Senate debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Carbon Farming Initiative Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading

6:29 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The fact of the matter is that the world is facing a climate emergency. We are on track for at least four degrees of warming. We are already seeing tipping points being exceeded. We are seeing it with the Antarctic icesheets, for example, where disintegration is occurring and it is now a matter of when, not if. Whether it is decades or longer—hundreds of years—the fact is that it is irreversible. We have seen the record Arctic ice melt. And now the latest science is showing that the wind systems around the Arctic have changed, which will lead to really extreme winters in Europe. We are going to see more excessive flooding in the UK, for example. Here in Australia, we are going to see more extreme weather events. We are going to see the heatwaves that lead to catastrophic circumstances for many people, with death rates going up. We are also going to see more extreme bushfire days.

We are not prepared for this. That is why, under the last period of government, the Greens worked with the Labor Party to deliver a clean energy package to bring down Australia's emissions. The reason we implemented an emissions trading scheme was that a market mechanism is the cheapest way to bring down emissions, and it can be scaled up. The reality is that Labor and the Greens could not agree on what the cap should be—that is, how fast and how deeply Australia should bring down its emissions. That is why we set up the Climate Change Authority, based on the similar authority in the United Kingdom. We said, 'Let's set up a professional body which will look at the science, at what is happening around the world and at what Australia's appropriate carbon budget should be.' We said that it would report in early 2014 and then the parliament would move to implement that as a flexible price, with the cap. The cap that the Climate Change Authority recommended was 40 to 60 per cent by 2030, with at least 19 per cent to be implemented now. The default was actually 19 per cent.

Yet this government, together with the Palmer United Party, decided to abolish the existing emissions trading scheme, which was working to bring down emissions, particularly in the electricity sector. That is the area where we desperately need to drive change, to get out of coal fired generation and into renewable energy as quickly as possible. The Greens are committed to 100 per cent renewable energy as soon as possible. That is why we celebrate the fact that the renewable energy target and the programs we had implemented were bringing down emissions and rolling out jobs and projects across Australia. It was and is something to celebrate and it is why we will not compromise to bring down the renewable energy target to facilitate coal.

Not only did we have an emissions trading scheme, a renewable energy target and the Climate Change Authority; we also had the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is again driving a mega rollout of jobs. I would be most appreciative if either the Palmer United Party or the government could tell us what the deal has meant for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ARENA. According to the papers today, the deal actually makes it worse for them. Far from saving them, according to today's papers, the deal is that you will put off bringing in the abolition bills until December this year, therefore implying that the Palmer United Party and the government are happy for those abolition bills to come back here early next year. How is that saving the Clean Energy Finance Corporation? You have just put a huge pall of uncertainty over both those organisations after, again, the government and the Palmer United Party got together to take $717 million out of ARENA over the forward estimates. You have taken away the ability to fund new projects. There is an attack on every good thing that was achieved in bringing down emissions and rolling out jobs, especially investment in rural and regional Australia.

I now come to the Carbon Farming Initiative. We set that up with the Biodiversity Fund, and why? The rural sector has been saying to us for years, 'If you want us to help preserve biodiversity, to deal with feral animals, to do the right thing and to steward the land as we would like to, you need to help us financially.' That is why we set up both the Carbon Farming Initiative and the Biodiversity Fund. I condemn the fact that the Rudd government destroyed and abolished the Biodiversity Fund. That was disgraceful. It was part of the agreement and they abolished it. The Carbon Farming Initiative was a way of giving farmers an income for making certain that they invest in projects which bring down emissions or secure carbon in the landscape, and it is essential that we do that. Now we are seeing an attack on that as well.

We have a hideously expensive, ineffective Direct Action Plan, which the Leader of the Palmer United Party had described as 'an ineffective policy and a waste of money at a time when families, pensioners, young Australians, stay-at-home mums, single parents and our Indigenous communities are facing unfair measures in the budget'. That was after the Leader of the Palmer United Party also said that he would not pass Direct Action unless the government accepted his emissions trading scheme.

Let me put to bed any idea that anything like the emissions trading scheme which he proposed was actually one, when in fact you are having an emissions trading scheme when you are not actually having one. It was zero cap and zero price and it was not to come into effect until all the trading partners had an emissions trading scheme and we had a global emissions trading scheme—that is, never. Just to add to that, India was added to it just to make sure that it would never happen. It was a sham and a shonk from the start, and everybody could see that. But, nevertheless, it was the price that he wanted the government to pay to accept the deal. And what a pathetic situation we now have where, far from accepting the emissions trading scheme, the Climate Change Authority is having an investigation over the next 18 months, which the government says it will take no notice of. That is where Clive Palmer's deal ended up.

Why would the Palmer United Party accept such a rubbish outcome, knowing full well that it is a waste of money? This is one thing I mentioned this week in relation to the late Gough Whitlam. He always said that when you don't know where somebody is coming from, just back self-interest, because it is always trying. That is absolutely the case here when it comes to this policy, because we have seen the government and the Palmer United Party tear down a scheme which required the polluter to pay—and that includes Mr Palmer's own companies which had to pay the carbon price, and it was a multibillion-dollar bill for the Palmer United Party leader.

Now the reverse is occurring. Not only did he tear down that the polluter pays but he is now putting in place that the polluter gets paid via the taxpayer. What a perfect outcome. The big polluters can now put up their hand for taxpayers' dollars in order to be paid to do something that they should have been doing anyway and probably would have been doing anyway, with no requirement on additionality that makes any sense. They are going to hang back and wait to be paid.

Economist Frank Jotzo at the Australian National University Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy said:

The proposed Emissions Reductions Fund under the Direct Action Plan amounts to a scheme of project-based subsidies, funded by taxpayers. The Emissions Reductions Fund approach could be useful to support particular emissions reductions activities, insofar as the budgetary costs can be justified. But it is not a suitable instrument for long-term, broad-based climate change mitigation action.

The effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of an Emissions Reduction Fund will be limited by fiscal costs and fiscal constraints, by private incentives to overstate emissions savings and to hold back investment unless subsidised, by the relatively short proposed time horizons for payments, by the instrument being confined to specific eligible activities, and by the relatively large administrative burden. It could also encourage continued lobbying by potential beneficiaries …

Of course it will.

We have a scheme that cannot be scaled up to meet the kind of emission reduction that is required. Let's say it is 60 per cent by 2030, which is where Australia should be aiming. This will not even deliver five per cent by 2020. I asked the minister today: where is your modelling? Have you done any to suggest that the Direct Action deal is going to give us anywhere near five per cent? RepuTex has said it will give you 20 to 30 per cent of the five per cent. Sinclair Knight has said it will not do it; it cannot do it—the money is not enough to go anywhere near it. Also, when you look at the budgetary allocation, yes, it is $2.5 billion, but what has been allocated over the forwards is $1.15 billion out until 2017-18. This is not going to do anything to bring down emissions.

Not only is the government talking through its hat when it says, 'Oh yes, it will.' There is no evidence, no modelling base, not one single economist, not one single scientist—you cannot stand up with any legitimacy and suggest this is going to be something other than just handouts to the big polluters. Just like John Howard, the former Prime Minister's scheme, the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, was judged to be a complete waste of money, so too will this be. Malcolm Turnbull was right when he said that it was fiscal irresponsibility on a grand scale. He also described it as the big polluters getting their sticky fingers into taxpayers' pockets, and that is precisely what it is going to do.

I want to go to the safeguards, because this is the fig leaf that is being proposed: at some point in the future—we are pushing it out to 2016; we will bring in some kind of safeguards measure. But the Prime Minister has been hoisted with his own petard. He said, 'Axe the tax', 'No tax', 'Cannot have a carbon tax'. For a credit scheme to work, you have to have realistic baselines; when the big polluters exceed them, they pay. That is a tax. We know that the government has no intention of having any rigour around baselines at all.

I want to come to native forests. This is devastating for campaigners around Australia. We had a prohibition under the carbon farming initiative from being able to get a carbon farming project registered, if it involved the harvesting or clearing of a native forest or the use of materials obtained as a result of clearing or harvesting a native forest—prohibited.

Now, because the native forest logging industry is on its knees—they cannot get any money for their woodchips—they have been lobbying hard to be able to keep on logging; get paid to log to feed native forests into forest furnaces to sell energy. That is going to be the fate of Tasmania's forests, Victoria's forests, Western Australia's forests—right around the country. They are lining up a deal that you will get paid by the taxpayer to knock down native forests and feed them into forest furnaces.

That is the deal that Clive Palmer and Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, have actually lined up. It is disgraceful. I am going to be moving an amendment on that during the committee stage. I would hope that if people do not want to see native forests knocked down and fed into forest furnaces they will support that amendment.

Finally, there are several other amendments I intend to put through. There has been a disassociation with NRM plans, for example, which is important to stop the abuse of water and the use of another round of MIS schemes, which is entirely possible under this. And of course there is ridiculous ministerial discretion being provided here in relation to the Carbon Farming Initiative.

I am also going to be moving a second reading amendment. I will be asking that the Senate note that, if we continue without change, Australia will use its entire 2050 emissions budget within 16 years and the world will warm by at least four degrees by 2100, destroying Australia's Great Barrier Reef, destroying agricultural industries and creating massive vulnerabilities in public health and national security. Secondly, I will ask the Senate to note that it is of the opinion that there is no time to waste on an ineffective, expensive direct action policy that allows unlimited pollution, hurts our global competitiveness and gives taxpayers' money to the biggest polluters with no guarantee of emissions reduction. That is precisely why we should be voting against Direct Action. It is a sham of a policy.

I will put this in the global context of where we are now and where the world is starting to move to, which is recognising that we have to address global warming. We have just had the United Nations summit in New York where Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited countries to put more ambitious targets on the table. Not only did our Prime Minister not go but our foreign minister put our lousy target of five per cent by 2020 on the table. The room was virtually empty. Australia was humiliated.

We have the G20 coming up. The G20 leaders are going to arrive in Australia just as this parliament will have rammed through the shonkiest deal ever, a hideous waste of taxpayers' money, with no cap whatsoever on the big polluters, which are all lined up with their hands out to get paid taxpayers' dollars for whatever they can scheme and scam the system for. The G20 is going to be meeting just as this news starts to permeate, especially ahead of the news about logging native forests for forest furnaces. Then we will go into the Lima talks and head towards Paris next year.

It is a complete joke for the government or the Palmer United Party to argue this is some sort of basis for heading towards Paris. It is nothing of the kind. Australia has to put its post-2020 target on the table in the first half of next year. In fact, it has been invited to do so by the end of March, but no doubt as laggards we will not. There is no process from this government to talk about what our post-2020 target should be. The European Union has just put 40 per cent on the table. That is a target of a 40 per cent emission reduction by 2030. That is their opening bid. They know they will have to go up from there—not down, but up. What is Australia's bid? Nothing. There is nothing on the table post 2020, and this policy will not guarantee it.

We now have a need to take real action on climate change, stop wasting taxpayers' money and stop rewarding the big polluters, the big donors in the fossil fuel area, who are now laughing their heads off as they got massive windfall gains and now want more out of the taxpayer. We need genuine action on global warming. That is why the Greens stand here today saying that this is exactly what we will continue to campaign for—to keep the renewable energy target at 41,000 gigawatt hours out to 2020 and go for 100 per cent as fast as we can get there to shut down some coal fired generators and actually get this country moving.


No comments