Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Matters of Urgency
I actually think this urgency motion should go further. We do certainly need medium- and long-term planning and for measures to be put in place, but I would argue that we need immediate steps. This government could take those immediate steps. It could increase the target for MRET, the mandatory renewable energy target. It could do that quite easily. It could take a range of measures, including looking at a carbon levy. Carbon levies have been used in other countries. In the United Kingdom, carbon levies were raised from big industry—quite a small levy, actually—per tonne of carbon emitted and reinvested into those industries in energy efficiency. That has been a hugely successful program. At the end of the day, industry benefits from these kinds of proposals because they become either cost neutral or they make massive savings. So there are many things the government could be doing.
Instead we have long-term solutions from the Howard government. Of course the long term still relies on voluntary measures. There is still discussion about nuclear power. It could be 15 to 20 years before we actually get a reactor, let alone 25. They are still talking about clean coal, even though it is very expensive. It is much more expensive than wind. If we were to have a carbon tax that would facilitate clean coal, then we would certainly have wind in far greater quantities than we have now. Then we had today’s release of the task force’s so-called discussion paper, which, I would argue, poses more questions than it answers on the issue of emissions trading.
I remind the government that the Australian Greenhouse Office prepared a design for a domestic greenhouse gas emissions trading system some six years ago. That is where the government should have gone for advice on proceeding with emissions trading. Instead we have a proposal which purports to be about a global trading system. Instead of going through the Kyoto protocol process and talking with partners in Europe and other parts of the world, we are saying that we will develop the idea for a scheme in the international arena. These are just more delay tactics on the part of the Howard government. It is a talkfest that makes the Prime Minister look like he is doing something, when obviously he is not.
I think it is all about protecting the coal, gas and oil industries in this country. There is $26 billion earned every year from coal exports. It seems to me that this is about protecting our exports and hoping that we will continue to export our carbon-intensive resources and prop up our own export dollars instead of developing an alternative sustainable industry. Australia is still far too reliant on the ‘dig it up and ship it out’ mentality that has governed this country’s economy for a very long time. Under the Howard government, we have not moved to shift that.
At one stage there was talk about Australia being at the forefront of renewable energy technology—and it was once at the forefront of solar energy technology—and having five per cent of the world market in renewable energy technology. We have lost all that; most of that has gone overseas. We are now exporting a fraction of that amount, and other countries such as Germany and Japan—and, in fact, countries throughout Asia—are catching up with and overtaking Australia.
The government needs clear targets for medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction and measures to put carbon pricing signals in place. Industry is calling for them, conservation groups are calling for them and we have been calling for them for a long time. The inquiry into greenhouse gas emissions that I chaired more than six years ago made this call, but still the government ignores that and finds ways of putting off the inevitable. (Time expired)