I welcome the timing of this debate today when this issue is so hot internationally—the shifting sands of time are important this morning. Some of you were in this chamber when US President Obama addressed this Australian parliament in 2011. As a new member, I was not lucky enough to be here. However, I, like many across the world, do take an interest in what he has to say. So when US President Barack Obama took the opportunity in a commencement speech at the University of California to rip into climate change deniers only a few days after meeting Prime Minister Abbott, I read his speech with interest. President Obama labelled global warming as 'one of the most significant long-term challenges that our country and our planet faces'. He made a powerful moral case for action.
So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgement of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether we have the will to act before it's too late. For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children but to your children and your children's children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place. And that is to leave the world a little bit better for the next generation.
He is not alone with views such as these. The European Union has long been committed to international efforts to tackle climate change and has set a strong example through robust policy making. It has introduced legislation and a range of initiatives to tackle climate change. That is why it is difficult to hear EU officials saying:
Australia has become completely 'disengaged' on climate change since Tony Abbott was elected in September last year.
It has been reported the EU officials are disappointed with the Prime Minister's approach, saying Australia was considered an important climate change player under Labor. One well-placed EU official has likened the change to 'losing an ally'. But Mr Abbott has pledged to scrap the carbon price in favour of his Direct Action policy. 'You have a huge amount of scientists and economists saying the Direct Action policy isn't going to work,' one EU official was quoted as saying. There is a particular disappointment in Mr Abbott's decision not to have climate change on the agenda when the G20 leaders meet in Brisbane later this year. Climate change has been on the G20 agenda at the most recent leaders meetings in France, Mexico and Russia.
I note a report in The Guardian says:
Fighting climate change would help grow the world economy, according to the World Bank, adding up to $2.6tn … a year to global GDP in the coming decades.
It states that fighting climate change:
… would lead to global GDP gains of between $1.8tn and $2.6tn a year by 2030, in terms of new jobs, increased crop productivity and public health benefits.
The World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, said the findings put to rest claims that the world could not afford to act on climate change.
He goes on to say:
These policies make economic sense … This report removes another false barrier, another false argument not to take action against climate change.
Like President Obama, I know climate change is real. It astounds me that this is a debate we are still having. Last summer was the hottest on record in Australia: May 2014 in Melbourne broke all weather records with the most days over 20 degrees in the history of the Bureau of Meteorology recordkeeping. The BOM has added a new colour to their weather chart spectrum to indicate temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius, and study after study, report after report, show that our weather extremes, fire, floods and droughts, are happening more often and are becoming more intense. So, yes, climate change is a very real and a very serious issue.
What is it that the bills before us want to do? Through this legislation, the coalition, led by Prime Minister Abbott, wants to abolish the price on carbon and remove the ETS without any mechanism to take its place. It wants to remove industry assistance, including support for Australian jobs, through the Steel Transformation Plan. It wants to abolish the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ceasing any new commercial term loans to help new ambitious renewable projects over the forward estimates. He wants to repeal income tax cuts that were due to come into effect on 1 July 2015. And, because this government cannot get its act together to get legislation through in a timely way, this bill is designed to work retrospectively and everything will be backdated to July 1.
This Liberal government talks about their economic credentials, about how they now accept the science and
about how they are finally serious about climate change. But, as with so many things, actions speak louder than words: the introductions of these bills show that.
So how did we get here? We are here, because in 2009, the Liberal party walked away from their commitment to action on climate change and blocked an ETS. As an aside, the Liberal Party were not alone in walking away from this issue; the Greens also must take some of the responsibility for delaying action on climate change: they too decided to play politics with our future and got action and inaction confused. The Liberal party, however, are most culpable for leading a campaign of misinformation in an attempt to influence public opinion. We are here, because political opportunity overcame good sense, responsibility and knowledge.
The ETS model has been recognised around the world as the most appropriate and efficient way to tackle carbon pollution. Under an emissions trading scheme, polluters are encouraged to pollute less, so they pay less. An ETS is the most appropriate market mechanism to achieve both a cap on emissions, while at the same time creating incentives to change long term behaviours. But instead, the Abbott government is pursuing the so-called Direct Action Plan—perhaps more aptly named 'indirect inaction.'
I am often approached by my local constituents confused, asking: what does direct action actually mean? Beyond a misnomer, a contradiction of terms, a joke, not much. In the words of Tony Abbott, under direct action, the Liberal government 'will bring in more trees and better soils'. Experts, including the CSIRO, have dismissed the claims of Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt on reforestation. They show that, even for the most hopeful of souls, tree planting on the limited scale proposed by Mr Abbott simply will not work.
One of the other aspects of the policy—and there are only a few—is utilising soil carbon technology. Under this part of the plan, Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt have decided that soil carbon can deliver up to 85 million tonnes of reduction per year at just $10 per tonne. This is in spite of recent studies showing the price is more likely to be around $80 per tonne. Mr Hunt's own department is estimating that this technology would only deliver one 20th of the claimed reductions. In fact, based on the CSIRO's study, the government would have to take two thirds of the Australian land mass to meet the emissions reduction targets. It is, as former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry has described, quite simply bizarre.
A Senate inquiry into direct action did not have a single expert who would support this government's Direct Action Plan, and that probably suits this government, because Mr Abbott does not think climate change requires urgent, serious action—we know that. We know that he believes that climate action is not an issue that should concern world leaders. He believes there is no sign other countries are adopting emissions trading schemes and that China will never introduce carbon trading.
And now we are seeing some detail about the minister's Emissions Reduction Fund. It has a good name, Emissions Reduction Fund—that has got to be a good thing—but recent research by Monash University shows that the ERF will see pollution increase by eight to10 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020; reduce pollution by nearly one third less than Labor's policy; require significant additional investment of between $4 billion and $15 billion to achieve the 2020 target of at least a five per cent reduction on 2000 levels; see costs and pollution both increase over time—even with spending increasing to around $88 billion from 2014 to 2050, pollution would still increase by about 45 per cent over this period; and subsidise the pollution of businesses who do not make changes, with these public subsidies calculated at around $50 billion to 2020.
Despite these issues and posturing by the coalition over the last three years, there is still no comprehensive approach that can be seen as a credible alternative to Labor's policy. Tony Abbott and those in his government are willingly consigning themselves to the wrong side of history. In generations to come, this inaction, this indifference, this incompetence, will be judged harshly.
Locally, my electorate is playing its part in pollution reduction. Our tip, a main contributor of pollution in our community is utilising innovative methane capture technology. With Labor government funding we are also using renewable technology to power our public spaces and we are pursuing public lighting strategies to reduce our energy consumption. Our local industries are also making changes with the assistance of Labor's Clean Technology Investment Programs. Labor's $1 billion investment has assisted some of our local manufacturers, from a steel processing plant to a sausage maker to an agricultural chemical plant, to become more efficient, more cost effective and more sustainable.
In speaking with local residents, I find that they too want to do their bit to reduce emissions, and many already have. They know it may have its costs, but do they like the idea that it might save our planet; do they think they have changed their behaviours in order reduce their footprint? They certainly do. So then, if my electorate is doing its part and getting serious about climate change, why can't the Abbott government? Because, as outlined previously, they simply do not take this issue seriously. But on this side we refuse to do nothing. What Labor put forward is a policy which will ensure action on climate pollution. Our sensible, reasonable amendments included a much-needed legal cap on carbon pollution; the retention of the Climate Change Authority to ensure independent analysis and advice; and a continued commitment to Australia's renewable energy research and development.
It is one of the most important debates that we are having in the chamber this week. It is for all of us to think, and to think long and hard about why we are here. Are we here to do the best for our chosen parties, or are we here to do what is best for our nation? Are we here to play politics, or to represent the best interests for our communities? Are we here to make the easy decisions, or the right decisions? I know why I am here, and it is certainly not to close my eyes and ears and hope that a problem of this magnitude will go away. In short, as a country, we could lead. But these bills mean that we will not even follow those who will lead.