is going to happen. They are saying development and population growth in Australia's coastal regions will exacerbate the risks from sea level rise and increase the likely severity and frequency of coastal flooding. It is not me that is saying that; it is the most eminent scientists in Australia. They are saying that there will be significant loss of unique Australian animal and plant species and that that will occur in sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Queensland wet tropics, the Kakadu wetlands, south-west Australia, the eastern alpine areas and Australia's subantarctic islands, disrupting ecosystem function and causing the loss of ecosystem services.

I was fortunate when I was the chair of the Environment and Communications Committee to go to the Antarctic and talk to the scientists there. When you go there they can show you graphs of CO2 in the ice cores in the Antarctic that match exactly the Industrial Revolution and the ongoing industrial changes in our economy over many years. They can show you the CO2 increasing dramatically as industrialisation takes place. I am not arguing that you stop industrialisation, but we have to mitigate, we have to take the appropriate steps to price carbon and make sure that the polluters pay, not the ordinary residents of this country.

The CSIRO go on to say:

The risks to infrastructure include the failure of urban drainage and sewerage systems, more blackouts, transport disruption, and greater building damage. Higher temperatures, altered groundwater and soil conditions, sea-level rise and changed rainfall regimes may also lead to accelerated degradation of materials.

Heatwaves, storms and floods are likely to have a direct impact on the health of Australians, such as causing an increase in heat-related deaths. Biological processes such as infectious diseases and physical processes such as air pollution may affect health indirectly; for example, by increasing exposure to dengue fever.

Moderate warming in the absence of rainfall declines can be beneficial to some agricultural crops, and higher levels of carbon dioxide can stimulate plant growth.

I have heard others say, 'Look, it is actually a good thing that this is happening.' The CSIRO go on and say:

However, these positive effects can be offset by changes in temperature, rainfall, pests, and the availability of nutrients. Production from cropping and livestock is projected to decline over much of southern Australia, as is the quality of grain, grape, vegetable, fruit and other crops.

For the life of me I cannot understand why the National Party, who profess to represent farming communities in this country, would not treat this seriously. Instead of talking about $100 for a lamb roast, they should actually treat this seriously. The people the National Party profess to represent are going to be some of the worst affected by climate change. That is why organisations like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as part of the broader suite of measures to deal with climate change, are absolutely important.

The CEFC is one of 14 organisations around the world that act as a catalyst for investment in renewable energy and clean technologies. It plays an important role in mobilising capital for investment. If it was not needed, if the entrepreneurs would just come in and actually invest, you would not need the CEFC. But that is not what is happening. These are threshold technologies, new technologies. Many businesses will not invest in these technologies and these processes until they know they can make a return that satisfies their shareholders. So in the meantime if we do not get investment we do not get the progress. It is not unusual for governments to invest in businesses and invest in processes that assist and help the community, assist and help the nation, and in the case of the CEFC part of their process is assisting the processes that are being done around the world, and that is to mitigate CO2 pollution in business. It is an important part of the toolbox, if you like, the tool kit to try and deal with carbon pollution in our atmosphere. You only have to see what the CEFC has actually been able to do.

We had Senator Abetz stand up here yesterday in his contribution and talk about this being some kind of slush fund, some kind of bank that was going to go bad. It is obvious that many of the coalition members do not read the reports, they do not know what is going on. They are blinded by ideology. They will come in here and say, 'Yes, the weather is changing, yes, the climate is changing—but I'm not sure if it is man-made change.' This is the case even when the scientists come and tell you. The other thing I cannot understand is that National Party supporters, the farmers out there, rely on the CSIRO to give them advice on a whole range of areas of scientific and technological advancement. They pick up the advances of the CSIRO. They accept the science of the CSIRO in many areas, but they will not accept the science on climate change. They run the arguments about $100 lamb roasts, the nonsense we have heard over the years in this place to try and muddy the scientific reality, to try and score short-term political points at the expense of future generations. That is the problem we have. The CEFC is absolutely important in doing this. I would have thought, given the success of the CEFC, that any government coming in that has an organisation that is reducing carbon pollution at a net negative of two dollars odds to the government, the government should support it. This is an organisation that has funded projects involving over 500 megawatts of clean electricity generation.

I have said here many times that I am a former power station worker. I worked in the Electricity Commission of New South Wales as a maintenance fitter at the Liddell Power Station. They have four 500-megawatt power plants that I used to maintain. If you saw the amount of coal that goes in to produce 500 megawatts of energy, you would know how much this 500 megawatts takes away from that coal usage, which is a good thing in terms of having alternative processes.

If the CEFC is abolished, there is no provision for a transition to another scheme or program. Direct action will not deliver. You are not going to have a situation where you can plant out the number of trees needed for in-soil carbon to give you a net reduction in CO2. The estimates that the CSIRO are talking about say that you would need to plant out an area twice the size of Victoria as part of the direct action approach. It is an absolute nonsense; it is an absolute joke. I think the fear campaign that has been run by the coalition on these parts of the tool kit to deal with CO2 pollution is ridiculous.

This country and the world will pay a price for politicians like the politicians we have in this country—politicians who simply bow down to and buckle under to the people who are paying for their election. The freight, mining and oil companies are pushing money into the coffers of the Liberal and National Parties, who are now here doing their bidding to destroy an effective response to climate change and destroy excellent programs like the CEFC. We should call them out when they are acting against the national interest. We should call them out when they are acting against the interests of future generations. We should call them out when they are simply refusing to recognise the reality of science and the reality of climate change. The CEFC is an important part of progress towards this country moving to a cleaner energy future, jobs of the future and taking a long-term approach. In my view, the coalition do not like it because it does not fit with their ideology.

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