Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:19 am

Photo of Lin ThorpLin Thorp (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in opposition to the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. I reject the coalition's push to abolish one of Australia's most vital independent statutory bodies, the Climate Change Authority, as they move to scrap the carbon pricing scheme. The opposition will not support the scrapping of statutory bodies whose role it is to provide independent advice to governments on climate science policy. Scrapping the Climate Change Authority would be an act of ignorance and recklessness as we face the increasing pressure of climate extremes from the global phenomenon of climate change. The coalition's attempt to abolish the Climate Change Authority indicates that they will do anything to ensure that there is no independent analysis and scrutiny of their 'direct action plan'—a plan that will achieve nothing and become a policy failure for the coalition government.

The creation of the Climate Change Authority was one of the most important of a set of policies put in place by the former Labor government to address increasing concerns about the impact of climate change—its impact on the Australian landscape, the Australian people and the Australian way of life. Despite the coalition's repeated promises before coming to government that they were serious about climate change, attempts to scrap this statutory body indicate that the coalition government have no intention to take meaningful and effective action on climate change.

The role of the Climate Change Authority is to provide independent advice and recommendations to the Australian government on matters such as carbon pricing and Australia's renewable energy targets for carbon pollution. The authority conducts periodic reviews of carbon pricing processes and provides reports on Australia's progress towards meeting national targets, such as Australia's national emissions targets. Unlike the coalition led by Mr Tony Abbott, Labor will always base our policy direction and decision making on the best available science. Conclusive and comprehensive scientific assessments have strongly indicated that climate change is a reality—a reality that can clearly be attributed to the carbon emissions produced by human activity.

Labor understand that climate change is set to have a major impact on Australia's economy and environment. We know that the dangerous consequences of climate change increase significantly as increases in temperature persist. This Prime Minister can ignore the science all he likes but he cannot ignore the realities of climate change. The contrast between Labor and the coalition here is very clear: Labor stand with the scientific community and stand by taking real action on climate change; Mr Abbott and the coalition do not.

We know that the Liberals do not accept the science of climate change. It was in July 2009 that the now Prime Minister stated that he was 'hugely unconvinced by the so-called science on climate change'. Again, in October 2009, as my colleague said previously, Mr Abbott said that climate science was 'absolute crap'. In 2010, he went on to state that he did not believe that the 'science is settled'. The Liberals' treatment of climate scientists and their work was reinforced yet again recently, when Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the United Nations climate chief of talking through her hat. When in opposition, Tony Abbott led one of the most irresponsible scare campaigns on carbon pricing that the Australian people have experienced. These attitudes are not surprising, however, with former Liberal Party leader John Howard travelling overseas and telling London audiences that he would rather trust his 'instinct' than the evidence of over 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists.

With the attitudes and very dated beliefs of those opposite, it is no wonder that the coalition's policy has not been backed up and supported by one credible scientist or economist. Therefore, it really comes as no surprise to me and my Labor colleagues that the coalition is seeking to abolish the institutional bodies which report on the facts and realities of climate science.

These institutional bodies are comprised of Australia's most well respected, experienced and highly educated scientists who report on the facts and the reality of climate science. It comes as no surprise, because the coalition know that their proposed Direct Action Plan would not stand up to any of the high-level scrutiny and policy analysis which would be provided by the Climate Change Authority. The coalition know that Direct Action is merely a slogan, a con of a policy, with no substance. It has no capacity to deliver the outcomes that the coalition promised before the election. The coalition know this and they are running scared from the independent scrutiny that the Climate Change Authority would provide.

The Climate Change Authority is a statutory body which was created under the Climate Change Authority Act 2011 and commenced operations on 1 July 2012. Advice provided by the Climate Change Authority is well respected in the Australian scientific, business and academic communities. The advice is provided by Australia's best, with an incredibly strong board comprising a former governor of the Reserve Bank, who I understand was not even consulted on the development of the Direct Action Plan; an Australian Research Council Federation fellow of the University of Queensland; a current member of the Reserve Bank board and recently retired chief executive of the Australian Industry Group; the chair of AustralianSuper; and a former member of the Productivity Commission. Overall, these prominent Australians form a board which includes four professors, several economists, a leading climate scientist and Australian community members with strong backgrounds who have practical knowledge about investment and business. The talents and academic credibility of these outstanding Australians is as clear as day, yet Mr Abbott and those opposite would prefer to manage and control the information and advice provided to them through the Prime Minister's office. I find it hard to see how Mr Abbott could reject advice from such prominent people, when his understanding of climate change, as expressed in an interview with Steve Vizard on MTR in March 2011, is as follows:

Well, I’ve always thought that climate change was real because I’ve always known about the ice age and other things …

During the recent inquiry into the government's carbon tax repeal bills, the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee heard from many stakeholders about the high esteem in which the Climate Change Authority is held. During the inquiry, Mr Erwin Jackson of the Climate Institute stated:

… the Climate Change Authority plays an essential role in informing that climate policy should be retained. … To achieve a sustained emission reduction consistent with our national interest, Australia needs climate policies that are based on a sound foundation of evidence rather than political agenda.

He went on to state:

What … the Climate Change Authority does is provide an opportunity for all those stakeholders to present their views, to have them scrutinised in a transparent way and then for conclusions to be drawn from that … We need a solid base of evidence and a strong analytical foundation upon which to base our decisions, which should be independent of government, should be independent of business groups and should be independent of environment groups. That is why we need institutions like the Climate Change Authority …

Labor believe that the role of the Climate Change Authority in providing this independent information and advice is vital. We believe that the Climate Change Authority has the capacity to continue to add value to the debate about climate change and its impact. There are similar examples of such independent bodies operating successfully to inform governments, such as the Committee on Climate Change in the United Kingdom. Labor believe that the value of the Climate Change Authority extends beyond policy debates over carbon pricing and ought to be retained regardless of the direct action policy approach pursued by the coalition government. It is vital for large, developed countries with advanced democracies to have robust and independent institutions which can assess and analyse both sides of the debate and make decisions based on the evidence presented.

The opposition have some serious doubts that the functions of the Climate Change Authority could be performed in-house by the Department of the Environment. The opposition do not support the shutting down of strong, independent voices in Australia's public policy debates in order for the coalition to ensure that government advice to the Australian parliament and the wider Australian community is created, controlled and managed from the Prime Minister's office. Independent modelling has shown that the coalition's alternative climate change policy will cost billions of dollars more than Tony Abbott has claimed.

Witness evidence provided to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquiry into the carbon tax repeal legislation from the Climate Institute noted that there had been no independent analysis to date which suggested that the Direct Action Plan could achieve the proposed five per cent target. Being one of the largest per capita polluters in the world, Australia has a great global responsibility to pursue policy avenues which aim to tackle climate change. Climate change is a shared global responsibility, and that is why Australia has a global obligation to act. If the coalition walks away now, future generations of Australians will have to pay the price of this government's ignorance and inactivity. If the coalition's legislation passes the Senate, Australia's response to climate change will be viewed as a joke, because no expert believes that the Direct Action Plan can deliver real outcomes.

The science on climate change is clear. This is why over 97 per cent of published climate scientists agree that it is real and driven by human activity. It is accepted knowledge that carbon pollution is having a harmful and dangerous effect on our environment. The average air temperatures of our nation have increased by 0.9 degrees Celsius since 1910 and, since the 1950s, each decade has been warmer than the previous decade. It has also been noted in the record books that January 2013 was recorded as the hottest month in Australia since 1910. Australia's climate policy directions are globally significant to the rest of the world, particularly to other developed nations.

Let me remind those opposite that we are watched with a careful eye by our international partners. Not acting on our global responsibilities is simply not an option. Even the world's major international economic institutions have pledged their support in favour of climate change based policies such as carbon pricing. China, who is one of Australia's biggest trading partners, has also made clear indications that it will place a cap on coal consumption. China has also begun seven pilot emissions trading schemes in regions covering more than 200 million people. As one of the largest polluters, it is vital for Australia to play a key role as an influential and powerful force in the fight for global climate action.

It is now clear that it is in Australia's national interest to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and work with international partners to cut global carbon pollution. If emissions are not reduced, Australia will continue to experience more extreme weather events. At a time when 99 countries in the world have made formal pledges to the United Nations to reduce carbon pollution and taken serious action to lessen the impact of climate change, the coalition government is turning its back on Australia's climate achievements.

Under the former Labor government, Australia began to build a strong global reputation and a proud record for serious and effective policy measures to tackle climate change. Labor legislated a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change and cut the pollution we emit. The first act of the previous Labor government in this area was to ratify the Kyoto protocol. It was Labor who subsequently committed Australia to a second commitment period under the protocol. The former Labor government delivered outcomes which included more than one million households being fitted with solar panels; employment in the renewable energy industry more than doubling to over 24,000 people; and renewable power generation as a share of the National Electricity Market increasing by 25 per cent, ensuring that pollution in the National Electricity Market decreased by seven per cent. The former Labor government also provided support to reduce land sector emissions through the Carbon Farming Initiative; unprecedented support for renewable energy through the Renewable Energy Target; and support for business to become more efficient and productive, including the Clean Technology Program.

Australia enjoys some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, which range from sunshine and wind power to geothermal energy and the tidal power of oceans. I would urge those opposite not to let these policy achievements go to waste. Unlike Labor, the coalition seems to have no ambition to create a cleaner and more energy efficient Australian economy. In stark contrast to the opposition's policy, Mr Abbott and the coalition have not been able to come up with one credible scientist or economist who is willing to stand up and back their 'direct action' policy.

Every day it is becoming clearer to the Australian public that the government's proposed direct action policy is a con. The approach of this government on carbon pollution will ensure that taxpayers' money is used to pay out the big polluters. The Australian public should not be surprised that the coalition is once again running away from engaging in a substantive policy debate on climate change policy. After all, Mr Abbott has consistently ignored the scientific evidence and advice. This is why the coalition's direct action policy is nothing more than a costly one-liner. Not one expert scientist has been able to show that the coalition's plan has the capacity to meet Australia's emission reduction targets. Labor believes that it is a government's responsibility to act on the professional advice provided by those in the scientific community.

The Climate Change Authority provides expert, transparent advice and information on carbon pollution and climate change issues to government, business and the public. The role of the authority is essential to inform the public debate and the public policy which follows. Despite efforts to silence the work of prominent scientists within Australia's statutory bodies, the coalition must realise that, regardless of their political tactics on this issue, climate change will not go away by simply pretending that it is not happening and ignoring academic advice which details the contrary. It is time for the coalition to stop pretending that those who advocate for greater action on climate change are alarmist; rather, they are simply realists about the issues facing our region.

It is clear that, as a country, now is the time to do more, not less. Now is not the time to be promising results under a direct action plan that simply will not work. And if I may quote the great Tracy Chapman, Mr Acting Deputy President: 'If not now, then when?' If not today, then why make your promises? It is time to start listening to the experts. It is time for the coalition to stop ignoring what 97 per cent of the science community are telling us about how our climate is changing. The Labor Party's position remains clear: we support retaining the Climate Change Authority so that we can ensure a robust and informed national debate continues. Unlike those opposite, Labor will always listen to the science and act to protect the flow of information and independent analysis on how best to tackle climate change. I will not be supporting this legislation.


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