Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — Customs) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — Excise) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — General) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS Fuel Credits) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS Fuel Credits) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Amendment (Household Assistance) Bill 2009 [No. 2]
Debate resumed from 24 November, on motion by Senator Stephens:
That these bills be now read a second time.
upon which Senator Bob Brown moved by way of amendment:
At the end of the motion, add: “provided that the Government first commits to entering the climate treaty negotiations at the end of 2009 with an unconditional commitment to reduce emissions by at least 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and a willingness to reduce emissions by 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 in the context of a global treaty”.
Here we are today debating the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation, which is one of the biggest pieces of legislation ever to come before the parliament, and the Rudd government wants to ram it through the Senate. The CPRS is a multibillion dollar tax that will affect every single Australian. Just a few hours ago the Rudd government put forward changes to its flawed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and now it wants the Senate to agree to them without proper scrutiny and debate. This is irresponsible and reckless behaviour and, to me, it is an attack on what a democracy is all about. The Senate should not be voting on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until at least after Copenhagen and until after we know what the rest of the world is going to commit to. It is economically reckless to commit Australia to a carbon pollution reduction scheme before the rest of the world commits to similar schemes themselves or one with at least the same targets.
Why is the scheme economically reckless? Here are some important facts the Rudd government does not want Australian families to hear: (1) the cost of doing business in Australia will go up under the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme; (2) the competitive position of Australia will plummet, as other countries have less stringent targets or no scheme at all; (3) one of Australia’s biggest competitive advantages, low-cost electricity, will be lost; and (4) Australian families will pay more for their groceries and see their power bills soar. And what does Australia gain for increasing the cost of doing business in Australia and wrecking Australia’s competitive position? In fact: nothing. And what does the environment gain from increasing the cost of doing business in Australia and wrecking Australia’s competitive position? Again, nothing.
The rest of the world emits more than 98 per cent of the total global carbon dioxide emissions. So, if you believe the Rudd government, and that carbon dioxide is the problem, then clearly there will be no environmental benefit unless the rest of the world also agrees to at least the same targets as Australia. This is one fact that everyone can agree on. Clearly, it is economically reckless to commit to an ETS prior to a global agreement at Copenhagen. For any political party to agree to commit Australia to a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme before any global agreement is economically reckless. My real concern is that families and small business will end up footing the bill for this multibillion dollar carbon tax, with no benefit to Australia or to the environment.
I say to the Prime Minister: first you told us the CPRS you put forward was perfect, then you released another version, with amendments, and told us it was perfect too. Which is it, Mr Rudd? Which one is the best? Or are they both bad, and have been decorated to suit your political agenda? But, even worse, the coalition lost any economic credibility they ever had. No wonder Mr Costello got out when he did. Mr Costello knew the coalition were a rabble, and this is proof. Today the coalition sold out Australian families and sold out businesses.
But I think the Nationals are even worse than that. The Nationals sold out the bush when they sold Telstra. The Nationals sold out the bush when they agreed to allow the coalition to negotiate with the Rudd government on a CPRS before Copenhagen. They allowed that to happen. All regional and rural areas know the Nationals cannot really be trusted in looking after the bush after these two issues. From bakers, to butchers, to farmers they will be worse off under this CPRS. And the Nationals will allow the coalition to negotiate with the Rudd government. Why did the Nationals stand by and go silent on the fact that the coalition were in negotiations to agree to an ETS prior to Copenhagen? If the Nationals had any backbone they would resign from the coalition today. The CPRS is the biggest betrayal of the bush, the biggest betrayal of rural and regional Australia and the biggest betrayal of small business. The coalition today have lost any economic credibility, but the Nationals have lost the respect that they held within rural and regional communities. How can any National MP remain in the coalition given that the coalition has committed to a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme? You stand with the bush; at the same time you stay in partnership with a party that has sold out the bush and small business. The Nationals are frauds if they stay in the coalition. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is the biggest betrayal of the bush and rural and regional communities.
Turning to my home state of Victoria, the CPRS will be devastating to the state of Victoria. Under a CPRS thousands of jobs in Victoria will be lost. Under a CPRS the electricity prices will escalate for families and small businesses. Under a CPRS the coalmining region of the Latrobe Valley will be devastated. Under a CPRS dairy and cattle farmers will be facing sky-rocketing electricity prices to produce their milk and beef, adding to the overheads that are currently eating into their profits. Will the Rudd government’s new amendments stop Victoria being threatened by the CPRS? I doubt it. But we sure as all hell need more than a few short hours or a few days to determine the real impact on Victoria and Australia. Giving the Senate just a few short hours to have a look at these amendments is irresponsible and is not in the national interest. The Australian public expect a lot more from their elected representatives, rather than just a brief look at the biggest tax this country has ever seen. This is making policy on the run and it will be Australian families and small businesses that will end up paying the price.
This is turning the Senate into a rubber stamp, with families and small businesses footing the bill for the CPRS. All that I am asking for is nothing more than basic due diligence. Whether we like it or not, due diligence takes time. Most people who are going to buy a house will first do some simple checks to make sure that everything is okay. That is due diligence. So how much more due diligence should be undertaken with the CPRS, which is a multibillion dollar tax? Surely Australia should spend a couple more months performing proper due diligence on the amended CPRS, not just a few hours. What is the rush? Two months delay is not going to cause any environmental problems. The Rudd government delayed this whole thing in the first place. Australians should think very hard about what the Rudd government is saying and doing—except they are not being given the chance.
Let us say you have a salesman telling you that you have negotiated a good deal, but you have some serious concerns. What is the next step of the salesman? Does the salesman do the right thing and give you all the time you need to make the right decision or not? We all know a shady salesman would give you no time and put unrealistic deadlines on the deal. Well, guess what? The Rudd government is acting like a shady salesman, putting unrealistic demand times on the CPRS deal. There is no real policy imperative to sign the CPRS deal prior to Copenhagen, other than for Mr Rudd to look good. It is politics that is driving the Rudd government to act like a shady salesman—not the national interest, as the Prime Minister tries to spin. Rather than ramming the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills through the Senate this week, why don’t we allow other experts, and the general public, to have a look at the CPRS deal and come back in February and conclude the CPRS debate?
Now I want to turn to the science. Earlier this year, like most Australians at the time, I simply accepted without question that increasing carbon dioxide emissions was the major driver of climate change. I believed the media when they told me repeatedly that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were to blame for the changing temperatures on this planet. In fact, I listened to radical environmentalist groups when they protested about the damage we were causing to this earth and to our future generations. I remember the enthusiasm surrounding former US Vice-President Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth. All of a sudden climate change hit centre stage, and carbon dioxide was the main actor. Carbon dioxide was the new villain which needed to be caught and punished.
Throughout the whole debate one thing was missing, and that was genuine debate on whether the science behind climate change being a result of human activity was even correct. I am not saying that no-one ever questioned whether climate change was caused by something other than carbon dioxide emissions, but many experts have called for a proper debate on the issue because of serious questions in the science that climate change alarmists have relied on. Until now, the scientists who believe that carbon dioxide emissions are not the major driver of climate change have been labelled ‘sceptics’ and dismissed out of hand without real debate. To question the science has meant public ridicule. It has carried a stigma and had you labelled as a sceptic. That is not the way to conduct a debate. Scientists who question the science behind climate change have been maligned in the media as fearmongers and as being backwards. Their views have been treated with contempt. Anyone who dares to so much as even question human induced climate change is shouted down and discredited. Free and fair debate, the very thing which we as a democracy thrive on, has been stifled on the climate change issue.
So when it was raised with me that carbon dioxide emissions have skyrocketed since 1995 but global temperatures have remained relatively steady I was left dumbfounded. How could I as a federal senator, or anyone, vote for something that will carry such a high price for all Australians and have such significant consequences without being able to answer a simple question—if carbon dioxide is a problem, why have global temperatures not been going up as predicted by the IPCC in recent years?
I went out and spoke to a cross-section of scientists and quickly began to understand that the science on this issue is by no means conclusive. I went on a self-funded trip to Washington to investigate further the science and facts behind climate change, and I listened to both sides of the debate. I heard views which challenged the Rudd government’s set of so-called ‘facts’—views which could not be dismissed as mere conspiracy theories but were derived using proper scientific analysis. I went on a journey to discover the truth about climate change. It is a journey that other Australians have now also gone on, perhaps not in a physical sense but certainly in an intellectual sense.
During my trip to the US I met not only with scientists who were questioning the science but also with climate change experts on the other side of the spectrum. This included members of President Obama’s administration who are driving the US’s climate change policies. As an engineer, I have been trained to listen to both sides of the debate on the science in order to make an informed decision, in this case about climate change. Any scientist worth their salt will tell you that in order to form a conclusive view about any topic you need to properly explore all available possibilities. All of this is nothing more than due diligence.
When I came back to Australia I had a meeting with the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong; the Chief Scientist; and Professor Will Steffen. I put to them three questions about climate change that I bel-ieved needed to be answered in order to establish that climate change is a direct result of human-made car-bon dioxide emissions. They are three questions that every senator needs to be able to answer. They were not designed to trick anyone; they were simple questions which went to the heart of the climate change debate-. My three questions, along with the minister’s response, are on my website at www.stevefielding.com.au, for all of you to evaluate for yourselves.
One of the questions is key to the whole debate on the science. It was based around a global temperature chart that was incorporated into Hansard back in August this year. This is the chart that was incorporated into Hansard, quite clearly showing—
It is in Hansard. That is a chart that the Australian public want to see. It is a chart that clearly the Rudd government does not want people to see. It shows that carbon dioxide emissions have skyrocketed, yet global temperatures have not increased the way the IPCC predicted. To help people with the chart, imagine the black line is CPI and the red line is your salary. You are going backwards. Quite clearly you would be very unhappy if that was your salary. The government wants to make you believe that the science is conclusive. I think we still need to have this chart further debated. It is based on 15 years of records. The global temperature chart may be an inconvenient fact to those that refuse to have an open mind on climate change, but to many Australians this global temperature chart is helpful and it allows them to engage in a technical debate. For those people watching who find charts hard to understand, as I said, think of the red line as if it was your salary and the black line as if it was CPI.
Even if you put aside the science, the Rudd government does not seem to acknowledge that its CPRS is a multibillion-dollar carbon tax. It is economically reckless to agree to any CPRS before the Copenhagen climate change conference, where the rest of the world will make up its mind on how to deal with climate change. There are some estimates that the government’s carbon reduction tax would be the equivalent of raising the GST by 2½ per cent. But wait—it gets worse. Not only will we be paying more tax; there will be more people without jobs. Frontier Economics predicts 68,000 Australians will not be employed in rural and regional Australia if the government’s plan goes through. Who knows what the proposed amendments will do?
According to the government’s own numbers this new tax amounts to more than $12 billion per year for industry. This is a cost which will be passed on to ordinary Australians. It was reported in the Business Spectator recently that the current legislation would have an $8 billion adverse impact on four Latrobe Valley power generators which is offset by $2 billion in current credits—a net enterprise value reduction of $6 billion. State governments too will face a massive hole in their budgets as a result of the scheme and will be $5.5 billion worse off by 2020. That means less money for schools, less money for hospitals and less money for the social services which so many Australians rely on.
Australian families will also be hard hit under the Rudd government’s proposal. Electricity prices are still forecast—as I heard this morning in Victoria—to double in Victoria. What will that do to households and small businesses in Victoria? Council rates will also be affected and will go up under the current plan. The Rudd government’s ETS has the potential to cripple our economy and send families with their backs already against the wall tipping over the edge.
It is the sheer arrogance of the Rudd government that is driving this debate at the moment; it is not sensible public policy. The Rudd government is playing politics with the lives of millions of Australians by voting again on this issue now and trying maybe to force an early election. Someone needs to tell the Prime Minister that there are no prizes for going first on implementing an emissions trading scheme—only losers! We are not playing a game here. We are talking about a multibillion-dollar tax that will impact on real people’s lives and jobs. There is a lot more at stake than the government seems to realise.
Is the government aware that only a couple of weeks ago the US senate ruled out passing its own emissions trading scheme legislation before Copenhagen and ordered a five-week pause to review the costs of the legislation to the American economy? It is not one day, not two days and not a week; they are asking for a five-week pause. This is why we should come back in February. The world’s biggest economy has voted to put its carbon tax legislation on ice and yet, incredibly, we are still being fed the line that we need to deal with this issue urgently.
This whole CPRS bill is a disgrace and the Senate needs to do the only honourable thing and at least delay the vote till next year. Anything else would put Australian families, small businesses, rural and regional communities and our economy at risk, and that is reckless. The coalition have got to think very carefully about how this will pan out over the next few hours and days and they have to think very carefully about seeing this thing rammed through the Senate. I think that having even a one-week Senate inquiry is still not long enough. The US senate quite clearly believes more time is needed. A multibillion-dollar tax needs time. Let’s not treat the Australian public like mugs. Let’s not treat the Australian Senate like a mug. Let’s give this thing proper and due diligence. Time is important but we have got to get this right, not wrong.
I rise to comment on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills. I will not take the full 20 minutes because I commented on the bill extensively when it was in the chamber previously, but I do want to point out a number of the deficiencies in the bills, particularly the impact climate change is already having on my home state of Western Australia and why it is imperative that we have a decent bill for a CPRS—or ‘coal profit retention scheme’, as we are now referring to it—and not a scheme that solely delivers billions of dollars worth of compensation and support to industries that are now dinosaur industries, instead of delivering the sorts of investment we need in renewable energies to take us into the future. Only today we were reminded in the news about the impacts of climate change when the IPCC scientists released their further work that shows the impact that the speeding up of the melting of the Arctic ice will have, potentially, by 2030 and the fact that it is melting much more quickly than they had anticipated. You only have to look at the vision of the ice melting last summer to see how fast it is melting and the impact that it can have.
If you were not persuaded by the other science, the science again this morning about the impact that climate change is already having is very compelling. It is also clear from the evidence that we are in the hottest decade and we continue to set records across the planet. We in Western Australia already know what impact climate change is having on agriculture. In some areas agriculture is becoming more marginal. Also, I have articulated in this place several times now what has happened with water supplies in Perth and the drop-off of rainfall in Perth. Fortunately Western Australia recognised the decreasing rainfall in the 1990s and made a decision about how we would manage our water. I am not saying it is perfect so I do not want the WA government or the Water Corporation in Western Australia thinking that the Greens think their water management is perfect. But they certainly took very important steps in terms of starting to manage our water resources, realising that we were living in a changing climate and what impact a decrease in rainfall would have. We have had a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall, which has led to a 64 per cent decrease in run-off and of course that changes very significantly the way we manage our water supplies.
I must say that I get very disheartened about the ways that people are interpreting the science—whether they are doing it on purpose or whether they just cannot face the fact that we have to significantly change the way we manage our resources and the planet. Perhaps they deliberately do not read the science or they misinterpret it. But these people are failing the constituents they claim to represent and, in particular, they are failing farmers. Farmers are at the forefront of feeling the impacts of climate change. They are the ones who have to change their day-to-day management practices in order to survive and in order to grow crops. In the future Australia needs to change the way we carry out agriculture in this country. We are missing a golden opportunity to be at the forefront of development of crops and of a new way of doing agriculture in this country. We are missing that opportunity because we have these sceptics and because of climate deniers. They are then denying the fact that we need to change the way we manage agriculture and develop new crops so that the amount of money that is invested in research to look at ways to change our farming systems is reduced—it is nowhere near enough.
Instead we are investing billions of dollars in old industries—in keeping the coal industry going by subsiding it to a massive extent—when we should be investing in renewable energies, in agricultural research and in protecting our water resources. As we know climate change is already having a significant impact on biodiversity in this country, particularly in my home state of Western Australia, where the combined impacts of overclearing, climate change and salinity are already devastating our biodiversity. As we know, Australia has the highest extinction rate for mammalian species and also for plant species.
Western Australia has up to 10 new coal fired power stations on its books. There are also plans to expand existing coal fired power stations. Industries that are starting up now want to use coal as their energy source. This is an old way of thinking; it is a dinosaur way of thinking. Here we have this deal—I do not know whether it has or has not been agreed to; I presume it will be rolled out again today—where billions of dollars more are being invested in dinosaur industries while billions of dollars are being taken away from household investment. Over $5 billion will be taken away from households and transferred into the pockets of the coal industry and the old polluters.
This scheme, the coal profit retention scheme—formally known as the ‘continue polluting regardless scheme’—is now the new deal in which further resources are being handed over to the old polluting industries. Where is the vision for this country? Where is the vision for where we could be going in developing new renewable energies and a future that our children and grandchildren can be proud of and be significantly advantaged by? Instead, the scenario that is rolling out here is one where our children and our grandchildren will be significantly disadvantaged into the future.
We will have massive numbers of environmental refugees. Day after day after day, we have been hearing from some people in this chamber who are obviously anti Australia taking asylum seekers or who are anti supporting asylum seekers. We are going to have so many environmental refugees on this planet. How are we going to deal with that? How are we going to deal with the issue of people who have to move? People in the Pacific are already having to abandon their homes. Their food sources are being threatened and, in some cases, they have been destroyed. These people are unable to grow the crops that they used to because of sea water inundation. This situation is going to multiply into the future.
But yesterday a deal was made, which we expect to be voting on today or tomorrow, whereby billions of dollars will be taken away from householders and transferred into the hands of the old polluters. We do not know what impacts the changes that were announced yesterday will have, because we have not had time to review them properly. There has been no Senate inquiry to review the impact of those changes. What will the impact be from the changes that were announced yesterday? What do they mean for the CPRS? We cannot answer those questions because we have not had time to look at the deal. We have an idea but we have not seen the economic modelling. We still have not seen the modelling that Senator Xenophon has been talking about. We have requested to see the government’s modelling on why it does not think the modelling that the coalition and Senator Xenophon undertook is realistic. We still have not had answers to those questions.
I will be moving a second reading amendment that the bills, the multi-billion dollar adjustment to the bills, as agreed by the coalition and the government in November 2009, and the amendments required to implement that agreement, be referred to the Economics Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 12.30 pm on 1 December 2009; that the minister representing the Treasurer provide to that committee by 30 November 2009, for consideration as part of that inquiry, any modelling or analysis commissioned by Treasury and/or the Department of Climate Change and all documents prepared by Treasury in relation to the August 2009 Frontier Economics report on the economic impact of the CPRS; that the Senate meet from 1 December to 3 December 2009 to consider the bills; and that further consideration of the bills be an order of the day for the day the committee presents its report.
We believe that amendment will enable a Senate committee time—short though it may be—to review any amendments and the adjustment money that was announced yesterday that is being given to the big polluters in this country. This will enable a review of that information. It will enable a review of the government’s modelling in relation to the Frontier Economics report. This will give senators time to effectively analyse that information instead of them being pushed into making a decision about something that those on the crossbench were told about only at lunchtime yesterday. That is not an adequate process when you are talking about the future of not only this country but the planet. It is the future of the planet that we are talking about here.
This place has to be informed effectively so that senators can make a decision in an informed way. At the moment we are not informed. At the moment we do not know what impact this legislation will have and we have not had chance to review it. Yet, we are supposed to rush that decision through this place. How can we look our grandchildren in the eye and say, ‘We made the right decision,’ if we do not even sit down now and consider the information properly? I do not want to be in that position. I do not want to be in the position where I have to explain to my grandchildren how this place worked in making a decision in November 2009 that affected their very futures. We need to take time to look at this information and we need to consider it in an appropriate manner. We should not rush it through because the government thinks it needs to take this flawed coal profit retention scheme to Copenhagen. That is an artificial deadline for a flawed scheme that in the future we will all be embarrassed about. We will all be embarrassed about this poor scheme. We believe that it needs to be reviewed by the Economics Legislation Committee. We also believe that the Senate should sit again to give this bill and the amendments announced yesterday adequate scrutiny, which is our job. As I said, I foreshadow that I will be moving a second reading amendment.
The Senate is currently debating a package of 11 bills euphemistically called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It really is an emissions trading scheme by another name. But with the Labor government, the spin starts right at the very beginning; it starts with the name of the bills and it goes all the way through. I will be saying more about that later on. Nobody should be under any misapprehension: we as an opposition oppose the bills as they currently stand before the Senate. We have voted against this legislation once and, in its current form, we would oppose it again. It was and still is—depending on what happens in the committee stages—absolutely and utterly fatally flawed.
I will make a few brief introductory comments. This debate has unfortunately been categorised as between believers or deniers, for or against. In my capacity as shadow minister for science, I have spoken with many scientists. It is not as easy as saying that scientists are for or against. There are a multiplicity of camps and views within the science community. Speaking for myself personally, I cannot accept the view that has been put that there is a consensus in relation to the science. Science has never been determined by consensus. Indeed, when you have 31,000 scientists around the world signing a petition expressing doubt—and I am not taking sides in this debate; my view is that in relation to that chances are that a fair description would be that I am agnostic—do not try tell me that it has all been settled. How can it be when you have 31,000 men and women, highly qualified in the sciences, saying that they have serious doubts?
Indeed, in Australia in my home state of Tasmania we have a very distinguished emeritus professor, Garth Paltridge, who was the foundation chair of the Antarctic and climate change research centre. He has devoted his life to this issue. He has serious doubts about the science. Then there is Professor Ian Plimer and Professor Bob Carter. And the list goes on. All I am saying is: please do not insult the intelligence of the Australian people by asserting that the science is settled. There are many views in relation to this debate.
The revelations—and once again I express a personal view here—from the University of East Anglia about a week ago of people doctoring scientific information for certain political purposes and outcomes shock and horrify me, especially in my capacity as shadow minister for science. I trust that there will be a full royal commission in the United Kingdom dealing with those people who have dealt in this apparent fabrication. The fact is that the allegations have now been out there for a week about these email traffic which says that certain things were not going to be put into reports and other things would be—to use that terrible term—‘sexed up’ to make them a bit more exciting et cetera to convince certain people. At this stage, as I understand the record, those things have not been denied. The Dr Joneses and Michael Manns and others of this world have now had more than sufficient time to say, ‘These allegations are false.’ The fact that they have not, I must say, leaves me personally feeling very flat. Indeed, my colleague Senator Joyce asked the minister a question about it at question time and she did not seek to defend those people from the University of East Anglia and their climate research unit.
As another personal aside, I had the opportunity of having a meeting with a Stephen McIntyre. I do not often talk about overseas trips because the longsuffering voting public do not like us politicians going on trips, but, yes, I took a study trip, went to Canada and took myself to meet Stephen McIntyre. He debunked the hockey stick graph that was in the IPCC report. I asked him for his views on climate change. Do you know what he told me? He does not have any. He is a mathematician and statistician and he said that whenever he sees a hockey stick graph he gets very suspicious because nearly every time the data has been doctored. Who was the inventor of this hockey stick graph? Michael Mann. Guess where he is from: the University of East Anglia. I lay that on the table. I hope that it is clarified. But I tell you that when Stephen McIntyre sought the raw data and material on which Mr Mann developed his hockey stick graph it was denied to him. I add that on the trip I spoke to a number of people who passionately believe in climate change science. Indeed, I spoke with Senator Boxer’s senior staff member in the United States, who is the co-author of the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill in the Senate.
But it is concerning to me that Mr McIntyre’s expose just happened to be of a Mr Mann who happens to work in this institution that has been so heavily relied upon by the IPCC. I for one would be a lot more comfortable if this were fully exposed and considered, because if what has been asserted by these leaks is true I think there will be many red faces around the world. That is a personal comment and concern.
The Prime Minister—and I think it was last week—because we had a bit of a heatwave, tried to engender hysteria during question time. That was absolutely and utterly disgraceful. He, as Prime Minister of this country—and I think he is an intelligent man—must have known that what he was doing was deliberately seeking to spin in the absence of evidence. After that hysterical outburst by the Prime Minister, I undertook some research. Do you know when the biggest natural disaster in Australia was? This was the biggest heatwave ever, which killed hundreds of people. Was it this century? No. Was it last century? No. It was in fact in 1895 when 437 people were killed and 5,000 people were injured. It was 1 December 1895. Keep in mind that those 437 people were killed and those 5,000 were injured when Australia’s population was just over three million. Multiply that figure by seven—in rough terms—and it would be a heatwave in today’s standards causing the death of 2,100-plus people and injuring 35,000. The Prime Minister and his staff knew that, but they deliberately went into the chamber to try to create hysteria. The second most devastating heatwave was in 1938, with 438 people killed and 5,000 injured. This was at a time when Australia’s population had doubled to some six million people. If we talk about extreme weather events, the most damaging cyclone in Australian history occurred on 4 March. Was it this year? Was it last year? Was it in the last decade? Was it in this century? No. Was it last century? No. It occurred on 4 March 1899, when 400 people were killed by a cyclone in Cooktown.
All I ask of people in this debate is this: do not make assertions that fly in the face of historical fact. One day the people are going to find you out and expose you as being fraudulent. Can I simply say this to the Prime Minister: you can be in favour of an emissions trading scheme without engaging in the dishonest hyperbole that has been engaged in by so many people. When they have seen the mercury in the thermometer go up a bit, they have said, ‘Proof of climate change.’ One hundred and more years earlier there were bigger heatwaves. Those have been kindly airbrushed out of the history books by the Prime Minister and others who are so desperate to get their legislation through. You can honourably support this legislation—as hopefully it will be amended later on—because you believe in climate change and you believe in the need for action. But you believing in the need for action does not justify distorting Australian history and misleading the Australian people.
This was a Prime Minister who came into government saying he would have evidence based public policy. The evidence flies in the face of his hyperbole at question time. About hyperbole: do you remember this bill? It had to be carried immediately. It was either his way or the highway. He said it would be economically irresponsible and it would be environmentally irresponsible if it was not legislated chapter and verse, comma and full stop, as written. All of a sudden the government—and I assume this will happen in the committee stage—will have a minister moving a raft of 70 pages of amendments. These are substantial amendments.
Senator Wong says we agreed to them. Of course we did. The Liberal Party and the coalition have determined, as a result of the leader’s call—and we accept that—that these amendments will make the bill less flawed. But there are still 70 pages of amendments that only a few weeks ago would have been economically irresponsible and environmentally irresponsible. Now, all of a sudden, we can countenance changes to the legislation.
This is what is disturbing about this. These amendments that go to helping support agriculture, the food processors, our power generators—and the list goes on—are important. Let me at this stage give full credit to the member for Groom, the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, for what he was able to get out of the government in these amendments. They will clearly make the legislation a lot better. We on this side are agreed that these amendments will make the legislation better. But for the coalition’s advocacy, the agriculture sector would be wiped. Food processors would be wiped. Our biggest export industry, coalmining, would be wiped. So the list goes on. Do you know what? We will be told in a matter of moments that these 70 pages of amendments are good, sound public policy and that they deserve the support of the Senate. On 25 November 2009, that which was bad policy before—economically and environmentally irresponsible—all of a sudden becomes economically and environmentally responsible.
But it is a bit like Cinderellayou know, when the pumpkin turns into a golden coach and then turns back into a pumpkin—because if these amendments are not carried by the Senate this week, according to the government and the minister, they will all of a sudden become bad policy again. They will be bad for the economy and bad for the environment and will not have the government’s support. Excuse me, I might be old-fashioned, but if it is good policy on 24 November 2009 then one would suspect that a week or two later it would still be good policy unless there were significant facts to come forward to show that these amendments were never good in the first place.
I say to this chamber that these amendments, so successfully negotiated by the Hon. Ian Macfarlane, make this bill a lot better, and the opposition are very proud of what we have been able to achieve through Mr Macfarlane’s effort. But what we do object to is the hysteria and hyperbole of the Prime Minister in misrepresenting the history of this country and then demanding that this legislation be passed within this week because if it is not the deal is off. All of a sudden good, sound economic and environmental policy is no longer so—the coach will turn back into the pumpkin that it was about five weeks ago.
Can I indicate to the chamber, in relation to the second reading amendments, that the position as called by the leader is that we will be opposing all the second reading amendments. I think at this stage it behoves the Senate to consider the legislation in the committee stage. There are, as I indicated, 70 pages worth of amendments moved by the government, all supported by the government today, though they were not supported a few weeks ago and will not be supported next week. It is a bizarre proposition but it is indicative of the tactics that this government and this Prime Minister employ.
We saw how Mr Combet dealt with the coal industry. At their annual dinner he said, ‘Take this deal or you can’t be guaranteed you’ll be given anything better in the future.’ He stood over them. Of course, what was his former occupation? It was not ‘union official’ by any chance, was it? What a coincidence that he would behave in such a manner. We have now been able to save literally tens of thousands of jobs around Australia. We have been able to secure amendments for the benefit of the small and medium enterprises as well, which quite frankly are the heartland of the Liberal and National parties in this place. We have been able to achieve a raft of amendments which clearly will be of significant benefit to the Australian people.
Interestingly, we are going to be given $10 million for biochar and soil carbon research. Remember that when Mr Turnbull announced that at the Young Liberals conference in January this year he was roundly condemned. Senator Doug Cameron was wheeled into Senate estimates committees to ask CSIRO and other organisations to explain how silly that was. Suddenly the government has been mugged by the reality that it would be a good idea, and I congratulate the government on coming to the party in relation to that.
In brief, the position of the coalition is that we will be supporting the amendments as proposed and circulated and we will be opposing all of the second reading amendments.
Can I acknowledge the contribution of all senators to this debate and make some comments in closing the debate, which has been going for some time. There are moments in our national political debate when, I believe, we should and can do better. There are moments when we should set aside partisanship, set aside game playing and look to the national interest. There are moments when perhaps we should pause and not focus on the next election but consider the next generation. This bill, this debate, is one of those moments.
This is a difficult issue for politicians. It is a difficult issue because it is a problem which, whilst it is manifesting now, will primarily and most heavily fall on those who probably do not yet vote and maybe are not yet born. So we in this chamber are asking this generation of Australians to do something because we wish to reduce the risk for our children and our grandchildren, and it is that time frame issue which often causes politicians to fall short, to look to the near term rather than the future. Regrettably, there have been many contributions in this debate which fall into that category. So I want to go through quite clearly again why it is that I believe and the government believes that we should act; why it is that Australians rightly demand that we take action on climate change; and why it is, in a strange way, that this Senate is in fact behind so many Australians who not only voted for climate change action at the last election but continue to believe that that is the right thing to do.
The case for action is clear, and it has in fact been clear for some time. We know what the scientists are telling us. We know what the advice to politicians and political leaders for many years has been. For example, we have been told that irrigated agricultural production in our food bowl—that is, the Murray-Darling Basin—could drop by over 90 per cent by 2100. We know that there is a risk of 20 per cent more drought months over most of Australia in the next 20 years. We know that in the years beyond that—for example, up to 2070—we are looking at up to 40 per cent more droughts in eastern Australia and up to 80 per cent more in south-western Australia. We know that rising sea levels continue to be a risk. We know what the CSIRO tells us about the risks for the Great Barrier Reef. These are a few facts amongst many that we as political leaders, as elected representatives, have been presented with over years. I have to say that it may be worth thinking about how we, this generation, this crop of senators, will look to those who come after us and to future generations. I suspect what they will say is: ‘How could they not have done something? How could they have engaged in political war over this? How could they have been so irresponsible as to not act?’ That is what I think they will say if we fall short here.
There have been many speeches in this place expressing quite extreme views. I want to start at the outset by saying that the debate against action on climate change is not new. For years we have seen in this country a number of people and a number of organisations who will do and say anything to avoid taking action on climate change. We know that. We saw it for a decade under the Howard government until even John Howard came to the view that he should act. We have continued to see it in this place and elsewhere as this government has moved forward in delivering on our election commitment.
Much of the debate from those senators who oppose action on climate change frankly has been quite extreme. It is interesting in this debate that they tell those who want action that we are full of hyperbole, but if you actually listen to the language and the facts and the accusations you find it is very much those on the other side who are prone to that.
One of the discussions in this debate thus far has been of a conspiracy theory—that somehow climate change is a conspiracy invented by the Left or others, rather than recognising the science. Senator Minchin’s comments on Four Corners I think were very clear in his views about how this was some sort of conspiracy. We have also seen a discussion about some suggestion, again in the conspiracy category, that this is a secret plot to get a world treaty—a global agreement, a world agreement. Senator Adams, who is in the chamber, usually makes very measured contributions in this debate; but I would say to her that, really, some of her contribution was not worthy of her. The reality is that that is a scare campaign created on the basis of no fact. Some of what is quoted is simply a proposal from one country. It is not a draft treaty, it is not what Australia has agreed to and, of course, no Australian government would ever sign up to something that was not in the national interest. It is simply another extreme conspiracy theory that is about clouding this debate so that we focus on what is difficult, not on what we must do.
Another of the arguments is that we should wait because others have not acted or others will not act. Of course, this completely disregards what is happening and what will happen. For example, one of the arguments is that we should wait until the United States acts. If people looked at what President Obama said yesterday, where he reaffirmed that an agreement in Copenhagen should be comprehensive and that we resolve to take significant national mitigation actions—that is, actions at home to reduce emissions—would that change their minds? Does it change their minds that Japan has pledged to introduce a scheme, that the conservative government in New Zealand has legislated a scheme, that the European Union already has a scheme in place and that the G8 economies have all endorsed cap-and-trade schemes as the way forward? Does that change their views? No, it does not, because those views are put forward to hide the real issue, which is that these are people who do not want to act, and that is what much of this debate from those who oppose climate change has been about.
Then there has been another discussion in this chamber—that we should delay because we in Australia have not thought about it enough. It is regrettable that now, it appears, in that camp are also the Australian Greens, who have focused very much in this debate on good slogans but appear to find it difficult to move from theory to action. At times in this debate, when there has been an argument for delay at that end of the chamber, one could almost have closed one’s eyes and thought it was Senator Fielding again arguing for a delay in this debate. I would remind senators that delay has been one of the last refuges of those who oppose action on climate change. They have tried to deny the science, they try to scaremonger and they try to delay—three very obvious tactics. Yet they seem to forget that we in this country have been talking about this issue for almost a decade.
The first report to the Howard government on the prospect of emissions trading was handed down in 1999. Consider what you were doing in 1999. I know there are some who were in this place. I was not. It is 10 years on and, since that time, under Prime Minister Howard as well as at the last election and subsequently, there has been a comprehensive consideration of what we have to do. I am told by some in this debate that the Senate has not had enough time. So leave aside what has occurred with government and in the community; I am also told that the Senate does not have enough time.
I asked my office to compile how many House and Senate inquiries there have been since I think the last election that relate to climate change. We counted 13, including a Senate inquiry on the draft legislation—that is the core of what is before the chamber—as well as subsequent committee inquiries. Understand that we have considered this. The question is: will we now act? In many ways the sadness in this debate is that we know we have to act and that every time we delay we know we are only increasing the costs. I could not put it better than Peter Shergold, who served the former Prime Minister very well. His advice to the Howard government after considering emissions trading and the issue of climate change was: ‘Go soon because it will not cost you as much.’ I come back to where I started, which is that there are times in our political debate when we should and can do better. This group of senators should and can do better. We should not fall short because this is about starting what we know we have to do, starting an adjustment that we know we have to make and taking responsibility here and now, not saying: ‘Let’s make it someone else’s problem; let’s respond to a scare campaign; let’s respond to another delay; let’s respond to the various conspiracy theories.’ Those are not options we should take. We should take responsibility for the future, look to the future. There are a great many views around this chamber and there are some very strongly held views. What I say to the Senate is that the facts are clear: we know climate change is real and we know what it will mean. The question is whether we are now willing to take action or whether we simply want to fall short. I believe that the Australian people want us to do better. I commend the bills to the chamber.
That the amendment (Senator Bob Brown’s) be agreed to.
Could I advise senators that there are a number of foreshadowed amendments which will now be moved in turn by the proposers, with the exception of the proposed amendment foreshadowed on sheet 6006 standing in the name of Senator Xenophon. He has advised that he will not proceed with that particular foreshadowed amendment. So there are still two further foreshadowed amendments to be dealt with now.
I move the amendment on sheet 6016:
At the end of the motion, add:
and further consideration of the bills, which will impose the single largest structural change to the Australian economy, be made an order of the day for the first sitting day after:
(a) the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit has concluded; and
On behalf of the Australian Greens and Senator Xenophon, I move the second reading amendment on sheet 6020 revised:
At the end of the motion, add:
the bills, the multi-billion dollar adjustment to the bills, as agreed by the Coalition and the Government in November 2009, and the amendments required to implement that agreement, be referred to the Economics Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 12.30pm on 1 December 2009;
the Minister representing the Treasurer provide to that committee by 30 November 2009, for consideration as part of that inquiry, any modelling or analysis commissioned by Treasury and/or the Department of Climate Change and all documents prepared by Treasury in relation to the August 2009 Frontier Economics report on the economic impact of the CPRS;
(c) the Senate meet from 1 December to 3 December 2009 to consider the bills;
(d) further consideration of the bills be an order of the day for the day the committee presents its report.
Siewert, R. *
Farrell, D.E. *
* denotes teller
That the bills be now read a second time.
Bills read a second time.