Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

5:23 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a serious question that the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 brings before the Senate today. In seeking to abolish the Climate Change Authority, the coalition government is sending a message to our nation and its people that is completely out of step with the rest of the world on the issue of climate change—and is it really any wonder? It seems that the coalition do not actually want a credible climate change policy. Many in the coalition, it seems, simply do not believe that climate change is real—and I am glad that Senator Macdonald is in the chamber with us this afternoon, because he has declared that climate change is some kind of Y2K bug. He has also said that you cannot reach a conclusion on the science of climate change. These are words that I have heard him say, and it is a deep sign of the coalition's scepticism and denial when it comes to climate change.

We on this side of the chamber, however, believe the science that climate change is real. We accept the science of climate change and we believe we need to do something about it—Mr Tony Abbott and the coalition apparently do not. I accept that there is a wide variety of views within the coalition in terms of those that do believe in the science of climate change and many that do not. It is, I think, making a mess of the coalition's position on these issues.

These repeal bills and the bill before us today repealing the Climate Change Authority—and the one previously debated, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013—really do indicate that the coalition wants to get rid of worthwhile and independent institutions established by the former Labor government to tackle climate change and to give us the full suite of policies that we need in this nation to address what is a pressing issue for us here in Australia and globally.

But what do the coalition propose to replace these policies with? What they propose is direct action without legislated emissions targets. This is the proposal that the coalition has said they will put forward. It leaves our country and our nation without a long-term emissions reduction methodology. It leaves our industry, it leaves our households and it leaves our nation's businesses without a path and a plan to reduce emissions. As many submitters to the inquiry that I participated in highlighted, this uncertainty is damaging to business and damaging to investment decisions. Abolishing the Climate Change Authority is a key part of that, because the Climate Change Authority was there to provide ongoing advice about emissions reductions and targets. Within the context of an emissions trading scheme, as an authority, it would provide that independent advice and enable business and industry to efficiently work out the way forward through an ETS.

It is an indication of the fact that we on this side of the chamber have a clear plan on carbon pollution. We can repeal the carbon tax, and we can do that without getting rid of the tools that we need to tackle climate change in this place. We need to keep the Climate Change Authority, we need to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and we need to move to an emissions trading scheme—all things that are already legislated for in this nation.

What is this about? This is about tackling climate change in the most effective and cost-effective way possible. It is about terminating the carbon tax and replacing it with an emissions trading scheme that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and leaves the businesses of our nation to work out the most efficient way to do that. In the interests of both the economy and the environment it is vital that that cap is set in a transparent way. It is a job for an independent Climate Change Authority, the very body that the government is seeking to repeal. I note the targets and progress review issues paper that was released by the Climate Change Authority just a few months ago. Within this paper there is a clear focus on Australia's progress in meeting national emissions reductions targets, with recommendations on how Australia should go about doing that. What is also clear to me is that these very functions—exactly these kinds of functions that the Climate Change Authority is doing in relation to targets—could also be undertaken when it comes to the coalition's direct action policy. The coalition's direct action policy desperately needs transparent scrutiny—scrutiny on the steps required to meet a target of a five per cent reduction by 2020 on our 2000 emissions.

Labor created the Climate Change Authority as an independent institution just so it could give such independent expert advice on emissions reductions targets and the scope of emissions reductions. It is these very jobs that the Climate Change Authority is doing that should actually be applied to the coalition's direct action policy too. You should be using the agency for this purpose. But what do the coalition want in contrast? In contrast they want no scrutiny at all. No scrutiny? Why wouldn't those opposite want any scrutiny? Because your policies simply do not stack up. Why should they stack up? Why do they need scrutiny? Why, when many of you simply do not even believe in climate change? So it is no wonder to me that the Abbott government have brought forward this legislation to abolish the Climate Change Authority, to remove any possible scrutiny of your still non-existent and yet-to-be-drafted direct action policy.

It is already very clear to me that the coalition's direct action policy simply has no credibility. It is no wonder you want to do away with credible sources of advice on climate change and climate change policy before you bring forth your own polices under direct action. The abolition of the Climate Change Authority simply means there will be no independent reporting back to the Australian people on climate change. There will be no independent analysis of the effectiveness of your direct action policy.

Is it any wonder that those opposite abhor such scrutiny when it seems they want to replace a very efficient form of direct action in relation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has proven to provide a return to the taxpayers, with their policy of paying polluters? Is it any wonder that they would not want the Climate Change Authority to review the credibility of these policies? Is it any wonder that they abhor such scrutiny when those opposite say they support a target but abhor any legal enforceability for such a target and when they remove any legal enforceability for such a target, as they seek to do in the bills as part of the package that they have brought forward to this place? Is it any wonder that the coalition, including those opposite, want to abolish an organisation that reports on evidence regarding the damage that carbon emissions have on the Australian and global environments, including the devastating impacts of climate change on Australian communities? So I tell those opposite, and I implore those opposite, to please not do away with the Climate Change Authority. They could really do with this advice and guidance when it comes to implementing their climate change policies.

We in this chamber, we in this place, have what I think is a very real responsibility. It is a responsibility to the global community, it is a responsibility to our own children to ensure that we take responsible action on climate change. We know the world is warming because of the globe's reliance on burning fossil fuels for energy, so we know it is, and we can only change that outcome if we are prepared to take action as a nation. So we must act now, not in three or four years, to stay on the path of a credible emissions reduction scheme. Every day that we lose in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a day that we cannot get back later. Why is this important? It is important because in the future when we are in catch-up mode we will have to take much more drastic steps as a nation in order to lower our emissions, and that will have devastating consequences for industries and jobs around our nation.

I will move on to another question when it comes to the topic before us. I really think the abolition of the Climate Change Authority is indeed just another step in Mr Abbott's campaign against Australia's scientific community. We have had cuts to the CSIRO and the Climate Commission and his campaign against researchers and academics in our nation. Science in our nation provides us with the building blocks to make the right decisions and we need to support good research and good scientific endeavour to do this. What we know from the repeal of the Climate Change Authority is that we are repealing the body that is specifically tasked to bring together the science, whether it is from the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology or other sources, and deal with that science in the context of climate change. There is no other agency that deals with these questions in that holistic way. I know those opposite have said, 'Well, CSIRO can do it and the department can do it and the Bureau of Meteorology can do it.' The fact is they are piecemeal in the way they deal with these issues. The Bureau of Meteorology—and I asked them about this in estimates—do not deal with climate change holistically. I want to say to those opposite: we need to keep the Climate Change Authority so that we can maintain the base for scientific endeavour when it comes to climate change advice.

I want to talk briefly about the functions of the Climate Change Authority. It is notable, to me, that there are other agencies around the world that have similar arrangements and that, contrary to what the government says, Australia is not alone in taking action on climate change. There are 99 countries around the world that have an emissions trading scheme. They are not just countries with progressive governments but also countries with conservative governments, such as that in the UK.

I will touch briefly on what the UK's climate change agency does. Its purpose is to:

… advise the [UK] Government on emissions targets, and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions—

and to prepare for inevitable climate change. It also provides independent advice to government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change; it monitors progress in reducing emissions and achieving carbon budgets; it conducts independent analysis into climate change science, economics and policy; and it engages with a wide range of organisations and individuals to share evidence and analysis.

These are exactly the kinds of things that our Climate Change Authority here in Australia does. They are very worthwhile and important endeavours, and they are a required basis for sound, credible policy. It sounds like sound, credible policy to me, but I think those opposite do not actually want credible policy. It is why you do not want this kind of oversight for your own climate change policies. What we know is that abolishing the Climate Change Authority puts Australia behind the international community not only in our efforts to tackle climate change but also in our economic and strategic long-term competitiveness as a nation. So I ask those opposite, I implore them: really think about what you are dismantling here because you will be responsible for not only losing jobs in the automotive industry but also for stagnating the clean energy sector in this nation. This is a sector where Australia, if we act now and embrace this now, actually has the opportunity of creating the competitive jobs of the future—the very jobs you want to support—and the opportunity to be world leaders in not only developing renewable energy technologies but also manufacturing them. What we know is that axing the Climate Change Authority reinforces the fact that you would have no respect for these jobs of the future.

We also know that you have questioned the science. Mr Tony Abbott's dismissal of expert scientific advice is no mistake; it has been done quite deliberately by the coalition. He has questioned:

… whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be—

and we can all remember when he said that climate change was 'absolute crap'. But our climate is too important to entrust to the irrational, anti-scientific beliefs of this coalition government without any oversight, without the kind of oversight that is provided by the Climate Change Authority.

The Climate Change Authority provides the independent oversight that the Australian community can rely on for accurate information on climate change without the political spin of the dinosaur government that we have before us; without the confused politicisation of climate science by the government. It is really important to our nation, it is incredibly important to our nation, that the scientific targets that we commit to, that you commit to as a government, are implemented and responded to in a robust and transparent manner—in an accountable manner. The question of accountability is significantly important here because subsuming the functions of the Climate Change Authority into the Department of the Environment takes away that transparency, and it will allow the climate change deniers to hide behind the government's lack of policy and commitment to climate change.

What this nation deserves is a holistic and proper approach to tackling climate change, an approach that respects the scientific and the economic consensus—the consensus that takes into account the environmental facts, the climate change facts, and does not let fear set public policy. So in conclusion, I move the following second reading amendment:

  At the end of the motion, add: “, but the Senate expresses concern over the impact of the abolition of the Climate Change Authority on the provision of independent advice to Government and the public on carbon pollution reduction targets and actions.”

5:43 pm

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

I rise this afternoon to oppose the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. The Climate Change Authority plays an absolutely critical role in the framework of legislation that we have to reduce emissions in Australia and to address climate change. I would like to begin by giving some history of where the Climate Change Authority came from and how it was configured. When the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme came before the Senate in 2009, there was a fundamental disagreement between the position that was put by the Labor government of the time and the Greens and scientists and people in the whole conservation movement. What we argued at the time was that Australia needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the target that was set in Bali—the Bali Road Map 2007.

Everybody will remember that in 2007 there was the ratification of the Kyoto protocol by Australia following the 2007 election. At that Bali meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it was agreed that developed countries should reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels, and that would give headroom to developing countries to be able to continue their path of development and have the world stay below two degrees warming and stay with a safe climate.

So, when the Labor government of the time brought forward an emissions trading scheme with a target of five per cent, I still remember the day at the Press Club when then Prime Minister Rudd announced his target of five per cent. There were some young activists there at a table, and one of them screamed in distress and disappointment at the complete inadequacy of the target. To have an emissions trading scheme, a cap-and-trade scheme, you need to have a cap on the amount of emissions that you can emit. That means you have to have a target in the legislation, and five per cent was put forward.

The Greens argued that five per cent was woefully inadequate and there should be a minimum of 25 per cent in the 25 to 40 per cent range. The negotiation in the political process was impossible because there was no movement in relation to that, so it became obvious that there had to be a process outside the parliament to get independent, evidence based advice on what an appropriate reductions target for Australia would be in the context of global action to keep global warming to less than two degrees.

So, in early 2010, after the legislation had been defeated, the Greens put forward a compromise and said to the Labor government of the day, 'Why don't we have a fixed-price period'—as Professor Garnaut had recommended at that time—'and resolve the issue of the targets at a later time?' That compromise was rejected, unfortunately. Then, after the 2010 election, of course, we had a minority Labor government, and the Greens made it a condition of Prime Minister Gillard becoming Prime Minister that Australia adopt a carbon price and that a multiparty climate committee be set up to design the suite of legislation that would give effect to a carbon price.

It is no surprise that in those negotiations the Greens put forward the idea that we do what the British had done, in fact, and establish, as Britain had done, a committee on climate change. It was to give independent, evidence based advice to the parliament in Westminster, to give recommendations on what the emissions targets should be and to report to the parliament on progress made in reducing emissions and in preparing for climate change. The situation that was occurring in the UK was working very effectively. The Committee on Climate Change there was made up of experts. So we said: 'Let's do exactly the same in Australia. Let's depoliticise the process of setting targets. Let's adopt the architecture for an emissions trading scheme'—which we have done, and it came into effect on 1 July 2012—'and at the same time let's set up a climate change authority which does the same as is being done in the UK and advises the government on the appropriate target, taking into account the latest science and taking into account what other countries are doing around the world, and which comes back and recommends what Australia's fair share is.'

The Climate Change Authority was set up to do just that. It was asked to provide a draft of its recommendations this year, which it has done. It will now report early next year. In fact, on 28 February 2014 it will make its final recommendation to the parliament as to what Australia's fair share should be in reducing emissions, and that target will then be able to be transported into the emissions trading scheme legislation. The cap would go into the legislation, making way for flexible pricing to be able to take place and trading to take place.

That was how the whole thing was designed: start with the architecture of emissions trading, start with a fixed-price period, get the Climate Change Authority set up, have it recommend to the government of the day and the parliament the appropriate targets, put that in the legislation and then go to flexible pricing in 2015. And that is precisely what should occur.

The Climate Change Authority then had to be populated by a board, who then had to determine what Australia's fair share is, and that is what they have been doing in this last 12-month period. It is a critical time for Australia because there is a lot happening around the world. We have just been through the COP in Warsaw. We are moving to a ministerial meeting early next year and then into Ban Ki-moon's—the UN Secretary-General's—summit in September next year, moving into the G20 and then the climate COP in Lima, which will have the preliminaries to go into the negotiation of a global treaty in 2015 to take effect after 2020. So now is the time that the Secretary-General of the United Nations is asking countries like Australia to put in a higher target than the five per cent. It is not the time for Australia to be abandoning the meagre five to 25 per cent range which had previously been registered; rather, we are being invited to step up.

The Climate Change Authority were tasked with that job of assessing what is going on around the world, what needs to happen for a new international agreement involving all major emitting economies and what Australia would be expected to do to participate in that process. Of course, they have done that over the last year, and I am very pleased to say that they have adopted a budget approach, because that is the only way you can look at this. You look at the science and you say: in order to constrain global warming to less than two degrees, what is the maximum amount of CO2 that can go to atmosphere, in what time frame, and then how do you divide up that limited budget amongst countries around the world?

So the Climate Change Authority has come to a view about what Australia's fair share will be and has said very clearly that the five per cent target is completely and utterly inadequate and that a lot more needs to be done. In fact, in its final report in February next year it will be required to say what the single target is for 2020 for Australia, what the trajectory range is out to 2030 and what the long-term emissions budget is out to 2050. That is what it is tasked to do.

Clearly the first conclusion it has come to is that the scale and pace of international action suggests that Australia should be pursuing a stronger target. That is clearly the Greens' position as well. It has gone on to say that five per cent is considered an inadequate first step if Australia is to play its part in limiting global warming to below two degrees. It has also said that Australia would spend a large part of the proposed long-term emissions budget earlier, leaving little for the rest of the period out to 2050. A five per cent target would require an implausibly rapid acceleration of effort beyond 2020. Failing to do more in the short term is likely to increase future costs and cause unnecessary disruption to the economy and community more broadly. To keep open the option of acting in accordance with the goal of below two degrees, Australia needs to do more in the short term than is implied in the five per cent target. It also went on to say that the authority considers that moving to a stronger target now could be accommodated at a relatively low cost to the economy based on modelling of Australia's economy and emissions outlook.

We have a situation now where what we all know is true: the sooner you move, the harder you go, the deeper you cut, the cheaper it is going to be in the longer term. This is not just about 2020. It is the trajectory to 2030 and then to 2050. We have to make sure that we cut early so that we leave many more options open for efforts out to 2030 and 2050. The less we do now, the fewer options we will have, the greater disruption to the economy there will be and the more stranded assets people are going to be left with in Australia. That is bad for future generations. It is bad for the climate. It is certainly bad for our environment.

There is a report out today saying the Great Barrier Reef will be dead by 2100 if we are on a trajectory to four degrees, which we are. I believe that is the case. There is a complacency in this parliament which fails to look at the science and recognise that we have to act. The only reason you can say that the Abbott government is trying to abolish the Climate Change Authority is that it does not want to have independent, evidence based advice.

The options that the Climate Change Authority has put on the table are a 15 per cent emissions reduction by 2020 or a 25 per cent one. Frankly, I think the option of 15 per cent should just be binned. Twenty-five per cent was the minimum of what it should have been in 2007, and we have lost six years. We need to go beyond 25 per cent to 2020 in order to have a smoother trajectory beyond that, because major disruption is coming.

I heard in question time today Nationals member Senator Nash talking about the cost to the hospital system of carbon pricing. The cost to the hospital system is going to balloon beyond all measure if Australia is hit with four degrees of warming. We are going to have extreme heatwaves, weather events and bushfires. We are going to have loss of life. We are absolutely going to have emergency departments overflowing.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

All because we don't have a carbon tax?

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

It may interest Senator Macdonald to know that, in the heatwave that occurred in South Australia at the same time as the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, Adelaide had to get a temporary morgue because so many people died as a result of the heatwave. That was because extreme heat exacerbates existing health conditions that lead to the sick, elderly, frail and vulnerable then not being able to cope in the circumstances. I have spoken to doctors who tell me that they are being called back from leave when the weather forecasts come out and they are being put back into emergency departments because of this influx of people. So to hear Senator Nash talk about the cost of energy for hospitals—that is nothing compared to the cost in lives, let alone the cost in managing the health consequences of global warming. That is exactly what is happening. That is why it is extraordinary to hear the denialism in this chamber, failing to recognise what we have already experienced in extreme weather events.

We have had the climate committee out here this week talking about the link between extreme weather events and loss of life and property and about the fact that we are going to have hotter days, more high-danger days and more extreme fires in Australia with more loss of life. That is the reality.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a load of rubbish!

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

I know Senator Macdonald is in total denial, but that is the reality and Senator Macdonald does not wish to acknowledge it. He is a climate denialist, and that is a fact. He will not accept that we are on a trajectory for four degrees of warming and the consequences that that is going to have for the environment, people and health. On the spread of disease, for example, we know there is going to be a change of range for certain diseases. We are going to find dengue fever coming much further down the Queensland coast than has previously been experienced. We are going to have all kinds of changes that are going to cost the hospital system dearly and cost the community in terms of health and wellbeing. We are not even imagining the number of extra firefighters we are going to need by 2030—we will need to double the numbers—let alone all of the other emergency services.

This is a serious issue. This is going to change life as we know it. That is what is so frustrating about the level of denial in here. That is why we have to have independent advice. Of course we know the government does not want to hear that if the Bowen and Galilee basins are fully exploited for coal that would be the equivalent of the seventh-largest emitter in the world. Those resources have to stay in the ground. That is why we need the independent, evidence based advice from the Climate Change Authority.

Let us look at the ignorance that is put forward by the Business Council of Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs and the like in relation to the economy. If you are going to make an investment now you need to know what the carbon constraint is going to be, otherwise you are going to be invested in stranded assets. You are going to set the economy back. If we fail to listen to independent advice we are going to end up with a rust bucket economy in Australia. That is the way the government is going to take this if it does not anticipate the trends. Anticipating the trends means listening to the science, seeing what the rest of the world is doing and moving accordingly. That is where the Climate Change Authority is charged to take us. Unfortunately, the authority has been way too conservative in the draft recommendations it has made. As I have said, I would ditch option 1, the 15 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, and absolutely go for a higher level than the 25 per cent, because that allows us more options into the future. I want to make sure that the community has the maximum amount of options available to adapt and to make transitions, anticipate and benefit from the opportunities that will come from the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Failure to act now means we use up our budget early, which means people in 2030 will have very few options out to 2050. That is the kind of work the Climate Change Authority has done with its report. It has also pointed out the complete inadequacy of Direct Action, which is no doubt one of the reasons the government wants to abolish the authority. They do not want to hear the independent, evidence based advice showing what is wrong with Direct Action. The report makes clear that Direct Action is not scalable. It is too expensive. There is no way you can scale up with Direct Action.

Equally, the Climate Change Authority has said that you need to deal with issues like deforestation. If you look at the greenhouse inventory report, you will see that the increase in emissions is coming from deforestation from land clearance, for example. Fugitive emissions are coming from coal mines and from gas—coal seam gas and the like. They are the facts of the matter; they have to be dealt with. Those fossil fuel resources need to stay in the ground.

From the Greens point of view, you cannot talk about the emissions trading scheme without talking about the Climate Change Authority, because it is the authority that will recommend the target—the cap—that will go into the emissions trading scheme and that will enable the trading scheme to trade in a flexible way. Of course, the linkage with other trading schemes around the world opens up lots of opportunities in Australia. That is the way that this was put together. They are integrated in their operation as a package. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is there to put money into renewables and efficiency, to transform and to accelerate that transformational change. The Biodiversity Fund was there to help protect the landscape and keep the carbon stores protected—I am sorry to say Labor was happy to abolish it in the same way as the government is the authority.

It is essential that we keep the Climate Change Authority. With the slashing of the Public Service, including getting rid of the Department of Climate Change, there is not the expertise in government to do this. The only expertise we have left is in the Climate Change Authority. That is why it has to be kept. (Time expired)

6:03 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

It is always remarkable to listen to Senator Milne's contributions in these debates, to hear the passion that I acknowledge she brings to the debates and for some of the facts that she may highlight. But when it come to this topic there is always, it seems, a complete absence of discussion about the global nature of the issue at hand—the global nature of emissions and the global challenge of how we deal with those emissions profiles—and the relatively small role of Australia in a very large global issue.

Senator Milne knows well that there will be a debate through to 2015 about where future emissions targets might be set. That debate is set around global time lines: where in fact the rest of the world will go in 2015 and to what extent we will or will not see from the rest of the world action in 2015 to commit to binding emissions-reductions targets. The Australian government has been crystal clear that our position—supporting the unconditional five per cent reduction, as we have for some period of time now—is that as those global discussions unfold in 2015 we can take the longer term view of the role Australia can play to complement global action on emissions.

But let us not be under any misapprehension: if there is no fundamental change to the way global discussions and agreements happen in 2015, if there is no binding global agreement in place in 2015 where we can see major emitters take major steps towards major commitments, then Australia's actions will make no difference. That is the sad reality of this debate, a reality that seems to be sorely lacking in the contribution from Senator Milne and others.

But I stray—I do not wish to stray, because I wish to be brief in my remarks on this bill. This bill, the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013, is of course just one piece of a long legislative package that has been irresponsibly separated by the Labor Party and the Australian Greens. The Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill is a small piece of a complex package. Earlier today and over the preceding days we spent 10 hours and 46 minutes dealing with the previous bill, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill. We saw virtually every member of the Labor Party line up to give an identical speech. It was an enormous level of time wasting that has taken place, and I do not wish to contribute to it on this matter.

What I want to highlight is that the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill does logically sit with the remainder of the carbon tax repeal bills. They should be considered as one; it is disappointing that they are not. But it would be foolish for us not to see the end of the Climate Change Authority if we see the end of the carbon tax. This is because the core function of the Climate Change Authority is to advise the government—and I think Senator Milne essentially acknowledged this—on key aspects of the carbon pricing mechanism, such as the setting of emissions reduction targets and caps, the setting of the price ceiling in the period from 2015 to 2018 and the acceptability of allowing international units into the carbon pricing mechanism or carbon tax. They are the key, core, central functions.

This Senate will make its decision when it has the debate on the carbon tax repeal as to whether the carbon tax stays or goes. If the carbon tax goes, the Climate Change Authority should go as well. It is ridiculous and nonsensical to say that it should stay. Its other functions in relation to statutory roles and reviews around the renewable energy target or the Carbon Farming Initiative can and, if this bill passes, will be adequately performed by the Department of the Environment.

We have well and truly within government the resources to provide every level of advice that is necessary, without having yet another quango, bureaucracy or statutory body sitting there chewing up a few more million dollars just to provide another layer of advice. We have the Bureau of Meteorology providing its advice on climate trends and climate science. We have the CSIRO providing advice on the environmental effects of climate change, on climate science and on the most appropriate technological and scientific responses to it. We have an entire department in the Department of the Environment providing advice on the appropriate government responses to issues around climate change. We have all of those factors built in at the core of government.

We have been elected to government with a very clear mandate not just to get rid of the carbon tax—important though that is—but also to get government spending under control, to get the size of government under control and to move to a position where we actually have a chance of once again delivering balanced budgets. The Climate Change Authority in the grand scheme of the costs associated with running the carbon tax is but a small cost—$22 million over the forward estimates. But that $22 million saving is important and it can certainly be money better spent or debt not incurred rather than simply having another level of bureaucracy in government to essentially duplicate the advice that can be sourced and should be sourced from elsewhere.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I am not going to detain the chamber any longer. I do note that there is a second reading amendment from the opposition. It seems peculiar to me that Senator Pratt apparently read an amendment that differed from the one that was circulated in the chamber. It obviously shows that in opposition the Labor Party have the same level of consistency in their approach as they had in government, where they flip-flopped over emissions pricing and carbon taxes and promised not to do one thing and did the other. Obviously, even now, they are coming into the chamber and proposing amendments that are not even the same amendments that they circulated.

There is a simple question before the chamber, and that is: do we want to have another quango, do we want to have another bureaucracy, do we want to see the continuation of this? If the carbon tax is going, the Climate Change Authority should go. For the sake of the Australian economy, the size of government and the budget, both should go.

6:11 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. We on this side will not be supporting the bill. I hope government senators and members consider the benefits of an independent Climate Change Authority—an independent body that ensures all the available science is considered and all the available perspectives are examined in order to provide our community with accurate information on our current emissions, trends and forecasts for emissions reduction targets and to provide this service to the community at arm's length from the bureaucracy, whose job is to advise the executive, not the nation as a whole.

The new coalition government proposes to subsume the authority into the Department of the Environment, although the authority was set up to provide independent advice on Australia's emissions reduction targets The clear goal of this move is to remove the independent advisory role and decrease transparency. As ideology has got in the way of climate change policy too many times over the past decade, it is vital that the scientific targets and policies that underpin our response to climate change are conducted by an agency independent of government. Independent advice and constructive criticism of government policy from public institutions is a positive measure; it should be encouraged, not shut down.

This new coalition government is demonstrating that it wants independent criticism, with over 50 reviews instigated in just the first few months of the parliament. Most are small reviews, with set reporting dates and without long-term analysis of the issues. This new government has instigated over 50 reviews, spanning all areas of public expenditure, yet the public body tasked with continually reviewing our response to climate change is up for abolition. This is just double standards. It is clear that we must not shy away from a national conversation on climate change.

Regardless of the personal views of anyone in this chamber, the problem is bigger than all of us. While it will be some time until a bipartisan approach to this issue is again reached, the problem will not go away. In fact, the problem will only get worse. As senators are well aware, around this time four years ago, bipartisanship on action on climate change was lost. Around four years ago, Mr Abbott defeated Mr Turnbull by one vote and ended the bipartisan support for strong action on climate change. He ended the bipartisan support for a price on carbon and ended the bipartisan support for a legislated cap on emissions. In many ways, it ended the bipartisan commitment to combat climate change.

We all know from the Prime Minister's own comments that he has never been serious about climate change. Just a few months before Mr Abbott won that leadership, he said that he was 'hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change'. That was in a rare appearance on the 7.30 Report, on 27 June 2009. It was a disappointing statement from someone who was aspiring to the top leadership position in the country.

In 2009, the 'so-called settled science', as Mr Abbott put it, was at that point the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth report, released in 2007. Created in 1988 by member states of the United Nations, the IPCC's mandate is:

… to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

The reports of the IPCC include an assessment of scientific confidence that humans are causing global warming. As I said, at the time of Mr Abbott's appearance on the 7.30 Report, the latest statement from the IPCC was its fourth report, released in 2007. This is from one key summary of that report:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [90 percent confidence] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

This 'so-called settled science' was a 90 per cent certainty that global warming was being caused by humanity. This 'so-called settled science' was that there was a 90 per cent chance that humanity's actions, through emitting greenhouse gases, were causing global warming.

Of course, in science, you do not ever say absolutely that one action is causing another, but you do set out to find the probability of a link between cause and effect. In 2007, the IPCC determined there was a 90 per cent probability that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions were causing global warming. Many people make the logical leap that, if you were told by international experts that they were 90 per cent certain that your house was going to burn down or your investments were going to turn sour, you would do your best to mitigate those risks; you would do your best to reduce those risks.

The new coalition government's approach is to ditch the clean energy mechanism and ditch the advisers. Their approach is like putting your head under a pillow and screaming, 'It's just too hard.' The problem of climate change is too difficult for Australia and we are better off putting our heads under a pillow and screaming that it is just too hard. Those opposite need to acknowledge new evidence when it is produced—new evidence from global experts, where the 'so-called settled science' has only become more settled.

Just a few months ago, the IPCC began releasing tranches of its fifth report. This release moves that confidence level from 90 per cent in 2007 to 95 per cent in 2013. Six years on, based on new evidence and updated analysis, the IPCC is 95 per cent certain that there is a direct link between humanity's actions and global warming. This 'so-called settled science' is now, in 2013, settled to the degree that there is 95 per cent certainty that humanity's actions are causing global warming. A summary of the 2013 release says:

It is extremely likely [95 percent confidence] more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.

The 'so-called settled science' is that there is now a 95 per cent chance that humanity's actions, through emitting greenhouse gases, are causing global warming. As I said, in 2007, the IPCC had determined there was a 90 per cent probability that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions were causing global warming. By 2013, the evidence is such that there is now 95 per cent confidence in this link—five per cent more. To use the previous analogy, the house is now 95 per cent certain to burn down and the stocks are now 95 per cent certain to crash in value.

In Australia, we need to do our best to mitigate these risks. This new coalition government is foolish, having this independent advice, to move to abolish the very institution that sets targets and provides critical appraisal of emission reduction efforts. This new coalition government needs to get out from under the covers and back the evidence from global experts. The 'so-called settled science' has only become more settled.

It is interesting to note that there has been a subtle change in the language of the reports. The 2007 IPCC statement only went to human greenhouse gas emissions, those gases that increase temperatures in the atmosphere, whereas the 2013 statement includes the impact of both greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol emissions on the climate. This includes the cooling effect from human aerosol emissions that many sceptics hold up as counter to global warming. The media summary says:

Cooling from human aerosol emissions offsets about one-third of the warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.

Critically, they report, the new 2013 statement says:

… even taking that aerosol cooling effect into account, humans are still the main cause of the global warming over the past 60 years.

This is new information from the world's most eminent scientists. They consider that human activity—that is, the warming activity from carbon emissions—even if offset by the net cooling activity from aerosol emissions, is the main cause of warming.

As times change and knowledge develops, it is appropriate to reconsider one's stance. If there were ever a time to be convinced by the 'so-called settled science on climate change', it would be when the world's most eminent scientists have come to the conclusion that there is a 95 per cent certainty that human activity is causing global warming.

I participated in the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee inquiry into these repeal bills—a quick inquiry of just one hearing and only few days for people to make a submission. It limited the ability of experts in the field to provide advice to the committee on the legislation. The new coalition government referred the suite of repeal bills to the committee simply to examine the cost of pricing carbon to households and businesses. The opposition referred the bills to the committee on the basis of examining how they fitted in with Australia's long-term climate change obligations. Put simply, we start from and continue to see this through very different lenses. On one side, the new coalition government see climate change purely in terms of the here and now; on our side, we see the problem in terms of the medium to long term. As important as any 2020 target is the need to have in place a pricing mechanism for emissions reduction beyond 2020, with targets for reduction by 2030 and 2050. We want to ensure the transition is a smooth one but we acknowledge we have to start somewhere.

The former Labor government put in place a suite of measures to address climate change, including the establishment of the Climate Change Authority. The value of the Climate Change Authority extends beyond carbon pricing. At present, the independent Climate Change Authority performs five clear roles for government: to provide recommendations on future pollution caps; to make recommendations on the indicative national trajectories and long-term emissions budgets; to provide independent advice on the progress being made to reduce Australia's emissions to meet national targets; to conduct regular reviews of the carbon pricing mechanism; and, to conduct reviews of and make recommendations on the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System, the renewable energy target and Carbon Farming Initiative. Its reporting schedule is publicly available, with 20 reports scheduled from 2012 to 2018 on topics including the renewable energy target, national emissions reductions targets, carbon budgets, five-year pollution caps, the Carbon Farming Initiative and voluntary action reviews.

Quite clearly these roles could be amended to refer to a different emissions reduction mechanism other than carbon pricing—for example, direct action. Its work can be separate from whether Australia has a carbon pricing mechanism, an emissions trading scheme, direct action, a carbon tax or does nothing for a year or two or for however long some of those opposite would wish. We have a bipartisan emissions reduction target in this country. We have agreed that by 2020 at the very least we must reduce Australia's emissions by at least five per cent on 2000 levels. While we are clearly not agreed on the path to achieve that target, the target is bipartisan and it is appropriate that reviews of how as a nation we are travelling to reach the target be conducted by an independent authority.

I also note the Australian Conservation Foundation noted in its submission that the repeal bills do not reallocate the responsibility for consideration of renewable energy targets from the abolished Climate Change Authority. Is this just an oversight from government or are there moves afoot to remove the renewable energy target? The clear goal of this move by the new coalition government is to remove the independent advisory role from the government sector and to decrease transparency. This view is not just expressed by this side of the Senate. Many witnesses at the hearing and submissions to the Senate inquiry provided evidence which was the same. Mr Erwin Jackson, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at The Climate Institute, noted the political record of climate change policy and highlighted the need for climate policies based on evidence, not on the political agenda. He said:

The Climate Change Authority plays an essential role in informing that climate change should be retained. Australia has a track record of highly politicised approaches to climate policy. This has produced policies that are often inefficient and continually readjusted, which in turn has resulted in significant business uncertainty, higher costs associated with investments and inadequate emissions reductions. To achieve a sustained emission reduction consistent with our national interest, Australia needs climate policies that are based on a sound foundation of evidence rather than on a political agenda.

While the science appears to be settling, it is clear that climate change has been one of the most overtly political issues of the past decade. As such, it is vital that the scientific targets and policies that underpin our responses conducted by an agency independent of government. Consideration of abolishing or maintaining the Climate Change Authority or amending its functions is a separate matter from the carbon price mechanism.

The authority's advice is valuable whether you want to pursue a market based mechanism, as we do, or a command and control policy, as advocated by the new coalition government. Both the Investor Group on Climate Change and Dr Frank Jotzo from the Australian National University highlighted in submissions and in evidence the worth of the Climate Change Authority under the coalition's Direct Action policy. The Investor Group on Climate Change said:

The Climate Change Authority's analysis assists investors to interpret the likely future emissions reduction trajectory for Australia and the scale of policy response that will be required.

So here we have a group of investors who benefit from the independent advice provided by the Climate Change Authority. This independent advice assists serious institutional investors, with total funds under management of approximately $1 trillion, to make long-term decisions. Dr Jotzo said in his submission:

The institutions created in Australia as part of the clean energy legislation fulfil important roles in an effective climate change policy framework. This would be useful regardless of whether or not a carbon pricing mechanism is in place. The Climate Change Authority has a crucial role in conducting analysis of Australia's climate change policy settings, providing input to government and to parliament. In its draft report on emissions target the authority has it made clear that its advice on Australia's emission targets and trajectories is not tied to the existence of the carbon price mechanism.

Again, here we have a climate change expert outlining that, regardless of the carbon emissions abatement method, there are clear benefits from an authority which provides independent advice on pollution caps, carbon budgets, the credibility of international units and the performance of climate change mitigation initiatives. The submission from the investor firm Regnan noted the risk to Australian business from the abolition of the Climate Change Authority:

Abolition of the CCA increases the risk that Australian regulatory settings will move increasingly out of step with emissions reduction developments emerging at the international level in response to new science and global carbon budget commitments. The implications for Australian businesses would be to increasingly fall behind in carbon competitiveness, risking large and disruptive failure impacts in the future. We see implications particularly for carbon intensive companies with long-lived assets in the absence of regulatory settings which provide sufficient signalling to influence capital investment programs and technology choices.

Regnan's advice to the committee was particularly insightful. Here we have a market investor. They could invest coal energy, gas, transport infrastructure—you name it. They are advocating that investing in carbon intensive companies is a risk to them and to the people who trust them with their savings. These submissions are not questioning the so-called settled science on climate change; they are focusing on how we best mitigate our risks and how we get on with the job of reducing our emissions. They accept the link between human actions and climate change. They appreciate the work of the Climate Change Authority and value its independence.

This new coalition government is simply proposing to subsume the authority into the environment department. To do so will be to remove the independent advisory role, decrease transparency and decrease accountability and, no doubt, this will lead to Australia not meeting the bipartisan commitment of a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. There is a strong foundation of scientific fact underpinning the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the risk of global warming above two degrees. The science is settled. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has moved the settled science from 90 per cent confidence that humans are causing climate change to 95 per cent confidence. There is nowhere left to go but to heed this advice and to act.

I encourage the new coalition government to look beyond the rhetoric and keep the independent Climate Change Authority, recognise the public good that is contributed from quality independent advice and recognise that this authority may assist in clarifying and developing their Direct Action Plan. Climate change is too serious a problem to continue to play politics with. The world is acting and Australia must contribute to global emissions reduction efforts. We need strong action with legislated emissions reduction targets. We need independent advice on climate change policy. As the Chair of the Climate Change Authority, former Reserve Bank of Australia Governor, Bernie Fraser, recently said:

On a subject as complex as climate change, I would have thought every government—whatever its complexion—would want to get good independent advice.

This advice will not be provided by a government department. Logically, we must keep the Climate Change Authority.

6:31 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I dedicate this speech tonight on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 to all the people who were too young to cast a vote on 7 September 2013. I am proud to stand here today as a member of the Australian Greens in defence of the Climate Change Authority, an entity which most Australians could be forgiven for not even knowing existed until quite recently. The Climate Change Authority reviews Australia's emission reduction goals and progress towards the renewable energy target every two years from 2012. It performs this essential task free from interference from the executive and the parliament. This independence is essential. It operates in the same way as the Reserve Bank sets interest rates, independently of the superficial, political churn that can so often dominate debates in here. That independence is important precisely because the role of the authority needs to be guided by science and not by politics. In setting the pace of economywide emissions reductions, powerful interests are impacted—interests with open chequebooks and strong opinions, with direct access to this morning's cabinet meeting and tomorrow morning's newspaper headlines.

Does anyone remember the retro sounding phrase 'evidence based policy'? It sounds kind of quaint and naive as it rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? So far the government have abolished more than 20 expert authorities across the board, from the High Speed Rail Advisory Group to the National Housing Supply Council. They are like a pilot punching out the dials on the instrument panel one by one, even as the engines falter and the light fades. The Climate Change Authority though is the big one. With this single act of calculated stupidity they are smashing the only legislative guidance that they have got as to the speed and the urgency of the transition that is demanded of them. If they somehow wrangle the numbers to wreck the Climate Change Authority, they really will be flying blind. They are left waving around a feeble five per cent emissions target without the faintest idea of how to get there or what on earth they plan on doing with the other 95 per cent. So much for evidence based policy! We plunge headlong into the realm of 'making it up as you go along' based policy, except that when they fly blind and hit the wall on climate policy, they will take everyone else down with them.

I know the Prime Minister has been told by his minders to pretend that he no longer thinks climate change is crap. The government's tactical masterminds have settled on a rather more dishonest messaging strategy where they say: 'Sure, we believe in climate change. We just think we can tick it off more cheaply by shovelling money into the mouths of rent seekers and LNP candidates in marginal seats and calling it direct action.' They might as well just set fire to the money.

Yes, the climate has changed in the past. Senator Macdonald was at it again on Monday and a short while ago in this debate. I do not want to pick on my colleague from Queensland, because this attitude now corrupts the whole Liberal-National Party. It is the combination of self-confidence, stridency and breathtaking ignorance that makes it so difficult to have a sensible conversation. Yes, the climate has changed in the past. Some 240 million years ago earth was a desert planet and 15,000 years ago earth was in the deep winter of a planetary ice age with the sea level so low that you could walk out to Wadjemup, or Rottnest Island, which now lies 18 kilometres west of the port of Fremantle.

The climate can change profoundly and very rapidly relative to geological timescales. That is year 5 primary school science. So somewhere between year 5 and year 9 Senator Macdonald and a substantial number of his colleagues must have nodded off and missed some very important early high school science classes. Why would you want to take a system as delicately balanced as the global climate system, which you know can be thrown in a matter of centuries or millennia into quite a different regime, and put a blowtorch on it? Why would you want to take something as complex and powerful as the atmosphere itself and then dump tens of billions of tonnes of thermally opaque gases into it every single year and then when the place begins to heat up, more or less exactly as predicted, stand back and pretend that it is a total coincidence, because after all the climate has changed in the past without being shoved by fossil capitalism?

Joseph Fourier theorised about the insulating properties of the atmosphere in 1824, although the key role of carbon dioxide as a thermal blanket was not spelt out until Svante Arrhenius published his greenhouse law back in 1896. The work done by NASA, CSIRO and every single one of the world's national science academies on climate change research still rests on evidence that was tested more than a century ago. It is actually fine for senators in the Liberal and National parties to come in here and wave their scientific illiteracy at people as though it is some sort of strange badge of honour. It is actually fine, I mean it. You should not have to be an oceanographer or an atmospheric physicist to be a good legislator but, if you do not have these qualifications yourself, the least you can do is show basic respect to those who do have those qualifications and listen to what it is they are telling you. What they are telling you is—and I will break it down into smallish words—that burning coal, oil and gas is cooking the place. We need to stop doing that.

I am sorry that it offends your donors in the coal industry. I understand that it is also quite inconvenient for your benefactors in the gas industry. The problem is that allowing them to continue to undermine international climate agreements and poison domestic politics here, as they have done in the United States and elsewhere, is going to end up being quite inconvenient for everybody else. Let me explain what I meant by inconvenience.

In the 30-year campaign to sabotage meaningful international negotiations, your donors and your benefactors in the coal and gas industry have already committed us to dangerous global warming: the increased violence of storms as we have loaded more heat into the atmosphere and ocean; the perceptible sea level rise; the droughts; and the consequent insecurity, instability and war in places like Darfur as Lake Chad disappeared off the map. If we had followed through with the concerted efforts to front up to global warming in the 1980s and 1990s, when the issue first hit real global political prominence, we might have been able to avoid some of the storms that we are now sailing into. But instead the coal, oil and gas industries did everything they could to attack and undermine that global consensus as it was emerging. So now we live in a world in which dangerous global warming is a reality.

To get a sense of what this government is driving us into, look no further than today's approval of the Abbot Point coal terminal. This government is pressing on regardless, flying blind—not into a world with two degrees of average warming but potentially into one with four or more. Whether it be Abbot Point, whether it be the beach at James Price Point in the West Kimberley where a huge gas proposal is afoot, whether it be the multiple gas fracking operations that are underway or planned right around this ancient continent, whether it be the predominance of freeway building over public transport or the proposal to increase logging in old-growth, high-conservation-value forests in the south-west, all around us we see the same sad expressions of business as usual. They are taking us away from a world where we could potentially survive, a world of 1½ or two degrees of global warming. That would be a very damaging and difficult place to live in, but it would be manageable, not end-of-civilisation staff. It would be something that we could deal with if we moved into it with our eyes open.

But I want to talk now about what happens if we continue with the kind of business as usual that was on display this afternoon at Abbot Point and is on display everywhere else around the country, and that is four degrees of global warming. I commend to senators a book called Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World, edited by Peter Christoff. This book tells us that, according to the best models that we have—and it is like predicting the weather: it is not a precise science but it is nonetheless a science—and the best depth of expertise that we have, with a four-degree average temperature rise there will a quarter of a million coastal properties inundated by rising sea levels, at a total cost of around $63 billion; 17,200 heat related deaths a year, up from 5,800 today; snow just a distant memory in all but the very highest of alpine peaks on the east coast; a quarter of a billion people in the Asia-Pacific region displaced; and, by 2100, we will have locked in irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet, which effectively buys you seven or more metres of sea level rise, not in this century but in those to come.

I am glad that Senator Macdonald has joined us again. I want to tell him that I fully understand and the Greens understand that maintaining the Climate Change Authority and maintaining the carbon price and ramping it up—guiding that transition here in Australia—will not prevent those things if that is all we do. This needs to be internationally coordinated action. We need the kind of sabotage that is occurring here in Australia tonight to cease and desist in the United States, in Western Europe and in the emerging economies in India and Asia. We fully understand that this is a global problem, a global issue, and so we call on those industries in Australia—and their advocates in this very parliament—who say we should not do anything here until a global agreement has been reached, to cease and desist sabotaging those global agreements.

In a world with four degrees of global warming, our cities and entire climate systems will be basically unrecognisable. There are some various interesting studies in this book about the closest analogues of climates in future decades. Sydney, in one scenario, ends up like Rockhampton, in subtropical Queensland. Melbourne looks a bit more like Griffith, in regional New South Wales. Alice Springs mirrors the modern day Sudan, and the vast majority of the interior of Australia becomes effectively uninhabitable. The average annual temperature at Alice rises to 35½ degrees, in the hottest, driest scenario. That is the average. Darwin there is no analogue for. Darwin will be like no other city on earth. There is no climate system or climate zone on planet earth at the moment that matches what Darwinians will be living with in the year 2100 with four degree of global warming. Perth, my home town, will be an entirely different place—three to 4.8 degrees warmer; 50 per cent less rainfall on top of what we have already lost in the south-west; five to 16 per cent greater range of evaporation, which will exacerbate the frequency of droughts; increased heatwaves. It is effectively the depopulation of the northern wheat belt, which destroys a $2 billion industry and wipes out communities that have existed for more than 150 years.

That is what we are buying and that is the choice that is before us. At 3½ degrees, this most recent collection of essays tells us, up to 67 per cent of frogs, 87 per cent of mammals, 64 per cent of reptiles and 72 per cent of birds are committed to extinction. Eighty-five to 90 per cent of suitable habitat is lost. So we are setting in motion mass extinction through actions like the one the government proposes to take tonight. But it is not just our action here in the Australian parliament; it is actions in the Western Australian parliament, the United States congress, the Japanese diet and the Indian parliament. All around the world, these actions collectively are committing us to a mass extinction.

I want to raise this issue tonight. This is something that has come to me from the internet. It emerged online. I do not know who invented it. It is called the extinction symbol and it is meant to stand for the species that we are thoughtlessly dispatching to the silence of geology. It also speaks to us of the choices that we have made that brought us here and the choices that we will make in votes like this tonight, and those to come, about what kind of a species extinction we lock in for those decades to come. I think it is about time that we put the extinction symbol on the Hansard record, as a reminder to all of us who make decisions in votes like this one today. I checked this with the whips a few short time ago. I seek leave to table it now.

Leave granted.

And, against this imperative, Prime Minister Tony Abbott posts a YouTube video on his way overseas, demanding that the Senate do the right thing. Are you serious? Sorry, Sunshine, but the sound bites and shallow slogans that carried you through the election campaign and into the Prime Minister's office have just hit the wall.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Please refer to the Prime Minister by his title.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you saying that calling the Prime Minister 'Sunshine' is unparliamentary?

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes I am.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will withdraw if that is the case. I could think of other things, but that felt like it would suffice.

In 2008, in the very first speech that I read in here, I told an apocryphal story that seemed appropriate at the time. It was about a group of washer women at a riverbank who noticed a child floating past on the river, in trouble. One of them wades in and rescues the child. A short while later they see another child floating past and go out and rescue that one. Then another one floats by, and another. Before long, they are overwhelmed. Then one of the women turns and makes her way up the riverbank. The other women demand: 'Comrade, where are you going? We need you here.' Without looking back she says, 'I'm going to find whoever it is who's throwing them in.' And I feel as though I have spent with my colleagues five years in this place working my way upstream to find out who it is throwing these kids into harm's way—who is making these repetitive, short-term decisions that set such long-term disasters into motion. And here you are; we found you.

If anything that we have said tonight reaches any members of the coalition with a flicker of conscience, join us when we put this bill to a vote, cross the floor and vote for a bill that will give us a fighting chance to meet the challenges that our country has only just begun to confront. You can join the Greens. You can join the Labor Party. You will also be joining the solar industry—companies like SolarReserve, which just established an office in Perth and is hoping to roll out some of the projects at scale like those they do in the western part of the United States. You will be joining the wind energy developers. You will be joining the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. You will be joining campaigners and ordinary people all over the planet who are throwing everything they have at changing course while we still can. So, when we commit this bill to a vote, I know where I will be sitting. I thank the chamber.

6:46 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate Senator Ludlam giving me a couple of minutes on this particular bill. I am glad that he did at least acknowledge that the Labor Party and the Greens introducing the world's highest carbon tax is not going to make one iota of difference to the changing climate of the world.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It is unparliamentary to blatantly misrepresent in the chamber. People can go back to the Hansard record and see exactly what it was I said, but it was certainly not as he is repeating it here now. I am interested in his contribution. I am tempted to have the point of order take the next three minutes, but I won't. Please don't misrepresent me.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can't have a point of order for three minutes.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I could have a go. Please do not misrepresent me right after I made a contribution.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought that was what Senator Ludlam said. I take his word that he did not. But, if he did not, I repeat the question I keep asking of the Greens: how is it that Australia emits less than 1.4 per cent of the total world emissions of carbon? Under the Labor Party's carbon tax supported by the Greens we are going to reduce that by five per cent—so five per cent of 1.4 per cent. And yet Senator Milne spent her speech again today—and Senator Furner did last night—saying that all these huge new climatic problems that we are apparently having will all be fixed if we have this carbon tax that reduces Australia's emissions of 1.4 per cent by five per cent. Give me a break. How stupid. This is why I say this will be seen as one of the greatest frauds on the Australian people since Y2K. I await anyone from the Greens challenging me.

I also say to the Greens: while you are at it, you can stop getting GetUp! to ring me, because it does not make any difference. They are just wasting their phone call as they ring in.

But this is the point I make: Australia has the world's biggest carbon tax. It has destroyed jobs and small businesses and has not done a thing for the environment. If everybody in the world were doing it, I would not really agree, but I would go along with it. I have always said that; if the rest of the world does it, so should Australia. But the rest of the world is not going to do it. All you are doing is destroying Australian jobs and businesses, exporting them overseas for no gain for the environment. I would like to speak longer, but I think time is up. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.