Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

1:45 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to make some remarks on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. I want to open my remarks with a quote by Dr Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University—and apologies, Dr Jotzo, if I am pronouncing your last name incorrectly:

Axing the Authority would be the most severe blow to Australia’s climate change policy institutions. Even if the carbon price was repealed, the authority has an important role. It has to advise on Australia’s national emissions target, and provide deep and critical analysis on any policy aimed at cutting emissions.

There we have it. This is an independent authority, established by the Climate Change Authority Act 2011, which the coalition wants to abolish. It is trying to do so in a package of legislation to remove a carbon price. Removing a carbon price and abolishing the Climate Change Authority are separate things and should be dealt with as such. This should not be hidden away in other legislation, as the coalition has tried to do.

Australian voters do not realise what beneficial and effective climate change tools they will lose in this package. As I have said, the CCA is an independent body that provides expert advice on climate change policies. It provides expert advice based on facts. It presents them—and it is up to the government how they act on the information provided. The CCA is an essential tool in properly dealing with climate change. Australia will be left behind the rest of the world if we do not deal with climate change appropriately.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Come on, the rest of the world is going nowhere.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will go with you, Bozzie, in a minute. The rest of the world is taking action. If we do not do anything we will be left behind in environmental terms and Australian jobs will be affected. It makes no sense to get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and it makes no sense to get rid of the Climate Change Authority if we are serious about climate change. I understand the other side is not serious about climate change. To abolish the Climate Change Authority will send the message that this government is not serious about reaching its target to reduce carbon emissions by five per cent by 2020. It also will increase the opinion of the rest of the world that this government is not serious about climate change. There is no science minister and there was no minister representing Australia at the Warsaw climate talks. The coalition want to abolish the CEFC and the CCA and they have a leader who has called climate science 'crap'.

An authority like the CCA is essential because it is important that targets and policies recommended to deal with climate change come from agencies that are independent of government. If they are not independent of government, there will be a cloud of doubt over what is recommended. There is no transparency. This ensures policies are created not by the politics but by the facts. We have seen the coalition cut the Climate Commission in their haste to keep their pre-election promise. Getting rid of the carbon tax is one thing; getting rid of independent bodies that are making a positive contribution to the fight against climate change is quite another. You can have the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority and still get rid of a price on carbon. In fact, you need independent bodies such as these. We can repeal the carbon tax but still keep the authority that is essential to tackling climate change.

The coalition's biggest mistake is they are bundling all of these issues into one basket when they need to be dealt with separately. They are threatening to throw away a lot more than most people realise. There seems to be no thought or care about what is going to disappear. Effective tools are being thrown away in their haste.

In the UK they have the Committee on Climate Change, which is very similar to the Climate Change Authority. It was established in 2008. The UK Conservative government has not cut it; it is still there. It acts in a very similar way to the Climate Change Authority. If the coalition were to move the role of the CCA to the environment department, they would be removing all transparency and scrutiny and this would bring uncertainty about information. It would take away expert advice. It would take away an authority independent of government. It would add uncertainty. On a topic as important as climate change none of this makes a lot of sense.

This is bringing the politics back into it and making the facts insignificant. Australians do want to know that they are being given factual information on climate change. They want to know that action is being taken based on expert advice. There should be facts over politics in this argument for an independent authority, and that is what the CCA brings.

I accept that those on the other side have a view about climate change, the carbon tax and the like. I accept that they believe they have a strong mandate with respect to repealing the carbon tax. What I do not understand is that they do not look at the money of the reinsurance industry. Swiss Re is probably the largest reinsurer in the world. It is their task to take the insurance sold to households in Australia and the US and Europe and reinsure that risk. This is a company that, at the request of 722 investors representing US$87 trillion in assets, took part in the Carbon Disclosure Project's investor survey on climate change, a program designed to increase awareness of how to achieve efficiencies, realise monetary savings and capitalise on commercial opportunities from the management of energy, carbon emissions and climate change. This is a global insurer who says in its mission statement that 'climate change is in its DNA'. These are the people who manage the risk in a global sense, who have been saying there is an increased prevalence of natural disasters, who have been saying there is an increased number of hurricanes to hit the United States, and they reinsure those risks. These people have actually been working at this quite diligently for many years.

Look at Munich Re. Munich Re has been active around climate change and acquiring knowledge since 1973. It has devoted intense work re the issue of climate change and the consequences of global warming. So do not worry about the scientists, do not worry about the vast number of Australians who are concerned about climate change—I honestly am asked repeatedly whether I am personally going to fold on climate change. I say I am not, no. No, Labor is going to continue to resist this attempt to repeal the carbon tax. It was a then-opposition tactic used to win government. It disparaged the science, it disparaged the vast number of views in the Australian community, and it was very successful. I have to say the 'no carbon tax' line was a great opposition tactic, but we in this place have a greater responsibility to Australian voters and Australian citizens, to our children and grandchildren, than simply waving this bill through.

The money people of the world, the people who have been reinsuring risk for centuries, think that climate change is real, climate change is here—'it's in our DNA'—and they underwrite the risks which have been clearly identified. Natural disasters cost the global insurance industry around US$77 billion in 2012. These are the people who underwrite that risk—it is all about money: it is about maths, it is about actuaries, it is about economics—and they have no zealotry in them; it is all about facts and figures. But, interestingly, it is not only about money and facts and figures. The human toll, according to Swiss Re, of natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2012 cost 14,000 lives.

What we are talking about here is something that has not been portrayed by this current government. There is no leadership by this Prime Minister on this matter, and that is really interesting. I accept that you went there and you rattled that can on carbon tax—

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It won the election.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

and won the election on it. I do not know if voters have ever actually voted for a tax, so I do not suppose that the dropping of 'carbon' from in front of 'tax' would have made much difference, but the reality is the scientists are all saying that there is an issue. They are staking their reputations on it. Labor put up a couple of institutions, the CCA and the CFC, which would provide independent, rational advice—the government did not have to abide by the advice, it just had to be responded to—and ensuring that they had independence in what we are telling voters. And when you do go down the reinsurance side of climate change—the money men and women, those people who run these vast global conglomerates underwriting insurance re climate change and national disaster—there is no dispute there. You do not get any dispute there. Swiss Re says climate change and the management of those efficiencies arising from it is 'in their DNA'. They say that they underwrite 722 organisations representing $77 trillion worth of assets.

This issue has been distorted for short-term political gain. It has been disparaging to a vast number of conscientious scientists, and ignores the DNA of the Liberal Party to look where the money is. The money is saying that climate change is real, that natural disasters cost lots of money. And what nation should not take responsible action, including taking responsible, independent advice from the CCA, to mitigate the effects of that not only on the Australian population but on the Australian economy? It defies common sense that this government take a low-ball strategy to win an election and ignore the national imperatives of climate change and the effect on the economy. If they go their way—and I have had a look at their policy—they will be paying polluters not to pollute. Forget all the other arguments. All economists will tell you a price is what changes behaviour—a price on speeding stops people speeding and a price on pollution will stop people polluting—not paying people to pollute a little bit more slowly, which is what appears to be the guts of the Abbott government's policy on climate change.

I would like to simply restate that they need to have a good look at their policy, look at where the financial institutions of the world, in terms of reinsurance—

Debate interrupted.