Senate debates

Monday, 30 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]

Third Reading

9:23 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the 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) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2] and Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2] be now read a third time.

At the outset of this debate, I urged this Senate and this parliament not to fall short on the great national challenge of climate change. The government urged the opposition to act not in the party interest but in the national interest, to look not at party political advantage or party political interest but at the national interest, because this is an issue of the national interest. How far short did we fall? How far short did this chamber fall? How far short of the mark is this Senate? How far short of the mark is the opposition? Who would have thought that not only would a party’s interest triumph over the national interest but an extreme wing of the Liberal Party’s interests triumphed over the national interest. What we know and what we have seen tonight in this place and in these last days of the parliament is the hijacking of the future and the hijacking of the national interest by extremists—people who will do whatever it takes to stop action on climate change.

What we have seen in this place and in this parliament in recent days is unprecedented. Who would have thought that a party would so want to avoid action on climate change that it would be prepared to tear down its own leader? Who would have thought that some with extreme views inside a party would have been so opposed to acting in the national interest that they would be prepared to split their party, that they would be prepared to campaign against their own party and their own party’s decisions in order to spoil any chance of acting for the benefit of future generations? That is what has happened in this parliament in this last week. That, I predict, is what most, if not all of them, will do tonight or when this legislation is voted on.

The laws on which we are about to vote give Australia an opportunity that has been a long time coming, because with these laws this nation has the opportunity to move forward. After a decade of inaction, after a decade of neglect and after more than a decade of looking backwards, we decided to turn from the past and to face a future where we gave our children the opportunities we want for ourselves—the opportunity to pay respect to this nation’s great gifts, to preserve them and to ensure they survive beyond our own generation and the opportunity to prepare Australia’s economy for the new global economy. This scheme is all about beginning a responsible transformation to a clean green economy. This is a process that will take many years but it is urgent that it starts now so that we can capitalise on the opportunities and keep the costs low. What we know is that delay will simply increase the price tag. We know that. We had how many years of delay under those opposite? It is 10 years since the first report on emissions trading was handed to those on that side of the chamber. Since that time, work has been done under Prime Minister Howard and under this government for the introduction of this scheme.

Let us remember that this scheme will enable this nation for the first time in its history to start reducing its contribution to climate change. That is what this scheme is about. By 2020 this scheme would ensure that we could take, for example, up to 138 million tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere that otherwise would have been there.

There has been a lot of talk about jobs. Let us remember what the Treasury modelling told us: all major employment sectors will grow to the years 2020 and there will be an increase of 1.7 million jobs from 2008 to 2020 at the same time as we will be reducing emissions. What we know is that we can do this. We can grow our economy, we can increase the number of jobs in this nation and we can tackle climate change. But the reality is that those opposite will say and do anything to avoid action on climate change. I just remind everyone again, if we need reminding, of just how far to the extreme end of this debate they have gone. I remind them again of their policy before the election. On the front page of a newspaper was a picture of Mark Vaile, Peter Costello and John Howard

They’re not in the parliament anymore, you might have noticed.

This was your election policy. This was the election policy with which you went to the election. This is the commitment you made to the Australian people when you said, ‘We too will take action on climate change.’ What did you say in that policy? You committed to establishing an emissions trading scheme—what you described as the ‘most comprehensive in the world’—to enable the market to determine the most efficient means of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. That is what you committed to. Now John Howard looks green by comparison with this Liberal Party. This Liberal Party is browner than John Howard.

If these bills are voted down, the Australian people will know that the first act of Mr Abbott as Leader of the Opposition was to block action on climate change—that the first act of the newly elected Leader of the Opposition was to block action on climate change—and that will define his leadership, an action characterised by the extremists in his own party and an action that is a breach of your own election commitment. That is how his leadership will commence. His first act: to seek to block action on climate change.

I have said for some time that, as we get closer to the possibility of action, those who have opposed this for years will get louder, shriller and more desperate. We know that they will do and say anything to avoid taking action on climate change. They have had three tactics: they denied the science—

More myths than MythBusters!

I will take that injection from Senator Bernardi, who is known for his measured and even-handed approach to this issue. They have three tactics. The first is denial of the science, as if we had not had enough warnings as leaders in this place—as elected representatives in this place of the Australian people—of what climate change means to us. Then, if that becomes too unpalatable, they try and hide behind delay. They say: ‘We’re rushing too much. We’re not thinking about this enough.’ After days in this place and the second time this bill has been before the parliament I do not think anybody believes there is any danger of the opposition rushing. Nobody believes that you are rushing. What you are doing is resisting every millimetre of the way.

Let us remember—and I have said it before and I will say it again—this legislation has been before this parliament in draft form first since May and it has already been before the Senate chamber. This issue has been the subject of 13 inquiries by House of Representatives, Senate and joint committees. On this issue—and I will come back to their third tactic—when people on the other side of the chamber ask for delay, there is really only one question they need to be asked: would anything change? With views such as the ones that have been espoused by your party and your members, does anybody honestly believe that more time would change your minds? It would not.

So the first tactic is denial, the second is delay and the third is, of course, the scare campaign, the last refuge of those who want to avoid action. It is a truism in politics that it is always easier to make people frightened than to inspire people to change. It is true: it is easier to frighten people than to inspire them to change. It is a mark of how desperate these extremists are that that is now where they are. They want to frighten people, they want to run a scare campaign and they want to tell untruths, as they have consistently done, about the science and about the implications of this policy, which was also their policy.

Opposition senators interjecting

Order on my left! For those wishing to participate in the debate, there is a third reading debate which you can participate in at any stage when you seek the call.

Thank you, Mr President. As I said, it is always easier to seek to frighten people and run a scare campaign than to effect change. So we can expect a long scare campaign from those opposite, full of lies, full of misinformation and full of hyperbole. We can expect that and we know that. That is in many ways disappointing, but we will fight it. Both the parties of government went to the last election promising action on climate change. That the country is now back at a time where we are denying the science and being too frightened to act is really an enormous shame and one that stains the reputation of the Liberal Party.

We can expect phrases such as we have heard in the chamber from Senator Joyce and Senator Abetz, but of course what they never say, what they never tell Australians and what they never talk about is the cost of failing to act. They never talk about that. They never talk about the effect on agriculture. They never talk about the increased droughts. They never talk about the extreme weather events. They never talk about the higher risk of bushfires. They never talk about the science. They never talk about the effect on Australia’s agricultural exports. Most of all, they never talk about what this means for the next generation.

What makes this reform difficult and why the parliament was called on to show some leadership is that this is a reform in which this generation of Australian political leaders is asking Australians now to do something to reduce the risk for their children and their grandchildren. That is not an easy thing to do. It does require leadership across the parliament. That is why the government in good faith sought to negotiate with those opposite. We understand this is a long-lasting reform. This is a difficult reform, but it is a reform in the national interest. That is why we sought to negotiate and come to an agreement.

We know there will be a scare campaign and there may well be a whole range of illusory policies that pretend to do something about climate change while not actually changing very much at all. I remind those opposite that even Prime Minister Howard was more honest than them in this when he said:

... the idea that you can bring about changes that are needed and which many people have advocated, without there being any impact at all at any time on the cost to the consumer, is quite unrealistic.

One of the things the coalition never answer is: what is the difference? What is the difference between the policy they took to the last election and our policy? They had the opportunity in this chamber to move amendments to this legislation to make it more like their ETS, the one they say John Howard would have introduced, but they did not choose to do that. The reality is there are no free rides when it comes to tackling climate change. It is not an easy reform; if it were easy, it would have been done. It has not been done because there have been too many people in this parliament and in the opposition, formerly in government, who have not wanted to act. The reality is that they are still blocking action against climate change.

It is disappointing for this nation that has looked to these parties to act on climate change to see the level to which the debate has now descended and to see the fact that there has been a hijacking of this debate by some holding extreme views, who are fighting the current and who are wanting to return to the past. I am reminded of the Work Choices vote, where on the third reading I said, ‘We may lose this vote but we will not be beaten’. I say this to those senators opposite: we will not take a backward step. We on this side of the chamber will not take a backward step. We will not let these extreme views prevail. We will continue to press for action on climate change.

We made a commitment to the Australian people that we would act on climate change. It is a commitment we take seriously and, unlike those opposite, we are not prepared to abandon the future. We will not abandon action on climate change. We are not going to be spooked by the scare campaign that we know you will run, because we know that Australians want action on climate change. You are not good for action for the future; what you are good for is action for the past. You have demonstrated in this parliament in these last few weeks that you are truly a party of the past. We are a party and a government committed to the future. We will not abandon action on climate change. We on this side of the chamber will continue to act in the national interest and in our children’s interests for as long as it takes to deliver action on climate change because it is the right thing to do.

9:40 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

First of all, I would like to thank the Australian Labor Party for doing something, and that is to unify this side of the parliament to take you on. It is this side of the parliament that is going to take you on piece by piece by piece on every aspect of this. It is this side of the parliament that is going to take you on on how absolutely absurd this scheme is. Let us just start with the semblance of what this is. The minister has—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Joyce, I will wait until there is silence. I sought that Senator Wong be heard in reasonable silence. I expect the same courtesy to be given to Senator Joyce.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us go through piece by piece what the minister has said. She has said that it is the coalition, the Greens and the Independents who are going to mount this fear campaign. Let us hear what she has said over the last couple of days. She has talked about droughts. Will the ETS fix the drought, Minister? No, it will not. She has talked about the Great Barrier Reef. Will the ETS cure the Great Barrier Reef? No, it will not. Will the ETS stop Greenland from thawing? No, it will not. Will the ETS stop the Murray-Darling Basin in its reduction? No, it will not. Then she talked about deaths, the hundreds and thousands of deaths. Will the ETS stop that? No, it will not. Even in her closing speech, she talked about bushfires. Is the ETS going to stop the bushfires, Minister—is that what it is going to do? Is your ETS, conducted from your room in the bottom storey of a building in Canberra, going to stop the bushfires, Minister? No, it will not.

We have all the way through this debate asked you two clear questions which you have refused to give, been unable to give or avoided giving the answer to. We asked: how many parts per million will the Australian ETS reduce global emissions by? Gee, we have never got an answer—not once has she given us an answer. Calamitous statements in abundance, we have had those—calamitous statements that you can take the whole family out the dinner on—but she has never answered that question. She has never drilled down to the science. She has never been decisive. She has never once answered the question of exactly what this will do.

We asked the minister: how much will this ETS reduce the temperature of the globe by? Never once did she even attempt an answer because this is a Labor Party gesture for Kevin Rudd to go to Copenhagen with—that is all it is. This massive new tax that will be lumbered on the Australian working family will do nothing to change the temperature of the globe. It is the most self-indulgent, hypocritical statement by a government of this time, but the Australian people are awake to you and the gig is up.

We have asked what exactly this massive new tax will do. The minister talks about the 130 million tonnes that it will reduce global carbon by, but what is that on the scale of global emissions? How much has she reflected that to exactly where China or India are and what will happen if we do not have a global solution? She has refused to engage with the propositions from the conservative side of government, the Greens, the Independents and the people throughout the community who have a differing view to the government. She has never once clearly mounted a case as to why we cannot delay now for merely days till Copenhagen—merely days.

How conceited are you, Minister? How arrogant have you become? How belligerent has this Labor Party become? All the time you would taunt us, when we were formerly in government, about arrogance, and it has taken you merely a couple of years, and look at what you have become: this arrogant monster that will not wait days till Copenhagen. What is wrong with you that you cannot wait days till Copenhagen? You refuse. Your belligerence has become so apparent to the Australian people. You will not wait merely a matter of days to go to Copenhagen.

We hear about your modelling. The modelling is based on 2008 modelling, but the minister refuses to concede exactly where the modelling is. We have had Danny Price and Frontier Economics clearly spell out the holes that are in the modelling, but once more we have absconded from dealing with the reality that the modelling is flawed. Yet we march relentlessly on. You will pursue your course despite the expense to the Australian economy, to Australian jobs and to Australian working families.

You do not care about working families. You were going to ‘ease the squeeze’ on working families, and what are you going to do to working families? You are going to put working families out of work. You are going to make pensioners poorer. You are going to put farming families off the farm. That is what you are going to do. That is the indictment on you in relation to Australian working families: a massive new tax in every corner of their life, from every power point, every time they iron their clothes, cook their dinner—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Collins, constant interjection is disorderly. Order! You are entitled to be heard in silence, Senator Joyce.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr President. We know the Labor Party are girding their loins, but I say to the Australian Labor Party: bring it on. We will have the fight, because we will say to the Australian public: ‘It is quite simple: if you don’t understand this tax, do not vote for it. Do not vote for this massive new tax.’ That is a clear representation. We will say to the Australian public: ‘If you believe that this massive new tax is going to change the climate, go right ahead.’ But we say to the Australian public that this massive new tax is nothing more than a self-indulgent, conceited gesture from the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. This massive new tax has absolutely no capacity whatsoever to do anything to the climate. So we say to the Australian public, ‘If you do not understand this tax, do not vote for it.’ We say to the Australian public, ‘If you do not want to pay more for your power to run your air conditioner, do not vote for the Australian Labor Party.’ We say to the Australian public, ‘If you do not want to pay more for food, do not vote for the Australian Labor Party.’ We say to the Australian public, ‘If you do not want to pay more for the slab of concrete to build a house on, do not vote for the Australian Labor Party.’ We say to the Australian public, ‘If you do not want to pay more for the steel purlins and trusses in your roof, do not vote for the Australian Labor Party.’

The Australian Labor Party are a party of big taxers and big government, a party that will come into your wallets and rip the money out of your wallets to put it in the pockets of Mr Kevin Rudd and the Treasury. But on the way through they will help the brokers, the bankers and the bureaucrats out. They are going to help them out, but they are not going to help the working families out. They are not going to ease the squeeze on working families. So we look forward to the election, because this will be a debate about how much tax you can rip out of the Australian working families’ pockets.

It has nothing to do with the climate. You have never, ever, in your whole time in committee, been able to prove a connection between this tax and a reduction in global emissions. You could not do it. You refused to do it. Every time we openly questioned you on it, you just resorted to calamitous statements. It is always about calamitous statements. When you cannot prosecute the debate, you resort to calamitous statements. Then you talk about the last election. If you believe the premise of our last election was the ETS that we took to the election, might I remind you that we lost? So, if that is the case, what an indictment it is on your proposition that we should continue with a policy that obviously did not obtain us the treasury bench! You believe it is so pertinent, but it has been rejected by the Australian people, and therefore the pertinent thing to do—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you saying that the reason you won an election was an ETS? I thought you won it on IR, but apparently you won it on the ETS. Apparently that is the reason you won the election. Apparently the whole reason for the Labor Party to exist is the ETS. That is the Labor Party, ladies and gentlemen. That is the Labor Party to the Australian public: it is a representation of a massive new tax. That is what it stands for. That is what it is now standing for. The Labor Party is a massive new tax to be foisted on working families throughout our nation. That is what it has become. We will prosecute this debate that it is nothing more than a massive new tax. That is what it has evolved into. So now we have the global—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Apparently it is about leadership. You see, because we cannot change things, it is about leadership. Mr Rudd is apparently going to lead the globe. Is that it? Is that what we have to believe now—that Mr Rudd is going to lead the globe? Well, this is interesting: the new concept of unilateral movement from Australia. So what is it that we have to wait for next from Mr Rudd? Is Mr Rudd going to have regime change in Zimbabwe? Is Mr Rudd going to change the lives of the people of the southern Sudan and expel the Janjaweed? Is Mr Rudd going to fix up the crisis in North Korea? What else can Mr Rudd do in the unilateral movement by Mr Rudd? He is a global leader! But he is a global leader in the amorphous and the nebulous; he is not a global leader in the actual. He cannot actually do anything.

Now we see him over in America, and we are led to believe that Barack Obama, who tosses and turns at night, will reach over, pat Michelle on the shoulder and say, ‘Michelle, I can’t sleep tonight because I’m so worried about where Kevin is on climate policy.’ Is that the new global paradigm—that Hu Jintao will be calling back his troops from the 60th anniversary celebration of the communist government and saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about Kevin’s climate policy,’ and that Manmohan Singh in India will say, ‘We’ve got 1.1 billion people in poverty, but we can’t go further because we’ve got to worry about Kevin Rudd’s climate policy’? I do not think so.

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can interject and I can understand why you would, because you have been prosecuting this case, but the fact is that this massive new tax will not change the temperature of the globe. This massive new tax that you are putting on working families will put working families out of work, will make pensioners poorer and will put family farmers off the farm. This is when the reality of the economy comes up to mug you. The reality of the economy is that we are an exporting nation. We rely on the export, predominantly, of our mineral wealth. Yet what does this massive new tax attack—the capacity for us to export.

This is what we have. The Labor Party has said to us, ‘We will replace those mining jobs in Western Australia, those mining jobs in Queensland, those mining jobs in the Hunter Valley’—mind you, there are Labor seats in the Hunter Valley, including Minister Combet’s—‘the jobs of the working families in the Hunter Valley, the jobs of the working families in the Illawarra and the jobs of the working families in Dawson with green jobs.’

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Collins, I have advised you before that it is disorderly to interject. To constantly interject is completely disorderly.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

However, no-one, it seems, has ever met the people who have these green jobs. They are out there somewhere. It is like Alice in Wonderland. Somewhere out there is a person with a green job, but we never bump into them.

Where are these green jobs—the tens of thousands of green jobs that are apparently going to be created? You are going to replace the jobs of your working families and the jobs of your hard-working blue-collar workers with jobs for people who do what—build footpaths around duck ponds? There will be subsidised jobs for people who change light globes. We are seeing this sort of nebulous reconstruction of the numbers to try and proffer the government’s case, but where, exactly, will these people actually have work?

We have heard that apparently the coal industry is evil and must be killed, that we will remove it from our nation and that apparently everything to do with mining is evil. The whole premise of this debate is the need for a pricing mechanism for carbon and to price carbon out of the market. Unfortunately, our major export is carbon, but let’s put that aside. Let’s not worry about that. Let’s not worry about the reality of economics.

This comes from the Prime Minister who said that he is an economic conservative. What has the economic conservative done lately? The economic conservative has foisted this massive new tax on the Australian people without so much as one hour of an inquiry on the amendments—not one hour of a Senate Economics Legislation Committee inquiry on the amendments. That is what the economic conservative has done. With a $14 billion turnaround, we have not had one hour of an economic inquiry. Why—because he needs it to go to Copenhagen.

Let me summarise what Senator Wong has said. Her first argument against us in the debate was that it is a denial of the science. We do not deny the science. We do not even engage in the science. It is not a debate about science, Minister. It is a debate about the economy. It’s the economy, stupid. That is what this is about. It is about whether we can maintain working families in work, whether we can maintain pensioners in their homes, whether we can maintain family farmers on their farms and whether we can maintain Australian small businesses in business.

Next, she said that it is about delay. We are just delaying, she said, yet she is not prepared to wait a matter of days until Copenhagen. How conceited and arrogant the Labor Party have become. They are not prepared to wait a matter of days until Copenhagen. Then we heard the minister talk about ‘13 inquiries’, but never once did she mention the fact that, with a $14 billion turnaround—an $8½ billion increase in costs and a $5½ billion reduction in costs—she is not prepared to have one hour of an economics inquiry.

The final argument was that the coalition’s position was premised on a scare campaign. In fact, the mother of all scare campaigns has been mounted by the Australian Labor Party. Every time you get yourself into a corner where you cannot answer the economics questions, you revert to questions about Greenland, questions about the Arctic, questions about the Antarctic, questions about drought and questions about global warming, but you never answer the fundamental question: how many parts per million does your scheme reduce emissions by? You will not answer it.

This is a poorly thought out scheme. It is too poorly to be implemented. It is going to leave our nation poor. I thank you, Minister, and I thank the Labor Party for having the capacity to come up with such a ridiculous scheme. Now it looks as if you propose—and we can only hear what you are saying—to go to an election on it, possibly. I welcome that opportunity and we on this side welcome that opportunity. We welcome the opportunity to go to the Australian people to clearly spell out to every man, woman and child that what the Australian Labor Party proposes for the future of our nation is a massive new tax.

This is their grand vision—a massive new tax on every corner of Australian life. This is a massive new tax which you cannot get away from. From every power point of your house comes a massive new tax. When you watch your television, there will be a massive new tax. When you iron your clothes, there will be a massive new tax. When you cook the dinner, there will be a massive new tax.

You cannot get out of this massive new tax. This massive new tax, once it is in place, is a property right. You have to live with it. As far as Australia is concerned, once the massive new tax of the Australian Labor Party, known as the ETS, is in place, it is there forever. We cannot get rid of it. It is a compensatable property right and we do not have the capacity to pay for it.

Under this massive new tax of the Australian Labor Party, they will be signing us up to an agreement as a result of which we will be borrowing money from China to pay the interest to China to send back to China to develop China. That is one of the examples, in minutia, of how patently absurd this scheme is. Under this scheme of the Australian Labor Party, we will be borrowing money from China, from Japan and from other nations to send to Robert Mugabe. Why? I do not know. They just conjured it up. This is part of the scheme of the Australian Labor Party. This is what they want to do. This is how they are helping you, Australian working families.

This is what they are going to do and, every time, they will say it is in order to reduce the temperature of the globe. Surely that is what this debate is about, yet never once has the minister been able to quantify and be decisive in her answer. She has absconded from the reality of the answer.

Sitting suspended from 10.00 pm to 10.00 am Wednesday, 2 December 2009

02/12/2009Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. John Hogg) took the chair at 10 am and read prayers.

I think I am still sweating from last night, so I will make this brief—because I have to. In this crucial economic debate—one of the most crucial economic debates of our times—to stop this massive new tax being imposed by the Australian Labor Party on working families, pensioners and farmers, there are a number of people who need to be thanked for being able to change the sentiment of this parliament. First of all, I would like to thank my colleagues Fi, Wacka, Bozzie and Nige—wherever you are—and also everybody else for the support we have had from them. You cannot do it without a team, and they have been unrelenting in their support.

Most importantly, I think we have to thank the Australian people. The response from the Australian people was absolutely awesome. It was overwhelming. From talkback radio to the papers to the blog sites, it is the Australian people who have spoken and changed the direction on this, and it is absolutely humbling to see the tens of thousands of emails we have received. The Australian people are going to be the greatest winners on this, and I thank them for their support.

10:02 am

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

We have before the Senate the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation which has ‘failure’ written over it in terms of tackling climate change but which is nevertheless a response to what the opposition and the last speaker have described as the greatest infrastructure change in Australia since the Second World War. The problem that confronts both the government and the opposition today is that they reached a pact which, in the centre of it, transferred $24 billion from Australians to the big polluters in compensation for their polluting activities, which are at the core of climate change threatening the planet.

In amongst this arrangement which the opposition made but is now going to vote against—in other words, the amendments to the government legislation from the coalition accepted by the government, which the coalition is now going to vote down itself—is a transfer of $6 billion from Australian households across to the big polluters. It shows the power of the coal industry, the aluminium industry, the cement industry, the logging industry and the big polluters over the two big parties in this parliament, against the interests of the average Australian.

That transfer of $6 billion from households to the big polluters, under the duress of an opposition which is now saying it is going to vote even against that, was a monumental mistake by the government, which should instead have been negotiating with the Australian Greens. We have in this legislation a suite of amendments put forward by my colleague Senator Milne on behalf of the Australian Greens which would have made this truly world-class legislation for tackling climate change. At the heart of those amendments is a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 per cent of 1990 levels come 2020. That target is set by the world scientific nous in 2009, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What the Greens have put to this parliament is coming from what the world body of expertise is saying is appropriate action—and minimal action at that—if we are to tackle climate change.

I remind the chamber of Sir Nicholas Stern telling this parliament and this nation two years ago that, if we do not act on climate change, our children and grandchildren will pay the penalty. Sir Nicholas, who we heard again yesterday talking about the need for appropriate and proper action, has pointed out that what is required is a commitment of two per cent of gross global product to tackling dangerous climate change now and that, if we do not do this, our children and grandchildren will be facing a six to 20 per cent diversion of their wealth—shared with a much greater population on a much smaller resource base on this planet—50 or 100 years from now.

I know the Prime Minister has said that we must act for our children and our grandchildren, but the question is: do we act according to the world’s brains trust or do we act according to the pressure of the big polluters? The government chose the big polluters, and when the opposition got into the negotiating room with the government it went even further in the direction of the big polluters, against the interests of the children and grandchildren that the Prime Minister was talking about.

We contacted and spoke with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and Water in the negotiating process, where effectively the government decided that it was going to court the coalition to come to an agreement in this parliament. It was a disastrous tactic, as we are finding out now, with a coalition overtaken by the sceptics, which is going to renege on that agreement. On 5 November, after a meeting with the minister for climate change, Senator Penny Wong, I wrote: ‘Thank you for your recent meeting to discuss ways forward with the climate change legislation. I have taken to the Australian Greens party room the government’s proposal that the Greens amendments be negotiated, except the all-important targets for greenhouse gas reduction—the government’s five to 25 per cent, the Greens’ 25 to 40 per cent. The Greens have set no equivalent precondition. The Greens position is affirmed; we are ready to negotiate the whole package but want the fundamental targets included in that negotiation. We understand that the government insists on not negotiating its targets. Nevertheless, we ask you to reconsider so that a search for reasonable compromise can be undertaken with full goodwill on both sides.’ But this government refused. It was being selective and it refused to look at the fundamental of tackling climate change, which is setting targets which the scientists tell us must be at least 25 to 40 per cent for developing countries like Australia.

At stake here is the future of this nation, which is more vulnerable to climate change than any other nation on earth and which is already experiencing damage to its economy, damage to its lifestyle and damage to its environment second to no other country on the planet except, perhaps, our neighbouring small island states, which have their whole future at stake. Isn’t it significant that when it comes to the Abbott coalition taking up this final debate on this all-important matter, more important than any other before this parliament this year, it was not Senator Nick Minchin, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who got up to speak? It was not Senator Abetz, Senator Parry, Senator Brandis or any Liberal on the front bench. They put it across to the tub-thumping Leader of the National Party, Senator Joyce. This is Senator Joyce, who has taken his National Party from being a defender of the bush to being a defender of the big coalminers. This is Senator Joyce, who was behind—until we came to the change of leadership this week—$5 billion going from households across to the big coalminers but has now been at the forefront of scepticism and the scuttling of the agreement made between the Rudd government and the then Turnbull opposition.

The National Party now runs the coalition here in the Senate, and I note the new Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, taking up the National Party rhetoric on climate change about taxes. Let me look at the tax that the National Party, and the Liberals now following behind it under the leadership of the new, far-right Mr Abbott, will put onto the people of Australia. It is a tax that is not in the future but is being paid now. There is extreme damage to the Murray-Darling Basin and other food-producing areas of Australia. The predictions, under the current scenario of climate change, are that productivity in the Murray-Darling Basin may fall by 90 per cent this century as the climate heats up, the air dries out and the productivity is robbed from those thousands of farms in the Murray-Darling Basin. That is 128,000 jobs put on the road to elimination by this National Party leading this Liberal Party in this coalition.

The new coal—C-O-A-L—ition has its sights, through even better conditions than the government would have given with its $24 billion to the big polluters, on enhancing coalmining and coal exports. I would remind the chamber again that this is the economic reality, in Sir Nicholas Stern’s words, that the National Party and the Liberal Party refuse to face up to. Sir Nicholas Stern talked about a free market. People should pay for their actions, for the damage they do.

Let us look at the Great Barrier Reef, which is now on death row because of the National Party and the coalition. The Great Barrier Reef, on even chances, will be 90 per cent dead by mid-century due to two factors: warming of the oceans and acidification due to greenhouse gas pollution. This is the Great Barrier Reef and 63,000 jobs. There are 30,000 jobs in the whole of the coalmining industry in Australia, 75 per cent owned outside this country. There are 63,000 jobs on the Great Barrier Reef and they are jobs owned by businesses, including small businesses, largely in Queensland and also elsewhere in this country, and they are being sacrificed to a slow death by the National Party and the coalition—a $5.6 billion gem, an Australian heirloom, being put to sacrifice by this mob of sceptics.

We are now told that sea level rise is going to be twice as fast as was previously thought: 700,000 Australian households and small businesses in the main on the Australian coastline are threatened by sea level rise this century. That is the tax of this National Party and this Abbott led coalition that people are already paying and are going to pay in bigger measure in the coming decades. The ski fields of Australia are going to be eliminated this century. That is the tax of the Barnaby Joyce led National Party and the Liberals on the people of Australia.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, I remind you to call him Senator Barnaby Joyce. Use his title in your discussion, rather than just using his name.

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

I am very happy to use Senator Barnaby Joyce’s title and remind him that it is the one thing that will defend him against the oncoming onslaught the National Party is going to get from the Greens. By the way, let me tell my colleagues to the right here that the Greens have overtaken the National Party in voter support right across rural and regional Australia, and that is because the people out there know what is happening to their land and they know who is actually now defending the farmers and the farmers’ interests in this country—it is the Greens, while the National Party has gone holus-bolus across to the miners. Mitch Hooke has more influence on their policy than the honourable Senator Barnaby Joyce. I have not got a title to put in front of Mitch Hooke that might be presentable to you, Madam Acting Deputy President, in this Senate. This is the National Party that sold out on the bush and the tax it is going to put on the bush is accelerating climate change, loss of rainfall, drying out of the atmosphere, worse bushfires and sea level rises. That is the tax of this coalition, which has handed across leadership at least in this Senate to the National Party as of yesterday.

What about the hundreds of jobs and the millions of dollars of investment in Australia’s ski fields? They are already being lost. We are already seeing the exodus of skiers from Australia as the ski fields cannot provide what they used to just a decade or two ago because climate change is playing its wrecking role on the economy. It is another tax from the National Party and the Abbott led coalition on the people of Australia, and it is not just a tax in monetary terms but a tax on jobs, a tax on lifestyle, a tax on the environment and a tax on security in the future. That is the tax that we will not hear about from the honourable Senator Barnaby Joyce, but I can tell you that I will be in Queensland telling the people about this high-taxing National Party that wants to tax every area of living, not just your pockets but your lifestyle, your security and your jobs through inaction and studied reaction to climate change—a tax that is simply going to line the pockets of the polluters in the years ahead.

In leading this debate, the honourable minister said to the Senate that we should and can do better, we should not fall short and we must take responsibility here and now. I say to the honourable minister: we agree. We should not fall short, as this legislation does. We should not be going for a five per cent target when a 25 per cent minimum is what is required. We should be reorienting this nation’s economy to the clean green future that is going to see it leading rather than being held back in the industrialised centuries of the past. We should be ensuring, as Germany has done, that we regulate this economy so that everybody pays their due but the polluters in particular are not rewarded, as this legislation will do.

While we did not get the figures out of the government in the committee stage, there are well over $100 billion of rewards to the polluters over the coming decade. We have locked in targets that cannot be altered from five per cent without a constitutional challenge, which would take billions more out of the pockets of Australians—talk about taxes—and given to the coalminers and the polluters in the coming decades. Why would the Greens go into a Faustian bargain that the government made through deliberation under the pressure of the big polluters? If it is found, as we who listen to the common-sense science around this planet have suggested it will be, that climate change is going to impact on the world in a way that requires we go not just to 25 per cent but 40 per cent in the next decade, why would we lock the people of Australia into legislation which says that under those conditions the polluters will be able to sue the Commonwealth for billions more—money which will then not available for schools, for hospitals, for fast, efficient and clean transport, for job creation and for making this country the renewable leader in the world?

At the end of the day, we have to face a double reality. This nation is already being impacted upon by disastrous bushfires, more frequent and strengthening cyclones, sea level rises, drying out of its agricultural lands and increased storm damage to its cities because of climate change. It is paying a very big tax indeed and it is being robbed of hope in the future by the Luddites. The head-in-the-sand attitude that is exemplified by this Abbott opposition is only going to get worse as we hear the tub-thumping from the deniers and sceptics of the opposition in the coming months.

We do not believe there should be a double-dissolution election if this legislation fails to pass this parliament. We believe the government should run its full term, but we Greens are in here to act on common sense and a responsible response to the challenge of climate change. We proudly do that. We will take that to the people of Australia. We will take that to the people of Higgins and Bradfield this weekend. We believe the people of Australia have more common sense than there is on the opposition benches when it comes to climate change, and we will support that common sense. (Time expired)

10:22 am

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is very difficult. Why is it difficult? Because it polarises people. It is divisive and political, but there should be a policy based decision-making process. It is an economic issue and it also is an environmental issue. There are people in Australia that have serious concerns, and those concerns should be looked into before we make any decision in this parliament. Secondly, I believe I am one of the few parliamentarians that have taken an open mind to this whole issue of climate change. I, like many Australians, started out believing that the scientists must be right and that, without a doubt, carbon dioxide must be driving climate change. But people came to me, and my own staff said, ‘Are you sure?’ When I reached the point where I said, ‘I’m not 100 per cent certain,’ I decided to go on a self-funded trip to the United States to hear both sides of the debate.

When I came back from that trip I brought back with me a couple of key questions that I think the Australian public are also interested in. I engaged with the Rudd government for a week before they decided that they wanted to disengage because they were having trouble answering the questions. It may be an inconvenient fact, but carbon dioxide emissions have been going up rapidly over the last 15 years while the corresponding global air temperatures, on the data that is also used by the IPCC, have not been going up as predicted. Someone has to answer that question, and the Rudd government failed. Those questions are on my website for all to see.

Where are we at? We have time to get it right. There is a growing concern in Australia about rushing ahead. For what benefit? Should we rush ahead and ignore genuine community concerns? When I talk to people on the street, there are three genuine concerns that a lot of them have. One of them is about rushing ahead and committing Australia to targets before we know what the rest of the world is doing. This will clearly put up the cost of doing business in Australia compared to other places. It will also drive down our competitive advantage. It will impose a massive tax on ordinary Australians. For what benefit? Going alone is risky, and Australians are getting more and more concerned about rushing ahead. That is one issue that many have.

Another issue that others have is in regard to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and its costs and benefits compared to any other scheme. That debate has not really even been had. The third concern that many Australians have is about the science and the question that I have just put forward. As more and more people start to grapple with this issue, they want to make sure there is a decent debate about the science and the pros and cons. All too often in this debate someone questioning the science is immediately labelled as a sceptic. How does that help the situation? How does that help to have a genuine debate in Australia?

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It doesn’t.

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It does not help in any way whatsoever. They are serious questions. The chart I refer to is simple and contains the data that even the IPCC reference. It is the gold standard for the IPCC. That chart’s global air temperatures are the ones that the IPCC use, and over the last 15 years they have not been going up the way they predicted. Surely that deserves a credible discussion, not the discounting of those who raise it by saying, ‘You’re asking a question; you’ve got to be a sceptic.’ We have to stop that debate and allow people to question.

The next thing the government say is, ‘If you feel concerned about rushing ahead and going alone before the rest of the world, you’re a sceptic.’ Well, there are a lot of sceptics now, because a lot of Australians have that concern about rushing ahead before the rest of the world. Asking questions is part of democracy, so you should not discount and devalue people because they have asked a question. You should engage in a proper process. These three questions have reached a political impasse in parliament. That is the reason why I suggested that we use external, non-political bodies to look at those three issues: to look at whether going it alone is reckless, to look at the costs and benefits of other schemes and also to look at the science behind climate change.

We have time to get it right, and we need to spend that time. If the US rushed and forced a vote in its Senate, the vote would be no. This government is forcing the vote deliberately, and this Senate will do the same thing and vote no. It is reckless to rush ahead when we have three questions. These are very simple questions, but a lot of Australians have one or more of those questions in their mind. It is wrong to rush ahead and not give time to allow those questions to be looked into through a non-political way that can allow Australians to engage in the process rather than through the political theatre of parliament. Quite clearly we have a roadblock, and that is the reason we need to make sure that we get it out of the political system and refer it to non-political bodies.

What is the rush? This deadline is about our Prime Minister going to Copenhagen. It is a political deadline. A policy deadline would say to get the decision-making process right and to look into those three issues and make sure. There are no prizes for going first; Australia will be a loser. That is not right and it is not the fair thing to do. Leaders have called for rigorous scrutiny. It warrants, then, non-political bodies spending the time to look into those three key questions. Leaders have said this is the most important public policy of our times. We have, then, the time to look into those three core questions. Leaders have claimed it is a risk management issue. A risk management process would say to spend the time on those three core issues.

I do not see what the rush is, because, if you believe what the government is saying, if Australia goes it alone then there will be no environmental benefit. You cannot have it both ways. It is risky. Risk management would say to do more homework and not to make sure that we discount people’s views by labelling them as sceptics. I think I have proven that I am genuine on this issue. I am happy to be persuaded, but you need to make sure your arguments are strong. The issue that we have here is that it is a massive tax, and if the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme were passed then there would be no benefit to the environment as far as what the government is claiming as climate change is concerned. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme makes the GST look minor.

I believe that we owe it to the Australian people to spend the time. The US has been looking into this issue in its Senate over a decade. It has had multiple bills and multiple times they have not got through. Why? Because it is prudent. It is the right, risk-managing thing to do to make sure that we proceed once we have looked into these three core questions. The question about going it alone is what cost there will be to the economy. People are really nervous about this. They are nervous about paying more for everything. Small businesses, rural and regional areas, mums and dads, pensioners—everybody is going to be slugged, and what the government is not telling you is that there will be no net benefit to what they claim is addressing climate change. They have to come clean.

The second issue is that they seem to want to refuse to consider the costs and benefits of any other scheme. That is reckless. The other issue is the science. For an example, let us have a think about the Waxman-Markey legislation. I raised this issue first on Lateline. Waxman and Markey know there is an economic risk to committing to targets, because they had in their legislation a tax on people who do not have the same scheme. They know it puts them at a competitive disadvantage. In the Waxman-Markey legislation there is a so-called ‘import tax’ on products from countries that do not have the same sorts of scheme or targets. The reason is that it will put any economy going it alone at risk.

I urge senators. How can you vote for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme when so many Australians have questions—questions about going it alone and committing, questions about other schemes and questions about the science? It would be reckless to vote yes for this legislation. I urge the Senate to vote no to this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

10:37 am

Photo of Judith TroethJudith Troeth (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to indicate support for the amended Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills. Firstly, I would like to put on the record that my party, the coalition, has a long and proud history of protecting the environment and protecting jobs. The one advantage I do have in this chamber is that I have a greater longevity than probably most people in the chamber and a greater lifespan. Having lived on the land for 30 years and also having lived in cities, in that time I believe that the climate has changed substantially. In particular, rural areas have changed sufficiently that agricultural enterprises of a region have had to change as well. Droughts are longer and rainfall has dropped. For instance, in the farming area where I lived in Western Victoria, the rainfall when I went to live there in the mid 1960s was an absolutely permanent 33 inches—dare I say it, on the old scale—every single winter, and you could not drive trucks in the paddocks between May and September. The rainfall in that area has now dropped to about 19 or 20 inches, which is a substantial drop, and the fact is that many livestock farmers have been able to change their farming practices to cropping, something that would have been quite out of the question in previous years. The severity of weather events is also much greater than it was in earlier years.

I have not always been convinced. I, like most Australians, have had to be convinced that there has been climate change and that humans were the principal cause of the additional warming the world is facing. I point out that since 1950 the world population has trebled. If that has not had some influence on the way our climate and atmosphere works, I would like to know what has. When I considered my own personal observations, combined with what I believe is the sheer weight of evidence from an overwhelming number of scientists and science academies, it became clear to me that we must act on climate change—and it is churlish and irresponsible to say that because there is disagreement around particular aspects of climate science, the whole of the science is discredited. That is not how science works. Science is constantly refined and expanded upon as more information becomes available and discrepancies between theory and observation are investigated and resolved. The fundamental criticisms that some of the sceptics have levelled against the science have not, I believe, stood up when they have been responded to. In short, I believe that there is global warming, that greenhouse gasses generated by humankind are the principal source of the excess of the greenhouse gasses, and that we need to take steps to remedy this or there will be severe economic, social and environmental consequences, both immediately and increasing in severity in the future.

I am not a scientist, and I do not seek to rebut every single claim made by people who disagree with the climate science. However, with one possible exception, none of my fellow members of parliament are scientists either, and I believe that we have to rely on what I would call learned authority to make our own best judgment on this. I would like to make some general points, though, so that the Senate can understand the type of information that informed my choice. I do apologise for the paraphrasing of the information—as I said, I am a not a scientist. Some claim that there is a natural cycle, that earlier periods have been warmer, that water vapour and urban heat islands are more important than carbon dioxide, and that carbon dioxide is a natural and important part of the life cycle of the planet. To my understanding, these claims are more or less true but, as usual, the devil is in the detail. Just to compare the impact of human activity, volcanoes are cited by some as a major emitter of CO2, and I understand that they were an essential element that led to the warming of the earth that allowed life on earth to begin. Volcanic activity worldwide produces annually approximately 200 million tonnes of CO2. Human industrial activity produces 24 billion tonnes. Humans produce 100 times more CO2 than what was needed to thaw the ice age.

There have been and there continue to be natural heating and cooling cycles in the climate. The CO2 levels have risen and fallen as a result of these cycles, and CO2 is an important part of the natural greenhouse effect that allows life on earth to exist. The levels of CO2 have sometimes led and sometimes lagged behind temperature changes, due to basically a feedback loop, and it accelerates the direction each variable is heading in. Previous warming periods have either not been as warm as the period we are in, or the hotter heat levels have not been as widespread. Rather, they have been localised to a particular hemisphere and largely offset by cooler temperatures elsewhere. But I firmly believe that what we are currently witnessing is a consistent widespread heating. Water vapour, urban heat islands and regional variations have been accounted for in the projections and observations and, while they do play a part, they do not represent the cause of the change. They have been present for long periods of time and have had a constant effect. The issue is what is causing the change to a sustained heating period. Overall, it is the combination of scientific factors that makes the need for action so compelling. The extent, the speed, the severity and the potential consequences mean that, even if you accept there is only a small chance of these factors, we should take action. It is my belief that there is a strong likelihood that these consequences will come to pass if we do not take action.

There are not only environmental concerns to consider. Many people have spoken about the costs of action. Quite simply, there are costs for inaction as well, and while this legislation may be flawed in many ways—it has been amended by the very substantive efforts of the coalition—we will all ultimately have to accept that to a greater or lesser degree we will all pay in some form or another to combat global warming. There are costs for inaction, and it is not just from the human effects on the climate. I believe business is already of the view that there will eventually be an ETS of some description at some point in the near to medium future. The energy generators, the distributors and other businesses that depend on the reliable supply of electricity are holding back on the necessary investment needed to guarantee that supply. Tens of billions of dollars in that sector alone have been put at risk because up till now we have not made a decision; and that is leaving alone the lack of investment in other sectors of the economy, all of which need to know the details of any such scheme.

To my mind, they are not particularly fussed about the basic mechanics of one type of scheme as opposed to another. Yes, we need to ensure that there are adequate protections and that the scheme is suited to Australia’s needs. But we all know that the scheme will eventually be some kind of cap and trade. The important part is to finalise the details, even though they are on a broad level, and to enact the legislation so that business can plan for the future with confidence, knowing what their obligations are and what investment decisions they need to make to remain viable and to maintain supply. These projects have long lead times and massive budgets. We cannot leave these businesses stranded for another six months before they can start making those decisions. That is as much a risk to jobs as any other aspect of this legislation.

There is also considerable focus on the impact of the scheme upon people’s costs and livelihoods. I believe that the amendments negotiated by the government with the shadow minister, Ian Macfarlane, have gone a long way towards protecting people’s jobs. As for higher costs, ultimately that is the purpose of introducing a carbon price. By having a price on carbon, people can decide whether they really want to use these carbon-intensive products. It is an effort to move people away from carbon towards other alternatives, and the most effective and efficient way to do this is through a price signal. The other consequence of the price signal is that it makes alternative sources of energy viable, and I am strongly of the belief that the nature of public opinion is changing as more people accept that carbon based energy is less desirable.

I also believe that the only way Australia can secure her long-term economic and environmental future is to encourage and embrace nuclear power. I think this realisation is dawning on many Australians as this debate goes on. I say, ‘Shame on the Labor Party,’ who for decades, and in the last election, ran a massive and unwarranted scare campaign on nuclear energy. It is you who have put our future at risk by closing off an important option in nuclear power. We cannot seriously prepare our economy for the long term without the nuclear option as part of our armoury. The damage that the ALP has done in the public mind will take a significant amount of time to unwind and to allow the facts to become cemented in the public mind. I urge the ALP and the Labor government to declare that they are now prepared to engage constructively in the nuclear power issue without raising hysterical, inaccurate and populist objections and to take the responsible course—as they know they eventually will have to do.

That has been difficult for my party, and the Labor government will find it a hundred times worse when eventually they are mugged by reality and realise that they are not credible on the environment until they embrace nuclear power as well as a long-term baseload energy provider. I also believe that that while having a global agreement such as the one foreshadowed at Copenhagen is desirable—indeed, preferable—we may not have that option. I hope that a framework is put in place at Copenhagen so that the millions of carbon emissions generated by the 16½ thousand attendees at that conference will pay its way in terms of proper activity. Somebody has to make the first move—not to mention the bottleneck in investment mentioned before. Australia should be a world leader in this area as it is in other scientific endeavours.

I conclude by saying that it is my belief that my party will be stronger for the struggles of this week, and I say that in the plural. We do hold different opinions within our party, and I am pleased that my opinion and that of others can be accommodated. It has to be a vital part of modernising our party, making us relevant to mainstream Australia and forming the character of the next Liberal government rather than reflecting the biases of previous governments.

Should the passage of this legislation occur or not, it will still be a momentous day for our country that we have had this debate. Each of us will be judged by history for the decisions we make. I urge senators who are inclined not to support these bills to consider that if people like me are wrong there will be many great gains achieved nonetheless. And if people like me are mostly correct then we could achieve one of the most important reforms in our nation’s history.

10:50 am

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

I was very interested in Senator Troeth’s remarks, and congratulate her on the comments that she just made. I would like to say that the comments that were made by Senator Fielding and Senator Troeth actually point to the problem that we have here in this Senate.

What we are debating is whether the science of climate change is real or not, and that debate is over. The debate we should have been having in this Senate is a recognition that climate change is real and urgent and what the most appropriate policy response is to that reality of climate change. That is what the carbon pollution reduction scheme was about: is this an appropriate response, and is this the correct policy response to climate change? But instead of that it has become a de facto debate between, on the one hand, the climate sceptics—and they are not sceptics but actually deniers, because scepticism has an honourable reputation whereas deniers deny the science—and on the other hand climate hypocrites. I think that climate hypocrites are worse in many ways because they say they accept the science but then do not adopt the appropriate policy response to that science. They actually mislead people into thinking that what they are saying and what they are doing are the same thing.

We have the rhetoric of climate change from the government, the Prime Minister especially, but we have not had the action that gives effect to the rhetoric. That is where the problem lies in this debate. I would like to come back to the fundamentals here and put on the record that we have a climate emergency. In every science report that comes out—about the level of melt in Antarctica, about the loss of the sea ice in the Arctic, about the loss of glaciers, about acidification; it does not matter which scientific report you look at—the situation is worse. It is worse than what was predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It exceeds even the worst scenarios. We have a very limited carbon budget for this century if we are to constrain global warming to a level that will give us a reasonable chance of continuing with a safe climate. This is about risk. The government says, ‘We could lose the Great Barrier Reef,’ but, as my colleague Senator Bob Brown said, the reef is on death row with the legislation that we have here because of the risk of exceeding two degrees. The Rudd government’s legislation locks in failure to 2020.

We are going to Copenhagen in a few days. Let us actually get on the record what this is about. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed as a global treaty to address climate change. The Kyoto protocol was a protocol under that treaty, and the bargain of Kyoto was that countries would reduce their emissions first and then developing countries would come on board. Bali was a road map to Copenhagen, and in Bali the world agreed that a reduction in emissions from developed countries of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 was required in order to avoid two degrees. That situation has become worse, not better—in other words, more stringent rather than less stringent.

The second part of the Kyoto protocol understanding was that developed countries would assist the developing world through technology transfer and financing mechanisms. The government’s legislation, through its weak target of five to 25 per cent, thumbs its nose at the rest of the world in Copenhagen by saying Australia will not even do the minimum of what the world says is required from developed countries. If we had locked that in, we would be taking to Copenhagen a situation where we undermined the capacity for a global treaty capable of delivering us a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The second thing on the table in Copenhagen is the financing mechanism, and during the debate on this bill I moved an amendment to the objects clause that made it clear we had an obligation to deliver on a funding mechanism. The Prime Minister went to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, but it was Gordon Brown and President Sarkozy who put on the table the finance that the Commonwealth countries agreed to. Australia did not put a figure on the table and still has not, in spite of the developing world making it clear there will be no agreement in Copenhagen unless the developed word accepts an average cut of close to 40 degrees by 2020 and there is money on the table. That money has to be in the vicinity of at least $10 billion as start-up cash every year out to 2012 and $100 billion per year by 2020.

This legislation locked in failure because it locked Australia into adopting a target of five to 25 per cent—in fact it is four per cent below 1990—out to 2020. That is beyond what the IPCC said, which is that global emissions have to peak and then come down by 2015. Now scientists are saying we have missed that deadline; we will have to make 2020. But every time they take out a deadline it means we run a higher and higher risk.

The minister herself said that the legislation aims at giving us only a 50 per cent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. That is why Australia’s leading scientists—people like Graeme Pearman, Will Steffen; any number of them—say that 350 parts per million is what we should be aiming for as a long-term trajectory in order to give ourselves a greater than 50 per cent chance of avoiding going over that two degrees. Now scientists are recognising that two degrees is too much, which is why, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the developing countries tried to get 1.5 degrees on the table. Who blocked the move by the developing countries to get a safer climate on the table? I would like to hear from Prime Minister Rudd why, in the communique from the Commonwealth countries, it says, ‘Some of us say 1.5; others of us say two degrees.’

At the Pacific Islands Forum in Australia this year, Australia, at the leaders’ level—so at the Prime Minister’s level—blocked the Pacific Islands countries putting on the table cuts of 40 to 45 per cent under 1990 levels by 2020. They said: ‘We are drowning in our own backyards. Our people are dying. Who will take our people?’ Australia said, ‘No, we are not having that in the communique; take out the targets in the communique,’ and blocked consensus for those Pacific Islands countries.

We have a proposition from the government that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is action on climate change. It is a fake claim. It is a fraud for anyone who understands the climate science. That is why I say the government understands the science but it has not been prepared to take the systemic, whole-of-government approach that is required. On the second part of it, what is real action on climate change? It is whole of government and systemic. It is meant to transform the economy. That is what the Greens have been arguing for. That means a whole-of-government approach. It means, firstly, stopping the logging of the greatest carbon stores in the Southern Hemisphere. You could do that tomorrow. Land use is a significant component of action on climate change. You could do that tomorrow. Secondly, it means having a high enough target, a high enough carbon price and a system with auctioning of permits so that you drive transformation to renewable energy.

This Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme locks in coal fired power in Australia out to 2020 with massive compensation provisions for coal fired generators for loss of asset value. You will not find an economist anywhere who will say that this scheme is economically efficient. It is economically flawed in the extreme. As Professor Garnaut said, ‘Never have so many people been rewarded in such a way under this scheme and that provision.’ He pointed out the same thing in terms of the compensation on the energy-intensive trade-exposed, saying they should only be compensated for their trade exposure, not for their loss of profitability. The Greens agree. We moved amendments which are economically rational and which would have made an emissions trading scheme work. We would have put in a high target. It would have delivered a high carbon price. It would have delivered the transformation that we need to the new, green jobs economy.

We want to see the rollout of renewables. We want to see energy efficiency. We want to see carbon stores protected. We want to see a massive investment in public transport. We want Australians to be healthier and happier, with a greater prospect of a safe climate. This legislation does not do it. In the minister’s remarks—and as Senator Brown said a little while ago—she said: ‘Falling short. How far short has this Senate fallen?’ It has fallen short because we have ended up in this pseudo debate about the science instead of a debate about the shortcomings of a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme as a mechanism for reducing emissions to the extent necessary that avoids catastrophic climate change.

We have to look at where we need to be in the future. We have to recognise that we are talking about the future now, because this scheme which is not environmentally effective or economically efficient is gone. But the Greens remain totally committed to taking whole-of-government, systemic action to address climate change and to meet deep cuts by 2020. We will work with the government to do that and we have made that clear throughout. As Senator Brown read out in the letter, we made that very clear to the government. We are prepared to negotiate with the government. It was the Prime Minister and the minister who said, ‘We will not negotiate your amendments unless you agree that we are excluding our target. It is set in stone.’

The government decided that they would prefer to negotiate with the polluters and with the science deniers, because they thought they could get away with the hypocrisy. They thought they could actually appease the coalminers, keep the big emitters onside and, at the same time, fool the public into thinking they were taking climate action. That is the doublethink that George Orwell talked about in Nineteen Eighty-Four so many years ago. He wrote that back in the sixties. He said doublethink is when you hold two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time and believe them both to be true. What the government think you can have in your head at the same time are these: (1) take action on climate change and (2) expand coal exports, treble coal exports and keep coal fired power going in Australia out to 2020. They think you can believe both to be true at the same time. Well, they are not.

The fundamental philosophical difference in this House is the extent to which people believe coal is front, centre and essential to Australia’s future benefit and national interest. It is very clear that the government, the National Party and the Liberal Party, regardless of what you want to say about climate change, all believe: ‘We will expand that coal railway. We will get treble at the coal port. We will turn those coal ships around faster. We will get those coal exports out to the rest of the world. At the same time, we will keep those coal fired power stations pumping out carbon dioxide. We will kid ourselves, in an act of doublethink, that some time or other there will be carbon capture and storage, and somehow or other that will actually solve the problem.’ It will not. It is not going to.

The government’s own modelling says that we are not going to see a reduction in emissions from the energy sector until 2034, well beyond the tipping point. We will have lost the Arctic ice by then. We will have had ocean acidification. Once we go across those tipping points there is no coming back. That is something that does not seem to have penetrated the minds in here—that once you have gone past a tipping point there is no return. That is why it is essential to take fast, appropriate action to avoid the tipping points and not just say, ‘We had to take the politically pragmatic way of doing this and start slowly, and find some other way of doing this in the future.’ There is no time to do that. We are in an emergency. As Winston Churchill said at the beginning of the Second World War, ‘It is not good enough to just say we are doing our best, we are doing what is politically achievable.’ He said, ‘We have to do what is necessary to succeed.’ That is the difference.

The Greens are prepared to stand here and say, ‘We have to do what is necessary to succeed and make the hard decisions to make that happen.’ We have been ready all along and we continue to be ready to work with the government to make those hard decisions to ensure that we do succeed in stopping the global temperature rise and constraining it to as far below two degrees as we possibly can, because we know that reduces the risk of us hitting those tipping points and falling into catastrophic climate change. That is the issue that we all need to be thinking about. This is not about pragmatic politics. The science of physics and chemistry will not wait for the Labor Party to be ready to take on the coal industry or for the coalition to work out that climate change is real.

The earth will not wait. In 2015 global emissions must peak. A weak target like this undermines the prospect of a global treaty which would give us any hope of avoiding those tipping points. That is why we ought to be in emergency mode. When the global financial crisis occurred, there was no debate about whether Uncle Bill over the fence thought there was a global financial crisis There was no debate about someone from the university of EBC coming out with a new paper saying that the global financial crisis is not real. No, there was a consensus immediately from world leaders that there was a global financial crisis, and they acted immediately and within weeks. That gives me hope that if we end the hypocrisy of using climate rhetoric but not climate action, if we actually got the rhetoric and the action lined up, we could do this in a very short time, because we do have the technology and the capacity. And the community does have the will to do this. We could do it. The problem is: there is not the same consensus of political leaders, there is not the same panic about climate as there was about the global financial crisis. That is because they are much more comfortable in the old paradigm than they are in a paradigm which says that the earth’s climate is in crisis. That is the difference.

As the Greens see it, today is the beginning of a real coming together of people around Australia who want whole-of-government, fast, deep cuts in emissions, action on climate change and a global treaty. We stand ready to work with those people and we take this opportunity to congratulate all those climate action groups around Australia who are continuing to argue that it is better not to have a weak treaty that can unravel but to wait and get something that is appropriate to the crisis—and let’s get it quickly.

11:10 am

Photo of Sue BoyceSue Boyce (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak with a heavy heart but in good faith. Last week in this place I urged senators to pass the amended CPRS bills. That continues to be my view. I continue to oppose the Rudd government’s unamended CPRS, but the changes that were negotiated in good faith, particularly by Ian Macfarlane and Malcolm Turnbull, have turned this into something that will assist not only Australia’s climate but also Australian business, Australian consumers and Australia’s energy-generating industries. It could be a solution to what I believe is a very real and uncontested problem that we must address in the near-term future, and that is the damage that climate change can do to this country if we do not act. It is part of the damage that climate change can do to the world. I am very much aware of the argument that has been put by many people that this must be a global agreement and it is ridiculous for Australia to act first.

My own background is as a manufacturer. In that sphere, I know the benefits of early adoption. I would just like to point out to the Senate that it was the Shergold task force, commissioned by the Howard government, who said, long before we got to this place, that Australia should not wait until a genuinely global agreement has been negotiated, because there are benefits which outweigh the costs in early adoption by Australia of an appropriate emissions constraint. That continues to be my view, but I think there are better ways to go about developing emissions mechanisms in Australia. A straight carbon tax, in my view, would have been the cleanest, easiest option, but that is not an option that is on the table. The option that we have is the CPRS as amended by Ian Macfarlane and Malcolm Turnbull. I was delighted to see yesterday that Mr Greg Combet has said that, irrespective of the outcome in the House, those amendments will form part of the Labor government’s policies around an emissions trading scheme. I hope that that is also a comment that has been made in good faith and will continue to be honoured by the Labor government.

I would like to associate myself with the remarks made by Senator Troeth. I think we now need to look at nuclear power as part of the solution to lowering carbon emissions. We are the only country in the G20 that does not have nuclear energy capabilities. I consider it completely hypocritical of the Labor government to have the stance that it does on Australia having nuclear energy whilst we are exporting all our uranium to assist others to have nuclear energy. I think we need to work very, very quickly in this area, and this has been borne out by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, from ANSTO, who was commissioned by the Howard government as part of our attempts to reduce emissions, to look at the question of nuclear energy. He continues to make the point that this is something that is not only feasible but necessary if we are to have the whole suite of measures that are needed to overcome the problems that are caused by carbon emissions.

I must admit that I continue to be very concerned by some of the specious and fallacious arguments that are put around carbon. Yes, carbon is a necessary building block. Yes, it naturally occurs. But to suggest that, because of that, all forms of carbon in all quantities are reasonable is, in my view, specious and fallacious. It is the same as suggesting that there is lots of chlorine around because there is a lot of seawater and claiming that all forms of chlorine and all quantities of chlorine are acceptable—when that is wrong. I become very concerned by people who use those sorts of false sciences to attempt to mislead Australian consumers into thinking that it is safe to continue to do what we are doing. As Senator Troeth pointed out, there are very few scientists in this place. But I think we should be using the science that is available to behave responsibly, not to encourage fear or scepticism that is wrong and unnecessary.

I realise that, by supporting the amended CPRS, I will disappoint many constituents within Queensland. I would like to say to them that I am acting in what I believe is good faith. I am supporting the party policy of less than 24 hours ago. When I rose to speak to say that we should accept the amended bill, I was supporting party policy. I find that I can do nothing else except continue to do that. I would ask people to accept and understand that from the viewpoint of many, many constituents this is the way to go. If you look at the areas of Northern Queensland and around the Great Barrier Reef, there is immense concern that action must start globally and it must start quickly. Part of starting that global action is for us to start. I do not see any problems with us being a first adopter; in fact, I see benefits. I would very much like to thank my colleagues on this side for their understanding and support of my view over the last few days.

11:17 am

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

This morning on my way to Aussies I ran into two journalists in the corridors, Chris Uhlmann from the ABC and Christian Kerr from the Australian, and they both gave me some unsolicited advice which I think I will take. They said, ‘Hurry up’. I wonder whether others would have that view, either in this chamber or in the media.

At the outset, I would like to pay tribute to Senator Wong, the minister responsible—and I hope that this will not provoke a churlish response from the opposition. Despite the significant policy differences I have with her, I believe Senator Wong has conducted this debate with grace and aplomb, and I do not think anyone could surpass her in terms of her knowledge and her competence in terms of this very difficult policy issue. I congratulate Senator Wong for the way she has conducted herself in what has been a marathon debate. That does not mean we will not have our differences—very significant differences—but I congratulate Senator Wong for dealing with what has been, I think, the most difficult, diabolical, policy issue this country has ever seen.

I cannot support this legislation for a number of reasons. I cannot support it because I do not believe it is the right scheme. I do not take the view of my colleagues who are climate sceptics, and I urge them to consider this as an issue of fundamental risk management. Are they prepared to literally bet the planet that they are right and thousands of imminent scientists are wrong? We must deal with this as an issue of fundamental risk management and we must deal with it as an issue of urgency. My concern is that this scheme will not do what is needed to be done for the environment—to take into account what scientists are saying. That is why I supported the Greens in aiming for a minimum 25 per cent cut by 2020. I think it is possible. It is clearly possible if we have the right scheme and the political will to do that. If you are going to fix a problem, do not do it in a half-hearted way; do it in a way that will actually achieve results according to the scientists.

Senator Boyce, in her very good contribution, made the point that she comes from a manufacturing background, from a small and medium business background. My concern and fear is that this scheme will push up the cost of electricity for every one of the 750,000 small and medium businesses in this country unnecessarily. We have seen just this week the details of a leaked report from IPART, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in New South Wales, which shows that there will be massive price rises in electricity in the next three years—30 per cent from the CPRS alone. These are matters that must be taken into account. My appeal to my colleagues in the coalition is: do not abandon your support base. Do not abandon those small and medium businesses by locking us into a scheme that I fear will not deliver the environmental dividends and will come at a huge economic cost.

Having said that, Senator Wong is right: there is no easy fix; this is not a cost-free solution. This is something that will involve a considerable amount of readjustment and structural change in Australia’s economy, and I think it is important that we consider the best possible approach. That is why I have championed the Frontier approach, which I believe has a way forward in terms of reducing churn, reducing the direct and indirect costs to the economy, and moderating price increases in a way that I think smooths out the carbon price, which is good for investment certainty in the context of the structural changes we need. I know the opposition have been flirting with the Frontier model. I am hoping that they will soon be able to embrace it under their new leader.

I think it also must be said that for the coalition to go to the polls without a credible policy to significantly reduce CO2 greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is not a credible option for the Australian people, and they will judge that. I think most Australians actually want action on climate change, although I note that something like 80 per cent of Australians do not understand this ETS. That survey was, of course, conducted outside this chamber, and I am sure the figure would be completely different for our understanding of an ETS.

I think it is important that we get on with it. As a developed country, we have an obligation to do the right thing—20 per cent of developed countries account for 80 per cent of emissions. We have an obligation to lead. We have an obligation to be up-front and to be ahead of the pack on this. Whatever Copenhagen does and whatever the Waxman-Markey bill ends up as, we still have an obligation to design a scheme that is right for Australia’s economy—a scheme that suits us.

Many see the defeat of this legislation as a dark day for the government. I am more optimistic. I think the Australian people want a plan that protects our environment and protects the economy. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the chamber and with my crossbench colleagues, the Greens in particular, so that we can have a scheme that works and delivers the cuts that Australians expect in order to make an effective contribution to combating climate change.

I think we have a chance to do this again and to do it right. We should be grateful for that chance and we should make the most of it. The people of Australia, and indeed the people of our region and the planet, are counting on us and other developed nations to get it right. If we work constructively together and if we work honestly and, dare I say, in a bipartisan spirit, I believe we can get it right. I cannot support the government’s bill, but I believe we can get it right sooner rather than later.

11:23 am

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

On this day, as Australians face yet another interest rate rise courtesy of Labor’s reckless spending, we as a coalition will oppose this reckless, complex and confusing package of 11 Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bills, which impose nothing but a giant tax on everything. Make no mistake—these bills will cost Australian jobs, will cost Australian wealth and will make no difference to the world’s environment.

With 1.5 per cent of the world’s emissions, Australia taking unilateral action will have no beneficial impact on the world. Indeed, there is every likelihood that Australia going it alone would hurt the environment through carbon leakage, whereby Australia’s relatively clean industries would be made uncompetitive and that would see production move to countries that do not have as robust an environmental regime as Australia.

This package of bills would increase the cost of living, on top of yesterday’s interest rate rise, by $1,100 per annum per household—and for no environmental dividend. The Victorian state government and the New South Wales state government, both Labor, have leaked independent reports indicating the huge increase in power bills to be faced by all Australians.

With this legislation, anyone into acronyms would get dizzy with delight. From the ETS you get the CPRS and from the CPRS you get the EITES and an ESAS with an ESAM and a GFC buffer. For SMEs you get a TECAP and smaller businesses get a CCAF. The Australian people get—well, I can think of one acronym. The CPRS is dead and no amount of CPR will revive it. CPR, on this occasion, stands for ‘Combet propaganda routine’. It is little wonder that the Australian people are confused. Labor have never tried to explain the fine print and it is little wonder. Sure, they spent millions of dollars in a glitzy advertising campaign, but they did not seek to explain the detail; nor have they explained the need for this legislation to be rushed.

The Obama Democrats—you know, those extremists that Senator Wong has referred to—have deferred their proposal, as have the Canadians, until after Copenhagen. This unseemly rush is reminiscent of Mr Rudd’s Fuelwatch debacle but with consequences a lot more devastating. Do you remember Mr Rudd working bureaucrats 37 hours straight so he could wave the flawed Fuelwatch bill at the end of a parliamentary sitting, simply because he needed a prop for a stunt? It is the same with this package. It is scheduled to start in 19 months time, so why does it need to be passed this week? So Kevin 747 can pack the legislation into his knapsack and use it as a prop for a stunt, not in Canberra this time but in Copenhagen. Sacrificing the national interest on the altar of Kevin Rudd’s ego was never going to be good policy.

Indeed, as we speak, Labor is still drafting amendments, preparing definitions of various activities and producing a library of regulations. The midnight oil burned to rush this legislation through, and the carbon footprint from that will not be offset by the carbon sink properties of the yet to be drafted regulations.

Let me debunk the nonsense that rejecting this confusing mess means that you are, of necessity, somehow unwilling to act on the challenges facing the world. The hyperbole of the minister yesterday was both unedifying and wrong. The allegation of the coalition being hijacked by extremists was as predictable as it is laughable—laughable because, at the last election, Senator Wong and the Labor Party went to the Australian people saying that the coalition had no policy on climate change. We were the ‘do nothing’ party. Now she says we did have a policy and, as proof, she actually waved the policy document in this chamber last night. So, in her desperation, she unwittingly exposed Labor’s lie at the last election and that is why people do not believe Labor now.

Some gratuitous advice to the minister: shrillness is usually indicative of a paucity of coherent argument. Mere repetition of falsehoods and slogans does not obviate the need for facts. We want action on CO2 emissions, but we want real and effective action. We want action that does not mug jobs and does not mug our economy. We want action that the people understand. So we say no to this ETS, because it is a huge tax on everything and will deliver no benefits.

The party and coalition of which I am a member have long acknowledged a diversity of opinion in the community on the issue of climate change, including how to best address it. The diversity of opinion is, indeed, reflected in our own party room, a party room of conviction parliamentarians unafraid to express their strongly held views, which stands in stark contrast to Labor. The Liberal Party recognised a level of intensity, passion and, in some cases, anger in the community over recent weeks, particularly among those who either remain opposed to the passage of this legislation or believe it should be put to a vote only after the imminent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Many in the community who support action on climate change are also firmly and passionately of the view that this legislation should not be passed in advance of deliberations in Copenhagen. We have heard those voices, the voices Labor ignores, and we have given those voices parliamentary expression.

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, senators on my right!

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Recognising the divisiveness of this legislation in the Australian community at this time and also given the gaping holes in this legislation exposed through the committee stages of this debate, even with amendments seeking to address many of its flaws, the coalition believes that this legislation is still fatally flawed and remains extremely divisive within the Australian community. Action on climate change should be unifying within the Australian community, not divisive. We will present an alternative plan of action on climate change for the Australian community that is far less complicated, far more effective, far less costly and far more unifying than this ETS.

Consistent with the Liberal Party’s traditions, and reflecting the diversity of opinions in the community on this issue and on this legislation, we respect the right of any Liberal senator to cross the floor and vote other than in accordance with the party’s position. The accommodation of such decisions is, in fact, a strength of our party and contrasts significantly with the Labor Party, where the expression on the floor of the parliament of a strongly held view contrary to that of Labor means immediate expulsion.

We reject these bills as being too complex, too confusing and too costly. We reject these bills because there is no conservation dividend. We do support effective global action. We remain supportive of the five per cent target. Mr Rudd can go to Copenhagen with bipartisan support. Yvo de Boer of the UN has confirmed that legislation is not needed but that a target would be helpful. We have given Mr Rudd bipartisan support for that.

In short, we support action, but we do not support slashing jobs, exports and wealth; we do not support jeopardising power supplies; we do not support wrecking small businesses; we do not support increasing the cost of living for every household by $1,100 per annum; we do not support fatally flawed and rushed legislation; and we do not support Mr Rudd’s insatiable ego. In short, the coalition says, ‘Action, yes, but no to this ETS.’

The Acting Deputy President:

Order! Before I call the minister, I would like to point out that interjecting is disorderly. With one or two exceptions, the debate has been conducted in good spirit, so I would ask that the minister be heard in silence.

11:35 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

In summing up, I first thank all senators for their contributions to the debate. In relation to the comments we have just heard, the best way of characterising most of the contribution from Senator Abetz is ‘the shallowest response to the deepest of the nation’s problems’. In many ways his contribution could have been summed up with one sentence: ‘We do not support action on climate change.’ In many ways the Australian people might have given him more credit for honesty then.

I want to respond to just some of the arguments in this debate before the debate is closed—first, the comments of Senator Joyce, which were many, varied and quite loud. The first is that this is not about the science; this is about the economy. He is partly right. It is about both, because you do not tackle climate change unless you change your economy. It is very simple: you do not tackle climate change unless you change your economy. You have to make polluters pay, and if you do not make polluters pay then you will not tackle climate change, because you will not change the very behaviour that caused this problem in the first place and continues to contribute to it. So, when Senator Abetz says, ‘We will have a policy on climate change but it will be easy,’ he is not to be believed, because there is no easy solution to this problem. If there were, it would have been dealt with by now.

The reality is that the former Prime Minister, John Howard, was honest about this. He said you could not take this forward—you could not make these economic changes—without some impact on prices. The Liberal Party have made clear their intentions. They will try and pretend they are taking action on climate change without going to the cause of the problem, but there is no escaping the cause of the problem. You have to put a price on pollution; that is the only way you can respond to climate change.

The second point I want to make is about the scare campaign which has been in practice already in this chamber in recent days. It is always disappointing when politicians, instead of debating the issues and the facts, resort to putting forward things which are untrue—and which often they know to be untrue—in order to block action. Senator Joyce has come into this place and said that that lamb roasts will cost over $100. He knows that the Treasury has said that in the first year of this scheme the estimated increase per kilo for a leg of lamb is 4c. Why does he believe it is responsible for an elected representative to come into this place and put forward something that is so obviously incorrect? There is only one explanation—that is, when you cannot fight the argument, you run a scare campaign. He has accused us of making pensioners poor. He has accused us of not supporting working families. This is from the party that delivered Work Choices—the irony of that is clear for all to see.

I will remind the chamber that this government is ensuring through this plan, endorsed just one week ago by the Liberal Party room, that the largest single share of assistance under this legislation goes to Australian households. For example, we estimate a single pensioner’s costs will rise by about $286 a year. We are providing them with $455 a year worth of assistance, which is more than the anticipated costs, because when we say we want polluters to pay because that is the only way we can act on climate change we also say we want to support Australian households, particularly low-income Australians, through that transition. To Senator Joyce I say this: do not come in here and peddle things which are not true in an attempt to oppose action on climate change. Why do you not just come in here and say, ‘This is all bunkum; we don’t believe in climate change; we don’t believe it’s real’? That at least would be more truthful.

Then there is the argument that we should not act because it does not matter what we do. Australians as a nation have always done our bit and we have never said we should simply sit in the grandstand and watch others do the work. This is about doing our bit as part of a global agreement. This is about doing our bit as part of responding to what is a global challenge. The government has never pretended that this nation on its own can tackle this problem. What we have said to the Australian people is that we too in this nation have to act.

Then there is the argument about who understands what. I say to the opposition: Australians understand one thing. They understand that you do not want to act on climate change. The fact is that the arguments put by the opposition do not stack up. They are sham arguments from people driven and now led by people who do not believe that climate change is real. What has been demonstrated in this session of the parliament is that they will do and say anything to avoid taking action. They will do anything to block action on climate change. These are people sprinting back to the past.

Another furphy in this debate has been that we are going first. I again remind the chamber of the falseness of that argument. Countries that have either legislated for trading schemes or committed to them include the European Union—which includes nations like the United Kingdom, France and Germany—New Zealand, Japan and the United States. These are some of the actions which have already been legislated for or committed to and I have in this chamber many times pointed out what else is happening. There is no danger of this country rushing ahead but, as a result of the actions of the opposition, there is a risk that this country will be left behind. That is the greater risk: that we are left behind. Action on climate change has been supported and called for by no less than the Queen, John Howard, conservative Prime Minister John Key from New Zealand and David Cameron in the United Kingdom. This Liberal Party makes John Howard look green. They are not only out of touch with most of Australia; they are out of touch with most conservative parties around the world—a fact that Mr Turnbull has reminded them of on many occasions.

I will briefly mention the Greens and I will just say this. This legislation may well fail on the Greens’ vote and, whatever rhetoric those Greens senators engage in, they will have voted for Australia’s carbon pollution to continue to rise. They will have voted against action on climate change.

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Continue, Senator Wong. Interjections are disorderly.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

There are so many retorts that I would like to make, Mr President, but I will not indulge myself. This is a big reform. We knew that when we took it to the Australian people at the last election and we also knew that when we sat down to negotiate with the opposition. This is a long-term, lasting structural reform to the Australian economy. It is about making a change now over the decades to come because that is the only way in which we can respond to climate change. These sorts of reforms, historically in this nation, have only succeeded when there has been leadership across this parliament and it is regrettable and to the great detriment of this nation and to the great shame of the Liberal Party that they have fallen, as a party, so short.

I do have some acknowledgements that I wish to make. I first want to thank Labor members and senators who have campaigned for and supported this great Labor reform for the future of the nation. They have done and will continue to do what is hard, not because it is easy but because it is right. They will continue to look to the future and that is the way this party and this government will continue to go forward. I want to particularly thank and acknowledge the Department of Climate Change and all public servants across government who have served this government and previous governments with professionalism and have demonstrated their enormous capacity for hard work over two years in working up this reform. I thank them and I think the Australian people thank them for the work they have done to contribute so much to this important and big reform.

I also want to thank those members of the Liberal Party who, whatever the differences I have with some of their public policy positions, have shown a willingness to look to the national interest. We saw some of that on display here today and I thank them for that. It is regrettable that too many of their colleagues have chosen instead to go the other way and not look to the national interest. Most of all, I want to acknowledge the many Australians who have continued to support action on climate change and have continued to call for it; the many who have emailed, written or phoned not only my office but also the offices of others in this government to express their support. I particularly want to thank young Australians because this is an issue that so many young Australians care so deeply about. I have often said that the discussion that is had and the questions that are asked when I have spoken to groups of young Australians at times would leave the Senate looking somewhat inadequate.

This is a debate about the future, and Australians know this. In the heat and fury of today’s fight it is often easy to lose perspective, and too many opposite have lost that perspective. The question is: how will this look tomorrow; how will this look in a few years; how will this look 10 or 20 years from now? Long after most of us have left this place, we will continue to be held accountable. We should leave this place being able to look Australians in the eye and say: ‘We acted. We took responsibility.’ Instead, some of those opposite will simply have to look Australians in the eye and say: ‘I voted this way. I voted for the future not now and in fact not ever.’ This government and this party will hold true to the aspirations of the Australian people. We will do all we can and continue to do all we can to safeguard our children’s future and we will not take a backwards step. I commend the bills to the chamber.

Question put:

That these bills be now read a third time.