Monday, 24 November 2014
Carbon Farming Initiative Amendment Bill 2014; Consideration of Senate Message
That the amendments be agreed to.
At the last election, the coalition made two commitments to the Australian people: firstly, that we would abolish the carbon tax and, secondly, that we would implement the direct action plan through the Emissions Reduction Fund that is at its heart. The repeal of the carbon tax was the incoming government's first piece of legislation before this parliament. The carbon tax increased electricity and gas prices for Australian households, was a greater than $15 billion drag on Australian businesses over its first two years and fundamentally failed in its primary task.
The government has delivered on this commitment. Repeal of the carbon tax led to the largest reduction in household electricity prices on record. Nearly five years ago the coalition also announced our plan to tackle climate change through the Emissions Reduction Fund. Since coming to office, we have worked exactly as we said we would, step by step, to develop the Emissions Reduction Fund, in close consultation with the community, business and the broader Australian electorate. Passage of this bill with these amendments will put our direct action plan into action and deliver on our election commitment.
The Emissions Reduction Fund
The fund is the centrepiece of the government’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It implements a new, long-term framework for stable and sustainable climate change policy in Australia. It is my view that this will lay the foundation for a system for the next 20 to 30 years, if not beyond.
The Emissions Reduction Fund is a major environmental program as well as a major investment in emissions reductions. The $2.55 billion contained within the fund is an opportunity for community and environmental projects and for businesses and farmers to participate in emissions reductions across the country. Unlike the carbon tax, which punishes business, the Emissions Reduction Fund will create positive incentives for businesses, households and farmers to undertake practical projects to reduce emissions and unlock co-benefits.
Passage of this bill will provide a future for the more than 170 existing Carbon Farming Initiative projects. Without this bill those projects would be at risk. It also will see the benefits of the fund extend to all sectors of the economy. For example, the fund will support energy efficiency projects to reduce business and household costs; or land sector projects that help reduce erosion, improve water quality or protect biodiversity, where they are underpinned by a reduction in overall emissions. It will support projects in the transport sector; projects to capture waste coal mine gas; projects to clean up power stations; or strategic burning of savannah lands by Indigenous and other groups.
I want to acknowledge that the bill passed through the Senate on 31 October with amendments. For that, I would like to thank the Palmer United Party. I particularly want to thank Senator Xenophon, Senator Madigan and Senator Muir, Senator Wang, Senator Lazarus and Senator Lambie for their support and constructive contributions.
I also want to acknowledge the work of the department and the Clean Energy Regulator, led by Chloe Munro. Within the department I acknowledge Steven Kennedy, for his extraordinary work, Shayleen Thompson, James White, Kushla Munro, Kristin Tilley, Hilton Taylor, Peter Nicholas, Trevor Power—as the initial architect of our proposal—Maya Stuart Fox, Tas Sakellaris and all of the officers within the Emissions Reduction Fund division within the environment departments. Within my own office I acknowledge the extraordinary and unparalleled work of Temay Rigzin and Alex Caroly, my chief of staff Wendy Black, Sarah Meredith. Also, within the Prime Minister's office I acknowledge the strong and unswerving support of Sarah McNamara and Peta Credlin. Their assistance was essential.
The government’s view has been clear and consistent. We accept and embrace the science of climate change. We remain firmly committed to our national emissions reduction targets in relation to 2020. These target represents a substantial effort and, as I indicated last week, are comparable to other advanced economies. We will support international actions as we head towards the Paris conference, and we want a good global agreement. Australia has a track record of delivering on its emissions targets and we will achieve this as well.
Fundamentally, we believe that there is a better way to reduce emissions than through a punitive tax on electricity. This is why we are delivering on the Emissions Reduction Fund. At the end of the day we commend this bill to the House. We commend the amendments to the House. We can reduce emissions, but we can do it without a carbon tax.
) ( ): It is probably no surprise to the House that the opposition still does not support this hopelessly flawed bill, in spite of the minister's valiant advocacy for the bill post the amendments in the other place. It is still very clear that the best response to climate change in this country would have been an emissions trading scheme—the emissions trading scheme that the Labor Party has been advocating since before the last election. I would invite members to go and examine the difference between a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme, and examine the views of economists and climate scientists here in Australia and around the world, who—almost to a person—agree that a legal cap on carbon pollution that reduces over time, in accordance with our international commitments, that lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to deal with that cap, is the most effective way to respond to climate change.
It is an irony that this bill returns to this House after the government has had an absolute shocker of a fortnight in this policy area—an absolute shocker of a fortnight. Frankly, the Prime Minister has only himself to blame. He could have facilitated an adult, mature conversation around climate change in the context of the G20, where leaders were able to come together and debate their differences of view. Obviously, when you are talking about the 20 largest economies in the world, there are diverse views about how best to respond to this global challenge. But, no; instead of facilitating an adult, constructive dialogue among the 20 largest economies in the world, the Prime Minister tried to shut it down. He tried to shut it down for months.
And didn't that work wonderfully! Didn't it work wonderfully as country after country—some of our closest friends and partners—lined up to say Australia should do more? They lined up, for example, to say that maybe Australia should contribute to the Green Climate Fund, which I think has about 23 nations contributing to it now, including pretty much every one of our closest developed trading partners: all of the G7, including Japan, as well as New Zealand and South Korea. Even Canada, who the Prime Minister likes to enlist as a fellow traveller on the issue of climate change, is contributing to this GCF.
But apparently Australia—through the Prime Minister—and Saudi Arabia were the two nations within the G20 seeking to exclude any reference to the GCF from the G20 communique. Unfortunately, the foreign minister got roped into being a part of this shocker of a fortnight that we have had. Against what was quite an unextraordinary set of comments that the President of the United States made about the one of the seven natural wonders of the world, what did the Minister for Foreign Affairs say?
The foreign minister said: 'No, no; the Great Barrier Reef is not under threat from climate change'—in spite of the advice that we get from pretty much every single reef scientist. I say 'pretty much' to be generous. I have not come across a reef scientist who does not agree that the greatest long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef is the threat of climate change. You only need to read page 1 of the GBRMPA Outlook Report, which the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority published this year. It is a five-yearly outlook. As always, this government not only seeks to shut down debate within a forum like the G20 but also seeks to downplay the impacts of climate change, including on one of the seven natural wonders of the world, for which Australia has such a clear and direct responsibility.
As I said, this bill remains a hopelessly inadequate response. Carbon market analysts RepuTex repeated their view that only as much as 20 to 30 per cent of Australia's abatement task—just assuming a five per cent target by 2020—will be achieved through this policy. Ross Garnaut, supported by Ken Henry, the former secretary of the Treasury, earlier this year said that to get to the five per cent target the government would have to spend $4 billion to $5 billion each year of taxpayer funds, handed over to companies, just to get to the five per cent reduction target—an additional $20 billion or so on the Commonwealth budget by 2019. It is no wonder that the member for Wentworth described in memorable terms this policy as 'a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale'. This bill, even with the amendments that the minister is proposing today, will simply not achieve its objectives.