Monday, 14 July 2014
Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading
This is parliament's asbestos moment. This is parliament's tobacco moment. This is the moment when we have all the facts at our fingertips and have to make a decision about whether to act. When we look back on this moment, we will see this as the point when we knew that the way we had been doing things was no longer sustainable. This is the point when we decide whether we let the large companies that are making a lot of money out of hurting people and hurting the planet keep going—or whether we do the right thing by the community and by our children.
Australia for many years has been powered by coal. Our electricity networks are really a series of copper lines out to coalmines. This has been the story for a good part of two centuries—not because a group of people sat around and worked out how they could do the most damage to the society. It happened because for many years we here in Australia thought, as did the rest of the world, that you could dig up coal and burn it for free. We thought that it was, to use the terminology of the last century—still repeated by this government—a 'cheap source of energy'.
But what we are realising—what we have now known for at least a couple of decades and probably longer—is that, when you dig up fossil fuels and burn them, you put pollution into the atmosphere. It is basic physics. When you put pollution into the atmosphere, if you do it on a worldwide scale and if you do it long enough, you start to change the planet's temperature. The greenhouse effect, as it used to be called, kicks in. We have been put on notice that, as surely as night follows day, if we keep burning fossil fuels,, we will heat the planet up. What is incontrovertible is that, since the beginning of the industrial era, we collectively as a species, despite all the amazing things we have done, have heated the planet by about 0.8 of a degree. What we also know—because the scientists have been telling us until they reach the point of despair—is that, even if we turned off all pollution in the world tomorrow, lags in the climate system mean that we will still have heated up the planet by about another 0.7 or 0.8 of a degree, so we are up to close to about 1.6 degrees.
That 1.6 degrees might not sound like a lot, but the thing is that the planet is not like this room, where you can turn the thermostat up and down and adjust the temperature. The planet is more like the human body, where you have a narrow range of temperatures within which your body can be safe. If your body gets too hot or too cold, the doctor might not be able to tell you exactly which organ will fail and might not be able to tell you exactly how sick you will get, but any doctor will tell you that you do not want to go there and that you want to stay within the safe range. The planet has a safe range and the scientists, again, have been telling us until they are blue in the face that we cannot heat this planet by more than about two degrees without running the risk of runaway climate change—and that means that things might start happening that we can no longer control.
In the Arctic, for example, not only will the ice sheet start melting faster but feedback loops may kick in. If you shrink the expanse of white, resulting in more dark space, more heat will be absorbed from the sun—because white surfaces reflect light energy while dark surfaces absorb it and heat up. That means the ocean will heat up and the ice will melt even quicker—and so the feedback loop kicks in. The scientists tell us that we may not be able to stop these kinds of feedback loops and that, if we want a better than even chance of staying safe, we should stay below the two-degree guardrail.
As I have just said, however, we know that we are already at about 1.6 or 1.7 degrees of warming. That means that the decisions we make within the next couple of decades are crucial. That is why the Climate Commission called this 'the critical decade'. They are saying that it is not free to pollute—fossil fuels are not a cheap source of energy. It comes at a massive cost to the planet and to the people on the planet.
You have two choices when faced with that. You either say to the big polluters in this country and elsewhere, 'We are now going to make you pay for the cost, or at least part of the cost, of the pollution you are putting into the atmosphere that affects our health and affects our way of life.' That is the approach that currently exists. The alternative is to do what the government is proposing, which is to say, 'Tell you what: instead of the big polluters paying the government and the government giving half that money to households, we will make households pay—so we can give money to the big polluters to keep on polluting.' That is the absurd choice we are being faced with with this set of bills that the government wants to rush through this parliament today. After the election in 2010, we the Greens were in the position to secure action on global warming. Working together with the then Labor government and other members of the crossbench, we put a price on pollution. In addition, we secured things that had never been secured before in this country—a Clean Energy Finance Corporation that would put $10 billion into cleaner, renewable energy in this country, so that Australia could become a renewable energy powerhouse and would have something to sell to the rest of the world in 15 years time that was not just coal and gas, but was clean energy technology.
We secured ARENA—$3 billion to go into early stage research and development for solar and wind farms around this country—and we secured the Climate Change Authority, which would give this government independent advice about just how quickly we needed to act on global warming if we want to preserve the Australian way of life. Those things had never before been put on the table by any political party other than the Greens, and we secured them in 2010. I thank the previous Labor government for delivering on that, and I thank the members of the crossbench for working to deliver on that, because we did something that had not been done before. We had conservative country independents, progressive city independents, the Greens and Labor all on the same page, informed by experts and coming up with a way of putting a price on pollution and then putting the money into compensation for households and into developing clean energy in this country.
We are now at the point where it looks like some of that is going to go, but it also looks like some of it is going to stay. In that respect I want to note the Palmer United Party senators, who have agreed to keep those gains secured by the Greens—ARENA, the CEFC, the Climate Change Authority, and also the securing of the renewable energy target. That is very, very important; and I thank them for that. But I say to everyone in this chamber that there are two types of denial about climate change. There is denying the science, which is what our Prime Minister and most of this government is famous for. Then there is the denying of the consequences of the science. The thing about believing in climate change is that you cannot be half pregnant. Once you accept that global warming is real, then it means that we have to act—we have to act now if we want to make sure that we preserve the Australian way of life for the rest of us in this country, and everyone who comes after us. In that respect I say to Labor, to the extent that this forces you to go back to the drawing board: please break your bipartisan agreement with the coalition for an appalling five per cent emissions reduction—that is a death sentence. If you go to the next election saying that a five per cent cut in pollution is enough, you will be condemned, just as the coalition is being condemned.
The reality at the moment is that we have a government that is saying the science of climate change is 'absolute crap' and people can keep on polluting in the way they have been, and that has a five per cent emissions reduction target that is not even legally binding. You know it is not legally binding, and the Minister for the Environment knows it is not legally binding, because the government has said that if the money runs out they will not keep spending to reach five per cent—or happily we will reach three or four per cent, maybe. We know that in the face of that coming from this government, the two biggest threats to the Australian way of life are global warming and Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister. This Prime Minister is writing this country a prescription for more bushfires happening more often, more intense weather events, and more heatwaves.
I do not know about you, but I do not want to go on every Christmas holiday worrying about where the next bushfire is going to hit, or worrying about how many people are going to die from the heatwaves. But what we know—because the scientists employed by the government have told us over and over again—is that in Victoria, for example, unless we get global warming under control, we can expect to see something like the Black Saturday bushfires happening, on average, every two years. They tell us that Melbourne's climate will become like Cowra, and that they cannot find an analogous place on earth to describe what Darwin will be like under four degrees of warming, because that is what is in store.
We are doing this a very short period of time after scientists have also told us that they fear the West Antarctic ice sheet may be irreversibly melting. Faced with the biggest-ever threat to our way of life, our Prime Minister chooses a policy of appeasement. This is an appeasing government that is selling out our future and is one of the biggest threats to our way of life that we have seen. Ronald Reagan—hardly someone I quote often—said that the first duty of every government is to protect its people, but Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, is failing in that duty, because he is giving Australians a prescription for a worse way of life.
In the summer accompanying the Black Saturday bushfires, more people died from the heatwaves than died in the bushfires themselves, and that is what we know is in store for us here in Australia. The vulnerable, the poor, the elderly—those who cannot afford to fit out their houses with air conditioning in the same way that others might be able to and whose health is already frail—are the ones who are going to suffer the most, thanks to this government. In recognition of the fact that, if we are to accept the science of climate change, we also have to accept the consequences of that science, I move the following amendment. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"the House declines to give the bill a second reading and:
(1) notes that:
(a) the world is on track for 4 degrees of warming; and
(b) warming of less than 1 degree is already intensifying extreme weather events in Australia and around the world with enormous costs to life and property; and
(2) calls on the Government to:
(a) protect the Australian people and environment from climate change by approving no new coal mines or extensions of existing mines, or new coal export terminals; and
(b) adopt a trajectory of 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050 emissions reduction target in global negotiations for a 2015 treaty."
In the last minute and a half, I want to talk about how, as many people would know, the science of climate change led me to quit my job and start running in elections. It was the understanding that we have a decade or two to turn the ship around or else we are in serious trouble, the understanding that global warming is already influencing the extreme weather that we are seeing, the understanding that we have just experienced the hottest year, the hottest month and the hottest day on record and the understanding that if you are under 30 in this world you have never experienced a March that is cooler than the average March or a January that is cooler than the average January. In other words, if you are under 30, you have never experienced a cooler than average month on this planet. It was in light of all of that that I started running in elections and got involved in politics.
I feel incredibly proud to have achieved the laws that we are debating here today, some of which may be repealed but some of which may be kept. But this is not about me or really about any of us in here; it is about the rest of the country and all of those who are coming after us and whether we are prepared to be the next James Hardie or the next British American Tobacco— (Time expired)