Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Climate Change

3:13 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Drought, and Emergency Management (Senator Ruston) and the Minister for Defence (Senator Reynolds) to questions without notice asked today by Senator Ciccone and Senator Watt relating to climate change.

One of the big issues dominating political discussion at the moment is climate change: its impact on our economy, its impact on jobs and its impact on the environment. One of the reasons why this debate is so alive at the moment is the shocking bushfires that we saw over the summer break and the predictions from the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and many other scientific groups that we face similar—in fact, more and more severe—natural disasters into the future as a result of climate change. That's one of the reasons federal Labor have in the last few days announced our commitment, should we be elected at the next election, to ensuring that Australia becomes carbon neutral by 2050.

To start with, what does that mean? What that means is simply that we would, as a country, absorb or offset at least as much pollution as we emit into the atmosphere. I note, in fact, that the government has made the very same commitment by signing Australia up to international agreements at the Paris convention about four or five years ago. The government has made exactly the same commitment that Labor has announced. You wouldn't know that from the reaction from the government. Many people, from Senator Canavan to the Prime Minister himself, are running around like Chicken Little, saying that the whole world will fall in in Australia, that every industry in Australia will fall over and that every job in Australia will disappear. If that's the case, you have to wonder why it is that the government itself has made the very same commitment. I can't imagine that this government would want to see every industry or every job disappear, and it wouldn't have signed up to that commitment if it actually would have that effect. That's why it is so patently false for the government to continue going around making these comments.

As has already been said by a number of people, in some respects there's nothing revolutionary about this commitment. It's something that more than 70 countries around the world have already committed to, as have some of the biggest emitters in the corporate world in Australia—whether it be BP, Shell, Santos, Origin, Qantas or BHP. These are companies that create a lot of emissions as well as creating a lot of jobs. They've decided that they can reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and I ask the government: why is it that these companies, some of the biggest emitters in this country, are capable of doing this but it's so terrible and disastrous an idea for Australia as a country to do so?

One of the other groups that have made a commitment around carbon neutrality is Meat & Livestock Australia, which represents the beef industry in this country. Not only have they made a commitment to reach carbon neutrality but they are aiming for their industry to be carbon neutral by 2030, 20 years ahead of Labor's commitment to reach this point by 2050. Again, the beef industry, and agriculture in general, is one of the bigger emitting industries in this country. It creates a lot of jobs and a lot of export dollars, but it also creates a lot of emissions. So you would think that, if there were one industry that would be concerned about signing up to carbon neutrality in any decade coming forward, it would be the agriculture industry and, in particular, the beef industry. But they've done that. They are aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, and it's no surprise, because between 2005 and 2016 the beef industry actually reduced its emissions by 60 per cent. This shows this can be done. This does not mean the end of the beef industry or agriculture. This can be done.

Why are they doing so? Their then managing director, Richard Norton, said, 'Achieving this goal'—carbon neutrality—'would put Australia head and shoulders above its competitors.' This is actually an economically sensible thing to do for the beef industry. This is not just about the environmental benefits which we will all gain by reducing our emissions; this is actually the economically sensible thing to do, because the beef industry, like so many others, knows that the cost of doing nothing, as the government would have us do, is far higher than the cost of taking action on climate change.

Senator Ruston in her answers, in the spirit of this government's approach to climate denialism, sought to deny the commitment of the MLA and then went on to deny and reject the premise of the question when we put to her figures that were actually provided by the federal government's own bodies. ABARES, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, has said that over the last two decades more than $1 billion has been wiped from annual agricultural production due to climate change. The agriculture industry knows that becoming carbon neutral is not only good for the environment but good for their bottom line. The claims that government members are making, that this industry and other industries will die, are simply wrong.

3:18 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd just like to start by commenting on the cruelty of the Labor Party's tactics group, which keeps humiliating their own senators with their line of questioning, which never fails to highlight their absolute inadequacies in any number of policy areas. I think it's particularly harsh to be leading out with Senator Watt, who was, along with his left-wing colleagues, the author of the strategy at the last election to make it a climate change election, which worked out so beautifully for them around the country but most particularly where Senator Murray Watt was leading the charge, in the great state of Queensland. This is where the Labor Party, in making it a climate change election, managed to poll at roughly 22 per cent of the primary vote.

I would like to, first, comment on the absolute abject cruelty of Labor's question time strategy when it comes to highlighting their inadequacies. When they ask about aged care, we're reminded of the fact that they had $387 billion of new taxes and not one dollar—not one dollar—for aged care. When they ask about defence, we are reminded of the fact that the Labor Party lowered the defence budget as a proportion of GDP to about the lowest in this country since World War II, and we have been picking up the slack since. When we talk about climate change, and when they ask questions about climate change, we are reminded about the Labor Party's abject failure when it came to policies in this space.

Despite imposing a carbon tax that they promised they would not impose on the Australian people, guess what? When the Labor Party were in government, they were still on track not to meet the 2020 Kyoto targets. So not only did they impose this economy-destroying tax, which we had to come and repeal in 2013-14, but also they were still on track not to meet their Kyoto targets. They imposed all of the economic pain on the Australian people without any of the environmental gain. What did we do? We came in with our direct action—

Senator Pratt interjecting

I will tell you what we did in comparison! We have the Labor Party's record, which is a carbon tax they promised not to deliver but did deliver, but a failure to meet the 2020 targets. That was where we were on track. Then the coalition comes in, repeals the carbon tax, grows the economy, and guess what? We meet our 2020 targets. Now the Labor Party can only argue about whether or not carryover credits should be used, because we were able to achieve our targets—of course they wouldn't use carryover credits, if the Labor Party were in, because they were on track not to meet the targets. You only get the carryover credits if you overachieve. If you underachieve you don't get to use the carryover credits. That is a fundamental difference between us.

It is particularly cruel, in the last couple of days—and I do have sympathy for some of my Labor Senate colleagues who have been sent out by the tactics group. Members of the Otis group have been sent out to lead the charge on climate change questioning. I think that is particularly cruel. When we saw that the Otis group had formed and had fine Farrell wines and delicious foods—God knows what their carbon footprint was, but we won't get into that—and they had got together to try and fight and argue for more sensible policy, when it came to the balance between emissions reductions and supporting jobs, supporting industry, little did we know that only a few days after the emergence of this group this get together was a meeting of surrender.

We saw the 2050 net zero emissions reduction announced only a few days after the Otis group came out. It appears that that meeting was a declaration of surrender by the more sensible people within the Labor Party who have been completely rolled. Where Anthony Albanese is taking the Labor Party and where he wants to take the Australian people is to a place where our economy suffers, where jobs are lost, where we have higher electricity prices, and if your record when you were last in government follows you still won't achieve the targets, because you were absolutely useless at delivering it last time— (Time expired)

3:24 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

That contribution has just shown us why this government has thrown up the white flag, in terms of action on climate change. That contributor was more interested in talking about every issue other than climate change. He certainly didn't talk about the numerous industry associations that support the target that the Labor Party has announced. He didn't even go there. Not interested. He's one of the climate change deniers.

And I want to say that the most ardent opponents of action to mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change in this government are the supposed defenders of the bush. The National Party seems determined to use every ounce of their influence in government to see the value of our agricultural production in this nation plummet. They'd rather satisfy the climate change deniers that form the ever-dwindling membership base of their rump of a party than do something to support our farmers. And we know why. It's because they're scared of One Nation—petrified. The weak leadership of their leader in the face of growing electoral competition will spell the demise of their party. But the future of this nation's agricultural capacity and output is far too important to leave neglected simply because the internal politics of the National Party and the coalition make it too hard for this government to address. The effects of dangerous climate change are already severely impacting our agricultural capacity, productivity and output, and this is only set to worsen.

How do we know this? ABARES have quantified the financial impact borne by our farming sector due to the drying of our climate and increasing temperatures. In their report, ABARES found that changes in our climate since the year 2000 have reduced the average broadacre farm's profits by a whopping 22 per cent in 20 years. That's an average loss in profit of $18,600 per year, per farm. For cropping farmers, considered the most exposed to climate change, annual farm profits have fallen by 35 per cent. That equates to a loss in profit of $70,900. Nationally, ABARES calculates that more than $1 billion has been wiped from the value of Australia's annual crop production in the last 20 years due to the effects of climate change.

Farmers are only too acutely aware of the impact that dangerous climate change is having on their viability, yield and profitability. That's why they're crying out for their government, the national government, to take action, to put us on a path towards sustainability, a pathway to net zero emissions. Meat & Livestock Australia have said that they believe a zero-carbon footprint is possible for their sector by 2030. In fact, since 2005, the beef industry has already reduced its emissions by around 60 per cent, making net zero very achievable.

But if the government won't believe the industry associations, perhaps they should listen to one of their own. Niall Blair, former New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries and former Deputy Leader of the New South Wales Nationals, known as the Professor of Food Sustainability at Charles Sturt University, has written an opinion piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald praising federal Labor's announcement of a net zero emissions target by 2050. Mr Blair notes the opportunity this provides the agricultural sector across this nation to diversify and thrive. He says:

A net zero emissions future in Australia provides nothing but opportunities for our farmers. And, with 30 years to get there, they are ready, willing and able. It's also the right thing to do. Granted we need details, innovation, research and costings but, if we get it right, we can capitalise on the opportunities and leave behind those who are doing the scaremongering. The future awaits us and we shouldn't fear it.

The minister's unfortunate response to questions today clearly indicate that this will not— (Time expired)

3:29 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Seselja was just outlining there, really Labor is just incredibly cruel. They are incredibly cruel to their members in the Senate that are actively wanting to see the Labor Party adopt some sensible, quality projects. But they're also very, very cruel to the Australian people. This is, I think, the nub of the issue. They're taking the Australian people for mugs by setting up this bright, shiny target that's somewhere off in the never-never—2050—to try to convince the Australian people that they actually have a plan to deal with what is a very serious issue not only for this country but indeed for the planet. They're proposing a target of net zero by 2050, but they really have no plan whatsoever. How do we know that? Because the first target, which ought to be recognised and laid out very clearly in this place, so we can actually understand what they're on about, would be a 2030 target. But do they have a 2030 target? No! We don't know what it is. There's no plan. These guys really don't have any plan to deal with what would otherwise be a very, very serious issue. Labor has not learnt from their climate policy mistake. Their net zero emissions target by 2050 is a target without a plan to get there. A 2050 target is no substitute for a 2030 target.

Speaking of people that I think they have dudded and been cruel to, let's talk about Joel Fitzgibbon, a member in the other place. In October last year Joel Fitzgibbon was running around calling on the Labor Party to drop its emissions reductions target and adopt the coalition's policy of 26 per cent to 28 per cent by 2030. But this week he has backflipped, penning an article in The Newcastle Herald in support of Labor's new net zero emissions target. Maybe he's changed his mind because Mike Freelander, Mark Dreyfus and other members in the other place—Tanya Plibersek and Catherine King—have slapped him down. Maybe he has changed his mind—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Sullivan, normally I wait until people have concluded their contributions. Just put titles in front of their name.

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take your point. I just can't remember their particular titles. Members in the other place have said that maybe he's changed his mind for another reason. Last year Mr Fitzgibbon stated that Labor needs to reach a sensible settlement on climate change. 'How many times are we going to let it kill us?' he said. 'How many leaders do we want to lose?' he said. It seems that Mr Fitzgibbon has decided which Labor leader should be lost next. Because this Labor leader has no plan to actually deal with the problem that we have—these emissions targets. They're treating the Australian people like mugs. I think that that is absolutely disgraceful. They cannot front up to the Australian people and tell them what it's going to cost and how many jobs it's going to lose, particularly if you're living in regional Australia, where we know that they are facing challenges. They're not prepared to front up and explain to the Australian people what's actually going on.

For example, Labor is at it again with regard to a carbon tax. Labor has been citing the CSIRO report—the Australian National Outlook 2019 report—to support their target with no plan. But what Labor won't tell you is that the CSIRO had modelled a $273 carbon price to get to net zero emissions by 2050. The CSIRO says, 'Producers and consumers bear the cost of achieving emissions reductions.' What does this mean? The CSIRO shows that to achieve this target sheep, crop and cattle production falls off a cliff, decimating regional towns and hurting Australian families and businesses that rely on agriculture for their livelihood.

Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, failed seven times to rule out a carbon tax when asked on Insiders. Joel Fitzgibbon has followed suit. They cannot explain. They're not prepared to be up-front to the Australian people about what this will cost them. How many jobs will be lost? What is it going to cost the economy? They're not prepared to do that because they have no plan. They've just got it out there on the never-never, thinking of some big, shiny target that they can fool the Australian people with. But the Australian people are not fooled, just like they weren't at the last election.

3:34 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Today in rising to take note of answers from the Minister for Defence and the minister representing the minister for agriculture, we've seen in their answers—and in those members opposite as they also take note of answers—how they continue to perpetuate that acting on climate change is the end of the beef industry, the end of the transport industry and the end of the mining industry. But it's rubbish. I heard Senator Ruston call Labor's policy 'reckless'. Well, what we have seen here from this government is entirely reckless. You are playing with the future of our industries, the future of our economy and, indeed, the future of our planet by refusing to take meaningful action on climate change and to give our nation the policy security that it needs.

We've seen industry already responding to this policy vacuum with their own plans and targets for carbon pollution. Companies like Qantas, Telstra and Santos have already committed their companies to zero net emissions by 2050. The energy minister 'Mr Angus Beef'—oh, no, sorry, Mr Angus Taylor—has said that net zero emissions will slash the beef industry. Well, Minister, even the red meat industry has a target of net zero emissions. Their ambition is, wonderfully, to be carbon neutral by 2030.

As we know, the MLA has conducted its own research and, indeed, it's research funded and developed hand in hand with this Commonwealth government. The report has identified it is possible to become carbon neutral, and Meat & Livestock Australia will develop business models to unlock productivity for industry. They've discussed how they want to be, and are, part of the solution and part of shifting the narrative.

Pip Band said at climate week:

The… panel discussion was one of the ways we're working to shift the narrative from red meat as a 'climate villain' to one where livestock producers are part of the solution and seen as climate heroes.

I think that is great news.

On the other hand, what we see from this government is going play straight into the, 'Go vegan for the planet' campaigners as you decry a sustainable future by setting up this, 'You can't act on climate change and save this industry.' That is the narrative you set up: 'You can't save the beef and livestock industry if you also want to act on climate change.' Well, that is false. We will fight for the jobs of our nation.

Business in Australia is already doing a lot. Flinders and Co became the first meat company in the world to fully offset carbon emissions from their business from every kilogram of meat that they sell. Maybe the minister should try talking up business instead of playing into the scare tactics that you so love to employ.

What is really of concern for all industries in our nation is the impact of doing nothing. We already see this playing out all over the country. We've seen existing stranded capital, as technologies and economies change, where you have refused to put plans in place to facilitate that change to protect jobs and to protect consumers. The impact of climate change is detrimental to red meat producers. It's impacting grasslands that support livestock. More than $1 billion has been wiped from the values of Australia's annual crop production over the last 20 years already. You can see in the south-west of Western Australia a 20 per cent decline in rainfall in some of our most productive agricultural areas.

In closing, the Prime Minister's inaction on climate change is a recipe for higher power prices, fewer jobs, lower wages and slower economic growth.

Question agreed to.