House debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Climate Change

3:19 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm going to call on the matter of public importance—

Mr Katter interjecting

No, the member for Kennedy will resume his seat. To move a matter of public importance, it's very clear in the standing orders that the matter must be before the clerks by a stipulated time in the day. It can't be moved without notice. One has been given to the clerks and has been recommended to me and agreed to by me, and that's the one we're going to discuss today.

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Mayo proposing a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's failure to develop a consistent energy policy to meet the demands of climate change.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:20 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia needs urgent action on climate change. In South Australia, particularly in my electorate of Mayo, what climate change has meant is extended bushfire seasons and it's meant coastal storms are becoming more dangerous, the impacts of which are becoming more severe. Climate change will have severe impacts upon Australia's national security, upon our economic security and our food security, upon public health and upon our natural environment. And regional and rural Australia will experience this more so than metropolitan Australia.

The policy solution to climate change has been clear for decades. In order to incentivise changes in behaviour and the way we structure our economic production at both the corporate and household levels, we need price signals that include the real cost to society of the pollution that induces climate change. In simple terms, this means we need an emissions reduction scheme or an emissions intensity scheme, and there is broad expert consensus on this approach. John Howard, who many in this chamber consider to have been one of our greatest prime ministers, accepted this expert advice, as did former prime ministers Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull. My former leader, former Senator Nick Xenophon, also accepted this evidence and policy solution. However, what subsequent governments have all struggled to master is the politics of it. The failure of Australia to adopt a meaningful and durable energy and climate change policy is an essential failure of Australian politics of our age—of this 46th Parliament and the 45th Parliament, and, indeed, the 44th.

Rural and regional Australia, as I said, will face the brunt of climate change. And it is not only the top-tier issue of Australian energy policy that has faced repeated political failure; Australian vehicle emissions standards are the worst in the OECD by a wide margin—worse than Europe, worse than anywhere in the OECD—and things are getting worse. CO2 emissions from new Australian passenger vehicles are increasing at an accelerated rate. The public health outcomes of our inaction are, indeed, diabolical. While tight estimates are difficult to formulate, traffic pollution is estimated to cause approximately 3,000 deaths a year, so we can reasonably conclude that improving standards has the potential to save at least 100 lives a year. The government last conducted in-service vehicle emissions testing in 2009—a decade ago—so we do not even have an up-to-date or detailed understanding of Australia's vehicle emissions profile and how we should adapt international standards to Australian conditions. That is diabolical. The Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions was established in October 2015 and has consulted broadly but is yet to implement anything of substance. That was four years ago. The horrible irony of all of this is that improving fuel efficiency standards would not only lead to better environmental and better public health outcomes but also save households, businesses and governments money because more efficient fuel means you have to buy less of it. Those of us who represent regional and rural electorates know that people are so heavily reliant on their cars. We don't have the public transport networks of the major capital cities, so it is imperative that we act.

I now wish to move on to the impact of climate change on water security. Droughts and water shortages are becoming more common in Australia, a fact known only too well by so many farmers. The area roughly between Adelaide and Brisbane has already experienced a 15 per cent decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall over the past few decades. Across the Murray-Darling Basin stream flows have declined by 41 per cent since the mid-1990s. As the electorate at the bottom of the Murray River, a sizeable part of Mayo is more vulnerable than most to the environmental degradation and the genuine possibility of system-wide collapse. We saw it teeter close to the edge during the millennium drought. In the face of climate change much more needs to be done to build environmental resilience at the bottom of the river. In my community during the millennium drought it was beyond heartbreaking; it was absolutely heartbreaking. My sister had a farm down at Milang at the time. It is one of the last major townships before the mouth. When you stand on the jetty in Milang and look out there's hundreds of metres before the edge of the water and you see the dying fauna. We can't allow that to happen in Australia again. We are allowing political pettiness in this place to distract us from real action.

It is for this reason that I have long advocated for a dedicated South Australian Murray research institute for the end section of this river. Such an institute would focus on issues including real-time summaries of the ecological condition of the river, to allow for provision of advice and remedies for intermediate and extreme drought events; funding for new solutions for managing water, salinity and nutrient levels in the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and the Murray in the context of real-time ebb-and-flow conditions; new ebb-and-flow management enhancements for the Murray River channels and floodplains; and monitoring and reporting socioeconomic benefits to stakeholders across agriculture, fisheries, Indigenous affairs, tourism and recreational groups, especially during ebb-and-flow events.

To complement this important work, Mayo urgently needs the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to have a permanent presence, specifically a regional engagement officer, in the Lower Lakes and Coorong region, ideally in Goolwa. This would vastly improve the two-way exchange of information between the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the local community and, in turn, improve the quality of the management of our part of the river, which will become even more critical as the impacts of climate change on our river community become more severe.

We are supposed to take into account the needs of our communities, address those issues and come up with solutions in this place. I often look back at the Hansard from decades ago and think, 'My goodness, what insight and courage those members of parliament had,' while in this place we sit on our hands with respect to climate change. I wonder what children will do in decades to come when they open up the history books and see the lack of action in this place in 2019, in 2018, in 2017. They will be so angry at us. They will be angry because we are destroying their future. We have a responsibility in this place. Each one of us is the one person elected from our community to make positive change in this place. I urge every member in this place to read the science and come to this place with a solution, and let's get some real action on our emissions.

We are not doing well. Our emissions are going up. We all know this yet we continue to sit on our hands. Let this be the last time, the last year, that we do nothing. And let's make sure that we change for the future for our future Australians. It is a conservative thing to do to plan for the future generations, not to leave future generations with a burden. We often hear that from the government side—the burden of debt. Well, I say, the burden of inaction on climate change is just as important, if not more important, because we are destroying the future of Australians.

3:30 pm

Photo of Angus TaylorAngus Taylor (Hume, Liberal Party, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the members from the crossbench for bringing forward this MPI. The members, I think, bring forward what is a very important issue and, like you, I've lived through drought in this region. I grew up not far from here and I remember well the early eighties drought and the impact it had on the people around me, on the people I grew up with, on my family, and on many others in regional centres.

These are devastating times for rural Australia, and climate matters. So, too, does access to affordable, reliable power. I visit so many manufacturing facilities and small businesses around Australia—cane growers, foundries, smelters—who all rely on affordable, reliable power for their jobs, for their families' welfare and for their lifestyle. This is enormously important and that's why my job as Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction is to bring power prices down whilst keeping the lights on and whilst we meet our international obligations. That's why we took to the last election our policy on a fair deal on energy for all Australians.

On the price side, while there is much more to do, I'm pleased to confirm to the House that recent ABS data tells us we're making good progress on electricity prices coming down. The ABS data shows that, in the last two quarters, we've had two reductions and that is very good news. We know that the default market offer reference price and other initiatives like the Retailer Reliability Obligation arrangements, which I'll come back to in a moment, have been important in achieving this outcome.

But, alongside that, we've seen record levels of investment in our electricity sector and it has been in renewable energy. I refer the House to Bloomberg New Energy Finance's work on this, which is very much in line with others. Australia is now leading the world in its investment in small-scale solar, large-scale solar and wind. In fact, our investment per capita was $514 in 2018. The next country in the world was almost half of that, Japan. So if you halved our investments in clean energy, we would still be one of the fastest investing countries in the world. Behind that are United States, Spain, United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany and so on. To give you a sense of how extraordinary this is, if you combined the investments in clean energy in the UK, Germany and France together, in 2018 we invested more per capita than all three of those countries combined, which is an extraordinary achievement. But it is creating an enormous challenge and that enormous challenge is: how do we maintain the reliability and affordability of our electricity grid with that kind of investment happening? That's why the government is committed to the Retailer Reliability Obligation, which requires the electricity retailers years ahead of time to commit to the capacity they need to meet their customers' needs. It's also why we've brought forward the Underwriting New Generation Investments program, with what were originally 66 projects put forward now down to a short list of 12, including a range of different technologies with a particular focus on firming up, on having access to variable power which is dispatchable—there when you flick the switch. I was down in South Australia not long ago, looking at pumped hydro projects at Goat Hill and Baroota up around Whyalla and the Flinders Ranges. These are great projects to be working on. There is more we're looking at. Gas is going to play an enormously important role in this, and I'll come back to that in a moment as well.

All of that is focused on reaching our international obligations, our 26 to 28 per cent target. That is a strong target, as the Prime Minister said earlier in question time. Indeed, what it implies is a more than 50 per cent reduction in our emissions per capita by 2030 on 2005 levels; a 65 per cent reduction in the emissions intensity of the economy. If you want to compare that with other countries: the US's commitment is to 62 per cent, New Zealand's is to 61 per cent, the EU's is to 57 per cent, Canada's is to 57 per cent, South Korea's is to 57 per cent and Japan's is to 41 per cent. Again, we are leading the pack with a strong economy. That is the way it should be: balancing a strong economy with strong emissions targets.

We have a comprehensive set of policies to continue to drive down emissions, but most important in this, as in anything in life, is track record. Let's look at our track record. When we came into government, the data showed that there was a 755 million tonne gap to reach our 2020 Kyoto obligations. We had to find 755 million tonnes of abatement when we got into government. Well, as of December last year, here's where we sit: we will overachieve by 367 million tonnes. Again, we're turning Labor's deficits into surpluses; that's what we do. A 1.1 billion tonne turnaround is what we have done here. We will keep going down that track. Now, as we look forward to 2030, of course we knew as of December last year that we had to find 328 million tonnes of abatement. Well, we laid out in Melbourne earlier this year, before the election, how we are going to do that down to the last tonne. One hundred and two million tonnes from the Climate Solutions Fund. That builds on the very good work of the Emissions Reduction Fund, which has delivered over 190 million tonnes at a cost of $12 per tonne. This program is the envy of the world. Among the Clean Development Mechanism and other mechanisms set up by the UN, this has been the best. It is an extraordinary achievement: low-cost abatement which doesn't destroy Australia's economy and which ensures that our businesses remain strong.

We committed in the Climate Solutions Package to 63 million tonnes of abatement from energy efficiency. Let's be clear: the hardworking households and small businesses of Australia do a great job on energy efficiency, and they're going to keep doing it and we're going to keep helping them to do it. I was in the electorate of Higgins just the other day looking at these extraordinary technologies we're seeing now which are helping small businesses and households to drive energy efficiency. On top of that, we know we'll get 25 million tonnes of abatement from our major generation projects—hydro projects like Snowy 2.0 and Battery of the Nation. On top of that, they can firm up that intermittency which is such a threat to the reliability and affordability of our grid.

Those opposite and some on the crossbench are keen to talk about our LNG exports. They see them as evil because—it is true—our LNG exports result in fugitive emissions, and energy is required for compression of the gas before it is exported. Those emissions from our LNG exports have been growing. There's no doubt about it. Last year they grew, at 4½ million tonnes. They've been a challenge for us in continuing to drive down emissions in Australia. But let me tell you what they're doing. They are reducing global emissions, because we are selling gas to China, South Korea, Japan—

Mr Bandt interjecting

I see that the Green crossbencher is not happy with this, because he knows it's the truth. They have reduced the equivalent of 28 per cent of our emissions a year in our customer countries. That is an industry we can all be extremely proud of.

By contrast, the Labor Party and the Greens have a plan—different plans, but each as bad as the other, frankly—to destroy the economy in an attempt to halve the emissions in our economy by 2030, without laying out how they're going to do it. Fifty times we heard those opposite attempt to answer the question as to what the details and costings of those policies were, and they failed every time. The Australian people called them out, which is why the member for Hindmarsh has admitted now that it's time for a full-frontal review of their policies, because they got them wrong. Let me give them a tip: they should follow the WA minister's tip. He said, 'We respect the fact that the current government won the election and has a mandate to follow its policies through.' That is from a Labor Minister.

3:40 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We are governed by Neanderthals who are putting our lives at risk. We are barely a week into spring and already Australia is ablaze. We are suffering through the worst drought on record, and we've just been told to expect that our rivers are going to dry up even further over the coming months. We are being lied to by governments about the severity of the climate crisis. They are telling us it is under control, but pollution is going up and up and up under this government.

It is time to tell it like it is. At the moment, temperatures have increased by a degree since the beginning of the industrial era. We've signed up to the Paris Agreement to say we want to limit it to 1½ degrees. We got told last year that we could hit, at the current trajectory, 1½ degrees as soon as 2030. What's worse, at the moment the Paris commitments that the minister is so proud of—that he's cooking the books for and using dodgy accounting tricks that no-one else is using to say that they're going to meet their commitments—have the world on track not to keep global warming below 1½ degrees but to hit 3.5 degrees by the end of this century.

I don't know if the government understand what that means as they get up here and talk about how we should be proud of our achievements of increasing pollutions. The scientists tell us that a world that is warmed by four degrees has a carrying capacity of one billion people. One of my daughters is four years old. Her biggest worry at the moment is whether she's going to get a unicorn biscuit when we go to the markets this weekend—the answer is: 'You will if you're good.' But during her lifetime the carrying capacity of this planet is going to go down from 7½ billion to one billion people, if the scientists' predictions are correct. We are on the verge of extreme starvation, of massive conflicts and of movements of people around the globe like we have not seen before.

What we are witnessing at the moment, as our rivers dry up and as record drought hits Australia, is potentially going to become the new normal. I do not want it to become the new normal, but this government is doing everything within its power to make sure that Australia has worse drought conditions. The government wants to make sure the bushfire season goes for longer. It wants to see us have more heatwaves. If someone told you that you were doing something that made the likelihood of bushfires greater, you would think you would stop it. If the doctor told you that you are sick because you are smoking too much and you'd better quit, otherwise it might get worse, you'd think you would come up with a plan to quit. But what is this government doing? This government can no longer claim ignorance, because the facts are there. This government have the full knowledge about how bad the climate emergency is. They have been told we have to cut emissions by 2030, and what are they doing? They are saying we need more coal-fired power rather than a plan to phase it out. They are saying we need to frack the rest of the country and suck up more gas, even though methane is an incredibly toxic gas, more toxic than CO2. And they are increasing emissions. Yet the minister had the temerity to come in here and lead his speech with power prices. Guess what? The independent Energy Regulator confirmed last week that electricity bills were less under the carbon price than under this government. That's what the Energy Regulator confirmed—and we were cutting pollution then. This government, because of its ideological war on renewables and because it takes money from the fossil fuel industry and has no commitment to reducing pollution, has managed to do what no other government has done—increase pollution and increase power bills. That is the record of this government.

The minister boasts about renewable energy. That's because we had a thing called the Renewable Energy Target, which he tried to get rid of. That has ended. That has been met and will end in 2020, and we're now without any federal policy to bring new renewables into the system. This government stands condemned for increasing pollution year upon year, which is what it has done. People are going to look back at this debate, look at this government and see that this is the government that abolished the carbon price, lifted pollution and made global warming worse. And you will be held to account for it!

3:45 pm

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great pleasure to speak on the government's energy policy, and I do so with a particular focus on the facts. Those opposite clearly ignore the energy policy that this government has put in place. As the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction explained earlier, we're in fact leading the pack on an international basis, and I wish to refer to some of those facts here in this debate.

We have, as the minister said quite clearly, a very strong track record. We're beating our emissions targets. But, most particularly, we are doing that in a responsible way whilst keeping our economy strong. As the minister outlined, we will overachieve our 2020 target by some 367 million tonnes. That's a turnaround of the emissions debt that we inherited when we took office, the 755-million-tonne shortfall that we had to turn around, and that is significant progress indeed.

The coalition took to the recent election our significant $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package. That mapped out plans to achieve those tonnes that we've achieved thus far and to continue to do so, down to the very last tonne. We're going to continue to meet our Paris targets. As I said, progress is exceeding what was originally planned. We're supporting farmers, businesses and Indigenous communities in reducing greenhouse gases through the Climate Solutions Fund as well. Electricity prices obviously remain a focus of the government, so bringing on new electricity generation projects is part of that plan. We're talking, of course, about Snowy 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation, which is a significant development not only for the state of Tasmania but for Tasmania supporting the rest of the country.

With the national power supply dependent to the tune of 85 per cent on reliable traditional sources, our economy is in fact witnessing a supplementary and record $25 billion renewables investment across 18,800 megawatts of new wind and solar projects. That generation is predicted to increase by some 250 per cent over the next three years. By contrast, the Labor Party and the Greens only have presented plans to the Australian people that would destroy industry—destroy, for us in regional Australia, agricultural industry in particular—at the same time as not providing for an energy future for our nation at all.

Particularly when you're in regional Australia, as I am, you get down to the facts. You want to understand what is really happening on the ground. Let me refer to my region of the Darling Downs. We have the New Acland thermal coalmine, which provides an energy source for local activities such as meatworks and so forth. It also provides an energy source for the Mater Hospital in Brisbane. There is also the Millmerran power station. Those traditional sources of energy, if you like, represent roughly 850 megawatts of supply there in the Darling Downs. We are underway with the development of the Oakey solar farm, about 80 megawatts. There are the Yarranlea solar farm, via Pittsworth outside Toowoomba, about a hundred megawatts; the Dalby biorefinery; the Oakey intermittent gas power station, itself representing about 332 megawatts; the AGL Coopers Gap wind farm under development north-west of Toowoomba, another 450 megawatts; and the proposed Cressbrook Dam renewable pumped hydro project, 400 megawatts.

In my own backyard we are developing as much in renewables as we already have in traditional supplies. Those opposite, Labor and Greens, simply don't want to recognise that this transition is underway, that the coalition government is leading the charge and is in fact setting the pace on an international scale. They don't want to understand the needs in regional Australia. They don't want to appreciate or acknowledge our government's efforts to meet our emissions reduction targets whilst maintaining a focus on industry and jobs, particularly in regional Australia.

3:50 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It is self-evident to any sensible person that we are genuinely in the midst of a climate emergency. It is simply undeniable that the drought that grips this country right now is at least made much more worse by the fact that our climate is changing, and changing quickly. It is equally undeniable that the terrible bushfires in South-East Queensland and northern New South Wales at the moment are at least much worse on account of our changing climate. And of course they are, because it is an undeniable fact that Australia has warmed by more than one degree since 1910 and is still getting warmer. In fact, last summer was the hottest summer on record. Nine of the last 10 years have been hotter than the average for summer.

Doing nothing is unfathomable and unconscionable. Either the members of the government know that the climate is changing and it is slowly destroying the country as we know it and they choose to do nothing—and that is unconscionable and unfathomable—or they are wilfully ignorant, which I suggest is just as bad. This already is and will continue to be the most shocking act of intergenerational social injustice this country has ever seen.

Don't we care about our children? I do! And at the end of my days I want to be known by my children as someone who tried to do something, along with my colleagues on the crossbench. How members of the government will face their children and can think about their children, and their children's children, just beggars belief. It is shocking intergenerational social injustice. Don't we care about representing our community? It is another undeniable fact that the vast majority of Australians want everyone in this place, and in particular the government, to respond effectively to climate change. By one recently released measure, something like 80 per cent or more of Australians want us to do something about climate change. How can a government—any government—treat four out of five Australians with such utter and complete contempt? It beggars belief. Don't we worry that Australia has become a climate pariah? Something like 900 national, state and local government jurisdictions have now declared a climate emergency, yet we struggle in this place to get any interest in such a motion. I wish the member for Melbourne the best of luck as he seeks to move his own climate emergency motion through this place.

Don't we understand that an effective government that cares about our country, cares about our future, cares about our children, cares about the environment and cares about public opinion would come to its senses and put this country on a genuine pathway to net zero carbon emissions, put this country on a pathway to 100 per cent reliance on renewable energy? That would be a sensible thing to do and it would be in our nation's self-interest. Heavens, we could be the global powerhouse of renewable energy. We could be 100 per cent reliant, not just on wind or solar, but geothermal, hot rocks, tidal, wave, and we could become a centre of excellence in the globe for such technologies. We could create massive employment and massive wealth by not just inventing these technologies but manufacturing these technologies, selling these technologies and installing these technologies right around the world. Not only would that be good for the climate, it would be good for our economy. Heavens, wouldn't you think a conservative government would give two hoots about our economy?

I call on the government to finally wake up to itself, to acknowledge that the climate is changing. I was horrified by recent comments by ministers still throwing doubt on whether or not climate change is relevant to the drought and to the bushfires. I call on the government to grow up, to read the evidence, read the public mood, based in large part on a massive shift to renewable energy, and finally do something about climate change. Because I tell you what, the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Storms and droughts, climate refugees, water wars, disease: the downside of climate change does not bear thinking about. It's beyond time for this government to grow up, read the signs and do something about it.

3:55 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in this place to reject the ridiculous statements made by the crossbench that we don't care. We care $3.5 billion. Australia is pulling its weight in emissions reduction and keeping in line with its international obligations in combatting the effects of climate change. This is not something that other nations on this globe are necessarily doing. Everyone in this House cares about our future. We can all agree we want a sustainable future for those who come after us. We are setting targets and we are meeting targets. We are delivering, and we'll continue to deliver, on emissions reduction. Our per capita emissions continue to fall. Our total emissions have gone up 0.9 per cent, but that is because we are exporting natural gas to other countries, which provides them with cleaner energy than the coal they're using at the moment.

As I highlighted in my maiden speech, climate change is real and affects us all. There is now a major and inevitable transition occurring in our energy sector to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future. As we can all agree, it is not just an environmental imperative to act; it is an economic one. We need to be open to new possibilities in reducing emissions, to hasten that future by using our Australian pragmatism to lead the world in sustainable energy. I believe that the Australian public is now ready for a mature conversation on new technologies. As a scientist, I know we have a wealth of opportunities and we need to diversify our energy base. We need to look at hydrogen, and I believe we need to look at alternative carbon-emission-neutral energy sources such as nuclear. This will only move forward with bipartisan support.

If we are to work to reverse the effects of climate change on our planet, we must think globally but act locally. Even in my own electorate of Higgins, there are businesses working on innovative solutions to combat emissions and drive down electricity prices. In a recent visit to Higgins, energy minister Angus Taylor and I met with Richard McIndoe, the CEO of Edge Electrons. Richard was previously the CEO of Energy Australia. He is now fighting to reduce emissions. Edge has designed technology for businesses and homes that will reduce the power draw from the grid. This ensures that home appliances can run at lower voltage, thereby saving power, reducing power prices and helping Australians lower our emissions. This is an incredibly exciting business. We also met with CarbonTRACK, who've developed an app that will track the energy use of machines within the home, such as dishwashers, washing machines and televisions, and advise the best time to use them to ensure power efficiency. These are just some of the examples of what is happening in small businesses across Australia and is being supported by the Morrison government.

Businesses can thrive and innovate when our economy is strong. When we have a strong economy we can get on with the job of investing in renewables and assisting businesses to do the same. We have unleashed a free market investment that is driving down costs of renewables as more innovative technologies come online. We are seeing record levels of renewable investment—in fact, double per capita when compared to similar countries, as the minister said just recently. And when we have a strong investment in a market, it will drive down prices, making renewable and energy-saving products available for every Australian. It helps to innovate businesses if they know they have a market.

For the member for Mayo to suggest we don't have a plan to deal with emissions reduction is just wrong. I direct her to our $3.5 billion dollar Climate Solutions Package to meet our Paris targets.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

You just said emissions were going up.

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Per capita they're going down. We're bringing new electricity projects online, such as the Snowy Hydro 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation, which will deliver power for generations to come. These projects not only will provide renewable power; they will also provide regional jobs for regional Australians and support the surrounding towns. The Morrison government is laying the foundations for a streamlined, economically viable, renewable future for everyone. We're using the smart technology, the scientific know-how, the Australian pragmatism to get the job done.

4:00 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week the AMA declared a climate health emergency, and I would expect the member for Higgins, as a doctor, also to be concerned. The royal medical colleges have also done so. This week, fires have been raging across northern New South Wales and Queensland. According to emergency services they are unprecedented at this time of year. This was forewarned in April, when the fire brigade chief said we were woefully unprepared for worsening fire seasons due to climate change. Of course, this is all happening in line with decades of predictions and warnings from Australia's climate scientists.

The Reserve Bank have recognised the threat of climate change. They are now factoring a worsening climate into their modelling and decision-making when it comes to managing our economy. Our financial regulators, APRA and ASIC, have new guidelines on companies to report to shareholders on climate risk as it affects their businesses. Our Public Service and Defence Force chiefs have also been meeting for some time, planning for climate worst-case scenarios, which we are starting to see. All agree that Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change and that it is having and will have an increasingly devastating effect on Australia's economy, our health system, our national security and our food system.

The cost of adaptation is high. We are seeing this with the cost of droughts, fighting bushfires and increased demand on our hospitals and health services. It's not good enough to continue our current trajectory with weak targets, Kyoto loopholes, rising emissions and no plans to get to net zero emissions. We have had decades of missed opportunities and policy backflips.

This is an immediate and pressing crisis. Yet we have climate change deadlock in parliament. Labor's silence is deafening, and the coalition, beholden to its climate-denying right, is holding the whole country to ransom and continues to mislead the Australian public. Emissions are rising. Even our schoolchildren know that. The government argues we're doing enough. Come on—isn't it time to grow up and actually really do action? The public knows it.

In comparison, India will achieve its Paris target of 60 to 65 per cent renewables penetration a decade earlier than expected. In fact they have increased their 2022 renewable target by 53 gigawatts. India is also meeting its Paris commitment to increase its tree cover. It has already added almost a million hectares of forest. Let's turn to the UK. We've inherited the UK's political system. It has the same left-right divide, yet it has had bipartisanship on this issue for some time. The UK has had a climate change act since 2008 and a climate commission that effectively reports to parliament and provides a roadmap and plan to reach its nationally determined contribution. They are meeting it and reducing their emissions by almost three per cent per year. In fact, they agree that as a developed country it's their duty to show leadership and, in the spirit of fairness, commit to more reductions. They are on their way to legislating to a net zero target by 2050, and they represent only two per cent of emissions.

China, often quoted, is set to overachieve its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement. It met its 2020 pledge three years ahead of schedule. It will update its national contribution in light of this. For the seventh consecutive year, China has led the world in renewable energy investment, contributing to almost a third of global renewables investment in 2018, with US$91.2 billion. China is leading the world on electric vehicles purchased, with more than 1.1 million in 2018. That's 4.2 per cent of their vehicle market share, compared to Australia's 0.24 per cent. They have a plan and fully intend to rival Japanese manufacturing of electric vehicles.

As an international citizen, Australia should be leading the way. Unfortunately, we're far from that leadership. After a decade of false starts, we were close in 2018 to making an important step in addressing part of our climate change policy with a National Energy Guarantee, but that was scuttled despite bipartisan support from all states and all industry stakeholders. We need a national energy policy to be introduced. We need a renewed Renewable Energy Target. We need the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They are tasked to successfully promote and develop energy technologies and they need support and certainty. The sector is crying out for it.

4:05 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The government do have a plan and we are delivering in spades with regards to this matter of public importance. Australia is going to exceed the targets we signed up to under international agreements. We have had an explosion in the last couple of years of investments in renewables—in fact, $13 billion in 2018 and $25 billion up until 2020. That, per capita, is more than the combined investment in France, Germany, and the UK. We are meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, ahead of time. Our electricity emissions have dropped 15 per cent. The emissions intensity of our economy has also dropped 65 per cent. One in five houses have solar generation on their roofs.

The Climate Solutions Fund, which has taken over from the Emissions Reduction Fund, will deliver another 102 million tonnes of abatement. That's at a low cost of $12 per tonne. We do realise there is something to do in reducing our greenhouse gases but we do have an economy to run. People confuse their own personal circumstance and their household circumstances in turning to batteries and solar panels, both as a cost-reducing exercise and to do their bit. But when you have an industrial economy, you need baseload power and that's what everybody is starting to realise. You can't just unplug a baseload power system and plug in intermittent energy. The system integration required when you have intermittent sources of energy means you have to have inverters, which chew up some of the energy. You need whole new transmission lines to locate the new generation sources to the grid, because the economy runs on it. The total number of batteries in the country would run a place like Tomago Aluminium smelter for about 45 minutes. The biggest battery in one place in the world, in South Australia, can only take over running South Australia for four minutes. Batteries have a place in system integration but they're not a source of energy; they're a place that energy is stored.

We on this side are doing things. We have new generation being encouraged. We have 12 new generating plants—gas, pumped hydro. We've got the Snowy Hydro plan being worked up. We're connecting the hydro electricity in Tasmania with the Marinus Link. But, again, you can have all the hydro in the world in Tasmania, except if there's no water or there is a drought. There was a time when Tasmania relied on diesel generators, like South Australia does. There is $750 million allocated for diesel generation in the South Australian budget, so we need baseload power. You can only get so much before your whole system has problems, like we are finding out. Some states have created their own problems, like South Australia and Victoria, pulling out their baseload capacity prematurely. The reason is that the engineering and the economics are not part of the narrative of this blind obsession with getting renewable generation. You can only use renewable generation when the renewable energy is available. You know, you may only get the energy out of a solar system 20 or 30 per cent of the time because there's night-time, there's daytime, there are cloudy days and weeks when it's raining.

It's the same with wind. You can only use it when the wind generating will allow a frequency and a voltage that fits with the grid, so there's a limit. The International Energy Agency issues reports on this all the time, and the magic number is 10 per cent—that's when you start having problems. Then, when you get to 20 per cent, it increases. Then, when you get to 30 per cent, you've got to re-engineer your whole system. You need voltage and frequency controlled, you need inertia in your system and you need a whole new transmission grid if we're going to do distributed energy. All those poles and wires around the suburbs will have to be replaced. If we're going to send electricity back down into the grid from everyone's three-kilowatt energy source, you'll need thicker wires and copper. It's going to cost an absolute fortune, so we have to maintain our industrial capacity because everything comes from an energy source somewhere. Whether it's coal, whether it's hydro and gravity, whether it's diesel running a generator or, as earlier speakers have outlined, it's nuclear energy, which heats— (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree with the member for Groom on one point: rural Australians want practical action on climate change. I grew up on a farm. I live on a small farm now. Like millions of people in regional Australia, the climate has never been an abstract concept for me. In Indi, our grapegrowers know that a single night of bad frost in the winter can devastate a wine crop for the year. In the north-east of Victoria, we know that in a spring deluge we'll be out there sandbagging our houses from the floods. And all regional Australians know that a hot summer brings with it the threat of bushfires and all the devastation that that might mean. We also know that these things are getting worse. We know that last year was the second-warmest and fifth-driest year in Australian history. We know that average soil moisture was the lowest on record and that water storage levels in the northern Murray-Darling Basin dropped below seven per cent—lower than at any point in the millennium drought.

All Australians know that it is spring and that Australia is already starting to burn. Climate change will make all of this worse, all of this harder for our rural communities. And as a nurse, a midwife and a rural health researcher, I know that climate change is a threat to people's health. The Nipah virus, a bat-borne disease that causes fatal infections in people in South-East Asia, is largely unknown in Australia, but climate change is pushing it closer. Rural areas already have higher rates of hospitalisation for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As bushfires get worse, so will this. Heat related illness already costs Australia $8.7 billion a year. In Victoria, our 2009 heatwave not only caused $800 million of damage to the state, but, far more importantly, it killed 173 people on Black Saturday and another 374 people that week, likely from heat stroke. A PwC report has found that by 2050, a heatwave in an Australian capital could kill more than 1,000 people in a few days, and the people most at risk are the elderly.

In an emergency, urgent action is needed. And here are three things the government could do today. First, start to develop a national strategy to deal with the impacts of climate change on agriculture and support the hard work our farmers are already doing. Second, tackle climate change as the public health crisis that it is. As the Australian Global Health Alliance has proposed, we should establish a health and climate change research facility in regional Australia so that we can better understand and prepare for the risks. Third, we should declare a climate emergency. When I worked in hospital emergency departments, we would plan for emergencies so when a crisis happened we knew exactly what to do. We need to do the same for climate—make a plan, do what we can to soften the worst of it, prepare for what we can't avoid and, when disaster hits, be ready.

When it comes to energy policy, a rational response to climate change means that renewable energy is not an obsession. The opportunities for renewable energy are too great to pass up. North-east Victoria has 151 sites that could host pumped hydro storage to provide dispatchable power to the grid. There is 6,500 gigawatt hours of storage potential in our mountain lakes, almost 20 times the capacity of Snowy 2.0. We need an energy policy that channels investment to capture these opportunities in storage and dispatchable power. In Indi, my electorate, where we have the most community renewable energy projects of any electorate in Australia, people are hungry for this, but across Australia this would create thousands of jobs for rural communities. Declaring a climate emergency not only means tackling one of the greatest threats to our farming and to our health but also brings these opportunities into focus. It would put a stake in the ground to say we take this seriously and we will stand up for the future of our farmers and for the health of our communities. Australians deserve no less than that.

4:15 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government are meeting our emissions targets while keeping our economy strong. It is important to the people of Lindsay that we also focus on lowering the cost of living, ensuring that we have lower power prices. This is what's important to my community. Our government has a strong track record of meeting and beating our emissions targets while keeping our economy strong and keeping people in jobs. This is what is important to my community of Lindsay.

Emissions per person and the emissions intensity of the economy continue to fall and are the lowest levels in nearly three decades, and we're investing in new technologies. Just last week, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction announced a $4 million investment into a wave energy technology trial in Tasmania for the installation of a pilot-scale 200 kilowatt wave energy converter off the coast of King Island. The $12.3 million project harnesses the rise and fall of water levels to generate electricity. Our government is also supporting the development of an Australian-first waste-to-energy project in Queensland. The Logan City Council project will see a wastewater treatment plant that will have the capacity to transition water into energy, with by-products going to the agricultural sector. The Morrison government has committed $6.2 million in funding towards a project which is another great example of investing in new technologies that play a role in lowering emissions and lowering power prices.

While we are focusing on emissions reduction, we are also concentrating on easing the cost of living and lowering power prices. A recent report commissioned by the Australian Energy Regulator, Affordability in retail energy markets September 2019, shows electricity bills falling across all regions for households on the median market offer. The report also shows that since the introduction of the government's default market offer price safety net on 1 July there have been reductions in both standing offers and high-price market offers. The Australian Energy Regulator makes clear that competition is alive and well in the market, with smaller retailers taking on the big three by providing cheaper offers. This is good news for people struggling to pay their power bills. The best electricity market offers are lower than they were in October 2018. The cheapest residential market offers are down three per cent, while small-business offers are 17 per cent lower.

We are on track to overachieve on our 2020 emissions target by 367 million tonnes. This is a turnaround from the emissions debt that we inherited from the last Labor government. Through our $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package, we have mapped out, down to the last tonne, how we're going to meet the 328 tonnes of abatement needed to meet our Paris targets. We have laid out how we will deliver our 2030 target 11 years ahead of schedule to the last tonne. Central to this is the $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package, supporting farmers, businesses and Indigenous communities; reducing the greenhouse gases through the Climate Solutions Fund; building on the success of the of the Emissions Reduction Fund, which has purchased 192 million tonnes of emissions reductions since 2015; and bringing new electricity generation projects online, such as Snowy 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation. Not only are we going above and beyond our international commitments; we're also making a substantial contribution to reducing global emissions through our export sectors. The Morrison government has confirmed we will reach the 2020 Large-scale Renewable Energy Target ahead of time as we continue to support record investment in renewable energy.

The Clean Energy Regulator has advised that the 6,400 megawatts of additional large-scale wind and solar generation needed to meet our 2020 target has now been commissioned. This has been achieved in less than two years, because we see this action as a priority of the government to explore new ways to deliver affordable, reliable energy and to keep our economy strong. In 2018 Australia led the world in clean energy investment, with more than double the per-capita investment of countries like France, Germany and the United Kingdom. With the Renewable Energy Target set to be exceeded, investment is not slowing down, and this is important to create jobs. Only the Morrison government has a plan to deliver affordable, 24/7, reliable power, keeping our economy strong and ensuring jobs while meeting our emissions reduction commitments.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this discussion has now expired.