Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Environment and Communications References Committee; Report
I rise tonight to respond to the tabling of the committee report on direct action. Suffice to say, this report absolutely exposes direct action as simply a slogan. There is no substance to this policy, and that was revealed throughout the inquiry. In response to Senator Ruston's remarks about the so-called positive benefits not being discussed, the reason for that was that nobody through all the inquiries could put any facts on the table whatsoever about direct action. The fact of the matter is that the inquiry demonstrated that it is narrow, will not create any lasting transformation across the economy and is unfinanceable because the grants are so small, contracts are limited to five years, prices on offer are so low that they fall far short of being investment-grade and finance institutions and banks will not waste their time on direct action.
It is an optional—in other words, it is a voluntary scheme—so there is no incentive for polluters to participate. Therefore, it is very difficult to see who on earth is going to be part of this so-called emissions reduction fund. It is costly because it is going to require a huge bureaucracy to administer it, and the taxpayers are going to have to pay. In other words, so much for the slogan 'great big new tax'. In fact, communities are now going to be taxed to pay the polluters through this emission reduction fund, and there is going to be no absolute ability to determine whether there are any emission reductions additional to what companies would have done anyway. So additionality is a real issue. The assessment of the baselines is a real issue. No detail was provided and the department could not answer any of the questions. Remarkably, there is no detail about Direct Action whatsoever.
In fact, not a single economist who came before the committee supported Direct Action, because they rightly said that it is expensive and it is charging the taxpayer to pay the polluters for no guaranteed outcomes in achieving even five per cent, let alone the 40 per cent to 60 per cent emissions reduction trajectory that is going to be required by 2030. As well as statements of support from the Business Council of Australia, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and so on, and their disgraceful efforts as a cheer squad for a policy which has no substance, we had Professor Garnaut and Ken Henry commenting in the media recently. We also had Bernie Fraser appear before the committee. All of them said that Direct Action demonstrates no real commitment to addressing the climate, no consistency with what the science requires for emissions reductions and, what is more, that the direct action policy had no substance. In fact, it will fall short of its five per cent emission reduction task and will cost a great deal of money. Billions of dollars will be required, on top of the existing $1.55 billion that is allocated.
As Direct Action unravels we are simply going to see a repeat of the failed Howard government program. It did not achieve emissions reductions and had to be abandoned because, essentially, it was a gift to companies that hung out to get the money to do what they otherwise intended to do. We need serious emissions reduction in Australia. The advantage of the emissions trading scheme that we currently have is that it can be scaled up to achieve that trajectory of 40 per cent to 60 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. That is the scale of the task. We are living in a climate emergency. You have to put in place a mechanism that will deliver.
It is recommended that the Climate Change Authority stay, and so it should, to do the assessment of the renewable energy target, not the shonky assessment that is currently underway. We need to maintain the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That is an absolutely critical part of rolling out utility scale renewables in the time frame.
I thank the committee secretariat for the work they did and my colleagues on the committee. I thank Senator Lin Thorp, chair of the committee. I thank everybody involved, including all those who made submissions. The overwhelming majority of submissions were opposed to Direct Action. You could hardly find one there supporting it, to the point where some senators from the coalition side kept asking, 'Why is everyone so negative?' It is because there is no substance to the policy. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.