Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading

6:36 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak, once again, to the second reading debate of the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014. I do so, of course, as the shadow parliamentary secretary for the environment, climate change and water. The carbon tax repeal bills have returned to the Senate yet again, the bills that clear the decks for the implementation of the coalition's climate change policy vacuum. I imagine that every government senator has every digit crossed that this time they have got the simple things right enough to get their repeal legislation through this place. The last thing we need in the Senate is another week like last week, where the hubris of a government that is not up to governing was toe-curlingly clear for all to see. In the Senate last week, like a barrister badgering their own witness, the government filibustered its own guillotine. Outside, in the Senate lobby, it was Pythonesque to say the least. There were frantic whispers, dodgy deals, accusations, counter-accusations, tantrums and tremulous phone calls to unelected powerbrokers as the government ship of state went down like the Titanic. Nonetheless, the bills have been raised from the depths of a short trip to the other place to have some amendments tacked onto them.

As we consider our votes on these bills, I say to my Senate colleagues that, while your votes may be easily made today, it is our grandchildren who will pay its full price into the future. If senators want real action on climate change, if they want to reduce the economic and environmental price that will be paid by our descendants, they should vote for Labor's amendments in the Senate which will deliver an emissions trading scheme. This vote will be a major part of the legacy of all of you. We will see how history judges the efforts of government senators and all of those who vote for the government's repeal legislation. History will remember how we vote in this place today—or tomorrow or whenever the vote does come about—and why, over the next year or two, prices will refuse to come down on absolutely everything, much as the Prime Minister has outlined.

Remember the Prime Minister assuring Australian households that the carbon tax and the carbon pricing mechanism would force prices up and up and up on absolutely everything? He then promised, as he had to, that repealing the carbon tax would force prices down and down and down on absolutely everything. That was not just electricity and gas, but everything—groceries, airfares and house prices. 'Absolutely everything' was his promise. Remember the Prime Minister's campaign of fear and hyperbole, his sloganeering tour around the country endlessly repeating clumsy metaphors and foolish predictions? He promised that the carbon tax would be 'a cobra strike to the economy' and 'a wrecking ball'. Tumbleweed would blow down the main streets of Whyalla and Gladstone, towns destroyed by the carbon tax—so the Prime Minister said. As Whyalla and Gladstone mirror the economy in continuing to go from strength to strength, does the Prime Minister feel as foolish now as he sounded then? The country now understands the value the Prime Minister places on his promises—less than the correction fluid that covers them up.

We saw last week the release of a UN report highlighting how major emitting countries can cut their emissions and increase economic growth, not just increasing growth but tripling economic output. The Pathways to Deep Carbonisation interim report, released by Ban Ki-moon on 9 July, shows that not only can the world avoid a catastrophic two degree global warming scenario but we can all benefit from decarbonising our economy. According to the report Australia can deliver a 71 per cent reduction in carbon pollution by 2050 while growing the economy by 150 per cent. The numbers for the US show an 85 per cent reduction while GDP almost doubles. Over the past century Australia has built for itself a deserved reputation as an honest nation, a brave nation, a nation that accepts global leadership—indeed, seeks such leadership—when it is needed. We are a democratic nation prepared to make sacrifices to protect humanity's greater good. Australian leadership is needed now. But leadership scares the coalition too much. They will let others lead, let others lift. Instead of seeking responsibility for global leadership on climate change, they lean away from it.

Global warming will cost the world five per cent of GDP as a minimum. It is already costing us. Addressing it will cost us one to two per cent of our global GDP. If Australians try but make little difference—maybe only a small difference—we will have led, we will have made that difference for future generations. But what if we back renewable energy and find ourselves at the front of a global renewable industry that makes a big difference, makes the difference—an industry reliant on innovation and research and set up for Australia. Australia, of course, has a lot of sun, tides, wind and water—and a lot of scientists and skilled workers and, therefore, a lot of innovation and a lot of technological expertise. Australian researchers, scientists and investors will be leading innovation and creating economic growth by developing new energy technology and boosting energy efficiency.

That is precisely what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency are already achieving—institutions that are part of the fabric of what Labor created in our clean energy package. These are bodies Labor established and the government wants to destroy. But they have been saved by the good sense of the Labor Party, supported by some on the crossbenches. I urge the Senate to keep using its good sense and to vote for Labor's amendment to move the country to an immediate emissions trading scheme, as Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, proposed yesterday.

Labor was right to put climate change at the front of the political agenda. We are right to support an emissions trading scheme and we are right to support renewable energy. Labor will always fight for the right policy for Australia. We are right now; we will be right in 2050 and in 100 years.

An emissions trading scheme guarantees the lowest cost for Australian businesses and families. An emissions trading scheme delivers business certainty and it positions Australia so as to maximise economic benefit from the growing global trend on pricing pollution. And it puts Australia on the crest of the wave of the unprecedented new market opportunities in clean energy and green technology, opportunities that are supported through the CEFC and ARENA. It gives Australian innovation and ideas the chance to thrive. The Leader of the Opposition proudly noted that since Labor:

put a price on pollution two years ago, emissions in the energy sector—the main industry covered by the carbon tax—have dropped by 10.4 per cent.

Since the Renewable Energy Target was introduced, $18 billion has flowed into Australia’s renewable energy sector.

Under Labor, wind power generation—tripled.

The number of jobs in the renewable energy sector—tripled.

And the number of Australian households with rooftop solar panels increased from under 7,500 to almost 1.2 million.

Abolishing the RET—

the renewable energy target—

will put Australia out of step with the rest of the world—and it will cut us off from the next wave of international investment in clean energy.

Labor objects to these bills because, if these bills pass in the Senate, we will see no cap on carbon pollution, no discipline and no rigour at all on the amount of carbon pollution produced in Australia

We will see no market mechanism whatsoever to deal with climate change, no effective price signal to discourage polluters from polluting our atmosphere with carbon dioxide much in the way the GP tax will discourage poor sick people on low incomes from seeing the doctor.

The shadow minister for the environment, Mark Butler, was right to express our concern that:

We will see no legislated short-term target for carbon pollution reduction. The five per cent reduction target for 2020 will go. … there will be no legal mechanism to implement Australia's international obligations. There will certainly be no longer term target, as in the current legislation—the 2050 target that Australia signed on to, apparently with the support of the then opposition, the now government, to reduce carbon pollution by 2050. Again, there will be no such commitment by Australia anymore.

So what will there be? There will be Direct Action, the government's plan to pay big polluters to pollute and remove the cap on pollution, the plan that will not change behaviour. In fact, Direct Action rejects action, and it is a coalition policy that is still yet to find any broad support out in the community from economists and environmentalists. Let us not forget the number of economists last week that all wrote an open letter to the government on exactly that—on the fact that Direct Action does nothing on climate change policy, whilst an emissions trading scheme, a legal cap on pollution, is what Australia needs to do. But we all know this, no-one more clearly than the Minister for the Environment, who spent 19 years and most of his political purpose arguing that a price on carbon was in fact the best way of reducing pollution. Much of the world now agrees with the minister's long-held and cogent views. However, they are views that he does not wish to express at the current time. Perhaps it does not politically make any sense for him to do so. It certainly does not make him come out in support of his own policy of Direct Action.

Sitting suspended from 18:50 to 19:30

If removing the carbon tax was all that these bills were about, the opposition would be able to join the coalition and support these bills. But, of course, this is not what this package of bills is about at all. It is about dismantling even workable measures to further the case that this Prime Minister has consistently propagated, arguing against the science. This is the settled science that tells us we need some significant action. The saddest component of this package of bills is what is not included. We have sought to substitute for that with our amendment and for an emissions trading scheme. On an emissions trading scheme, we know again that the Prime Minister has propagated furphies when it comes to international action.

Today, 39 national and 23 sub-national jurisdictions—accounting for almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions—have implemented, or are on track to implement, carbon pricing instruments—very much what we are talking about when we talk about an emissions trading scheme. Yet this government will continue to carry on flogging the Direct Action dead horse, rejected by economists and scorned by climate scientists, and will stumble in shame into the Paris conferences next year wearing only a fig leaf, I am sure. They will not go as an example of an emissions-intensive economy with an integrated, effective emissions trading scheme. They will not be asked to inform the world how they are contributing to the global effort on climate change. The government will go with nothing but limited and ineffectual subsidies, no policy for 2020 and the decade after when global emission cuts targets will increase; no policy after 2018 and no funding after 2016. They will go with nothing. And there is the rub: no courage, no leadership—the definition of 'un-Australian'.

There are certain moments in parliament, which are inscribed in Hansard, where our successors will download what legislation was passed or repealed and ask themselves, 'What were they thinking? What were they scared of? Who voted for this and why?' These are narrow minded, partisan, ignorant mistakes. We can see them in the past—the White Australia Policy, the Stolen Generation, the Vietnam War. I believe that this is one of those moments, the moment when Australia might give up on global warming. This vote is about a choice between a few bits of money in 2015 or a future in which the environment might satisfactorily support our demands upon it.

As I said, the government has yet to demonstrate that its alternative policy can achieve Australia's minimum commitments. All that independent analysis to date indicates that emissions will continue to increase under its current proposed framework. If that is the case—and I have to say I put my money on economists and scientists over this government—then Australia is doing nothing on climate change. It is doing nothing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It is doing nothing to support our future generations . On that front, I would like to read into Hansard that the government can keep its 30 pieces of silver, because I am voting for the future. I am voting with Labor for climate change policy that will make a difference to our future generations—that is, an emissions trading scheme.


No comments