Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Bills

Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

5:23 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | Hansard source

There is a serious question that the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 brings before the Senate today. In seeking to abolish the Climate Change Authority, the coalition government is sending a message to our nation and its people that is completely out of step with the rest of the world on the issue of climate change—and is it really any wonder? It seems that the coalition do not actually want a credible climate change policy. Many in the coalition, it seems, simply do not believe that climate change is real—and I am glad that Senator Macdonald is in the chamber with us this afternoon, because he has declared that climate change is some kind of Y2K bug. He has also said that you cannot reach a conclusion on the science of climate change. These are words that I have heard him say, and it is a deep sign of the coalition's scepticism and denial when it comes to climate change.

We on this side of the chamber, however, believe the science that climate change is real. We accept the science of climate change and we believe we need to do something about it—Mr Tony Abbott and the coalition apparently do not. I accept that there is a wide variety of views within the coalition in terms of those that do believe in the science of climate change and many that do not. It is, I think, making a mess of the coalition's position on these issues.

These repeal bills and the bill before us today repealing the Climate Change Authority—and the one previously debated, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013—really do indicate that the coalition wants to get rid of worthwhile and independent institutions established by the former Labor government to tackle climate change and to give us the full suite of policies that we need in this nation to address what is a pressing issue for us here in Australia and globally.

But what do the coalition propose to replace these policies with? What they propose is direct action without legislated emissions targets. This is the proposal that the coalition has said they will put forward. It leaves our country and our nation without a long-term emissions reduction methodology. It leaves our industry, it leaves our households and it leaves our nation's businesses without a path and a plan to reduce emissions. As many submitters to the inquiry that I participated in highlighted, this uncertainty is damaging to business and damaging to investment decisions. Abolishing the Climate Change Authority is a key part of that, because the Climate Change Authority was there to provide ongoing advice about emissions reductions and targets. Within the context of an emissions trading scheme, as an authority, it would provide that independent advice and enable business and industry to efficiently work out the way forward through an ETS.

It is an indication of the fact that we on this side of the chamber have a clear plan on carbon pollution. We can repeal the carbon tax, and we can do that without getting rid of the tools that we need to tackle climate change in this place. We need to keep the Climate Change Authority, we need to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and we need to move to an emissions trading scheme—all things that are already legislated for in this nation.

What is this about? This is about tackling climate change in the most effective and cost-effective way possible. It is about terminating the carbon tax and replacing it with an emissions trading scheme that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and leaves the businesses of our nation to work out the most efficient way to do that. In the interests of both the economy and the environment it is vital that that cap is set in a transparent way. It is a job for an independent Climate Change Authority, the very body that the government is seeking to repeal. I note the targets and progress review issues paper that was released by the Climate Change Authority just a few months ago. Within this paper there is a clear focus on Australia's progress in meeting national emissions reductions targets, with recommendations on how Australia should go about doing that. What is also clear to me is that these very functions—exactly these kinds of functions that the Climate Change Authority is doing in relation to targets—could also be undertaken when it comes to the coalition's direct action policy. The coalition's direct action policy desperately needs transparent scrutiny—scrutiny on the steps required to meet a target of a five per cent reduction by 2020 on our 2000 emissions.

Labor created the Climate Change Authority as an independent institution just so it could give such independent expert advice on emissions reductions targets and the scope of emissions reductions. It is these very jobs that the Climate Change Authority is doing that should actually be applied to the coalition's direct action policy too. You should be using the agency for this purpose. But what do the coalition want in contrast? In contrast they want no scrutiny at all. No scrutiny? Why wouldn't those opposite want any scrutiny? Because your policies simply do not stack up. Why should they stack up? Why do they need scrutiny? Why, when many of you simply do not even believe in climate change? So it is no wonder to me that the Abbott government have brought forward this legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority, to remove any possible scrutiny of your still non-existent and yet-to-be-drafted direct action policy.

It is already very clear to me that the coalition's direct action policy simply has no credibility. It is no wonder you want to do away with credible sources of advice on climate change and climate change policy before you bring forth your own polices under direct action. The abolition of the Climate Change Authority simply means there will be no independent reporting back to the Australian people on climate change. There will be no independent analysis of the effectiveness of your direct action policy.

Is it any wonder that those opposite abhor such scrutiny when it seems they want to replace a very efficient form of direct action in relation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has proven to provide a return to the taxpayers, with their policy of paying polluters? Is it any wonder that they would not want the Climate Change Authority to review the credibility of these policies? Is it any wonder that they abhor such scrutiny when those opposite say they support a target but abhor any legal enforceability for such a target and when they remove any legal enforceability for such a target, as they seek to do in the bills as part of the package that they have brought forward to this place? Is it any wonder that the coalition, including those opposite, want to abolish an organisation that reports on evidence regarding the damage that carbon emissions have on the Australian and global environments, including the devastating impacts of climate change on Australian communities? So I tell those opposite, and I implore those opposite, to please not do away with the Climate Change Authority. They could really do with this advice and guidance when it comes to implementing their climate change policies.

We in this chamber, we in this place, have what I think is a very real responsibility. It is a responsibility to the global community, it is a responsibility to our own children to ensure that we take responsible action on climate change. We know the world is warming because of the globe's reliance on burning fossil fuels for energy, so we know it is, and we can only change that outcome if we are prepared to take action as a nation. So we must act now, not in three or four years, to stay on the path of a credible emissions reduction scheme. Every day that we lose in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a day that we cannot get back later. Why is this important? It is important because in the future when we are in catch-up mode we will have to take much more drastic steps as a nation in order to lower our emissions, and that will have devastating consequences for industries and jobs around our nation.

I will move on to another question when it comes to the topic before us. I really think the abolition of the Climate Change Authority is indeed just another step in Mr Abbott's campaign against Australia's scientific community. We have had cuts to the CSIRO and the Climate Commission and his campaign against researchers and academics in our nation. Science in our nation provides us with the building blocks to make the right decisions and we need to support good research and good scientific endeavour to do this. What we know from the repeal of the Climate Change Authority is that we are repealing the body that is specifically tasked to bring together the science, whether it is from the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology or other sources, and deal with that science in the context of climate change. There is no other agency that deals with these questions in that holistic way. I know those opposite have said, 'Well, CSIRO can do it and the department can do it and the Bureau of Meteorology can do it.' The fact is they are piecemeal in the way they deal with these issues. The Bureau of Meteorology—and I asked them about this in estimates—do not deal with climate change holistically. I want to say to those opposite: we need to keep the Climate Change Authority so that we can maintain the base for scientific endeavour when it comes to climate change advice.

I want to talk briefly about the functions of the Climate Change Authority. It is notable, to me, that there are other agencies around the world that have similar arrangements and that, contrary to what the government says, Australia is not alone in taking action on climate change. There are 99 countries around the world that have an emissions trading scheme. They are not just countries with progressive governments but also countries with conservative governments, such as that in the UK.

I will touch briefly on what the UK's climate change agency does. Its purpose is to:

… advise the [UK] Government on emissions targets, and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions—

and to prepare for inevitable climate change. It also provides independent advice to government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change; it monitors progress in reducing emissions and achieving carbon budgets; it conducts independent analysis into climate change science, economics and policy; and it engages with a wide range of organisations and individuals to share evidence and analysis.

These are exactly the kinds of things that our Climate Change Authority here in Australia does. They are very worthwhile and important endeavours, and they are a required basis for sound, credible policy. It sounds like sound, credible policy to me, but I think those opposite do not actually want credible policy. It is why you do not want this kind of oversight for your own climate change policies. What we know is that abolishing the Climate Change Authority puts Australia behind the international community not only in our efforts to tackle climate change but also in our economic and strategic long-term competitiveness as a nation. So I ask those opposite, I implore them: really think about what you are dismantling here because you will be responsible for not only losing jobs in the automotive industry but also for stagnating the clean energy sector in this nation. This is a sector where Australia, if we act now and embrace this now, actually has the opportunity of creating the competitive jobs of the future—the very jobs you want to support—and the opportunity to be world leaders in not only developing renewable energy technologies but also manufacturing them. What we know is that axing the Climate Change Authority reinforces the fact that you would have no respect for these jobs of the future.

We also know that you have questioned the science. Mr Tony Abbott's dismissal of expert scientific advice is no mistake; it has been done quite deliberately by the coalition. He has questioned:

… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be—

and we can all remember when he said that climate change was 'absolute crap'. But our climate is too important to entrust to the irrational, anti-scientific beliefs of this coalition government without any oversight, without the kind of oversight that is provided by the Climate Change Authority.

The Climate Change Authority provides the independent oversight that the Australian community can rely on for accurate information on climate change without the political spin of the dinosaur government that we have before us; without the confused politicisation of climate science by the government. It is really important to our nation, it is incredibly important to our nation, that the scientific targets that we commit to, that you commit to as a government, are implemented and responded to in a robust and transparent manner—in an accountable manner. The question of accountability is significantly important here because subsuming the functions of the Climate Change Authority into the Department of the Environment takes away that transparency, and it will allow the climate change deniers to hide behind the government's lack of policy and commitment to climate change.

What this nation deserves is a holistic and proper approach to tackling climate change, an approach that respects the scientific and the economic consensus—the consensus that takes into account the environmental facts, the climate change facts, and does not let fear set public policy. So in conclusion, I move the following second reading amendment:

  At the end of the motion, add: “, but the Senate expresses concern over the impact of the abolition of the Climate Change Authority on the provision of independent advice to Government and the public on carbon pollution reduction targets and actions.”

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