Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Matters of Urgency

Climate Policy

4:58 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that 17 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the letter from Senator Urquhart proposing a mater of urgency is chosen.

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move that, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for Mr Morrison to deliver real action on climate change by delivering a climate change policy and legislating net zero by 2050, instead of releasing nothing but another glossy document, and undermining confidence in low emissions technology like electric vehicles by incorrectly stating that "it's not going to tow your trailer. It's not going to tow your boat. It's not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family" and that electric vehicles will "end the weekend".'

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

4:59 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Urquhart, I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for Mr Morrison to deliver real action on climate change by delivering a climate change policy and legislating net zero by 2050, instead of releasing nothing but another glossy document, and undermining confidence in low emissions technology like electric vehicles by incorrectly stating that "it's not going to tow your trailer. It's not going to tow your boat. It's not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family" and that electric vehicles will "end the weekend".'

I rise to contribute on the matter of urgency moved by Senator Urquhart. We are in a global race, a race to net zero, a race to secure the global job opportunities of renewable and low-emissions technology and bring them right here to Australia. We are in a race that, under the Morrison government, we are going to lose. We are going to lose this global race because we have a Prime Minister who always does too little, too late, a Prime Minister who just does not know how to lead and who doesn't have a vision for our country ot only does this Prime Minister fail to see a bright future for Australia as a renewable superpower; he can't even see the opportunities which have always been right in front of him.

We all know that, during the 2019 election campaign, Prime Minister Morrison—famously—said that 'electric vehicles will end the weekend'. No matter how many times he tries to deny it now, that is simply what he said. Now he says electric vehicles are the key building block in the government's net zero plan. There have been two years of missed opportunity to put Australia at the front of the queue to develop an electric vehicle industry. What can we expect from the government that famously turned its back on the Australian car manufacturing industry—a move which was responsible for the loss of thousands of skilled jobs in this country? Imagine what could have been achieved for this industry and these workers if the government had had a plan and if they had acted on the opportunities before them. The story for those thousands of skilled workers and small businesses which supported the industry would have been so very different.

What can we expect from a government that is driven by politics and not by principles? What can we expect from a government which is only now seeing the advantages of green technologies, while other countries have been investing in them for decades? What a shambles is this government's climate policy. This government has seen no leadership from its Prime Minister. As the world moves rapidly towards renewable energy, Australia has the opportunity to take the lead. We have the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower, to generate thousands of new jobs as part of a global green technology revolution, to export our renewable energy to the world and to rewire our nation to take advantage of our sun and wind. What we have, right here in Australia, right now, is the opportunity to rebuild Australian manufacturing. We have the opportunity to do that, with cheaper renewable energy to make more of what we need right here in Australia.

The world's climate emergency is Australia's jobs opportunity, and Australia needs a government that is up to the task, a government that gives the energy sector the policy certainty that it needs in order to invest, and a government that has a plan to create thousands of well-paid jobs while making power cheaper for our homes and businesses. Instead, we have a government that is absolutely divided on this issue. It is unable to move forward from outdated and completely inadequate mid-term targets and unable to legislate its net zero by 2050 target because it's afraid it won't have the numbers on its own benches to get the job done. We have a government with climate policies which have seen us fall to last place on global climate action. Without a real plan, it is Australian workers who will pay the price. If we do not act fast enough, Australian industries will face international carbon tariffs and, again, it is Australian workers who will pay the price and Australian workers who will face losing their jobs. If we don't act fast enough to seize the opportunities in front of us, workers will miss out. Australia has the most to lose if we act too slowly to respond to the global green economy, but we also have the most to gain, if only this government could act right now.

Australia is best placed to have a thriving battery manufacturing sector. We can mine the lithium that we need right here in Australia and we can use that lithium to manufacture batteries for our own electric vehicles. We can build more of what we need right here in this country, but only if we have a government that has a plan to act and harness those opportunities. We can do all of that, while creating good, secure jobs for workers right here in Australia—jobs on union sites with decent pay that will last into the future. We can do more than dig things up in this country. We can use these natural advantages that we have, our resources, and we can add value right here. That's instead of shipping them off and then just buying them back. But we need the ambition to do it and we need a government with that ambition. We need a government with the leadership to get the job done. We are falling behind because the Morrison government lacks the ambition and lacks the leadership that we need.

We are losing the global race to bring these jobs here to Australia. Australians want a government that has a plan. They want a government that will act right now. What I'm hearing from people in my home state, Victoria, is that right now is the time to bring these jobs here—right now is the time that this global race is on. Overwhelmingly, the people I've spoken to want this government to support new jobs in renewables. They know that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild manufacturing and to deliver good, secure jobs. They don't want Australian workers to miss out.

But this government has put forward a plan that is just not a plan. It is just a glossy document that is full of promises and no delivery—not unlike this government's Prime Minister. This is a glossy document that promises to get to net zero but has no plan and no policy to get us all the way there. This is a plan, a glossy document, that promises that 100,000 jobs will be created but, again, offers no policies and no plans to get that job done. I asked the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources about the government's net-zero plan during the Economics Committee hearings earlier this month. I asked about the 100,000 jobs that this government claims in its glossy document will be created. I asked when these jobs would come online and when we could expect to see them. The response from the department was: 'Well, from the perspective of the 100,000 figure, that is a longer-term projection.'

So when will we see these jobs? In five years? In 10 years? What is the government's plan? When will this government tell us how they're going to seize the global opportunities that are there right now to bring these jobs to Australia? The answer of course is that we don't know, because the government doesn't know. They have no plan and they have no vision, and this government have had eight long years to figure it out. Time is running out, because we have a leader who just doesn't know how to lead. We have a leader who is not prepared to get Australia into the global race. He's just not prepared to run the race himself. But what he is prepared to do is to let the opportunities of the future simply pass him by and pass the rest of us by as well. This Prime Minister is just not up for the job. The Morrison government has had long enough to come up with a plan, and Australia can't afford to wait any longer. The next generation can't afford to wait any longer, the planet can't afford to wait any longer and workers who need a plan for good secure jobs from this government can't afford to wait any longer either.

Australians don't want a government that thinks electric vehicles will end the weekend. They don't want a government that doesn't know how wind turbines work. They don't want a government that they can't trust to deliver good, secure jobs for local communities. They want a government with vision. They want a government that brings our country together to win this global race—a government that grasps the opportunities of the future with both hands, delivering the benefits to all Australians. (Time expired)

5:09 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this urgency motion that will no doubt be filled with breathless despair. No wonder children are worried about the future; by the time you finish listening to the Greens and the opposition, you wonder why you'd even get out of bed tomorrow.

Well, I am not filled with that same kind of despair because I know that the future in Australia and around the world is optimistic. I know that because of how Australia has performed over the last 10 years. It is in regional Australia where we grow the food, where we grow the fibre, where we mine the minerals. By the way, it's where all the renewable wind and solar projects are and where you will have us make the batteries and produce hydrogen—all of the stuff that you don't want to see in the cities. That's where the action is: in rural and regional Australia. We are doing a pretty fine job without outrageous legislation, restrictions and government driving an agenda that will drive Australians into the ground.

We have the benefit in this country of having an Australian plan—a particular plan that suits our climate conditions, our growing conditions. Our unique part of the world deserves a unique plan and that is what the coalition has committed to, not the UN's plan, not Greta Thunberg's plan. It is a plan developed in consultation with the very people who generate the wealth, the food, the fibre, the minerals and the renewable energies of this nation. It is realistic and it is based on Australia's miniscule contribution to world emissions, whilst the largest emitters continue to go forth.

Australia's emissions reductions up to 2030 will be 28 per cent; that is including our export data. The EU, the great proponent of all things emissions reduction, has reduced less, by 21 per cent. New Zealand has reduced by four per cent and they exclude all of their agricultural industry. The UK—they've done well—is down 34 per cent. The US—less than Australia—is down 13 per cent. At the same time China has increased by 72 per cent, India by 86 per cent and South Korea by 33 per cent. Australia is doing more than its fair share in this space—28 per cent emissions reductions. We're doing it our way. We're doing it with encouragement, with collaboration. We're letting market forces drive this space, letting farmers introduce new technology, letting manufacturing introduce new technology. And guess what? It is making them more money. They are more profitable, they are more productive and they are doing their bit for emissions reductions. Yet you won't hear that from the opposition. What you are going to hear about are taxes, fines, penalties, big sticks, because, according to the opposition and the Greens, you couldn't possibly rely on Australians to do the right thing without forced compliance.

We have committed to a plan that allows Australia to keep digging, to keep mining, to keep farming, to keep the lights on, because as of this point fossil fuels still supply 85 per cent of our baseline energy needs. It is being done in a cleaner, more controlled way every day because of technology.

We have agreed to no caps on methane, yet there is science that is going to deliver not just methane reduction through feedlots and animal production but will also increase the productivity of those herds and increase the amount of meat that we can grow. What is more important than growing food? It's something that people in the cities can't do. Even the most successful backyard vegie garden is not going to feed a family. We rely on our farmers to continue doing the job that they do growing food and fibre, not just for Australians but for a good part of our neighbours and the world around us.

Industry lead the way and they do it because it's good for their business. They can maintain export markets. It's good for their profitability and it's good for the people who work for them, who have job security.

I want to touch on some of the implementation of renewable energy in Queensland. The introduction of renewable energy rebates increased the cost of electricity by $1 billion across the state. That is every mum and dad and household paying for the change of new technology. Now, that is fine; that is part of the nation's objectives. But remember that in North Queensland, where I'm from, the cost of electricity for us is three times as high—to mine vanadium, to mine copper, to mine lithium and to mine those products that are so necessary in the world economy. We pay three times the amount for insurance, and banks and finance institutions are increasing the rate of finance in that part of the world because of climate risk. Yet we are the part of the country that is going to solve the problem through the mining we do, through the food and fibre we grow and through the work we are doing to reduce emissions—because I don't see it happening in the cities; I don't see the changes in emission reductions in the cities. That's what regional and rural Australia is asking for.

I've touched on what some of the farmers are doing. I want to talk about MLA's commitment to carbon neutral by 2030. Meatworks was always going to be the most challenging area. I spoke to a meatworker the other day who will go from being a 64-tonne emitter to sequestering 16-tonnes of carbon by next year. DIT Technologies is introducing technology to use water-soluble feed inputs. Four Seasons is doing the same. JCU has developed Asparagopsis, which is a methane-reducing but productivity-increasing feed for feedlots.

I hope I've been able to give you a couple of examples of what Australian business is doing that doesn't require the big stick of legislation that the opposition and the Greens love to drive onto people. As part of our plan we have no caps on methane. We're including soil carbon accounting. This is really exciting stuff for Australian producers. We've also included a five-year review under the Productivity Commission to check in as to what the impact is on our people, because this is about people. This is about Australians who are doing the work in regional Australia—growing the food and fibre, doing the mining, transporting things around, having the renewable energy stations, making batteries and doing the other things that there is an expectation that they will do. It is these regions that are doing the heavy lifting, but they are going to feel the biggest impact as well, with the cost of electricity, the cost of insurance and the cost of freight and travel. So it's very important that we keep looking back and seeing how they're doing.

It is important that we stop talking about the broad issue of climate change and start talking about measurables. The Great Barrier Reef, in my home state of Queensland: we talk about reducing nitrogen and phosphorous, and now we have a market based system for trading reductions in nitrogen and phosphorous run-off—a direct relationship between an emitter, or a company that wants to buy those reduced emissions or pollutants, and the farmer who's doing that work. How terrific. David Littleproud, the minister for agriculture, yesterday announced a biodiversity trading platform—again, a measurable way to understand what is actually happening in paddocks in regional and rural Australia and then to benefit the people who are having to make the changes. I think that's incredibly positive.

So I would say to you that we do not need taxes. We do not need big sticks and fines and penalties. What we need is encouragement. We need industry to drive this agenda, because that will be good for Australia. It will be good for Australian businesses, it will be good for Australian jobs and, most importantly, it will be good for our people. We on this side care about people. We care about them still having a job. We care about them being able to afford to have a lifestyle. Whilst the Greens and Labor are worried about whether electric vehicles mean you would have a good weekend or not, we're ensuring that people can still afford to have a weekend.

5:19 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

With only three minutes, I really don't have time to do justice to the topic of this urgency motion on climate change, so I'll restrict my comments to electric vehicles. It's been almost three years since the Prime Minister promised us an electric vehicle strategy. Instead, we've got a future fuels strategy, which states:

The government will continue to partner with industry to invest in enabling battery charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for road transport to give Australian consumers and business confidence to purchase low emission vehicles that work for them.

That's all we've got.

It fails to recognise that the way to give consumers and business confidence is to publish a policy which has objectives and which has time lines. We need to consider things like infrastructure—a national EV charging network, for example. We did see one of those go into the infrastructure plan in February 2019, where it's languished ever since, waiting to identify a proponent let alone implement it.

Some progress has been made on EV charging, but not because of some careful planning. Are fuel cell vehicles part of the solution? If that's the case, we need to be talking about hydrogen refuelling stations. We need standards, we need codes, we need regulations for fuel and emissions, and for buildings—having electric charging points in apartment buildings. None of that's there. In terms of vehicle type and investment, there's a substantial difference between purchasing and depreciating a car compared to a train, and businesses must factor that in.

Businesses need clear guidance. They've said that the current government strategy proposes changes. That's a polite way of saying it's rubbish. The lack of national regulations leaves consumers and industry subject to a 'patchwork of disparate regulations'. It's like the rail gauge fiasco of narrow-, standard- and broad-gauge railways. Nissan Australia's managing director was quite clear. He said:

… the most important role governments can play is to provide clear direction to the market on what the short, mid- and long-term objectives should be. This provides direction to industry across auto, energy and infrastructure sectors, provides certainty for investment and most importantly provides clear direction to consumers.

Industry and businesses are seeking stability. The Australian people are seeking clarity, yet we don't have that. Leaders are those that define the future, and we have an absence of leadership in relation to this government and electric vehicles.

5:22 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this emergency motion. Australia has an obvious, massive problem. We have a prime minister who will say absolutely anything to promote his own interests. He is shameless. He will leak private text messages of foreign leaders. He will disagree with what he, himself, has said. Just yesterday he misled the House during question time about his holiday in Hawaii. That holiday was taken during the Black Summer bushfires. He was forced to walk that back almost immediately. He will, point blank, deny saying things that he has said on national television. A case in point is his absurd statement that electric vehicles will 'end the weekend', a statement he now denies even making. How can any Australian trust what comes out of this bloke's mouth?

We have a government that is also absolutely squandering the job opportunities presented by the climate crisis. After eight years of infighting, after two Liberal prime ministers were rolled over climate policy, all this government has to show for it is a glossy brochure that Mr Morrison created so he could show it off at Glasgow. Why? Because the government is too busy virtue signalling. Mr Morrison and members of this government are spending their time on stunts, like bringing a lump of coal into parliament or smearing coaldust on their faces and putting on a hard hat for a photo-op. It's all virtue signalling, pure and simple.

Coal does have an ongoing role in the Australian economy for the foreseeable future. It has an important export and import role for jobs. But if Mr Morrison cared even the slightest about jobs in the coal industry, at some point in the last eight years he would have stopped the labour hire rort that is destroying that industry. Here are the facts of the coal industry. In the 1990s, 94 per cent of people working in Queensland coalmines were employees of the mine operator. Today, more than half work for labour hire or other external contractors. BHP is the largest coal producer in Australia. BHP told the job security inquiry that across its coalmines nationwide more than 70 per cent of people work for labour hire or external contractors; just 29 per cent of people working at BHP coalmines are actual BHP employees. Even the Minerals Council of Australia admits that labour hire casuals earn 24 per cent less than direct employees doing the exact same job.

The job security committee's inquiry heard from a coalminer in Central Queensland named Wayne Goulevitch. He is one of the fortunate few who still has a direct job with the miner, but he said he hasn't had a new permanent employee join his team for seven years. That's seven years of the company only hiring labour hire casuals; they're not hiring those same people as direct employees. This is disgraceful! Arthur Rorris, the secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, told us about the impact on miners in the Illawarra. He said:

You've got a series of body hire firms now that essentially trade on being able to constantly undercut wage rates. We have workers who are sacked one day and rehired at the next, doing exactly the same job, with less money and worse conditions.

Has Mr Morrison done anything to stop this? No, of course not. Instead, Mr Morrison spent half a million taxpayer dollars defending the labour hire rort in the High Court. Instead, Mr Morrison passed a bill earlier this year which stripped rights away from casual labour hire mine workers. The fact is that while Mr Morrison could bring a lump of coal into the parliament for a media stunt he approves of billionaire mine owners using labour hire to slash workers' wages.

Unlike Mr Morrison, Labor is fiercely opposed to this practice. That is why Anthony Albanese introduced the 'same job, same pay' bill in the House yesterday. Mr Morrison is opposed to that bill because he isn't on the side of mineworkers. (Time expired)

5:27 pm

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

I rise today to speak on another matter of urgency. Urgency! The most urgent agenda for the Labor Party—the most urgent matter that Senator Urquhart and the Labor Party can dig up—while we're just starting to recover from the global pandemic, while the economy needs astute management, while our borders are just starting to reopen and while the global security situation is perilous, is comments made by the Prime Minister in 2019. What a farce! Really, it's embarrassing. They seem obsessed. Maybe that's why they're taking out ads on TikTok to attack him. This is apparently the alternative government—wow! They really are taking the opportunity to deal with the big issues here today.

For the record, of course neither the government nor I will be supporting this motion. On the issue of climate and emissions, we have already delivered. We have delivered through technology and not taxes. We have delivered greater cuts to our emissions than we committed to under the 2030 target. We met and beat our 2020 target and we are forecast to reduce our emissions by up to 35 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. And we're doing this with the most consistently transparent reporting regime in the world. This is in comparison to China, whose 2030 emissions reduction target is that they will only double their emissions based on 2005 levels. But with the urgency motion which we're discussing here today, let's get to it.

We will not be legislating a 2050 target. We will not lock in a blank cheque with no way to achieve it. What would the Labor Party do in 2048 if they had legislated a 2050 net-zero target and it looked like it wasn't going to make it? Which industry would they shut down? How many new taxes would they raise to buy offsets? I'll leave that to the Labor Party to explain. We on this side are not legislating emissions targets, but we will consistently meet them. We always do. We beat our 2020 target and we're on track to beat our 2030 target. The only time an emissions target was legislated in Australia was under Prime Minister Gillard, who said that there would never be a carbon tax under any government she led. She did exactly that. She led her government to a carbon tax.

I think what really annoys those opposite the most is that we've set out a very credible plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 while, importantly, preserving existing industries. We want to get down the cost of clean energy and low-emissions technologies. We want to get those costs down, not drive up the cost of meat, coal, gas, oil, steel, aluminium and other energy- and emissions-intensive goods. We will take advantage of new economic opportunities, ensure our regions continue to prosper, and establish Australia as a leader in new low-emissions technologies like hydrogen.

I will touch on hydrogen for a moment because I believe it has a very big future for Australia. Blue and green hydrogen will both have a role to play. There are actually a myriad of colours—there is brown and pink—but the colour doesn't really matter. If we can get proof of concept then we've the basis for a global energy industry. I'm proud to say that in my home state of Western Australia the government and industry are already working together at pace to prove this concept.

With the aid of a $42.5 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Yara Pilbara and ENGIE will build a renewable hydrogen plant to produce renewable ammonia. It is scheduled for completion in 2023. The facility will be one of the world's first industrial-scale renewable hydrogen production operations. The project will build upon the Pilbara's renewable energy potential. We know that it's one of the sunniest and windiest places on the planet. This project is going to make a big difference up there for industry and, indeed, for that region. The existing Yara Pilbara ammonia plant will deliver green ammonia to customers for decarbonising emissions from power generation, shipping, fertiliser production and mining explosives. I've toured Yara's current facility, and I look forward to touring their new facility when it's up and running as well.

The new facility will comprise a 10-megawatt electrolyser, an on-site facility of photovoltaic panels and a battery storage system that will allow the plant to operate without being connected to the main electrical grid. The first phase of the project will produce up to 625 tonnes of renewable hydrogen and 3,700 tonnes of renewable ammonia per year. This initial phase will be key to enable the facility to become a keystone in the Pilbara hydrogen hub and will build upon the existing export infrastructure there.

It's projects like these that will get us to net zero, not Labor's burdensome regulations and taxes. Our policies and investments are enabling households and businesses to deploy new technologies. Why? Because it actually makes economic sense. The plan is based on our existing policies and focuses on driving down technology costs and accelerating their development at scale across the economy. Our existing policies work and so will our plan.

Our existing policies also do not spell the end to traditional industries like coal and natural gas. Indeed, they recognise their importance. It's such a shame that the member for Hunter, Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, is leaving the Labor benches, because he was basically the only one on their side who was an industrial realist. Just yesterday we saw an announcement by Woodside and BHP that they will move ahead with their Scarborough gas project, which is also located in the Pilbara in Western Australia—fantastic. This region is genuinely the engine room of the Australian economy. If you haven't been there, you need to go there and look at the scale of what is going on in that region. It certainly is the engine room. This project will see $16.5 billion in investment and create upwards of 3,200 jobs. It is exactly these types of projects and these jobs that will be under threat from a Labor government seeking to legislate a net zero position.

Finally I'll touch on the comments referenced in the urgency motion. Now, I'm a fan of electric cars. As soon as they're more affordable, I reckon I'll be buying one. They're very good, and I think there's an exciting prospect for them. But the fact is that there's not a single electric car on the market that can tow a caravan. There isn't. Show it to me—it doesn't exist. Now, it's pretty true that there are some emerging vehicles. There's the Rivian—I challenge you to have a look at it. It looks like an exciting vehicle. But the reality is that lithium-battery powered vehicles have a limited range. The vehicle is only so big, and you can only put so many batteries in a vehicle.

A Rivian is a dual-cab ute. It can tow a large caravan. It can, but the reality is its range without a load is about 480 kilometres. Madam Acting Deputy President, anyone that has a caravan or a boat will tell you that, as soon as you put that load on the vehicle, it halves the range. Even in a diesel vehicle—if the diesel vehicle has a 500-kilometre range, you put a boat on it or a caravan on it and it significantly reduces it, by more than half. Anyone with a caravan or boat will tell you that. The same is true for an EV. This vehicle has the capability to tow it, but it will only be able to tow it about 240 kilometres. And, with the battery in that—which is a 135 kilowatt-hour battery—that will take about six hours to charge up. Fair enough. If you're towing a caravan behind you, I suppose you could always pull over and have a bit of a kip for six hours, every two and a bit hours—you could go and do that. But, let's face it: it's not practical.

Hydrogen provides a future, but that's many years off. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may be the way to go in the future. As soon as these vehicles become cheaper and more affordable and accessible, I've got no doubt that Australians will actively choose to buy an EV. It suits small-scale commuter vehicles, it suits driving around town—daily-driver sorts of vehicles. That's fine. I think Australians will make that choice for themselves.

But this motion is emblematic of the modern Labor Party. They clutch at green straws while dodging the real issues of the day, seeking to legislate and regulate their world view on Australians. They're going to force these vehicles off the road. We want Australians to have choice—that's what it's about. It's a long way off before you're going to be able to hitch up your caravan and your boat behind an EV, let's face it. If you can show me a vehicle that can do it, I might even go and buy one myself!

5:37 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With its latest glossy document, the Morrison-Joyce government claim to have a plan to address climate change and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But the reality is that this lightweight pamphlet does little to explore the real-world impacts of this target. Like always, the coalition have refused to take responsibility and have instead passed the buck. Fortunately, the Centre of Policy Studies at Victoria University recently published a working paper titled Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: what it means for the Australian economy, industries and regions. After reading through the marketing materials that the coalition have called a 'plan', it's great to see some research that actually explores the real-world effects of achieving net zero by 2050.

The working paper dives deeply into several areas. But today I want to particularly focus on what net zero means for Australia's timber industry. This is an industry that is very close to my heart. For a long time, a job in the timber industry has meant decent pay, good conditions and reliable work—the sort of job you can depend on as you build a life, buy a house and raise a family. It's heartening to see that the research predicts that by pursuing net zero by 2050 our forestry industry will be almost twice the size that it would be if we do not take action on climate change. Sustainable forestry is essential to achieving net zero, as demonstrated by this important research. However, the Morrison-Joyce government's summary barely mentions forestry or wood processing. By treating net zero as a political problem rather than an economic opportunity, the coalition are overlooking the impacts their decisions will have on industries and on workers. Under the Liberals and Nationals, Australia's plantation estate has shrunk by 500 million trees, down 10 per cent since 2014. This must change if we are going to achieve net zero by 2050.

The research also demonstrates the foolishness of those who seek to damage our forestry industry in the name of climate change. The paper shows that the forestry industry, as our greenest form of carbon capture, will need to grow to meet our targets. Those who seek to damage or disrupt the activities of our timber workers are not only hurting the livelihoods of working families and regional communities; they are also making it harder for us to hit our climate goals. Tree plantations in Victoria store 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. It is wrong to attack this industry, when its work is essential to limiting climate change. We cannot afford to be distracted by some radicals who are more concerned with making themselves feel good than with protecting our planet.

I back our timber workers, and so does the research by Victoria University. The real climate heroes are providing sustainable, green building materials to our construction industry. They are taking and storing carbon from our forests and regrowing the harvested trees to store even more carbon. They are working in an industry that provides good jobs and the foundation of local economies right around Australia, including in regional Australia. It's an industry that needs to be supported to expand if we are going to meet our targets.

The Morrison-Joyce government needs to understand that leadership isn't just waving a brochure around at a press conference; leadership is assessing the impact of your decisions on the Australian economy, so we can help those who will need a leg-up and create jobs right here in Australia. Activists need to understand that attacking the timber industry is not going to prevent climate change. You are targeting an industry that needs to get bigger, not smaller, to protect our planet. We cannot be tricked into believing that we need to choose between jobs and the environment. The research from the Centre of Policy Studies confirms that this is a false choice. I look forward to continuing to support timber workers and their communities, because federal Labor is on their side.

5:42 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's terrific to have an opportunity to make some remarks about this matter of urgency in relation to climate change and climate risk. My view has been that we can all win from getting to net zero. I'm not so big on the slogans and whatnot, but I do think that we are on the right track with this policy.

It's important to point out here that this is about getting to net zero; it's not about getting to zero. So there will still be emissions—from agriculture and transport, in particular—but, in the long run, it's possible that you could get beyond net zero. You could become an exporter of carbon abatement services. People who have visited far-flung parts of New South Wales, in particular, would be aware that there is a lot of land which could be put to good use in terms of offsetting carbon. A lot of the people who live in these areas are low-income people, and that could be a whole new revenue stream for them.

The reality is that Australia has never had enough capital to fund itself. We've relied upon foreign investment for the past 250 years, and that will always be the case. Even under the superannuation system, we are still very heavily reliant upon foreign capital. The people who are against foreign investment are often city slickers, and they often fail to recognise that a large part of the major foreign investment that is required to deliver this transition will go into the regions. If you want to have offshore wind, pumped hydro and these new forms of energy generation—which, in many cases, involve heavy industry and high-paying jobs—you need a lot of money. So sending the right signals to the capital markets was always going to be an essential part of getting to net zero.

I'm very cognisant of the point that people make that if you close down coal you can't replace those jobs with the handful of people who work on a solar farm. That's a valid argument. If you want to have a plan for heavy industry jobs, it is going to be on things like offshore wind. I do think we should look at nuclear as well. I've never understood why we would take any form of technology off the table. There is way too much ideology in this area.

As a person who has tried to focus their public contributions on economic policy, I would say that this is a major economic policy opportunity for the country, but it's also a huge risk if we get it wrong. Global capital markets, for better or worse, have made up their minds on a lot of these key questions, and we need to make sure that this is a sensible transition. We don't know how successful hydrogen will be, but we do need to put as much time and energy into this as we can.

The other point I want to make is that I don't believe in overly bureaucratic measures. I don't think that putting all this into legislation is the right answer. I don't think we should be outsourcing these judgements to bureaucrats, just as I don't think we should be outsourcing our judgements to the Reserve Bank. We are in a situation where there is too much independence that is centred outside of the elected parliament. Ultimately, parliaments and governments are responsible for these judgements and should stand up and seek election or seek re-election on that basis. So, I don't support legislating things and creating new bureaucracies in this space. What we have put out is a reasonable plan, and it is a plan that will most heavily benefit the regions, which is where the main pain points will be.

5:47 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Contradictions erupt and abound in climate and energy policies, because no politician has ever provided the logical scientific points as evidence.

John Howard's government introduced the Renewable Energy Target and stole farmers' property rights to use their property. Yet, six years after being booted from office, he confessed in London in 2013 that on climate science he was agnostic. He had no science to support what has become the gutting of our electricity sector and our productive capacity.

In 2016, father of the Senate Ian Macdonald said there has never been a debate on climate science, and he's correct. Two months ago 10 federal politicians confirmed in writing to me that they have never been provided with the scientific evidence. I'll name those people; they showed integrity and courage. In August last year, 19 federal politicians advocating climate alarm and climate policies failed to provide me with the scientific evidence. I'll name them too.

In 2007 and 2008, Kevin Rudd claimed that 4,000 scientists supported the claim that carbon dioxide from human activity affects climate and needs to be cut. The UN climate body's own data shows that only five endorsed the claim, and there's doubt they were even scientists. Mathias Cormann, instead of providing evidence as requested many times, says, 'We must meet global obligations'—to the same organisations that Prime Minister Morrison rightly describes as 'unelected international bureaucrats'.

My own freedom of information requests and Parliamentary Library searches show that no evidence has ever been given to members of parliament—Senate and House of Representatives—that would require these policies. Yet both the Labor-Greens coalition and the Liberal-Nationals coalition have climate and energy policies that are not based on empirical scientific evidence. Come clean with the people of Australia. Unshackle our nation! Give the people a go. Restore freedom.

5:49 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My home state of South Australia should not have to endure this government's failure on climate policy any longer, because their failure is costing my state. It's costing our environment, it's costing us in terms of the River Murray, it's costing us in terms of investment, it's costing us in terms of jobs and it's costing our children a prosperous future. The government's failure on leadership on climate change is a failure of the highest order. Instead of readying our country to take advantage of the economic opportunities of a renewable energy revolution, they have done what they do best: stoke fear, inflame division and mislead the Australian people on what is to come. We have seen this time and time again from the Liberals, like when the Prime Minister said that low emissions technology, like electric vehicles, will 'end the weekend'. We've seen it in the Prime Minister's embarrassing performance in Glasgow. Their failures on climate change policy have robbed Australians and they have especially robbed those Australians who have the most to lose from a changing climate.

South Australians will not be taken for fools. They see it. They get it. While people have, rightly, been focused on the pandemic for the past two years, beyond that, the one issue raised with me more than any other is the need for urgent action on climate change. South Australians want action on climate change because they know the environmental and economic future of our state depends on national leadership, on national action. But instead under this government they've had 21 different energy policies under three prime ministers, and another glossy document just recently—a pamphlet with no detail. It's an embarrassment on the world stage, where Australia should be leading and where we are capable of leading. Rather than increasing our ambition on tackling climate change, rather than being leaders, every time we get here the government are dragged kicking and screaming.

This is of the utmost importance to my state. People in my state have seen the impacts of climate change firsthand—the Black Summer fires. We know bushfires are predicted to increase in intensity and frequency. We know that if more action isn't taken to enhance and promote renewable energy we will see power prices go up. My constituents in South Australia want to know why the federal government are not seizing the opportunities to produce more cheap, reliable renewable energy; why they aren't taking advantage of this revolution. By investing more in our renewable energy sector we create jobs, we drive down power prices and we deliver South Australians a better future. South Australians, I can tell you, inherently understand what the coalition simply cannot grasp: meaningful action on climate change is critical for our environmental future, but also for our economic future, for the future of our children—for their future prosperity. Their inaction makes me angry, and I know it makes South Australians angry, because the government just can't grasp how important it is.

There are huge opportunities for my state of South Australia if Australia is to lead and deliver the jobs and the growth which we know a green energy revolution can deliver. We see this leadership from the state opposition in my state, from Peter Malinauskas and his team, with their plans to build a 200 megawatt clean-energy hydrogen power plant and storage facility. We've seen it from parts of the private sector who have driven investment in this space—not helped by the policy settings of the federal government, but more and more seeing the light, seeing the economic opportunity, taking that leadership where the federal government will not. State governments are stepping up to lead on climate policy where the federal government will not—where the federal Liberals have just divided, ignited fear, sought to disrupt and destroy any meaningful effort to tackle climate change.

My state risks being left behind unless the federal government get their act together. Our country risks being left behind unless they get their act together. South Australians know how urgent this is. They want the federal government to recognise that too.

5:54 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand in this place as a proud Gunai-Gunditjamara-Djab Wurrung woman. Our people thrived on this continent for tens of thousands of years, and we are the oldest continuing living culture on the planet. Everything on country—the water, the air, the sky, the animals our totems—carries the memories of our ancestors and the stories and law of our elders. We have cared for everything from the roots of the grasses to the leaves of the highest trees and every living being that relies on them for thousands of years just for them to be destroyed in 250 years of colonisation. Bang! Wiped out.

The dispossession, desecration and destruction of country, the pollution of our waters, the theft of our homelands—these stories are not unique to our people in this continent. At COP26 we heard from First Nations people from around the world who told the same stories of dispossession, desecration and destruction. Climate change is simply a failure of First Nations' participation and empowerment. It is your failure, because we didn't fail this country. The reason why our ecosystems are collapsing is that you failed to hear us, you failed to care about the things that mattered and you failed our ancestors and their stories.

5:56 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the matter of urgency before us. Just today we have received news that Sergio, a 22-year-old climate activist in New South Wales, has been sentenced to 12 months in prison for participating in a non-violent direct action targeting the coal industry. Twelve months in prison—what an outrageously severe and disproportionate punishment! What an appalling message this sends to climate activists and those of us who are fighting for a healthy planet. The real criminals are the fossil fuel companies who are killing our planet, not those who are trying to save it. The Morrison government are the real criminals who refuse to tackle the climate crisis, not those who want a future for all of us. The real criminals are running amok, spruiking dirty coal and gas. They are the ones condemning us to catastrophic climate change. Australia's insatiable appetite for coal and gas is bringing our Pacific neighbours even closer to the climate precipice, yet Scott Morrison refuses to act. I can't say I'm surprised. This Prime Minister is someone who brought a lump of coal into parliament. This is a prime minister who was dragged kicking and screaming to Glasgow, where Australia actively sabotaged climate action. I am angry that we have a prime minister who is happy waving around a glossy pamphlet with a pathetic policy which is more of a plan to fuel the climate crisis than one to tackle it. And I am furious that we still have a government ideologically rooted in colonial power hell bent on destroying nature and greedy for accumulating resources and wealth by hook or by crook.

We know the Liberals are pathetic on climate justice, but if Labor really cares about climate change, it should join the Greens and offer a bolder alternative vision. It should commit to a 75 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. It should join us in stopping the dodgy climate-destroying project in the Beetaloo basin and prioritise the concerns of First Nations communities, because we will not have climate justice without First Nations justice. Anything less is mere theatre.

Change will come, and it will come from the people. They know we must quit coal and gas. They know the Beetaloo basin and Scarborough gas projects are ticking climate bombs. They know the Morrison government must be kicked out. And they know that the Greens in shared power will push Labor further and faster.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the urgency motion be agreed to.