House debates

Monday, 15 February 2021


National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Amendment (Transparency in Carbon Emissions Accounting) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:27 am

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia is heading towards 4.4 degrees of warming by the year 2100, which undeniably would have a catastrophic impact on every aspect of life in this country. Frankly this is science we simply cannot afford to ignore, so we must rapidly change policy in line with the advice which is to significantly and rapidly reduce our carbon emissions. But so far the government has done the opposite, continuing to muddy the waters on Australian carbon emissions by making false claims that we're on track to meet our modest Paris Agreement targets and continuing to rush it's dangerous and distracting gas led recovery.

Perhaps the greatest con of all in the government's approach is the claim that we're world leaders on climate change, which ignores the privileged accounting starting position we continue to enjoy and which still gives life to the likelihood of Australia using carry-over credits if it's to achieve any of its climate targets and aspirations. No wonder Dr John Ross, adjunct professor in the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Tasmania, tells me that the only way the government can possibly reach our Paris targets is by continuing to rely on tricky accounting and sheer luck.

As I've said many times before in this place, the foundation of any good policy is expert driven evidence, which is why this morning I'm reintroducing the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Amendment (Transparency in Carbon Emissions Accounting) Bill.

This bill ensures that greenhouse gas emissions data is promptly made public, keeping the community and experts informed with Australia's latest emissions figures—no more hiding behind major sporting events or national holidays, no more two-month delays while the minister refines his speaking points. No, this amendment creates a legally binding obligation on the minister to table the Greenhouse Gas Inventory updates in parliament no later than 10 days after he or she receives them.

The bill has been reviewed by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy and I thank the members of the committee, and the groups that submitted to the inquiry, for their input. Based on their feedback I have made some technical amendments to the bill to clarify that the information to be tabled is the quarterly update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, as prepared by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, and also to guarantee that the updates must be given directly to the minister as soon as possible. The minister must then table the updates in parliament to ensure the public has full and prompt access to Australia's greenhouse gas data, preventing the government from hiding or delaying emission figures.

It's obvious that prompt access to accurate information is essential for good policymaking. Similarly Australians need to know the country's true contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, which is why this bill also ensures that we collect so-called scope 3 emissions data, which are indirect greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular the potential carbon emissions contained in fossil fuels.

The implication for including scope 3 emissions in Australia's carbon emissions database is that fossil fuel exports, processed and used in energy generation internationally, would be included in the Australian inventory. This would allow Australia to track its impact as one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels and give the public access to information about Australia's position in contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Including scope 3 emissions would mean we have a full picture of Australia's share of the global emissions budget, which is exactly as it should be seeing as Australia is actually the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels in the world, in CO2 terms, on account of being the world's largest coal and LNG exporter. Frankly it's preposterous that we currently export more than a billion metric tonnes of CO2 potential to countries around the world but still claim to be doing our bit to prevent climate change. We simply can't continue pretending that, even though it's Australia's policies which lead to Australian companies digging up Australian fossil fuels, we have no responsibility for the carbon emissions released as a result.

According to the Australia Institute, Australia's exported fossil fuel CO2 potential is more than double our total domestic emissions. So, by not collecting and publicising this data, the government is pulling the wool over Australians' eyes. Surely we're responsible for the fossil fuels we dig up and ship out, and pretending otherwise is misleading and irresponsible. This bill will remedy that and ensure that the public can see how Australia is tracking in the global effort to reduce emissions. The Prime Minister could no longer downplay the importance of Australia urgently reducing its carbon emissions.

In considering this bill the energy and environment committee was told that including scope 3 would lead to some kind of 'double counting'. But this is a misnomer that hides the real issue because including scope 3 emissions is just another form of analysis that captures Australia's contribution to global greenhouse emissions and does not preclude the collection of scope 1 or 2 emissions data. It simply provides another way to measure our impact.

Surely the point of counting emissions in the first place is to see where we can bring them down. So if Australia is responsible for exporting about five per cent of global carbon emissions, and we are, then ultimately we're also responsible for helping to bring them down. And surely the best place to start would be to stop digging the stuff up in the first place.

The committee also considered that there is no international obligation to record scope 3 emissions. But surely the fact that this kind of tracking is not required by the Paris Agreement is beside the point, because the Australian government should be open and transparent for the sake of the community, rather than claiming that Australia can do little to influence global climate change. And if scope 3 emissions data gives scientists and the community a better picture of what Australia needs to do to slow catastrophic climate change then we should collect it. It's irrelevant that we're not obliged to do so by any international treaty.

Finally, Deloitte has estimated that climate change will cost the Australian community $3.4 trillion in GDP by the year 2070. And just last week the Climate Council found climate disasters have already cost Australia $35 billion in the last decade. So for businesses, including some of those 50 ASX 200 companies which already collect scope 3 emissions data, to complain that compliance costs will be too high is just patent nonsense. Frankly if we don't stop digging up fossil fuels then the costs to businesses and the economy, let alone to our communities and natural environment, will be catastrophic.

In closing I simply say that Australia must urgently start doing its fair share to reduce global carbon emissions. The community is crying out for strong action, and the first step is transparency and accountability, not carry over credits and fudging the numbers. I now invite the member for Mayo to offer some remarks in my remaining time.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. Is the motion seconded?

10:35 am

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

I am pleased to second this motion and the bill. The member for Clark makes a very simple and very important proposition: where our country has a clear responsibility for carbon emissions that it creates, the Australian people need and deserve transparency. And with transparency comes accountability. The explanatory memorandum to the bill puts the key proposition succinctly. The bill allows Australia to track its impact as one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels in the world and allows the public access to information about Australia's position in contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions. When we possess the facts, we can make reasoned choices in the public interest.

I recognise that it's a tough reality to face up to. A sizeable amount of Australia's prosperity has been and continues to be built on selling resources that are causing dangerous warming to the planet. We must also consider the benefits that our fossil fuel export industry creates for Australian workers and the people we sell our fossil fuels to.

However, we have a moral obligation here. The Australian people and we, its democratic representatives, need to be apprised of the facts so that we can understand and quantify the moral costs along with the benefits. And this bill does exactly that—it seeks to get to the facts, with timely reporting. This is critical. For too long the government has slipped out reports, slipped out data, when it thinks nobody is watching: on grand final eves; I think there have even been some around Christmas. The 10-day period is long enough. There should be no reason for the government to delay any more.

I think it's incredibly important that we address this. People want to see transparency. They don't believe we're going to get to our targets 'in a canter', no matter how many times the minister says so. I commend this bill to the House.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. The question is that this bill be now read a second time. The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.