Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Matters of Urgency

Climate Change

Photo of Paul CalvertPaul Calvert (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that I have received the following letter, dated 7 February 2007, from Senator Milne:

Dear Mr President,

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move “That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Australian Government to set clear medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to underpin national carbon pricing mechanisms such that deep cuts are achieved by 2050.

Yours sincerely

Christine Milne

Senator for the State of Tasmania

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:12 pm

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

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:The need for the Australian Government to set clear medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to underpin national carbon pricing mechanisms such that deep cuts are achieved by 2050.

I have moved this urgency motion today because I think it is time to cut through all of the talk that has been going on in the last few weeks about emissions trading. Let us make a couple of things very clear from the start. The Prime Minister announced his emissions trading task force because he was about to be humiliated by the Business Council of Australia last year at their meeting where they had informed him they were going to come out in favour of a price on carbon. As a result, at that conference he announced an emissions trading task force and he gave people to understand that this would somehow lead to a national emissions trading system in Australia. But he was very careful to say it was a global system he was talking about, knowing full well that there is not a global emissions trading system unless you ratify the Kyoto protocol, which he says he will not. And we know that, even with the pan-European system, the system that is operating in the north-east states of the United States and so on, there is not going to be a global system for some years and that the most important thing to do is to get started: get a national system going, get a regional system going and make sure they are compatible so that ultimately they can be linked into a global trading system.

So now today we have the release of that task force report—and it is humiliating, actually. I think around Australia today in boardrooms there will be people tearing it up. There will be people unbelievably shocked that, after years and years of discussion and consultation, the best the federal government can do is come up with another set of questions, when the Minister for Finance and Administration has made it clear in the Senate for two days running now that the government has no intention whatsoever of establishing a national emissions trading system in the absence of a global system. So there is not going to be one.

So what is the point of asking industry for the third time? They were asked in 1999, there was a full consultation, the Greenhouse Office put out its report and it was ignored. Then we had the states going out in consultation and they were ignored. Now we are going to have another round of consultation. Industry want certainty and they want a price today. The key thing we have to remember is that an emissions trading system is to reduce greenhouse gases. Before you can have a trading system, you have to say what level of greenhouse gas emissions is acceptable to Australia. That should be based on the level of climate change you accept.

What I am shocked about, which just happened, is that the Labor Party joined with the government in refusing to commit to restraining global warming by two degrees. What do we know about the target they are going to set? You do not just have a national emissions trading scheme wandering around without an aim in life. Its aim in life is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So I would like to hear, in the course of this debate, what the national target is. What level of warming do the ALP and the government accept as their aim for constraining temperature? What does that mean in parts per million? What does that mean in terms of the emissions trading scheme and financial mechanisms that might be required because we need deep cuts by 2050? We do not need any more talk; we all know what has to be done. What we are seeing now is delay, delay, delay. There is a performance going on in the lower house to make it look as if somebody is doing something about climate change, but neither the Liberals nor Labor have stated to what level they would like to constrain warming.

The UK made it very clear that two degrees was too much. They would set up a national emissions reduction target to try and constrain global warming to less than two degrees. The Great Barrier Reef is already dying with the degree of warming we have now. We know that there will be excessive and dangerous climate impacts by the time we get to two degrees of warming. What level is the government prepared to accept for Australia? The Prime Minister, in his ignorance, said that four to six degrees of warming would make some people less comfortable than they are now, whereas in fact it would change the whole human geography of the world. It would be a huge disaster, with six out of every 10 species becoming extinct. Let us have a bit of depth in the policy debate. Stop rolling out the greenwash and stop rushing around the country—both the coalition and the Labor Party. Let us actually have a serious debate. Emissions trading is about achieving an objective—that is, to reduce greenhouse gases. What is the level of warming that you are prepared to accept or not accept, and what is the target? (Time expired)

4:17 pm

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a couple of things to say that arise from Senator Milne’s contribution today. The first is that she must be delusional if she thinks that the business community is going to listen to anything that the Australian Greens have to say about the long-term economic growth of this country, because you are committed to slowing down the growth of this economy, not developing it. For you to come in here today, Senator Milne, and talk about policy debates—

Photo of Michael ForshawMichael Forshaw (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Ronaldson, you will direct your remarks through the chair, won’t you?

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will indeed. For Senator Milne to come in here today and talk about policy is an absolute joke. If you go to the Australian Greens website to see what their policies are in relation to this matter, what does it say? Absolutely nothing. There is not one policy on the Australian Greens website. They are making no contribution to policy in this country. At least the Labor Party, although they are confused about this, have the bare bones of a policy. But the Australian Greens do not have a policy. There is not one policy on their website. I am not surprised, because we had the ‘soft on drugs’ policy and they have removed that. There is not one thing on climate change.

In relation to this matter, I am afraid the Australian Labor Party have a very long way to go. Regrettably for them, substance, not rhetoric, is required. The proposed talkfest in April or May is simply not a good enough contribution. You have enormous problems in your own ranks about where you want to go. You cannot get any sort of position at all in relation to nuclear power. This will be fought out at the next national conference. Why do you not at least enable a proper debate to take place in relation to this matter?

I want to go back and talk about some historical aspects of this government’s contribution on climate change, both in a policy sense and in relation to quite specific matters that have been addressed. It was mentioned earlier that the Australian Greenhouse Office, set up by this government in 1997, was the first agency of its type in the world dedicated to addressing climate change. But it was not a matter of setting up an office; it was not a matter of being comfortable with having that office there; it was the action that followed that. We are recognised internationally for the work we are doing in relation to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The head of the Australian Greenhouse Office is co-chairing new international talks on post Kyoto protocol approaches for long-term cooperative action on climate change. So not only was that group set up in 1997 but in 2007 our leading role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is being recognised internationally.

I want to make this very clear—and I will go through it slowly so that those opposite can hear it and I will repeat it for them just in case: the government recognises that the best scientific advice tells us that globally we need to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades. This is the consistent approach of this government, and the Australian Greens, and their leader Senator Brown, have been attempting to distort the position of the government on this matter. It has been quite clear for some time and it is fully supported by me.

I will now go to what we have done. We are up there with the rest of the world in meeting our Kyoto obligations. By 2010 we will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an amount which effectively equals the greenhouse gas emissions of the whole of the transport sector throughout this country.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That is very silly.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a real shame that the sceptics in the Australian Greens are not prepared to accept one piece of good news because it does not suit their political purposes. It is the sceptics in the Australian Greens who are losing this debate. There is no clearer evidence of that than the Newspoll earlier this week. With everything that has been going on in this debate, and with the matters that Senator Brown and Senator Milne without any factual basis at all have been peddling to the Australian community, you would think there might have been some rise in support for the Australian Greens. The Newspoll recorded that the Australian Greens have actually dropped by two points. This is on the back of one of the most disgraceful scare campaigns we have seen for decades. The Greens have dropped because the punters do not believe them.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

What about the government?

The Acting Deputy President:

Order, Senators!

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I am in desperate need of some protection, Mr Acting Deputy President. Thank you, most sincerely. I want to talk now about the specific matters the government is addressing to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than rhetoric, we have put money on the table. We are doing what a good government is obligated to do on these issues—and that is to do something to address them. It is not to have talkfests or run scare campaigns but to put some serious money into serious issues.

The $2 billion climate change strategy was very focused on practical measures to lower greenhouse gas emissions. It included $500 million for the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund. Is it supported by the Greens? No, the Greens do not even support this fund. What about the $100 million renewable energy development issue—do they support that? Clearly, they do not support that either. What about the $100 million fund announced as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership—do they support that? Again, silence from the Greens. They have not supported three initiatives so far on this matter. What about the $75 million Solar Cities program—do they support that? There is silence again from the Greens. They are damned by silence; they do not support this. Again, the Australian Greens are incapable of putting forward or supporting practical on-the-ground solutions to an issue that we all know must be addressed.

I will turn very quickly now to the support for renewable energy. We are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy: $123 million for the expansion and extension of the renewable and remote powered generation program over four years; $100 million for the renewable energy development initiative; $75 million for the Solar Cities initiative; $20 million for the advanced electricity storage initiative; and $14 million for advanced wind forecasting capabilities. Do you support any of those, Senator Milne? Do you support any of them at all? No, you do not support them.

The Acting Deputy President:

Order! Senator Ronaldson, I ask you once again to direct your remarks through the chair. You know that it is not open to you to ask questions across the chamber during this debate because other senators are required to remain silent.

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Point taken, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was not expecting a response but I felt moved to ask the question because I knew what the response was. It was an emphatic no—a no by silence. Very briefly, on the 25 October 2006 a $75 million LETDF grant was awarded to Solar Systems Pty Ltd. This grant will support the development in Victoria of the world’s largest solar energy plant. Was it agreed to by the Greens? No, it was not. (Time expired)

4:28 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the urgency motion put forward by Senator Milne on climate change. The fourth assessment report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has caused a lot of discussion globally and certainly here in Australia. It describes a future in which there is an increase in average temperature by up to three degrees, where there is no snow on many of the mountains, where the Great Barrier Reef is devastated and where many people’s lives could be jeopardised by a rising sea level. It also describes significant problems for the global economy. It is clear that this nation has to take decisive action. In fact, decisive action should have been taken much earlier. There is bad news in this report and it comes on top of the Stern report last year, which provided hard economic data about the effects of climate change on this nation and on the world economy. Every day more and more evidence is coming to light, yet the Howard government is only just starting to get it and until now really has not got it at all.

We know today that the Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation has warned that climate change is the No. 1 threat to the reef and could have devastating effects if it is not brought under immediate control. Increases in temperature, the foundation has warned, will cause widespread bleaching that will destroy marine life. This is not ‘uncomfortable for some’, as the Prime Minister has described on television; it is more than uncomfortable for all of us. Frankly, the Prime Minister’s comments show yet again a complete lack of comprehension of the scale and impact that climate change will have on all of our futures. Those comments are yet more evidence of a Prime Minister who simply does not understand the science of climate change.

After question time yesterday, the Prime Minister, when he was embarrassingly forced to retract his statement, said he mistook the question he was asked about climate change. I suggest it is more likely he simply mistook the science. He did not mistake the question; he mistook the science. He mistook the science because his conversion from climate change sceptic is barely skin-deep. His position is about political positioning, not about substance and not about conviction. If we have a Prime Minister who continues to doubt the link between carbon emissions and climate change then Australians really have to ask themselves if that is the sort of Prime Minister they want.

It is important to remember that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports tell us that many of the projections are scenario dependent, so the actual warming will be significantly affected by the actual emissions that occur—that is to say, we still have some choices. We still have the opportunity to act now and to act decisively in order to do all that we can to avert a disaster.

It is not just Labor saying this. In fact, the Business Roundtable has been saying for many months now that the government needs to give business what it describes as a long, loud and clear legal signal on the price of carbon. Electricity consumers have signed up to buy green electricity in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, businesses are aware that sustainability and helping to address climate change are an opportunity to achieve innovations and competitive advantage. The fact is that Australian businesses are increasingly realising that understanding and managing the impacts of climate change are important to ‘business as usual’. It must be factored into their risk management strategies. The chairman of the Business Council of Australia, Michael Chaney, has made precisely this point. He has stated that, regardless of one’s views on climate change, the case is now such that business must ensure against the risk of it with an effective policy response.

We have also had community and church leaders speaking out. For example, Bishop George Browning of Canberra has stated that refusing to do everything within our power to stop the world from heating up is a moral responsibility. The community, business, states and consumers are all crying out for national leadership on this issue. But where is the Howard government? The Howard government continues to have its head stuck in the sand, hoping the issue will go away and, perhaps more importantly, trying to pretend that it is doing something about it. The government is not doing something about it, and if it does it will only be because it has been pushed to do so for political reasons.

Labor has been saying for some time now that we need a comprehensive plan to address climate change that includes immediately ratifying the Kyoto protocol, cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution by 60 per cent by 2050, establishing a national emissions trading scheme and substantially increasing the mandatory renewable energy target. What is interesting to note, and how you can tell the government’s change is really only skin-deep, is how ministers have not got their lines straight on this issue. We all remember, don’t we, that Minister Macfarlane, Minister for Industry Tourism and Resources, last year described Al Gore’s film on climate change as ‘entertainment’. We all remember him talking in very negative turns about the impossibility—I think he used the word ‘folly’—of a carbon emissions trading scheme. We have seen Minister Macfarlane softening his position. He is now saying that he is keeping an open mind to the prospect.

We also see the Prime Minister softening his position. We have the prime ministerial task force—I think other senators have described this—indicating that it is unlikely that a global trading system will be available in the near future and that the establishment of a national system should be considered. This is a report prepared by the Prime Minister’s own department in circumstances where the Prime Minister and his ministers have previously said that we cannot go it alone, that we have to have a global scheme up and running before we can do anything. We have seen a softening of position by both the Prime Minister’s own department and Minister Macfarlane, but unfortunately people do not seem to have told Senator Minchin.

We all remember that Senator Minchin yesterday—and I think again today, but certainly yesterday—was extremely hard on the issue of whether or not Australia should investigate or establish a national carbon emissions trading scheme. He stated:

The government continues to be opposed to Australia acting unilaterally to tax Australian industry by way of a domestic emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax in the absence of any action by our trading partners or other major nations ...

Senator Minchin is demonstrating yet again that the government are all at sea on this issue, that any conversion is for political purposes only. There is an attempt to look as if they are dealing with the issue but they do not believe it, which is why they cannot get their lines right, why they are inconsistent on this issue and why their policy position is all over the place. (Time expired)

4:35 pm

Photo of Lyn AllisonLyn Allison (Victoria, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I actually think this urgency motion should go further. We do certainly need medium- and long-term planning and for measures to be put in place, but I would argue that we need immediate steps. This government could take those immediate steps. It could increase the target for MRET, the mandatory renewable energy target. It could do that quite easily. It could take a range of measures, including looking at a carbon levy. Carbon levies have been used in other countries. In the United Kingdom, carbon levies were raised from big industry—quite a small levy, actually—per tonne of carbon emitted and reinvested into those industries in energy efficiency. That has been a hugely successful program. At the end of the day, industry benefits from these kinds of proposals because they become either cost neutral or they make massive savings. So there are many things the government could be doing.

Instead we have long-term solutions from the Howard government. Of course the long term still relies on voluntary measures. There is still discussion about nuclear power. It could be 15 to 20 years before we actually get a reactor, let alone 25. They are still talking about clean coal, even though it is very expensive. It is much more expensive than wind. If we were to have a carbon tax that would facilitate clean coal, then we would certainly have wind in far greater quantities than we have now. Then we had today’s release of the task force’s so-called discussion paper, which, I would argue, poses more questions than it answers on the issue of emissions trading.

I remind the government that the Australian Greenhouse Office prepared a design for a domestic greenhouse gas emissions trading system some six years ago. That is where the government should have gone for advice on proceeding with emissions trading. Instead we have a proposal which purports to be about a global trading system. Instead of going through the Kyoto protocol process and talking with partners in Europe and other parts of the world, we are saying that we will develop the idea for a scheme in the international arena. These are just more delay tactics on the part of the Howard government. It is a talkfest that makes the Prime Minister look like he is doing something, when obviously he is not.

I think it is all about protecting the coal, gas and oil industries in this country. There is $26 billion earned every year from coal exports. It seems to me that this is about protecting our exports and hoping that we will continue to export our carbon-intensive resources and prop up our own export dollars instead of developing an alternative sustainable industry. Australia is still far too reliant on the ‘dig it up and ship it out’ mentality that has governed this country’s economy for a very long time. Under the Howard government, we have not moved to shift that.

At one stage there was talk about Australia being at the forefront of renewable energy technology—and it was once at the forefront of solar energy technology—and having five per cent of the world market in renewable energy technology. We have lost all that; most of that has gone overseas. We are now exporting a fraction of that amount, and other countries such as Germany and Japan—and, in fact, countries throughout Asia—are catching up with and overtaking Australia.

The government needs clear targets for medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction and measures to put carbon pricing signals in place. Industry is calling for them, conservation groups are calling for them and we have been calling for them for a long time. The inquiry into greenhouse gas emissions that I chaired more than six years ago made this call, but still the government ignores that and finds ways of putting off the inevitable. (Time expired)

4:40 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on this urgency motion. Whilst I was very happy and thought it important to support Senator Milne’s motion concerning the Tasmanian bushfires, I cannot agree with Senator Milne’s urgency motion on this occasion. Like the rest of the government, I will be opposing this motion.

It is important to have a bit of historical context about some of the issues. Global warming is an emotive issue. Throughout history, when bits and pieces are leaked into society in one way or another, people exaggerate them and take them completely out of context. Let us consider some of the things that have happened over the centuries. In particular, I will refer to some other ‘end of world’ scenarios. Some 150 years ago, London and other cities were faced with the potentially devastating effects of cholera and typhoid which flowed from untreated sewage. The answer was not to stop citizens from consuming water but to embark on a radical clean-up and transformation of infrastructure. You can relate that to what this government is doing as well.

Similarly, damage to the ozone layer and acid rain were pronounced to be irreversible, yet each problem has largely been addressed through changes in the way we organise ourselves. There has been a cultural change to address these problems. Indeed, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is one of the most successful environmental protection agreements in the world. The protocol set out a mandatory timetable for the gradual phase-out of ozone-depleting substances internationally. As a result, there is now mounting evidence of a decline in ozone-depleting substances and an increase in the protective ozone in the atmosphere. Similarly, international action on acid rain has been equally successful. Since the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution came into force, pollution standards have significantly reduced the amount of sulfur dioxide from industrial sources, which has meant a recovery of forests in Europe and North America that were once vulnerable to acid rain.

Governments can effect change, and this government is certainly in the business of effecting change. Climate change has been a moving issue. It has been debated in many countries for a long time, and there has been dissent. It is only in recent years that there has been more global consensus that human activity on this planet has contributed to global climate change. Yes, this government has an attitude of being responsible about that—certainly domestically—but we must remember the international scene. This government can only dictate what happens within its own borders; we cannot change the international environment. How big is this challenge internationally? It is huge. Global demand for power is increasing. Primary energy demand is projected to rise by 53 per cent by 2030, and over 70 per cent of this increase comes from developing countries, led by China and India.

The demand for fossil fuels is expected to rise. By 2030, fossil fuels will provide 81 per cent of global energy needs. This will mean increased CO emissions on a ‘business as usual’ basis of 55 per cent over current levels. More than 75 per cent of this increase is projected to come from developing countries—not from Australia but from developing countries—with China alone to account for almost 40 per cent of the rise in global emissions. Emissions from developing countries are projected to overtake emissions from OECD countries by about 2010.

A lot has been mentioned about the Kyoto protocol and why we have not signed it. The first attempts to address climate change internationally are not proving particularly successful despite being well intentioned. The Kyoto protocol does not and cannot have any real impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions because developing countries, including the world’s biggest emitters, China and India, have no greenhouse abatement obligations. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise above 1990 levels by some 40 per cent by the time 2012 comes around.

This figure could even be higher because most developed countries are falling well short of their emission reduction targets. For example, Canada had a target of 94 per cent but is projected to reach a 116 per cent increase. France is expected to go from 100 to 109 per cent, Japan had a target of 94 per cent but is projected to reach 106 per cent, Norway is to go from 101 to 123 per cent and Spain is to go from 115 to 151 per cent. This indicates that Australia alone cannot solve this problem. There has to be worldwide acceptance, particularly by the emerging and developing countries. Australia has not ratified this protocol simply because, while we can deliver and achieve internally, we cannot control those nations that are not members of the Kyodo protocol group or do not have obligations under the abatement program.

Given a poor start on the international front, how might the international regime evolve post Kyoto? It has been suggested that there is no forward movement and that this government is not looking forward. We are certainly looking forward. The Prime Minister has indicated the need for a new Kyoto protocol. Any approach must include big developing countries and the United States of America. Australia is certainly not the only country to recognise the weakness of the Kyoto protocol. Negotiations are under way to create a stronger and more inclusive protocol, and Australia is part of that process, so we are addressing the need for it. An opportunity now exists to create a genuinely inclusive Kyoto type protocol. Australia can and should be one of the drivers of this process. The participation of the US would be critical, but Australia can take a leading role in the region and internationally to push forward a truly global climate change regime engaging the US in particular. That is where our relationships are very important to this particular issue.

Working with private sector partners is going to be equally critical to this issue. There are aims to deliver greenhouse gas emission management, national pollution reduction and energy security through a series of projects that also can support economic development. My colleague Senator Ronaldson addressed some of these issues and some of the things that we have been attending to domestically when he spoke earlier.

What are Australia’s emissions? It is important to understand the make-up of our emissions. Stationary energy—comprising our power stations as well as our aluminium, cement and steel operations—makes up 50 per cent of emissions, or 280 megatonnes of 560 megatonnes of CO equivalent gases. (Time expired)

4:48 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We see an absolute crisis of government leadership on this issue. We have ministers putting different propositions forward for the Australian public to consider and we have senators in this debate representing quite different and diverse positions from those of government ministers. Let me take you through some of them before I get to the substantive issues that I want to talk about.

We have the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Mr Ian Macfarlane, declaring that he now has an open mind about the establishment of a domestic emissions trading scheme prior to a global system being set up. In question time today, when Senator Minchin was asked that particular question, he said the government had no intention of going it alone and setting up an emissions trading scheme unless it is in a global system which everyone has already signed up for. Confused? I think Senator Minchin is being very clear and I think Mr Macfarlane is being very clear, yet they are saying two very different things.

What happened last time the world realised that we needed to address this environmental situation globally? We saw Australia walk away from Kyoto, an international attempt to address greenhouse gas emissions, and we have seen the environmental consequences of that. We saw Australia not want to be part of a global system, yet here is the government now saying that the only thing they will ever sign up to is a global system. None of us say that the Kyoto protocol is perfect, but it was the first serious attempt by the world to engage the whole of the globe in a system to resolve the issues of climate change and pollution that are affecting this planet. The first time that the international community seriously takes that on we have a government that simply walk away. What is their excuse for doing nothing now? ‘We’re not going to sign on to anything that isn’t a global system.’ They had their chance then, with Kyoto, and they failed to step up to the plate; they are simply failing to step up to it now.

Then we had Senator Abetz talking in question time today about CO emissions from bushfires. We acknowledge that is real. He talked about how these are more than the total greenhouse impact from every vehicle in this country, with the clear implication that the emissions from energy production and vehicle usage really are a second-order issue. As this federal government is addicted to blaming everybody else, he said if only the states would fix up their park management processes we would not have to worry about those CO emissions from bushfires and therefore the second-order issues—and I say this was Senator Abetz’s implication—of energy generation and vehicle transport would not need to be addressed. Then we saw yesterday the very confused message coming from the Prime Minister.

What we see here is a crisis of leadership. We have government members that are not on message, because they do not know what the message ought to be. Not very long ago they did not take this issue at all seriously. They were sceptics and they were happy to run with the odd scientists here and there who said: ‘Well, look, it may not be as bad as they say it’s going to be. Don’t believe the bulk of the scientific community. We can always find someone who will say that it will not really be as bad as they say it’s going to be.’ The government was comfortable pushing that line down the throats of Australians.

The problem for this government now is that Australians have woken up and are far ahead of it on this issue. They can see the overwhelming scientific evidence that says we should have been acting on these things a long time ago. But even if we did not act on it a long time ago—and this government stands condemned for doing so little and not being part of a global solution like Kyoto in the first place—we ought to start doing it now. But again the government’s response is, ‘Let’s wait and see what the global community comes up with and everything will be all right.’

Then we had Senator Parry’s contribution. If he did not reinforce that the government is sceptical about this issue I do not know what other contribution could, because he said that climate change is an emotive issue and it is a moving issue. Senator Parry is dead wrong. It is a scientific issue and the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence says that there is a serious problem that has to be addressed and it has to be addressed now.

The systems that we are talking about to redress the terrible pollution that has occurred over the last 100 years on this planet will be long-term solutions. Unless they start to be put into place now, we will never find the solution. People on the government side say, ‘Let’s wait, because we are not one of the great polluters.’ That is what Senator Parry tells us. ‘We don’t have to worry. It’s China we have to worry about, so unless China is going to do something, let’s not bother. We are small fry.’ This is in absolute contradiction to the argument that they run that we need a global system. ‘We are not going to do anything until China does something. We do not need to, because we are a small polluter,’ according to the government. ‘China is a big polluter and going to be the biggest polluter’—and that is probably true—‘but, unless they are going to do something, being a small polluter we do not need to do anything. But we want a global system.’

One thing is for sure: it will be a long time before you get every country on the globe to agree to a common emissions trading scheme. Unless developed countries pick up their responsibilities, develop these schemes and put them in place as models for the rest of the world and engage constructively with the rest of the world, we will not have a solution.

This government, through a crisis in leadership, is letting every Australian down. Every Australian is being let down by this government’s sceptical approach, even though now they try to tell us that they are realists about it. I am not so sure. I think that it is a little bit more poll driven than reality driven. The only reality that this Prime Minister ever finds is in the polls. When the polls tell him to do something, he will act. The clever politician that he is, he will react to the polls. He is not reacting to climate change; he is reacting to the polls. (Time expired)

4:56 pm

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One cannot let Senator Marshall’s last comments go unanswered. To say that the Howard government is reacting to the polls of the day in addressing climate change does not stand up to any kind of examination whatsoever. Way back in 1996, Senator Marshall, the Howard government established the world’s first government Greenhouse Office. That means that 10½ years ago, when this government came to office, it recognised that the greenhouse gas problem was a problem and set up an agency in the government to deal with it. So your claim that the Prime Minister in particular but also the government in general is just driven by polls in addressing the greenhouse issue is really quite fatuous. The runs are on the board. This government has been concerned about greenhouse problems since it came to office and has put in place a lot of programs to promote renewable energy and deal with the general issue of the environment.

Senator Milne’s motion refers to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report which was released on 2 February. That is a United Nations report. Just out of curiosity I thought I would look it up on the net today. In the New York Times there was an article which says:

In Paris today the panel will issue its fourth assessment, and people familiar with its deliberations say it will moderate its gloom on sea level rise, lowering its worst-case estimate.

In other words, this panel is obviously a group of people who were doing some scaremongering, shall we say, about the impact of climate change on the world. They in fact modified their earlier predictions.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Another sceptic!

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us look at what the Howard government has done. This government has had a lot of strategies to deal with environmental issues. We have had the $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund and the $100 million Renewable Energy Development Initiative. Of course a lot of that money goes towards solar energy development.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Parry interjecting

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Marshall interjecting

Photo of Michael ForshawMichael Forshaw (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Excuse me, Senator Eggleston. Senators will not engage in conversations across the chamber. I am having difficulty hearing you speak, Senator Eggleston.

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know you will be hanging on every word, Acting Deputy President Forshaw! The people out there in Australia of course are listening because this tells them what a fantastic and outstanding record the Howard government has in dealing with climate change and the environment. This record of concern about greenhouse gases and climate change has been in place since the government came to office. People out there in Australia will be reassured, I am sure, Senator Marshall, to hear this.

As I said, a $100 million fund has been announced as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, which is very relevant to Senator Milne’s earlier motion because in section (c) she calls on the government:

... to introduce a policy framework that is underpinned by a commitment to contribute fairly to global efforts to constrain temperature rise to 2°C or less.

Obviously Senator Milne is referring to the fact that the government has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. We have signed it but we have not ratified it, because we do not regard it, as other speakers have said, as a mechanism which is going to do anything about climate change. It is a symbolic statement that climate change is an issue and that we are concerned about it. We signed the protocol; we have not ratified it. In other words, we have acknowledged—and that is the point I am trying to make—that climate change and greenhouse problems are issues. But we have not signed onto it, because this protocol is not going to do anything very much to reduce greenhouse gas or prevent climate change, if they are due to carbon dioxide emissions.

The problem with the Kyoto treaty, as I have heard other people say today, is that the great emitters of the world are not parties to it. Senator Milne asks us to introduce a policy framework that is going to contribute fairly to global efforts to constrain temperature rise. We have developed this Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The Asia-Pacific partnership is a key plank of Australia’s international climate change policy. It brings together, unlike the Kyoto treaty, some of the key emitters of the Asia-Pacific region. These include the USA, Japan, Korea and India. It brings them together to focus on practical technology-driven solutions to climate change. This is a much more useful and practical approach than the Kyoto treaty, which you obviously support, Senator Milne. I and the Howard government support it as a statement of concern; it is just that we do not think it is practical, because it would reduce greenhouse emissions, I am told, by about one per cent, which is not going to do very much to solve the problem.

Australia, as I said, has established this Asia-Pacific partnership, which is a real partnership of nations, including some of the big emitters of the world. It will do far more than the Kyoto treaty to reduce the dangers that climate change might bring. In fact, Senator Milne, we are already meeting section (c), the concluding section of your earlier motion. We are already doing something which is practical and will fairly contribute to containing climate change and increases in world temperature. So, with that, I leave you and the people of Australia listening to this with the message that the Australian government, the Howard government, has been concerned about climate change from day one and is continuing to develop policies to deal with this situation.

5:03 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the matter of urgency motion moved by Senator Milne. In the last week we have seen the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that not only affirms without doubt that climate change is a reality but also squarely points the finger at global warming through human-driven carbon emissions. Senator Milne’s motion states:

The need for the Australian Government to set clear medium and long term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets ...

How is this government going to do that when it cannot agree about climate change, even when faced with a report from a panel of international experts that spells it out to them? Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister in question time in the other place state that ‘the jury is still out’ on the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. But, when he saw the commotion that he had caused amongst the media, he quickly rushed to retract this, saying that of course the two are linked and that he was really talking about the drought and climate change.

This government obviously have no idea when it comes to climate change. Until very recently they have been caught in complete denial. Even now, with the whiff of an election in the air as they rush to appear concerned, they are at complete odds with each other. The Prime Minister has been out spruiking a domestic emissions trading scheme while the Treasurer has said the exact opposite—that we cannot have a domestic scheme; it has to be international. No wonder the community is confused. It is almost like watching a tennis match. If it were not such a serious issue, it would be tiring.

This obvious lack of communication between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer followed the announcement that the government is going to spend $10 billion on their grand water plan. This action has been eagerly awaited by all Australians. We have been waiting for the government to take action on water, and since the announcement we have been looking forward to seeing the costing process, where this money is going to be spent and how the problem is going to be tackled. But then came the news: the department of finance and Treasury have been cut out of the process.

Up until recently, the government have tried to tell us that climate change is a myth—a scare tactic that scientists and environmentalists have created. Despite their efforts to appear as if they have changed their tune in recent days, the Prime Minister and his responsible ministers still do not seem to believe the experts. In so doing, they are putting Australians at risk. The Prime Minister has failed Australians. It is his failure of leadership, indeed his failure to even acknowledge that climate change is real, which has put Australia’s economy at risk.

The Prime Minister coincidentally believes he has the answer to climate change. It is nuclear power, ladies and gentlemen! At the same time as Mr Howard was announcing his $10 billion water package, he was also spruiking nuclear power, which coincidentally was the subject of a recent US report that found that nuclear power stations require more water than any other power station using other forms of energy. That is exactly the solution we need in a country that already struggles when it comes to water. But, according to the Prime Minister and his government, the issues of climate change and water are not even related.

The Howard government has repeatedly shown on this issue that they just do not get it. They do not understand and, once again, they are not listening to experts or to the Australian community. They have refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol. They have put profit before anything else and now the reality of climate change is starting to bite. It is not a myth, it is not a scare tactic; it is a reality and it is happening now.

Australians are concerned about climate change, and rightly so. Unfortunately for Australians, the government has failed to listen to the experts. It has failed to listen to Labor and the other parties in this place. Australia is feeling the effects of climate change right now. The Prime Minister showed just how out of touch he is on this issue when on Lateline, in response to a question about six-degree temperature increases over the next century, he said that some people might find that ‘uncomfortable’. The Howard government just does not understand the dire consequences that climate change could spell for our planet. The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources do not seem to comprehend that for every one centimetre increase in sea levels, the result will be one metre of coastal erosion. An Australia without its beaches—take a moment to think about that. And the environment minister has suggested that Australians will have to learn to live with climate change!

To put it in terms that the government does understand, climate change will have a far greater effect on our economy than it could ever have predicted. The Howard government has accused Labor of trying to create a debate on climate change. Labor does not want to waste time debating what is fast becoming the most significant challenge facing humanity as a whole. The time for action is now. The time for action is well overdue and there is no more time for the Howard government to waste.

If you listened to the debate in the Senate this afternoon, you would have heard the hypocrisy on the part of the government in stating what they have done over the last 10 or so long years in relation to the environment and you would have heard the concerns that have been raised by environmentalists, panels of experts and the Australian community. At the moment, we can see that the only things driving the Prime Minister and his government are the polls and the threat of an election later this year.

5:09 pm

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

I thank senators for their contribution to this debate, but people listening would be horrified at the level of ignorance that is being aired this afternoon in the face of a global crisis. I am of the view the many government members are delusional about climate change and the role that Australia is playing. Australia is not a global leader in the climate debate. We are regarded as a global pariah and that is the fact of the matter. No-one has ever heard of this ‘new Kyoto’. People think it is ridiculous. The only role Australia has in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is chairing the dialogue, which is a side event. The only two things the dialogue does is make a verbal report and then next year a written report. It has no formal access to the Kyoto process, because we have not ratified. The second point: Senator Ronaldson was saying that business does not in fact want action on climate change through financial mechanisms. Quite to the contrary, the Howard government’s failure to have financial mechanisms is driving industry out of the country as we speak. We have had Vestas leave, we have had Roaring Forties go, we have had Solar Heat and Power leaving the country. Week after week, we hear of innovative industries that could create jobs and depth in Australian manufacturing leaving the country because the government prefers coal.

I return to my original premise to cut through all this hot air on climate change. The first is: why would you have an emissions trading system? Answer: to reduce greenhouse gases. That is the whole point of the flexible financial mechanisms—to reduce greenhouse gases. So, in designing the system, you have to ask: what level of greenhouse gases do you want to accept? What are you prepared to reduce to? And in determining that, you have to decide what level of global warming you will accept.

Today we have heard the government waffle completely and say that their main objection in setting up any emissions trading system is to protect the coal industry. It is impossible to reduce greenhouse gases while preserving Australia’s major competitive advantage, according to the government, of large reserves of fossil fuels and uranium. They cannot have it both ways. If you are going to do something about reducing emissions then you have to deal with coal. You cannot protect coal and then pretend you are doing something about climate change.

Labor has said today, to its credit, that it is prepared to reduce greenhouse gases to 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. That would be stabilising at 550 parts per million. That is saying that they accept a temperature rise of between 1.5 and 2.9 degrees. I can tell you that 2.9 degrees will mean the death of the Great Barrier Reef, it will mean the death of the Murray-Darling system and it will mean the spreading of dengue fever. You have no idea of the impacts at three degrees. That is why the Greens are saying that 60 per cent reduction by 2050 is not enough. The Labor Party has said that that is their target, that they are the parameters they are prepared to accept.

When will the government say what their parameters are? The Prime Minister will have absolutely zero credibility on this whole emissions trading debate until he comes out and says, ‘We the government will accept, on behalf of Australians, this level of global warming’—and clearly it is in excess of three degrees. Four to six is a bit less comfortable for some, according to the Prime Minister. The government is prepared to have any amount of greenhouse gases and to set very lax targets, if any targets, and naturally they will be voluntary. This is a crime against future generations. (Time expired)

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.