Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Statements by Senators

Climate Change

1:12 pm

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

Australia is a nation that has a reputation of being true to its word—a nation that plays by the rules and a nation that seeks to ensure those rules are fair and enforceable. This is the case when it comes to emissions reductions. The facts are we are meeting and exceeding our international obligations, by reducing emissions by over 20 per cent based on 2005 levels. We are cutting emissions faster than similar nations, such as New Zealand and Canada.

It's also true when it comes to free trade. Last week we celebrated signing the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement. This wasn't always the case. After World War II, the world opened to a liberal free trade agenda to build prosperity and, importantly, to build peace after what had been a very traumatic start to the last century, with two horrific world wars. That framework was not initially in Australia's best interest or to our advantage, because it was being favoured, negotiated and constructed by large, already industrialised nations like the United States and the United Kingdom. Back then we were a relatively undeveloped economy. We actually became wealthy on the sheep's back. We did a lot of wool, we did a lot of butter, we did some lamb and that's about it. We did not have a manufacturing sector. My party—back then the Country Party—because of leaders like former trade minister John McEwen, made sure Australia's best interests were secured at international forums, ensuring trade relations had to be mutually beneficial.

Fast-forward to today and Australia faces a not dissimilar challenge with regard to emissions reductions and the push to commit to net zero. We recently saw G7 member nations pledge their intent to accelerate plans to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by no later than 2050. In light of this, we have seen plenty of calls, at home and abroad, for Australia to do the same. It is one thing for politicians to promise anything on the international stage about net zero in a far distant future, when none of us will be around to be accountable for that decision, and it's quite another to be able to deliver on that promise, especially when it ignores the reality that some of the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitters, like China, currently have a green light to increase their emissions for years—we don't hear much about that from the Greens—or that countries are setting more ambitious targets while failing to actually meet the pledges they made under Kyoto and getting nowhere near their targets on Paris. But here they've got these hyperambitious pieces going forward. I'm talking about countries like Canada.

Rich industrialised nations may have the luxury to demand that others do more on emissions, but this ignores their competitive advantage—the fact that these countries have established low-emissions dispatchable technologies such as nuclear energy or large sources of hydro electricity, or both, and they can run that alongside intermittent technologies. For example, in 2019 France generated 72 per cent, the US 20 per cent and the UK 17 per cent of their electricity from nuclear power generation—affordable, reliable, zero-emissions electricity. It means you can have affordable electricity bills and feel good at the same time. It means you can have a manufacturing industry employing millions of people and also do your bit in lowering emissions.

These are luxuries we cannot afford, especially when we continue the paradoxical practice of prohibiting nuclear energy while exporting uranium for others to generate zero-emissions electricity. That is why Australia must be wary of calls to set emissions targets which cannot be met without destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs—in the communities I represent, in agriculture, in mining and in manufacturing—and of those who seek to coerce us into setting targets by imposing carbon tariffs on the vitally important exports that underpin our national economy, like iron ore and coal. That's what Europe wants us to do. This is simply a non-tariff trade barrier by another name, one that my party will vehemently oppose.

Let me be clear: it has been rural and regional Australia that has done the heavy lifting to date on reducing emissions and supporting energy transition. As the engine room of the Australian economy, regional and rural Australia will continue to shoulder the demands of any further emissions reduction commitments that may come in the future should anyone seek to have the conversation with the National Party. In the end, I've always been confident that technology will be the solution to reducing emissions without costing jobs. As each year passes, my confidence grows rather than diminishes. While some may believe in silver-bullet solutions, my party and I do not. We do believe that some bullets have a larger calibre than others when ensuring that Australia uses reliable and affordable energy and reduces emissions. That's why we support a range of technologies alongside intermittent renewables—nuclear, carbon capture and storage, high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired.

Nevertheless, my party and I are also realists. We recognise—not because we eat coal for breakfast but because the experts tell us—that coal and natural gas will continue to remain essential to Australia's energy needs for decades if we don't want to see blackouts. Why? Because coal and gas, but particularly coal, have provided decades of cheap, reliable energy for our industries and households and they remain our biggest exports and continue to underpin the prosperity that pays for our schools and hospitals. We also recognise that Australian energy resources continue to underpin the prosperity of our neighbours, the developing countries in Asia who need to lift their populations out of poverty through industrialising their economies and providing well-paying jobs. The International Energy Agency highlights that in the past 20 years South-East Asian energy demand has grown by more than six per cent per annum. Meanwhile, China continues to add 30 gigawatts of new coal capacity, or three per cent of its current electricity generation capacity. That's the equivalent of adding New South Wales's and Victoria's electricity capacity every year. This insatiable appetite for energy is expected to continue as they want to meet their energy demands and lift their own people out of poverty.

The US Energy Information Administration, in their International Energy Outlook 2019, projects a nearly 50 per cent increase in world energy use by 2050. That's a fact. It's not going to be led by already industrialised rich nations like ours, Europe, the US and the UK; it will be led by Asia. Therefore, it would be absurd to turn our backs on the needs of our neighbours and others who want our high-calorific value coal, as some in this chamber would suggest. To do so would only see Australian coal substituted with dirtier, lower-quality alternatives from those who we compete against around the world. You know what? We'd end up increasing global emissions. If the goal is to lower global emissions because this is a global problem, then these are the things you have to think about before you churn out glib phrases about zero emissions by 2050. Some of the things you want to shut down in this country, actively contribute to lifting people from poverty and lowering emissions around the globe. It's how we account for it.

Australia needs to ensure that the rules and methodologies that underpin this move by the globe are fair, are actually enforceable—so we don't have people promising the world and delivering nothing—are agreed and, importantly, are in our national interest. The post World War II free trade regime took an enormous amount of hard negotiations and unrelenting work. Any genuine transparent rules based system to reduce emissions will require the same effort from our nation. We must, therefore, deploy all of our diplomatic and trade resources to ensure Australia's interests are looked after. Failing to do so risks us sleepwalking into an international agreement that favours rich, industrialised nations that already have a competitive advantage in powering zero emission energy— (Time expired)