Senate debates

Monday, 3 March 2014


Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013

12:35 pm

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

The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Pratt be agreed to.

12:38 pm

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

Order! The question is that the bill, as amended, be agreed to.

12:42 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and the related package of legislation that is currently before the chamber, while the government continues putting its wrecking ball through Australia's climate policy and its climate legislation framework.

Of course, we will be opposing this legislation. The carbon pricing legislation is in fact a remarkable example of successful legislation, of legislation that was carefully designed to address climate change in an intelligent manner that will deliver the transformation of our economy—which is exactly what we have to do in the face of climate change.

What those on the other side do not get, and what climate deniers do not get, is that climate change will transform our world, our economy and the way that we live. So we need a legislative and policy response that addresses that transformation but helps guide that transformation in a way that delivers a stronger, cleaner and greener economy and that builds that economy and does not wreck that economy.

What the government proposes to put in place is 'direct action'. There is nothing direct about it—there is, in fact, no policy around 'direct action'. The only direct action that has in fact been taken is to directly deny climate change and directly focus on policies that will wreck our economy and will not lead us to a new, clean, green economy and will not transform our economy.

That directly relates to the impacts that climate change is already having on our world—for example, in my home state of Western Australia. I note that on Saturday, the first day of autumn, Perth was sweltering in 38-degree heat. The irony was not lost on me at the time, sitting in that 38-degree heat on the first day of autumn, that the legislation coming up in this place was going to be the government trying to wreck the climate package that was put in place and that is starting to be effective and would have delivered the change required.

In Western Australia the 2011-12 summer was Perth's hottest on record and the 2013-14 summer was the second-hottest on record. In fact we have had the eight hottest years in the last decade. Perth's summer was the driest for five years—we had only two millimetres of rain. In Mandurah—which, for those who do not know Western Australia, is the region immediately south of Perth and in fact is one of the Perth southern suburbs—it was the driest on record. We are in a drying climate in Western Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology was reported as saying that we are in a warming, drying climate. They are confirming that in Western Australia. They said that the trend is going up. It seems foolish to ignore that trend. The climate does not change like this. This is really remarkable. In other words, we are seeing the impacts of climate change in Western Australia.

We are seeing changes across the south-west of our state that threaten the very future of agriculture as we know it. Although we did have bumper crops in some areas in Western Australia—and I have heard wonderful stories about those crops—in other areas we still have farmers who are in drought. In the north-eastern part of the agricultural wheat belt they are still in drought. Of the 100 to 150 farmers in the who are affected by drought, many of them did not in fact put their header into the crop. Those farmers are feeling climate change now. Bunbury, in Western Australia's south-west, has had eight of its hottest summers since the turn of the century.

In commenting on the impact of climate on drought, CSIRO said just two weeks ago that the modelling shows that climate trends will transform agricultural regions and see many farms disappear. Climate change is happening. It is happening now. It is transforming our agricultural regions, so we need to be transforming our agriculture to address the transformation that is going to occur in our regions.

But what do we get? We get the minister for agriculture saying that you cannot plan for drought, that it is an exceptional circumstance—we are going back to that old language of 'exceptional circumstances'—and that we have to rely on the good Lord for rain. In fact, that is not what is going to fix and address climate change. It is nonsense to say that we have to rely on the good Lord for rain when the science shows quite clearly that climate change is happening and is changing our environment and our climate and is therefore changing our economy, because you cannot de-link the economy from the climate and from our environment. Looking at agriculture in particular, we are in a warmer, drying climate. We need to acknowledge it. We need to invest in addressing that and we need to invest in transforming our agriculture.

I have said in this place a number of times that in Western Australia, for example, it is well known that our farmers have been very adaptable. They have adapted to the Western Australian environment, because trying to grow crops in Western Australia is difficult. They had to be innovative to survive and start agriculture in Western Australia in the first place. But as the economist Ross Kingwell, who used to work for the department of agriculture said: 'WA farmers have adapted as far as they can to the change in climate. We need to be investing in addressing climate change and investing in the technology and the changes that will enable our agriculture to adapt to the change in climate.'

While we have this head-in-the-sand approach to climate change we will not put in place the changes that are necessary to address climate change. Nothing was more evidence of this than when the government last week announced the drought package, which had many mechanisms in it that we need to support farmers and deal with the most immediate crisis facing our farmers. But there was a complete lack of framework or context to what is happening overall to our climate and the impact that is having in making our extreme weather events more extreme and in making it more difficult for farmers to adapt to the changing climate. We need to continue to make the small changes that have enabled them in the past to be able to grow crops and develop our agricultural assistance. They cannot adapt alone.

This government is not only burying its head in the sand but pulling apart the architecture that was put in place to actually start helping. The funds we are putting aside to help our agriculture to adapt and help address the effects on our physical environment—such as the Biodiversity Fund—are being scrapped. They are going. That is not a sign of a clever country. It is not a sign that the government is taking climate change seriously, and of course we know it does not.

We need to be preparing for this change, which is what the legislation being repealed by this package of bills was designed to do. It was designed to put in place the changes needed to help us be ready for the impact that climate change is going to have on our economy, an impact which is going to be even more severe than what we are already experiencing. We need to be able to prevent and mitigate further damage to sectors like agriculture. By denying climate change and denying global warming, Mr Abbott and his government are failing Australians.

One of my portfolios is the marine environment. The impact of climate change on the marine environment seems to be something else the government is in denial about. The government is ignoring the fact that climate change is having an increasing impact on our marine environment, an impact which will in turn have an impact on the economy based on that environment—tourism, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and other recreational activities focused on the marine environment.

It is clear from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that climate change is impacting on sea levels and is causing ocean warming, increased acidification and changes to salinity levels. Climate change has also been linked to alterations in some of our ocean currents, driving them closer to the poles. These all threaten our marine environment. That environment will be impacted on and is, in fact, already being impacted on. As these trends continue, the distribution of marine life will change. We are already seeing that around Australia. As an example, the waters off the coast of Western Australia to the south are becoming warmer. We are already seeing problems with invasive marine species. We are already seeing fish—tropical species—in these waters that we have never seen before. I have spoken before in this place about how there are websites with maps onto which people can upload posts about species they have caught which are outside their normal distribution range. These sites make very interesting reading.

This is significant for the way we manage our fisheries. Again, by denying climate change and its impact, we are also limiting our opportunities to put in place mechanisms to help us plan for the future and manage our fisheries better. The sensible approach would be to put management regimes in place now that reflect what will happen as a result of climate change, that adjust catch sizes and quotas to reflect what will happen under a warming, acidifying ocean.

Healthy and sustainable fisheries and marine life are extremely important to our economy. The Centre for Policy Development did a study of the south-west of Western Australia and showed that industries there which are based on the marine environment generate $2.9 billion each year. We are talking about a significant impact on our economy, an impact that this government is in denial about.

Our oceans and marine life are under increasing pressure from a range of threats—overfishing, pollution, and oil and gas exploration and production, for example. Our oceans are already under a significant amount of pressure, and climate change is adding to that. Climate change, as I said, is linked to ocean warming, increased acidification and changes to ocean currents, all of which impact our marine ecosystems. Climate change will also, as I was saying, increase the threat to our biosecurity. Changes to our oceans will affect the distribution of fish species and their growth rates. Some species may increase in numbers. Others, however, may reduce in numbers. The implications of this represent a profound threat to our biosecurity.

The recent reports of coral bleaching in Western Australia are an illustration of how the very foundations of our marine ecosystems are at risk. There is a study being done at the moment by the CSIRO and University of Western Australia of some beautiful coral areas off the Pilbara coast. It is an area with a stunning environment that has to be managed around the activities of the oil and gas industry—which is ironic because the extraction of that gas and oil leads to the promotion of further climate change through increased carbon dioxide emissions. On the study's most recent research trip, evidence of coral bleaching in the Pilbara region was found. Sadly, this included the breaching of a pocket of ancient coral heads, many of which were close to 400 years old and have been an important record of reef health. It is suspected this bleaching event was due to the marine heatwaves that have occurred in the region over the last couple of summers. I for one can attest to the fact that the water off Perth is noticeably warmer.

We know that marine environments need to be protected from these threats. Part of the approach is to ensure that there are adequate legislative protections. But the government are instead trying to remove those protections through this package of bills. That takes me to the action the government have taken to get rid of our marine parks. I hear the government saying: 'We have not got rid of marine parks. That 10-year process you had in place to thoroughly look at the science and plan for bioregion marine planning—we have not cancelled that. We have just cancelled the management plans!' What that means is that all we have now are lines on a map—because there has been no change to the management of those areas. This government scrapped the management plans, effectively scrapping those marine parks. As I confirmed in estimates last week, the activities that have been going on in those areas can continue—another stake in the heart of our marine ecosystems. To address climate change we need to have a resilient marine environment and, to achieve that, we need to have marine protected areas. This government have effectively scrapped the marine parks. They are knocking down every level of protection we can put in place.

The biggest crime is their denial of climate change and failure to take that adequately into account. So now around Australia we have lines, on maps, continuing—regardless—for marine park activities. Marine sanctuaries are a key tool for helping protect our marine environment. They protect fish stocks. They put in place proper management of those areas. They help rebuild our marine life and make it much more resilient in the face of climate change. We have a world-leading legislative and policy approach that was carefully crafted to put in place mechanisms that would help us transform our economy, because there is absolutely no doubt that our economy is under threat from climate change. It is under threat from fossil fuels continuing to burn. We need to be smart and clever. We always say this is the smart and clever country—it is not. It is about to commit another crime against the planet, by getting rid of this package.

Climate change will change our environment. Future generations will be turning around and saying, if this package goes, 'How did you get it so wrong, granny?' or 'Great-grandad, how did you get it so wrong? You knew the science. It was there. You could see the climate change in front of you.' Open your eyes and look at the impact this it is having on our planet. Look at the droughts that are getting worse, more often. Instead of making platitudinous statements about 'waiting for the good Lord and the rain', wake up and realise that we need to be changing now. We will be held culpable into the future because you failed to heed the warnings while this was happening around you.

We, for one, will not support the destruction of this legislation. We need to do everything we can to plan for a better future and strong, resilient economy. That is what this legislation is about. You are failing this planet; you are failing Australians. (Time expired)

1:02 pm

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Today the Senate is debating the repeal and reversal of one of the greatest political cons ever perpetrated upon the Australian people. It is an edifice of magical thinking, completely divorced from economic and environmental reality. It is monumental. It is the world's largest environmental tax, with no impact—absolutely none—on the environment, but with a significant negative impact on the economy and standard of living of Australian families. It is a carbon tax based on a lie that there would be no carbon tax. It is a fraudulent policy imposed on an already-struggling economy by the unholy alliance of the morally vain Australian Labor Party and Australian Greens.

Only Labor and the Greens could have claimed that a big new tax would help the economy grow. That is what they claimed. Only Labor and the Greens could have claimed that a new tax was needed to save the planet, even though that tax would have absolutely no effect on the temperature or the climate. Only Labor and the Greens could have argued that Australia had to set the example and lead the world—when no on else was willing to follow—and kneecap their own economy, for no gain. You might call it 'unilateral economic self-harm'. That is what I would call it. In the end the tax did not lower the temperature, but it did lower the Labor vote.

The debate we are having today goes back more than when the carbon tax was first imposed on the good people of Australia two years ago—against their will and without a political mandate. Today's debate represents a closure on four years of political madness that cost two Labor Prime Ministers their jobs, one of them twice. Four years ago I stood here in this chamber arguing against a similar harebrained idea embraced by Labor and the Greens: the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the CPRS, also known as the emissions trading scheme.

During that debate, four long years ago, I remember saying that it was the ultimate folly to try to rush through and pass an emissions trading scheme bill before there had been a United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen and before our major trading partners introduced similar schemes. It seemed pretty logical. But, no, Labor and the Greens were hell-bent on pushing it through. As I and many others suspected, Copenhagen was a dismal failure, and the recent Warsaw conference was a fizzer as well. Over the past four years there has been no major international agreement, and I venture a guess that we are unlikely to see one in the foreseeable future. None of our major trading partners—none of those resource-rich trade-exposed economies—have remotely come close to introducing similar far-reaching and punitive schemes at home, whether they be emissions trading schemes, carbon taxes or whatever. None of them have.

President Obama said no. Canada said no. Japan said no. China, India and Brazil are not shooting themselves in the feet either. They also said no. The European Union—here we go! Oh, yes, the European Union! The European Union's carbon trading scheme—for those who are familiar with the literature—is an international joke. Those who look at the literature will know this. It is small, it is limp and it is a corrupt market, useful only for spivs, speculators and organised crime. It is a bastard offspring of the gnomes of Zurich and the bureaucrats of Brussels. Thanks to Labor and the Greens, Australia found itself leading with no-one following.

At a time when the world economy continued to be in the doldrums and economic growth has slowed down to a crawl, apparently no-one was keen to enter an international economic suicide pact. Surprise, surprise, surprise!—no other country on earth except Australia would stand up and deliberately damage its economy, as the left in this parliament wanted us to do. They talk about the big side of town. They do not care about kids trying to get jobs or businesses being created. They do not give a damn—they never have.

Let's make it clear—and I hope the Greens listen to this—if the G20 were to decide tomorrow that it is a good idea that we should have a universal emissions trading scheme or a uniform carbon tax across the whole group, I would say that Australia should join in with those major economies.

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I hope you heard that. If the G20 acts, we should act as well. But I will not be holding my breath. And I do not want Australia to be holding its breath either.

Over the past few years, I have repeatedly asked myself why an Australian government and the Australian Greens would penalise its own people with a carbon tax. Why would you do that? Why would you introduce a tax which is so pointless from the point of view of environmental impact? Why would you do that? Why would you penalise the working families, the businesses and the exporters? Why would you do that? Why would you do something so against the national interest, handicapping us vis-a-vis our trading partners? Why would you do that? I will tell you what the answer is. It is simple.

Honourable senators interjecting

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

Senator Wright and Senator Pratt, please desist from interjecting. Senator Mason, perhaps you will not need to speak quite so loudly if you are not addressing the interjections.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

As you know, these sorts of things do not worry me. There is a pretty easy answer. Why did the Greens and the Labor Party gang up on the Australian people and do this? I will tell you why. The answer is moral vanity. As always, it was the vain belief that the left—the Greens and Labor—know what is best and that they are the world's conscience. And the answer is guilt—guilt that Australian capitalism, innovation, entrepreneurship, jobs and hard work have made us one of the most prosperous and successful nations on the face of the earth. And the answer is self-loathing, or at least deep scepticism of the values of one's own society. Moral vanity, guilt and self-loathing: the three great contributions to politics from the left in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. That is what you might call the perfect leftist trifecta.

For the left—the Labor Party and the Greens—the ETS and the carbon tax were not policy. They were just these great, giant psychodramas designed to make themselves feel better about themselves, to demonstrate to the world how enlightened they were and how morally superior they were to the coalition. To the Labor Party and the Greens, it was all about appearing in the next Al Gore documentary, another photo opportunity at the United Nations and more applause and more accolades from the trendy international elites. It was a never-ending circle of moral onanism. That is what they provided.

The left—the Greens more so than Labor—have always been ambivalent. The Greens in particular have always been ambivalent about business. So punishing producers and employers, particularly in mining and in energy, was never going to be a major problem for the Greens. But the working class was always the key Labor constituency, and there was no clearer sign of how the Labor Party had lost its way and drifted away from its roots than its decision to sacrifice the interests and wellbeing of working families so that the inner-city elites could enjoy that warm and fuzzy feeling of righteousness, superiority and moral vanity. The Labor Party were quite happy to sacrifice the jobs of the people they used to represent to cultivate the trendies in the inner city. Great! That is what has happened to the once great Australian Labor Party. It is no longer the party of Ben Chifley and John Curtin. It is now the party of the inner-city left, vying, of course, with our friends in the Australian Greens.

The left does not care anymore about the working class. Environmental utopia has replaced the workers' paradise as the great goal. The environment has become the new proletariat. After all, polar bears are much cuddlier and much cuter than working class miners or truck drivers. Only business, capitalism and progress remain as the traditional enemies of the Labor Party, and for the Greens remain the exploiters, the oppressors, and now also—God help us!—the polluters. The Left's tried, tested and failed vision of the world is still there. The Left's vision remains—informing their rhetoric and animating their actions—that capitalism, Western civilisation and our way of life are inherently dangerous and contain destructive forces that have to be tamed. That is what the Greens believe. They believe that a government of enlightened experts—like themselves!—knows best, that individuals need to be subsumed for the collective, and that liberty should always be sacrificed for equality.

Instead of fighting for a workers' paradise, which is what the Labor Party used to do, the Left now tries to save the planet from pollution, from global warming, from overpopulation, from resource exhaustion and from nuclear power. And, yes, the proposed remedies are the same. The remedies have not changed: the growth of the state with, always, more government, more debt and the redistribution of wealth. They always have the same solutions; only the problems are different.

This debate has gone on for many years, for some of us. I have spoken quite a few times in this debate. So I would like to finish on a more personal note. I am particularly glad to participate in this debate today—perhaps more glad than nearly any other senator—because it brings for me, finally, some sense of closure. During those turbulent few months—you will remember them Acting Deputy President Boyce—more than four years ago, I argued against the CPRS or the emission trading scheme, in the coalition party room as well as in the shadow ministry. My colleagues Senator Fifield and Senator Cormann and I were the first to resign from the coalition front bench because we could not, in good faith, support this policy.

I was told by many in Canberra that I was disloyal and crazy and that I was committing political suicide. But I was told by party members and constituents back in Queensland that the ETS was bad policy—bad for families, bad for business, bad for exporters, bad for Queensland and bad for Australia. Back then I spoke to scores of party members. They were right. And yet they were derided by some—even in my own party—as being the 'peasants' revolt' or the 'pitchfork revolution'. I remember those times so well! But, in the end, they had a far greater insight than all the political sophisticates around here. We have learnt, haven't we, over the last four or five years, that the cultural insights of these so-called sophisticates—these elites—is often abysmal? Their insights are so divorced—so far—from where the Australian people are, from working Australia, that it is nearly unbelievable. They are light years away.

I chose to listen to my party members and constituents knowing that there is far more to their collective wisdom than the conventional wisdom of the Canberra political echo chamber. Since that time four years ago we have been proven right, time and time again. Now we are turning the last page on this sad and sorry chapter of Australia's political and economic history. It is a victory for common sense in the end—and, indeed, a victory for the national interest. I say this to the Liberal-National Party members and the people of Queensland: this one is for you.

1:19 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to contribute to the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2013 and the 10 related bills. Here we are with one of the coalition's first real orders of business. It is not about creating something, about instituting a new reform or about legislating for the future direction of this country. There is no coalition agenda to be set—no vision, no real substance and no real leadership. The No. 1 priority for them is not even about amending another policy or scheme. Instead, it is about repealing hard-fought legislation and recklessly hacking away at the progress the Labor Party has made on reducing emissions, transforming our economy and encouraging renewable energy.

I have spoken in this chamber on numerous occasions about how it is so much easier to tear a policy down than it is to innovate, consult and devise a solution that is in the long-term interest of Australia. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that the coalition has set its sights on dismantling clean energy legislation. In doing so, they are pandering to base fears in the electorate that they have cynically stoked through their own short sighted agenda.

This government promises to be the most uninspired, contemptuous, reactionary and downright narrow-minded one that Australia has witnessed in quite some time. This is just the first chapter, so settle yourselves in for what promises to be an entirely disappointing ride. We have known for some time that the Abbott government is intent on scrapping what it calls a 'toxic carbon tax'. Shortly after the election, the Prime Minister released draft laws to abolish the price on carbon and warned that Labor needed to repent in its support for this policy.

Even though it is now in government, the coalition has continued to go on the attack, employing the same mindset and strategies employed whilst in opposition. The new member for Bass has frequently attacked my stance on this issue, claiming that the carbon tax must go, for the sake of jobs and growth. But, as I have pointed out, carbon pricing and its associated benefits for renewable energy actually have the potential to enhance Tasmania's future economic prospects. But on a broader point, his comments are reflective of a conservative mentality that does not fully understand why using a market mechanism to restrict carbon emissions is so important.

The coalition forget that, prior to the federal election, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, announced a plan to fast-track Australia's transition from the fixed price on carbon, which is what we currently have, to an emissions trading scheme. An ETS is an example of a flexible price-trading system on carbon emissions and is being used in numerous countries around the world today.

Whilst many commentators claimed at the election that Labor were confused about how to respond to the coalition's draft legislation, our shadow environment minister, the member for Port Adelaide, actually clarified Labor's position perfectly when he said:

We took to the election a commitment to terminate the carbon tax, as it happens on the same date that Tony Abbott intends to terminate the carbon tax on the 1st of July next year. But we also took a very strong commitment that in place of the carbon tax we would put an emissions trading scheme, a scheme that has a legal limit on carbon pollution and then lets business work out the cheapest and most effective way to operate.

This is why we decided that we would absolutely not back the repeal of carbon pricing if it were not going to be replaced with an ETS. This clarification and other statements from senior Labor leaders were of course ignored by the coalition, which has relied on the simplistic mantra of the price on carbon being a 'great big new tax' to characterise its preference for direct action on climate change—but more on that in a minute.

Throughout his reign as opposition leader and now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott has consistently stunned observers with his ignorant comments concerning climate change policy. The most notable example occurred in July last year, when he told open-mouthed reporters in Sydney that the carbon pricing policy generally was 'not a true market'. In fact, he went a step further and clarified his statement as follows:

It's a market, a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one.

I will let that hang in the air just for a moment so we can revisit once again how stupid a statement it was. No comments from the leader of a major Australian political party have been more misguided, arrogant or ignorant in living memory. The reaction by commentators in the media was, at first, stunned silence, followed by a close look at just how silly these remarks really were. Giles Parkinson summed up the thoughts of many best when he said:

Abbott's comments, parroted or not, suggest firstly that this Rhodes scholar who studied for an economics degree does not understand financial markets. They are full of commodities traded in their trillions but never actually delivered, be they invisible substances such as natural gas, or very visible products such as cattle and pigs.

It is little wonder that an ETS is not coalition policy with a leader like this in charge. At first, I assumed that the Prime Minister had dreamed up these observations in the shower that morning, but now it turns out that he may have actually been trying to tap into the type of language that has often been used on climate change deniers' blogs. I do not make it a habit to surf around sites such as the Galileo Movement most evenings, but apparently they frequently refer to carbon emissions being 'odourless and invisible' and, therefore, they seem to suggest, kind of harmless.

I will leave you to form our own conclusions about the merits of such beliefs that can be found on the internet. What we instead need to do is focus on the relative merits of the Labor and coalition policies and determine which party has the ideas and insight to achieve the aim of meeting vital emissions reduction targets. As Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, pointed out in an opinion piece in the Financial Review prior to the election:

The emissions reduction targets of both sides—

Labor and the coalition—

are the same. Both accept that Australia must contribute to the long-term objective of keeping global average temperature increases to less than 2 degrees.

The debate should now be which policy is likely to achieve the target most efficiently and which prepares Australia for the long haul of addressing the climate change challenge.

Let us not focus on three word slogans; let us actually compare the policies. First, let us examine the coalition's plan to dismantle carbon pricing and enforce its 'direct action' climate change policy. For those who have not delved into this scheme in any great detail, I will save you the suspense—it is not great. In fact, it is far from great because it not only would be quite ineffectual in practice but also promises to be quite expensive. This is rarely a combination that policy wonks reach for when devising a substantial and sophisticated policy blueprint.

Direct Action basically involves encouraging businesses to cut emissions via government grants—it is focused on buying emissions reduction. As part of this, emissions targets would actually be entirely voluntary. By voluntary, I mean that all Australian polluters will be completely free to ignore the direct action Emissions Reduction Fund. There will be no penalties for doing so. As a result, there would not really be a strong incentive for businesses to eliminate carbon based emissions beyond the perceived value of the grants. It will not cap Australia's carbon emissions and no credits will be traded on a market. Instead, polluters will basically be paid to, hopefully, pollute less than they otherwise would.

Indeed, one of the more widely discussed flaws inherent in this scheme is that the direct action policy will not really be orientated towards any particular baseline. The Minister for the Environment has indicated that targets will be measured from a baseline calculated according to a polluter's emissions over the previous five years, as sourced from the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme. But, as Lenore Taylor and others noted, the policy will be available to many polluters that do not report to the NGER.

There is also the matter of cost. A key component of the scheme involves a giant fund to pay for companies and landowners to institute measures like soil carbon capture and coalmine gas projects. The problem is that it will take an extraordinary amount of money, over $2.5 billion in fact, to achieve the objective of reducing emissions by 160 million tonnes from 2000 levels. This means that under Direct Action it will be near impossible to meet the agreed upon renewable energy target of a five per cent cut in greenhouse emissions by the end of this decade. The closer one looks at the fine print of this scheme, the worse it looks. In fact, there may be some hesitancy for the coalition to continue with this policy for years to come. As the member for Wentworth noted in 2011, such a scheme that relies on taxpayer money to reduce emissions would:

… become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead.

Let us compare that policy with a fixed price on carbon transitioning into a full ETS that features a flexible market mechanism. This holds several distinct advantages. It fundamentally alters how businesses consume energy. A price on carbon, whether fixed or flexible as part of a trading scheme, uses the competitive forces of the marketplace itself to make Australia less reliant on carbon emissions. This is not necessarily because private enterprises have undergone an ideological transformation about the impact they are having on the planet. Rather, the pure calculus of how to meet their energy needs has been superficially adjusted in favour of renewable energy, because this is what pricing carbon is designed to achieve—a transition from a reliance on carbon emissions to greater use of newer, cleaner technologies.

Without carbon pricing many experts fear that there will not be the same investment in renewable energy and that projects will not reach their full potential. Australia will fall behind as other countries take advantage of innovations in renewable energy that will define energy consumption in the 21st century. I do not know how to put it more simply: if we don't act, others will. It is also worth pointing out that mechanisms like an ETS actually involve less government intervention than a direct action policy. This is because the government is not subsidising the scheme or directing where resources should be dedicated. Rather, businesses will have a distinct incentive to do this themselves because the market will dictate that it is cheaper to do so.

Pricing carbon has come under a lot of criticism, but it is important to remember that big reforms that tackle longstanding problems are never easy. In his much admired book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Tim Harford explores how the process of innovating to combat climate change can be so difficult. But, as he explains:

… a carbon price has to be the centrepiece of any policy on climate change. A price on carbon acts in more subtle ways than any regulator will be able to, encouraging a switch away from coal and towards … renewables, encouraging energy efficiency in every choice we make, and in the last resort, encouraging us to do without products, services and activities where the energy cost is just too high.

It is a system that guides decisions through the most effective of deterrents—cost.

So, why then, many people ask me, is the Abbott government so intent on repealing the price on carbon and so opposed to an ETS? The answer is probably the same one that we can attribute to the Prime Minister's stance on a range of issues—because it is easy and it pays politically. He and his top advisers have obviously sensed an opportunity to tap into an undercurrent of suspicion that persists in some sections of the Australian community when it comes to climate change policy. Linked to this is the reality that he would not have his current job, with its perks of repealing legislation and being seen riding his bike everywhere, were it not for his very stubbornness on this issue.

If we take our minds back to 2009, we may recall that it was only a bizarre sequence of events that allowed the Prime Minister to assume the leadership of his party in the first place. At the time, he was not an odds-on favourite; he was not even a favourite. In fact he was not even really taken all that seriously until an incredible internal battle erupted in the Liberal Party leadership. This revolved around the then opposition leader, the member for Wentworth, and his insistence on supporting the then Rudd government's planned ETS. Or it may simply be that the Prime Minister just is not convinced, that he is genuinely distrustful of the science behind climate change, that he has not been persuaded by the overwhelming bulk of peer reviewed, expert academic literature which counsels that climate change is man-made and very real. This is the most alarming answer of all, but there is a wealth of evidence to support it. As the member for Wentworth pointed out in one of his more candid moments of 2009 via a blog, and I quote directly:

… the fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion "climate change is crap" or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, its cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left wing conspiracy to deindustrialise the world.

I think the previous speaker backed up my argument here. Bear in mind that these were not the words of a university undergraduate after a few too many coffees. These were public comments made by a man who is a key part of the Prime Minister's own cabinet as Minister for Communications, a man whose views on climate change are respected everywhere, it seems, except within his own party.

Evidence abounds elsewhere as well. When interviewed on ABC's Four Corners in August 2010, the now Prime Minister was asked if he still questioned the science behind climate change. He responded by stating:

Sure, but that's not really relevant at the moment. We have agreed to get a 5 per cent emissions reduction target.

It is not really relevant? I am afraid the question of whether you are sceptical of humans being responsible for climate change is relevant. It is perhaps more relevant to your policies on combating climate change than anything else. It is relevant because the question of whether or not someone considers human induced climate change a real thing informs just how that person will confront the problem if given the steering wheel of a First World country. Scientists are so united on the view that human induced climate change is real that labelling such consensus 'crap' and hedging on whether the science is settled is irresponsible. It is the same as ignoring all medical evidence and opposing the immunisation of children because of a fear of health risks such as asthma or autism. That is all there is to it!

Yet here we are with a Prime Minister intent on a direct action policy—a policy that is at best very expensive, mostly uncosted and mildly ineffectual and at worst completely ill-suited to developing an economy which can reduce carbon emissions in the long term. What must be particularly demoralising for Liberal Party moderates is that it does not have to be this way. The Liberal Party does not have to be a party that is opposed to scientific consensus and it does not have to be a party that trashes the idea of an ETS.

The entire situation must be particularly depressing for the current Minister for the Environment. This is a man who wrote a thesis at university which argued that a pollution tax on carbon emissions would enable governments to exert greater control over our environment. After entering politics, he, like many other senior coalition figures over the last decade, publicly championed an ETS. He is an educated person and, by all accounts, an insightful and intelligent thinker. But he has managed to ignore his best instincts, ignore the science and ignore his responsibilities as senior minister and fight for Direct Action. It is not because he knows it is the right thing to do in the national interest, but because he saw the way attitudes were shifting in his own party and he wanted to advance his career.

I would say to him that climate change policy matters and that he should consult Wikipedia on the subject if he is confused. If he types in 'emissions trading', he will find that different versions of an ETS are being employed around the world, including in the European Union as well as in parts of China and the United States. I certainly hope that some senior members in the coalition party room are reconsidering the party's position, because we are running out of time to act on climate change. I believe that many of them know that to be true. I think it is short-sighted of this Prime Minister to lead a party that is actually continuing to deny the science and the facts that are there. He is not prepared to show leadership on this very important policy.

1:38 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in opposition to this legislation that, if it were to pass, would take our country backwards. It was only just over two years ago that it was with great honour that I and many of my colleagues here in this place were able to vote in support of real action on climate change. That came after massive discussion and debate amongst the Australian population and community. People desperately wanted, after years of being ignored, to see Australia grapple with the fact that we needed to take action on climate change and we needed legislation in our parliament to help deliver and drive that change.

That day, Australia became a world leader; today we are here debating the repeal of that legislation. We are at risk of being taken backwards by a government that refuses to recognise the threat of global warming. It saddens me to stand here and have to defend the only laws that this country has to reduce the devastating effects of global warming. The evidence has now become even clearer. Hundreds of climate scientists are telling us that climate change is becoming more severe, that humans are causing it and that we can expect more dangerous summers and weather events in our future if we do not act now.

This summer alone has been even further evidence that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change—bushfires, floods, extreme weather events and days of extreme heat, as well as the health impacts of all of those, the loss of family homes and the impact on our agricultural industries. The drying effects of climate change impact on our weather patterns and on our broader community.

This government is taking us backwards with this legislation, rather than being visionary and seeing what we can be doing for the future to secure industries that are going to need to adapt to a change in climate and to invest in clean and renewable production that we know we need in order to power our homes, our businesses, our cities, our towns and our industries into the future. This government is taking us backwards by abolishing the Climate Commission, cutting the climate department and now trying to dismantle the price on pollution. If we allow Tony Abbott to come in with his wrecking ball over all of these things, what has Australia got left? Not much. We know that the government's plans for Direct Action amount to virtually nothing when it comes to having a significant reduction on the impacts of climate change. We, indeed, would be the first country in the world to dismantle a carbon market that is already reducing emissions.

We know that the next thing on Tony Abbott's list, when he brings in his wrecking ball, is the Renewable Energy Target. That is on Tony Abbott's next hit list. That is going to decimate the renewable energy sector in Australia and in particular in my home state in South Australia. This is all happening at a time when we are already seeing the results of living in a warmer, wetter world. The severity of extreme climate events is increasing. In Australia, that is already having a devastating result.

Nature has given us a reality check and we need strong action on climate change. It is urgent. As leaders in this country, we must respond. As a mother, it is my duty to prepare my daughter for the future. I will not sit idly by while this government turns protecting her future into a political football. We do need to be talking about the impacts of our decisions in years to come—not just in the next election cycle, not just in the next news cycle—and not just on who will be the next leader of the Liberal Party or indeed the Labor Party. It is about protecting the future of the next generation and working to protect our children's future. Putting our heads in the sand, as Tony Abbott would prefer, and ignoring the science—

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, you need to refer to those in the other place by their correct title.

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Putting our heads in the sand, as Mr Abbott—the Prime Minister—would prefer and ignoring the science will not help protect our children's future. We owe it to the next generation to stand up, to raise our voice and to fight for the action not just that we need to continue but that which we have already put in place.

We know that young people, in particular across this country are desperate for real action on climate change. In fact, when you look at the attitudes of voters and attitudes of citizens in this country, overwhelmingly the largest amount of support for direct action—that is, urgent action and action that will reduce emissions for climate change—is amongst Australia's youngest citizens. Why is that? I guess it is because it is their future that we are talking about. We must always be thinking of our younger citizens when we make decisions in this place.

This legislation reduces and takes away the responsibility of those who pollute the most to have to contribute to the cleaning up of our energy industry. Mr Abbott would prefer to use taxpayer money to pay the polluters than to make the country's biggest polluters contribute to schemes and our ability to tackle climate change. This is of course a market mechanism, so it is astounding to hear the negativity and opposition from government members to using the market as a way to reduce climate change and emissions and to drive the change we need in order to have us heading towards a clean energy future—a sustainable future where industry can rely on energy production that is clean, that is green and that will be there into the future.

As we know, Australia is rich in natural resources, but we have been exploiting our mineral resources for more than a century now. The good news is that, in my home state of South Australia, we have a wonderful supply of alternative natural resources that we can call upon. Whether it be solar, wind or even geothermal, South Australia is perfectly poised to make hay while the sun shines, and when it comes to renewable energy alternatives, the economic sun is certainly breaking through the clouds in South Australia. While our nation as a whole is committed to reaching a target of 20 per cent baseload power generation from renewable sources by 2020, South Australia, in 2014, has already achieved better than that, with a renewable power supply of over 21 per cent. The advantages of wind power are well understood in South Australia. Despite our size we produce almost half the nation's wind power capacity already. Yet Mr Abbott wants to tear all of that down and come in with his wrecking ball.

I would like to reference some words from Genevieve, a young woman from my home state of South Australia. She says: 'As a young Australian facing a future of climate change, it pains me to see the leaders of our world, and especially in my home country, acting in such a cowardly manner towards the biggest threats in our history. We need strong, affirmative action right now, and we need it to come from those who have chosen to be our representatives. We need our leaders to do what they have been chosen to do. We need our leaders to be courageous and to stand up and to lead.' When it comes to young people in South Australia, they are the ones who are driving our state; they are the ones who are investing in renewable energy; they are the entrepreneurs who are going to drive our sustainable industry into the future. It is that drive, that vision, that desire for a clean energy future that will provide jobs—that will ensure that the planet and the environment are protected for our next generation—that we must be drawing upon when we think about the legislation before us today.

The legislation before us today is incredibly short-sighted. It dismisses not just the science; it dismisses the fact that we are already seeing devastating impacts on our communities, particularly in our agricultural areas. It is dismissive of the fact that the rest of the world is trying its hardest to work together as a global community to tackle global warming and to tackle the dramatic rise in emissions over the last 50 years. Yet, here we have in Australia our Prime Minister, with his head stuck in the sand, wanting to say Australia is not going to participate in any of this future-driving in relationship to energy production and tackling climate change. It is not just disappointing; it is extremely embarrassing to see Australia trotting around on the global stage, with the Abbott government's ministers pretending we have nothing we need to worry about when it comes to global warming and climate change.

Well, here on this side of the chamber we know that the long-term cost of inaction is far too great. My Greens colleagues and I understand the urgency for action, and we will defend Australia's clean energy legislation at every opportunity. Sometimes in this place I wonder whether, if we had more young people putting forward their views and having their voices heard, we might get more insight into what type of country the next generation really would like us to become. Going backwards is not the option that young people across this country want us to take.

1:50 pm

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

I am delighted to take part in this debate. Before the previous speaker leaves, I would like to ask her and her party—and anyone in the Labor Party—a question I would conservatively say I have asked in this chamber at least 100 times but which no-one will ever answer. A carbon tax that was supported by the Greens was introduced despite a firm and sincere promise by the then Leader of the Labor Party that they would never introduce a carbon tax. It was the world's biggest carbon tax. As a result of that carbon tax, thousands of Australian jobs have gone overseas and tens of thousands of Australian jobs have been lost because Australia has simply priced itself out of the market. One of the major reasons is the implementation of a carbon tax that no-one else in the world is implementing. Australia emits less than 1.4 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, but under the Labor Party scheme, the world's biggest carbon tax, we were to reduce our emissions by five per cent—that is, five per cent of 1.4 per cent. No other nation in the world, including the big emitters, America and China, has a carbon tax or has any intention of implementing a carbon tax anything close to that of Australia. Yet Australia has this carbon tax; it has lost all these jobs and for what result? A supposed reduction in carbon emissions of five per cent of 1.4 per cent.

You do not have to be very clever—and I confess I am not very clever—to work out that that means there will be absolutely no impact on whatever man-made emissions do to the changing climate of the world. To me, it is an absolute no-brainer. It will do nothing for whatever is the perceived impact of man's carbon emissions. Yet for no environmental gain there was this significant economic pain and the loss of jobs of my fellow Australians.

As you know, Madam Acting Deputy President Ruston, I, like you, come from regional Australia and in my part of regional Australia there are tens of thousands of jobs in the coalmining industry. Not only that, many communities live off those mining industries. Throughout the north of Queensland and the north of Australia, our mining industries have been the saviour of Australia during the time of the global economic downturn. The mining industries contributed to Australia getting through that time.

But what did the Labor Party, with their mates the Greens, do? They brought in the world's largest carbon tax and they brought in a sovereign-risk-inducing minerals tax, which closed down mines and mineral processing. Also, many jobs in manufacturing jobs were lost in Australia. You have only to read what Mr Borghetti from Virgin Airlines has said about the impact of the carbon tax. Again, we all knew that. Some of our business leaders, regrettably, have been a bit reticent in explaining the reality of the carbon tax. But we now know what the carbon tax has done to the airline industry.

You will remember that, under the Labor days in government, we even had Australian airlines being penalised more heavily than other airlines throughout the world. No wonder Qantas is experiencing difficulties in profit making. No wonder Virgin is experiencing difficulties in profit making. No wonder Rex and the other regional airlines throughout Australia are having difficulties staying in the air. Their costs are increasing exponentially because of the carbon tax on fuel. But, again, I emphasise that this is a carbon tax, the biggest in the world, that does nothing for the environment. It reduces our emissions by five per cent of 1.4 per cent. I have asked the Greens and the Labor Party, as I say, conservatively 100 times in this chamber since these debates began, the question: please explain to me how a reduction of five per cent of 1.4 per cent will make any difference whatsoever?

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

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

As my colleagues say, it will make absolutely no difference at all.

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


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

Okay, leadership; thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. I hope you are speaking after me, because you will be able to elaborate on how Australia's leadership will lead the world. I am a great Australian. I would say anywhere that we are the best country in the world. There is no doubt about that. But, regrettably, Senator Whish-Wilson, very few other countries have the same sort of regard for Australia that you and I have. I am sorry, Senator Whish-Wilson, but the fact that we reduce our emissions by five per cent of 1.4 per cent hardly rated an eye flick in China; it did not rate an eye flick in most of the United States. And the Europeans just laughed at us, wondering why a country such as Australia, which was a real competitor with parts of Europe, was pricing itself out of every market for, according to Senator Whish-Wilson, 'leadership,' which nobody else was going to follow.

Senator Whish-Wilson, if you are right, and it was a case of leadership, what happened to our leadership? How many other countries seriously did anything? You will get up and quote some dodgy figures about some state in America putting on a two per cent tax or something and claim that that is what is happening. You will tell me that China is doing something in a very small way. What you will not tell me is that China sets up a new coal fired power station every week and that is just part of it.

Yet Senator Whish-Wilson is part of the group that supported the Labor government in introducing the world's biggest carbon tax, a carbon tax that has cost the jobs of my fellow Australians for no appreciable gain to the environment. I ask Senator Wilson and anyone in the Labor Party—I have asked this question, conservatively, 100 times before and no-one has yet answered me—to tell me what happens when Australia reduces its carbon emissions by five per cent of 1.4 per cent? Tell me how that will make any difference whatsoever to the changing climate of the world? I will wait, as I have waited for about four years, for anyone to answer that question seriously. And I look forward to Senator Whish-Wilson telling me how Australia having the biggest carbon tax in the world in order to reduce our emissions by five per cent of 1.4 per cent is good policy. That is why the majority of Australians at the last election rejected the Labor-Greens approach to carbon tax and voted in a government that would seriously look at these things—an adult government that really understands the economy and the environment.

Debate interrupted.