Senate debates

Monday, 3 March 2014


Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013, Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill 2013; Second Reading

5:38 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australian political representatives on both sides of the ideological divide are often accused of being short-sighted. Too concerned about immediate political advantage and winning the day, they forget about the long-term challenges facing Australia.

For the most part, I think this is an unfair characterisation. Many of the policies of the previous Labor government demonstrate that we were ready to face the harder and long-term challenges that Australia has been confronted with. These included initiatives designed to diversify Australia's economy, so it was less reliant on our mining exports; infrastructure projects such as the National Broadband Network, which the Australia of today needs if we want to stay competitive in the economy of tomorrow; and policies such as the Better Schools package, which sought to overhaul the model of education funding in Australia and ensure that the workforce of Australia's future had access to people with a world-class education. None of these policies were short-sighted. In fact, I can confidently say that they all had the long-term interests of Australia and Australians at their core. However, I cannot say this about the bills we are now debating: the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills.

It is without a doubt one of the most short-sighted, narrow-minded and senseless pieces of legislation I have seen in my 18 years as a senator in the Australian parliament. This bill not only repeals a piece of legislation that is working; it replaces it with something that even its proponents know will not work. Labor's position on climate change is clear, because the science of climate change is clear.

Over 97 per cent of published climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that it is driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Since the beginning of the 20th century global average air temperature has increased by just under one degree Celsius. The average temperature in Australia has increased by 0.9 degrees over the last century and every decade since the 1950s has been hotter than the one preceding it.

We know that the speed of this climb in global temperature is unprecedented in the history of the earth. The World Meteorological Organization records show that the decade from 2001 to 2010 was the world's warmest decade and that the 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, which, in turn, were warmer than the 1980s.

We also know that, over the same period, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to climb. Since the industrial revolution, human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and land clearing have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

We are now seeing the environmental impacts of this climate change. Our oceans are changing, with climbing greenhouse emissions as well. Firstly, the oceans are becoming warmer. The world’s oceans absorb 90 per cent of the heat input caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Sea temperature is the single greatest determinate of the diversity, abundance and distribution of marine life in Australian coastal waters. It stands to reason that any change in sea temperature could therefore have a devastating effect on the marine ecosystems that surround Australia, including of course our World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.

Greenhouse emissions are also making the world’s oceans more acidic. For tens of millions of years the world's oceans have remained at a relatively stable acidity level. However, in the last 200 years, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have witnessed a rapid and substantial increase in the acidity of the world's oceans.

The oceans absorb carbon dioxide where it forms carbonic acid. It has a massive capacity to do this. We now know that about half of the anthropogenic carbon emissions have been absorbed by the ocean over time. That actually slowed the rate of climate change as the ocean took on a disproportionate amount of emissions compared to the atmosphere.

This acidification has considerable environmental impacts, slowing the growth of hard-shelled organisms. This may seem minor, but these same organisms are the basis of the marine ecosystems that produce the fish we eat. With over a third of the world’s population relying on seafood as their primary source of protein this represents a major problem.

Finally, changes in atmospheric temperature are causing the world's sea levels to rise through a combination of melting ice caps and thermal expansion of the oceans’ water. We know that even a slight rise in ocean level could have a serious impact on Australia’s eastern seaboard, not to mention the many island nations in our region which face devastation with rising sea levels.

Climate scientists have not just pointed out the correlation between emissions and warming; they have discovered the causes underlying the link. The ability of carbon dioxide to influence the earth’s climate has been understood for well over a century. We know that atmospheric carbon dioxide is one of the most significant drivers of global climate change. We also have some idea of what the consequences will be if the world fails to act to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned the world that aggressive mitigation strategies are required to hold global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

The Labor Party accepts all of this and we believe that something needs to be done about it. During our tenure of government we implemented an integrated set of policies to drive deep reductions in carbon pollution, while enabling us to achieve more ambitious targets in the long term.

Firstly, we introduced an emissions trading scheme, which put a legal limit on pollution for Australia’s 370 largest polluters, specifically formulated to cut pollution in the cheapest and most effective way. Every year this legal limit reduces the ability to ensure that Australia meets its pollution reduction targets and, by extension, our international obligation in the fight against climate change.

By pricing carbon, the ETS encourages businesses to develop technologies and processes that curb their carbon emissions. In keeping with this we gave unprecedented support to the renewable energy sector. Our renewable energy target guaranteed that at least 20 per cent of Australia's electricity would come from renewable resources by 2020. Labor invested $3 billion in the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to support innovations that not only increased the supply of renewable energy in Australia but also made our country competitive in the international market for renewable energy technology. ARENA, which is the acronym for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, supports 100 projects in Australia.

We also established the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which this government tried to abolish the last time we sat in this place. We did this because we respected the consensus of the world's scientific community. And we did it because we took the advice of Australia's leading economists, who still say that a market based mechanism would be the most effective means of reducing emissions without damaging our national economy. Unsurprisingly, these policies are working. During our time in office Australia's wind capacity trebled, more than one million solar panels were installed, compared with only 7,500 under the Howard government, and employment more than doubled in the renewable energy sector.

Within one year of the introduction of the carbon price we saw a significant impact on Australia’s emissions and our economy—but not in the way this government would have us believe. In fact, 150,000 jobs were created with the carbon price in place. Our economy grew by 2½ per cent and inflation remained at record lows. Crucially, though, Australia’s pollution in the National Electricity Market decreased by seven per cent, while our renewable energy generation grew by 25 per cent.

By any measure, the carbon-pricing mechanism was a success: emissions declined in the industries targeted by the price, the renewable energy sector grew and the economy remained strong. Yet today we have a bill in front of us that will abolish this mechanism and replace it with a package of legislation as worthless as the paper it is printed on—Direct Action. Under the coalition's Direct Action, instead of having Australia’s 370 largest polluters pay for their pollution and the costs that pollution imposes on the rest of us, Australian taxpayers will finance a slush fund to pay polluters to cut their emissions without any guarantees that equivalent emissions reductions are actually occurring—the Emissions Reduction Fund. This fund relies on the ‘baseline and credit’ methodology—a methodology under which it is impossible to know whether emissions reductions are truly additional or whether they would have happened anyway. And despite what the government might say, no amount of rigorous policy design can fix this fundamental flaw. No independent analysis and no reputable economist or climate scientist has been able to demonstrate that Direct Action can deliver on the coalition government's claims. Their policy will remove a cap on Australia’s carbon emissions, meaning that our environment will once again be put aside for the short-term economic gain of those who are big polluters.

But worst of all, perhaps—and there are many bad things about it—this policy will see Australia default on its 2020 reduction targets. We know it and the government knows it. Mr Abbott has already indicated that he intends to abandon Australia’s emissions reductions targets when Direct Action fails. And he is scrapping the organisation that recommended these targets—the Climate Change Authority.

The reality is that the coalition government is happy to sit back and do nothing while Australia fails to meet its obligations to the international community and to do its part to combat global climate change. That is exactly how Direct Action will be viewed by the international community—as a refusal by Australia to act while the rest of the world moves to tackle climate change. Ninety-nine countries, including Australia, have made formal pledges to the United Nations to reduce carbon pollution. Collectively that covers over 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of the global economy. Thirty-five countries, including Australia, have national emissions trading schemes. Collectively they have a population of 560 million people. When we include subnational emissions trending schemes, that number grows to 900 million. By 2015 that number will be closer to two billion. China even plans to introduce a nationwide ETS after 2015. But no other country relies on grants-tendering schemes like the Emission Reductions Fund as their primary policy to reduce emissions. And that is because no other country has a government that is foolish enough to implement a policy that will drain their budget, trash their international reputation and do nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

We used to be in a privileged position here in Australia. We used to argue about whether Australia should lead the world in the fight against climate change. Labor always believed that we should—that if we could then we should. We had survived the global financial crisis thanks to the stable management of our economy by the Labor government and we were best positioned to develop the clean energy policies and the technologies the rest of the world would come to rely on. That is what the clean energy package was designed to do for Australia, and what it still could do for Australia—as long as the bill before us today does not pass.

I find it very depressing to know that with a change of government Australia has gone from leading the world to debating whether Australia should be left behind. And make no mistake: if this piece of legislation passes through our parliament, Australia will, I believe, be left behind. It will be humiliating for Australia and a great blight on our history as it is told in later years. As a country we cannot hide from the economic or environmental impacts climate change is going to have on Australia. One way or the other, we will be forced to transform into a clean energy economy. But for every day that this government delays, for every backward step it takes and forces the rest of the country to take, it will only make that transition more difficult and ultimately more painful for the people of Australia—particularly future generations, who will be left to pick up the pieces of the era of neglect.

That is why the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill and related bills that we are debating should not pass. As a nation we should not sacrifice our long-term stability and prosperity and our international reputation so that Australia's big polluters can continue to make more money today. If we do, history will judge this government and this parliament as hopelessly short-sighted—and none of us will be able to say that that is an unfair judgement.

Australia is a proud place of extraordinary innovators. Their ability to take great ideas and turn them into inspiring technologies designed to shape our country for the future and to meet those modern challenges is, I think, unsurpassed. We were able to demonstrate, through a period of government, the success of great Australian ideas turning into great Australian businesses, with those businesses contributing to the economic transformation that we all know is so essential for our country.

Our abundance of sunshine, our tracts of land and the availability of space mean that we are in a unique position to harness the sun's energy and not only replace, through renewable technologies, what we are currently using in fossil fuels but do it in a way that the rest of the world can look at and be inspired by. This in turn is an export industry in itself.

I recall the years very early on in the Howard government when I lamented the reductions in the higher education budget of the late nineties that saw our leading position in the area of photovoltaic technology diminish over the subsequent decade because of that lack of early investment. While we were able to restore that position on many fronts, through a period of Labor government, we are now seeing the same pattern again. The disinvestment that is occurring in that sector, and the walking away from a program of investment that would see us meet our renewable energy targets, not only fails to address the issue of climate change but is disabling what is arguably one of our most significant future export opportunities in renewable energy that Australia is likely to see as we move through the next challenging decade.

5:55 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take this opportunity to reflect while we are here having a debate about whether to repeal our clean energy laws. I do not think a debate about how best to respond to climate change is a bad thing—it is a good thing: there are many different views on the best strategies to tackle climate change, many of which are perfectly reasonable and worthy of debate. The merits of a fixed tax versus a floating price, the degree to which overseas emissions should be allowed, the role of direct industry subsidies, the role of a renewable energy target and complementary financing mechanisms are all important policy questions—and we should debate them. But that is not what we are debating today.

This is not a debate about the most appropriate economic response to the threat of runaway climate change. What is so disappointing today is that we have a debate because the Australian parliament is still divided on whether climate change is worth responding to at all, on whether climate change exists, on whether climate change is real. We have been over this issue many times, and there are many things I could say, but for me the most interesting question is this: how is it that something that is accepted as a scientific fact in most other developed countries is still the subject of such intense debate here in Australia?

I say that because the existence of climate change is not a matter of opinion. It is a scientific question that we can answer empirically. I do accept that science is messy. Scientific discovery is not really an event; it is a process—Eureka moments are the exception rather than the rule. It is messy: it involves real-world experimentation, it involves developing complex models, it involves repeating experiments, it involves publishing results and it involves testing your conclusions by publishing your evidence in the peer-reviewed literature. The conclusion of the scientific process when it comes to climate change tells us something unambiguously: that human induced climate change is real, that it is happening and that it is cause for enormous concern. Most countries accept this; they accept that climate change is a real threat to our way of life. They accept that not taking strong action is simply unthinkable.

In most countries this is not a political issue—it is not a left-or-right issue, it is not a conservative-versus-progressive issue. In fact, in many countries it is the economic dries, in the tradition of Margaret Thatcher, that are leading the charge, that are pushing for a robust response to climate change—because they know that the biggest hump in the road on the way to economic growth is now climate change; they understand that you cannot talk about jobs, housing, cost of living or taxes without taking into account the effects of climate change. So what is it in this country that makes it such a hot political issue? Why do we have so many armchair experts who claim to have some special insight into the science?

Reflecting on that question, the example of tobacco control is quite instructive because the parallels are quite stark. I would like to point to the work of the authors of a publication called The Merchants of Doubt, who have documented these parallels in great detail. It is now 50 years since the Surgeon General, in 1964, stated categorically that smoking was a cause of lung cancer. Yet it took decades before governments acted. Why the delay? Many of the same factors are at play when it comes to climate change. In both examples what you see is the role played by a small group of hand-picked scientists, the role of vested interests, the role of the media, and the lack of political leadership all coming together in a lethal cocktail, where the community are confused and where complacency and inertia are the result.

In the smoking example, we had the tobacco industry hand-pick and pay a small group of sympathetic scientists who believed that the attempt to establish a link between tobacco and lung cancer was part of some grand conspiracy to control people's lives and restrict their freedoms—no different to the way people with environmental concerns are seen today. We saw tobacco industry executives cultivate relationships with key journalists. They targeted journalists they knew were sympathetic, and they appealed to this notion of journalistic balance, as though there were two valid sides to this debate. Here, when it comes to climate change, we have people like our own Bob Carter, who is an adviser to the IPA. He is paid a monthly fee by their American counterpart, the Heartland Institute, as 'part of a program to pay high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist message'. And let us not forget that we have Morris Newman joining the tinfoil hat brigade as one of this government's chief business advisors.

When it comes to the media it is of course hard to go past News Limited's reporting of climate change. But it is not just the Murdoch press that should be singled out. We have a number of outlets, including our own ABC, who have bought into the idea that balanced reporting means giving equal time to opposing arguments, even when one argument has no basis in fact and has been comprehensively discredited. I have always believed that good journalism is not about subscribing to some misplaced idea about balance; it is about getting to the truth.

I want to say something about the creeping censorship that has emerged in this debate—for example, the howls of outrage when someone has the temerity to link extreme weather events with climate change. Soon after the typhoon in the Philippines, for example, I made a simple ,very factual observation that extreme weather is the face of climate change. My colleague Adam Bandt made a similar point when discussing the unseasonal bushfires in New South Wales in October last year. And, of course, we got the mock outrage from the usual suspects, with people like Andrew Bolt saying it was disgraceful that the Greens used a natural disaster to pursue a political agenda, that we would seek to gain political advantage out of this event; that cheap opportunism of this sort is to be deplored, that our comments were insensitive and hurtful, and that we were ideologues who would use any human tragedy for our own selfish political ends.

The ultimate disrespect here is not by those people who are prepared to state what is a simple fact. The disrespect here to victims is by self-appointed censors who indicate that it is now inappropriate that we say when we are seeing something that harms people around the world. Is it the wrong time to talk about road safety if a bus goes off a cliff? Is it wrong to be talking about the responsibility of the coal mine operators in Morwell while the town is blanketed in smoke? Should we not talk about alcohol related violence when someone is in intensive care? Of course we should. That is precisely the time to talk about it. At a time when these things occupy the public consciousness, that is precisely the time to talk about it.

It is not just the Greens who say that. Listen to what the delegate to the Warsaw climate conference said days after the typhoon in the Philippines:

To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair. I dare you to go to the islands of the Pacific, the islands of the Caribbean and the islands of the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling polar ice caps …

Likewise, people living in rural communities affected by bushfires—such as people in my community; I live in an area that is and has been affected by bushfires—have expressed their gratitude to me for daring to say that climate change is a factor in bushfires.

It is easy to blame the media and focus on vested interests, but what we cannot ignore here is the complete lack of political leadership we have seen. I was disappointed when Labor walked away from what was then the greatest moral challenge of our generation and proposed a citizen's assembly. But of course the great criticism here must be directed at the Abbott government. The real political opportunism here was Abbott's seizing the leadership on the back of his party's division over the issue of climate change and suddenly turning an environmental catastrophe into a cost-of-living debate.

What we needed during the last parliament was someone from either side of politics to talk about the reality of climate change in terms of what it really is: a looming environmental catastrophe—one of the great health challenges of the coming generation. Then there is the impact it will have on our neighbours and what it will mean in terms of rising oceans and creating a new class of climate refugees. That is the sort of debate that was missing, because we had two parties falling over each other to tell Australians just how tough they have it and that this was simply a cost-of-living issue.

I could say that many of the actions of the various players in this—that is, the media, the hand-picked scientists, the business advisers and some of the politicians—are motivated by greed or malice. I think that might be true in some cases. But, for the most part, I think something more powerful is at play when it comes to the climate change debate.

What unites most of the opponents of action on climate change is that they live in denial—and I have spoken about denial before. It is a powerful defence mechanism because it helps us deal with uncomfortable or, dare I say it, inconvenient truths. I saw it many times in my medical practice—the smoker who coughs up blood but refuses to go and see a GP or the lady who has a lump but refuses to go and see a GP. They do not see their GP because they worry about what the implications might be.

When it comes to climate change, something very similar is going on. We have people who are ill-equipped, or perhaps simply unable, to deal with what is a very uncomfortable truth. It is uncomfortable because climate change challenges, at its heart, the conservative world view, this world view that grants humans dominion over the earth. It challenges conservative notions of progress and, above all, it forces people on that side of politics to admit that the market has failed. Almost exclusively, people on the conservative side of politics have an almost blinkered world view when it comes to the infallibility of markets. They see any challenge to the primacy of markets as a heresy and that any government intervention is an evil to be avoided at all costs. It is a belief system, an article of faith—no different from any other sort of fundamentalism.

The irony is that opponents of putting a price on pollution are actually arguing against market principles. It might surprise people to know that many of us over here understand the importance of markets. But we also recognise that markets fail. Where there are monopolies, where there is information asymmetry or where there are externalities—as we have seen with climate change—markets do not operate efficiently. Climate change represents the most spectacular example of market failure our generation has ever seen. That is why most economists understand that putting a price on pollution is the most efficient way of combating climate change—and it is why the coalition's Direct Action Plan has no support among the mainstream economic community. Tony Abbott once said that carbon dioxide was an odourless, colourless gas. The Direct Action Plan is friendless and it stinks.

I will now move on to the carbon tax bills.    Australians have every right to be proud of the package of clean energy legislation that was introduced in the last parliament. The clean energy industry was bolstered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and by the renewable energy target—something else that is in the coalition's crosshairs. Combined with the emissions trading scheme and the establishment of the Climate Change Authority, it was one of the great achievements of the last parliament. The Greens understood it was not perfect, but we were proud of it. Sadly, however, it was undermined from day one. It was undermined by political opportunism, cheap shots, misleading claims and simple slogans.

It is easy to wreck things. Being a wrecker is easy. Tearing things down is easy. Building things is hard. What we have now is a government made up of wreckers who want to tear things down, who want to tear down action on climate change, Medicare and our public education system. Tearing things down is easy. Creating things, building things, nation building—that is hard and that is where this government is failing.

This is not a debate about electricity bills. It is not about scoring cheap political points and settling scores. It is not about Left-Right politics. It is not about conservationists versus obstructionists. This is a debate about life and death. Reducing it to a misleading discussion about a few dollars here and there is irresponsible. That is where the real political opportunism is happening. Failing to face up to the challenge of climate change because there is some political mileage to be gained is the very essence of political opportunism. I am certain that Australians of the future, the generations who come after us, will look back on today's debates with a mixture of anger and bewilderment. They will know that, unlike the generations before us, we had the science and we had the knowledge—and yet we failed to act.

The clean energy package implemented with the support of the Greens represented real hope in turning the tide on climate change and putting Australia on a clean energy footing. To step back now—now that the evidence is clear, now that we have the knowledge—would be a great tragedy. It would be a complete abrogation of our responsibility to future generations. I therefore urge the Senate to do what is right. We cannot pass these bills and we cannot walk away once again from the great moral challenge of our generation. We must protect our clean energy laws.

At the request of Senator Milne, I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

"but the Senate:

(a) rejects this bill and the related bills;

(b) recognises that:

  (i) the world is on track for 4 degrees of warming; and

  (ii) warming of less than 1 degree is already intensifying extreme weather events in Australia and around the world with enormous costs to life and property;

(c) calls on the government to:

  (i) protect the Australian people and environment from climate change by approving no new coal mines or extensions of existing mines, or new coal export terminals; and

  (ii) adopt a trajectory of 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050 emissions reduction target in global negotiations for a 2015 treaty."

6:14 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When we have these debates it is worth stating clearly what they are about—and also what they are not about. I will briefly address some of the contribution from Senator Di Natale and the Greens. It is not about the alarmist ravings that we heard from Senator Di Natale. It is not about the Greens' attempts capitalise on tragic deaths and link every fire, drought, flood, cold snap, heatwave and cyclone to climate change. It is not about that. It is nice that Senator Di Natale spent his last five minutes talking about the bills in front of us. This debate today is about honouring the will of the Australian people.

It might surprise the Greens, but of the parties represented here only the Greens have gone to the last couple of elections supporting a carbon tax. The Liberal Party did not go to the last couple of elections supporting a carbon tax and the Labor Party did not go to the last couple of elections promising to introduce a carbon tax.

Senator Di Natale interjecting

Senator Di Natale rightly interjects, and I pay him credit. The Greens are being consistent on this issue. They are wrong, but they are being consistent—as opposed to the Labor Party, who have been nothing but deceitful on this issue. Senator Di Natale is spot-on when he says the Greens are honouring what they said they would do before the election. They are wrong; they should honour the mandate that we have. But the Labor Party has now gone to two consecutive elections lying to the Australian people about the carbon tax. They have gone to—

Photo of Jan McLucasJan McLucas (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I have a point of order on appropriate language. The senator should select his words in line with Senate and parliamentary language.

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

There is no point of order.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We note the Labor Party's sensitivity on this issue, through Senator McLucas. They have not told the truth. They have lied to the Australian people for a couple of elections in a row. That is fundamentally what this debate is about. It is about honouring the will of the Australian people—not the eight per cent who voted for the Greens and voted for a carbon tax. It is about honouring the will of the 90-odd per cent who voted against the carbon tax. That is what this debate is about.

Never before had a government sought to sabotage its own economy as the Labor-Greens coalition did when it introduced the carbon tax. I think never before has a major political party lied about the same issue two elections in a row. For two elections in a row the Labor Party has gone to the people and lied about its intentions on the carbon tax. The first was in 2010, when they said they would not bring it in. The second was when, having not honoured that promise, they went to the 2013 election promising to terminate the carbon tax. Now they have the opportunity and they are choosing to dishonour that promise again.

The mums and dads, the small-business men and women, and the pensioners of Australia are waiting for the judgement they delivered at the last election to be honoured in this place. That is what they are waiting for. They are waiting for the judgement that they gave on this issue to be honoured, and the Senate should respect the judgement of the Australian people. They should respect the judgement of those small-business men and women, those mums and dads, and those pensioners who are doing it tough, who want that relief and who are now waiting for what they voted for—and what the overwhelming majority of people voted for—to be honoured.

In introducing this bill to the House of Representatives the Prime Minister took the first and most important step in building a more prosperous economy for all Australians. This was a tax introduced by the previous government after promising not to do it. They then promised to terminate it. It is worth reflecting on what Kevin Rudd had to say on it. Before the 2013 election, he said:

The Government has decided to terminate the carbon tax to help cost-of-living pressures for families and to reduce costs for small business …

We agree that terminating the carbon tax would reduce cost-of-living pressures and would be good for small business in this country. That is what we are seeking to do through these bills.

This is a tax that unfortunately does not help the environment but does hurt consumers and businesses. It is a tax which is all pain for no gain. It is staggering to fathom the true cost of the tax: a $7.6 billion hit on the Australian economy in 2012-13 and a direct hit on 75,000 businesses. It is $7.6 billion for an emissions decrease of only 0.1 per cent. Scrapping the carbon tax will mean that families, on average, will be $550 better off this financial year. It will mean that electricity bills will be $200 lower a year and gas bills $70 lower a year. Electricity prices went up by around 10 per cent because of the carbon tax and we know—as Kevin Rudd himself said, when he was promising to scrap it before the election—that scrapping the tax will relieve families of that cost burden.

We saw a recent example right here in the ACT, with the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission's determination. We know that in July 2012 electricity prices went up in the ACT by 17.7 per cent, and around 14 per cent of that 17 per cent increase was attributed to the carbon tax. We heard recently, in the determination from the ICRC, that the complete removal of the price on carbon considered in isolation would cause ACT retail electricity prices to fall by about 12 per cent. That is what we would see right here in the ACT.

The senior commissioner of the ICRC said:

It is important that customers enjoy the lower retail electricity prices that would flow from such a move as early as possible.

I say, 'Hear, hear,' to that. We on this side agree wholeheartedly with the statement of the senior commissioner of the ICRC

It is important that we get this tax repealed as soon as possible so that electricity users around this country can enjoy lower prices and have their cost-of-living pressures eased. These are real cost reductions of hundreds of dollars, and we did not hear anything about it from the senator representing the ACT, Senator Lundy. There was no mention of the 12 per cent decrease that would occur here in the ACT if she and her colleagues voted for lower electricity and gas prices for consumers here and right around the nation. If it is not removed, families will not get the relief that they deserve.

The repeal of the carbon tax will enhance the competitiveness of both big business and small business. It means that businesses will save $87.6 million each year in compliance costs because they will no longer have to deal with the red tape of the carbon tax. We on this side of the Senate want to see businesses flourishing, and there are a range of things that need to be done. Lowering their electricity costs is a very important part of allowing businesses to flourish. We know this because we have heard it from so many businesses. Just in the last few days we have heard from the Virgin Australia CEO, John Borghetti, who stated that the best assistance the government and the opposition can provide is the removal of the carbon tax, which has cost this industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is all well and good to lament issues that the industry is having, but those opposite—the Labor Party and the Greens—are imposing hundreds of millions of dollars of additional costs on those industries. This debate is about removing those costs. Virgin Australia reported a half-year loss of $84 million, which included a slug of $27 million for the carbon tax. We know the figure for Qantas is a $106 million hit from the tax just this year. This is a cost that overseas airlines do not pay. It is a cost that the vast majority of overseas businesses are not burdened with. So it is effectively a reverse tariff that hits our companies—companies based here and companies employing people here—that does not hit their international competitors. That is why it is reckless, that is why Kevin Rudd was right to promise to terminate the carbon tax and that is why the Labor Party should honour that promise, having broken its promise before the 2010 election.

The hypocrisy of those opposite is astounding. Of course, those opposite would be fully aware that not only is the carbon tax hurting now but it is also set to rise. At the beginning of the new financial year, if not repealed, the carbon tax will rise to $25.40 a tonne. Just last week, the Labor Party abandoned their support for carbon tax options. They said yes to saving businesses and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. I call on them to go one step further and support the repeal of the carbon tax, as the Australian people have urged them to do and expressed in the clearest possible terms at the last election. This debate is about honouring the will of the Australian people, lowering the cost burden on businesses and lowering electricity prices for families, pensioners and those doing it tough in our community. Not only do we have the Labor Party and the Greens voting to increase electricity prices and to increase gas prices, but they are doing it in the face of the clearest possible message that has been delivered to them at the ballot box. It is time that that mandate was respected. It is time that this carbon tax was repealed.

6:26 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I go to the remarks that I have prepared, I will just say how hard it is to sit here and listen to the sort of speech that we have just heard where all of this fake care for families and small business is being put on the record. Let's get some facts and not just about the climate change debate. Let's go to a few families that, at this time, will have been able to manage getting their kids to school with the assistance of the schoolkids bonus. For families that are eligible for the family tax benefit part A, $410 for primary school children and $820 for those students in secondary school will enable them to have choices in the subjects that they are interested in because a little bit of pressure will come off the family budget. If you are an average Australian with maybe three kids, like I have, and you are eligible for that $820, $410 and $410—depending on their school level—it is a lot of money to assist you with getting your child to school. That is an awful lot more to be taken away from the Australian people than the amounts we have heard the senator over there, with respect, putting on the record today.

They are rubbery figures, they are uncertain figures, and we cannot be sure that any change they make would flow on to ordinary people. Let's not forget, when we are talking about the flow-on to businesses, those business people who are taking a risk and setting up their business are often struggling, and the family tax benefit part A is something many of them are eligible for as well. They are going to have that asset and support for them and their family taken away. I think these crocodile tears for families are an absolute a myth. They are a pretence, and they take away from the quality of the conversation that Australian politicians should be having with real families, where they address real things, instead of this nonsense which they created at the beginning of the carbon price debate and which they are continuing now in this chamber.

With regard to climate change, the act that is now being debated is one that this nation will look back on and absolutely regret. It is a negative, backward-looking piece of legislation that is attempting to take us back to the 1950s and some benign view of the world. The reality is that we have to attend to climate change. This is a day inscribed in Hansardlest the coalition make that a state secret as well—to which the Australian public will point as yet another time that the Abbott government betrayed their trust. I know that the coalition are keen on having these days at the moment. It seems the more that they betray the trust of Australia the happier they are. They have already proclaimed a number of actions that we can point to in their short time in office where they have blatantly reneged on their responsibility to govern in the national interest for all Australians—not just for some Australians with loud voices and deep pockets. In opposition, the coalition promised to be an open and accountable government, a government of adults. I hear Senator Lines frequently asking, 'Will the adults actually stand up?' because we have not seen much adult behaviour from those here yet. Instead, we have seen them walk in and pull down the shutters and threaten the very institutions whose role— (Time expired)

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30

I might reiterate a couple of the comments that I made before the break and then continue with my prepared remarks. We have been hearing from the government here in the Senate that they are going to repeal the carbon legislation. They have been making much of its being a fantastic thing for ordinary families. The reality is, though, that while they may hold out some hope of returning some money to some families, they are taking money away, hand over fist, from the schoolkids bonus—$410 per annum for children in primary school and $820 for young people in high school. This bonus is going to eligible families who receive family tax benefit A—a very significant contribution to those families' incomes. The bonus is positively and powerfully making a difference to the cost-of-living pressures that are on families.

If, like me, you have three children—mine are just about out of school; my last one is in year 12—you would know that with one student in high school and two in primary school you would stand to lose $820 for the secondary school student and $410 for each of the children in primary school. When you add that up, $1,640 is a lot more than anything that the coalition government are promising to return the average family household. It may be better to say that they are indicating that they may return it to the average family household.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC) Share this | | Hansard source

Don't believe anything they say.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not believe them. I appreciate that prompt from my colleague. We cannot believe anything they say because the reality is that they are there to support their friends in big business. They are happy for companies that are polluting to get away with doing that for free. That is really what a carbon price is to for. Just as I have to pay to put my garbage in the bin and put it in the front yard to be taken away, the carbon price is about making the people who pollute—the limited numbers of big businesses who pollute excessively in our environment—pay for what they are doing.

In responding to the pressure of big business, the new Liberal-National Party coalition have decided that they are going to be the friends of big business. They are not friends of small business. When the government talk about businesses benefiting they do not realise that small businesses in the community are where the Schoolkids Bonus will be spent and which will be advantaged by that. There is the small business, for example, of Payless Shoes at Woy Woy, near where I live, where schoolchildren have been getting their shoes. With a little pressure off family budgets, people might be able to go and have a coffee in such small businesses, and keep that small business alive.

People who are starting up small businesses are never flush with cash. They have lost their instant asset write-off under these supposed friends of small business—those sitting on the opposite side of the chamber, who are really crying crocodile tears but doing nothing to put money into the pockets of ordinary Australians who are genuinely doing it tough in terms of managing their family budgets.

This government's unseemly assault of the national broadcaster is another example of the way in which they are ignoring the reality of being a government that has a vision for the country. Our national broadcaster, the ABC, dared to raise serious allegations but that was swiftly followed by the launch of an efficiency review by those opposite, as well as plans to cut the ABC's budget by almost a quarter of a billion dollars. These are all the sneaky things that they are doing. They are pretending that they are friends of the ordinary Australian. They are pretending that they are friends of small business. They are pretending that they are friends of the Australian population while cutting and slashing away.

Such actions are clumsy attempts to bully and cajole our national broadcaster into meek compliance. This, coupled with Mr Abbott's and Mr Morrison's hiding behind the navy and claiming war-time censorship to justify their secretive contempt of the Australian public, clearly shows that this is a government addicted to secrecy—

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Under standing order 193 imputation of improper motives or personal reflections on members is disorderly.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw. This government is apparently reliant on a compliant press. They are going to do all they can to endeavour to make that press comply. They promised that they would improve relations with Indonesia; instead they have allowed them to be dragged through the mud in an unseemly fashion that has damaged both nations' interests in the process.

This government promised to be responsible with public expenditure but on coming to office have proceeded to blow the budget by billions of dollars. As well, they are foregoing significant revenue. It is little wonder they were hell-bent on removing the debt ceiling without even bothering to inform the parliament where the money would go. And, thanks to the economic fringe dwellers from the Greens party, they have got their wishes. They promised a unity ticket on the Gonski funding model before the election and then, as soon as they got here, they decided to break that critical election promise that is about building the capacity of this nation. It is not just about kids in school but their productive capacity as great learners moving into the 21st century.

Now they are pretending that the $1.2 billion with no strings attached for the non-signatory states is an improvement on Labor's model, but there is no mention of the fact that those states can, as a result of this Liberal government coming into power, now gut their own state education budgets without any accountability to the Australian people and the Australian taxpayers.

There is no mention from those opposite of the $7 billion that was set to flow to schools in years 5 and 6 of the Labor Gonski model, and which the coalition refuses to commit to. There is a massive difference between what they said before and what they are planning to deliver in government.

Clearly, Mr Abbott and his Pyne-occhio have lied to the Australian people on the future funding of our nation's schools by dismantling the equitable structure established under Labor and endorsed by a majority of state governments of both political stripes. Their complete contempt for the education of our 3.6 million schoolchildren—like their decision to renege on our nation's efforts to combat global warming currently on display—provides evidence that this is a government with no regard for Australia's future. It is all about what they can get away with under the cover of darkness with a sleight of hand—a little bit pulled here and a little bit put there; a whole lot pulled here and a little bit put there. This is tokenistic and, in fact, disgraceful treatment of the Australian people, as if they will not figure it out.

To dismantle our nation's first comprehensive response to climate change at the very time such a response is of paramount importance and urgency borders on criminal negligence. The bill that we are debating defies logic. It is akin to a firefighter throwing away the hose as the fire approaches. Such an act is simply unthinkable, but here we are with a government prepared to do it—to give up the future benefit of Australians for a short-term, self-interested political gain and a misrepresentation of reality. All the Wikipedia searches in the world by the Minister for the Environment could not convince even the simplest person of the reasoning behind the coalition's brazen act of national and international self-harm.

The coalition's arguments are so weak that they have systematically begun to dismantle the publicly funded sources of independent information on climate change in a vain attempt to hide their shame, lest somebody who really knows about what is going on alerts the public to the reality that the Liberals are trying to deny. They have abolished the Climate Commission—and saved the princely sum of $1.6 million a year—to silence the inconvenient truths emanating from the research of that august body of researchers. The commission's brief was very clear: to provide apolitical and reliable information for the public. That, it seems, was at odds with the coalition's desire to shut down informed debate. One thinks about these people who were giving apolitical and reliable information. I ask all Australians to think about the really fantastic kids in science in your class who filtered through into university and did science degrees, who were the top of their year at university and who have pursued with dedication careers in science research. They are the people whom this government refuses to listen to. They were the kids at the top of the class—you know who they are—and instead the government are listening to the lowest common denominator, those with loud voices and weak argument.

They have also gutted funding for the CSIRO, that august body that all Australians hold such regard for, and they are moving to abolish the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. These simply are not the actions of a government that considers climate change to be real; rather, they are the actions of climate sceptics, led by a climate sceptic Prime Minister, who is on the record as describing climate change as 'absolute crap'—such eloquence from the Prime Minister of Australia.

Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth assessment report, and its findings are sobering. The IPCC report finds:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

…   …   …

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

…   …   …

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.

I know what it is like to have pressure on a family budget. I know that reality. I was one of six children growing up in a family that started its own small business. It was tricky at the beginning—it was successful in the end, but it was difficult. As teachers, for my husband and I managing a budget on teachers' wages was not that easy with three kids. Things changed, but the reality is that, for a small amount of money that the government are saying may come back to Australians' households, they are ready to sell off the future of our children and our grandchildren. That is not a fair trade.

As an island known for its weather extremes and natural disasters, these findings should be ringing alarm bells. Indeed, the drumbeat of scientific findings such as these has been growing louder and louder for decades. The recognition of the need to act has reached a point where even the most strident climate sceptic publications have now begun, belatedly, it would seem, to acknowledge reality. Today, the consensus among climate scientists on the risk of global warming is in the order of 97 per cent. Effectively, the entire scientific community is in agreement. Global warming and climate change pose an existential threat. Late last year, New South Wales endured some of the earliest and most severe bushfires on record. The Philippines has been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, killing thousands and destroying the lives and livelihoods of countless more. The people of Tuvalu, Kiribati, large areas of coastal Bangladesh and the Maldives may well be forced to evacuate their areas completely before the turn of this century, if not within the decade. These are just some examples, but, sadly, there are many, many others.

It seems the coalition, at both state and federal level, on receiving unpalatable advice about the serious threats posed by climate change, choose to deny its existence rather than accept the policy platform and action imperatives that the facts demand. Unlike the coalition, Labor recognises the importance for Australia to play its part in addressing this human induced crisis. We owe it to our forebears who built this great nation and, more importantly, to our children and grandchildren, who will inherit it, to respond. Under Labor, Australia did respond. We introduced a market based mechanism with a three-year fixed price, moving to a floating price thereafter. We set up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to provide billions in low-interest loans to help companies open up new opportunities and invest in clean energy technology and infrastructure, with a positive benefit now in terms of jobs and innovation, leading to a long-term future benefit. We set up the Clean Technology Fund and the Carbon Farming Initiative to help manufacturers modernise for a low-carbon economy and support new low-emission farming practices.

We established the Climate Commission and the Climate Change Authority to provide critical independent advice on the effects of climate change and on Australia's reduction targets. We provided needed funding for the CSIRO to contribute to climate change research and develop new ways to cut carbon emissions. Labor's policies delivered strong leadership and vision, something that was needed to help reduce the risks posed by climate change. Our efforts recognised the need for Australia to act as well as the need for increased global cooperation, as evidenced by linking our carbon price to the European market.

Across the world, nations have implemented or are developing emissions trading schemes of various stripes. Ninety countries, accounting for more than 80 per cent of global emissions and over 90 per cent of the international economy, have now pledged to take action to mitigate climate change. The EU has operated an emissions trading scheme covering 30 countries since 2005. New Zealand has had an ETS in place since 2008. Our top five trading partners—the US, Japan, China, South Korea and India—have either implemented or are piloting carbon trading or pricing schemes at local, state and national levels. China is launching seven pilot emission trading schemes. Action on climate change through a market based response is clearly a global phenomenon as, the world over, nations work towards lowering carbon emissions through the most efficient means possible.

In Australia, one of the world's highest polluters per capita, which stands most threatened by climate change, an ETS has previously been embraced by both sides of politics. Even John Howard saw the good sense in doing so in 2007. Labor reached out to the government in good faith by agreeing to abolish the fixed price and move to an ETS one year earlier. But we will not let the Abbott government vandalise this nation's future. Labor will stand for Australians today and into the future. (Time expired)

7:46 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak against the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. In 2011 I was extremely proud to stand in this parliament as a South Australian senator with the Australian Greens and vote for a visionary package of 18 clean energy bills, which was to finally establish a framework for tackling the urgent challenge of climate change, and it was going to tackle it in a comprehensive and coordinated way. Today we are facing legislation which is designed to smash that framework and take us backwards, take us away from a system which is delivering a decrease in carbon emissions over and above what we dared hope for in 2011 and encouraging investment in energy efficient industries.

The fact is that this move from the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his government is stupid, irresponsible and deeply, deeply cynical. It is the outcome of a relentless political strategy to gain office. In opposition, Mr Abbott deliberately drummed up fear and confusion about climate change and actively encouraged the public to turn away from science and knowledge towards ignorance and prejudice. So, when it comes to the coalition's approach to climate change, do not look for policy, do not look for evidence and, despite all the rhetoric, do not look for good faith. Instead you will find political expediency. In trying to work out what is going on here, you will find an irrational and deeply visceral urge to destroy any legacy of the previous term of government, even if that legacy is, as we have constantly seen, effective, actually saves money and is demonstrably in the national interest, as we face the challenge of climate change across the planet, not just in Australia, this century. So, yes, I am dismayed by the fact that I have to stand here and face this onslaught, and I am angry about it.

This government's determination to rip down the clean energy package, repeal the price on pollution, dismantle the Climate Change Authority and destroy the Clean Energy Corporation I think amounts to a fundamental breach of the trust that lies at the heart of our democratic process in Australia, and that is the trust that people have when they vote for a government to govern in the best interests of the Australian people. The Australian people includes our young people; it includes the children, teenagers and young adults who cannot yet vote, but these are the Australian people who will inherit a parched and dangerous future if we do not do what we know we need to do now to prevent that from happening. If we do not take effective action, it is they who will experience the worst of it long after most of us in this parliament are well gone.

The Australian people also includes the farmers and the people on the land, one of the constituencies that this government, the Liberal Party and their National Party allies, claim to represent. These are people who are actually working at the coalface of climate. In my view it is a huge breach of faith that the government have sold these rural Australians a pup. The government have misled the very constituents who are relying on them to govern in their interests. Most recently, the Prime Minister has been out professing to care about farmers, but his drought package does nothing to acknowledge the increasing threat of climate change, which is acknowledged by the vast majority of scientists. It does nothing to build resilience in the face of what we know is coming.

The government's white paper, the guide to long-term agricultural policy, does not mention climate change at all. It is as if the drafters do not see climate change influencing agriculture into the foreseeable future, yet this view is at odds with most experts in climate and those who are working around the planet at the interface of climate and agriculture. Indeed, as it was reported in The Land on 1 March, the US Department of Agriculture's 2014 proposed budget includes US$98 million earmarked for programs researching interactions between climate change and agriculture—because they get it; they know that climate change is going to be an integral part of farming in the 21st century.

David Lobell, a Stanford University environmental scientist who, in 2013, was awarded a $600,000 MacArthur genius grant to further his work on the effects of climate change on food production, calculates that climate change has already clipped 10 per cent from global farming productivity growth over the last decade or so. He says that temperatures are rising and that generally temperatures do bad things to crops. Yes, we have experienced variations in climate in Australia, but the scientists are clearly telling us that these variations will get worse and more extreme as our climate becomes more volatile. There is something that we can do about it. It is totally irresponsible not to take effective action.

The most recent report from the Climate Council, which was released on 18 February, shows Australian cities are already experiencing extreme heat. This is the extreme heat that was predicted in the 1990s, but it was not predicted to occur until 2030—so it is coming early. Heatwaves in Australia are becoming longer and hotter, occurring more often and starting earlier in the season. Since 1950, the number of record hot days across Australia has more than doubled. These heatwaves lead to more drought, more severe bushfires, more deaths of vulnerable people, the deaths of other animals in other species and the disruption of ecosystems.

So in 2014 and forward, ever more serious droughts and other extreme conditions will make it harder and harder for farmers to make a go of it. It will, tragically, drive some of them to suicide. Yet this government is intent on tearing down any vestige of the Clean Energy Future package—the 18 acts that are showing a reduction in carbon emissions in Australia. This move is spiteful, it is illogical and it is science denying.

What is interesting to note is that it has not always been like this. I would like to quote from a rather inspiring document now. It is a manifesto from a different era. I quote:

We embrace the philosophy of sustainable development — we reject the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment. We can have both, at the same time pursuing strategies of ecologically responsible development which improves our standards of living while promoting responsible, conservation policies which improve our quality of life.

We will work with all Australians to achieve these goals and with the States, the conservation movement, industry, scientists and all concerned citizens.

We seek a co-operative, federalist approach to the solution of environmental problems but we will never resile from a willingness to act in the genuine national interest wherever that is required.

This is a document signed by Senator Chris Puplick, who was then the shadow environment minister and minister for the arts, and Andrew Peacock, the then leader of the Liberal Party, when they were in opposition in 1990. This was the Liberal Party's climate change policy in 1990. I have the document here and I will be seeking leave to table this document in a minute.

They talk of sustainability and being responsible to ecology. They talk about the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment. They talk about working with people and the conservation movement, industry and scientists. They talk about the national interest. They were the glory days, indeed. At that time, the Liberal Party had a target to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2000. Today, 24 years later, when all the direst predictions from those days are starting to come true and come true early, the coalition's goal is to reduce emissions by five per cent. Even then, they have no effective mechanisms to achieve this paltry target.

Last week, the independent Climate Change Authority recommended Australian's emissions reduction target be almost quadrupled to 19 per cent by 2020 and suggested that it should then dramatically ramp up in the next decade to cut 40 to 60 per cent of emissions by 2030. I seek leave now to table this document, which outlines the Liberal Party's climate change policy from 1990. It is a very inspiring document which contains the signature of then opposition leader Andrew Peacock.

Leave granted.

The truth is that the Clean Energy Future package—18 related bills introduced into the last parliament at the instigation of the Australian Greens and with the support of Labor—is working. Australia's emissions are being reduced in the various sectors which are covered. The electricity sector emissions were reduced by 6.1 per cent in the year to March last year. That is 12 million tonnes of CO2 less than the previous year.

In the first six months of the scheme, emissions from electricity generation came down by seven per cent and the dirtiest brown coal generation in Victoria fell by 14 per cent. The scheme only covers around 60 per cent of our total emissions, and yet total emissions—including transport, agriculture and waste that are not covered by the scheme—have remained flat while our economy has grown. In short, the vital decoupling of economic growth from emissions growth has now begun. But, despite this progress, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority and the Land Sector Carbon and Biodiversity Board will be abolished by Mr Abbott's repeal package.

So, it is clear that, having just embarked on effective action on climate change, we are now again at a crossroads. We can go forward moving confidently towards the clean energy, low-carbon economy that will position us well in a world that will be increasingly intolerant of high-carbon industries and practices or we can remain fixated on failed policies of dig it up, cut it down and ship it away. This will lead us, as the scientists are telling us, to a volatile and dangerous future.

The Australian Greens oppose this bill, because we value a safe climate and a secure future for the next generation. We are not alone; we stand with thousands of Australians who oppose the trashing of these vital laws. In my own state of South Australia, 4,000 people marched for climate action in November last year. Half that number again have signed our petition calling to maintain climate action. We have heard from many of these people, beseeching us to be on the right side of history.

We have heard from Dianne. She and her husband are semi-retired farmers in a marginal area of the wheat belt in South Australia and they want strong action in response to climate change because they believe their children deserve to inherit a healthy planet. She writes of the measures they have taken themselves and then she says:

First, we are convinced by the science of climate change. Second, we have lived long enough on our land—over 35 years—to experience what we would argue are increasingly severe weather events that we believe are the result of climate change. Third, when our children were young we took them to the Great Barrier Reef. We snorkelled and dived in pristine waters surrounding reefs vibrant with multi-coloured coral and fish. Years later my husband and I returned to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and were devastated to see the state of the reefs we visited. They were, in reality and metaphorically, a pale imitation of the stunning World Heritage reef we had previously seen. Fourth, we believe climate change has been brought about by human intervention and that we should all contribute within our own capacities to intervention designed to reverse the change. We think we have already contributed significantly to intervention strategies in our own lives. Now, it seems, the coalition's direct action plan is asking us to pay again. Yet we wonder: when and how do the emitters pay?

And Merilyn has told us she does not want to be a 'here and now' Australian; she simply wants to ensure that her grandchildren, and future Australians, have a reasonable world to live in.

These South Australians have a right to be concerned. All the evidence is that the implications of climate change for my home state of South Australia will be catastrophic. We have just come through one of the hottest summers on record—just five years since the last one, in 2009. The Bureau of Meteorology has reported:

One of the most significant multi-day heatwaves on record affected south-east Australia over the period 13 to 18 January 2014…While peak temperatures mostly fell short of those observed in 2009 and 1939, extreme heat persisted for a longer period than it did in those heatwaves over some areas, particularly near coastal regions of Victoria and South Australia (including Melbourne and Adelaide).

Numerous records were broken for extended periods of heat in January this year. On Thursday the United Nations Meteorological Organization declared that Adelaide was the hottest city in the world. Having effective climate action is absolutely crucial for the people of South Australia, not only in the future but, as we have seen, for people living right now.

The economic costs of failure to act on climate change are well documented. Contrary to the government's mantra that the carbon price is unaffordable, abolishing it will actually come with a huge price tag that will be paid for by future Australians—and by the poorest of the world—for generations to come. In 2006, economist Sir Nicholas Stern carried out the most comprehensive review ever on the financial cost of global warming and found that climate change could not only devastate the environment but also cut the world's annual economic growth by 20 per cent and cost $9 trillion. Three weeks ago he wrote that the risks are even bigger than he first realised, with annual greenhouse gas emissions increasing steeply and some of the impacts, such as the decline of Arctic sea ice, starting to happen much more quickly. Stern has recommended that governments

…implement a strong price on greenhouse gas pollution across the economy, which would also help to reduce emissions [and] foster the wave of low-carbon technological development and innovation that will drive economic growth and avoid the enormous risks of unmanaged climate change.

In Australia, this is what we have done. The price on carbon has been a source of revenue to a government that claims to be in the midst of a budget emergency. At a time when revenue forecasts are shrinking—and the government is using that as an excuse to cut scientific research, childcare workers, universities and low-income superannuation benefits—the post-election report from the Parliamentary Budget Office shows that abolishing the carbon price would remove $7.3 billion from the government's revenue stream over the forward estimates. What is even worse, half a trillion dollars of investment in low-emissions projects is at risk if the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is scrapped. The CEFC is brilliant. It can deliver three per cent of the five per cent abatement which the government has targeted while turning a profit for the government. It will increase the budget balance and ensure that tens of billions of dollars of private capital is invested in Australia. Every dollar it has spent has generated $3 in private sector investment.

If you look at the CEFC's website, there are some great case studies from South Australia. An ice-cream maker up in Laura, in the mid-north, who employs 50 people has managed to get a cheaper loan—not a grant, but a subsidised loan—where they leverage private money as well. They have reduced their carbon emissions by 50 per cent and secured their future, including exports to Asia. An office block in Adelaide used CEFC money to replace its lighting and reduce its CO2 emissions from lighting by 40 per cent. And there are other South Australian projects which would be well able to use the money and would benefit all of us. There is a solar thermal plant up in Port Augusta. Various Riverland farmers want to put solar panels in to help insulate them against the next drought coming. There is geothermal which is struggling in the far north of the state for want of investment—it is a project at risk. The beauty of the CEFC is that it leverages private money. It offers concessional rates and it offers longer term paybacks, which is what a lot of these industries absolutely need. The Investor Group on Climate Change says that, if the CEFC is trashed by this government, money and investment in skills will either sit on the sidelines or go to other markets.

The Australian Greens are long-term advocates of a price on carbon. We stand for sensible and responsible policy and investment based on established science and economics. We do not support this bill; we are on the right side of history for this. Unfortunately, that gives us little comfort if our fellow members of this national parliament are not willing to act on principle—and not out of spite—and vote with us against this bill. I will finish with this question: when future Australians look back at this government, and at this time, and ask— (Time expired)

8:06 pm

Photo of Alan EgglestonAlan Eggleston (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week was a big week for Australia's two main airlines: Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia. In this country where remoteness and isolation go hand in hand, air travel is rightly viewed by many as less of a luxury and more a necessity of life. As Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, pointed out in his speech, in the four years to 2012 capacity into Australia by competitors increased by 46 per cent, which in itself was more than twice the global average.

From both Virgin and Qantas there was very little good news last week. For my state of Western Australia, 12 May will see the last regularly scheduled Qantas international service from Perth. In days gone by, Qantas had an extensive international network from the capital of Australia's largest state. But, from 12 May, Qantas will not fly from Perth to anywhere abroad. From that date our national carrier will serve just three of the country's eight capitals with international services.

While the news from Qantas was grim, I was particularly interested to hear Virgin CEO John Borghetti, when he delivered his airline's half yearly results on Friday. One line particularly struck me. Mr Borghetti said:

… the best assistance the government and the Opposition can provide—

to our airline industry—

is the removal of the carbon tax, which has cost this industry hundreds of millions of dollars …

While the government is eager and willing to please the airline industry and every other industry in the country by abolishing this tax, it seems that the opposition parties—the ALP and the Greens—are not keen to do it. The carbon tax should never have been introduced. It is costing the airline industry and every other industry in this country big dollars. Last year alone, Qantas paid $106 million in carbon tax. To put that into perspective, that is more than 40 per cent of the first half loss that Qantas announced on Thursday. Without the carbon tax, Qantas's figures would be 40 per cent better than we heard last week.

The coalition knew, when in opposition, that a carbon tax would impose an extra cost across the board on Australian industry and consumers. A survey conducted by the Curtin Business School of the Curtin University of Technology and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in Western Australia, prior to the introduction of the tax, found that almost 70 per cent of consumers believed they would be worse off under the proposed carbon tax. Yet a majority said it would not change their behaviour. That was only one example of a multitude of studies, commentaries and surveys that showed that the tax would be bad for Australia, the economy, industry and consumers. In 2011 Reg Howard-Smith, CEO of The Chamber of Minerals & Energy in Perth, said:

The Carbon Tax is … taking over from common sense and … our global competitors are celebrating … as Australia shoots itself in the foot …

The Minerals Council of Australia estimated that the tax would cost some 23,000 jobs, plus additional secondary job losses in local businesses. That is, 23,000 jobs directly in the mining industry.

There are those on the other side who like to argue that the government does not believe in the science of climate change. I come from the south-west of Western Australia. I grew up in Busselton and, as I have said in this chamber previously in debates on climate change and the carbon tax, I can assure you that I believe in climate change because the south-west is a great example of the reality of climate change. In fact, there has been a decline in rainfall in the south-west of Western Australia over the last 20 years of around 25 per cent. But the reality is that climate change has been going on for millions of years and is very much a natural phenomenon of the natural history of the earth.

The ocean has risen and fallen. We all know that there was once a land bridge to Indonesia from the north-west of Western Australia. A couple of years ago, in 2010, I went to Barrow Island, off the north-west Pilbara coast where I was told it was possible to identify, around the island, seven different sea levels over the last few thousand years. I was also told that records show that the island was under the sea for many hundreds of years. So the rise and fall of the ocean has, again, gone on for thousands of millions of years, long before mankind established industries. Again, it must be regarded as part of the natural history of the earth.

Seashells are to be found in the soil at Marble Bar, some 200 kilometres inland from the ocean, in the Pilbara. Greenland is called 'Greenland' because it was once green. I am also informed that the Sahara desert was once fertile and green. In short, the evidence for climate change, having been a natural part of the earth's history, is undeniable.

We also hear much about the UN International Panel on Climate Change from some as being the ultimate authority on man-induced climate change. But, equally, there are those who point out that members of the UN IPCC are mostly fairly junior scientists and are, by no means, at the top of their fields. The IPCC has also been rocked by scandals of falsification of its results. Given that, I personally believe that the findings and recommendations of the IPCC should be regarded, at the very least, with a healthy degree of scepticism. This does not mean, however, that I do not believe we should clean up pollution. We should make sure that we reduce pollution to an absolute minimum. Nevertheless, I do believe that climate change—which is real, as I have said—is actually part of the natural history of the earth.

In November 2011 I sat in this chamber and listened to the ALP senators crowing about the benefits this carbon tax would produce for Australia—a carbon tax they were about to legislate for. Since that time I have heard those opposite spruik the well-worn line that Australia has one of the highest rates of carbon emission per capita of any country in the world. Well, of course we do. While Australia has a small population, we are one of the most highly industrialised countries in the world, with a rich mining and resources sector, which, coupled with a comparatively small population, means Australian emissions levels, averaged out, will appear to be high when in reality they are probably just typical of a Western industrialised country.

I believe the ALP was so blinded by their euphoria about the carbon tax that they gave no serious consideration to the facts that were raised by the coalition senators about the consequences of this tax. Back then I and my coalition colleagues warned that there was no doubt at all that a carbon tax would impose an extra cost across the board on the Australian economy and on consumers. In fact, it is undisputed that, unless this tax is abolished, Australians are set to pay some $9 billion in carbon tax each year and will see electricity prices go up. And because electricity is so central to the production of many goods, the cost of consumer goods will inevitably rise as a direct result of the carbon tax, just as we have seen airlines struggling to survive under the burden of the carbon tax they have to pay.

In August 2012 the Water Corporation of Western Australia levied an additional $21.3 million on around 1,010,000 residential and non-residential customers as a direct result of the carbon tax—a lot of money. Back then I stood in this chamber and joined my coalition colleagues in arguing that a carbon tax would impose an extra burden on Australian industry—a burden like that explained by John Borghetti last weekend. I would like to say that it was very prophetic of me, but the simple truth is that the then Labor-Greens government was warned repeatedly that the carbon tax they were so adamant about introducing would not deliver what they so blindly told themselves it would. They simply ignored the evidence before them.

Our competitors around the world do not have to pay carbon taxes, because none of our major trading competitors, with the exception of the European Union, have been so short-sighted as to implement carbon taxes or a carbon emissions scheme. That of course leads to the question of Australia having an emissions trading scheme, for which the introduction date was brought forward by the ALP-Greens government last year. But surely, given what we now know, one must ask: why do we need an emissions trading scheme, and what for? Emissions trading schemes, in my view, are totally fraudulent, because they do not reduce emissions at all. Emissions trading schemes do not lead to a reduction in emissions because industries still produce the same emissions, which are traded against the purchase of a carbon sink, such as an Indonesian rainforest or something similar—all at great cost, which is of course passed on to the consumers in the form of higher electricity charges as well as charges for consumer goods. In other words, an ETS is a kind of card trick whereby a company buys, for example, an Indonesian rainforest for a huge amount of money and tell themselves what good chaps they are, but then back in Australia they still produce the same level of emissions but charge the customers much higher prices for the same electricity. The losers are the consumers—Mr and Mrs Average Australia—and the only winners are the stockbrokers who stand to make millions and millions of dollars from their trading or brokerage fees on carbon emissions.

As I said in a speech last year, the notoriously longest established emissions trading scheme in the world is the European scheme, which has cost billions of dollars but has not reduced carbon emissions at all in Europe. I think that speaks for itself. Surely we cannot be so naive as to not learn the lesson from the European experience. As far as the mining and gas industries go, we are already seeing investment drift off to other parts of the world because Australian costs are so high, and part of the reason for that is the carbon tax. Chinese and Australian industry is developing new mines in West Africa and other parts of the world where it is cheaper for them to operate than it has become in Australia. Relieving the Australian mining industry of the cost of the carbon tax, and not introducing the proposed emissions trading scheme, will preserve our existing mining and gas industries and the jobs and incomes of many Australians. I think we should relieve the Australian people of the burden of the carbon tax.

One of the more naive aspects of the previous government's approach was that they did not seem to understand that the mining industry is an international industry and that the miners and the mining companies will go to the places where the costs are lowest—and, naturally, they look to their bottom line. I am told this is happening very much already in the gas industry, where Australian costs are the highest in the world and, I am told, there will be no more LNG projects developed in Australia—when, for example, in a country like Canada it is 12 per cent cheaper than Australia to establish these industries. When you are talking about $45 billion projects, 12 per cent is a lot of money. I am told that in the United States the costs are even lower.

So I believe that it is in Australia's interests that we abolish the carbon tax and not proceed with the crazy nonsense of the ALP-Greens emissions trading scheme and that the sooner we do these things the better it will be for the ordinary people of Australia, who cannot afford the higher prices and lower standard of living these two monstrosities are bringing us.

8:23 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and related bills. I do so not with a sense of joy or commitment to the bills in any way, shape or form but to put on the record my opposition to the bills. I do that very much because we know very clearly that climate change is no fairy tale. The scientific evidence has certainly been proven when it comes to climate change. That is why my Labor colleagues and I have been presenting the insurmountable evidence during debate over the last sitting weeks on that particular front. That is why I stand to contribute with some apprehension—apprehension for all Australians, for their homes and for their livelihoods, which are at risk because of the short-sightedness of the Abbott government and the strong political agenda of the Abbott government, to the detriment of important policy reform.

In playing politics, Australia's environmental future becomes a sacrificial lamb—and so has Australia's future as a global leader in the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to tackling climate change, pollution and its associated effects. The sacrifice that this government has undergone is obvious with the very words of the Prime Minister who, in a speech to Young Liberals on 30 January 2010, stated:

… even if dire predictions are right and average temperatures around the globe rise by four degrees over the century, it is still not the ‘great moral challenge’ of our time …

I still believe that it certainly is.

A four-degree rise would change Australia unrecognisably, with the Murray-Darling Basin beyond salvation, eastern Australia having 40 per cent more droughts, a fall in irrigated agriculture by 90 per cent in the nation's food bowl, the number of very hot days—that is, days over 35 degrees, as we have experienced markedly this summer—increasing dramatically, and the Great Barrier Reef and the billions of dollars of tourism that it relies on devastated.

Labor's approach to climate change has been unified, bringing together industry, top scientists and the community. The Labor policy provided unprecedented support for renewable energy through the renewable energy target—RET—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It also provided support for business to become more efficient and productive, including clean technology programs and the Jobs and Competitiveness Program. And it provided support to reduce land sector emissions through the Carbon Farming Initiative.

What has all of that policy work, that policy reform, from the last parliament achieved? It has achieved: the trebling of Australia's wind capacity; solar panels being installed in more than a million households, up from fewer than 7,500 under Howard; employment in the renewable energy industry more than doubling to over 24,000 people; around 150,000 jobs being created—in fact, the economy continues to grow at 2.5 per cent, as inflation remains low; and pollution in the National Electricity Market decreasing by seven per cent, an important outcome because it is the very notion behind putting a price on carbon—reducing pollution, which decreased in that short time alone by seven per cent. On top of that the renewable power generator, as a share of the National Electricity Market, increased by 25 per cent.

Labor has been and continues to be dedicated to achieving the best possible policy to tackle one of the key challenges of this century. By tackling climate change in the most cost-effective way we can support the environment industry in Australia continuing. That is why we support terminating a fixed price on carbon if it is replaced by a system that puts a legal cap on carbon pollution and lets business work out the cheapest and most efficient way to operate within that cap.

Our Prime Minister has introduced into the parliament a series of bills that will get rid of the legislated cap on carbon pollution and create a free-for-all for big polluters—an opportunity for big polluters to do as they please. In Australia we know that we pay for what we use—from electricity to water to our groceries—but under Prime Minister Abbott's policy the biggest users of electricity, polluting the most carbon, do not pay. I urge the Senate to retain the integrity of the clean energy policies, to retain the Climate Change Authority to ensure robust independent analysis and advice, and to stop the cuts to Australia's renewable energy research and development.

The last Labor government's policies, including the emissions trading scheme, the renewable energy target and the $10 billion of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will all be trashed under the Abbott government. Australia will have no chance of continuing the changes to reduce pollution and ensure that an environmentally effective, economically responsible and socially fair response to climate change is followed through. Nor will we become a leader in the region; in fact, we will fall behind the rest of the region as countries like China continue to go forward in addressing their own carbon emissions.

Australia has some of the world's best renewable energy resources, ranging from sunshine and wind power to geothermal energy to tidal power in the oceans surrounding our continent. And of course in my home state of Tasmania there is hydro-electricity. Australia needs to harness these resources to generate energy without polluting the atmosphere. It makes no sense not to do so, as it is a natural and ongoing resource that does not result in pollution.

In Labor's time in government, employment in the renewable energy industry more than doubled to over 24,000 people, wind capacity trebled to over 3,000 megawatts and over one million solar PV systems were installed, which was up from fewer than 7,500 under the Howard government. Renewable energy now powers the equivalent of 4,000 homes around Australia each year. Australia now has over 370 renewable power generators accredited under the renewable energy target policy. In 2012-13, with our clean energy future plan in place, renewable energy output in the National Electricity Market was up 25 per cent on the previous year. These are statistics, or at least outcomes, from good economic and social reform done by the last government, a Labor government, that had the insight to see the importance and the necessity of moving forward in the areas of environmental pollution and climate change, not because it was something we thought of ourselves but because it was something that came out of a lot of study across the globe going on at the UN level, the EU level and the OECD level, and we wanted to ensure that we were playing our part in addressing the importance of reducing pollution in our own country and contributing to combating climate change through some kind of scheme by which we could be part of a global scheme for reducing carbon pollution.

The outcomes that I speak of bore fruit. They show that the policies put in place by the last Labor government were of benefit not only to Australians as individuals—through the changes they made to their own homes, the renewable energy they were creating themselves and the changes within their own community—but also to businesses in the way that they operated and the way they actually wanted to become a cleaner player when it came to their own business operations.

ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, an independent agency, was funded to invest in projects that actually improved on the competiveness of renewable technologies and increased the supply of renewable energy in Australia. ARENA is currently supporting in Australia a range of innovative renewable energy technology projects, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydro, ocean and solar power.

All of this good work in renewable energy and in reducing carbon pollution will come to an end under the Abbott government's plan. A recent survey showed that 86 per cent of economists back an emissions trading scheme. They back it as the cheapest and most efficient way to tackle carbon pollution. Last week, former Treasury secretary Ken Henry called the government's policy a bizarre strategy that involves the government paying big polluters in a scheme that will cost more and will reduce productivity. What kind of coalition government wants to reduce productivity? As we have discovered in recent weeks, a number of industries already are going to be reducing their productivity. Surely this government under its watch does not want even more of a reduction in productivity, especially in an area that is doing so well. Renewable energy technologies are doing so well, not only as a new innovative form of industry but also in providing a benefit to the environment, to the community, to our children and to future generations.

Kirsten Rose, the CEO of the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia, stated:

… we and many of our members believe that ETS—that market mechanism—gives them choices and flexibility in a different way than a direct action plan, which is, effectively, bidding for money to support specific projects.

…   …   …

… our membership is wholly behind an emissions trading scheme and the policy certainty that would bring …

That shows that we need an emissions trading scheme. We need to listen to the 86 per cent of economists, to people in civil society, to people in our communities and to those businesses and entrepreneurs who are embarking on renewable energy innovation. We need to take heed of the scientific data, the global data, that shows we need to act and we need to recognise that the economists tell us that the ETS is the cheapest way of achieving the outcomes we desire for our nation.

On top of that, we must foster innovation in this country. We need to embed the carbon costs of doing business into the thinking of entrepreneurs and job creators—and we need to do it now. That has, in fact, been going on since Labor's policy has been in place. But we need to deepen our capacity to produce high-quality, low-emissions goods and services that we can sell to the world.

To me this is a no-brainer. This is something that makes perfect sense. Why would you not take action at a time when our climate is in such a state of flux, at a time where we are seeing more climate driven natural disasters, at a time when scientists are telling us that the future may be quite bleak unless we act on our contribution to carbon pollution? Why would you not want to do all that you can? Producing renewable energy is not only good for combating climate change; it is good for the environment and for us. It means that not only are we not taking nonrenewables from the earth but we are also instilling a new way of operating, a new way of thinking, among businesses, industry and individuals—making sure that the energy we create, where possible, is renewable.

That is exactly what the last Labor government's policies—the bills the repeal of which we are debating here this evening—were all about. They were about ensuring that we had the framework in place so that business, industry and individuals could change their behaviour for the better. The people that I talk to—I do not know exactly who the coalition talks to—embrace that idea. They are proud of having changed their behaviour.

I know that I come from a state that has a strong and proud reputation for being clean and green. It has a hydro-electric scheme. It has beautiful clean air that I always look forward to breathing as soon as I step off the plane upon coming home from Canberra. But I am sure that Tasmania is not some sort of anomaly. I am sure that the rest of Australia is of the same mind when it comes to wanting to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I am sure the rest of Australia also wants to ensure that it does not pollute—or at least pollutes as little as it possibly can. I am sure that the rest of Australia also wants to leave this country in a better state than, perhaps, our forebears did and wants to ensure that our children have a bright future. For our children's sake, if the world's climate is going to be in such a state of flux, we should be trying to reduce our impact upon it as much as possible.

So why would a new government want to come in and, simply because it was one of their slogans, sweep away all this good work? Why would they want to do that now that they are in government and know all the detail behind what the last government did? Why would they want to do that given the overwhelming research and evidence that has been provided showing how important it is to address climate change and showing that the way the Labor government approached it—an emissions trading scheme—was the most efficient and cost-effective way of doing it, that putting a price on carbon pollution was the best way to change the behaviour of the big polluters? Yes, the scheme had a fixed price, but that fixed price was only ever on 500 of the biggest polluters. It was not on individuals. It was never a carbon tax on individuals. That was a scare perpetrated by the then opposition, the coalition—but it was certainly not the case. The policy was designed to tax, or put a price on, the emissions of those big polluters in order to give them the incentive, the encouragement and the support to change the way they had been operating. And a number of them did.

Where those polluters passed the tax down the chain—through higher prices here and there—the government at the time compensated people, particularly low-income earners. It was a very good reform. I believe that, in generations to come, people will look back and think, 'Why did a new government come in and undo all of that important work aimed at protecting our future and our children's future?' The repeal of Labor's clean energy legislation is being done in the name of politics, in the name of a slogan, in the name of trying to get elected. It is not based on science, economics, decency or care for our environment or the people who live in it. I do not support any of these bills.

8:43 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

In order to understand the significance of what this government is now seeking to do in overturning, through this climate change bills repeal package, the country's first national climate laws, it is necessary to reflect on the clean energy package—its genesis and its success. The clean energy package was a truly remarkable and incredible achievement of the last parliament. In my short time here, it has been the most significant day I have had the pleasure of being involved in and being a part of. On that day, I was really proud of this parliament. I was proud that we had started to take the action necessary to safeguard our way of life—not just for my own daughter but for all future generations.

I was proud of the fact that we had taken action for the people of this generation, who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. Our Pacific neighbours and our Torres Strait Islander communities are already facing saltwater incursion into low-lying farmland, and all around the world people are suffering from extreme weather events, which are sadly becoming more intense and more frequent. I was proud that we had taken action for all of the other creatures we share this planet with. I was proud that we had set aside the short-term interests of a vested few and had acted in the public interest and for the good of all future generations. Lastly, I was proud that we had looked at the science and had considered not just the needs of ourselves but also the needs of those to come.

This parliament did something that really mattered that day, and I want to take this chance tonight to publicly acknowledge, thank and pay tribute to the leadership of Senator Bob Brown, former Leader of the Australian Greens, and Senator Christine Milne, the Leader of the Australian Greens, for driving that climate action. I want to single out Senator Milne for her tenacity and determination in raising the issue of climate change long before it was a mainstream issue, in just never giving up and in managing to keep a smile on her face throughout. I pay tribute to Senator Milne.

In the short time that we have seen the carbon price operating, it has demonstrated a number of things. Firstly, it has demonstrated that we can, in fact, take the action we need to to safeguard our way of life and to ready our economy for the low-carbon future that the rest or the world is already moving towards. It has demonstrated that we can do this without economic shockwaves and, in fact, with the growth of new sectors—not just any new sectors but job-rich new sectors, which both sides of this parliament frequently claim to be concerned about. I mean job-rich sectors like clean energy, tourism and manufacturing. The key thing the carbon price has demonstrated so far is that it is actually working. It has already lowered our national emissions and has done so profitably. Likewise, the complementary measures have seen renewable energy flourish. We have the real start of a new economy here. And we know this renewable energy takes pressure off peak demand and we know this means it brings down electricity prices, and this is particularly important in the recent heatwaves.

The scheme was not perfect. We saw that there was overly generous compensation, in our view, to the big polluters, but that was also planned to be subject to review as the years progressed. If indeed the age of entitlement is over, as we are sometimes told by this government, those sorts of subsidies should be examined along with the other fossil fuel subsidies that rank in the billions of dollars every year that are meted out by taxpayers to those very profitable, often multinational, fossil fuel companies. They do not need the help, and probably never did. If these laws were to pass the parliament and be repealed—and I will harken back to that in the course of this contribution—there would be a windfall gain to those fossil fuel companies of $450 million per year. And that is just the cost of their fugitive emissions—that is, the leaking gas wells and the gassy coalmines—under the carbon price.

In total, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office's post-election report, abolishing the carbon price would remove $7.3 billion from the government's revenue stream. At a time when revenue forecasts are shrinking and we are seeing cut after cut to all of the things we hold dear—to universities, to single parents and even now to that great institution of Medicare—at a time when we have a need for an additional revenue stream, why on earth is this government countenancing the loss of $7.3 billion every year? It boggles the mind. It must simply be ideology and not evidence that is driving this government. We see that with the Commission of Audit's razor-gang.

If it were evidence based then this government would at least be seeking to retain the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, that magnificently successful organisation—that $10 billion renewable energy bank, if you like—that not only has seen emissions reduced but also has been making the government money and stimulating a new, incredibly profitable and exciting sector of our economy. If indeed it were evidence driving this government's decisions then they would be retaining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Sadly, we see that the lack of evidence pervades. It is all the more so when it comes to the science itself, and climate science most of all.

The most confronting example of that, in recent times, was when the government put a climate sceptic in charge of the renewable energy target review. That is the target which was reviewed by the Climate Change Authority—who are actual scientists—not 18 months ago. They are scheduled to do an update to that in about six months time. Sadly, this government wants to abolish them as well. But I am really proud that today this chamber voted to keep that science based independent organisation. That is the organisation which last week recommended that Australia's emissions targets need to be increased, that if we are to follow the science and tackle climate change we should be increasing our reduction target to 19 per cent by 2020.

This government wants a five per cent target, yet it is not even prepared to spend the money to meet that five per cent target. It has quarantined $3 billion to spend on its bizarre direct action policy but it has admitted, countless times, should that money not produce a five per cent cut in emissions that: 'It doesn't matter; we won't throw any more money at it. It doesn't really matter if we don't meet that five per cent.' It does not care. Sadly, that five per cent target is itself far too low and will do nothing to help prevent more extreme drought, bushfires and economic ruin fuelled by global warming.

That is what we are talking about tonight, when we talk about climate change. It is not just, as the Prime Minister said, some invisible, odourless and weightless substance. No doubt he got a wealth of scientific advice on that statement, given that we now no longer have a science minister in this parliament. It is about the extreme weather events that this country is already facing. We are in a climate emergency and, when you look at the predictions from the government's own advisers about what we face under a changing climate, it is really very confronting.

I want to read into the record some of the projected impacts of global warming for my home state of Queensland. They come from a combination of sources, mostly the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. Brisbane will experience more variable rainfall and stronger winds, leading to more extreme weather events. Extreme rainfall intensity is projected to increase, which could lead to more flooding—and we have already seen what happened with the devastating 2011 floods. Coastal areas are at high risk, and up to 67,700 residential buildings are at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of just 1.1 metres. That same sea level rise would also put up to 4,700 kilometres of Queensland's roads, up to 570 kilometres of Queensland's railways and up to 1,440 commercial buildings at risk. The number of days in Brisbane above 35 degrees could go from one a year up to 21 a year by 2070. Sadly, we know the effect that those extreme heat days can have on the elderly and the young.

In Central Queensland the projections are likewise for hotter weather and dry conditions that could lead to extreme and more frequent fire behaviour. We have had quite a lot of that lately, and none of us would wish it to continue unnecessarily. The fire season will start earlier and end later, there will be an increased fire frequency in the region and more areas will be burnt. The area will experience more variable rainfall, stronger winds and droughts, leading to more extreme weather events. The projections are also that there could be an increase in category 3 to 5 tropical cyclones, and there could be an increase of up to 60 per cent in severe storm intensity by 2030 and a 140 per cent increase by 2070.

The facts continue, and they are incredibly sobering. Far North Queensland may see an increase in the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever due to more favourable conditions for vectors. It may also see ecosystem changes and extinctions in the wet tropics rainforests, increased heat related illnesses and flooding, erosion and damage to infrastructure associated with sea level rise. I could go on. Sadly, these are very, very sobering facts.

But it is not just human cost and human misery that will come from a failure to address runaway climate change. Our iconic plants and animals will also suffer. Our biodiversity will shrink and the world's biodiversity will suffer. Today is inaugural World Wildlife Day, and today two learned folk, Bradnee Chambers, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme Convention on Migratory Species, and Christiana Figueres—hopefully, not talking out of her hat today, as the Prime Minister once contended—who is, of course, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, talked about the need for an international agreement in 2015. They said today that the agreement will come not a moment too soon for species like the monarch butterfly, humpback whale, polar bear, turtles and countless other species which, for millennia, have migrated across ancient routes spanning hundreds and thousands of miles. They say that climate change is clearly already impacting on many animals and plants and could spell extinction for some without urgent action.

We all know that polar bears in the Arctic are already challenged by several years of thawing, melting and thinning ice, making it harder and harder for some to hunt and to find food. Meanwhile, warmer beaches are affecting the hatching patterns of marine turtles. Cooler beaches produce predominantly male hatchlings, while warmer beaches produce mostly females. So we have a whole lot of lady turtles, and that is not good news for future reproduction. Blue whales now have to migrate further from their feeding grounds in warm waters to their breeding grounds in the cooler parts of the sea, and their main food source of krill is declining because of changes in temperature and acidification of the oceans due to climate change.

As a Queenslander, I hope the Great Barrier Reef holds a really special place in all of our hearts. Sadly, the latest science that we are seeing says that the reef probably will not withstand a two-degree rise and that it will only take a one degree rise to see severe coral bleaching in the reef. That is incredibly disturbing, given that we already have a 0.9 degree rise at this point in history. Of course, it is not just temperatures that will do damage. Ocean acidification makes it harder for corals to form and weakens the existing coral structures.

Yet we have approvals for new mega coalmines and coal ports handed out like they are lollies and tossed around like confetti. In the Galilee Basin up in north Central Queensland, we have plans for coalmines that are just enormous—three times as big as the current biggest coalmine that we have got in this country. Many of them are planned for that region. If we do not keep that coal in the Galilee Basin in the ground then we will not have a chance of constraining global warming to any kind of liveable climate. In fact, Bill McKibben, who came out to visit Australia last year, has done some calculations and says that if the Galilee Basin coal were mined and burnt it would represent six per cent of the entire carbon budget for every single country in the world forevermore if we do want to keep to two degrees and keep a liveable climate. So the sheer size of these resources and the potential damage that they stand to do to our way of life, to our economy and to our planet just boggles the mind.

Much of the coal from those areas is exported through the Great Barrier Reef. We already have 12 coal ports, but apparently that is not enough. This government wants to approve yet more and expand the existing ones even more, with mass dredging and offshore dumping of that dredged spoil, and it wants to treat the reef like a highway for ships carrying coal and gas. So we see both the direct impacts on the reef from a doubling—and, in fact, a tripling in some cases, depending on your time frame—of coal exports and the terrible climate impacts when that coal is burnt. I am sure people will have seen the approval of Abbott Point, giving us now, in our Great Barrier Reef, the dubious honour of the world's largest coal port in a World Heritage area. I think that is a true tragedy. Over the weekend, we saw evidence from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, who have said that it is perfectly clear on the science that this proposal is bad news and that that offshore dumping of that dredged spoil is going to have devastating impacts on the reef. Apparently, that did not really matter to the minister. Again, science seemed to come at the bottom of a very long list of other considerations—mostly the profits of foreign multi-national mining companies.

It is clear to me that people really care about the reef. They care about the plants and animals that we share this world with, and they care about the sort of world that they want to leave for their own children and for generations to come. To that end, in the short time I have left, I want to share with the chamber a few of the contributions that have been emailed to me or sent to me via Facebook from Queenslanders.

People are really concerned about the backward step that this government wants to take on climate and they cannot understand why anyone would have such a lack of perspective that they would do this. The first fellow, David Bruce says:

To me it is really simple. I now have a grand daughter, just eighteen months old, and I nor anyone else have the right to jeopardize her future. My granddaughter will need a lot of things, but most of all she will need clean air, clean water, clean soil. A biosphere that is habitable, that's what she needs! We must provide this!

J Lawrence says:

I was one of the sixty thousand people that marched for Climate Action (on 17th November). I want my baby grand children to grow up and be able to enjoy fresh drinking water, to be able to see the Great Barrier Reef and all the wonderful and diverse marine life within those waters, to have the same quality of life that I had as a child.

I am rallying on behalf of the future generations, that's the least I can do.

As stewards of this land, we must take care to maintain it in as good a condition as we possibly can.

We should aim higher toward higher clean energy initiatives, it is our duty as human beings.

There have been many other contributions, but sadly I do not have time this evening to share them. I look forward to sharing those in the future.

I want to take the chance, though, to pay tribute to some of the community groups in Queensland that have been working tirelessly to protect our environment—particularly on climate issues. I want to mention conservation groups along the Great Barrier Reef coast, including the Mackay Conservation Group and the North Queensland Conservation Council. I want, particularly, to mention all the young people at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition in Queensland and across the nation. They are just amazing young kids, who are so active in their democracy and who are really fighting for their right to a decent future.

I also want to mention community groups like and Market Forces. And, of course, I want to acknowledge the landholders and community groups in our beautiful farming regions of Queensland, who are taking a strong stand against the coalmining and coal seam gas mining that is pillaging their land and recklessly threatening their groundwater supplies. There are so many people who are fighting for a safe climate and who are fighting for the sort of future that I want my daughter to have.

I am really proud to stand in this place to say that the Greens will always back them. We will back strong climate action and we will do everything we can to make sure that this government does not tear down the progress that we have finally started to make, so belatedly and yet so importantly. Today we have seen the retention of the Climate Change Authority. I am hopeful that we will be able to retain the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Things are going to change here after July, but I am confident that the science will speak, the evidence will speak and the good sense will speak so that we may be able to retain several aspects of our climate laws. I think that is what we all need to work to deliver.

It is not all doom and gloom. I think we have a bright and exciting future. If we see this as an opportunity and start investing in the low-carbon economy of the future this will be good not only for business but for the planet and for future generations. I caution the government against proceeding down this path. I look, despite all indications to the contrary, with optimism for the future.

9:03 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to speak briefly on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill and related bills. I will speak briefly as I want the Senate to deal as quickly as possible with the passage of these bills because the Australian people made it so clear, in their mandate at the federal election sixth months ago, that they wanted us to deal with this.

I briefly wanted to mention a specific bill in that package—the Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013. That is the bill which deals with amending the provisions to remove the carbon price imposed through the excise equivalent customs duty on aviation fuel. I remind the chamber what great news this is for the embattled airline industry and for the workers of that industry, who, together with their CEOs, are facing the very real challenges of operating in a highly competitive industry. As Virgin CEO John Borghetti said last week:

… the best assistance the government and the Opposition—

that includes Labor and the Greens—

can provide is the removal of the carbon tax, which has cost this industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

We have seen over recent weeks the impact of that cost impost daily as it ricochets throughout our economy and impacts, particularly, on the airline industry.

The chamber has heard again over the last six months—and over the previous two years—of the impacts of the toxic, ill-conceived and ineffective attack on households and businesses. The reality is that electricity costs rose 15.3 per cent in the first quarter after the tax came into effect. Household fuel and gas costs rose 14 per cent. Businesses have similarly been struggling under the weight of the carbon tax and, for our largest dairy food company, Murray Goulburn, it was an annual cost of $14 million in the first year of the carbon tax coming into effect. That was an impost of $14 million on a farmers' cooperative trying to take the best produce in the world—a lot of it grown down south in my state of Victoria—to the international markets.

But it was not only businesses that bore the cost of carbon tax. In 2012-13 the carbon tax cost more than $13.4 million across the Victorian public health system, including $208,000 to Albury-Wodonga Health. But my focus tonight is on regional Victoria—specifically dairy and horticulture, our two great agricultural industries, particularly in the north of the state—and the food processing sector. Victoria's dairy sector accounts for 65.6 per cent of Australia's milk production and our exports were valued at over $1.8 billion—86 per cent of the value of Australia's total dairy exports. According to Australian Dairy Farmers, the average cost of the carbon tax on a dairy farm—and we heard this over and over again, and those opposite tonight refuse to heed the fact that with their carbon tax they had actually forgotten about the dairy farmers—would be between $5½ thousand and $7,000 per annum. This is significant in the context that these farmers and small business people are price takers and are trying to compete in a highly competitive global market. According to modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, ABARES, the average savings to farms of the full repeal of the carbon price in 2014-15 would be $4½ thousand for the dairy industry and $4,620 for vegetable growers.

If the ALP and the Greens wanted to see vibrant regional communities being economically sustainable with our environmental standards and our land and water management practices, which are world-class—if you want to judge environmental practice, Australia leads the world in how to sustainably manage our water and land resources—they would be getting rid of this tax so that the good work of Australian farmers and, indeed, regional communities more broadly could be undertaken.

It is not only dairy farmers but the regional Victorian food industry that is struggling to remain competitive under the carbon tax. Our food manufacturers are already dealing with the impacts, and the Australian Food and Grocery Council's carbon tax survey from July 2013 found that 28 per cent of respondents experienced a greater than five per cent increase in their costs due to the carbon tax. To those opposite, most of whom have not operated their own business, five per cent does not sound like a lot of money, but these businesses are operating in incredibly challenging circumstances. With the high Australian dollar and the cost of doing business, including input costs—and not just labour costs but chemical costs, refrigeration, transport costs et cetera—five per cent is a significant amount of money. Sixty-seven per cent of survey respondents reported they were unable to pass those costs on. This carbon tax is crushing Australian industry. The data is in.

The former, Labor government also planned to extend the carbon tax to fuel used by the trucking industry from 1 July 2014, only three months away. If those opposite, like Glenn Sterle—Senator Sterle, I apologise—cared about a vibrant, sustainable trucking industry, he would be voting to repeal this to get rid of the impost on those in the sector in only three months time. We know industry needs time to plan and budget, but, with this uncertainty continuing, it is a cruel reminder of what Australians have had to live under with the incompetent legislative agenda program of the former government over the past six years.

The freight and logistics sector accounts for about 15 per cent of the Victorian economy, and extending the carbon tax to fuel will mean an effective carbon tax on each and every one of Australia's 47,000 trucking businesses, 85 per cent of which have fewer than five employees. That is small business; that is mums and dads. These are not the multinationals that the Greens are so keen to talk about and that Labor wants to smash. These are mums and dads operating throughout regional and urban Australia. These companies employ small numbers of people and may not make the headlines but are struggling under the hangover of bad legislation left by the former government, which Australians overwhelmingly voted against on 7 September. Labor and the Greens claim to support regional Australia and the agriculture industry and, indeed, made several badge-of-honour statements, if you like, in weekly regional papers in the lead-up to the election. But their absolute contempt for the mandate given to this place by regional Australia, who voted in overwhelming proportions to get rid of the carbon tax, makes a mockery of those words, so glibly spoken, particularly by Senator Milne, in the lead-up to the federal election. Now is the time to prove their support for regional Australia, because regional Australians want the carbon tax gone—and that election result could not have been clearer.

We are here to reflect the people's will. This is not about whether climate change is real or imagined—we must act on climate change—but we can address it without strangling business and agriculture. Let's face it, we know that the disproportionate effect of this tax was felt in regional Australia and in our industry. It is time for Labor and the Greens to stop denying the coalition government's mandate to repeal the carbon tax and deliver much-needed financial relief for our regional communities so that we can be sustainable, promote good environmental practice internationally through our land and water management practices and, more importantly, keep employing Australians.

9:12 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about and oppose the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax) Repeal Bill 2013 and related bills. I am not quite sure when the government is actually going to stand up and tell the truth about what Labor believes in and what Labor is opposed to—because Labor's position on climate change is clear. We made our position clear before the last election. We are prepared to repeal the carbon tax, something the government just cannot accept. We are prepared to repeal the carbon tax, but the government cannot accept that and it tries to paint a picture that we do not want to repeal the carbon tax. Why does it do that? Unlike us, the coalition does not accept the science of climate change. Labor does—in government we were prepared to do something about it and in opposition we are going to defend it.

The Prime Minister of this country does not want to do anything about climate change because our Prime Minister does not believe in climate change. The Prime Minister's policy removes the legal after cap on pollution. Removing the cap will give the big polluters open slather. I think most Australians would agree that, if you damage something, you pay to fix it. Australians stand for a fair go, and a fair go says that you pay your share. It is about taking responsibility for your actions. But this government wants to let the big polluters off the hook. Instead of polluters paying, the PM is setting up a slush fund of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to hand to polluters.

Labor have acted. We tackled climate change, and we want to do that into the future. We will support the sorts of moves that tackle climate change in the most cost-effective way possible. That is why Labor support terminating the carbon tax. We have all put it on the record. But the government wants to continue to play its political games and pretend that, somehow, Labor have never agreed to repeal the carbon tax—and we did it before the last election. But—and this is the but; this is the bit the government turns a blind eye to—we will only do it if it is replaced by something such as an emissions trading scheme, if it is replaced by a scheme, not a slush fund, a scheme which puts a legal cap on carbon pollution, a scheme which lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate within that cap.

The OECD has recently released a report confirming that countries could achieve high levels of emissions reductions at a much lower cost if they relied on an emissions trading scheme. Emissions trading schemes are already being adopted in many countries around the world, including the UK, France, Germany, South Korea, Canada and parts of the US and China. We in this place and those in the community know that the Liberals do not accept the science of climate change. Former PM John Howard told a London audience that those of us who accept that climate change is real are a bunch of religious zealots and that he will trust his instinct rather than the overwhelming evidence of over 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists. Our Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Australia, accused the United Nations climate chief of talking through her hat. What a disgraceful thing to say. Our environment minister used Wikipedia to contradict her opinion on the BBC.

But, seriously, the Australian people have a right to ask just what this government stands for. Many of the current ministers and the PM are on the record as either outright supporting an emissions trading scheme, a price on carbon or some other form of economic instrument. None are on the record as supporting a slush fund. Let's start with Minister Pyne, who, in 2009, said:

Let's not forget it was the Opposition—

he means the Liberal opposition—

that first proposed an emissions trading scheme when we were in government.

He means the Howard government. He continued:

The idea that somehow the Liberal Party is opposed to an emissions trading scheme is quite frankly ludicrous.

Do we have a government which is quite frankly ludicrous? Other coalition MPs and senators, not just Minister Pyne, are on the record as well. The current Treasurer, Joe Hockey, indicated:

I am mindful of the decision of the Party, but I am also someone who sticks with my principles …

He claimed that he was one who had considered crossing the floor. But apparently not. He is prepared neither to cross the floor nor to stick to his principles. At various other stages, people who are now ministers—Turnbull, Macfarlane, Hunt, Robb, the Attorney-General Senator Brandis—supported an ETS, a price on carbon or other sorts of economic interventions. They are on the public record. And wait, there's more. Ministers Bishop, Morrison, Truss and Ley all talked about an ETS and the need for a price on carbon. What has happened? Where is the truth here? What does the government stand for? That is a question that the voters of Australia are certainly entitled to ask. Why this sudden denial of science and of a need for a price on carbon?

This is clearly a government who says one thing in opposition and does a complete backflip when in government. Why? Because the government cannot bear any success unless it is their own. They cannot bear anything that they did not invent for themselves. They want to tear down Labor's record on the environment and Labor's record on climate change. They want to tear down Labor's record of action. That is the only reason the government could have for their amazing backflip, because neither the Prime Minister nor any coalition members have been able to come up with one credible scientist or economist who is willing to stand up and back their direct action policy—not one.

We know that 86 per cent of economists back an emissions trading scheme as the cheapest and most effective way to tackle carbon emissions. Former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry called the coalition's policy a bizarre strategy which involves the government paying big polluters from their slush fund in a scheme that will cost more and will reduce productivity. Labor's plan, which again the government has criticised in this place and in the media, was to split the bills. We wanted to do that because we wanted to try and make sure that the Climate Change Authority remained in place and that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—a money-making venture from the government who every day is looking for money—remained in place.

They were part of a suite of policies that the former Labor government put in place. The creation of the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation were two of the most important parts of the work that we did. In its inquiry into the government's carbon tax repeal bills, the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee heard from a number of stakeholders about the value of these bodies—not Labor politicians, but independent experts. The value of the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation extends beyond carbon pricing and they should be retained regardless of the headline policy approach that we end up with.

But the government cannot help itself. It has to say, 'Labor will not repeal the carbon tax.' But actually what we will not repeal and what we do not want to see repealed are these two really good agencies. We do not want to see the carbon tax repealed and replaced with nothing. The government has nothing. Let us be clear about that: they have nothing.

The Climate Change Authority provides expert, transparent advice. What we have seen from this government is that it does not value experts and it is certainly not about transparency. The Climate Change Authority provides advice on carbon pollution and climate change issues to the government, to business and to the public. The CCA's advice is well respected and Labor doubts that its functions can be performed in-house by the Department of the Environment. That is if, after the Commission of Audit, we still have an environment department. We certainly do not have a science minister.

The role of the Climate Change Authority in providing information and advice should continue, because it adds value to the climate change debate in Australia—even if the Abbott government succeeds in foisting its policy con on Australians. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation provides innovative, money-making projects right across this country. I cannot believe that members of the National Party are so ready to take it down. It has been an absolute boon for businesses in the bush by providing opportunities for new business ventures.

It is renowned across the world in the sorts of reforms it has put forward. It is about one of 14 organisations that exist across the world that act as a catalyst for investment in renewable energy and clean technology. Why on earth would the government want to repeal that? It fills an important role in mobilising capital for investment. It is not a slush fund.

The CEFC facilitates comprehensive commercial loans for both renewable and clean energy technology. I have spoken in this place before about some of the innovative technologies that the CEFC has funded across this country. It is something to be proud of and certainly not a corporation that any sensible, mature and adult government would repeal. Over time, the CEFC has the capacity to make investments that would account for around 50 per cent of the five per cent emissions reduction target by 2020—at a profit to the taxpayer of $2.40 per tonne. That just falls on deaf ears. Why does it do that? Because it was Labor who put it in place and the government cannot bear that. It cannot bear that; it has to rip it down, destroy it and put in place a policy that no credible person in this country supports.

So since being created by Labor as part of the Clean Energy Future package, the CEFC has itself committed $536 million of its own budget while mobilising over $1.5 billion in private capital. It is a success in anybody's terms, except the Abbott government's. The average return on investment is seven per cent, a clear argument for retaining it. This CEFC has the potential to return $200 million per year or $1.5 billion to 2020 to government coffers while reducing carbon pollution. But the government is deaf to that, because it cannot bear the success of any government other than itself.

The bills seek to repeal and to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. So when the government is out there in the media saying that Labor will not repeal the carbon tax, they are forgetting to tell the Australian public about all the other parts of the bill that are worth keeping and that are worth retaining, because they are good for the environment and they are certainly good our budget bottom line. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has been and should continue to be a clear success in driving investment, reducing carbon pollution and boosting the government's bottom line. For this reason, the bill that seeks to abolish it needs to be taken out and swept under the carpet. We need to keep the CEFC.

What we know internationally is that the world is acting on climate change. Ninety-nine countries worldwide—including Australia, and covering over 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of the global economy—have made formal pledges to the United Nations to reduce carbon pollution. Under Labor, Australia made significant contributions to global action on climate change. The first act of the Labor government was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We subsequently committed Australia to a second commitment period. We are one of the largest per capita polluters in the developed world—we are in the top 20, in absolute terms. Australia's actions are globally significant and we are watched closely by our international partners. Free riding is not an option.

As one of the world's largest polluters, Australia can play a key role as a progressive force for global climate action or we can return to the Howard government mould—and I think we are seeing that already—as a spoiler, a country that buries its head in the sand and denies that climate change is real. So what will Australia say and what will our actions be in providing momentum for a global climate agreement scheduled to be agreed in Paris in late 2015? I shudder to think.

The world's major international economic institutions have firmly lined up in favour of a carbon price. The OECD says consistent carbon pricing must be the cornerstone of government actions on climate change. The OECD's position was supported by both the IMF and the World Bank. China has started seven ETS schemes in regions covering more than two million people, with the aim of having a national trading scheme in place at the end of this decade. Following this move by China, our two nations agreed to set up a joint carbon trading expert group to reflect our shared commitment to serious action on a based approach to climate change. China has made it clear that it will put a cap on coal consumption that will be equivalent to even the most ambitious climate reduction targets envisaged by the international energy agency and the United Nations.

Reports show that Australia is on track for its hottest year yet. Yet here in this parliament we hear the government saying, 'We've had hot days for hundreds of years. It is just the way it is in Australia.' But plenty of expert groups agree with us. That is why Labor accepts that we need to take strong action on climate change. We owe it to our future generations. But the Abbott government just wants to make political capital and has no thought, no consideration, no care about future generations. All the experts agree: Tony Abbott's policy con will not reduce carbon pollution; it will cost households much, much more.

9:32 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

What an appalling piece of legislation we have before us. To repeal the carbon tax is an enormous setback for Australia and, indeed, the world. I remember when these laws were passed in 2011. My friends living overseas were excited and inspired. They told me they were so proud to be Australian and they were in many conversations about the possibility of preventing real action on climate change. And now we have this real setback here, one that is very destructive. We are withdrawing a crucial pathway towards building a low-carbon future for Australia. It is, indeed, pandering to the will of the big polluting industries. The fossil fuel companies have done well with the election of the Abbott government. They are lining up to reap the benefits of the so-called direct action policy. This bill is an embarrassment to the people of Australia. It was an embarrassment when the leaders of many countries came together last year to work for a low-carbon future and Australia's government leaders, including the environment minister, were here in Canberra working on repealing the Clean Energy Act.

It is an embarrassment that the government pushes ahead with such a destructive plan in the face of such extreme weather events that we have seen this summer. There have been so many reminders in recent months—the bushfires, the devastating typhoons in the Philippines. These extreme weather events are a real indicator, and so many scientists now have linked them to the whole climate change that this world is experiencing. So it is timely to ask why the government would be taking this approach. And the answer lies very much with the enormous power that the fossil fuel industry has in this country. When the previous Howard government participated in the international climate change negotiations they were unequivocal about this. The policy that they worked under, which was stated many times from the then Prime Minister Howard down, was that the coal industry means Australia need special treatment. That was the basis of the whole negotiating tactics.

And now we see a similar approach from the Abbott government and from state coalition governments. I am from New South Wales. We are seeing the government there getting themselves in a real twist because, when they were in opposition, they were speaking up about how we need to protect the local environment and water resources and even saying that some coalmines should not go ahead—coalmines where New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has been caught out in terms of the deals he has been doing on the Central Coast with coalmining companies while he told communities something very different. But it has not just been coalition governments; unfortunately, successive Labor governments have also given coal companies what coal companies want.

What we should be working towards now is keeping in place the important laws that were passed in 2011 and then building on that—because so much more needs to be done. With this we know we can have a win-win. We can have a win for the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions; a win for the local environment by protecting all those beautiful natural environments and farming lands; a win in producing more jobs that will last well into the future; and a win for the national economy.

It can also be a win globally. There is so much important work being undertaken in this area. One aspect which is very relevant when we are discussing the possible repeal of this legislation, which we know should be kept in place and should be the foundation for a lot more work to do, is the work of the International Trade Union Confederation. A report they brought down identified in a very clear way the transition that needs to be worked on. That is what a responsible government should now be doing—not working to get rid of action on climate change but working with all sections, including the business community, the unions and the community sector on how we can advance real action on climate change. The report from the ITUC also identified how environmental deterioration and rising social inequality are the twin perils of the 21st century. We are seeing them go hand in hand. The people who are most disadvantaged are so often in our own region and are the people who will be hardest hit by climate change.

In this century we will see more climate refugees if we do not take some real action. What the study also identified was very interesting. Economic research undertaken by the Millennium Institute forecast that investment of two per cent of GDP in the green economy over the next five years in 12 countries could create up to 48 million new jobs. They identified that in great detail—a plan that should be acted on. Interestingly, in the same report, they spoke very highly of the work done in Australia around the carbon price and how this work of regulation and investment can drive further investment in the economy and create more jobs, which has certainly been the theme of the Greens' work for many years in this area.

The turn back on climate change that is currently occurring in Australia is very serious. When we are having these debates we need to consider what Australia's full contribution to climate change is. Last year researchers from the CSIRO revealed that we export 2.5 times the amount of carbon than the amount we burn nationally. Across the nation there are plans to increase this amount, with proposals for a fourth coal loader in Newcastle. Newcastle, one of the main ports in New South Wales, is actually the largest coal port in the world. There are plans to ship a further 70 million tonnes of coal overseas—to be burnt overseas, to add all that carbon dioxide, all those greenhouse gas emissions, to the atmosphere.

Australia, as we know, is the world's largest exporter of coal. Successive governments have used this as an excuse to avoid their responsibilities to both the international and national community. There is little doubt about the tenacity of the fossil fuel industry. Time and time again, we see them exercising their power, bullying both state governments and local communities, to ensure they get their coalmines approved and they get their coal infrastructure, railway lines and railway bridges to get the coal down to the coal ports so they can get it out of the country as quickly as possible to boost their profits.

It was recently reported in the Newcastle Herald that the proponents of the fourth coal terminal, Port Waratah Coal Services, are actually being prosecuted for allowing some diesel fuel, a very serious pollutant, to flow into the Hunter River. That was at the Carrington Coal Terminal. This is only months after being fined $25,000 for the same thing. They go and do it again. Why do they do it again? Because $25,000 is not even the equivalent of petty cash for these companies.

This debate about the role of coal in our communities is very necessary because of the destruction we are seeing to the global environment, as well as the destruction to people's health locally and, indeed, very much to the local economy and jobs. We are seeing more and more that this industry is a jobs killer. It does not produce the jobs that it once did where we could have real sustainable jobs growth. As was suggested in the report that I just mentioned, from the International Trade Union Confederation, it is by getting behind clean energy and clean manufacturing that jobs can be delivered.

Coalmining has also proved very divisive in communities. We are seeing this very much in the Hunter region in New South Wales. It has been prominent in many debates. The industries that are vital to the region's economic diversity, growth and tourism—such as horse breeding, winemaking and general tourism—are really struggling in so many areas in parts of New South Wales because of the encroachment of the coal industry and also coal seam gas mining. It amazes me how we have to do battle in government—I saw it when I was in state parliament and we have also seen it here—when you try to address the issue of health impacts of coalmining. There are these constant demands: where is the science, where are the studies on this? We have so often seen people involved in coalmining damaged because of coal dust. This should be a no-brainer and is one part of the industry that should be readily cleaned up.

Many communities in the Hunter area are taking on giant companies and, interestingly, are having some success. One I want to share with you is Bulga, a small, tight-knit community in the Upper Hunter Valley. Their story is very impressive. They fought a long and hard battle against the mining industry. They are actually surrounded by three mines. It is a beautiful, little area but there are three large, open-cut mines where towers of the overburden surround them. One of the world's biggest mining companies, Rio Tinto, is active in this area. They announced plans that they wanted to expand the Mount Thorley-Warkworth mine. The community was very upset. The company changed a lot of the promises they had given to the community when the mine first opened. The Warkworth Sands Woodland—a very interesting ecosystem—was formed 18,000 years ago. It is totally unique. No other such landform is on the planet and it is home to squirrel gliders and glossy black cockatoos. It is a stunning area. Only 13 per cent of this region is left. It has been lost to either mining or farming. Obviously, it should be retained. However, the company vowed to protect the ridge that separated the mine from the town.

But then what happened? The Bulga residents worked very hard because they found out that Rio Tinto had plans to expand its original proposal. The proposal was actually rejected by the New South Wales Land and Environment Court, but they discovered at the last minute that Rio Tinto put in plans for a further expansion and got support from the O'Farrell government to advance that and go against the court decision.

Lock the Gate, now a very famous organisation, have noted that this appears to be an attempt at manoeuvring around the New South Wales Land and Environment Court by breaking up the original proposal, and I am sure it is no coincidence that this application was lodged just days after the New South Wales coalition government changed mining regulations in favour of the industry. That is why I said earlier that what we have seen from successive state and federal governments, Labor and coalition, is: what the mining industry wants, the mining industry gets. There are so many examples of this in the New South Wales parliament. Occasionally, communities have a win and then the government comes in and actually changes the law. The community have found what the company sees as a loophole but the community recognise as a law that that they are able to get a win under. And what does the government do? It changes it.

We see this very serious problem where the power of coal companies and coal seam gas companies is just so extensive. This is making it very hard to get real action on climate change. The power of the fossil fuel industry has certainly been one of the big factors in backing up the coalition government coming forward with this plan that we are debating tonight in parliament: the repeal of this important legislation, this package of laws that provides a foundation for real action on climate change.

I mentioned the issue of jobs and gave the example from overseas. There has also been considerable work done in Australia on identifying how, if we work on a transition away from a dependency on coal to renewable energy, that is where we can have jobs growth that will last. This is an area the government should be working on, because it is now widely recognised that renewables are commercially and industrially viable. We need political will from the government of the day to work responsibly with communities that have been coal dependent on how we can ensure that there is jobs growth and jobs growth well into the future. Governments are not doing that work, but there are certainly many people in the community who are. I will give some examples.

The University of Newcastle Centre of Full Employment and Equity estimates that up to 73,800 jobs could be created across New South Wales if we were to implement 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 as well as developing a renewables export industry. Under a similar plan, Beyond Zero Emissions have estimated that 160,938 direct jobs would be created in Australia in the renewable energy sector over a 10-year period. The Clean Energy Council estimates that the development of 28 wind farms in New South Wales could create 3,940 jobs. The evidence is clearly in. For the New South Wales economy, let alone the national economy, this is the way to go. This is not just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions; this is the future that we need to be building.

I have found that this really is something that moves people greatly. When we come to debate this legislation in the chamber, I get a lot more emails, as I know my colleagues do. People are very distressed to hear that the clock is about to be turned back. I want to share some of those stories that people have sent in to me. Jillian Reid, an investment consultant, said:

Tax payers, through the 'Direct Action' model, should not be footing a bill while corporations make profits when the markets will drive beneficial, profitable change, if only government policy would guide the market to ensure self-interest is considered 'on the whole' over a longer time frame than the next five minutes. Surely that is the role of government on matters of human survival?

Then there was Royce Levi. He wrote a very interesting piece. He is a teacher. He said:

As a teacher for exactly 50 years, I have a duty, on behalf of the thousands of children and adults whose lives I have influenced in classrooms, to speak up on behalf of the children of tomorrow. I cannot understand why so many members of parliament, so many with children, would so blatantly assault the future with pseudoscience and naive economic jargon.

I found that one of the most telling of the comments. It certainly echoes—

Debate interrupted.