Thursday, 26 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]
Consideration resumed from 25 November.
I move Australian Greens amendment (1) on sheet 5786:
- (1) Clause 3, page 3 (line 10), at the end of subclause (3), add “including the provision of financial support to developing countries for nationally appropriate mitigation actions and adaptation”.
This amendment pertains to financial support for developing countries. This amendment proposes to add to the objects clause the words ‘including the provision of financial support to developing countries for nationally appropriate mitigation actions and adaptation’.
We canvassed the background to this in a fairly peripheral way last night, but the issue here is that everyone recognises that, for a successful global agreement to address global warming, there needs to be a recognition not only that there has to be an adequate target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also that equity has to be addressed. It is vital that equity become an instrumental part of any agreement reached in Copenhagen, and it is absolutely certain that there will be no agreement if it is perceived to be unfair.
The inequalities that are already there are clear. Developed countries are already responsible for approximately 76 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions already released into the atmosphere. Per capita rates of greenhouse gas emissions are significantly higher in developed countries than in developing countries. For example, the average Australian emits nearly five times as much as the average Chinese, and the average Canadian emits 13 times as much as the average person in India. About 100 countries with a total population of nearly one billion people but less than three per cent of the emissions will have to suffer the effects of climate change impacts in the near term. Developed countries have greater economic capability to make the adjustments that are needed to reduce emissions. For example, the US GDP per person is about 10 times that of China and about 19 times that of India.
One of the frustrations in the negotiations to date leading up to Copenhagen is that developed countries have not laid on the table a very clear statement of their level of ambition with regard to a financial mechanism. I think it is important, in the objects clause in Australia, not only that we have a target for greenhouse gas emissions but also that we have a legislated commitment to provide financial support to developing countries for nationally appropriate mitigation actions and adaptation.
Last night we indicated that the European Union has said that, globally, €5 to €7 billion will be needed per year over the three years from 2010 to 2012. Recently, at the pre-COP ministerial meeting, the Japanese announced a fast start-up finance figure of $9.2 billion out to 2012. For the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown is already offering a deal on finance which includes 800 million over three years for the Climate Investment Fund for 2008 to 2011. I ask the minister about Australia’s position on this. It is no use saying that Australia will do its fair share. We know that the negotiations start Saturday week, so it is no use trying to say that we do not have a position. We clearly must have a position if we are going to the negotiations in a week’s time. The negotiating team must have its instructions from the government.
I would like to know whether the government is going to support this amendment, which is an in-principle amendment to commit financial support. What is Australia’s view about the amount of money that needs to be on the table globally from developed countries for fast start-up finance between 2010 and 2012 and, more particularly, what do we think we need overall out to 2020? I know the minister said last night that there are a number of possible criteria that might be used to develop a formula for an appropriate level of financing. They could include capacity to pay, the demonstration of early action, the historical legacy, population growth—a range of things. I would like to know, from the Australian team, what formula we intend to be negotiating around. I might leave it there for the moment in order to get some answers to those questions about what we have on the table and the parameters of the formula that we are pursuing.
I wish to raise with the Minister for Climate Change and Water a matter of some importance to people in North Queensland and, particularly, Townsville. We awoke this morning to find a headline in the local paper ‘Yabulu closure threat’. Yabulu is a major nickel production plant in Townsville that creates a lot of jobs for North Queenslanders. It is particularly important in these times of high unemployment in North Queensland. The chief operating officer of Yabulu nickel refinery, a Mr Neil Meadows, said that the refinery’s current assessment of the way it was treated under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, amounting to a 30 per cent subsidy, ‘meant it could be hit with tens of millions of dollars a year in additional charges’. The Townsville Bulletin reported further on Mr Meadow’s comments:
‘‘That could tip it over the edge on what it was a year ago,’’ Mr Meadows said.
‘‘On the current nickel prices and foreign exchange rate, it is only breaking even.’’
The way Chinese nickel pig iron production was affecting prices, he did not see boom times ahead any time soon.
The nickel and cobalt refinery is lobbying Canberra for status as a stand-alone industry to gain the top subsidy rate of 94.5 per cent for high-emission activities.
Yabulu apparently produces high emissions—1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year—because it processes a cruder form of laterite ores, whereas rival companies produce less than half the carbon footprint with sulfite ores. Yabulu imports much of its ore from the Philippines where a similar refinery has been mothballed but which could reopen to process the ores should Yabulu close. The Townsville Bulletin reports that Mr Meadows goes on to say:
‘‘This is a classic example of an Australian operation which is at threat of the work going overseas …
This is an argument that has been regularly made. The Townsville Bulletin reports:
The office of Climate Change Minister Penny Wong did not return the calls from the Townsville Bulletin yesterday …
So it was unable to get a response from you. I am particularly concerned that here is a direct example of a job-producing activity in North Queensland and that, further north in Queensland, unemployment is something like 17 per cent of adult males. It is a little bit better in Townsville but only because this refinery, the copper refinery and the zinc refinery in Townsville continue to operate. All the way along, I have been vitally concerned that Mr Rudd’s CPRS would make those three refineries unprofitable. I have raised the zinc question a number of times and I have been told by members of the government, ‘Oh, that’s not right, they’re not going overseas,’ but here we have a refinery that employs, according to the headline in the Townsville Bulletin, 1,200 people. The headline says ‘PM asked to intervene to save 1200 jobs’. You can imagine what the loss of 1,200 jobs would do to the Townsville economy.
Indeed, Senator Boswell. I know what impact it had on the Cairns economy when the Labor Party refused to give a contract to the Cairns shipbuilding operation. Thereby some 300 jobs were—not put at risk—lost. They should have been given the shipbuilding contract but they were not, as a result of shenanigans between the state Labor government and the federal Labor government.
But that was in Cairns. You can imagine what the loss of 1,200 jobs would do to this community of north Queensland. I know that today, following the presentation of this article in the Townsville Bulletin, there are a great many Townsville working families currently under great stress at the suggestion that the nickel refinery will close because of the government’s CPRS. I ask the minister whether she could accede to the request of the refinery for the status of a stand-alone industry to gain the top rate, or whether in other ways the minister can assure not just the owners of this refinery—whilst they are important they are less important in this equation—but also the 1,200 working families in Townsville that their jobs are not at risk of being exported to the Philippines.
I note that the Townsville mayor has said that he will be raising that with Mr Rudd when he visits Townsville next month but that will be too late. I would just like an assurance from the minister that they will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that 1,200 jobs are not lost from this refinery in Townsville.
Senator Macdonald, I would point out that we are discussing the Greens amendment which deals with financial support to developing countries. I realise that your query has a tangential connection to that but it is very slight. I will leave it to the minister to describe but you may need to ask that at another time. I will leave it to the minister.
I did not want to take a point of order in the interests of trying to proceed through these matters. If Senator Milne can give me a minute or two, I will respond to Senator Macdonald and then I will come to her amendment.
In relation to Yabulu I am advised that representatives of Queensland Nickel are meeting with my department in a couple of weeks time—or some time thereabouts—to discuss this issue: that is, the activity definition for nickel production. So I am certain my department will consider very closely what is being put by that company. I would make the point that the government—supported by the majority of the opposition—has agreed on a very significant amount of transitional assistance to our emissions-intensive industries. Those thresholds have been public and the subject of consultation with industry for some time. They enable, as assistance, a starting rate for the most emissions-intensive industries of 94.5 per cent of free permits, and some 66 per cent for the moderately intensive industries.
I am certainly happy for my department to work with this company through the issues raised. The government has put a lot of focus on ensuring that this is a scheme that enables our economy to continue to grow, in terms of both the size of the economy and jobs. That is certainly what the Treasury modelling shows us. So, on that issue I indicate that the department will be meeting with that company.
In relation to the amendment which is before the chair, I say to Senator Milne firstly that she is asking what the government’s negotiating position is but that that is not something that has yet been announced, and I do not propose to announce it now. Secondly, we have put on the record—I did last night—that Australia is prepared to pay its fair share in an agreed global climate finance package. However, it is the case that those matters are still under consideration and for negotiation. We have said quite clearly that we recognise the significant and urgent need for international financing. We recognise that these are matters which need to be dealt with both in Copenhagen and beyond, but the government is not minded to accept this amendment. We think this is legislation which is about reducing Australia’s carbon pollution. It is not necessary to include this provision in domestic legislation. We will continue to engage, through the UNFCCC, to deal with financing issues.
It seems that the European Union has no problem identifying the amount of money they think needs to be on the table as start-up finance. Japan has no problem. The UK has no problem. One of the big problems, though, is that the developing countries are beginning to think that Australia is not negotiating in good faith, because you are not acknowledging the quantum that needs to be on the table globally, let alone talking about the appropriate burden share. I note that you are rejecting the notion of even putting final support to developing countries into the object clause of the legislation. So, firstly, my question is: is the money that is provided for developing countries going to come out of public funding and not be related to receipts from the scheme in any way? Are you saying that it will be publicly funded? Are receipts from the scheme in any way directed to overseas funding?
Secondly, I would like to know from the minister whether Australia is supporting a tax on aviation or bunker fuel in order to be part of a private sector contribution to a fund that might be able to be directed in the way that I am suggesting. Can the minister at least confirm that there will be no global treaty unless there is a fair allocation of funding to developing countries to allow them to adapt and to mitigate as much as possible? Can she be clear about where the money will come from, if it is not going to be in any way connected to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme?
First, in relation to the bunker fuel, the government has not determined its negotiation position on that issue. I think that is the best way to explain it. Second, in terms of the revenue sources, I explained to, I think, Senator Joyce last night that this income is not hypothecated. We have provided publicly an indication of the impact of government policy measures on the fiscal balance, but that is as an indication of how the revenues are being spent as opposed to that revenue being hypothecated to any particular outcome.
Obviously, when the CPRS returns to a budget-positive position the government will be very mindful of the importance of the allocation of those revenues to environmental programs. But the reality is the current package is not revenue positive out to 2020. In terms of the third question, we have already stated publicly that we understand that climate finance to support developing country action on climate change will be an important part of a global deal. The Prime Minister said words to that effect and I have said that.
I thank the minister for her answer because it is clear looking at this that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme will not have a positive budgetary impact out to 2020, so any money that is paid into a global fund must come out of the budget somewhere. That is why it is important that Australians have a commitment that the money will be paid and that Australia is not going to go to Copenhagen with a miserly position, having allocated so much compensation to the coal-fired generators—with no justification whatsoever—and argue that there is no money, because the scheme does not generate any additional funds, to put an appropriate share into an international fund for the adaptation, mitigation and assistance that is required.
So I think it is important that we at least we get from you, Minister, a commitment to the kind of quantum. As you are aware, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and others have put on the table their view. Looking at the formula that I have referred to previously, they think that Australia’s fair share ought to be in the vicinity of $4 billion per annum. I think there has to be some awareness of what it means when you design a scheme that is so economically inefficient that there is no money left over from it to meet your quite right, just and fair international obligations to shoulder your fair share. If the rest of the world determines that the adequacy of the target on offer has a direct relationship to what our fair share is—so, the lower the target, the higher the financial contribution—we need to know what Australia’s position is. There is real concern that the failure of developed countries to put an adequate amount of money on the table will be a deal breaker in Copenhagen.
I would just like to know from the minister whether she thinks the quantum that has been put on the table by the EU, Britain and Japan for fast start-up is in the ballpark. Does Australia think that is the kind of quantum we need on the table for the fast start-up? And what is the ballpark quantum for us out to 2020? I also want a commitment that the government is going to meet it, because I know what could happen here. It could become crunch time because of the global financial crisis and the amount of money that has to be found because of what we expended in the short-term. With this scheme having been so generous to the polluters, it could well end up that there is no money on the table for developing countries.
I want to know how Australia is going to finance it and, secondly, that it is going to finance it. If it is not then we will not have a global treaty. That is why it is critical that we get this amendment up—so that in the objects clause there is a clear understanding that, when you have a carbon pollution reduction scheme to reduce emissions, it ought to be efficiently designed in order to generate sufficient funds to invest in such a scheme. If it is going to be publicly funded outside the scheme, we need a commitment to that and to the order of magnitude. Otherwise, I am fearful Australia will not front up with its appropriate level of burden share.
Senator, I am not sure I can add anything further. The government have not indicated a view as to quantum. The government have said that we will continue to work through the negotiations on the whole gamut of issues that are on the negotiating table, including international finance. The government have said that we understand that climate finance to support developing country action on climate change will be an important part of a global deal. I am not sure I can add anything further. You are seeking announcements in this chamber that the government has not yet made, and no amount of questioning me is going to alter that. In terms of your comments about an economically inefficient scheme, I simply make the point that obviously that is a subjective view. That is your view; that is not the government’s view.
I am concerned with the figure Senator Milne raised. I ask the minister: do you accept that people are saying that at Copenhagen Australia’s share would be $4 billion? I am not asking you to say whether you are committing it, Minister, but do you agree with Senator Milne that that is the amount being sought from Australia?
I want to ask some questions about the financing of underdeveloped countries. But before I go there I want to talk about the nickel plant in Townsville. We have not even started this CPRS—or ETS—and we are finding that already there are 1,200 jobs on the line—
Madam Chair, maybe I can form my comments to meet with the amendments. Here we are debating how we are going to look after the underdeveloped countries. As we quite often find ourselves in parliament now, we are in a situation where Senator Milne wants to go too far and we want to find out just how far we have got to go. I raise this in the context of 1,200 people losing their jobs. We pay for other people to put an ETS in their countries. What is the point of this? There are 1,200 jobs going to go on the burner—the company is on the line. It was bought out by Clive Palmer about 12 months ago and it was losing money then. He took over, guaranteed the jobs and now we are penalising him so we can provide compensation for foreign countries. Senator Macdonald has a unit in Townsville. There is a series of suburbs along the northern beaches of Townsville. People from the whole of that area work in the nickel refinery, and we are going to close down the whole of North Townsville so Australia can provide finance to underdeveloped countries.
We are getting into the farcical stage. We are closing our industries down because we are penalising them so much. We then have to go and put in $4 million or $8 billion—depending on who you talk to—and you come in here, Minister, and say, ‘Well, I haven’t got a figure.’ Well, you had better get one because in three weeks time you are going to Copenhagen. I find it very difficult to believe that a government with all the public servants at their disposal—and there must be 200 to 300 in that department—are asking us to believe that you are going to Copenhagen without knowing what you are going to put on the table. That defies logic.
I have very rarely agreed with anything you have said. I know you are an intelligent woman and I know you would not go to Copenhagen unprepared. You would have all your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed before you went over there. You are not going over there and pulling out a figure from the back of an envelope. Do not ask us to believe what is impossible to believe. You are a skilled performer but do not try to spin it so much that you do not know what you are doing. You do know what you are doing; you have had a grip on this ETS for 12 or 18 months and you know exactly what is going to happen. I am not going to say you are misleading the Senate, but I believe you know what you are going to put on the table. It is going to be frightening. You are trying to avoid getting it out while the parliament is sitting and before we vote on the ETS.
People are terrified of this and what this is going to do to the economy. You are asking them to finance another country while jobs at Yabulu nickel refinery are going. And that is not the first lot. The first lot was the Rockhampton cement mill. They could have kept going; it would have been hard because they would have had to revamp their machinery. But they would have kept going if there was no ETS. But while there was an ETS there they said, ‘It is not worth doing it.’ That was not a lot of jobs—68—but as I said at the time, it was a canary in the coalmine. Now we are having massive losses.
Townsville cannot afford this and neither can Australia. If you want to push this through—all the Nationals and many of the Liberals do not want it to go through—then be honest with us; do not try and dodge it. Tell the people what they have got to know. You might not carry the people, but do not dodge it. That is what a parliament is for—to expose these issues and to find out what the figures are, and you know it. You know you have got them there, I know you have got them there and everyone in this parliament knows you have got them there.
Senator Boswell has just engaged in the same sort of scaremongering that those on that side of the chamber who have lost the vote in their party room have engaged in, because they will do and say anything—
There is scaremongering by National and Liberal Party members who have never wanted action on climate change and will do and say anything, regardless or how erroneous, wrong and incorrect it is, in order to avoid action. That is what is happening. The fact is that you have form on this. You are the rump of the Liberal Party and the National Party who refuse to believe the science, who refuse to listen to the Australian people about their desire for action on climate change and who refuse to back the election commitment you made under John Howard to introduce a scheme like this. It is irresponsible in the extreme for senators to come into this place seeking to deny the science and fight this policy, not on the basis of fact but on the basis of fear. Senator Boswell knows well that this scheme has not yet commenced; in fact that is what he is trying to stop. That is what he is opposing. He wants to ensure that the scheme never commences.
Second, he makes this claim that we are closing down industries to send money overseas. What an appalling piece of scaremongering here in this chamber. He knows that every cent of this scheme out to 2020, and more, is being used to assist Australian households and Australian businesses to adjust to the impact of a carbon price. That was our commitment and that commitment remains. He also seeks to avoid recognising the impacts of climate change. Senator Boswell, I know that you do not agree with the science. But we are doing this because we think it is the right thing for the country. We believe that the science is right, that this is an enormous economic and environmental risk to Australia and that the world is moving. We know, for example, that the US has just announced a provisional target to take to Copenhagen.
In relation to nickel, I think it is always very useful to get facts on the table about movements in price, because there are some in this place who seek to suggest that the world will come to an end if we start to recognise the costs of climate change through our economy. And I believe I had interchanges with Senator Macdonald and Senator Boswell about cement previously. I will just make an observation about the movement in the world nickel price over the last couple of years. My advice is that that has varied between in excess of $55,000 and $18,000 over two years. So there has been a 70 per cent fluctuation in the price of nickel, and that is not unusual in the sense that there is variation on world markets. But those are the sort of market fluctuations that industry deals with. The sort of impact on revenue, before assistance, that we anticipate for this industry—and this is a rough estimation—is about three per cent. So the proposition is that somehow that is—what was it that Senator Boswell said?—’closing down industries.’ Three per cent of revenue. The reality of the scaremongering campaign is that any price impost is described as ‘closing down industry’ by those who want to stop action on climate change. We have worked enormously hard in this government, including with sensible members of the opposition, to provide reasonable transitional assistance to Australian business.
I want to make another economic point; it is this: if you believe that the world is eventually moving to a global carbon constraint, and the evidence is that it is moving, then Australia needs to be able to compete in that world. So the rationale for this reform is not only that we have to be part of action on climate change but it is also that we have to reform so that we can produce the goods and services that, increasingly, will be demanded by world markets.
I had a discussion with the minister’s office earlier today and I thought that the most time effective way of dealing with things that I need to seek your leave on—whilst this does not relate to the amendment at hand—is to actually set out a list of question so that, effectively, the minister can take those questions on notice and respond. I am not sure if that is an adequate way of proceeding with that.
I will make a suggestion to the chamber for the consideration of senators. We have before us an amendment from Senator Milne. I wonder whether, when senators have sufficiently put their views on that, we could put that amendment. I am very happy then to take questions from Xenophon—that will give me time to come back. I say to senators Joyce and Milne that I have some responses on a number of issues raised last night. I also have an official here in relation to the Kyoto accounting rule issue that was discussed last night. I wonder if it would be possible for us to deal with that set of questions rather than asking the official to remain here until 11pm. If that is not convenient for the Senate we will obviously facilitate that but, if it is, that would be appreciated.
I support the proposition that we finish considering this amendment, vote on it and then go to the bushfire questions, Senator Xenophon’s questions and so on. But, first, I return to the issue of what we are going to put on the table in terms of our obligations under a financing mechanism.
I note that Minister Wong said that she had not seen the figure of $4.4 billion in the press. I draw her attention to Oxfam Australia’s report, which it sent to all senators, entitled Hang together or separately? How global co-operation is key to a fair and adequate climate deal at Copenhagen. James Ensor, the Director of Public Policy and Outreach at Oxfam Australia, said in a letter he sent to all senators:
A new global mitigation finance mechanism managed by the United Nations should be established to direct money from the sale of carbon permits allocated under the UNFCCC to assist poor countries in their efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. At least $187 billion globally is needed each year, and Australia’s fair share of this amount is approximately $4.3 billion annually.
So that figure of $4 billion came from a report by Oxfam, based on the kinds of discussions and parameters that I mentioned previously. The minister said that she did not think it was appropriate to put a provision for financial support to developing countries into this legislation, but I draw a minister’s attention to the objects clause where:
The first object is … to give effect to Australia’s obligations under:
(a) the Climate Change Convention; and
(b) the Kyoto Protocol.
The second object is:
… to support the development of an effective global response to climate change
I would have thought that including the provision of financial support to developing countries for nationally-appropriate mitigation actions and adaptation would be part of an effective global response to climate change. It does not specify figures; it is a principle in the clause. I am concerned that no public financing facility is being foreshadowed by the government on where our fair share is going to come from. There is no private fund from aviation or bunker fuel. I accept that that has not been agreed and that it is on the table for negotiation, which will, hopefully, lead to some private sector financing for such a fund.
Can the minister guarantee that Australia’s overseas aid budget will not just be rolled into part of Australia’s effort and that Australia’s contribution to this fund will be over and above both our existing obligations under the Millennium Development Goals and our existing aid budget? Can the minister guarantee that our aid budget is not going to be merely a part of this contribution but actually additional to it, since it will come out of the public purse?
On the same issue and in relation to this amendment, I have a question for Minister Wong. Senator Milne had to say this, but she makes a very good point: you are going to Copenhagen in three weeks time and you are going to be asked there—even if you do not want to be, though I am sure you do want to be and I am sure it is in your mind—what Australia can contribute to underdeveloped countries along the lines of calls that have been made by the Secretary-General of the UN and many other people.
Again, Minister Wong, I can appreciate why you do not want to tell the Australian public or the Australian parliament or the people who approve your appropriations. I can understand why you do not want to do that now. There is a lot of spin in this, so that will make for a good announcement at the right time. I understand that, but can you at least tell the Senate what your parameters are? Are you prepared to agree to anything? If you are, are you prepared to agree to a little bit, a big bit or a medium bit? Are you likely to agree to something that is for this year, for next year, for the next decade or for the next 100 years?
Can you just give us some details without mentioning the figure of $4 billion or anything else specifically? Or do you think you are not going to be asked? Do you think that after you and Mr Rudd have been to Copenhagen, you will come away from there without making any comment whatsoever on what Australia might be able to contribute to underdeveloped countries?
Senator Macdonald suggests that I am imputing an improper motive. I do not know that I would call it ‘improper’; it is quite patent. Senator Macdonald has crossed the floor against his own party.
I am not going to add anything further to what I have said. I have answered Senator Milne’s questions and Senator Boswell’s questions. I have also made the point that every cent of the revenue from the bills before the chamber is accounted for. The government has gone to unprecedented lengths to do a 10-year forecast, which is most unusual. We did so because we wanted to be transparent about the revenues and the expenditure associated with the scheme, so we have gone beyond the forward estimates period, which is an unusual thing to do. But, given the importance of this legislation, we thought that was appropriate.
It is most regrettable that that same question has been asked again. Senator Nash asked it last night. I made the comment that it is regrettable that we want to play politics in terms of our relationship with China. I make this point: China already receives funds from Australian companies under the current mechanisms of the Kyoto protocol, known as the clean development mechanism, whereby Australian companies can, for example, invest in renewable projects in China. What I would say to you, Senator, is that that is a good thing. If we have a situation where we can give an incentive to Australian companies to invest in clean energy in China, displacing more emissions-intensive forms of energy such as coal, that is good for the planet—and, providing you get the mechanism right, it is good for that Australian business. There are Australian businesses already doing that.
Minister, this is not about businesses; this is about you going to Copenhagen and putting on the table money to be appropriated towards developing countries, which would include China. We currently have in excess—I imagine; I will have to find out—of $115 billion of debt. The states have in excess of $170 billion in debt. The major financier of that debt is the People’s Republic of China. So, quite evidently, we will be borrowing further money, and putting ourselves further into debt, to take the money across to Australia, pay for the administration charges, and then send it back to China. Then we will have to repay the debt for the stimulation of the Chinese economy from the Australian economy back to China, for the money we borrowed from China to pay to China to develop Chinese industry.
Senator Joyce makes a very good point. But can I just respond to the minister’s answer to my question—which she chose not to answer but simply used to abuse me and others who have the temerity to question our government on what funds they are putting aside for this. I acknowledged to her that I did not expect a dollar figure. I asked her to tell us what the parameters might be. I asked her to tell us whether she expected to come away from Copenhagen without having mentioned funds to developing countries but that, if she was intending to say something, could she indicate to us just what the parameters are and how it is going to be assessed?
I say to the minister that, if she is simply going to get up in response to questions and abuse the questioner, then we are going to be here until Christmas. This is the greatest piece of economic rearrangement of Australia in a lifetime. We understand the government has a position, wants to get this through and claims a mandate—and all of that may be true—but at least this Senate should be able to question the minister on just what this might cost and how it is going to operate. If the minister, in answer to those questions, simply abuses the questioner, we are going to be here for a very long time. I suggest the minister might need to find a fill-in for Copenhagen, because if that is the way she is going to keep answering our questions, we will keep asking the questions—and we can do that until we get an answer.
The Australian Greens’ perspective is very clear: developed countries have caused the problems we now face with climate change and we have a responsibility, because of the historical legacy, to assist developing companies to mitigate and adapt into the future. There is no doubt that, if we do not contribute our fair share, there will be no global agreement and we will be going beyond the tipping point and the whole planet will suffer. This is a matter of justice. It has to be built into any negotiation.
I want to come back to this issue of Australia’s fair share, justice and the need for this principle to be here. In the negotiations with the coalition it is clear that billions more were found for the coal-fired generators but there is no income stream identified in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to provide this finance. I have heard the minister say that Australia has said it will pay its fair share, but I have not heard any undertaking from her as to what the government has thought the parameters or the formula for a fair share should be—or, indeed, how Australia is going to find the money for that fair share. I believe it will be, and should be, in the quantum of the figures that I have discussed earlier—that the European Union, that Britain and that Japan have put on the table, for early and fast financing out to 2020.
I asked the minister a minute ago to give us an unequivocal undertaking that this will not be to displace Australian overseas aid, that it will be additional to that. I think there is some obligation for the minister to explain to the parliament, given that billions could be found for the polluters, how billions are going to be found for those who deserve the billions. They are the people who are suffering around the world now, as the minister well acknowledges and that is clear to everyone who follows this debate. Millions are suffering already. A billion people live in the four big river valleys of Asia. If you have the glaciers in the Himalayas retreat and disappear, they will have no fresh water for six months of the year. This is a humanitarian crisis, quite apart from an ecological crisis.
In moving this amendment, the Greens are trying to secure a real commitment and an identification of where the income stream is going to come from to pay our fair share. If this is public financing coming out of budgetary lines for which the government of the future will say ‘there is no money to pay’ then we have no hope of getting a global agreement that is just and fair, and therefore we will not get a global agreement, because I am sure that developing countries will not sign on unless they have a high degree of confidence that each of the developed countries is signing on for something real in terms of a figure. I have heard the minister say that she is not going to say anything more on this issue. I think that is unfortunate, because other developed countries have felt they are able to say something on this issue. At least please assure this Senate that this will not be a substitute in part for overseas aid but that it will be additional to our Millennium Development Goals obligations and our current overseas aid obligations.
I indicate my support for this amendment. I have had a number of discussions with Tim Costello, from World Vision, in relation to this as recently as last night and today. Reverend Costello indicates that the Global Humanitarian Forum—that is the group that Kofi Annan is involved with—has indicated that 330,000 people died in the developing world last year due to climate change related health issues. The World Health Organisation has given a lower figure and has said that 154,000 people died last year due to climate change related health problems—for example, malaria in areas which previously did not have malaria, because of temperature rises.
The point made by Reverend Costello on behalf of World Vision is that there is a very real concern about the whole issue of adaptation as well as funding for mitigation. World Vision’s view, as I understand it, is that our share of the health commitment to the region, which is $600 million by 2012, should be $1,200 million by 2012. Senator Milne is right: if there are additional health pressures as a result of climate change then we should increase our budget. I think that this object clause is laudable. It does not constrain the government in a budgetary sense, but it does set as a clear objective that we provide appropriate financial support for mitigation actions and adaptation. Therefore I support it.
Certainly. Senator Xenophon has just given a contribution in which he says he supports an increase. That is his prerogative. I am sure that Senator Xenophon would want to know how much money he is supporting, because I certainly want to know.
The European Community are a bit more generous to us than Oxfam. They say we should pay only $3.8 billion. Oxfam says we should pay $4 billion. I want to know a couple of things. I want to know how much it is and how we are going to pay for it. Is it going to be paid for by increased taxes or a levy on aviation fuel and bunker fuel for the ships, or are we just going to take it out of the budget? I have asked these questions; they are reasonably sensible questions, and all I get from you, Senator Wong, is abuse. You are better than that. You really do not have to do that. You might have your faults but you are not a redneck.
Senator Joyce, she is a capable woman. You are not telling us what we have got to know. It does not matter what Senator Joyce wants—or Senator Nash or Senator Milne. It is irrelevant. But you have to tell us what you are going to spend and how you are going to raise the money—whether it is going to be by a tax, a levy or any other means. If you do not, you are deceiving the Senate, and when you deceive the Senate you are deceiving the Australian people. This is a parliament and we are all gathered here because we have been elected to represent our constituents. Whether they are to the far left or the right or the middle, they all have to vote, and they all want to know how much this is going to cost and how we are going to finance it.
If it is a levy on aviation fuel and bunker fuel, that is going to impact on Australia more than any other country in the world, because we are a trading nation. As I said in my speech on the second reading, we have been a trading nation since Macarthur sent the first bale of wool overseas. And we are a long way away from anywhere. We are down at the bottom end of the world, so our transport costs are going to be more than others. We will be impacted on more by levies and taxes. If you want to get this through, that is okay; I do not know whether you have the numbers. But surely there is nothing wrong with telling us that. Are you ashamed? Are you frightened? Are you observing the polls, as I am, and finding that the ETS is going down like a brick and you do not want to frighten the horses? Your polling must be the same as ours, and ours is saying it is going down in front of your eyes. That is a fact of life. You cannot escape it. People have a view and they express that view in the polls. But it is wrong for you to stand here and abuse Senator Macdonald, Senator Milne and Senator Joyce. Senator Joyce is pretty thick-skinned and he can cop it, but Senator Milne does not like it, and I do not think you should abuse her. Chivalry is not dead in the National Party, and we respect women.
We can be flippant about this, but I do not think you can escape it: you cannot deny telling us how you are going to raise the money, what the money is, what taxes are going to be paid, what is going to be on revenue and how you are going to raise the money. The figure is going to be around $3.8 billion, I suspect. You can deny that, but that is what Oxfam have said. I do not know what they have got to do with the price of fish. They are a charity organisation and they probably do a pretty good job as a charity organisation, but when they stray from their knitting I do not think they have any expertise to make these claims. Then you have got the EU, which has put us down for $3.8 billion. So we can assume that we are in the ballpark, give or take a billion, but we would actually like to know the figure and how you are going to raise the figure, whether it is going to be by taxes, levies or raiding the budget. They are not unreasonable questions, I would have thought. So can you please give us some answers or, as Senator Macdonald said, we will be here until Christmas. We are prepared to stay here as long as you like. Do not try and obfuscate, because you can only obfuscate for so long. In the end, the truth will come out. You will have to give us the truth and you are trying to avoid that at the moment. The questions I ask you are: how much is it, and how are you going to raise the money—are you going to invoke a levy on fuel or is it going to be through taxation or a raid on the budget or something else?
I think a lot of things about Senator Boswell, but Galahad and Lancelot are not amongst them I have to say. Not pretty but pretty effective was one of his slogans, wasn’t it? I am not sure what you think was abusive about what I said, Senator Boswell. I have found in this debate that the very harsh language has not been from those who want action on climate change; it has been from those who oppose it. There have been people in this chamber who have accused me of wanting to burn people at the stake. Those are not words I would use. I think I have referred to the comments about China as regrettable. I do not think it is abusive to name what is happening, and I do think this is scaremongering.
A number of figures have been raised and put into the public arena by NGOs and other governments. Those are not Australian government figures. If and when the Australian government chooses to put a figure out, we will be held accountable to it. But that is not something we have done. A number of the issues raised are issues which are live in the negotiations, so I am being asked to respond to something which is currently the subject of negotiations and will continue to be the subject of negotiations.
In terms of the bills before the chamber, there is a lot of discussion about international finance. I do not agree with Senator Milne’s position, but it is a legitimate amendment for her to put which is consistent with her party’s position. Some of the contributions that are being made are seeking to conflate an issue which is not before the chamber. There is no revenue out to 2020 which the government is asking the chamber to allocate towards international finance. Every cent is going towards Australian business and Australian households. That is the issue that Senator Milne has. I respect that and I have given my answer to that, but Senator Boswell’s contribution seems to suggest we are putting something before the chamber that allocates revenue to developing countries when we are not. In fact, that is Senator Milne’s very point.
Can I make a suggestion? I know there are people in this chamber who really do not want to vote on this bill. Throughout all of last night and up to now we have only dealt with one amendment.
Senator Boswell, you are asking me to make announcements that the government has not made. You can ask all night long and my answer will be the same. I suggest to the chamber that we have been sent here to consider this bill. People are entitled to move amendments and to speak to them but, if they are simply trying to avoid this bill being resolved, I think that will become increasingly clear to anybody who is watching as the hours go on.
I have asked twice; I will ask for a third time and then I will assume that the minister is not going to answer and therefore the answer is that there is every likelihood the aid budget will be rolled into this. I just wanted the minister to give an undertaking that this money will be over and above the existing aid budget and existing commitments under the Millennium Development Goals and will not be money that is substituted for those amounts. That is the commitment I want from the government. It is not about the quantum that Australia is prepared to pledge; it is whether the money will be over and above the existing amounts. I also put it clearly on the record that the decision to give billions of dollars to the coal-fired sector when it is completely unjustified in this scheme is no excuse for future budgets not to allocate what is Australia’s fair share, because it is a choice of the government and the coalition not to provide an income stream under the CPRS for the social justice commitment that Australia should rightly be making.
The issue of what proportion is ODA or not ODA is obviously one of the issues that has been the subject of negotiation, but again, given that the Australian government has not announced its position, I cannot give you an indication on that. I just refer you again to my statements and the Prime Minister’s statements about Australia paying its fair share in an agreed global climate finance package.
Following my colleagues Senators Boswell and Macdonald, who raised the issue of job losses in the north of Queensland, I want to raise the same issue of job losses in my state of Victoria. It is relevant at this point because of the high-handedness of the minister when she—
Mr Temporary Chair, I rise on a point of order. It goes to relevance. I have no difficulty in Senator McGauran making a contribution on this issue—and there are amendments subsequently which deal with this—but we are dealing with an amendment on international financing and putting it into the objects of the act. I fail to see how a contribution about Victorian industry is relevant to an international financing amendment.
The minister has on a number of occasions suggested a particular course of action as to how this debate be conducted. We are dealing with an Australian Greens amendment about financial support to developing countries. It would be useful in the discussion if the comments made are directly relevant to the amendment we are dealing with.
I can make my comments relevant. I could raise my particular issue in relation to the Victorian aluminium industry at any point, but the minister has provoked me to get up at this particular point because she was very high-handed towards a question asked by Senator Joyce about whether China is a developed or a developing country. It is classified as a developing country—a very developing country, I should add. The minister put that information out with a certain undertone in her comments.
Senator Joyce asked how many billions we are going to give to China. We have a right to ask what the effect of this scheme will be on Australian jobs and industry. There is such a thing as carbon leakage. The minister would know all about that. If this scheme is badly designed, these industries will head off to China while we are paying China whatever is agreed—and we have no idea what that might be from the upcoming Copenhagen agreement—to lower its emissions. For example, if not the case in point, the aluminium industry in Victoria will go to China to set up under the existing structure.
Two Senate reports have touched on the question of carbon leakage to developing countries. The interim report of the Senate Select Committee on Fuel and Energy—a government majority report, I should add—raises deep concern about carbon leakage. This is where the developing country aspect is important. In evidence to that committee, the Australian Aluminium Council outlined its view of the impact of the CPRS on the aluminium industry. It said:
The CPRS will impose an extra cost on alumina refining and aluminium smelting industries—thus helping to move our very competitive operations up the cost curve, whilst competitors in non carbon constrained economies remain unaffected … Capital will instead be most likely directed to operations in countries such as China …
That industry is Victoria’s biggest export industry, the greatest revenue earner for Victoria. Under the framework of this scheme, Alcoa in Portland and Geelong will pack up and possibly go to the developing country that we will be supporting. That is the relevance of all this. That is why Senator Macdonald raised the question of Australian jobs because that will be the effect.
All the industries that Senator Macdonald, Senator Boswell and I have been talking about involve rural and regional jobs. And there will be a double effect. They are part of the community, the essence of the economy. Those industries are the foundation of those rural economies. In the city, they would be missed, of course, but when they pack up and leave a country town the effect is devastating on families and jobs. Where are the unions in speaking out for the aluminium industry or the nickel industry?
The minister knows that the aluminium industry, which I will raise later in more specifics, has a real problem in Victoria, and at the moment it is unsolved. Under the structure of this scheme, the effect on their bottom line in Victoria alone will be $40 million. They cannot sustain that. China will look like a very attractive proposition. They will certainly look at China if the scheme goes through as it is. The minister knows the aluminium industry has a problem, but does she know the real effect on rural and regional economies? Does she know that of all the industries this is one that can pack up pretty quickly? The aluminium industry around the world have proven how quickly they can pack up and move to the most cost-effective country. China looks very cost effective at the moment under this scheme.
It is not a matter of us trying to stop it. Of course we are trying to stop it. That is well known. We may yet stop it, by the way, Minister. Wouldn’t that be a turn-up? We may yet stop this. In fact, I am a little bit confident about that. I know something you do not know. It ought to be stopped because under the existing structure it will be devastating on industry. We are unaware of how many billions are going to go over to developing countries. My question is this: will you factor in carbon leakage if the aluminium industry leaves Victoria in the next five years and goes to China? Will you factor that in to how much you will be handing over to China? Why should Australia give up its economic security? Why should Victoria give up its biggest export industry when there is little likelihood that any of those countries are going to reduce their emissions, and certainly not have an ETS like Australia?
That the amendment (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.
I am ready to move Australian Greens amendments (2) and (3) and I seek leave to move them together. But I do note that the Minister for Climate Change and Water had said—possibly prior to you coming to the chair, Mr Temporary Chairman Bishop—that she wished to take a few moments to respond to some matters that were raised last night. We had an informal agreement in the chamber that, before we move to discussion on my next amendments, the minister would respond to some of those matters.
by leave—I move Australian Greens amendments (2) and (3) on sheet 5786:
(2) Clause 3, page 3 (lines 13 to 25), omit paragraphs (4)(a) and (b), substitute:
(a) to take action directed towards meeting Australia’s target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to at least 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020; and
(3) Clause 3, page 3 (line 26), omit “or (b)”.
I will now hand back to the minister to inform the Senate of the responses that she wanted to make.
I thank Senator Milne for that indication. We did have a discussion last night about the way in which bushfires—I think I described them as ‘extreme’ or ‘catastrophic’ bushfires—were reported. I can advise the Senate that Australia currently only reports its non-carbon dioxide emissions, such as nitrous oxide, for bushfires. That is regardless of size or source. That is as a result of the non-election we have made under article 3.4 of the Kyoto protocol in relation to land management activities. One of the reasons Australia did not elect to count land management was the problem of wildly fluctuating emissions due to catastrophic bushfire events.
In relation to the international negotiations, Australia is seeking a solution in the post-2012 international agreement to the issue of massive instantaneous emissions of CO2 from catastrophic bushfires. The same quantity of CO2 is later removed from the atmosphere as the forest regrows over a period of years. The issue is the fluctuation of emissions in a short time frame from such bushfires.
I have a long note here, and I am just trying to work out which parts of it Senator Milne may need. Australia and many other countries are developing an approach in the negotiations for a post-2012 international climate agreement that, for catastrophic fire events, those emissions would not count against the emissions target but nor would the country have the benefits from carbon removals in the burned areas in following years as the forest regrows. Under this approach, Australia will transparently report locations of burned areas and the emissions associated with the fires, even though the emissions would not count against the target.
Lasts night we were talking about the fact that Australia had not elected in the first commitment period to be part of article 3.4 activities, predominantly because of drought, fires et cetera. I was asking whether, in the negotiations on the post 2012 or a second commitment, it was true that Australia was pushing to have the bushfires, catastrophic events, or natural disturbances—which, in the Australian context, would mainly be droughts and fires—excluded so that Australia might be able to sign on to a land use change in forestry set of provisions.
My concern about what the minister has just said is that Australia’s position seems to be, or is being said to be: ‘Let’s account for what the atmosphere sees’—the emissions that are actually going into the atmosphere. I accept that, if you had an unlimited period of time and a fire that burns this year and puts a huge amount of emissions into the atmosphere, then, over the next hundred years, the forest may well recover and—you could mount an argument—take up, over time, that same volume of carbon dioxide with regrowth. The problem I have with this is the quantum and the time frame.
In the case of the Victorian fires, my understanding is that in the order of 190 megatons—some extraordinary amount—went into the atmosphere. We do not have a time frame of another hundred years to allow that to be neutralised, so, if it is not counted, it is actually a deceit because you are putting all that carbon into the atmosphere and we do not have a huge length of time to take it out again. Unless it is accounted for, we will actually be pushing the climate over the tipping point by front-loading the atmosphere. What I am trying to understand is: how would the emissions from fires be accounted for in the time frames if the IPCC is right in saying that global emissions have to peak and come down by 2015? I have lately heard people saying, ‘Well, let’s take that out to 2020.’ I do not accept that, but it is the next decade anyway. How would you account for those emissions from fires?
Secondly, this is about taking out natural disturbance, and my point is—and I will speak in the Tasmanian context because it is the one that I know best—that the majority of fires in Tasmania are deliberately lit, so these are not natural disturbances. These are anthropogenic fires caused by arsonists going out and lighting the bush. In particular, just two years ago we had the Tarkine burn as a result of somebody in a four-wheel-drive leaving the Tarkine Road, lighting the Tarkine in order to draw attention to himself and letting the whole place go up. That is not a natural disturbance. I am interested to know how you intend to handle this issue and how you can justify not reporting in the accounts a catastrophic event, whether it is drought or fire, given that you have a global carbon budget which cannot wait, which is not generous enough to be able to wait for the uptake over the 100 years to neutralise the extreme event.
Senator, this is obviously quite a technical area and I am happy to provide an answer now and also happy, if you are interested, to arrange a briefing for you on this issue. I can give you my understanding based on the advice I have been given. The difficulty is the very high spike in a short time period—days or months, for example, but within one accounting year. How do you deal with the very high spike that a catastrophic bushfire would impose, given that it may be a very high percentage of your inventory if you were to include it? As I understand it from the officials, what is being suggested—and one of the things under discussion is the threshold—is to recognise a threshold above which you would not account for the emissions, but, because you want to preserve the integrity of the accounting of the effect on the atmosphere, you also would not be able to include in the accounting the subsequent sequestration as the forest regrows for a period of time.
So the intent is not an accounting trick. The intent is to deal with a particular accounting issue which has, I think, operated as a disincentive for a number of countries to include land management activities within their inventory, but to do so in a way that reflects the net effect on the atmosphere. That is how I have understood it. I asked the official just now what the threshold would be and I understand that is a matter under discussion.
I wanted to seek some clarification on these bushfire issues. I know we touched on it last night—Senator Joyce, Senator Milne and others. It seems, Minister, that you have advised the Senate that you will be seeking a solution post-2012, so that means that we do not know exactly what the position will be post-2012. You have advised that natural catastrophic events—for example, drought and fire in Australia’s case—will not be counted. Looking at the history of, say, the last decade, can you, based on this new approach, indicate the net benefit or adverse effect on the environment from catastrophic events and associated regeneration et cetera? You obviously have to distinguish between man-made bushfires—Senator Joyce, I think, was talking about dropping a cigarette and causing a fire—and a lightning strike. How you actually differentiate between the two is an accounting dilemma under this new system and, for the life of me, I cannot see exactly how it is going to work.
I am advised that the Victorian bushfires last year generated in the order of 15 to 20 per cent of Australia’s annual emissions. That is a huge proportion of Australia’s annual emissions, from just the one devastating bushfire in Victoria. As a Tasmanian, I know about bushfires and all of us here are concerned about, and aware of, bushfires in our own states and territories. Using the Victorian bushfires as an example, to what extent was that man-made and to what extent was it due to natural causes and a catastrophic event? Could you perhaps use that as an example and advise the Senate of the portion that would be considered man-made and the portion that would be natural? That would give us an indication of how this scheme would work in the future, because, frankly, we are up in the air. We are in a ‘don’t know’ zone post-2012.
Unless these things can be clarified, those questions will remain. I leave that for the minister and hope she can assist. She did not have the expert with her last night, but presumably the expert is here now and can assist in answering those questions.
From what I understand from your answer, bushfires do not count because of regeneration—therefore you are saying that, even though it would take about 100 years to replace the carbon, it is not an issue. But if the Victorian bushfires were about 20 per cent of our nation’s carbon emissions—and that is equivalent to four years of what our target is if we want a five per cent reduction—you are saying that four years of the pain that the nation is going to go through is equivalent to one bushfire, yet that bushfire does not matter.
Of course the bushfires matter, Senator Joyce. Any bushfire matters. This is about accounting mechanisms for the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol or whatever arrangement is put in place by the international community. Of course we all want to ensure that there are policies in place to minimise the likelihood of bushfires. This is simply a technical issue about the accounting framework which currently applies and which, for example, organisations such as the National Farmers’ Federation—and I know that your position and their position differs, Senator Joyce—
No, but they represent a lot of farmers and they have a view that farmers do want to be part of the solution on climate change. Some of these accounting issues are issues which affect the capacity of landholders to be part of that solution. I do not know whether there is anything further I have to add on this issue.
Just so we get it clear: after this scheme goes ahead—we had a bushfire at our place the other day at Danglemah—and if I was of evil intent and I threw a match and burnt out half of northern New South Wales, at this point in time that would not be taken into account as far as the carbon accounting system goes.
I will try and ignore the interjections. One of the things we have been lobbied about is the inclusion, for example, the capacity for farmers to gain credits through soil carbon or biochar or other such mechanisms. To get that benefit these are some of the accounting issues we need to resolve. So the government is trying to work to ensure that we have the ability to enable Australian farmers, in the years to come, to be part of the solution on climate change—which is as I and others in this government have been lobbied on.
What I garner from your answer is that at this point in time we do not have a position on bushfires, regardless of how they start. But you did mention something about biochar in there. Is there some relationship between biochar and bushfires? Is there some connection there? Maybe not. The answer I got from that is that we do not have a position, therefore all I can gain from that, and all the Australian people can gain from that, is that if you throw a match and burn out half the countryside, a major bushfire could emit up to four times the annual return of what you wish to reduce carbon by. That is not of some consequence in our mechanism of reaching a global target, which I find amazing. So I just want to go back to what our global target is while you have the carbon accounting people there. By how much will Australia’s carbon pollution reduction scheme reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
If I can just come back to this: I can completely understand why Australia has not wanted to elect forest management under article 3.4—for all of the reasons that have been said. And I also understand that if you elect for article 3. 4 and then there is a catastrophic bushfire, like those in Victoria, it blows any capacity for a country to meet their targets. That clearly is the reason that this whole accounting thing is being looked at—so that there is some legitimacy over time in the effort people are making to meet their targets.
I understand that, but what I am worrying about is: whilst you could leave out catastrophic events in order to get some evenness in response in getting your targets, the atmosphere does not know that difference, and in my view—and I think in the view of most scientists—we do not have time to wait for the trees to grow again and take that carbon down. So is there a proposition that there be, in the global budget and therefore the targets that are being asked of developed and developing countries, a higher target so that a percentage of the carbon budget is set aside as what might result from catastrophic events like this, regardless of where in the world that occurs? If that is not the case then we are going to exceed our carbon budget. We might meet our country targets, but if that amount of carbon is not factored in somewhere we are not going to meet the global target.
First, I am advised that we are not aware of that proposition being put in the negotiations by other nations or Australia. The second point is that I am also advised that you do get a significant sequestration from regrowth in a net sense in the first decade. So it may be that the time frames about which you are concerned—and I think I understand—may not be quite as extreme or lengthy as you are postulating.
Minister, I am serious about this question and I expect a serious answer, because it is the whole premise of why we are going down the path of this legislation. So, Minister, I ask you again: how much will Australia reduce global carbon emissions through Australia’s scheme? There has to be an answer for that. If you cannot answer that, the whole thing is fallacious and a farce and should be knocked out.
I am very happy to answer it. In fact, Senator Joyce, I answered it last night so, if you are going to continue to participate in this debate with an intent to delay the vote, you might need to come up with some other questions. I answered the question last night and I said to you that the reduction in Australia’s emissions will depend on Australia’s targets or caps—that is, the limit on the amount of carbon pollution that we will set under the scheme. So each year there will be a cap—a firm, legislated limit on how much carbon pollution we can put into the atmosphere—and each year it will be reduced. The government made clear, through the white paper in December and a subsequent announcement adding to that target range in May—so it has been known for a very long time—what our target range at 2020 is.
What I asked for was parts per million. What is the range in parts per million—because that is the lexicon we are using in carbon emissions—by which the Australian scheme will reduce the global carbon presence? Will it reduce it by 100 parts per million, five parts per million, one part per million or 10 parts per million? Give me a range.
A parts-per-million analysis is not a sensible way to approach this in terms of a single country’s target because that is an assessment of the entirety of our atmosphere and the concentration of gases in that atmosphere. Australia accounts for about 1.5 per cent of global emissions. I can give you the number of tonnes we anticipate will not be put into the atmosphere as a result of Australia’s scheme at different levels, against what we would otherwise expect. In other words, if you look at how much pollution we would put into the atmosphere without a scheme and how much we would put into the atmosphere with a scheme, you get a figure of how many millions of tonnes of carbon we will be avoiding. As at 2020, at a five per cent target, you are talking 138 million tonnes or equivalent; at a minus 15 per cent target you are talking 194 million tonnes; and at a 25 per cent target you are talking 249 million tonnes. Those figures are tonnes of carbon pollution that would not go into the world’s atmosphere as a result of the legislation that is before the chamber.
The whole premise of the debate is reducing carbon in parts per million. In the current position, how many parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 138 million tonnes equivalent to? It sounds like such an amazing figure, but it is not even one part per million. It is not even a fraction of 100th of one part per million. In fact, it is not even a fraction of 1000th of one part per million. Is that correct?
I want to go back to the negotiations around electing to account for forest management under 3.4 in the event of a change to the accounting rules that gave effect to what is being proposed—that is, above a certain threshold, to take out those catastrophic events. Does that mean that, if we did opt into forest management, there would be full carbon accounting applied to all managed forests—in other words, would all carbon gains and losses be accounted for in the year in which they occurred? Would that occur under article 3.4?
I am advised that in those circumstances, subject to what the international rules said and subject to whatever the Australian government did, there would be full accounting and there would be a separate category for the catastrophic event.
Any movement in that forest for that year, I am advised, would reflect the effects of all previous management practices. Senator, I am happy to keep trying to do this but I am simply saying what Mr Carruthers is saying. If you want a briefing on this I will be very happy to provide it.
I will take you up on that offer at another time. What guarantee is there that people would not use bushfire as a mechanism for land clearance so that they did not have to account for their emissions—both in Australia and in other parts of the world? What would be the guarantee that that would not occur? Secondly, how would you treat a catastrophic fire event in, say, Indonesia, where a tropical forest had been converted to a palm oil plantation and where irrigation channels had drained that tropical forest, causing the peat to catch fire and burn indefinitely with massive emissions? Would that be regarded as a natural disturbance or would that be something that would have to be accounted for? So there are two questions: firstly, how would you avoid bushfire being used as an excuse for land clearance and therefore not accounting for emissions; and secondly, how would you treat a fire in a tropical forest converted to a palm oil plantation? The ecosystem has been altered by the draining of the land and by having peat catching on fire and burning for years in some cases.
While the minister is contemplating answers to the questions by Senator Milne, I also take the opportunity to ask the minister a few questions and perhaps take this debate back to the beginning to restate exactly why Australia needs to have a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We have had discussion over the last 20 minutes or so about the impact of bushfires on Australia’s environment. As we know, all states have been affected by this—in particular, my own home state of South Australia. I recall last week we made mention in this chamber the devastating impact of the bushfires in South Australia that had been started in the context of a heatwave—one which was unprecedented in the history of South Australia; there were more than 15 days where the temperature was over 35 degrees. I recall the debate in the chamber about whether that appalling situation could be attributed to climate change. It was evident from the scientific evidence that had been put forward, including recent scientific evidence, that the climate of the earth is warming. That directly contributes to the situations, like the one we had in South Australia, where extraordinary temperatures led to the ignition of bushfires. They were not deliberately lit. There has been some discussion here today about anthropogenic fires versus natural wildfire. Those fires in South Australia were spontaneously lit. While we can debate how the emissions from such fires are accounted for in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, I would like you to address in your answer, Minister, whether those bushfires are increasing—and with increasing intensity—like in our state of South Australia, and whether they can be attributable to global warming, which is an effect of the impact of human caused carbon emissions.
Thank you, Senator McEwen, for that contribution. It is the case that, amongst the effects of climate change which scientists warn us about, there are droughts and bushfires, including more extreme bushfires. That is enormously regrettable and it is one of the reasons why we have seen emergency service workers—including those coming to Parliament House—demanding action on climate change. Senator Milne hosted an event that I attended and we saw emergency service workers, including firefighters, who had come to parliament to urge action on climate change. On the second point—and I am not sure, Senator Milne, that I understood your question correctly—but there was a question about the effect of deliberately lighting fires to clear land, for example. I indicate that Australia’s proposal is that the special case exception, about which I have been speaking, would only be where there is no land use change.
You have raised an excellent point too, Senator—we all have, and that is the point I am trying to make. On this side of the chamber we have all made excellent points, and what happens? We get glared down by the minister, who is becoming tetchier and tetchier as the hour goes on. And then I notice that Senator McEwen jumps up, as a filler—that is her role: a filler—and then goes right off the actual narrowness that we have been told we have to keep to on Greens amendments. She went right off on the whole debate of climate change. Well, thank you, you have just opened it all up for us now and we appreciate that. But then the minister follows Senator McEwen and she is all smiles—a little giggly even.
But that is the point: we are not getting the right treatment on this side, and respect, and answers to questions—particularly Senator Joyce—that we ought to. That is the point I am making.
Senator Joyce made the perfect point about the Victorian fires: that the emissions effect they had was something like 15 to 20 per cent of overall Australian emissions, which makes a mockery of the attempt by the government to reduce emissions, because in one big Victorian bushfire there it all goes—wiped out. How are we going to account for that? We are not. We are putting it aside and ignoring it.
If the minister were serious about reducing carbon emissions she would pay a visit to her Victorian state government to get them to do better. They have just finished a royal commission that went for over 12 months and probably cost over $100 million and the one thing that this royal commission did not come up with was a connection between the Victorian bushfires and climate change. The royal commission could not come to that conclusion and nor could Senator McEwen on the other side. The Victorian fires had a lot to do with the failure of the Victorian government to provide resources to equip the CFA so that it could respond quickly and with the right equipment. It had a lot to do with such things as road access and proper vehicles. It had a lot to do with the warning systems available. Therein lie the reasons for the loss of life, and the greater the tragedy of it all. Also, it had a great deal to do with the question of fuel loads. If you are really serious, why don’t you talk to your state colleagues about that—about burning off?
I will be followed by Senator Back—and I am glad I am speaking before him. He was a fire fighter in a previous life in Western Australia. He once told me that when the Western Australians came over during the Victorian bushfires to support and act as volunteers they could not believe the fuel loads that Victorian fire fighters were fighting. They were impossible. He will develop this subject and give you the figures, the statistics, such as the weight per square metre. The Western Australians have a very good system in place. The importance of this issue of burning off—and that was the key point of the Victorian bushfires—is that that is where you will get, and did get, your 15 to 20 per cent emissions effect in Victoria alone.
It is the question of burning off. It is the management by the state governments. You could put it all to rest. You do not even have to have the whole structure you will have in place, this accounting system that no-one can get to the bottom of—what is in it and what is not and how you actually measure it. Why don’t you just get the state governments to do their jobs. That would be the real solution, if you were at all serious about it, instead of twisting the knife into Victorian industries, such as the aluminium industry, while they are trying to reduce their emissions. There is also the cement industry, the brick industry and all the small businesses. While they are trying to apply themselves to this impossible scheme, one bushfire just finishes it. What an absurdity. It adds to the absurdity of all of this. It adds to the absurdity and foolishness of the scheme. There is every chance it is going to get beaten yet.
No, we are not giving up. And we on this side do not like being looked down on. This is the Senate and you, Minister, are accountable. We ask you to contain yourself. You are not behind closed doors with Ian Macfarlane now. I do not know how you treated him, but you do not treat the Senate the same way. They are saying you attempted to treat him that way.
The Temporary Chairman:
Senator McGauran, I ask you to stick to the question.
And the question is what I have just highlighted, and so will the speakers to follow me: the absolute idiocy of this whole scheme, just on this amendment alone. No-one knows how to account it and that is the truth of it. We have had several questions from the Greens—they do not know. With every question that has been put since I have been here, and I have been here for several hours, the minister does not have a clue. It is all so general; it is all behind closed doors. It is foolishness at its zenith. I will conclude on this point: go down to Mr Brumby, the Premier, and tell him to do his job.
If I may I will give the chamber the figures that Senator McGauran referred to. We in Western Australia would regard, in bushfire circumstances, five to eight tonnes of fuel per hectare on the floor of the forest to be the upper limit that we would regard as safe to put personnel and equipment into a fire fighting circumstance. When my colleagues from the WA Bushfires Board went to Victoria earlier this year they were confronted with documented fuel loadings of 40 to 50 tonnes to the hectare. That is 10 times. And in some instances there was 140 tonnes to the hectare. From a duty of care point of view, to ever put personnel into a circumstance where they were trying to control fires at 150 tonnes or 50 tonnes to the hectare is absolutely criminal and it is equally bad to have communities residing where you have levels of fuel of that type.
My experience in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Pilbara and the centre of Australia into the Northern Territory is relevant to this discussion. It emphasises the impossibility of being able to measure these sorts of greenhouse and other gases that are emitted from fires. Every year in the Kimberley region an area the size of Tasmania is burnt in wildfires.
Until 1996, our managers in the Kimberley region had no capacity to even know where fires were, let alone to share information with station managers, Aboriginal community managers and other land managers. It was at that time that my manager, Peter Saint, combining knowledge from a career in naval intelligence and a knowledge of communications, started to use the twice-daily Landsat satellite imagery available from the US military along with work from the CSIRO in Perth, Curtin University of Technology and the University of Western Australia so that we could get twelve-hourly plots on the presence of fires in the Kimberley region.
Why was this important? It was important because he could then plot them and communicate with land managers, pastoralists, Aboriginal land managers and conservation and land management managers. For the first time ever, we were able to get on top of some of these fires, but you must understand that they burnt out tens of thousands of hectares. No effort to put out the fires worked except getting around them with graders or moving them to a piece of breakaway country or to river country and then having them burn out. Unfortunately, not only have fires been an annual event but also the biodiversity has been destroyed. Native plant species have been destroyed and the annuals and perennials that come back up have been the result and the cause of this.
I have spoken in this place about the excellent program called the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project which has been undertaken now for the last seven or eight years. It is coordinated by the Northern Territory bushfires organisation, the Northern Territory government and the West Arnhem Land fire group. In that project, early-season burning is undertaken in preference to late dry season fire tinder programs. The excellent result of that is that the Conoco-Philips company pays to the West Arnhem Land group through the Northern Territory government the figure of $1 million a year in consideration of 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas equivalents documented by CSIRO, Bushfire CIC and others to have been saved. That is in one small geographic area of West Arnhem Land. It is absolutely impossible to be able to measure this across the rest of our nation, but here is a start; here is a circumstance in which we can measure carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, saved, for which an American oil company pays $1 million per year.
We had a lamentable situation in south-eastern Australia last season and we are experiencing it again this season. In Western Australia, we would say that a minimum of five to seven per cent of the forest needs to be burnt annually to be able to get on top of and control wildfires in a mosaic pattern. There is nothing new about this. The Aborigines have been doing it for 30,000 years. We would not have the mediterranean, eucalypt-dominated forests that we have if the Aborigines had not been doing it for 30,000 years. In Western Australia, we say that that figure of five to seven per cent is an absolute minimum and it is defended strongly. Regrettably, the pressure that comes on every year against that project is criminal.
In Victoria, the equivalent figure is less than 0.5 of one per cent. I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation the fuel loadings in the forests in the Black Saturday fires in Victoria. Less than one-half of one per cent of those forests is being burnt. In New South Wales, the figures, which I quoted in this place the other day, are lamentably low. When he was the relevant minister, the current Premier of New South Wales, Nathan Rees, blocked 2,100 prescribed burning activities last year alone, and this year the number of hectares burnt I think is only 20,000 or 30,000 hectares. It is just not possible to measure it. The question was asked about the cause of fires—whether it is lightning, men, women or children. In Western Australia, we always say that, during our summers, the three main causes of bushfires and wildfires are men, women and children. I say to you again that it is impossible to measure the effect, because you cannot predict what the size of a fire will be.
Let me give you one example of a circumstance illustrating the benefit and the value of prescribed burning. In a fire east of Perth in a place called Karragullen in 2005, a fire was under way in typically hot Western Australian summer conditions with northerlies and nor’-easterlies. The temperature was 42 to 45 degrees and humidity was down at about six or seven per cent. I mention humidity because it is critical. If humidity levels are 15 to 18 per cent or higher, you tend to find that the atmosphere gives moisture to plants. When that humidity gets below 15 per cent, plants yield up humidity to the atmosphere.
This was a 30,000 hectare fire heading straight for eastern suburbs of Perth—housing, schools, hospitals and communities. It was in territory that had not been burnt for some 12 to 14 years and it fortunately got into an area which had been burnt two years earlier. It was only when they got that fire in the forest that had been burnt two years earlier that they were able to control it, contain it and stop it. CSIRO documentation and modelling, validated afterwards, indicated that that fire would have extended to 100,000 hectares if it had not run into that area burnt by the fire some two years earlier. That is what the modelling showed. In that 100,000 hectares, there were at least three suburbs of our city with countless units of housing and possibly lives to be lost.
I conclude my comments with the fact that we are always going to have bushfires in Australia, we are always going to have uncontrolled wildfires, until we get into the situation of reducing fuel levels, not exclusively by burning, grazing, slashing but other technologies—proper land clearing. But I remind you that the 7 February fire alone put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere equivalent to one full year of industries’ contribution to greenhouse gases. We cannot ignore it in the discussion of this particular legislation, however flawed or not flawed people believe it to be. We must consider wildfires. We must consider bushfires. We must consider mitigation. And we must, in some way, take that into account in terms of its measurement.
I want to respond to a couple of the things that have been raised. I think I have responded to Senator Milne previously. Senator McGauran has berated me for not responding. I have to say, I do not recall any question being put in his contribution. It may be that we missed it on this side of the chamber.
But in relation to Senator Back I want to make a couple of comments. I do not think anybody in this chamber is suggesting anything other than all of us, regardless of our political parties or level of government, want to try and minimise the danger of bushfires. I do not think that is a political proposition; that is a human proposition—everybody in this parliament believes that. I was very moved, Senator, by the emergency service workers who attended parliament. You would not normally think of them as green activists, but they decided to come to Parliament House and do their very long run to try and bring attention to the impact of climate change. I thought that was a really wonderful display of some of the best characteristics of Australians, actually—people who are not particularly loud, who are humble, simply saying, ‘This is what we think about what we are seeing and what we have seen, and we need you as political leaders to act.’ That was a very moving sight. I congratulate them for their work and for their campaign.
In relation to the legislation before the chamber, I am not sure what was being asked by Senator Barnett. Perhaps, again, I misunderstood what he was asking. He did make some references such as, ‘Well, if this is all at 2012, isn’t it all up in the air?’ I thought I had explained that in a previous contribution, where I had explained that this was discussion of carbon accounting rules which are applied under the international framework, which we believe can be better constructed for a better environmental outcome; it can be more sensibly constructed. As I responded to Senator Joyce, we have taken on the views of the National Farmers Federation, and others, who do believe that farmers can be part of the solution on climate change, and have been supportive of some of the government’s moves in relation to the CPRS—something that I know the National Party does not like, but that is the reality of what is a significant organisation representing—
I wanted to make this point, because there is this strange disconnect among the people who say they are standing up for farmers, ignoring the effect on agriculture and on our land of climate change. I find it extraordinary that people who genuinely care about our land, and who come from rural and regional Australia, could so ignore the effects of climate change on agriculture and on Australia: up to 20 per cent more drought months over most of Australia in the next 20 years—in the next 20 years. That is a CSIRO figure. That is not some scientific conspiracy; it is Australia’s premier scientific organisation—up to 20 per cent more drought months in the next two decades, up to 40 per cent more drought months by 2070 in eastern Australia and up to 80 per cent more in south-western Australia.
In south-western Australia—up to 80 per cent more drought months in south-western Australia. And this is a prediction of the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, two organisations that people in regional and rural Australia have had a lot of confidence in. I will take Senator Joyce’s interjection, where he jokes, ‘In Greenland’. This is not about Greenland; this is about our country, our agriculture, our cities, our industries and our environment—and about bushfires.
Senator Back has left the chamber. I respect his very deep interest in the issues of bushfires. I make this point: we are also likely to see an increase in very extreme fire weather days. That is one of the effects of climate change that was documented again by the Bushfire CRC, the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO in 2007, when they said that very extreme fire weather days now occur on average once every two to 11 years at most sites, by 2020 they may occur twice as often and by 2050 they may occur four to five times as often. And this is science that is two years old. In fact, most of the scientific evidence is that it is worsening far more quickly than anyone anticipated: increased risk of hail events over the south-east coast of Australia, an increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones. And ABARE figures estimate a 63 per cent reduction in exports of key commodities in the next 20 years. With the occurrence of worst-case climate change, assuming no effective adaptation and high population change, Australia could become a net importer of wheat as soon as 2015. Again, that is a report that I previously cited. Why is it that people who claim to represent rural and regional Australia can come into this place and try and avoid talking about these impacts? How is it that people who are elected to this place can simply ignore these facts?
Sitting suspended from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm
Minister, you would be aware of the research by Dr Christine Jones, peer reviewed by the University of New England, that clearly states that summer grasses sequestrate more carbon than dry sclerophyll forests. That being the case, in your carbon accounting system are you now going to bring about the amendments that incorporate a substantial increase in summer grasses so that, for instance, instead of having tree-clearing laws that prohibit the clearing of dry sclerophyll forests we will now go back to the scientifically correct process of encouraging the clearing of dry sclerophyll forests to incorporate more carbon in summer grasses?
This is one of the issues which were the subject of our negotiations with the opposition, and I want to make clear that we in this chamber entered into those negotiations in good faith, and we will honour the agreement that was made. We will continue to proceed—notwithstanding what is occurring outside this chamber—with the bills and the amendments that we negotiated with the opposition. We believe that this sort of lasting reform to the Australian economy requires leadership from across the parliament.
The issue that Senator Joyce has spoken to goes to one of the areas where we have put forward amendments as per agreement with the opposition. That would include enhancing or extending the number of sources which would be counted towards our international commitments, including, for example, avoided deforestation, the burning of agricultural residues and fertiliser use. In relation to broader issues, such as non-forest revegetation, vegetation management and agricultural soils, those matters do not yet count towards a nation’s international commitment to reduce emissions. We have said that we will establish a voluntary market mechanism with appropriate methodologies to enable landholders to enter the voluntary market. Obviously that will provide all of us, by learning through doing—not just the participants but also governments—with better information as to how these land management and other techniques can assist in the fight against climate change. The National Farmers Federation have emphasised that farmers do want to be, and should be, part of the solution when it comes to climate change.
I make the point that I am happy to take these questions, but as I recall we are actually debating amendments (2) and (3) on sheet 5786 from Senator Milne. I respectfully suggest, Chair, that these things have some flexibility but that Senator Joyce’s intervention has nothing whatsoever to do with the amendments moved by the Australian Greens.
They are all interlinked, as you well know, Minister. They are all part of the plausibility or otherwise of this scheme. We have now found that so much of this scheme is completely implausible. The suggestion that somehow the only mechanism that is available to the Australian people to reduce carbon emissions is an omnipotent belief that, from the Prime Minister’s office and your office, we can change the climate is obviously verging on the perverse. You have given great recommendations of peer-reviewed science, so we pose for you peer-reviewed science in the other direction. We note that there is now peer-reviewed science that clearly states that there is far more carbon sequestrated through such things as summer grasses—such as buffel grass or Mitchell grass—than there is through dry sclerophyll forests. The government has also endorsed policies such as carbon sinks, which would replace a better form of carbon sequestration with a lesser form of carbon sequestration. Is the government now going to abide by the science and move towards a more effective form of carbon sequestration such as would be seen in such things as the establishment of summer grasses where there were formerly dry sclerophyll forests?
I keep hearing about the National Farmers Federation. We also are here to honour a commitment. We are here to honour a commitment to the Australian people that we in this chamber will review and amend legislation and represent the rights and aspirations of the people of our states and of our nation. The overwhelming aspirations of the people of our states and our nation have changed, and they have clearly stated to us that they now have moved excessively in their desire to deal with climate issues via a massive new tax of the Australian Labor Party. They have moved instead to more viable mechanisms that will continue to support our economy. The paucity in things such as modelling that has been delivered by the Labor Party has shown almost a contempt of the science in some areas and certainly a contempt of the updating of modelling to clearly spell out exactly where the nation is in its economic commitments that we also must carry.
The National Farmers Federation are a genuine and decent group of people, but they are not representatives at a political level in this chamber. This chamber includes representatives of the National Party. We acknowledge that we have had a continual dialogue with the Australian people, not just with farmers but also with small business people, pensioners and most certainly with working families, who are furious about the onerous aspects of this scheme. They will have money taken out of their pockets to be placed in Treasury’s pocket for no change to the global climatic position.
Throughout this committee process, the minister has avoided any direct scientific and decisive statement about what the effect of the Australian scheme will be on the climate. We have had soaring rhetoric and fear mongering about all of the calamities that will approach us if we do not abide by the fact that the only solution to any global climatic issue is an Australian Labor Party tax. That Labor Party tax has been put up as some sort of panacea, but when we drill down this panacea lacks all detail, lacks acumen and has a paucity of capacity in its modelling. It is an absolute fact that summer grasses sequester more carbon than dry sclerophyll forests. If the issue is about sequestering carbon then do you acknowledge that you should take the superior form of carbon sequestration through summer grasses or do you intend to remain with what is obviously an inferior way of sequestering carbon—that is, the Labor Party endorsed program of replacing summer grasses with such things as carbon sink forests in order to promote dry sclerophyll forests, which are an inherently inferior form of sequestering carbon?
Senator Joyce talks about perversities. What is perverse is the attempted takeover of the Liberal Party and the coalition by the extreme Right that we are witnessing. What is perverse is imposing upon our children and our grandchildren an unacceptable risk—
Mr Temporary Chairman, on a point of order: that is offensive. There is no extreme Right represented here. There is no League of Rights. There are no extremists. It was the National Party that took the Right on and beat them, so the Minister should not ever accuse us of being right wing.
As I said, what is perverse are the extreme views that we are seeing here in this chamber. What is perverse is the unacceptable risk that this generation of right wing politicians are seeking to impose on future generations of Australians. What is perverse is the blatant and wilful disregard of the scientific evidence. Perhaps most perverse is the way in which Senator Joyce and others in this chamber will do and say anything to avoid action on climate change and have played procedural games and filibustered over the time that this debate has been on in this Senate, from back in June until now—simply demonstrating yet again that they are so extreme that, even when they believe there is a risk that the majority of this chamber will support action on climate change, they will not accept it. They will do anything in order to avoid taking action on climate change. I do believe that is perverse.
What I think is perverse is that in answer to a direct question asked of you, a direct question that talks about the scientific evidence—that is, that summer grasses sequester more carbon than dry sclerophyll forests—you once more take the Labor Party approach of soaring rhetoric and calamity statements but completely avoid answering the question that was posed to you. In fact, the whole segment of this debate has been—
The Labor Party have proceeded through this debate and every time they get put into a corner they appeal to that moral foreboding, they appeal to that genuine belief held by many people that it is right to do something, but they never answer the question. When we asked them how many parts per million this scheme will actually reduce carbon by, they refused to answer. The answer you get is about Greenland, ice caps, drought, fire and floods, but it is never a real answer. When we asked them a question about a simple scientific fact from the research of Dr Christine Jones from the University of New England, which clearly states that more carbon is sequestered in summer grasses than in dry sclerophyll forests, what is the answer we get? Do we get a decisive answer, do we get an honest answer or do we get a whole palaver of avoidance of this and that and soaring rhetoric?
We never get the answer from the Labor Party. When we asked questions about whether this modelling from 2008 has been updated to show the extent and depth of participation by the rest of the world, did we get an answer? No, we did not. Once more they just went back to soaring rhetoric and the allegation that we are deniers. Now we have the allegation that we are apparently part of the extreme right. People can pick this. These are not answers. This is avoidance and the avoidance has been picked by the Australian people. The avoidance has changed their sentiment.
The Labor Party’s inability to be decisive and answer questions is so apparent. It is glaringly apparent from the simple and honest questions that we ask, such as the one about how, if we are financing developing nations, we are going to be financing them with borrowed money. We have no money. We are in debt up to our eyeballs. We will be borrowing money from countries such as China to send back to China to help China develop, when we thought they were already doing a pretty good job at it. A form of verbal detritus is pitched at us when this chamber dares to ask questions.
Over a period of time our daring to ask those questions has brought about some impressive results and the Australian people are awake to this. You say you have answered the question about summer grasses. We know they will sequestrate more carbon than dry sclerophyll forests. Is that in the carbon accounting system that you are proposing for us? Is the Labor Party prepared to accept the science that, if the mechanism of this is the sequestration of carbon, we will go to the primary form of sequestration of carbon and leave behind the secondary form, or will you continue to obfuscate, avoid the issue and put it off to some indeterminate place in the future rather than answering the question?
Perhaps Senator Joyce did not understand me the first time. I explained to him that non-forest revegetation and vegetation management does have sequestration potential. It is not currently counted towards an international commitment under the Kyoto accounting rules. We have said we will promote a voluntary market offset regime that will enable landholders to take advantage of the voluntary market. We hope that through this process, through learning by doing, we can continue to press for all-encompassing or more broad-ranging accounting rules so that this nation and this nation’s farmers and other landholders can take advantage of the various sequestration opportunities which will be available into the future. I answered that the first time, Senator Joyce. You may not have understood it. You may not have liked it. But I did actually answer the question.
I would like to ask some general questions. I did not get a chance last night and I have not had a chance earlier today. I want to put a number of questions on notice for the minister so that they can be dealt with in due course by Treasury officials and officials of her department. Before I do that, I say that last night I asked a number of questions in relation to household assistance and the government responded to that earlier today. Rather than reading it out, I seek leave to have the document incorporated in Hansard. I am happy to provide copies to my colleagues.
The document read as follows—
CPRS household assistance
The Government is committed to helping households with the impact the CPRS. It has designed an assistance package for low- and middle-income households that calibrates almost all support to the expected carbon price impact of the scheme.
The Government will modify the level of household assistance to reflect the lower carbon price estimate of $26 per tonne in 2012-13 (included in the 2009-10 MYEFO). The estimated 2012-13 carbon price forecast at MYEFO ($26) is lower than forecast at Budget ($29) due to the appreciation of the Australian dollar.
- This will reduce expected price increases for goods and services and lead to a smaller rise in the overall cost of living impact of the CPRS.
This scaling results in the Government delivering on its commitment to support low- and middle-income households (at the lower carbon price) once the flexible carbon price commences from 2012-13.
Modifying the level of household assistance has also required some minor revisions to the structure of household assistance to ensure all low-income household continue to be fully assisted from 2012-13.
Revision to the FTB combined supplement
A special end-of-year supplement—the FTB combined supplement —is to be established for households receiving both Family Tax Benefit (FTB) Part A and Part B where the income of the primary earner exceeds $58,000 (but the combined income of a couple is less than the cut-out for FTB Part A).
The special end-of-year FTB combined supplement is designed to overcome the disadvantage that certain families with only one primary earner —on incomes over around $70,000 and receiving little or no benefit from the Low Income Tax Offset (LITO) increase —experience when compared to dual income families at the same income level where both earners could be receiving the LITO increase.
The special end-of-year FTB combined supplement shades in at a rate of 4 cents in the dollar until the maximum amount is reached.
- The supplement shades in on the adjusted taxable income of the primary earner above $58,000.
- The maximum rate is $240 per family for 2011-12 and $620 for 2012-13 and beyond.
These amounts are not indexed.
The special end-of-year FTB combined supplement ceases when the family is no longer eligible for FTB Part A (family incomes exceeding around $110,000, but this depends on the number and age of children in the family).
The special end-of-year FTB combined supplement is paid at the same time as the existing end-of-year supplement for FTB Part B at the end of the financial year.
The proposed package will still deliver the Government’s commitment to support low- and middle-income households (at the lower carbon price) once the Scheme moves to a flexible carbon price from 2012-13, and has the benefit of calibrating almost all industry and households support to the expected impacts of the actual carbon price.
I have given copies to all colleagues of a document from Frontier Economics entitled ‘Fiscal effects of “revised offer” CPRS’ that I received today. I seek leave to table that document.
I wish to put a number of questions on notice. In relation to funding the package, my questions follow on from several asked last night by Senator Milne and are around the theme of how the proposed package will be paid for. Effectively, funding for household measures has been reduced by $5.76 billion to 2019-20 because of a projected lower carbon price due to an appreciated Australian dollar. Firstly, how is performance of the Australian dollar over the next 10 years projected? Secondly, what data was used and what modelling methodology was carried out? Thirdly, given the volatility of the Australian dollar over the last decade, what confidence does the government have that its projections will prove reliable over the next decade? Fourthly, will the government continue to adjust household assistance in future when the exchange rate adjusts? Fifthly, will it increase assistance if the exchange rate falls?
Further, in the MYEFO the government originally revised its exchange rate assumption but did not reduce household assistance. This resulted in a budget deficit. Can the government confirm that it cannot fund increased assistance from this amount without further increasing the deficit from the MYEFO? Should the Australian dollar decline sharply at some point in coming years, what contingency plan does the government have in place? The government’s offer to the coalition is partly funded from a contingency reserve allocation for the CPRS. How much has been set aside from this fund and does it contradict the claim that the CPRS will be fully self-funded?
In relation to electricity prices and household assistance, can the government confirm that it expects retail electricity prices to rise by up to 12 per cent by 2012-13? In Australia’s low pollution future at page 189, it forecasts that electricity will rise by 17 to 24 per cent and gas by 11 to 15 per cent. In the media release of 25 November this year, the forecasts were between seven and 12 per cent for electricity increases and four to seven per cent for gas. Could I get some clarification in relation to that? Have I got it wrong? If there is a difference in comparing like for like, why is there that difference? If electricity price rises due to the CPRS are greater than 12 per cent, will the government guarantee that they will fully compensate families for these extra costs? If not, how will the compensation mechanism work and will it involve cutting compensation elsewhere?
In relation to small business, under the revised CPRS proposal it would seem that medium and large business enterprises as well as corporations with electricity usage in excess of 300 megawatt hours will all be financially supported by the government during their transition to the CPRS. I note the concerns of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in their media release of 25 November that:
… though … p18 of the Government announcement) allocates $1.1 billion for “SME electricity price impacts”, the Prime Minister’s statement—
appears to be in contrast, in that he—
says that this programme is for “medium to large manufacturing” and “mining businesses.”
I should correct that. I think there is a contrast between what the Prime Minister said and what the Leader of the Opposition said in that this $1.1 billion compensation is for small to medium mining and manufacturing businesses. Could I get some clarification as to the extent of that package, who it would apply to and the circumstances it would apply to—the thresholds and the like and which businesses it would actually apply to?
I have been contacted by the Council of Small Business of Australia, who have expressed concern that it appears there is support provided for households and large businesses but there is no mention made of support for small business. My questions are: how much do small and medium enterprises currently spend on electricity each year and by how much does the government expect SME businesses’ electricity costs to rise as a consequence of the CPRS? What is the total value of compensation to businesses for higher electricity prices due to the CPRS? Will SMEs be compensated for their additional electricity costs and, if so, by how much?
I have a number of questions on white certificates, which I am moving an amendment in relation to. I am happy to put those questions on notice now or later. I am just trying to be helpful here to speed things up. Perhaps I could put those questions on notice now and get them out of the way. In terms of white certificates—
Thank you for the courtesy, Senator Xenophon. I will take those questions on notice but I actually can answer some of them now and, if you could bear with me, I would not mind responding just briefly. You asked about the parameter changes. The parameter changes were standard budget assumptions which were also standard MYEFO assumptions. We can provide you with what additional detail we are able, but they were standard budget assumptions used.
Second, I think your questions 4 and 5 related to the household assistance package and to what extent that would change. The government’s white paper commitment remains. We are committed to providing the assistance that was described in the white paper. The package that we have negotiated with the opposition does that. It includes assistance equal to 120 per cent of the overall cost increase for low-income Australians and a very substantial amount of assistance to middle-income Australia. We have said we will review the adequacy of that assistance every year in the budget context. In other words, that would enable the government to consider whether or not the carbon price impact was higher than previously anticipated and adjust upwards the household assistance to take that into account. We are very clear about that. This is not a one-off; this is ongoing assistance, because the government have a very clear principle that we do not believe low-income Australia should be asked to bear too much of the cost of action on climate change. We do not believe low-income Australia should bear the brunt of action and we are committed to providing low-income Australia and middle-income Australia with assistance. The largest single part, in terms of expenditure, of the scheme goes to households.
You asked why the MYEFO figures adjusted the revenue source but did not adjust the household compensation. The first is as a result of the MYEFO assumptions to which you referred earlier—in other words, the assumption changed from a $29 carbon price to a $26 carbon price. That automatically flowed through the revenue assumptions. There needed to be a government decision to alter the dollar figure of the household assistance. That did not occur until after MYEFO and that is now reflected in the revised figures which have been put forward. What I would say in relation to that is that the reduction in the carbon price in fact has meant that the cost impost on Australians has reduced in terms of the forward assumptions, in terms of the years ahead; therefore, we have adjusted the household assistance package to reflect more accurately the actual cost impact of the carbon price.
You asked also about modelling assumptions about increases to electricity prices. I think in one of your questions you in fact conflated two years worth, but I will look at that on notice. You asked about the difference between Australia’s low pollution futurethe Treasury modelling—and more recent figures about the impact over the first two years of the scheme. I just remind you that the Australia’s low pollution future Treasury modelling was undertaken prior to the decision by the government to have a fixed price for the first year. Clearly, a lower fixed price for the first year meant a lower carbon price than had been anticipated under the Treasury modelling.
You asked about the assistance for small and medium enterprises. This is outlined in the offer document. It is $1.1 billion over a number of years and a transitional electricity cost assistance program. It is a transitional measure, not an ongoing measure, and will apply for two years. It is going to be targeted to corporations in the manufacturing and mining sectors. The reason the government is assisting corporations is obviously that there are some difficulties—as a lawyer you would know this—in the Commonwealth legislation in relation to non-corporate entities. The minimum threshold was 300 megawatt hours per year, and the distribution of that transitional assistance was agreed as up to 50 per cent of the projected increase in retail electricity prices in 2012-13 and, subject to available funds, 25 per cent of the projected increase in electricity prices in 2013-14.
In relation to the proposition COSBOA put, I make the point that we established under our original scheme—and it is retained in the scheme that is before the chamber—the $2.75 billion Climate Change Action Fund. There is a stream in that which is open to small and medium enterprises—and others, but primarily to those businesses—which do not receive free permits through the other transitional programs of assistance. That is for things such as assistance to invest in energy efficiency measures. What we want is the incentive for people to become more energy efficient, and we are willing to allocate revenue through this program to fund those sorts of grants.
That is a broad overview of some of the issues raised in your questions. I am advised that the quantum I gave you for the Climate Change Action Fund has been adjusted under the offer because some aspects were utilised to fund, I think, the food processing and some contribution to the electricity component that I just spoke about.
In relation to households, I again emphasise that it has been an absolute priority for this government to support low-income and middle-income Australians through the transition as we move to a low-pollution future and a lower carbon economy. We think that all should make their fair contribution, and it is very important that we support Australian households through this process. We have retained that as a key priority, and the percentages and the commitments outlined in the white paper have been maintained in the package that is before the chamber.
I thank the minister for her response and I note that some questions will be taken on notice. The minister said, I think, that the difference in the percentage prices in the projected electricity price rises was due to the cap of $10 in 2011. I think the assumption that was made was that there was an assumed $26 price for carbon in 2012. I just want to clarify whether I have got my figures wrong in relation to that, and I would appreciate it if the minister could just clarify that particular point—and, again, I am happy for it to be taken on notice.
I think I would like to look at your questions so that it will be clear to me what you are referencing. The $26 carbon price assumption to which you were referring is, I think, a 2013 assumption. That is my recollection, Senator.
I would like to put some other questions on notice, although some of them are less technical. Maybe when we get to those particular issues that might be more appropriate. I understand a number of other senators have questions to ask. I would like to put on notice the whole issue of white certificates and whether they are being considered in the context of maximising the abatement and the effects in terms of maximising the benefits of any scheme. White certificate schemes are common in Europe and are already in some Australian states. While a RET ensures that Australia raises domestic abatement by setting a minimum standard, the introduction of commercial and domestic efficiency measures takes these savings even further through positive incentives such as white certificates—and I note that Senator Milne has been campaigning for this for a very long time. Could the minister indicate why the government has not adopted a national white certificate scheme to complement any cuts due to an emissions trading scheme and why the government seems to be arguing—and I am sure the minister will correct me if I am wrong—that energy efficiency and emissions reductions seem to be separate things rather than two sides of the same emissions reductions coin? I will leave it at that at this stage, and I am sure we can have a further discussion about white certificates later in this debate.
Sorry, Senator Milne; I will respond very quickly to Senator Xenophon, who has been waiting for some time—and I do not think he wants to keep getting up and down. I would make a couple of points. There have been a range of energy efficiency measures already implemented by the government. An example of that is the rollout of insulation, which is a simple but extraordinarily important policy mechanism in terms of reducing energy use. There is also the national energy efficiency strategy which has been endorsed by COAG. But we know that we need to do more.
We think not so much that it is two sides of the same coin as that we need a whole range of policies to reduce a nation’s contribution to climate change. One of them—and we think a central one—is that you have to have a price on carbon. The reason for that is that it is a way of making clear the costs of climate change throughout our economy. Currently those costs are invisible, so it is cheap to pollute. We need to make the costs of climate change clear, and that is what a price on carbon does—because we, of course, know that the costs are always there.
As part of the changes the government have proposed—and at the request and lobbying of various environmental stakeholders—we have given a commitment to develop a new energy efficiency mechanism next year. We have given a commitment to establish a prime ministerial task group on energy efficiency. That will advise on the most economically and environmentally effective energy efficiency mechanisms that could be considered by the government to complement both the CPRS and the renewable energy target.
On the white certificates issue, I would just make the point that the International Energy Agency have suggested in the discussions I have had with them that there may be other, and potentially more effective, ways of achieving energy efficiency outcomes. That is one prescription. It is possible this task group may recommend that, but there may well be other leading-edge mechanisms to increase energy efficiency, and we are keen as a government to do more work on that front.
Indeed, we are on those amendments. As it is a discussion about increasing the targets, it does link, I think, directly to the impacts that the scheme is going to have. It also relates to a series of questions that I was asking the minister last night but, unfortunately, the time of the evening precluded us from continuing. I was asking the minister yesterday evening: by how much will the Australian scheme reduce global carbon emissions? I think we were at the point, Minister, at which you were discussing a range of potential options for other countries to be part of this scheme. It was, however, very clearly a question about how much, if no other countries came on board and Australia embarked on this scheme, it would actually reduce those global emissions.
I think this is quite important. Australian people are very keen to know. We have been extraordinarily inundated—and I think that is probably an understatement today, particularly for the National Party, although I know other colleagues have been inundated as well—by emails and phone calls from people who have extraordinarily serious concerns about the introduction of this scheme. One of the questions that seems to keep coming up, time and time again, is: if we are the only ones embarking upon this scheme, what difference will it actually make to global emissions? Given that so many people out in communities right around this country are very concerned about this, perhaps, Minister, we could return to that conversation from last night and you could give us an answer?
I am happy to give an answer. I gave the answer last night. I gave the answer just a short while ago to your colleague Senator Joyce. It is the same question that the National Party has been asking over and over again. It has been asked and answered on a number of occasions in this chamber. As I explained to you and Senator Joyce last night, the actual percentage of reductions that this scheme will achieve will depend on where we set our targets—that will determine how much of a reduction Australia will achieve in the 10 years and then beyond. We put our targets on the table a long time ago. Five to 15 per cent was put on the table in December and then, in May of this year, we added to that and said that, if the world was prepared to make an ambitious global agreement, we would be prepared to go to a 25 per cent reduction on 2000 levels. So that has been asked and answered and before the dinner break I gave Senator Joyce figures on the number of millions of tonnes of carbon that would not go into the atmosphere if this legislation was passed. I can read them to you again, if you wish.
You continue, if I may say, Senator, to come in here and assert an untruth. You keep asserting that no-one else is acting and that is untrue. I took you through that last night and again today and I do not understand, other than for the reason of trying to delay, why it is that you keep putting that proposition. It is not a reasonable proposition. It is a reasonable proposition to say that other people are not doing as much as you want. That is a legitimate position to put. It is not legitimate, nor is it true, to say no-one else is acting. I do not know why it is that you and Senator Joyce continue to come in here and put something on the record in this chamber which you have been clearly advised, and I presume you know, is not correct.
I rise to speak to the amendment which I moved earlier. To remind the Senate, this is the Australian Greens amendment relating to national emission reduction targets. This would delete the government’s targets and put in, instead:
to take action directed towards meeting Australia’s target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to at least 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.
The reason that this is so critical to the Greens is that it goes to the absolute heart of the environmental integrity of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the government’s effort.
It has been known for a long time that there are two issues to be looked at. One is the overall global reduction target that has to be achieved to deliver a safe climate and the second is the burden-sharing arrangement between countries which would allow for that target to be met. It was an accepted reality in Bali in 2007, and in fact for years before that but it was clearly in the Bali road map, that, if the world was to avoid a temperature rise of more than two degrees, then developed countries like Australia had to reduce their emissions by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. That was so that developing countries could develop without our blowing the global carbon budget. So it was based on equity, saying developed countries had to make a bigger effort to reduce their emissions.
This was consistent with the Kyoto protocol, in which it was clearly set out as a matter of principle that developed countries reduce their emissions first and then developing countries would come on board later with legally binding commitments once the developed world had demonstrated that they had achieved theirs. It has been a source of contention with, and frustration for, developing countries that the developed world has failed to do what it said it would do when the Kyoto protocol was first signed and later ratified.
I would like to start by asking the minister about the government’s targets. I know that they are political targets, but they are not scientific targets. This is where the government and the Greens are in complete disagreement—over trying to sell a five to 25 per cent reduction by 2020, for a developed country like Australia, as scientifically credible in the context of developed countries having to make a greater effort so that developing countries have some headroom.
I would like to ask the minister: what is your understanding about what a global stabilisation of 450 parts per million CO2e would do in terms of the two degrees? What is the level of risk, if the world did agree to 450 parts per million CO2e, that we would exceed two degrees? I will come to whether two degrees is safe or not in a minute. What is the level of risk involved in exceeding two degrees at 450 parts per million CO2e stabilisation?
My recollection of the way in which the 450 parts per million scenario—‘scenario’ might not be the right word—of the IPCC consideration was expressed was that it had around a 50 per cent chance of limiting warming to no more than two degrees. Secondly, we do agree with the proposition that developed countries should act, and should act first—and as a group that is what we are seeking to be part of. The 25 per cent to 40 per cent target that the senator talks about was as a group. There was not an indication that every country had to target 40 or 25 per cent—it was for developed countries as a whole.
I have a number of points more. The government’s view is that our targets are both credible and ambitious. We also believe that if you set a target you should be able to achieve it. We do not believe this is only about slogans and rhetoric. This is sometimes hard—as demonstrated by how much opposition there is by those who do not want action on climate change—and there is sometimes hard economic and environmental policy required to achieve it. These are very significant reductions, particularly when you consider where we are coming from. Australia is, as the senator knows, a very high emitter. We are one of the highest—if not the highest—per capita emitters in the world. That is not an excuse; it does tell us something about the scale of the challenge. We are a carbon-intensive economy and we have to do a lot of work in order to reduce emissions.
I make the point, as an example, that our conditional 25 per cent offer is a 32 percentage point reduction from our existing Kyoto commitment. In other words, we are saying that we will reduce by up to 32 percentage points what we have committed to do as a nation, under Kyoto. That is a very significant reduction. If you compare that, for example, to the European Union, you find that the top end of their target is a 22 percentage point reduction off their Kyoto target. Japan’s is a 19 percentage point reduction off their Kyoto target. The United Kingdom’s is a 21 percentage point reduction off their Kyoto commitment.
What that demonstrates is that we are saying to the rest of the world, ‘From where we are now we will do more than almost any other developed country in the timeframe.’ What the Greens want is to go even further. We say that a 25 per cent target is both ambitious and credible and would constitute a strong contribution to a 450 PPM agreement.
There is a lot of political focus on the 2020 target and I keep saying that we must remember this: this is not about a single goal and a single milestone; this is about a path. The year 2020 is one of the points we pass—and we have to go past it. It is nowhere near enough, out to 2050, when you look at what the world will need to do. We know that. So what we are having a disagreement about here is: how fast can this country transition? That is what this is about. How fast can we make the change that is needed? Our view is that 25 per cent as the top-end target is a responsible position to adopt. I understand that that is not Senator Milne’s position, but I would make the point that in terms of per capita emissions—again, I am simply talking about how much work we have to do—our target implies that between 1990 and 2020 there will be almost a halving of the carbon footprint of every single Australian. That is a pretty significant change.
What the minister has just said is about the politics of what she thinks is achievable. The fact is that the atmosphere does not really care. We are not talking here about what is politically achievable but about what the science—the chemistry and physics—deliver for us: what the earth can bear. I could not agree more than that what we are doing out to 2020 is so lax that after that it will be such a radical change that there will be massive dislocation if you are to get to net carbon zero—or, on a more conservative estimate, 95 per cent—by 2050, which is way beyond what the government wants.
The differences we have are with the assumption that we have time to do that and the failure to recognise that there are scientific tipping points. Those scientific tipping points are not going to adjust themselves to the fact that Australia—or the US—is not prepared to go any further. The reality is we have a carbon budget, and this is where the targets actually start to kick in and to have some real explanation. Only yesterday The Copenhagen diagnosis was released, in which 26 leading scientists tell us that, on the science, virtually every one of the IPCC’s worst-case scenarios had either been achieved or actually gone beyond. That is pretty terrifying. I saw a tiny piece in the news today saying that a whole lot of icebergs have carved off the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and are now about 250 miles south of New Zealand. They are a hazard to shipping, not to mention anybody in a smaller craft who might be in those waters.
The facts are there, whether you look at temperature, at the accelerated melting of icesheets, glaciers and icecaps or at the rapid Arctic sea-ice decline. Scientists are now saying the likelihood of an ice-free Arctic summer is very real—some people say as early as 2013 and others say 2025 or 2030. Either way, it is years ahead of what people anticipated previously. The sea-level predictions were revised only this week. Where the IPCC had made quite conservative predictions, The Copenhagen diagnosis says the sea-level rise is more likely to be in the vicinity of half a metre to two metres by 2100.
The point that they are making quite clearly is that, if global warming is to be limited to a maximum of two degrees above pre-industrial levels, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. The IPCC had said they needed to peak by 2015 and then come down; that has now been revised to 2015 to 2020. When you say to the scientists: ‘Why have you revised that? You said a few years ago global emissions had to peak by 2015 and then come down—why are you now changing that to 2020?’ they say: ‘Because we’ve already passed that deadline. We’ve already passed that tipping point.’ I say, ‘How can we have already passed it?’ They have made a political judgement. Everybody here is in the business of making political judgements.
What is very clear is that 450 parts per million CO2e was thought to keep global temperature below two degrees, which was thought to be a safe level for the climate. I ask the minister: do you now concede that, on all the science out there, everything that has come in since the IPCC, 450 parts per million gives us an even less than 50 per cent chance of avoiding exceeding two degrees? I actually think two degrees is way too generous, and I will get to that in a minute. Minister, do you accept that 450 parts per million gives us a less than 50 per cent chance of avoiding a higher than two-degree global temperature and therefore catastrophic climate change?
First, I disagree with the accusation or the criticism that these are ‘political’ targets. These are targets that we are setting as we seek to introduce a scheme, a law, that for the first time will reduce Australia’s contribution to climate change. My view is that the science is telling us that things are worsening faster than predicted, and what that says to me is we need to act now. So, Senator, whilst I understand that this is your and your party’s position and you will put these arguments in this amendment, for us this is not a debate about theory; this is a government seeking to put into practice, to effect action. That is why we want this legislation passed.
The fact that your party has chosen to vote against action on climate change is quite extraordinary. To see Senators Brown and Fielding sitting on the same side of the chamber to stop any action on climate change is quite extraordinary, because what you are saying is: ‘If the number is not as high as we want, we’d rather do nothing. We’d rather allow this nation’s contribution to climate change to increase.’ We fundamentally disagree on this. We believe we need to start taking action. Part of the reason we need to act, and why I do not think focus on 2020 should blind us to the other challenges, is that we know we have to go so much further and that, the longer we delay, the higher the costs will be and the harder it will be. The logic that says, ‘Because the target’s not high enough we don’t want to start acting now,’ when what you are doing is in fact making it harder for us to do anything and harder for us to go further, is a very strange logic, if I may say.
I am going to make a very daunting prediction after Senator Wong’s contribution. On these amendments of Senator Milne, which would bring Australia into line with the aim of a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels by 2020—that is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Australia’s leading climate change scientists say we should be aiming at—we will see Senator Wong, Senator Fielding and all of the National Party voting on the same side of the chamber. It is easy to make a throwaway political line about seeing Senator Brown and Senator Fielding on one side, but I suspect you are about to find yourself voting on their side on this motion, Senator Wong. That is because this is not a formula for getting underway constructive movement towards a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020; it is a blocker.
You will be aware of the legal advice we have released—and I have had no comeback on that from the government—coming from Brian Walters, senior counsel in Melbourne, and Matthew Baird, a barrister in Sydney. It says that this legislation does not allow us, or a future government, to move on to 25 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020 without risking a massive compensation claim from the big polluters—who are already set to get up to $24 billion, including the $5 billion transferred out of households under the package that Senator Wong and Prime Minister Rudd have negotiated with the Turnbull opposition in the last few days.
But back to Senator Milne’s very responsible, and science based, amendment which is now before the chamber. That is where we should be going. To quote the Prime Minister, if we were to be accepting our existential position and aiming to save our children and our grandchildren from catastrophic climate change, that is where we need to be going. It is not the government’s five per cent, which has failure written into it and which will, for example, lose the Great Barrier Reef this century, but it is the targets brought forward in this amendment by Senator Milne—the 25 per cent to 40 per cent—that we have to achieve as a minimum.
I have before me the document Senator Milne was referring to, The Copenhagen diagnosis, which was released this week by the University of New South Wales and the Climate Change Research Centre headed by Professor Matthew England. Amongst other things it says this:
New ice-core records confirm the importance of greenhouse gasses for past temperatures on Earth, and show that CO2 levels are higher now than they have ever been during the last 800,000 years.
Let me explain that. Since 1750, the start of the Industrial Revolution, we have seen industrial activity and the burning of fossil fuels and forests putting us in a situation where the atmosphere is stuffed with more greenhouse gases threatening the planet than throughout all that period during which humanity came to secure its foothold on the planet. It had the ability through agriculture to be sedentary, to go on to discover the wheel and great artworks—which are part of cultures right around the planet—and then through the scientific age to give us the extraordinary wherewithal we have now.
Suddenly all that is at risk because we cannot take action commensurate with what the scientists tell us is urgently needed to recover an atmospheric level of greenhouse gases which will take us from the lip of the chasm of catastrophic climate change. The target in this legislation, negotiated and agreed upon between the coalition and the government, manifestly does not even go close to doing that; it is a failure. That is why Senator Milne’s motion to amend the legislation regarding the critical matter of targets is before the Senate chamber. We accept this amendment is not going to be given a Senate majority imprimatur here, but I refer back to Senator Milne’s second reading speech: do not let anybody in this chamber in future say they did not know.
The Copenhagen diagnosiswhich is available to everybody via newspapers in this country and it was on the air during the last few days—says that the threat of climate change is not receding but accelerating. All the signs, the scientists are working out, as against the sceptics’ witchcraft, are not getting better but are accelerating in the wrong direction. The Greens proposal for a 25 per cent to 40 per cent target is then seen as possibly being at the lower end of the range which is going to save us from catastrophic climate change. Everybody in here knows the literature. Everybody takes the responsibility for voting against this amendment if they do. I inveigle everybody to vote for it.
We are in a very critical period of human history and wealthier countries like Australia have to take stock. My colleagues in this chamber from the National Party were saying just a moment ago, ‘What percentage difference is it going to make if Australia takes action now?’ My answer to them is, ‘What percentage difference does it make if your inaction leads to the further destruction of the Murray-Darling Basin as predicted?’ Senator Wong gave this prediction to the chamber earlier today: there would be 90 per cent reduction in the Murray-Darling Basin’s food producing capability through failed climate action change. In terms of the world food production that is much less than one per cent. The National Party’s theory is that it does not matter because it is not really very much. This logic that the National Party brings forward abandons the farmers of the Murray-Darling Basin—
They have frequently asked what is Australia’s contribution to global atmospheric pollution. It has been frequently argued, by prominent spokespeople, from the sceptics in the National Party and the coalition generally, that we should not act before other countries do because it would be such a tiny effect that it will not change materially what happens in the atmosphere. I am using the same mad logic involved in saying, ‘Well, what difference does it make if you have a 90 per cent reduction in the productivity of the Murray-Darling Basin because we do not act first and take a leadership role in this huge common human problem of climate change.’ I urge the people who think that way to think again.
We in this nation are amongst the world’s greatest per capita polluters of the atmosphere. If you take into account export coal—and the National Party is a prodigious supporter of accelerating the export of coal to be burnt on this planet to rapidly increase greenhouse gas emissions—then the Australian contributions are double what is actually counted in terms of its domestic output. But there you go. I say again, as Senator Milne said: we are all aware of the fact that this amendment is the most crucial amendment, because it would get us back on track. It is a centrepoint to the Greens presentation, which backs the science and the responsible calls from the best thinkers on the planet, that, at their behest, we take this action in this democratic system, and if we cannot do it who on earth is going to do so.
If I could return to the question I asked the minister before. Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough or perhaps the minister is a little bit tired at the end of a long week. I never said, ‘that no-one else was acting around the world,’ which the minister seemed to be trying to attribute to me. I never at any stage said that. But I do thank her for giving us a very clear indication last night of those countries that were currently contributing. I have never actually indicated that I thought that no-one else was acting. My question was: if no-one else did act from this point on, apart from Australia, what would the reduction be? I am sorry if I did not make myself clear, Minister, but I was trying to ask that very clear question.
I do take the minister’s point. She did give some answers to Senator Joyce. Maybe they were not quite clear enough for me to understand and I would then suggest that perhaps a lot of the listeners to this particular exchange probably could not understand them either. But I do not believe that the minister actually responded in terms of parts per million. Also, I do take the minister’s point: she said that there was a range of targets. I would think that commonsense would then say that, related to that, there would then potentially be a range of reduction levels. So perhaps the minister could reply to that in parts per million terms, because this is very important. It is important because one of the key questions that comes back to us—and, Minister, it comes as well from people who are trying to very clearly understand this—is that, if Australia is the only one from here on in who will be on the playing field, if you like, in the absence of anybody else coming on board what is the actual reduction going to be. I am trying to be very clear here. Could we have a parts per million response—
I apologise Madame Temporary Chairman. Perhaps if the minister could respond very simply. I do acknowledge that I do not have the level of understanding that many others have about this. Could I have just a bit of a commonsense answer to the question of the range of reduction levels that accompany that range of targets, as a parts per million explanation.
I have. I think that any reasonable person listening would know that you and others are simply asking the same set of questions over and over again, because you do not want to transact the business of the bill.
I can answer it, and I have. Senator Milne has moved an amendment. I do not agree with the amendment and, may I respectfully suggest, the chamber might want to vote on that amendment. I have responded on a number of occasions now to both you and your colleague Senator Joyce. I think anyone listening will know that you are simply trying to avoid voting on aspects of this legislation. I was in this chamber from 7.30 last night until 11.00 pm and we have been here since about 4 o’clock and we have done two amendments in that time. It is quite clear what game is being played by your party here, and I think it is disappointing, because you should have the courage of your convictions and vote.
Minister, could I perhaps put some of the figures to you, being a former bookmaker’s clerk and being familiar with a few figures. I want to make a comment about Senator Bob Brown’s comments about the science and so on. As I said in my speech to the Senate this week—
Thank you Madame Temporary Chairman. Interjecting across the chamber is rude and it is time Senator Cameron realised that.
I make that point that Professor Latif, a German scientist who is very well respected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Senator Bob Brown, said in September that the globe has not been warming since 2003 and in fact it has been cooling, and he expects that it will cool for another 10 or 20 years. Those here promoting the climate change scare campaign obviously do not recognise what Professor Latif has said, yet he is a well respected scientist in Germany who the IPCC have paid a lot of attention to. But, when he said this, those who are saying we had doomed to death in the near future fail to acknowledge the scientist’s remarks, and I find that amazing.
I take Minister Wong to a point about carbon dioxide levels—parts per million in the atmosphere. I am going to give the Minister some simple figures. We talk about 380 parts per million of CO2—and I recognise that, on the basis of ice samples, that has risen from 280 parts per million since the year 1750. Australia produces 1.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases. If the minister’s emissions trading scheme is put in place, we are going to reduce Australia’s level by five per cent come the year 2020. That is the target, at a cost in the billions and billions of dollars.
I paint the picture of the rest of the world’s emissions remaining exactly the same from now until year 2020. We know that China will increase, we know that India will increase and we know that America might take some action and reduce its emissions a bit. We know what might happen; we do not know what will definitely happen. But let us assume that the rest of the world’s emissions remain exactly the same and that Australia, now producing 1.4 per cent of the world greenhouse gases, reduces those by five per cent. That would mean that Australia’s emissions were 1.33 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases. So from 380 parts per million you would simply deduct 0.07 of one per cent, because we would come down from 1.4 per cent to 1.33 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases. That would reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from 380 parts per million to 379.75 parts per million. That is the fact of it, assuming that the rest of the world stayed the same. In nine years, the cost would be $120 billion or $200 billion depending on the price of carbon and the value of the Australian dollar. We would bring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right down from 380 parts per million to 379.75 parts per million, assuming that the rest of the world stayed exactly the same. To me, that is farcical.
My concern about this whole plan is the risk of shutting down industries in Australia and sending those industries overseas. I have a question about the emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries—I will talk about the cement industry in particular—and perhaps Minister Faulkner might be able to answer it for me. Under the proposal, we would see a 94.5 per cent discount given to the cement industry, but by 2014-15 that would be reduced to 91 per cent. When we produce 10 million tonnes of cement in Australia, we produce 8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. So looking at 2015 on the basis of 10 per cent of 8 million, we can see that 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases would be taxed at $25 a tonne, so that would be $20 million in taxes on the cement industry. So each year after 2014-15, the Australian cement industry would face a tax of $20 million.
We have only got 14 factories left. We had 15—Cement Australia closed its Rockhampton factory recently and the 1,870 jobs are under threat. Because of that $20 million cost to the cement industry each year after 2014-15, assuming $25 a tonne for carbon, those 14 factories in Australia in places like Kandos in the seat of Parkes, where my colleague Mark Coulton has done so much work, would be in real trouble.
China produce one billion tonnes of cement per year, and when they produce one tonne of cement they produce 1.1 tonnes of greenhouse gases where we produce 0.8 of a tonne. We would see that industry move to China, where those 10 million tonnes of cement would produce 11 million tonnes of greenhouse gases as opposed to our 8 million tonnes in Australia currently. We would lose our industry, lose our jobs and put an extra 3 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Surely the minister must agree that the discounts provided to these emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries are simply not be enough and that they will fold up and move overseas where there is the threat that more greenhouse gases would be produced. What action will the government take to see that those industries do survive, because the cement industry cannot cop a $20 million tax per year?
I am provoked to rise on this issue because, like Minister Wong and my colleagues here, I want to see the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] dealt with as quickly as possible, but there are many questions to be asked on the biggest issue to go through the parliament. I was going to say ‘the biggest issue to go through the parliament for a long time’, but I do not think there has ever been a bigger issue.
Senator Bob Brown is right: it is a key issue and a key amendment—very much so. Senator Milne is correct, but we come from the other side. Senator Milne was doing all right, and she has done since this debate began. She has presented her case rationally and calmly, but the leader of the Greens keeps coming in and interjecting all the time with extremism. He has gone now, which is probably a good thing for the whole chamber and the debate. The extremism that he injected into this debate has to be challenged. He called the views on climate change of anyone who challenges his view and the science that he is relying on ‘witchcraft’, didn’t he? Yes, he did! Of course, he never talks about natural climate change. I have never even heard it mentioned—even from the other side, ironically.
Senator Boswell makes another good point. Senator Cameron is back from saving the world overseas with the EU. He has had a chance to jump up. While Senator Cameron was away, only three of his colleagues spoke in the second reading debate. I think I even gave Senator Cameron credit that, when he came back from overseas, he would be the first to jump up and speak on this issue, the first one to defend the government. But I have not heard from Senator Cameron for days. I wonder if he still has jet lag.
Yes. The point is that the intolerance of the Leader of the Greens has to be challenged when he mentions the ‘witchcraft’ of those who come into this chamber with other science. I want to say to you that we base our views on creditable science. I must say, regrettably, the minister even encouraged the debate that yes, the world’s man-made climatic change is changing more rapidly than even she thought, and the scientists, the creditable science and the IPC—
Yes; it is the foundation of your claims. You then bring in a few other nutty scientists on top of that, but that is the basis of your claims. You would have to admit that this is an organisation that many scientists have now broken loose from. They are now claiming they have been verballed in that report—hundreds of them, in fact. There are now claims that the material they used is in fact a cover-up. But, all right, you can base your scientific views on that, but then you bring in the sea-level issue. That is the one you threw in as the most immediate icon. You have lost the Antarctic as an icon, because that is no longer melting. That has been found. Our own Curtin University in Western Australia found that. That is a scientific fact. It is undisputed: the Antarctic now is not melting. How ironic. So you have fished around for another icon, and it is now that the sea levels are rising. We had a House of Representatives report, produced not by scientists but by a group of parliamentarians, with a government majority—
Righto, that’s not a very good interjection! Anyway, it was a government majority report. What would you expect them to find? Of course, it got newspaper headlines. But what would you expect a House of Representatives, government majority report to find, other than that the sea levels are drastically rising? I have it in my office. I thought I might read it, but I will not.
I also read that the Rees government, those knaves from New South Wales, is now claiming sea-level rises. If ever there was a good excuse for a tax, it sure sounds like it when the Rees government jumps on the bandwagon of sea-level rises. They base their new tax, or their claims, on the fact that coastal waters would ‘rise 40 centimetres on 1990 levels by 2050’—they are not going to last that long, but anyway—‘with potentially disastrous effects’. And I know that the Prime Minister backed up that claim at the Lowy Institute. The Rees Labor government claimed there were some 700,000 houses in danger. The Prime Minister gave credence to that in a speech he made, saying that that was risking $150 billion dollars.
But there is another scientific group. There is a scientific group called the Bureau of Meteorology, which dispute that claim. The Bureau of Meteorology dispute the claim outright, saying the average yearly increase of 1.9 millimetres is what they have recorded since 1991. This is consistent with historical analysis showing that throughout the 20th century there was a modest rise in global sea levels of about 20 centimetres, or 1.7 millimetres per year on average. So the Bureau of Meteorology, with their measurements, their claims and their science, are saying that there is no surge in sea levels at all, and they do not predict that there will be any.
That is creditable science. You might not agree with it, but we are coming in with creditable science. But, more than that, the sea-level argument is the new icon that the extremists are using. I will refer to very creditable science, from Nils-Axel Morner—he is from Stockholm, so it is one of those names. He was responding to that stunt pulled by the President of the Maldives—it was quite a good one; it got international press—where the cabinet were sitting in the sea waters to show the world what would happen if the sea levels were to rise as they are predicted to rise. This is the world’s leading authority on sea levels. There is a scientist for everything, I have to admit, but here we have the world’s leading authority on sea levels. That is undisputed. He is from Stockholm University. He is the past president of the International Union for Quaternary Research commission on sea level changes and coastal evolution. He is highly decorated, highly respected. In the words of a scientist he says there is ‘no rational basis’ for their claim. In layman’s terms: absolute rubbish. He goes on to give some proper facts:
(1) In the last 2000 years, sea level has oscillated with 5 peaks reaching 0.6 to 1.2 m above the present sea level.
(2) From 1790 to 1970 sea level was about 20 cm higher than today
(3) In the 1970s, sea level fell by about 20 cm to its present level
(4) Sea level has remained stable for the last 30 years, implying that there are no traces of any alarming on-going sea level rise.
Fact (5) was that the notion presented by the President of the Maldives was absolute rubbish. Well, he put it a little more politely than that, in scientific terms. All I am saying is that we are coming in with Professor Morner, who is creditable. That is the science we are relying on. But it is not good enough for the Leader of the Greens. He calls it ‘witchcraft’ if anyone comes in with a different point of view. It has to be challenged—and, when it is challenged, they bristle, they interject. I say to the Greens, particularly the more reasonable two who are here, that you ought to start looking at the science—
That is the right wing of the Greens, who are in the chamber at the moment. Having given that background, which it was necessary for the minister to hear, here is my question, finally. To what extent are you factoring in natural climate change? All we hear about is man-made climate change. Whatever element it is, you tell us: what is the element of natural climate change and how are you accounting for it in this scheme?
Thank you, Madam Temporary Chair. It is a pleasure to be involved, however briefly, in this important debate. Well, perhaps it is not a pleasure, but I am sure that Senator Wong is finding it a pleasure that she did not have to listen to that most recent tirade from Senator McGauran.
I was asked some questions by Senator Williams, who, unlike Senator McGauran, is not a reject from the National Party; he has actually stuck with the National Party. He did ask some sensible questions, which, as Senator Boswell would be the first to acknowledge, is most unusual from any serving senator from the National Party. He asked me about impacts on the cement industry, and I think the serious question that he asked actually does warrant a response from me. I can say this to Senator Williams—who, even though he asked me a question, will have to read the response to his question in the Hansard, because he is no longer with us. He was actually driven from the chamber by Senator McGauran’s recent contribution. I can say to Senator Williams on the cement question that the government has listened to the views of all stakeholders very closely—including, I must say, the views of the cement industry. It has done that in developing and finalising the CPRS. The activity definition for the production of clinker has been approved for the purposes of data collection. A formal assessment of the status of this activity may now be conducted on the basis of this activity definition.
I can also assure the committee that the government has carefully drafted this activity definition in the context of the policy parameters and the principles established in the white paper. I can also assure the committee that Senator Wong has taken advice from not only her department but also the expert advisory committee to provide assurance that both the process and the decisions are fair and reasonable in the context of the white paper policy positions. I do hope that Senator Boswell, as the senior member of the National Party in the chamber, will take the responsibility of passing through to Senator Williams my response to the question he asked me.
I then come to the contribution of Senator McGauran—last and certainly least of the contributions that I have heard. It appeared to be some sort of mixture of prejudice, extremism, conspiracy theories, voodoo un-science and patent nonsense, and—I am trying to be fair here—it was just plain nutty. I listened carefully and I thought of all the expert scientific views that I have seen and read over the years from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, from the literally thousands of scientists who have contributed to the scientific underpinning that has informed debates and discussions on the issue of climate change for well over a decade, and I compared that with the nonsense that I have just heard from Senator McGauran, who I really do think should go and take a Bex and have a good lie-down. Honestly, Senator McGauran, you concluded your rabid contribution by asking a question about whether the IPCC takes into account the issue of natural climate change. My understanding has been consistently—and I will try and check with the officials beside me in the advisers box—that that is one of the considerations that the panel takes into account. I am overwhelmed by the number of nodding officials beside me who have been able to confirm that what I have just said is correct. Senator, I hope that assists you—
I sincerely hope it assists your thought processes and, because I am a generous fellow at this hour of the night, I am not going to give you a few other suggestions which would also have a beneficial impact on your thought processes. To Senator Williams, who has now returned to the chamber, I have asked Senator Boswell to take the responsibility of passing on to you my response to your question, which I have acknowledged was a far more serious one than the incomprehensible claptrap that we heard from Senator McGauran.
I rise to take us back to some serious discussion of the targets. I would point out to Senator McGauran that just two days ago new research was released showing that the Antarctic’s eastern ice sheet, long thought to be unaffected by climate change, is melting 10 per cent faster than it can produce ice. The water coming in under the west Antarctic is actually warmer by about one degree, so it is actually melting the base of the ice shelf. It is very clear that what scientists first thought is wrong, and this is completely consistent with what I was saying earlier about the science showing that global warming is proceeding at a far greater rate than the scientists or the IPCC predicted.
It is a tragedy that we are actually in the midst of a global emergency, yet the carry-on in here is as if this is some sort of joke and we are in an amusement centre. We are actually debating the policy that will be a matter of life or death for people right around the world not in 10 years time but right now. It may interest Senator McGauran to know that in the Carteret Islands there are already islands that have disappeared. People have had to move already. The leader of the Tuvalu delegation to the United Nations COP meeting in Nairobi in 2006 asked, ‘Who will take my people?’ We have just had a mention of the Maldives, which has exactly the same problem. In Tuvalu it is frightening. If you were to look at a photograph of that island, you would realise how terrifying it would be to live there. Imagine what a rise in the sea level is going to do. Those countries already have salt water incursion into their fresh water lenses. They no longer have fresh water and they can no longer grow crops because of that salt water incursion. In Bangladesh we have people living in fear that when the tide comes in every night they will be unable to withstand it, they will lose everything they have, including their lives. As I indicated earlier, there are a billion people in the four great river valleys of Asia. The ice in the glaciers is melting so rapidly that there is a fear they will have no fresh water for six months of the year.
Senator McGauran asked about the tipping points and I have asked the scientists about those. They say that the first tipping point we are likely to breach is the Arctic sea ice. There are predictions that the Arctic will be free of summer ice by 2013 to 2025. Nobody knows the impact that is going to have on thermohaline circulation, the ocean’s conveyor belt, because the last time the Arctic was ice free, the continents were not in the same position they are in now, so we simply do not know what that means. That is not to mention the impact on thermal expansions of the ocean due to the loss of summer Arctic sea ice.
So the first tipping point is the Arctic sea ice. The second tipping point is ocean acidification. Four hundred and fifty parts per million is the tipping point for ocean acidification. The CRC in Hobart has made it perfectly clear that at 450 parts per million you are going to see acidification, and it will be worse at higher latitudes where the carbon dioxide is absorbed faster. What you are going to find is that 10 per cent of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018. We are already seeing that the shells of microscopic creatures are thinner now than they were in pre-industrial times. We will reach a point at which they can no longer form those shells and that means the collapse of the marine food chain, which in turn means the collapse of the oceans and the coral reefs that millions of people around the world depend on for their protein.
Let me come to the coral reefs. In this very building only a week ago we had Australia’s leading scientists on the Great Barrier Reef saying that acidification is the enemy of the reefs and that they are already under threat from regular occurrences of bleaching. If you add acidification to that, you are going to lose the great coral reefs of the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. Many coral reef scientists will tell you off the record that they already think it is too late for the world’s coral reefs. They say at the very least you need a global reduction of 25 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to give the reefs a 50 per cent chance.
I want to make the point to the minister that it is patently untrue to say that the Greens do not want to do anything. She has accused other people in the chamber of misrepresentation, but I have to say that is a gross misrepresentation. I cannot tell you how many times we have moved in here to save the great carbon stores, Australia’s primary forests, and that has been rejected by both the government and the coalition.
Including the National Party, of course. Sorry, I should have named you particularly. I also note that I have moved in here endless times for a higher renewable energy target, for a gross feed-in tariff, for a national energy efficiency target and for higher standards on just about everything, including vehicle fuel efficiency. I cannot tell you the number of initiatives I have moved in the last several years that go directly to the issues not only of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions but also of driving the transformation to the low-carbon, zero-carbon economy. So let us not have that nonsense.
The point of difference between the government and the Greens on this is that the Greens totally adhere to the science which says that two degrees can no longer be regarded as a safe level for the climate—in fact, we are already seeing dangerous climate change with far less warming than that—that 450 parts per million would not give you a 50 per cent chance of avoiding the two degrees limit and that we need to get it down. We need to be on a trajectory to 350 parts per million. Graham Pearman says that. He is one of Australia’s leading scientists. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a credible scientist in Australia who would not tell you that getting to 350 is far safer and gives us a better chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change than 450. The scientists are very clear about what is necessary and that is where they got the 25 to 40 per cent from. I agree with the minister that it was meant to be an average of what annex 1 countries would do in cutting their emissions by 2020. What does the minister think the average annex 1 country cut should be in the global treaty in Copenhagen? What should the average be for annex 1 countries—somewhere between 25 and 40? Should it be based on the latest science and on the principle of burden sharing between developing and developed countries?
I see Senator Macdonald rising to speak. If his contribution is not on this amendment, given how long we have been discussing it, I wonder if he would allow this amendment to be voted on. I am happy to take his question after that. I ask him to consider that. We have been discussing this Greens amendment for a long time, though somewhat tangentially, and there will be a vote on it. I can indicate to him that after that, if he has other questions, I would be happy to respond to them.
Senator Milne, perhaps the best way of outlining Australia’s position would be to refer to the conditions we have put on our 25 per cent conditional target. We place those with a very clear eye to looking at what would enable global action capable of stabilising CO2 equivalent concentrations at 450 ppm or lower. In this, we talked about advanced economy reductions in aggregate of at least 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, a clear global trajectory where the sum of all economies’ commitments was consistent with 450 ppm or lower and a nominated early deadline year for peak global emissions not later than 2020. And there are a range of other issues associated with comprehensive coverage and financial resources and so forth. That is the government’s policy. That is the position. I have not answered the average question because that is not the way the government have approached it. We have approached it in terms of aggregate and a global trajectory.
The average for annex 1 countries is a critical question, because it cannot be 25. If it is, it is saying there is no carbon budget left for developing countries to develop. That is what that is saying and that, clearly, is not possible. If you are going to meet—
I said ‘at least’; I did not give you an average figure. If we are going to have a debate, could we at least have it on what I said. I said I was not nominating an average. I said ‘at least’.
That was the point. I said the minister did not give an annex 1 country average. The point that I am making is that if you put in Australia’s targets for annex 1 countries—5 to 25—then you are guaranteeing exceeding 450 parts per million and exceeding two degrees. I want to know when we are going to get some honesty about the targets and what the science says. We have the Prime Minister and the minister saying to the people of Australia: ‘The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. The Murray-Darling is in trouble. Sea level rise is a problem.’ I totally agree with all those things. But what is being proposed is not action adequate to prevent those outcomes. If the annex 1 countries around the world lock in five to 25, that will breach that figure. They will deliver the very outcomes we do not want. That is why it is completely wrong to say: ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good. Start somewhere.’ It should be, in fact, making the necessary the enemy of the expedient.
The critical fact here is that we have to save the climate. We cannot go into an overshoot scenario, which is what is being implied by what the government are saying with its target range. It is implying that there is some sort of linear response—that you can go out to 2020 and then you can get on a trajectory. It does not recognise that, unless you get the cuts within the time frame and within the tipping points, you are going to be beyond the tipping points and after that there is no return. That is the thing. That is what I worry about while lying awake at night. Once the Arctic Sea ice is gone there is no return. Once you have ocean acidification there is no return. No amount of seawalls are going to alter anything. We are already losing species. It is predicted that a third of all species are on a trajectory to extinction by 2050. We are losing them as we speak if we look around the country.
The issue here, Senator McGauran, is that you are not going to have creatures like polar bears living in the wild by 2025. You will have a few sad creatures in zoos and breeding programs, but they will not be in the wild.
More particularly, if you think you have a concern now about refugees, you had better think again about climate refugees. There are 100 million people in the Coral Triangle alone who are vulnerable to displacement because of sea level rise if we do not make it. When I say ‘if we do not make it’ I mean if we cross the tipping points. We have to stay within a safe climate. That is why I talk about this being about the laws of physics and chemistry. It is not about what we think we can do in terms of the economy or in terms of politics, or what they are doing to us in the coal electorates, or what we think we can get away with, or how much people will accept and so on. It is exactly as Winston Churchill said at the beginning of the Second World War: ‘It is not enough to say we are doing our best.’ We have to do what it takes to achieve the outcome. It is no use saying, ‘We’ll turn up on a Wednesday and do this much and go home.’ You have to do what is necessary. That is the whole issue here.
You cannot just say we will start something and gradually increase it. That is like saying to a cancer patient: ‘We’ll give you aspirin for the next six months and then after that we’ll consider how we might ratchet up the treatment.’ By that time the person will be dead. Equally, if you give them the wrong treatment they will die. We must recognise that we need to go onto the same footing we would be on if we were fighting a war. That is how serious the global emergency is and why this amendment is so critical. To those people who say, ‘You’ve got to start somewhere,’ I say, ‘We’ve been trying to start somewhere for years.’ Let’s save the forests, let’s get the renewable energy target, let’s get the energy efficiency target, let’s pass a feed-in tariff, let’s have vehicle fuel efficiency standards, let’s get our public transport rolled out—let’s do all those things. We have been trying to do all of those things for years and continue to do all of those things, but let’s face facts about what is necessary.
What I am so despondent about, standing here tonight, is that President Obama has now come out with the same level of effort as Australia. He has said that the US will make a three to four per cent cut below 1990 levels. The Prime Minister says Australia will go to five per cent below 2000 levels, which is the equivalent of four per cent below 1990. They are the only unequivocal ambitions on the table, with a very conditional 25 per cent. I have never believed that Australia will agree to 25 per cent, because it is so conditional that the rest of the world will not agree to it, but also because compensation to the coal-fired generators is $6 billion to $7 billion, and that was calculated on a five per cent cut. We have not been told what the figures would be for a 15 per cent cut or a 25 per cent cut. We will get to that later in the bill, and I give the minister notice that I want to know how high the compensation to the generators will go if we go from a five per cent cut to a 15 per cent cut. I think it is in the interests of everyone to know that.
You glibly turn around and say, ‘You’ve got to start somewhere.’ The Greens have been trying to start somewhere on climate change for more than 20 years. I acknowledge that Senator Faulkner, who was in here earlier making a response, as the environment minister took a proposition to the Labor cabinet to address climate change and put a price on carbon. I acknowledge that foresight. History will show that he was right and that his colleagues let Australia down. I heard the minister also say, ‘You’ve got to realise that this effort is equivalent to that of other countries because of our Kyoto target.’ I remind the Senate that the Greens did not support the ridiculous celebration in Australia when the former minister, Robert Hill, came home, having exhausted the rest of the world into agreeing to give Australia an eight per cent increase on its 1990 levels when everybody else had accepted a cut. As a result it is even harder for us now than it was then because we failed to be ambitious at the time. There is a message in that: if we fail to be ambitious now, in 2020 the cost of acting will be so much greater.
As Sir Nicholas Stern said in his report, and as we have seen from the McKinsey report and any number of analyses, the earlier you act, the deeper the cuts and the faster the change, the cheaper it is. The lower the ambition, the greater the cost over time. So I want to inject some reality here as to the seriousness of the debate we are having. The worst-case scenario is to lock in failure, to lock in a level of ambition that cannot be changed. The legal advice we have is that the government’s targets of somewhere between five and 25 per cent set the national goal, the gateways and the annual caps. If Australia increased its ambition in the future—let us say there were some enlightened government down the track that decided to increase the national target to 40 per cent, where it should be—then under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme there would be no additional effort required from the energy producers and large emitters. They are insulated from further effort. The effort would have to come from elsewhere in the economy.
That is why the coal industry are so happy with this outcome—because in the future they cannot be put under greater pressure than now. This is the best that they could hope for. And why do I say that? Surely no parliament can stop a future parliament from acting. Well, yes, they can, by locking in compensation provisions that are so great that they would allow those companies to sue. If a government tried to change the gateways and the annual cap beyond that which was consistent with a five to 25 per cent cut, those companies would sue, because they would have made forward contracts, they would have hedged prices, they would have done all sorts of things and they would have made investments in the wrong industries—investments in new coal-fired power stations waiting to go in New South Wales and Queensland once they get the certainty of these weak targets and the lock-in on the compensation provisions. That is why going slowly with low ambition first sends all the wrong signals. It is not right on the science and it is not right on the economics.
On the science, it is absolutely critical that we go with the targets that give us a chance of avoiding those tipping points. Already, as I indicated, there are parts of the Great Barrier Reef that are dying. We are going to lose that reef unless we act in a way that is consistent with the possibility of saving it. It is no use giving it an Aspro; we need to actually give it the treatment that is required—and that is deep cuts and deep cuts fast. That is why the Greens take the action we do. That is why we are arguing for the 25 per cent to 40 per cent, which everybody recognised was necessary for annex 1 countries like Australia. It was recognised in 2007, and it is recognised now that it needs to be at the 40 per cent end of that range as an average for annex 1 countries.
I put this to the Australian government: if we say we will not do more than 25 per cent regardless of what the average of annex 1 countries might decide, which other countries should do more so that we can do less? I am really interested to know where we should point the finger. Which other countries should do more so that Australia can do less? If we want an average level of low ambition for annex 1 countries, we had better be honest with the developing world and tell them that we do not believe they have a right to get out of poverty and to develop. They are the big picture questions that fall out of the science. I would like the government to tell me which scientists tell them—can they name any?—that a five per cent to 25 per cent target adopted by annex 1 countries by 2020 is enough to avoid even a 50 per cent chance in relation to exceeding two degrees.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Mr Temporary Chairman, I appreciate your fairness. There was a 19-minute discussion—a speech which we have heard previously—and a suggestion of a question right at the end. We are actually trying to deal with this legislation very sensibly. We have a lot of amendments, but we are not going to be assisted if the Greens political party keep making 15-minute speeches to pursue things that they have said previously—and we are all aware of how the Greens operate on this basis.
I do have some questions for either the mover of the amendments or the minister, and I am happy to have either respond. Senator Milne talked about the Great Barrier Reef—which she often does. I always respond by saying that I live up off the reef and I know people who make their living out of it. It is a very, very important icon for Australia’s tourism industry and therefore jobs. It is something that everyone wants to protect. Senator Milne quotes scientists—as does Senator Wong—in relation to the Great Barrier Reef. As both of them would know, not all of the scientists most closely involved with the reef share the same pessimism. They do have a pessimism about the reef, but it is not so much in relation to climate change as it is about water quality and other impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. Were we able to fix the water quality and the run-off into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon—if we addressed those man-made difficulties for the Great Barrier Reef—we would give the reef, so I am told by serious scientists who work daily with the reef, a chance of properly adapting to a climate which has been changing, as I said in my speech in the second reading debate, for over 100 million years now.
I suspect that nobody is actually a climate change sceptic—although we are often accused of that by both the minister and Senator Milne. The climate is clearly changing. I do not think anyone can deny that. Whether it is man made, as I always say, I do not know; I am not a scientist. If you take the top 20,000 scientists in the world, they come down fifty-fifty. But I am always of the view that you take out risk insurance—and, if everyone else is going to do it, by all means Australia should do it. That has always been my position. I have never resiled from that.
But there is a question I want to put to either the mover of the amendments or the minister. As I understand it, Australia produces less than 1.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. My understanding is that if this legislation is passed as it is—and I say this by way of a question—then Australia’s emissions would drop from 1.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1.2 per cent or thereabouts. If Senator Milne’s amendments are agreed to and it goes up to, say, 40 per cent, I would assume that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions would drop from 1.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions to about one per cent. Correct me if I am wrong. I ask that by way of a question.
I was also going to raise a matter which I think Senator Milne also raised. The American legislature has not legislated for any greenhouse gas target at this stage and is unlikely to, certainly before March and perhaps not even after that. There is no greenhouse legislation in the United States. President Obama, as I understand the American system of government, is unable to make the law. He has to say what his target is, or he has to say what he hopes to achieve, in the hope that Congress might approve, but he is not a one-man band in the United States. I heard it reported this morning that he was going to Copenhagen with a target, as I recall, of five per cent of 1995 levels, which was pointed out to be something like 3½ to four per cent of 1990 levels.
I heard Senator Milne’s throw-off at former Senator Robert Hill, who did a fabulous job at Kyoto. Senator Milne, as is her left wing bent, criticises all the glorification and partying that took place when they came home from Kyoto with the deal. Of course, when a subsequent government put a bit of ink on some paper and signed the protocol, Senator Milne was one of those out there applauding Mr Rudd for signing off on Senator Hill’s work. It is always that hypocrisy of the Greens that gets to me—attack Senator Hill for getting the Kyoto agreement but applaud the Labor Party when they simply sign off on what Senator Hill did.
I have been diverted from my question. Are those figures correct? The real question I want to ask, and I have asked Senator Wong this in estimates and in questions without notice—I have asked and asked and can never get a response—is what impact will Australia reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 0.2 per cent have on the Great Barrier Reef? Assume that America, China, India and Russia do nothing, and there is no suggestion at this stage that they are going to. President Obama is going to breeze in there for half a day. You can understand what he thinks is likely to happen in Copenhagen—not very much. But making that assumption, my question is: what will Australia legislating for a 0.2 per cent reduction do to help the Great Barrier Reef? How will it save it? Can someone explain that to me?
I am with the minister if China, India, Russia, the United States, Colombia and Brazil do it. If they reduce their emissions by between five and 20 per cent, then perhaps it might be meaningful and by all means Australia should be in there—perhaps even edging it up a bit. We have got to be in there, but we should not do it in advance of anyone else for no benefit to the environment. In fact, it will be to the detriment of the environment because you will export jobs and industry overseas to a regime that has a less restrictive carbon emission regime than Australia does. So you make the environment worse, you destroy jobs of working families, you destroy industries, you destroy the Australian lifestyle—
Thank you for your interjection. It is not terribly helpful. We are seriously trying to get through these amendments and that sort of interjection does not help. I know, Senator Cameron, you were on a couple of Senate committees. I could hear from your—
Mr Temporary Chair, on a point of order: I wonder if Senator Macdonald could consider whether he is intentionally misleading the Senate when he says the coalition are trying to seriously get through these amendments. It has been quite clear, for the two nights we have been doing this, that there is a filibuster on. They are delaying tactics. It is quite clear.
Thank you, Mr Temporary Chairman, for protecting me from these vicious interjections from the other side of the chamber. They frighten me and distract me from my thought. I might have to start again, but I will not because I seriously want to get through these amendments. These are serious questions which, Senator Wong, I have asked you time and time again. Please give me an answer. Will a 0.2 per cent reduction from Australia cure the Barrier Reef? If not, Minister, why this mad rush to ram this through at 20 to 10 on a Thursday night? We are going to sit all day tomorrow and all tomorrow night and then I am not sure what we are doing. Are we sitting Saturday and Sunday and Monday to get this legislation through before the minister and the Prime Minister swan off in a carbon-polluting aeroplane to Copenhagen in a couple of weeks time?
Please tell me how a 0.2 per cent reduction is going to save the Barrier Reef. Please assure me that China, the United States—the big emitters—Russia, India, Columbia, South Africa—our competitors in coal—and Indonesia are also going to sign a binding agreement which will give us a chance. If, however, we are doing it in advance of the rest of the world and we are one of the few countries doing it, why are we destroying our economy, our jobs and our way of life for a meaningless suggestion which will make the emissions worse?
I am not a sceptic. I believe the climate is changing. I pointed out earlier—and perhaps Senator Cameron did not hear—that in my city of Townsville, where my office is, 1,200 jobs are at risk. They are the ones whose interests you should be looking after. You are supposedly a union organiser.
Do you know what the competition is now? They are getting the nickel ore from the Philippines where, some years ago, they put a refinery in mothballs. They can take the mothballs off and instead of exporting the ore from the Philippines to Townsville and creating 1,200 jobs for your members—you are supposed to be looking after those 1,200 working families—we can have a situation where those jobs are at threat of being exported offshore to the Philippines. There is a mothballed refinery in the Philippines where they can just drive the ore down the road and put it into the refinery. They do not have too many restrictions on emissions there; they do in Townsville.
Do you know why people leave the unions in droves? You are supposed to be looking after them and there is a potential to export 1,200 jobs overseas. I have been distracted—
I rise on a point of order. I think this is a serious matter, and it would not hurt for Senator Macdonald to be reminded that he should speak to you, Temporary Chairman, not across the chamber. And he should be speaking to the amendment before the chamber, not about mothballs.
The only mothballs in this chamber are in the interjector’s head, I think. But they are not doing much of a job because the moths are still flying around! I do apologise for being distracted by that vicious interjection from the other side, and by spurious points of order by the leader of the Australian Greens—but then what would you expect? I seriously want those questions that I have put answered by the minister. Or I am happy for the mover of the amendment to answer them. I desperately want to know. I have been asking now for about 12 months. The minister will not give me an answer. Please, tell me. Who knows, you might get me to vote for you, Senator Wong, if you can explain that to me and show me that those—
Convince me that Australia going it alone in reducing world greenhouse gas emissions by 0.2 per cent will fix the Great Barrier Reef and I might well change my view on this.
First, the senator continues to put on the record in this chamber something which is untrue—and that is, that Australia is going it alone. That is not true. He has not been here for some time, and the facts may not be something he wishes to look at, but I have laid out in this chamber on a number of occasions the actions which are being taken by nations such as the European Union, Japan, the United States, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia.
No, these are targets. That is the first point. The second point is very important: to save the Great Barrier Reef we have to take action on climate change. We need global action if we are going to take action on climate change. We cannot get global action if Australia is not prepared to do our part. So the proposition that is behind some of what is being put by Senator Macdonald is that he does not want Australia to do its fair part.
That only needs to be said for—frankly—the silliness behind it to be demonstrated. I have answered the question on a number of occasions. Senator Macdonald may not like the answer, and that is because no answer will satisfy him because he does not want to take action on climate change. I again make the point: we cannot get global action on climate change unless Australia is prepared to do its part.
What we are proposing to this chamber as a government, negotiated with the opposition, is a scheme—a plan—that is about doing our part to confront a threat that we know is enormous for our country, for our children and for our grandchildren. That is responsible. I do not often quote Liberal politicians but I do want to bring to the chamber’s attention some words which have recently been spoken:
Now I think we all recognise that most Australians expect their political leaders and their political parties to take effective action on climate change. This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children. It is one of the great challenges of our time. Now I know there are many people, including many people who are supporters of my own party, who have doubts about the science and grave reservations about it ... But as Margaret Thatcher said, right back nearly 20 years ago in 1990, this is about risk management ... the fact is we have to take a prudent approach to this. Saying that we are not going to do anything about climate change is irresponsible, and no credible, responsible political party can have a ‘no action on climate change’ policy. It is as simple as that.
Those were words that Mr Turnbull tonight articulated. I have to say that they were very fine words. They were words with which I agree.
I know that there are senators in here who want to ensure that this debate is prolonged. I do not think any Australian listening to this debate would have any debate about that, but as a matter of courtesy—at least to the people who send us here to make decisions and to vote—I ask that we vote on the question put by Senator Milne, which has been before the chair for some hours now.
I just want to ask a very straightforward question, seeing that Senator Evans is in here. Mr Albanese has said on Sky tonight and in a number of other places that if this is not completed by 3.45 tomorrow it is all off. Can you please explain to me exactly what that means, Minister?
In less than two minutes can I speak to the amendments. My position is to support the Greens amendments. I agree that we need to treat this as a serious issue. I agree that this is an issue of risk management. I urge my colleagues and my friends who say that they have doubts about the science to think of this in terms of risk management—there is no plan B, no planet B, if you are wrong and the scientists are right. That is why it is important that we have effective action. My difference with the government is that I do not think the targets are anywhere near high enough and I believe the scheme design is fundamentally flawed. I think there is a better way forward in terms of a scheme that is much more economically responsible and it is important that we avoid those tipping points that Senator Milne has mention, from which there is no return.
The reports of the World Meteorological Organisation, WMO, of just three days ago indicate that concentrations of greenhouse gases are at their highest levels ever recorded. There is a debate about anthropogenic climate change, but the issue is that there are so many credible scientists and peer reviewed articles saying that there is anthropogenic climate change that it would be an act of monumental folly not to consider that in formulating effective policy.
Finally, the minister made reference to Mr Turnbull’s speech and Margaret Thatcher saying 20 years ago that you need prudent action. I agree. ‘Prudent’ does not mean ‘cautious’; being prudent means doing what needs to be done to deal with the problem—in this case, to absolutely minimise the risks inherent in anthropogenic climate change in terms of the scientific evidence. That is why I support this amendment.
I have been waiting for a long time to get the call, but it has been interesting to listen to many aspects of this debate. Senator Milne has presented her case well. You listen to it and then you think about some of the things she said. Senator Milne is very supportive of a gross feed-in tariff and renewable energy. You might think, ‘Well, that’s wonderful,’ until all of a sudden you get a call from the sugar industry, who spent $300 million to put cogen in all their refineries, saying, ‘We’re losing $10 million a year.’
They are losing $10 million a year, Senator Wong, because people are putting photovoltaic cells on their roofs, pushing the price of RECs down. The RECs have to work out at around $50 a REC, and the REC price has collapsed to around $23 or $24, resulting in a loss of about $10 million per group of sugar mills.
Thank you for your protection, Madam Temporary Chairman. You might think: ‘Renewable energy: what a wonderful thing. Look at all those windmills out there pumping out electricity’—when the wind happens to blow. But, in real terms, these people are losing money because you designed a scheme—a much simpler scheme than the ETS—and it has been a dud. Those are people that have actually taken you at your word. I will tell you this, Senator Wong. When the sugar industry came to me and said, ‘We want to get into this renewable energy,’ I said: ‘Don’t touch it with a 40-foot barge pole. Walk away from it. You’re going to get caught.’ They said, ‘No, Senator Boswell, you promised us. We have invested money on the promise of the Liberals, Nationals, Greens and Labor.’ I said: ‘All right. My word’s my word. I’ll vote for the thing.’ And what happened? I was perfectly right. It has been a huge dud that is going to send some of these people into huge debt.
That is what you get when you take on board Senator Milne’s schemes. They are not practical. You can generate electricity with a squirrel running around in a cage, but it is not going to be terribly practical or give out a lot of power. Senator Milne seems to think: ‘We’ll up this a bit. We’ll go for a gross feed-in tariff.’ That means everyone who puts any power into the grid gets paid for it. You might think, ‘Wonderful, that’ll produce more renewable energy’—except that some poor small business people down there with half-a-dozen fridges or a couple of welders are paying the $50 or $20 rent, or whatever the rent is. It is subsidised. So no-one is winning out of this. Let us be practical on this.
This is probably the difference between this side of parliament and the Greens: the Greens are wonderful dreamers. They dream up all these wonderful things that are going to save the world. They do not worry about whether anyone else is going to be involved in it; it does not really matter to them. They want a target. The Greens never chase a majority vote. They are very happy with a 10 per cent vote. They say, ‘Drop the 90 per cent of the people, do not be practical, just go and get the zealots, the extreme greens, and we will get the five or six seats in the Senate, the conservation groups will hand out how to vote cards, we will get the preferences and we will control the Labor Party.’ A very simple equation! You would think that Senator Cameron would be in there backing the 1,200 people who are going to lose their jobs. Look at Yabulu today—
Where are the unions? Where is Doug Cameron? I have got some interesting polling here. This is done by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a credible group—certainly more credible than the Business Council of Australia or the industry groups who back two, four or any number of horses in a race, They backed a dud. Let us have a look at that polling. I would have thought it was the business groups that were against the ETS. No, I am wrong. I thought the small business people would be against the ETS. Yes, many businesses are against it, but who does the chamber believe is the greatest hater of the ETS? Of Australians who say that we should delay an ETS, 58 per cent are blue-collar workers. It gets as high as about 65 per cent in Queensland because of those who believe they are going to lose their jobs. Do not hold me to that figure, but if you want to look it up on your computer, Senator Cameron, you will find it under the chamber of commerce. These people want to delay it. They are quite happy, as Senator Macdonald said, to pay their share of the rent. But your blue-collar workers are getting very worried. They are being more vocal.
I, like every senator in this place—I do not suppose the Greens are getting any—had 350 emails today.
They were not all National Party emails. There were many people who were saying, ‘I’ve been a Labor voter all my life. I have only voted once for the Liberal Party and all my life I have voted Labor and I am never going to do it again. I pay my union fees, I am a proud blue-collar worker and these people that I support with my hard-earned union fees are just walking away from me.’ The National Party has more in common with the blue-collar worker. At least Senator Williams has been in a hot shearing shed, bent in half shearing 200 sheep for $250.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I have told you and you can look it up on your computer. I know you are skilled at this because you always get your riding instructions from the computer in Senate committees. I am a bit like Senator Macdonald; I am a practical person. I will pay my share of the rent when everyone else does. I am not sure whether climate change is real or if it is imagined. I cannot get any direction from the scientists. Half of them say one thing and half of them say another thing. I have lived on the water all my life. I live on a riverside property at Wynnum and I can tell you this: I observe the weather because I have been sailing all my life. Every morning I get up, look at the tide and where it has been, and I cannot see any noticeable change. If the tide was going to go up or the sea was going to rise I would have observed it.
We get all of these catastrophic predictions. A couple of weeks ago the Australian did an article based on tide charts and tide predictors. The change in tides is very minimal—0.05 per cent of a millimetre. I cannot see where the tide is rising, but Senator Milne assures me that it is. I always thought water found its own level. I have sailed on Moreton Bay and the Brisbane River since I was 12 and I cannot see the tide coming in. Neither can the Australian and neither can the people who chart the tides and the sea flow. Yes, it moves a bit—it moves up and it moves down—but apparently everywhere else in the world the tide moves up. It does not move up where I come from. I look at these things and I observe them—and I am a practical person. I have run my own business; I am a practical person. If you listen to Senator Milne, the world is coming to an end, we are all going to drown and I have to sell my riverside property. I am sorry, Senator Milne, but I do not accept that.
Here in Australia—and we are talking about whether or not the fire disasters are natural—the Australian Federal Police are already talking about remote satellite sensing and surveillance to enforce emissions trading. Yet will those same standards on climate change be enforced overseas by developing countries that spend Australia’s dollars? Senator Milne and I have been spectacularly unsuccessful trying to find out what it is going to cost the Australian people to fund the underdeveloped countries. But at least if we are going to pin our people down on fires—whether they are caused by lighting strikes, or are man-made or however they come about—by putting in surveillances, how are we going to know what caused the fires in some of the counties that we give a financial leg up to and how much CO2 is going to go into the air? This is another practical implication. We are putting all this sensing gear in and no-one knows what anyone else is going to do. Is the rest of the world going to follow this? Is the rest of the world going to do all these things or are we just going to pour money into overseas countries and not get a return for it?
When you can explain all these things, Senator Wong, you might get some of the people to back you. But you have been spectacularly unsuccessful in convincing the Australian population that they are going to get value for their buck. I think most of the Australian people would be practical: ‘If the rest of the world is going to do this, yes, put me down for my share.’ But no-one is prepared to carry the debt for the rest of the world. You would say: ‘Yes, the rest of the world has done things. China has given us a target and India has given us a target.’ They have given you a press release—that is what they have given you. You have taken it up lock, stock and barrel. When I see some legislation put down or some commitment to write legislation then I will say that you have achieved something. All you have achieved is getting a press release from China and India. President Obama is going to make minimal cuts. But I talked to them over there and they said there was no chance of getting this up. Next year is an election year and they will not put it up. There is a lot of opposition to it. You are going out there trying to lead the rest of the world. We are not convinced that you are going to achieve anything and therefore we are pretty worried about it.
My colleague and Senator Macdonald also are right in saying that you just have not come to grips with it. You have not given a full and proper answer to it and yet it is the crux of the whole debate. When you do I suspect that we will be able to move on. We probably will not agree with you but we do request that you give us a full and proper answer to this: Australia’s emissions are 1.4 per cent of world emissions and this scheme at its best—if it works or even if it gets up—will have the effect of a 0.2 per cent reduction in that 1.4 per cent. So we will then be emitting 1.2 per cent. I think Senator Macdonald added that if the Greens amendment just happens to get up by chance, it may reduce it down to 1.0 per cent of emissions. But we are dealing with the government’s target. We will reduce emissions by 0.2 per cent. If that is the case and the rest of the world is not signed up to and active in an agreement, what is the environmental purpose? We say that it is meaningless, and it is meaningless. It will not save the Great Barrier Reef. With a world agreement, as Senator Boswell put so well, we will all sign up and we will pay our rent. But until then, what is the environmental meaning behind it? It is meaningless.
You came in and started quoting that the United States had put down a target, Japan had put down a target and China had put down a target. You cannot fool us. You are across the debate with great detail, but we are across the debate too. We on this side have conviction. Do not doubt our conviction on this issue. That is just a debating point. You are starting to make debating points now, not real effective answers. I cannot even imagine you gave that answer with great conviction. The United States has put out a press release, to put it in its most simplistic form. It is an ambitious target; it is nothing more than that. Their senate at the moment is not willing to pass a scheme—far from it. It has gone into the ether. Let me tell you about China. I do not know if they have set themselves a target but they, and Japan, have said that they are going to look at reducing emissions by using alternative energies and fuels. And guess which one they are going to lean on the most? Nuclear power. There is a boom in the nuclear industry coming from a lot of these countries to lower their emissions. China has told us that they will increase their nuclear energy sources as a way of effectively reducing emissions. That is their idea. They have not got a scheme like this that penalises every one of their industries and I doubt if they ever will. We have dealt with China today—I know it is a sensitive issue with you.
Japan is the same. They are going to rely more and more on alternative energies and fuels, and that is a very good idea. That is why this side of the house supported the alternative fuel bill when it came through. We do believe in solar energy. We brought in the solar panel rebates, which you abolished—you halved and cut through them. It is a failing industry now. We set that industry up—solar panels on houses. Wind power—if you like it; I do not have much time for it—is another alternative energy source. We ought to be debating nuclear energy quite frankly. You are too frightened to. You have not got the sense or the political courage to put that on the table as every other country has. But I can tell you that there is a boom in the nuclear industry coming, but not in Australia. Every other country is now going to lurch towards nuclear power more than they already are, or they will introduce it, because that is the best way to reduce your emissions. It is clean, it is effective and it is cheap.
The EU scheme is often held up as the model. It is said that the EU has an emissions trading scheme. What a lot of rubbish—it is dormant! It does not really trade; it does not trade at all. Typically for the Europeans, I should add, they have set up a scheme but it is not working. It is not a real scheme; it is typically token. Why would France be interested? It is typically token. It is dormant. They are not trading, but if they are trading it is ineffective trading and it is certainly not lowering their emissions. So the European scheme is not a model at all. I think Australia must be the first country ever to want to pass a scheme at all.
I know those on the other side do not believe in business and the effect that all of this is going to have on business. We are not just standing here making that up; it is true. If this scheme passes it will have a devastating effect on our economy, on businesses. I have brought into this chamber my concerns, on which I will have more to say later, about the Victorian aluminium industry, the state’s biggest exporter. We have heard from Senator Macdonald about the nickel industry in Northern Queensland. Every senator on this side has brought in representations from their state about the effect on business. The reason we have done that is jobs. If there is no business, there will be no jobs for blue-collar workers. Senator Boswell was right: the blue-collar workers are turning on this. When you explain the system to them, that their jobs are at stake, they really do get worried. We are not just making this up; this is tested fact.
Where are the unions defending these jobs? Where are the unions pointing out to the government the effect that this will have on workers’ jobs? Where are they when the Minerals Council of Australia have found that 66,000 jobs will be lost, foregone forever? Rio Tinto have said that thousands of jobs will be lost. Xstrata Coal have said that between 5,000 and 10,000 jobs will be lost. In my state of Victoria at Alcoa’s Portland and Geelong plants 1,800 jobs are at risk. At the refinery in Altona, 350 jobs are at risk. BlueScope OneSteel have had a lot to say—they are talking about the jobs of 12,000 workers. These are not middle-management jobs and they are not executive jobs; these are workers’ jobs.
Just on 12 months ago there was a by-election in Gippsland, which includes the Latrobe Valley, the brown coal centre of Victoria and the source of its energy. The Latrobe Valley is typically a Labor area; there is no question about it. The National and Liberal parties ran candidates on this issue at this by-election over 12 months ago when the counterscience was not really out there, when climate change extremism was at its peak and when, if you dared question it, you would be burnt at the stake. If you look at the booth results from the Gippsland by-election when this issue was run—
On a point of order, Madam Temporary Chair: the point of order is relevance. We are now having a discussion on an amendment which I think has been before the chair for at least a couple of hours and Senator McGauran is talking about booth results. I see Senator Minchin, the former Leader Of the Opposition in the Senate, coming over to talk to Senator McGauran. For the leadership of the Liberal Party in this place to have allowed this sort of behaviour on this bill for this long is quite extraordinary.
Minister, the point of order is relevance. I think this is a very wide-ranging discussion. It has been ranging widely throughout the evening. Senator McGauran, I draw your attention to the amendment we are discussing.
In full cooperation with the minister, the question is: given the meaningless environmental effect that this scheme will have and the thousands of jobs that we are told will be lost, why does the minister not wait until the rest of the world is on board?
I move amendment (1) on sheet 5912:
(1) Clause 3, page 3 (line 24), omit “between 5% and 15%”, substitute “at least 20%”.
This amendment is similar in vein to the Greens amendment. I do not think it would be reasonable to revisit all the arguments that have been made previously. Senator Milne and Senator Bob Brown have articulated some of the concerns. Those who oppose higher targets have also articulated their concerns.
But I want to say briefly that, as my colleagues know, I commissioned, jointly with the coalition, modelling by Frontier Economics in terms of an alternative approach to an appropriate carbon pricing scheme. I have sought advice from Frontier Economics about having a higher target of 20 per cent. The advice I have received from Frontier is that whilst I have not undertaken modelling in respect of that—I cannot afford to undertake any more modelling; my pockets are not that deep—it is certainly feasible to have a higher target if you combine it with a number of other measures, such as a white certificate scheme in terms of energy abatement. If you moderate the cost of electricity increases, you will not need as much compensation, and I am sure I will have an opportunity later in this debate to discuss further the whole issue of Frontier and an intensity based approach.
I think it is important, in the context of this particular motion, that a higher target is possible. I think it is the appropriate thing to do in terms of risk management. I acknowledge that in increasing the reduction target there would be a reduction in carbon revenue to the government, but if the primary objective is to reduce emissions, not to raise revenue, then I think that is an appropriate trade-off. You will not need as much compensation if you adopt an intensity based scheme for the electricity sector. The likely loss to government revenue by increasing the target to 20 per cent by 2020 as a minimum would be around $2.4 billion a year, based on some calculations that have been provided to me. Again I acknowledge that there has not been modelling; I just do not have those resources.
I think there is also significant potential to abate emissions through a range of energy efficiency initiatives, the renewable energy target and white certificate schemes, and I think that having a higher target will actually drive investment and drive supplementary emissions reduction strategy. In the one minute and 30 seconds that I have left to articulate that, I commend this amendment to honourable senators. I indicate that I do not intend to divide in relation to this, but I will be dividing on my alternative fallback amendment—for the simple reason that that was modelled for the coalition and me. I thought that there was some support amongst coalition members for that alternative target of 10 per cent, although my preference is to support the 20 per cent target.
We have a great deal of sympathy for what Senator Xenophon is doing here, because it is raising the minimum target to at least 20 per cent from the prescription for failure of five per cent, which is in the legislation that the Rudd government has before us. However, we set our targets at a minimum of 25 per cent; we expect it ought to have been 40 per cent. After an exhaustive look at it, to go below that is really to drift away from where the global scientific nous is—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—and the dire need for us to act on climate change immediately to achieve a target of between 25 and 40 per cent. Senator Xenophon—through you, Madam Chair—we really appreciate this motion and the consequent one. While we will not be supporting them, they are a vast improvement on what the government has brought before us tonight.
We are seeing here tonight a historic debate in terms of national politics. Never before in Australian history has there been such tumult and such division in any major political entity over the issue of the environment, and we are seeing it playing out in this parliament as this Senate debate takes place. We are seeing a schism in the coalition which is going to echo down the years. We have not seen such division—
Senator Joyce, as I said before, this debate has ranged very widely over the last couple of hours and will continue to do so. I just draw your attention, Senator Brown, to the amendment to which you are speaking.
Yes, I thank Senator Joyce for that, and I will come to him shortly. The whole point here is a debate about what the settings should be in terms of Australia’s contribution and whether Australia should take a leadership role or any role at all. The Nationals have contended that we should be doing nothing until China, India and other countries around the world act. They are followers and the Greens are leaders.
Let me go back to why we are dealing with a spectrum of targets here tonight and why the Greens have set ourselves a 25 to 40 per cent target. While we have sympathy for it, we are not going to support Senator Xenophon’s very thoughtful amendment, consequent on the one just lost which Senator Milne brought before the Senate.
There is a deep division amongst the coalition parties—which were just recently the government and then, one would have thought, the potential government of this nation. They are now divided right down the middle on the issue of climate change, and I do not believe that there is going to be any healing of that division in the years ahead. The speech by the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, tonight showed that he understands where the world is going. He is in tune with thinking people right across this country. He understands that there is need for action on climate change, and he has staked his leadership on it. As a result there has been a rebellion, and that rebellion comes out of a deep scepticism which is itself fuelled by fear of taking action and confronting the vested interests, who are the polluting industries who do not want to see any of these targets reached but who have had their hand out for massive compensation. They have got $16 billion through the government legislation and, through the coalition negotiations, another $8 billion or $9 billion on top of that. Were the target to be lifted to 15 per cent under this legislation, there would potentially be another $7 billion or $8 billion on top of that.
When you look at where the coalition is on this, it is dog’s breakfast. It has no idea of what it is doing. In fact, for a good period when we resumed after dinner there were no Liberals in the chamber at all. I have never seen that before. The Nationals were Her Majesty’s opposition in the Senate as the party tried to sort out how it is going to stick together when it has no consensus on what to do about climate change. We are in a rapidly changing world where we are confronted with problems the like of which we have never seen before, and at the forefront of those is climate change. As Senator Milne laid out earlier, we are confronted with a deep crisis for all of humanity and the capital based party, the coalition, is fractured because it cannot get its head around that or know how to act on it.
The Labor Party, which is caught in the same bind, has offered $16 billion in compensation and then, after negotiating with the opposition, has taken $5 billion off households and put that into further compensation to the big polluters, as if rewarding the big polluters is going to be an answer to climate change. If the rest of the world does that then we are going to see a massive transfer of wealth across to the very problem—that is, the polluting industries starving the solution, which is energy efficiency, renewable energy, reforestation and the other carbon take-up alternatives that we need to go to rapidly.
Let us have no doubt that we are seeing an earthquake in Australian politics due to climate change. We are seeing a massive split in the conservative party, which has had cohesion since the middle of last century. We are seeing a party riven because it was not prepared for an environmental challenge of this magnitude, and we are seeing a party which does not—
Madam Temporary Chair, on a point of order: I am absolutely certain now that this has got nothing to do with Senator Xenophon’s amendment. If it is relevant in any way at all, you will be able to show me which part of his statement is relevant to Senator Xenophon’s amendment.
But for the exact opposite reasons, Senator Joyce. He is interjecting now because he is joining this debate and recognising its relevance. Senator Joyce wants no action at all because what is happening here is a transfer of wealth across to the coal industries and Senator Joyce represents a coal based party. It is backing the coal industry and it wants billions more put into infrastructure to export coal to burn in the rest of the world, threatening—
The National Party is the ‘coal’ in the word ‘coalition’. Ask the people of Gunnedah, the people of the Darling Downs, or the people in coastal Queensland who are confronted with this coal based party. It has lost direction. It does not know where it is going. Senator Joyce and his colleagues have been talking about the Greens on 10 per cent. We have overtaken the National Party in terms of voting base and there is one party in this chamber at the moment that knows where it is going on this issue. We have made that very clear. The Greens are steering straight through this because we are based in global scientific nous and knowledge and responsibility. We are absolutely sure of where we are going on this. When Senator Xenophon brings forward a noble amendment like this—
Let me say this to the interjecting Senator Joyce: if we had constructive amendments from the National Party, like those from Senator Xenophon, we would have something to discuss. You know what we have got? In the last hour we have seen amendments from the coalition, which made an agreement with the government the day before yesterday on the suite of legislation that we are now debating. Here is one faction of the coalition rushing in new amendments. Suddenly the agreement is splitting all over the place. So we have got four or five senators from the coalition bringing in new amendments. The coalition does not know where it is. It is riven and fractured and splitting in all directions. If they think a leadership change tomorrow or Monday is going to fix this, they are mightily mistaken.
Madam Temporary Chair, a point of order on the issue of relevance: Senator Brown has for 10 minutes now spent most of his time talking about the coalition and the coalition’s position, which has nothing to do with Senator Xenophon’s amendment. I would just ask you to draw the attention of Senator Brown to the issue of relevance and get him to address the actual amendment before the chair.
We are talking about 20 per cent and it is pertinent that Senator Barnett got up and drew our attention to it. The amendment I am speaking of is one moved by Senators Cormann, Cash, Back, Eggleston and Adams. Apparently they have sheared off from the coalition. Senator Barnett is still there, so far as we know. We will wait and see what happens when this amendment comes up but, with the way the coalition is, I could not predict from him being there tonight that he is going to be there tomorrow. There have been more coalition members in the corridors tonight than there have been in the chamber. Talk about climate change—there is one thing moving faster than climate change in this parliament and it is the consideration of the coalition. We are seeing a different prescription every hour of the day.
It is very important that we understand what is happening here. Climate change is deeply changing the politics of Australia. I predict a very different future for this coalition, who were in office for all those years in the last half century. On the issues of how deeply we should be attacking this problem—such as what is contained in the very amendment before us—it is difficult for the Greens to say, ‘Yes, we’ll put the limit at 25, but we’re going to call it a negative on 20 per cent.’ We have thought deeply about that. That has been discussed at great length in our party room. We have had the advice from a whole range of scientific and economic experts on this. But, when it comes to the coalition, it does not know how it is going to handle a climate emergency because it has always based its policies on capital and money.
What the Greens are putting forward through our amendments is a prescription for a healthy economy into the future—a la Sir Nicholas Stern, former World Bank chief economist and advisor to the Blair government, who came to Australia and made it very clear that those economies which move in the green direction are going to be the healthiest economies in the world in the decades to come. Here are the Greens advocating economic health and wellbeing into the future, as the coalition—which once held a banner on that—fractures and does not know where it is going. I thank Senator Xenophon for this amendment. It is a difficult one, Senator Xenophon. We are not going to support it, but we congratulate you for putting that alternative before the chamber. We will be very interested to see which components of the opposition, if any, give it support. The Greens will be united on this. I could not guess where the coalition will be voting.
For the last 15 minutes, the Greens have given us an expose on everything but Senator Xenophon’s amendment. But that is not unusual for the Greens. That is the way they work. They are here for the fantastic but not for the details. The Greens are the party that supported the Labor Party that supported Traveston Dam. By supporting the Labor Party, they supported the construction of Traveston Dam. Yet, later on, we find them floating around in kayaks on the Mary River. It does not matter; it just matters what time of day they will have a different position on it.
The Greens have a position for every moment of the day. They are either in kayaks or supporting the Labor Party in building Traveston Dam; then they come in here and try to be relevant and authentic.
A great deal of work has gone into Senator Xenophon’s amendment. In relation to part 12, clause 167, page 207, after line 10, after subclause (1) where the amendment inserts subclauses, we have queries concerning:
… free Australian emissions units … in accordance with the program ...
And we have queries in relation to subclause (1H) and ‘10 months’. These are issues that we think need further investigation. On ‘five per cent and 15 per cent’ and ‘at least 20 per cent’, it would be dangerous to go to this detail without further investigation. The same applies to subclause (1A) and ‘at least 10 per cent’.
Although these gestures appear to be noble, the National Party have concerns about the extent to which they take us. Senator Xenophon’s position is far more relevant and approachable than what the Australian Labor Party have put forward, which is a complete and utter disaster for our economy. I commend Senator Xenophon for the work he has put into this. The National Party will not support it. We will not spend the whole night damning him with faint praise, which is what the Greens just did before they got to the crucial part: that they are not going to support it. Senator Xenophon, thank you very much for the work you have done on this, but the National Party will not be supporting it. As for the Greens, they are totally off with the fairies.
I have a question for Senator Xenophon and/or the minister. I cannot see the merit of proceeding with this type of legislation before us prior to Copenhagen and prior to legislation in place from our major trading partners. If this amendment is passed and the bill is passed, locking us into at least 20 per cent—based on the amendment before us—what are the consequences for Australia, hypothetically, if another target is locked in in the US under the Waxman-Markey bill? What are the consequences if China and India do not act in a consistent or largely consistent manner? Surely Australia will suffer a competitive disadvantage, whether it be in agriculture, manufacturing or any of our export industries? These are the questions I ask. I will not be long. I just want to ask those questions and see if there is an answer to say, ‘Yes, we can guarantee that Australian industry, Australian jobs and Australian families will not be put at a disadvantage as a result of locking that amendment into this legislation.’ I guess you can say the same with respect to the government’s bill.
So I ask that question. I am not sure if I will get an answer, but I think it is a fair question. I know Senator Xenophon has put a lot of work into this, and I do appreciate that and the amendment before us. Can you provide a guarantee that Australian families, Australian small business and Australian workers will not be disadvantaged as a result of locking in this amendment, this legislation, prior to Copenhagen, prior to the US legislation, prior to China, India and our other major trading partners locking in like legislation? That is the question I have. I stand to be convinced.
I thank Senator Barnett for his question. Perhaps a better way of putting it in terms of what can be guaranteed is to talk about people being worse off. How much worse off will we be if we reach a tipping point when it comes to climate change? How much worse off will we be if there are 1.4 billion climate change refugees by 2050—according to the IPCC?
You were there, of course. I think it is fair to say that Senator Heffernan, as he often does, was looking at the big picture in terms of the potential catastrophe we face. This is about risk management. Whether you want to take that quote from Mr Turnbull or Margaret Thatcher, you can take your pick. But it is important to think about what the consequences will be if we do not act decisively in relation to this. It is a question of fundamental risk management and avoiding a tipping point. In relation to the matters that Senator Barnett raised, these higher targets are predicated on having an intensity based level with respect to the electricity, which, on the basis of the Frontier modelling, I believe is a much more effective way of achieving these targets. I will be moving amendments on the whole issue of an intensity based scheme later on.
I am very mindful of sticking to the point, to be as strictly relevant as possible so that these matters can be dealt with expeditiously, but I would urge Senator Barnett to consider the bigger picture of what the impact will be. If you are going to manage the risk then you should manage the risk on the basis of lower costs to the economy whilst you maximise the environmental benefits. I appreciate that the government disagrees with me on the Frontier approach, but that is my motivation for moving this amendment and it should be considered in the context of the other amendments with respect to having an intensity based scheme.
I thank Senator Xenophon for his response. Can I also thank and congratulate him for his contribution via the Frontier modelling that he in part commissioned with some of his own funds. That is appreciated. I think it has helped inform the debate.
That is one of the key points. Your response has helped inform the debate. You referred to the big picture, and 1.5 million climate refugees is the view that was put. But you referred to risk management, which is exactly the point. Yesterday I supported the motion put in this Senate that, yes, we should have scrutiny, we should have a review. Why not use the risk management principle that has been espoused by Mr Turnbull, Mrs Thatcher and indeed others, including senators in this place, to have the scrutiny of a review? I am not an expert. I do not know whether that figure of 1.5 million refugees is exact. I do not know whether the figures you have put before us are absolutely accurate. That is why the legislation before us and the amendment before us need property scrutiny. The idea of having further review and scrutiny, perhaps before a Senate committee, has great merit. That is why I supported it yesterday and I hope that in due course we will have an opportunity to provide further support for such a review to, as you put it, Senator Xenophon, ensure risk management takes place and proper scrutiny occurs.
It is disappointing that Senator Brown spent his time reflecting on the political climate in which we find ourselves when he really should have been addressing himself to the amendment put by Senator Xenophon, particularly when he is never going to be faced with being in government and will never face the responsibility—
Thank you, Madam Chair. I have developed an admiration for the minister. I think she is a person of intelligence and seriousness and I think she has addressed herself over time with a high degree of diligence. But this brings me to the whole question of risk. Senator Xenophon just mentioned the question of 20 per cent or five per cent—whatever the percentage is—and it is a shame that Senator Brown is not here, because it might have helped him to comprehend why there is such spirited discussion. I say to the minister, through you, Madam Chair, that as someone new to this chamber and from a background of business and government for 30 years, one of the greatest concerns I have—and I am not being political here—is that I see not one person from your side of the chamber questioning the validity of this.
Sitting suspended from 11.00 pm to 9.30 am Friday, 27 November 2009
See House of Representatives Hansard, 26 June 2008, p6131 and 4 December 2008, p12623, and Journals of the Senate, 4 December 2008, p1447.