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; Consideration in Detail
The amendments being considered before the House today are just further evidence of this government's shameful abrogation of its responsibility to future generations of Australians. The fact is Lord Deben, the former environment minister in the Thatcher government, has said:
I think future generations will ask ‘what did you do to stop the world being overwhelmed by climate change?’ Mr Abbott—
the Prime Minister—
will have to answer that and I don’t know how he can look children in the eye.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the government's Direct Action plan. Of course, this is all we are left with in response to climate change, given the fact that Labor's amendments to establish an ETS—the same policy we took to the last election—will not be supported today. It is the whitest of white elephants, the most tepid of token efforts which will do nothing for climate change and cost the Australian people billions of dollars.
After rolling his colleague Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader on the issue of climate change, the now Prime Minister realised he better have some sort of response to what President Obama has called one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that the planet faces. But, as so often happens, he spoke first and thought later.
Rather than consulting widely with economists and environmental experts, he cobbled together a 1950s era policy and gave it a 1950s name—Direct Action. When released, the policy was widely condemned by economists and environmental groups as being both ineffective and expensive. It is worth reflecting in this debate on the comments at a time from the member for Wentworth about the policy farce that we are left with today. The member for Wentworth belled the cat in 2009 when he stated:
The Liberal Party is currently led by people whose conviction on climate change is that it is "crap" and you don't need to do anything about it. Any policy that is announced will simply be a con, an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing.
Quite a contrast with the statements the Minister for the Environment made earlier!
The Abbott opposition did have three years to listen to the experts and the response that Direct Action received after it was initially announced. They had a chance to formulate a policy that may have actually been effective. Of course, they were not interested. They had their fig leaf on climate policy. They would hold onto it without shame even when it did less to cover up their climate cowardice than a pair of red Speedos. Unfortunately, it underwent very little change in the following three years. There was no research produced to demonstrate the policy's effectiveness; no modelling released to demonstrate the impact it would have on carbon emissions. Even Liberal backbenchers questioned its effectiveness, with Liberal MP Mal Washer claiming in May 2013, 'if we are not going to get a big environmental bang for our buck, then we ought not to do it'. The member for Tangney admitted at the same time that the Direct Action Plan was 'not optimal policy' and argued, 'I think there is room to manoeuvre, after the election, on direct action'. Sadly, the only manoeuvres we have seen recently have been with the Palmer United Party, and they have not been on the direct action policy.
As with many of Tony Abbott's signature policies, this criticism was not limited to the party floor. Liberals of all stripes came out against the policies, including the patron of many of those opposite and former Treasurer, Peter Costello, who criticised the affordability of the scheme. The Abbott government continued to ignore the strident criticism from both sides of the political plan, and stuck with its direct-action albatross. However, once the coalition won government, it was time to turn this afterthought of an election promise into a coherent government policy for combating climate change. During the implementation process we have seen not only the results of this shoddy policy but also its smokescreen effect—it has turned a small farming program, the Carbon Farming Initiative, into a showpiece of the coalition's climate change policy: the Emissions Reduction Fund. Even this fund is riddled with policy errors. It is a fund that is missing key elements as to how it will operate, such as how historical baselines are set and how credits are to be calculated. It is a fund that takes control of key aspects away from an independent body and gives that control to a very partisan minister—key aspects such as eligibility for the funds allocated, and the calculation of carbon credits. It is a fund that is not even clear about how much money it has to spend.
The most damning entitlement of this policy is that there are no binding caps whatsoever. The money spent under their direct action policy could be spent on magic beans, for all those opposite care. Magic beans do nothing to reduce our carbon emissions in this country but cost the taxpayer billions at the end of the day. The coalition's direct action policy is a poorly modelled piece of policy which has been roundly condemned by experts around the country. A senate inquiry into the Emissions Reduction Fund firmly recommended that the government not proceed with this unfortunate policy. Expert after expert in this inquiry reiterated how ineffective and expensive the scheme would be. Not one single expert called to the inquiry supported the government's plans, or expressed the belief that it would enable the government to reach its emissions reductions targets. Even the government's own department has expressed disbelief, and at a recent senate estimates hearing admitted that they are unable to confirm the policy will reach their targets—it just does not add up to a pile of magic beans, Mr Speaker.